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Weekly Message

Dear Rebbe...

Dear Rebbe,

I’m writing to you just hours before I, together with countless around the globe, begin commemorating your Yahrtzait, the 24th anniversary since your passing. I grew up in your neighborhood and had the distinct honor of meeting you, face to face, so many times. You guided my parents how to raise me, you guided me into community service and you gave me a perspective on life that only you could.

I remember when my aunt Zahava - whose husband Yossi was a volunteer EMT that rushed to the scene - called to tell us that you suffered a stroke while praying at your father-in-laws resting place. I recall the two years of anguish, as you suffered, and we prayed for your recovery. I remember sitting at Beth Israel Hospital with my Bubbe Esther, a woman who adored you, as we both read Psalms in your honor.  You wanted Mashiach to come, you worked so hard to make it happen in your lifetime and, at the time, we couldn’t think of a better candidate that G-d should choose for the mission of redeeming His people from exile and bringing us back home to Israel.

I remember my parents waking me at approximately 5:00 AM on that bitter Sunday morning of June 12, 1994. I saw their face, I knew the worst had happen. You left us bereaved, brokenhearted and, I’d venture to say, even hopeless. I walked by your office, trembling, as I saw you, my favorite superhero, wrapped in a Talis as I asked you for the traditional forgiveness for the things I may have done to disrespect you. I stood on the 4th floor of 770 Eastern Parkway and watched from the fire escape as your coffin began its journey to old montefiore cemetery in Queens.

I’ve missed you every day since.

I spent the next 12 years studying your wise teachings, your rigid, yet non-judgmental, perspective and spending hundreds of hours in thought, internalization and Farbrengen, Shabbos after Shabbos, near your resting place. I came to visit with you at every major junction in my life: before marriage, before medical procedures, before infertility treatment, before adoptions, before buying a new property for our soon-to-be-built Center for Jewish Life and Learning. I turn to you when things are good but also when they are unbearable. You are my anchor and I know that you are listening.

Chavie and I moved to Bozeman thirteen years after your passing and we’ve never looked back. It is an honor to serve as your emissary to bring the authentic light of Judaism to Big Sky Country. I know that, at times, people are puzzled about my obsession with you, but they shouldn’t be. You’re such a good teacher, such an amazing mentor, such a beloved father-figure that I think it makes perfect sense. You never asked me verbally to move to Montana, but I know that you’re smiling as Yiddishkait makes a strong comeback in the Treasure State with two, soon to be three, Chabad centers.

I wish you were alive to answer my questions directly, I wish you could look into my eyes and give me that priceless dollar to keep me going and oh how I wish my children could meet you. Yet, Rebbe, I want you to know, that despite my yearning for your physical presence, you’re way bigger than a physical smile and way larger than a swing of the arm. You’ve gifted our family with spiritual structure, unadulterated love for humanity and inner courage to get through anything that life throws at us. I try to live up to your standards and to represent you as best as I can, it’s not always easy and I don’t always succeed, but I do try.

I’m going to spend the weekend near you in Queens where I will pray, Farbreng, study and get reconnected. Reconnected to you and your legacy of love, to inspire every human being in Montana with the light of Hashem and His beloved Torah. I await the moment that you rejoin us, along with my beloved mom, when your lifelong dream becomes a reality as Mashiach will come and we will celebrate in Jerusalem!

I know you have my back Rebbe, I hope to have yours.

Your grateful student,

Chaim

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

Take a Hike!

A few weeks back, my father-in-law called me, and kinda freaked me out. He reminded me that he’s still in the year of mourning for his dad, Professor Irving Block, and will need at least one Minyan per day so he could say Kaddish while in Bozeman. I knew it was possible but didn’t think it was probable. Yet, with LOTS of Nudging we pulled it off, as 26 different guys came together Friday through Monday to make it happen. It reminded me something vital: No challenge is insurmountable, no obstacle too hard to overcome and nothing, truly nothing, is impossible for a person to achieve when they are determined and devoted to making it work.

In this week’s fascinating Torah portion, Shlach, we read about Moses’ spies sent on a reconnaissance mission to scout out the Holy Land. With Joshua and Caleb in the righteous minority, the ten other spies reported back that the Holy Land is unconquerable. Its people are mighty, its cities are super fortified, and its fruit are enormous and super natural. They acted like an amateur hiker looking up at the Absaroka Range or like me looking at the mighty “M” in Bozeman and saying, “Hell no, I will never be able to climb that trail”. Except that the spies - like me and all the amateur hikers - were wrong. One time, a wagon got stuck in the mud, and the gentile driver asked the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov for help. The disciples replied: “We’re sorry, but we aren’t strong enough to lift it.” The man replied: “You can, but you don’t want to.”

Being a realist is not a bad thing and it was no mistake for the spies to see the real challenges that existed. Yet, they made a very wrong turn, when their realism turned into pessimism. I struggle in this regard: I love when I’m in control, I love when things go my way and I can’t stand it, it makes my blood boil, when it doesn’t. Yet, I am working on myself, working through my emotions, my feelings, to recognize that which Chassidism has tried to teach me all along: Ignoring the challenges before us is delusional; seeing them, acknowledging them, and then unleashing our inner reservoirs of courage to take them head on, is a very Jewish thing. Caleb and Joshua did it, so can we.

Don’t limit your challenges, challenge your limits!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

City of Saints!

Last night, along with my colleagues from our Mountain West region, I had the honor of celebrating 25 years of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah and saluting its founders Rabbi Benny & Sharonne Zippel. In 1992, one day before his debilitating stroke, the Rebbe of blessed memory sent the Zippel’s to Salt Lake City, where they opened Chabad’s first center in the Wild West. Benny and Sharonne are authentic, so dedicated and have enormous hearts; I cherish our friendship. Personally, Benny is my role model, he walks the walk and never forgets what its all about, not big budgets and glamorous cocktails, but laying Tefillin, affixing Mezuzot and inspiring souls in Mormon Country.

In this week’s Torah portion, Behaalotecha, we read about the kindling of the Tabernacle’s Menorah by the Aaronic priestly family. Historically, a lamplighter would walk the streets at night, carrying a flame at the end of a pole , going from lamp to lamp  to set them alight. Whether the lamp was in a desolate desert or out at sea where one must dive into the water to reach the lamps, the lamplighters job is to light it, no matter the conditions. Rabbi Sholom Dovber, the 5th Chabad Rebbe, taught that a Chassid is to be a lamplighter; knowing how to find the Jewish lamps, the Jewish souls, and utilizing the long reach of the spiritual pole to ignite them.  Like in the Tabernacle, lighting lamps must be done by those who are like Aaron, full of kindness, seeing the good in everyone and seeking peace.

Benny and Sharonne are lamplighters. They’ve walked through the darkness - before the social media age -  when no one, but G-d, noticed, they’ve illuminated the desert when so many thought it was impossible, and they never forget the mission, brightening the Beehive State. As buddies, Benny and I commiserate with each other, but three things always remain the same: 1) We recognize that without our respective wives we would’ve never made it this far. 2) No matter what the challenge that we are dealing with at a particular moment, we cherish our children and love them unconditionally 3) We know how privileged we are to be in service of the Jewish people and living the loving legacy of our mentor Rabbi Menachem Schneerson.

Salt Lake City is known as City of the Saints; I know why!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

Role Playing!

The Sushi, Blintzes and Cheesecake were thoroughly enjoyed by the seventy-five souls who attended the Shavuot celebration. Our hearts were warmed by the morning Minyan’s all three days. Heaven was smiling when on Shabbos morning our quorum included a 14-year-old teenager from Sacajawea and a 92-year-old WW2 vet Davening together. Yet, the most memorable part of the holiday for me, was spending time with my Aba, as the kids call him “Zayde”, and his wife Leah. They are so much fun, so thoughtful and so energetic. We had many great conversations, including one about child rearing and things we could’ve both done/do better.

In this week’s Torah portion, Naso, we continue the conversation about the role each Levite family played in the Tabernacle. Levi had three sons, and each had a form of service:  The clan of Gershon was charged with the curtains of the Tabernacle and the veils of the enclosure; the clan of Merari was charged with the walls of the Tabernacle and the pillars of the enclosure; and the clan of Kehot carried the vessels used in the Tabernacle and the screen. Kehot, who was the middle brother, was given the most prestigious responsibility, yet, they all accepted G-d’s vision regarding service, encampment and prestige. We do ourselves a disservice when taking down the G-d given roles. Later, Korach tries just that and it fails miserably.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”. He was right. Every morning a new movement is invented to tell the Jew (and every other group on earth) what is in fashion, what is outdated, what parts of Judaism are still ok and what can be uttered and what can’t. I know people who are even scared to share Torah ideas for fear of how “open minded” people will respond. We need to get over it and remember that G-d gave each individual, each tribe, each nation their unique role and it should be celebrated. Some days, I’d love to be a Kohen, but I am not. Some days I am sure Merari wanted to be Gershon or Kehot, too bad, he wasn’t. We don’t always get to choose; some things G-d chooses for us. 

I can sing “If I were a rich man”, but I can’t lose sleep over it if I’m not!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

 

Sinai was Romantic!

On Tuesday, Chavie hosted a wonderful pre-Shavuot women’s event at Labellum Flower Boutique, where they learned how to make their very own flower arrangements. It’s important: 3,330 years ago at the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, G-d beautified the mountain with a wide array of flowers. To commemorate that special moment, we beautify our homes and Synagogues with flowers of all sorts during the two-day Festival of Weeks, Shavuot.

Why flowers? Does G-d need flowers to make Him happy?

I believe He was sending us a subtle message about how He views our relationship with Him.

Too often I chat with fellow Jews who are, genuinely, trying to understand Torah based on the premise that secular thought is absolute truth. We need to switch that around: Torah is not an archaic set of rules, but rather a flowery wisdom that is fragrant, deep, beautiful, appealing and even romantic. It’s this special document that has been kept in the family for millennia, and we, the Jewish people of the 21stcentury, have the opportunity to keep its authentic observance alive for ourselves and the future of Jewry. Let  our premise of truth be the Torah, the Sinai guidelines, and then we can utilize our intellect to match the infinite wisdom with secularism. Ask yourself "Is my kid an expert in Shakespeare?" Maybe not, but I hope that he/she is well versed in Genesis. "What do I know about Hinduism?" Not much, but I’ve got the Mishna on the laws of real estate memorized. "Did my Shtetel parents teach me Darwinism?" Not a chance, but they sure did teach me to appreciate the significance of Eretz Yisroel in Jewish observance.

Secular studies aren’t bad, but life’s foundation comes from a much higher place.

This Sunday, as you stand in Shul listening to the Big Ten, the Ten Declarations uttered by G-d (not Charlton Heston), think about what actually matters in your life. Does Hollywood gossip, D.C. politics or the Korean Peninsula matter as much as Rav Yosef’s 2nd century feelings about the novelty of Shavuot "If not for this day that allowed me to learn Torah and become spiritually exalted, how many Yosefs are there in the market", 12th century Maimonides' writing about holidays “When a person eats and drinks as part of celebrating a holiday, they are obligated to feed "the stranger, the orphan, and the widow” and the 20th century words of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe who wrote that a “ single act is better than a thousand groans. Our G d lives, and Torah and Mitzvot are eternal; quit the groaning and work hard in actual service, and G d will be gracious to you.”.

Sinai is an invaluable currency; not susceptible to market fluctuation!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

Understanding Freedom

On Tuesday, I had the honor of attending Montana’s Law Enforcement Memorial with Attorney General Tim Fox, Gallatin County Sherriff Brian Gootkin, Bozeman Police Chief Steve Crawford and so many others from around the State and Canada. It was awe-inspiring to sit in a room with hundreds of men and women who wake up every morning with one thing in mind: serve and protect. Observing their sincerity and selflessness, contemplating the sacrifice of their family members, who don’t know whether they’ll come home at night (in the presence of Deputy Mason Moore’s family), and the sacred honor which they naturally exude, gave me an opportunity to be grateful for their service.

We are all meant to serve.

In this week’s double Torah portion, Behar-Bechukotai, we read G-d’s famous post Sinai words to the Jewish people: “For the children of Israel are servants to Me; they are My servants, whom I took out of the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your God”. America was founded on the principals of liberty. Patrick Henry, one of our founders, wrote “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” Yet, in Judaism the ultimate is not whether you’re free or not, it’s what you do with that freedom and who you consider yourself free from? Free from tyranny or free from G-d?

During the Exodus from Egypt, G-d emblazoned freedom, redemption, in our hearts. He didn’t do it so that we’re free to live meaningless lives, seeking to make a few dollars, watch some Netflix and plan our next vacation; he gifted us with liberty so that we are free to be in service of Him, by following His instructions that provide us with a meaningful life. There is nothing wrong with occasional r&r, but for heaven sake, let’s not forget why freedom is important and it’s not just for capitalism and July 4th BBQ’s. This Shabbat, as we conclude the book of Leviticus, let’s ponder the meaning of freedom and servitude, and while Judaism abhors forced enslavement of another human, it cherishes our selfless service to the Creator.

Free from shackles; Free to serve!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!! 

Don't Make Him Blush!

Hineh Mah Tov Umah Na'im Shevet Achim Gam Yachad – How pleasant it is indeed when our Jewish family celebrates together. Last night over fifty joined together at The Shul for our 12th annual Lag B’Omer BBQ and Fun Fair. It was incredible to see brothers and sisters of all flavors gathered to celebrate the teachings of love and respect imbued in our Jewish psyche by the great Rabbi Akivah and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Loving G-d, His Torah and His people are the trio of Jewish interconnectedness.  If the love is genuine then we naturally love that which our beloved loves. If the love is legit, it will permeate all three.

In this week’s Torah portion, Emor, we read “You shall not desecrate My Holy Name. I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel. I am the Lord Who sanctifies you”. It’s a Mitzvah that expresses itself both in the positive and negative. We are prohibited from doing something that will desecrate G-d’s reputation amongst humanity and we are obligated to do everything in our power to bring honor to His Holy Name. it’s not enough to teach our children the laws of the land, interhuman etiquette and proper manners, we must also teach them that, as Jews, we have the responsibility to make G-d look good. You may not be happy about the accountability, but it was gifted to us at Sinai and is not negotiable.

As I watched the young Kinderlach jumping on the moon bounce, petting the animals and riding the pony, what I saw was a group of young souls whose parents realized that when a child learns about the great sages of the Talmudic era, it will inevitably help guide them to live a more G-d oriented life. No, I’m not delusional, I don’t think one Lag B’Omer celebration is going to make it or break it, but I do know that the more we teach our children the Torah’s eternal values, the more they will bring honor to G-d, to our people Israel and to all of humanity. It’s ok to tell ourselves and our kids “I can’t do this because it will make our people look bad” or even better “I want to take the high road, the higher standard, because I’m Jewish and more is expected of me”.

Don’t make G-d blush!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

Your Drug of Choice!

It was a first for me, and hopefully a “last” as well. Last Friday, just before Shabbos, I began experiencing a severe allergic reaction to a medication that I started on that day. Magically 30 hours later, when realizing that the drug is the source of my symptoms, the doctor switched it out for a different med, and I was healed. There was nothing wrong with the medication, I’m sure it’s helped, perhaps saved, millions of people when plagued with various infections, but for this 36 year old Jew, it wasn’t the right fit. Just because the drug is awesome, doesn’t mean it’s for me.

This week’s double Torah portion, Acharei-Kedoshim, teaches us seventy-nine of the six-hundred-and-thirteen Mitzvot of the Torah. Some instructions relate to our relationship with G-d, some to the service in the Holy Temple, and so many to our interpersonal relationships. G-d is the doctor, we are the patient and the Torah is our prescription. Are there are other medications in the world? Sure! People have found meaning in many different venues from Zen Buddhism to Hare Krishnas, but for a Jew? We’d have an allergic reaction, as our wholesomeness, our core expression and our holy connection can only come about with the G-d given Jewish meds which is JUDAISM.

This Sunday marks Pesach Sheini, the second Passover, which was a day that came “by the people, for the people”. They demanded a second chance to bring the Passover offering in the Tabernacle, Moses consulted with G-d, G-d agreed, and it was established. It teaches the importance of second chances and that inherently it really isn’t ever too late. Just because you spent so much time taking the non-Jewish meds, just because you’ve visited more shrines than Shuls, just because you’ve enjoyed more gospel music than Chassidc melodies, doesn’t mean it’s too late to change. Let’s resolve together to take only the meds prescribed by our Healer in Chief, Almighty G-d. If you feel sick after ingesting the Jewish med, it’s probably not Judaism!

No Jew is ever allergic to Judaism!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

Speak like a priest!

Today, the 5th of Iyar, our family is celebrating Menny’s fifth birthday. When I reflect on my boy, an energetic bundle of joy, and how he’s grown, naturally, it forces me into introspection.   I’m no “expert” on parenting; I’m just a father trying to be the best I can be to our beloved five children, learning from my many mistakes and always open to learning new techniques for the betterment of the father/child relationship. I’ve been taught that how I speak to the kiddos is so important. The tone I use, the facial expressions I show, the words I express, can make all the difference.

In this week’s double Torah portion, Tazria-Metzora, we read about gossipers and their consequence of Tzaraat, a supernatural dose of blotches that plague the home, clothing and skin. The individual is excommunicated and after a week in isolation, awaits the Kohen’s proclamation of his purity.  Why the Kohen? The Prophet Malachi says, “For a priest's lips shall guard knowledge, and teaching should be sought from his mouth, for he is a messenger of the Lord of Hosts”. The Talmud tells of an incident with three priests in the Temple, each of whom received a portion of the showbread. Since there were many priests, each one received only a small amount. One said to them: I received a bean-sized portion. And one said: I received an olive-bulk. And one said: I received a portion the size of a lizard’s tail. They investigated the background of the latter priest, who used the imagery of an impure creeping animal, and they found a trace of disqualification in his background.

A Kohen teaches by example how to speak properly.

Like a father trying to parent, one may think it’s impossible to change, but just because your mother was a yenta and you love being the one to report the gossip, as all ears are attuned to you, doesn’t mean you can’t change. Henry Thomas Buckle wrote “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people”. If we hang out with priests, people with a more refined and healthy form of speech, it can, and will, change us for the better. If the only thing two people have in common is info on a third party, you need to discover more meaning in your life, so you have better things to talk about.

Ending gossiping; one social scene at a time! 

 

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

 

Emotional Intelligence

Recently, Chavie and I had the opportunity to attend a one-day seminar about self-awareness and EQ/EI. If you’re like me, it’s a new concept, so let me give you the abbreviated version: EQ/EI reflects a person's ability to empathize with others: identify, evaluate, control and express one’s own emotions; perceive, and assess others' emotions; use emotions to facilitate thinking, understand emotional meanings. Naturally, the ideas we were taught were very familiar as they are consistently addressed in Chassidic thought, but having them brought to life, was eye opening and hopefully life changing.

Interestingly, this week’s Torah portion, Shemini, shares two moments of incredible self-awareness, one exhibited by Moses and the other by his brother Aaron. When Aaron, the newly appointed High Priest, hears the news of the untimely passing of Nadav and Avihu, two of his four sons, the Torah says, “And Aaron was silent”. Yes, he recognized their sin of drunkenness in the Holy of Holies, he understood that they experienced spiritual ecstasy and even heard the encouraging words uttered by his younger brother Moses, who said, “This is what the Lord spoke, when He said, 'I will be sanctified through those near to Me, and before all the people I will be glorified”. Yet, Aaron was self-aware of his feelings, his subjectivity and his brokenness and he just remained silent.

Later in the story, Moses condemns Aaron’s two living sons, Elazar and Itamar, for what he perceived as a violation of the tabernacle rules of inauguration. When Moses is reminded of the actual Halacha, G-d’s exact will under the circumstances, he realizes that he was mistaken, his anger was unfounded and after Aaron responds to his rebuke, we are told “Moses heard this, and it pleased him.”. He was adequately self-aware not to take it personal or defend the indefensible, he simply acknowledged his mistake and publicly declared the correct ruling. Moses and Aaron both understood that they aren’t perfect and the more thoughtful they are, the better person/leader they can be.

Having a high IQ is awesome; balanced with a high EQ, is healthy!

 

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

 

Dear Jewish Women...

Dear Jewish women,

I trust this note finds you well, hopefully at the tail end of the labor-intense weeks of cleaning, prepping, cooking and “turning over” your kitchen for our beloved holiday of Passover. Although I share this thought quite often at Shabbat meals and Torah classes, the time has come for me to put pen to paper in expressing my gratitude to each of you for what you’ve given me, what you’ve given our people.

At the Seder, while reading the Haggadah, we relive G-d’s miracles during the Exodus and splitting of the sea, we remember the leaders and warriors who were His emissaries in the redemptive process and we even eat symbolic food connected to the stages of our journey. Yet, it’s easy to forget the “average Jew”, the Jewish “Joe the plumber”, the men and women who made us worthy of this unbelievable transition from slavery to freedom.

So, today I say thank you, thank you to the Jewish women, who are brave, courageous, tenacious, imbued with feminine perspective and who understood liberty before it was a thing.

Thank you to Yocheved and Miriam, Moses’ mother and sister, who saved his life by hiding him in a basket on the water, defying the barbaric decrees.

Thank you to princess Bityah, the Pharaohs daughter, who disobeyed the “empire” and rescued little Moses, adopting him and raising him in the palace.

Thank you to the Jewish midwives who taught the women how to give birth in silence and helped them through the postpartum process so that their children shouldn't be murdered by the Egyptians.

Thank you to the countless Jewish women who watched their children being used as caulking in the mighty walls of Ramases and continued to bring more children, more life and more brightness into the, then broken, world.

Thank you to the Jewish women who during the harsh slavery set aside hand-crafted musical instruments, because they believed, they knew, redemption was promised and wanted to be ready for the subsequent celebration.

Thank you to the Jewish women who didn't Kvetch about the men singing with Moses, but rather joined Miraim and sang together in a most beautiful female assembly.

Thank you to the Jewish women who remained devoted to Judaism while their husbands chose to create a golden calf.

Thank you to the daughters of Tzlafchad who stood up for their rights and with G-d’s full support received a portion in the land of Israel.

Thank you to Deborah the ProphetessYael the Kenite and Yehudis the Maccabee for showing us what women warriors look like.

Thank you to women like Ruth who gave up wealth, prestige and even family just so they can join our treasured nation.

Thank you to Queen Esther for expressing the beauty and dignity of the Jewish woman while interacting with an ultra-secular environment.

Thank you to Bruriah and Yalta who ferociously debated Jewish law with the Rabbis in the Talmudic study halls.

Thank you to the Jewish women during the inquisition, pogroms, holocaust and those living currently on the frontline in our homeland Israel, who have expressed such deep resolve, selflessness and perseverance.

Thank you to Sarah Schenirer for staring the first Jewish girls school in Poland which paved the way for their education till this very day.

Thank you to my mom who was my rock and whose way of thinking, speaking, writing and inspiring still guides me every day.

Thank you to my Bubbe who was a classy woman with a smile of the century, who was so proud of her Jewish heritage.

Thank you to my Israeli Savta, born and bred in Jerusalem, whose passion for Torah Judaism and her love for Israel was second to none.

Thank you to the Jewish women who race home to light their Shabbos candles before sunset and who have broken the ice of Montana's springs to immerse themselves in a Mikvah.

Thank you to the Jewish women who naturally appreciate, or have learned to appreciate, the guidelines of modesty and realize that being attractive isn’t synonymous with being provocative.

Thank you to the countless Jewish women I’ve met, who through thick and thin, through intermarriages and divorces, through urban and rural life, have remained unwavering in their union with G-d and His people.

Thank you to Chavie, who, through the ups and downs that we share, continues to be my anchor, my hope and my tower of strength.

Dear women, I write this, so that you know how appreciated you are. It’s not only about your good looks and splendid clothing, it’s not only about your mouthwatering cooking and tireless mothering, it’s not just about your infinite love and stereotype-breaking successes, it’s about you. The inner you; the you that is so unique, so dignified, so feminine, so so deserving of our respect.

May this Pesach bring you all revealed blessings that allows you to be yourselves as you teach us all how to experience freedom, something ya’ll made a reality.

With respect and admiration,

Brother Chaim

PS May G-d bless our secular society and help them understand that when a man or woman refrains from physical contact with someone from the opposite sex, it’s out of respect, not contempt.  

PPS May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

An Unnatural Gift!

During a family getaway for spring break, at a cabin near the Madison, I had the opportunity to learn about the life of football player Michael Oher, who was taken in by Sean & Leigh Anne Tuohywhich changed his life forever. This incredible story of genuine kindness reminded me of a song I grew up with, by Chassidic singer Avraham Fried “There’s a small piece of heaven in everyone’s heart, a glorious gift from above, it will sparkle and shine if we each do our part, to reach out and touch it with love”. It’s important for each of us to see the diamond within each heart.

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Tzav, second in the Book of Leviticus, we read that “A continuous fire shall burn upon the altar; it shall not go out.”. The 16th century Jewish poet, Rabbi Elazar Ben Moshe Azkiri of Safed, wrote “I will build a tabernacle​​ in my heart to glorify G-d's honor. And I will place an altar in the tabernacl​​e dedicated​ to G-d's divine rays of splendor. ​ And for the eternal flame I will take upon myself the fire that fueled the Binding of Isaac. And as a sacrifice​ I will offer G-d my soul, my unique soul.” Sometimes, our view of our fellow is impaired due to the billows of smoke; what we don’t realize is that it’s the smoke of their soul on fire.

This upcoming Tuesday, I will be celebrating the birth of my beloved Rebbe. I know it’s been almost twenty-four years since his passing, yet I still celebrate, because his birthday is a day that the world was gifted, a day that I was gifted. Gifted with what? The Rebbe is the one who taught me to do the unnatural. To see the good in others without being judgmental, to give others the benefit of the doubt, even when logic says I should doubt them, to reach out to those who have resisted my outreach before, because today is not yesterday and to believe that I can change the world through my work in Montana. He ignited my inner flame and I try to kindle others with it. Education Day USA is dedicated to him, because that’s the foundation of all education: seeing your students as gems.

Happy birthday dear Rebbe; thank you for gifting me with glasses of hope!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

 

 

Healthy Fat!

Yesterday, while Menny was skiing at Bridger with his buddy Ari and Shoshana was relaxing at home with books and music, I headed to Spanish Peaks, with Chaya and Zeesy in tow, to affix Mezuzot at the home of our friends Dorita and Hal. While enjoying our conversation, I was inspired by an idea shared by Hal regarding Tzedakah, giving charity; he said, “it’s not really yours until you give it away”. I don’t know if everyone can accept that idea as fact, but the importance of giving away a percentage of our income is vital, not only to the perseverance of Jewish life and a healthy society, but to our personal sense of spiritual fulfillment and growth.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayikra, the first in the book of Leviticus, we read about the sacrificial offerings. In the midst of it all we read that “the kohen shall cause it to go up in smoke on the altar, consumed as a fire offering, with a pleasing fragrance. All sacrificial fat belongs to the Lord.” “Fat” is not only an animal part, but a figure of speech for “the very best”. As Maimonides writes “In this way, one who desires to gain merit for himself, subjugate his evil inclination, and amplify his generosity should bring his sacrifice from the most desirable and superior type of the item he is bringing. For it is written in the Torah ( Genesis 4:4)"And Abel brought from his chosen flocks and from the superior ones and God turned to Abel and his offering."

The story is told of the Holy Reb Zusha of Anipoli, who lay crying on his deathbed. His students asked him, "Rebbe, why are you so sad? After all the good you have done, you will surely get a great reward in heaven!" "I'm afraid!" said Reb Zusha. "Because when I get to heaven, I know G-d's not going to ask me 'Why weren't you more like Moses?' or 'Why weren't you more like King David?' But I'm afraid that G-d will ask 'Zusha, why weren't you more like Zusha?' And then what will I say?!". True, it’s not easy, as we like to hang on to our hard-earned cash, but that’s exactly why it’s so special, doing the best we can. Yes, I am a Rabbi/Fundraiser, but like every Jew, I tithe, and giving charity is most rewarding.  It’s not only about the quantity of our gift; it’s about sincerity and quality.

Charity, the secret to fulfillment and accessible 24/7!

 

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

 

Moses & Math!

Earlier this week, I was honored to represent Montana at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. (click here for pics). In addition to engaging in important networking events, I was able to listen to diverse perspectives about Israel’s current state of affairs. From Ambassador Nikki Haley to Senator Chuck Schumer, from Vice President Mike Pence to Senator Amy Klobuchar, the speakers were all passionate about their love for the Jewish people and unwavering support of the Holy Land. It’s not often that people set aside their personal politics for the greater good, but at AIPAC I saw that it’s certainly possible.

In this week’s double Torah portion, Vayakhel – Pekudei, we read about the construction of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. Moses descends from the mountain on Yom Kippur with G-d’s merciful gift of forgiveness and the next morning, Tishrei 11, he instructs Jewry to build a home for G-d on earth. He demands that everyone join together, each gifting their unique talents and strengths, to ensure the perfection of this holy abode. From weaving tapestries to creating beam sockets, from collecting herbs for the incense offering to donating mirrors to create a washing basin, men and women put their tribalism aside to make this a reality.

It’s high time for the Jewish people to do the same today. We MUST cut the nonsense and internal gossiping. We don’t have to all agree, we don’t have to all be in sync and we definitely don’t need to demonize those who disagree with us. Let’s focus on our relationship with G-d, His Torah and His land and put aside our differences for the greater good. Way too often, marginalization, discrimination and hatred doesn’t come from the outside, but from the inside the Jewish camp and that’s just plain wrong. Moses taught us that each of us is good at something and we must utilize that uniqueness for the betterment of our people and humanity. I don’t agree with all the speakers at AIPAC (and don’t even agree with all of AIPAC’s founding philosophies) but when eighteen thousand Jews and gentiles get together for a good cause, in this case a love for Israel, it’s inspiring and a reason for hope.

Moses was good at math, but division was his least favorite subject!

 

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

Batter Up!

Last night was truly incredible! A packed house of joyous souls gathered at The Baxter for a rokin Purim in Candyland (Photo Gallery) with Chavie’s mouthwatering food, a bar with L’Chaim galore, Walt’s fantastic magic show, a Megillah reading at the speed of light and an atmosphere of unadulterated joy that lifted us above and beyond, as we say in Yiddish Tefach Hecher! Young and old, native and newcomer, regulars and Holiday-Jews, all came together to celebrate the story of a woman who stepped up to the plate and saved the day.

You see, in this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Tisa, we read about the sin of all time, the molding of a golden calf. The problem with that disgraceful moment, wasn’t only the actual sin, but also the multitudes of Jews who stood at the sidelines and didn’t try to stop the insane perversion. You’re standing and watching your fellow brothers creating an inanimate “leader” who they claimed took them out of Egypt, and you don’t have the decency to put your arm around their shoulder and remind them that they just received the Torah at Sinai and that this is unbecoming? You can’t invite them over for a drink and lovingly knock some sense into them? Esther had her moment too. She hesitated, but Mordechai got her going, and she then changed the trajectory of Jewish history.

We each have our Purim moment. We can either sit back and say “I’m sure someone will step up and do right by our people, but I’m too cozy watching football and I don’t want to stand out”, or we can be like Esther and say “I know my life is on the line, but if not now, when? and if not me, who? I must stand up for my people, for myself, at all costs”. Let’s internalize Purim, let’s channel the joy of Esther into the joy of doing right because it’s right. Let’s step up to the plate at our moment, even if your “so called” friends think your “addiction to Judaism” is a little overkill. Life is not a contest of getting Facebook likes, it’s an opportunity to change the world and only when we’re in Esther mode can we accomplish this.

Talk is cheap; Esther chose action!  

 

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

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