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Weekly Message

Weekly Message


The Gift of Family!

After an uplifting Farbrengen with Rabbi Yitzchok Wolf of Chicago (pics here), celebrating my 36th birthday and the Rosh Hashana of Chassidism , I hopped over to South Florida for twelve hours (and thirteen hours of flying), to address the high school students of the Rohr Bais Chaya Academy in honor of this auspicious day. It was remarkable to speak to a room of teenage girls who are genuinely interested in Torah depth and spiritual growth. A perk of visiting Florida is spending time, albeit a few short hours, with my older brother Yochanan and his beautiful family. When I’m around my family I tend to turn into a kid again; giggling, teasing and just having sibling fun.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeishev, which I read for my Bar Mitzvah , we read about Joseph seeking out his ten half-brothers on behalf of his father Jacob. It was no secret that his brothers shunned him, but siblings are siblings, and Joseph heads out seeking “Es Achai Anochi Mevakesh - I am looking for my brothers. Tell me now, where are they pasturing?”. While they didn’t reciprocate with the decency expected of family, they inherently loved him, and it was palpable years later when they finally reunite with Joseph as Viceroy of Egypt. Siblings can be asinine on occasion, but my parents raised us with the understanding that when siblings get along and are there for each other, nothing can stop them.

On Tuesday evening we will usher in Chanukah, the festival of lights, when we celebrate the Maccabee victory over the Syrian Greeks 2,156 years ago. The Greeks demanded the defilement of Judaism and Matisyahu, along with his five sons, Shimon, Elazar, Yonatan, Yehuda and Yochanan, were unwilling to sell out. Undoubtedly, Chanukah was miraculous in the deliverance of the “mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few” and the kindling of “lights in Your holy courtyards” which is why we celebrate with such fervor.  Yet, it is also a reminder of how much can be accomplished when a family works together. When - despite their age difference, personalities and world view -  the five Maccabee brothers bond together, nothing can stop them from illuminating the world for generations to come. Whether Joseph or Judah the Maccabee, they taught us by example, that there’s nothing as vital as family.

Happy Chanukah brothers and sisters!  

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!!!

What are you worth?

After a whirlwind trip to Shelby, Fort Benton, Ulm and Helena, I returned to Bozeman for a busy week; sending Montana’s Jewish Voice to print, prepping for our winter programming, including Chanukah, and, wretchedly, dealing with another struggling soul who has had hopeless thoughts for quite some time, but finally attempted suicide. This beautiful Neshama was so broken, in so much pain and felt so helpless that she thought there was no other option other than “getting out”, saying “I don’t want to live anymore”. Obviously, rabbis/parents/teachers/relatives are not mental health professionals, which must always be consulted and are an integral part of the experience, but as a rabbi, seeing this person's pain was raw and gut-wrenching.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, we read about Jacob’s reunion with his lawless brother Esau. Jacob is concerned, even frightened, for his four wives, twelve children (Benjamin wasn’t born until after the reunion), and of an altercation with another wicked relative, having just been freed after two decades with conniving Laban. Esau is a known mobster, coming toward Jacob with four hundred of his toughest men and Jacob prepares with appeasement gifts, prayer to G-d and even for the possibility of outright war. Jacob’s life was no picnic, he was on the run, dealing with cheaters and abusers and trying to raise a family in an immoral middle east. What’s Jacob’s secret? How does he overcome, seemingly, insurmountable challenges? What was his education trick that taught his boys and girl to have the inner courage to deal correctly with anything that life brings?

He didn’t ignore the world; he just saw it in a very different light.

The Torah tells us that when Esau departed “Jacob traveled to Succoth and built himself a house, and for his cattle he made booths”. Jacob builds a stable home base for “himself”, for the things that mattered to “him”, to his essence, but for his “cattle”, for the materialistic realities of the world around him, he made “booths”. Our society has allowed, and even commanded, us to think of superficial and less important aspects of life as integral and essential, when they are anything but that. These factors can lead people, especially younger ones, to thoughts of inadequacy and hopelessness. We must teach anyone who will listen that at the core they’re beautiful; life is so much more than broken friendships, bullying jerks and the void felt in our hearts when experiencing terrible losses. Our worthiness doesn’t come from the outside, it comes from the inside which sparkles and shines.

Seek professional help and internalize/share this message with everyone!

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 Quit Breathing!

The International conference of Chabad Shluchim (emissaries), took place this past weekend. Though I didn’t participate in person this year, the images of my colleagues celebrating in Brooklyn, were naturally inspiring. Jonathan Mark of The Jewish Week wrote “From Africa to the Arctic, Chabad’s ‘Happy Warriors’ Now In 100 Countries”. Yair Ettinger in the Jerusalem Post wrote “A new Uganda Plan: Emissaries to open first Chabad House in Kampala” and Rabbi Shmuly Boteach, wrote in the Algemeiner “Chabad is no longer a Jewish movement. It is Judaism. Even those who were once critics now travel to Caribbean island vacations and are blown away that they can pray with a minyan and get kosher food because of Chabad. No other organization even comes close to its global reach and grassroots impact. And it is growing exponentially.”

So, what is the secret? How do we do it? What keeps us going?

Finally, after a long hiatus, my morning routine is back on schedule. It was 4:45 AM on Monday and I was reading a letter that my beloved Rebbe of blessed memory wrote in the summer of 1954. In it, he explains that sadly, some Jews view Judaism like immunizations, you get inoculated occasionally, either preventatively or as a cure, but it’s rare and sometimes ineffective. In truth, Judaism is like oxygen and we need it 24/7 to survive. Moses tells Jewry before his passing "for that is your life and the length of your days”. Judaism is not an elective or a beautiful philosophy of “Tikkun Olam”, it’s who we are, how we live and without it we are like fish out of the water.

So, while Chabad couples do have a unique, Rebbe-gifted, energetic approach and joy of life, it’s available to all who choose to have Judaism embedded in their day to day. Breathing can be hard; just ask anyone with asthma or catch me while hiking up to the M, yet, I’ve never met someone who said, “I’ll quit breathing because it’s too hard”. The oxygen of Judaism isn’t always easy either, yet it’s worth the effort, because it’s life. This Thanksgiving weekend, let’s thank G-d for giving us his Torah oxygen that has kept His people alive for thousands of years and will continue to do just that for all eternity.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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!!!

Birthright Control!

While returning from a joyous Simcha in California, I walked through the airports in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Bozeman carrying Helen’s Torahscroll in-hand, as placing it underneath the plane is not an option. As I Shlepped from terminal 2 to terminal 1 for my connecting flight, all eyes were on the Torah. As I made a left turn into gate area B, a young fellow walked up to me and asked, “May I kiss the Torah?” Of course, he did, and I invited him to come visit our Shul in Bozeman. While getting off the plane in Bozeman, I heard a fellow behind me telling his wife “He must be carrying a Torah”.

In this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, we read about Esau and Jacob, twin sons of Isaac and Rebecca. After their grandfather Abraham’s passing, Jacob was cooking a lentil stew for the mourners, when Esau arrived home irritable and hungry. He demanded “Pour into me, now, some of that very red stuff for I am exhausted”. Jacob agrees to feed him for the “cheap” price of Esau’s “birthright”. Esau agrees to the sale without any hesitation, saying “Look, I am going to die, so of what use to me is the birthright…Esau spurned the birthright”. It was sold to Jacob, fair and square and it forces our minds to wonder: how does one reach a place in life where they are ready to sell their birthright, simply for instant gratification, for a pot of lentils? Yes, ritualistically there are responsibilities for a firstborn, but isn’t worth the blessings?

I think in some ways we all struggle with the Esau Syndrome. How often are we ready to give up on a valuable experience, whether with family or G-d, simply because of instant gratification? For us it may not be a literal pot of lentils, but it may be a great non-Kosher Sushi restaurant, a meeting with the President on Shabbos, a once-in-a-lifetime concert on Friday night, a hard business choice that messes with at least one of the Ten Commandments, spending time with our families when we are stressed out; how often have we sold our Jewish birthright cheaply, simply to gain a moment of so-called bliss? Is it really that hard to remember that we have a birthright? As I marched through the airports, I was reminded that we should be delighted to have an eternal covenant with Hashem and that, for the most part, the world respects those who respect themselves. Can you really find something more valuable as a substitute to the beauty of our heritage? Impossible.

Don’t sell yourself short!

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!!!

Save the Whales?

Our family loves animals. Were it not for my opposition, they would’ve had a pet dog long ago. Last week, before we merited the below zero temperatures and bombardment of snow, as the kids were playing in the front yard, I heard Chaya telling Menny to refrain from killing an insect because “you’re taking its life away and they want to live too” (I will not share Menny’s response :)). I guess, when living out west, in the beautiful Rocky Mountains, surrounded by deer, elk, moose, bison, bears and occasional mountain lions, it gives us an opportunity to be more in tune and sensitive, not only to nature, but to the magnificent animal kingdom.

In this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, we read of Abraham’s search for a suitable bride for his beloved Isaac. He sends his servant Eliezer to his ancestral hometown, in modern day Syria, and Eliezer settles near the local well, a popular meeting spot. He asks G-d to preform the following sign: Whichever of the young maidens will offer to give his camels water in addition to quenching his own thirst “her have You designated for Your servant, for Isaac, and through her may I know that You have performed loving kindness with my master”. He wasn’t testing her on how often she visited the sick, helped the poor, studied Torah or her devotion to honoring her father and mother; the test was simply whether she expressed kindness to animals or not and Rebecca passed the test.

This is not a plea for everyone to become vegan or join PETA, as Judaism has its own unique approach to food consumption and treatment of animals. Yet, it is a reminder that our sensitivity to animals reflects who we are and whether we are kind or cruel human beings. Sadly, there are those in our world that would hurt an animal before a human, simply because there’s a better chance they won’t end up in prison. Yet, for us, prison or expensive fines aren’t the barometer. The Psalmist says in the Ashrei prayer “His mercies extend over all His work”.

Save yourself, be nice to a whale!

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!!! 


Stereotyping is a rotten philosophy. Most of us, myself included, generalize from time-to-time, even when we are unfamiliar with those that we are singling out. On Sunday, I visited Chester, up on the Montana Hi-Line, just thirty miles south of the Canadian border. I was there to visit Stricks Ag, a newly certified company under our Montana Kosher – Vaad HaKashrus of Montanasupervision. Chester is small town and I didn’t know what to expect, but everyone, the kids and I met, were sweet, respectful and gracious. These people could’ve easily been labeled “rednecks” or worse, when in truth they are good people who work the land, love their neighbors and respect people like me who don’t exactly fit the Hi-Line profile.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeira, we read about the moral decay of the five municipalities in Israel’s Sodom region. Just before G-d brought eternal destruction to this local, Abraham, the first Jew and humanity’s most prominent monotheist, beseeches G-d to save the people. He demands of G-d to reexamine the towns and see if, perhaps, there are a few righteous people, whose worthiness would make saving the neighborhood worthwhile. G-d is open to Abraham’s idea, but these people simply did not exist. Abraham didn’t stereotype. It would’ve been way easier for Abraham, who knew the immoral attitude and behavior of these people, to simply “mix out” and allow G-d to do His thing, unbothered. Instead, Abraham, doing what every kind and spiritual person should, individualized instead of generalizing, hoping a few good apples would save the rest. Instead of lumping the good with the bad, he tried to lump the bad with the good.

We are easy to judge “other” societies, yet, get all bent out of shape when “our” society is judged. It’s high time that we stopped looking at others, seeking to find “something” we don’t like about them, and, instead, go out and meet them, talk to them and listen to them over a cup of coffee; it will be pleasantly surprising, even refreshing, when we learn how wrong we are about them. A bumper sticker is glued to the the filing cabinet in my office, it was gifted to me back in 2010 by the beloved Rabbi Yisroel Deren. It says something I try to internalize every day:

Don’t believe everything you think!

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!!!

The Dynamic Duo!

Incredible! Unbelievable! What a Night! These are just some of the expressions of joy shared by those who attended our Tenth Anniversary Gala and Maccabeats Concert that rocked the Museum of the Rockies on Sunday (videos and pictures coming soon). On Monday, my friend Larry from Manhattan (Manhattan, Montana, that is) left me a voicemail saying “Hey Rabbi, Leibel here…Last night was truly an amazing, historic, spiritual, monumental, milestone, blown-away, event. I mean, it was just incredible, I still can’t stop thinking about how wonderful it is on so many different levels and thank you for everything you’ve done with Chavie for everyone in the community….”.

L’Chaim to the next decade of Yiddishkait!

This week’s Torah portion is Lech-Lecha. In her eloquent words Sunday evening, Chavie mentioned, that it’s surely no coincidence that as we celebrate a “Decade of Light” we read about Abraham and Sarah. Our founding matriarch and patriarch, were entrusted with a G-dly mission to journey out of their hometown, comfort zone and familial community and to change the world. They traveled through the middle east, educating and inspiring pagans to become monotheistic, thus transforming Canaan into Israel. This dynamic duo were the original Lubavitchers, doing everything in their power to deepen the relationship of humanity with their Creator. They single handedly changed the trajectory of the world from atheistic to believing, from G-dless to G-dly.

Recently, Kaign Christy, a relative of a key family at our Shul, passed away from a sudden illness. In 2004, Kaign left his successful law practice in Arizona and, together with his wife Jean, were determined to fight the travesty of modern day slavery and sexual exploitation. In a little over a decade, using the laws on the books in Cambodia, the Philippines and, most recently, Ghana, they forced these countries to implement the law and end human trafficking. Just one couple, determined to make a difference, succeeded with flying colors. As Steve Jobs once said, “the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do”.

Don’t think it’s possible? Just ask the Maccabees!

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!!!

Come Out of Your Cocoon!

It was a month infused with holiness and joy. Hundreds came through The Shul, The Sukkah and our home during Tishrei. It’s hard to describe the warmth and energy felt by all, as we connected with our Creator during the many holidays. Yet, every good party comes to an end, and yesterday I headed to Billings to do the Tahara (together with the amazing Dr. Brian Shnitzer), and officiate at the burial, of Mark Lurie, Mordechai Dovid Ben Moshe, a beloved father and husband from Roundup. It was quite the wake-up call, challenging for me, as I was thrust back into “regular” life that is accompanied too often by a harsh reality; but then I thought of Noah.

In this week’s Torah portion, Noach, we read about the great flood. Noah, his family and a whole slew of animals are saved. The waters recede and Noah, daunted by the task of overseeing humanity’s rebirth, is told by G-d “Tzei Min HaTeiva – leave the ark”; he needed that extra push to look the devastation in the eye and say, “I’m coming for you”. Undoubtedly, living in a cocoon would be easier, living in a bubble can absolutely protect us from the craziness on the outside, and on occasion, even I, who loves socializing, is slightly jealous of authentic hermits. Yet, it was G-d’s will for Noah - and all of us – that he gets off his cozy couch and makes a difference in the world. The past is only relevant, if it energizes us to create a bright future.

Yesterday, I commemorated the first Yahrtzait of my beloved grandfather, my Zayde, Rabbi Shimon Goldman. He entire family was slaughtered by the Nazis, but he wasn’t obsessed with his past. He was a force of light, focused on making a good life for himself and his decedents. He missed his parents and six siblings dearly, but used their sacred memory to enjoy everything they couldn’t; enjoying life, family and his relationship with G-d. Zayde could’ve bottled up the Holocaust in his heart, making it who he was, as many others did, never moving forward; but like Noah, he understood that G-d wants him to ensure that tomorrow is brighter and you can’t do that by being stuck in your past.

Be kind: share the holiday energy with the rest of your year!

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!!!

My Yizkor Letter...

Dear Mommy,

It’s been a while since I last wrote, but tomorrow night is Yom Kippur and I wanted to touch base. I am clueless as to how Yom Kippur is commemorated in your heavenly home, but I am certain you will visit with your parents, my beloved Bubbe and Zayde, and receive your father’s pre-Yom-Kippur blessing which you haven’t received personally, face to face, since your passing.

Our sages instituted the Yizkor memorial prayer to be recited on Yom Kippur to help atone for our loved ones who have passed on. I am pretty sure Ma that you don’t need atonement, but I will stay in Shul nonetheless. Yochanan, Yanky, Rochel, Mushkie and I will stand in Shul, silently, thinking of you, pledging Mitzvos on your behalf and probably wiping away a tear or two. It’s the seventh Yom Kippur that I will be in Shul memorializing you; my anchor, my friend, my mother.

Sadness is prohibited on Jewish holidays, but Yizkor is a unique type of grief that makes us feel better, even happier; unloading the burden of our memory and bringing us solace. In those five, seemingly endless, minutes of Yizkor, I will have to squeeze in so many thoughts:

Yizkor: I will remember that I was blessed with a mother who taught me the value of family and friendship. You bit your lip all the time, just to keep the peace.

Yizkor: I will remember how much you cried for Chavie and I, both at home and at the Rebbe’s resting place, because you wanted G-d to bless us with biological children.

Yizkor: I will remember how you’d Shlepp to your favorite boutique clothing stores, Widensky’s, Tuesdays Child and Nathan’s, so we were the cutest dressed kids in the neighborhood.

Yizkor: I will remember how much you missed us when we moved to Montana but how proud you were to tell everyone about our accomplishments out west.

Yizkor: I will remember how hard it was for you when Aba’s business struggled in the 90’s and how, despite your misfortune, you stepped up to the plate to teach and tutor your beloved students, supplementing the income. 

Yizkor: I will remember how much Yiddishkait meant to you. You loved its depth and imparted that to your children.

Yizkor: I will remember how much you disliked superficiality, and begged your loved ones to be authentic and genuine. You never needed anyone’s approval to do the right thing.

Yizkor: I will remember how devoted you were to your five children. Even when we gave you a run for your money, we were the apple of your eye, and always came first.

Yizkor: I will remember your decade of suffering and your fight for life. How, despite your pain, you always made your doctors and nurses feel appreciated.  

I will stand in Shul, Ma, on Yom Kippur and I will remember that I was blessed with a mother that believed in me and always demanded more of me. I will dig deep into memory-land and garner lessons from your fruitful life. Everything I do has a touch of my Yiddishe Mame in it. You didn’t just give birth to me, raise me, nurture me and love me; you, together with Aba, made me the man I am and for that I will say Yizkor.

Members of our ever-growing Shul will be standing around me, each in their own silent daze, thinking of their loved ones. I will of course think of my four grandparents, our Rebbe, and all those who died Al Kiddush Hashem, in Israel and abroad, bringing honor to our people and G-d. Yet, above all, I will think of you. Yom Kippur is about introspection and change and my greatest encouragement to do better, to be better and to even think better, is you.

Your kids are doing well, Ma; we are as close as ever. Your nineteen grandchildren learn about you and will carry your legacy, and our five-week-old Chana Laya, named lovingly for you, is growing beautifully and keeping Chavie up all night. All five of your children now have a child named for you. Life is different without you and I don’t cry as much, but you’re in my heart 24/7 and I await our reunion with the coming of Mashiach.

I know you miss us too. So please, Ma, say Yizkor along with us. Say Yizkor so that you don’t either forget all our fun times together and your yearning for us should be as strong as our yearning for you. I know you never wanted to leave, but don’t let distance, both time and space, hurt the precious memories of your amazing life on G-d’s green earth.   

Mommy dear, peek into the Book of Life, if you can, and make sure your loved ones are signed and sealed. If there’s any trouble, use your well-deserved connection with the Almighty to set the record straight. We’re counting on you.  May we merit the redemption and I’ll see you in Jerusalem!

Have an easy fast. We'll talk at Yizkor. 


Chaim Shaul

PS Don’t be offended that I stopped saying L’Chaim for your soul at our Shabbos table. I did it for seven years, but now that I have a living Chana Laya in house, I have a reminder of you 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!!!

Dear Chaim....

On Wednesday evening, we will usher in a New Year with Rosh Hashana 5778. During the holiday service, we read the Haftorah about the infertility of Chana and Elkanah. Chana - childless and troubled by her super-fertile sister Peninah - travels to G-d’s Tabernacle in Shiloh and breaks down in prayer, beseeching G-d for a child. She is then blessed with baby Samuel, who grows to be a prominent prophet of the Jewish people.

When she returns with Shmuel to Shiloh, she thanks G-d. In her words “ For this child did I pray, and the Lord granted me my request, which I asked of Him.” How often do we pause to simply say “thank you” to Hashem before submitting our next request? How often do we see the gifts given to us by G-d and just relish in them? How often do we recognize that Indeed Hashem has answered our prayers?

I want to publicly express my thanks to the Almighty, for all that He has done for my family and I and to apologize for not being grateful enough.

Last night, I envisioned receiving this note from G-d:

Dearest Chaim,

Thanks again for dedicating your life to sharing my Torah with Montana. I appreciate all that you do, but I need to knock some sense into you and put you in your place, so please bear with me.  

I know that you, like all my creations, have “moments” but please get a grip. Next time you are struggling, next time you think your world is imploding, next time you question what I’m smoking, please remember Chana’s words “El Hanaar Hazeh Hispalalti – For this child I did pray.”. These heartbreaking moments of life always pass and at the end you will see that I’ve answered your prayers in spades.

When your children are misbehaving, Chaim, giving you heartache, remind yourself:

El Hanaar Hazeh Hispalalti – For this child I did pray. You wanted a family so badly and look, I’ve provided you and Chavie with just that.

When your child is struggling with a tough medical quandary, remind yourself Chaim:

El Hanaar Hazeh Hispalalti – For this child I did pray. Yes, they have health challenges, but I’ve also gifted you and Chavie with inner strength and amazing doctors to get you through the darkness.

When you drive 400 miles just to visit one young Jew in desperate need of love, remind yourself Chaim:

El Hanaar Hazeh Hispalalti – For this child I did pray. How fortunate are you to spend your day on the road, in order to uplift one of My children.

When a Jew increases their Mitzva observance and you’re frustrated that it isn’t more, remind yourself Chaim:

El Hanaar Hazeh Hispalalti – For this child I did pray. Yes, it may be a bit frustrating, but in My eyes, Chaim, their small step upwards has shaken the heavens and is so precious.

When you think that someone else has it easier or better than you, remind yourself Chaim,

El Hanaar Hazeh Hispalalti – For this child I did pray. The life I have given you, is a perfect fit, tailor made for you, so cut the you-know-what and be grateful.

Do you feel me Chaim? I don’t mean to shut you up, but please take a moment, daily, to see how much you’re loved and blessed.

I bless you with a rokin New Year and wish you continued success in making Montana a place that makes Me feel at home. Please thank Chavie on My behalf, not only for putting up with you, but for being an amazing mother to her five Kinderlach and a spiritual leader of Big Sky Country.



There’s nothing about my life I’d want to swap out, and neither should you. Look at your life and sing El Hanaar Hazeh Hispalalti – For this child I did pray”. G-d please continue to give me what I need to be the best I can be in service of You!

Please take a moment before Rosh Hashana to enjoy this beautiful rendition of  El Hanaar Hazeh Hispalalti , composed by Reb Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz of Los Angeles. The kids and I love it, I think you will too!

Happy 5778!

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!!! 

Shabbos in the ER!

It was the scariest moment of my life. In the very wee hours of Shabbos morning I rushed Zeesy to Bozeman Health’s ER as she continued her downhill spiral that started earlier Friday. I sat near her hospital bed for what seemed like forever: I sang to her, I spoke to her, I spoke to G-d, I spoke to my Rebbe, I spoke to my mother and Bubby, I reached a depth I didn’t know existed within me. I cried endlessly with a reservoir of tears that flowed freely. Our beloved Zeesy was aching in agony, she was non-responsive; this was no good. As Shabbos progressed so did her health and I assure you that I’ve never been so excited to converse with a child and feed them in middle of the night like I was on Saturday night.

We still don’t know what triggered the incident but today I have a new admiration and would like to publicaly salute the parents who have journeyed, or are currently journeying, with their children through health challenges in and out of hospitals and doctor visits. You are amazing. I know, that at times, you’ve sat alone in the “cozy” recliners near your children’s bed and thought that no one cares, no one really knows what it’s like and have felt deeply hopeless. I empathize, I think I may understand a little bit of what it’s like and I want you to know that your children are blessed to have you. I don’t know why G-d, in His infinite wisdom, does what He does, I don’t know why Zeesy can’t “just be like everyone else”, but I do know that when Zeesy opened her eyes I felt so grateful to my Father in Heaven. Sometimes we want our kids to “shut up”, “bug off” or to “go to sleep already” and it’s normal, but how many parents who have lost a child, wished they had your noisy ungrateful rascals?

Just a dose of food for thought.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, we read about the punishments that will befall our people for their spiritual malpractice. Chassidic thought emphasizes that at the core of these “curses” are deeper blessings; blessings that can only reach us via the disguise of “curses”. I can’t talk for others, but Zeesy’s forty-five hour “scare the living daylights out of us” stint in the hospital, made camping in a tent on Sunday night, a first for me, a lot more pleasurable. I don’t know if this past weekend made me stronger, more spiritual or I’ve become totally delusional; heck, I don’t even know what Hashem was trying to convey, but what I do know is that during this week, Chavie I were happy to deal with five one-of-a-kind, occasionally  nutty/wild/insane/out-of-control/spoiled children.

Dear G-d, I got the message; no need for any more reminders! 

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 mess with Texas!

Saturday night was heartbreaking. As we sat in cozy Bozeman opening a few gift boxes from the baby registry, we viewed with horror, what babies, some as young as Chana Laya, were experiencing in Houston. Speaking to my colleague Yossi, whose home, in Bellaire, was flooded, I could detect mixed emotions. On the one hand, he sounded tired and anxious, yet, his resolve and eagerness to help his neighbors was inspiringly palpable (Click here to support the amazing recovery efforts in Houston). I showed my children a few images and videos from the news; I wanted them to see that despite the devastation, America is remarkable and so is its citizenry.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Teitzei, we are commanded “not see your brother's donkey or his ox fallen under its load on the road, and ignore them. Rather, you shall pick up the load with him.” G-d wants us to be of assistance to our fellow when their source of revenue is in jeopardy, as when their donkey is immobile. The Talmud in Bava Metzia explains that the reason this Mitzvah, already mentioned in Exodus, is repeated in Deuteronomy, is because at times our obligation is, not to help the owner reload, but rather, to help remove the load from the donkey’s back. We are biblically ordered to care for our neighbor, but also to ensure that all life, including animal life, isn’t mistreated or abused.

Houston may have a problem, but they have proven that humanity is the solution.

in Song of Songs, the wise King Solomon teaches the eternal truth that “Great waters will not be able to extinguish the love, and rivers will not wash her away”. Indeed, 24.5 trillion gallons of water couldn’t stop the love that flowed through southeast Texas this week. Chavie’s a Texan and they are truly one-of-a-kind. From Fire & Rescue teams to citizen volunteers, from furniture stores turned into shelters by their owners to selfless Chabadnik’s who have spent the entire week helping Jew and gentile alike. This is America, this is Texas, this is Judaism. Harvey, like many before him, have tried to break the spirit of the soul, but like his predecessors, he will fail too.

There's a place not too far away from here…Well they call it Texas and it's a mighty fine place to be”! 

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!!!

Eclipsing the Eclipse!

Sitting on the lawn of Ashton Elementary School in northeast Idaho, I watched the total eclipse in absolute amazement. Yet, I’ll admit publicly, that for me, the eclipse was eclipsed by a far greater wonder, the birth and adoption of our newborn. It’s been six-plus years since my mom’s passing and, ever since, I’ve been hoping for a baby to carry her name. At the Shabbos Torah reading, after reading the words “in accordance with the blessing of the Eternal, your God, that He has given to you” I had the honor of naming our daughter Chana Laya (She has a registry here). She is delicious, cute and so lovable. During these “seven weeks of consolation”, I received mine.

Raising a hand-full (literally) of children, is no simple task. Our world is chaotic, winds of secularism and unchecked insanity are blowing strongly and divisiveness has overtaken our once United States. Nevertheless, we are still capable of raising holy children in the 21st century. In this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, we discuss war. The Jewish soldiers are commanded not to fear their enemy, even if seemingly mighty. Soldiers that are unfocused, whether newlyweds, new homeowners, new vignerons and those that are “chicken”, should go home. You don’t want a few distracted soldiers, weakening the entire army. In the pre-war words of the priest “Hear, O Israel, today you are approaching the battle against your enemies. Let your hearts not be faint; you shall not be afraid, and you shall not be alarmed, and you shall not be terrified because of them”.

Sun Tzu writes “Thus the expert in battle moves the enemy, and is not moved by him”. The world is a war zone, and our children must not fear it, must not find excuses to dodge the skirmish, but rather we must inspire, encourage and educate them to know the Art of War. Let’s put secularism on the defense, let’s arm our children with so much Yiddishkait, so much Torah, so much authenticity, giving the enemies of tradition a run for their money. Learn KuzariChovas HaLevavos and Kuntres Umaayon with them, talk to them about what G-d means to you, infuse them with logic and faith, giving them the necessary ammo to decimate the darkness, or at least dismiss the temptation for instant gratification. I pray to merit raising my beloved Chana Laya, with her four amazing siblings, in the ways of their Bubby, my mother of blessed memory, who stared at the world and said, “bring it on”.

Our children need not to fear the world; the world needs to fear them!

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!!!

Isaiah Envisions a Museum!

I guess you can call it good planning on my part; hiking the M for the very first time on Sunday, meeting amazing trekkers along the way. It allowed me to see how wonderful humanity truly is, despite the horrifying news that we received from Charlottesville after Shabbos. It’s hard to believe the word Nazi is still associated with living beings, it’s even harder to accept that there are those who hate others based on their skin color, religion, lifestyle or philosophical outlook. It is no coincidence that, although Chavie has been meticulously planning this launch since January, it was the week of August 14 that was chosen to announce the campaign to build The Holocaust Museum of Montana.

Never Again, means Never Again; is that so hard to comprehend?

Tonight, is Shabbos Mevarchim, in which we bless the upcoming month of Elul. It is during this month, during the weeks leading up to the High Holy Days, that we take stock of our past year, we seek to return to our Creator with healthy introspection, small positive changes and unbridled enthusiasm to rock on into the New Year. In the Haftorah that we’ll read in Shul from our Prophet Isaiah, we are consoled “O poor tempestuous one, who was not consoled, behold I will set your stones with carbuncle, and I will lay your foundations with sapphires. And I will make your windows of jasper and your gates of carbuncle stones, and all your border of precious stones. And all your children shall be disciples of the Lord, and your children's peace shall increase. With righteousness shall you be established, go far away from oppression, for you shall not fear, and from ruin, for it will not come near you. Behold, the one with whom I am not, shall fear, whoever mobilizes against you shall defect to you”.

We, the Jewish community, must not fall into the trap of fighting hatred with even more hatred. We must do everything in our power to uproot Nazism from these United States, but at the same time, we must ask ourselves, privately, am I REALLY helping America? Am I contributing love and peace to our country or am I, perhaps, doing the exact opposite? Elul, is days away, and it’s time to converse with our souls. I’m not a constitutional lawyer and I don’t understand exactly what free speech is and what it isn’t, but I do know how Chaim Bruk could choose to speak, I do know how Chaim Bruk can choose to see things, I do know how Chaim Bruk can be a better person. If I shine light, you shine light and everyone else shines light, the darkness will have a rough time and that is the goal.

Think it’s impossible? Daryl David disagrees!

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!!!

My Journey Through Sturgis!

Back in July, we took the quick three-day route to San Antonio, driving through Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. But, this week, on the way home, we chose the longer route, through the heartland, lodging in Oklahoma City, Kearney, Nebraska and in, “Real America Up Close”, Rapid City, South Dakota.  The Sunshine State wowed me to the core, as we visited the magnificent Badlands, were mildly entertained at Wall Drug and totally moved by the images of the “Founder”, “Expansionist”, “Conservationist” and “Uniter” carved into Mount Rushmore. Our road-trip coincided with Sturgis, so I had the opportunity to observe hundreds of thousands of, mostly helmetless, bikers and chitchatted with a few of them along the way.

In this week’s Torah portion, Eikev, we read about the Levite family. Moses tells the Jewish people that “at that time, the Lord separated the tribe of Levi to bear the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to serve Him, and to bless in His Name, to this day”. Interestingly, beloved 12th century, Maimonides taught that “Not only the tribe of Levi, but any man of all the inhabitants of the earth, whose spirit has moved him and whose mind has given him to understand to set himself aside to stand before Gd to serve Him, to worship Him, to know Gd and walk justly as Gd has created him…this man has become sanctified, a holy of holies, and Gd shall be his portion and his lot forever….”. Yes, the Levite family was gifted to serve in the Tabernacle and Holy Temple, but don’t feel dejected, don’t feel turned off; being in service and of service is available to all those that choose to walk a just path with G-d.

I gazed at the unapologetic bikers. They have their own lingo, unique clothing, music/musicians they love and their very own biker code. I’m not a biker, so I don’t “get” it all, but it seems to work well for their biker family. They seem proud of their membership in the biker community, but don’t force that lifestyle on non-bikers.  It got me thinking: so often Jews apologize. Whether for Yarmulkes, Kosher food selections, Shabbos observance, Yom Kippur fasting, modesty, and on and on, we feel the need to defend our holy choices. That has gotta stop: We are tribesman, holy bikers, Levites by choice, we have a Sinai code, are a family like non-other and are on a lifelong journey to our own Sturgis, AKA Jerusalem. It’s our Jewish style, and there isn’t anything about it worthy of an apology.

Learn from the bikers: have a healthy Jew-code! 

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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