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Weekly Message

Rabbi vs. Turkey!

Earlier this week, I was chatting with a local friend, and I told him that I missed him at Tuesday’s Jewish history class at the library. With a smile, he said, “Sorry Rabbi, it’s the last week of the turkey hunting season and when you have to choose between class and hunting….”. I laughed; we all had a good laugh. In humor, I quipped “wow, it’s humbling to know that you chose a turkey over your rabbi”. Humility is hard to achieve on our own, and is mostly attained through an experience that is a trigger from the outside-in.

Being a legend in your own mind, is just that, in your own mind.

This Sunday, Jewry will celebrate Pesach Sheini, the second Passover. In the Sinai desert, a group of Jews, were impure during Passover and wanted a second chance to experience the pascal lamb offering. They were not lowlifes; they were impure for a good reason, as they were tending to the bodies of Nadav and Avihu, or, according to others, Joseph’s bones being carried to Israel. Asking for a second chance, comes with the recognition that the first time around was imperfect. When we lack humility, or worse, have overblown egos, we find excuses for our past actions, even holy excuses, while refusing to admit that we may be missing something. These individuals could’ve comforted themselves by saying “We didn’t eat from the Passover lamb, as we were doing G-d’s work and Jewish law exempts us under the circumstances”. Yet, they humbly said to Moses “Lama Nigara - why should we miss this great Mitzvah”? Moses listens, brings their request to G-d, and a second Passover is gifted for all time.

It’s easy to conflate a strong self-image with egocentricity, except that one is vital for living healthfully and the other is detrimental. There were times in my life that I was too arrogant and when thinking about it, it’s, noticeably, ugly. Everything we do, whether being a spouse, a parent, a professional, a citizen, a child, a friend, is done better when done with humbleness. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that “a great man is always willing to be little”, but that isn’t accurate as it’s not “being little”, it’s “being healthy”. Mother Teresa got this one right when she said, “If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are”.

Realizing we aren’t perfect, gives us second chances!

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!!!

Holiness in Venezuela!

Anti-Semitic terrorism in Poway and Israel, Prince Harry and Meghan giving birth to royalty and of course hearing the name Robert Muller three thousand times a day, but sadly, it’s only an occasional shock-value news piece that focuses on the absolute horror being experienced by the people of Venezuela. I have a pretty good imagination, but somehow, I can’t wrap my head around children, in an oil rich country, dying of hunger, elderly being left in medicine-depleted hospitals and millions, like the Jews being exiled to Babylonia, leaving their homeland just so they can survive.

This week’s Torah portion, Kedoshim, one my all-time favorites, has fifty-one Mitzvot including so many that are interpersonal in nature. We are taught that holiness begins with the basics: to have a just court system which doesn’t favor the wealthy or overly empathize with the poor, don’t be a gossiper, love your neighbor, don’t seek revenge, respect your elders and sages, don’t hold a grudge, don’t have uneven measures to cheat your customers, fear your parents, love the convert, help the poor, and so many others. These are all holy ways in which G-d holds us accountable to live lives of honor, treating every human being with dignity.

First lady Barbara Bush once said, “Never lose sight of the fact that the most important yardstick of your success will be how you treat other people - your family, friends, and coworkers, and even strangers you meet along the way”. This is something I try to impart to my children every day. Life is not a popularity contest nor is it an endeavor of selfish pursuits, rather it’s a G-d given opportunity to enhance the world for all and to do so by seeing other human beings as having been created in G-d’s image. Dictatorships begin when we forget this vital perspective.  In Venezuela, Gaza, Sudan and, sadly, even the United States, at times, we forget that mistreating/disrespecting others, is not a reflection of them but representative of our moral failure and lack of self-respect.

Loving your neighbor starts with respecting 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!!!

Is G-d your addiction?

While Jewry is still reeling from the tragedy in Poway, we mustn’t forget about the incredible Passover celebration that preceded the heartbreaking news. The warmth with which hundreds received their hand-made Shemurah Matzah, the depth in which so many studied about the holiday, the six exciting Seders offered by Chabad’s three branches in Big Sky Country and the thousands touched by the rabbinical student visits and Montana’s Jewish Voice in the mail. I’ve been doing this for twelve years, yet for me, the inspiration increases from year to year. I’m truly honored to be part of the Montana Miracle.

Yet, the challenge is for Passover to carry on.

In this week’s Torah portion, Acharei, we read about the passing of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu. While he was comforted by their holiness and by his surviving sons Elazar and Esamar, the pain he, and his wife Elisheva, experienced by their loss was so raw and deep. The Holy Or HaChaim, explains their sin as follows: they yearned for sanctity, they were addicted to G-d to a fault, reaching a spiritual peak of no return. Judaism 101 teaches that our holy moments must penetrate our mundane, even coarse, life experiences and they sinned by forgetting this vital principle. If we seek, and even attain, light, but don’t use the tools at our disposal to channel that light into the nitty gritty, then we’ve missed the boat. Nadav and Avihu knew how to get high on G-d but didn’t know how to sober up to deal with reality.

On Passover we get high. We have Seders, do lots of Mitzvot, pray in Shul, remember our loved ones at Yizkor and even make resolutions on how to keep the inspiration going. Then, Passover is over, we “turn the kitchen over”, out with the Matzah back with the Pizza and “we get real” and often lose the high. It is in the aftermath of a joyous holiday, that we must remember the “Nadav & Avihu” blunder and remain focused on G-d’s plan. If G-d wanted us to be angelic, He would’ve created us as angels in a heavenly abode. He didn’t. He wanted us as humans, with all our struggles and weaknesses, seeking a relationship with Him despite, or perhaps due to, our shortcomings.

Passover mustn’t be passed over, even after Passover!  

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!!!

Raise a Glass!

Tonight, Jewry will gather at Seder tables across the globe to usher in an eight-day Passover journey to collective, and personal, freedom. Yes, the most important Mitzvot on Passover are to remove leavened items from our property and to eat Matzah, yet I’d like to ask you to focus on a different aspect of the Seder this year. As the Seder begins with everyone lifting their first cup of wine/grape juice and sanctifying the holiday with Kiddush, I’d like you to take a deep breath, pull yourself together and think about the words being recited and allow it to uplift you to a place of higher consciousness:

Blessed are You, G-d, our G-d, King of the universe, who has chosen us from among all people, and raised us above all tongues, and made us holy through His commandments. And You, G-d, our G-d, have given us in Shabbaths for rest and festivals for happiness, feasts and festive seasons for rejoicing this Shabbat-day and the day of this Feast of Matzot and this Festival of holy convocation, the Season of our Freedom in love, a holy convocation, commemorating the departure from Egypt. For You have chosen us and sanctified us from all the nations, and You have given us as a heritage Your holy Shabbat and Festivals in love and favor, in happiness and joy. Blessed are You, G-d, who sanctifies the Shabbat and Israel and the festive seasons.

Let these words of Kiddush carry you through the Seder and beyond. It’s ok to take a moment and relish in the fact that we are Jewish, and that G-d gave us an opportunity for holiness through Mitzvot. It’s not an unhealthy arrogance, it’s not boasting for the sake of showing off, it’s simply stating the fact that we are different, we were chosen from on high to be different and instead of escaping from that chosenness, we embrace it and allow it to brighten ourselves, and illuminate our families, our communities and the entire world.

Internalize Kiddush, the rest will fall into place!

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!!!

Joy Baby, Joy!

While Chavie was away enjoying Mexico, our friend Linda, took the kids and I, on Sunday, to a goat farm in Manhattan (Manhattan, Montana that is). It was extremely windy, but the kids, unlike their father, were unfazed. For them, holding goats/chickens, brushing the horse’s mane, learning about the newborn triplet lambs and bringing home 6 dozen fresh eggs, was so joyous, so special, that the forty mile an hour winds didn’t get in the way of their happiness. Me on the other hand…

In this week’s Torah portion, Metzora, we continue learning the details of the spiritual-leprosy that plagued the home/clothing/skin of a gossiper. The Holy Rav Moshe Alschich, a 16th century Torah commentator, writes that when the Torah uses the word “Vehaya”, which it uses with a Metzora, it always means “Simcha” which is joy. A joyous plague? Indeed! When a Jew is beleaguered, conventional wisdom says to whine or Kvetch, but the Jew shouldn’t, rather he/she should be joyous that their Father in Heaven cares so much about them that He personally sets them straight with a touch of challenge. It's not fun or exciting, but either is a colonoscopy; it’s Hashem’s way of helping our tomorrow be healthier than today and for that joy is in order.

In a 1955 Farbrengen, the Rebbe of blessed memory shared a thought taught by a student of the great Lubliner: King David says in Psalms “then they will say among the nations, The Lord has done great things with these. The Lord has done great things with us; we were happy”. Normally, this verse is translated to mean that “because G-d has redeemed us, we are happy”. Yet, it can be understood differently, teaching us that “when the world will be trying to figure out how the Jews survived and reached redemption? How did they earn a Messianic moment? the will discover that it was because they were always joyous, no matter the harsh reality they experienced”. Our kids bike in the snow, love turbulence on planes and hang with goats when it’s tornado-ing outside, they find joy in everything; let's try to do the same. 

Lebedeik!  

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!!!

A confession during the confessions!

WhatsApp is a popular app these days, especially among the Jewish community. I am grilled often as to why I don’t have the app on my phone, and my answer is always the same, telling the questioner that “Two Yom Kippur’s ago, I realized that for me, most of the sins I atone for in the Al Chet confession prayer, I transgress on WhatsApp. Gossip, evil talk, jealousy, contempt, desecrating the Divine name, foolish talk, disrespect; it’s my one stop shop for depravity.

In this week’s Torah portion, Tazria, G-d addresses the Metzora, an individual plagued with peculiar skin/home/clothing blotches that resemble, but aren’t, the medical ailment of leprosy. One of the signs of this plague is the discovery of an “Intensely white spot on the skin, and it has turned the hair white”. It seems odd that the color white, which is normally associated with cleanliness and purity, would suddenly be the biblical sign for impurity? Why the sudden change? Yet, I’ve come to realize that when it comes to interhuman quarrelling, when dealing with human addiction to slander, gossip and instigation, even pure ideas become impure. When pristine holiness is used as a cover for backstabbing or self-righteousness, it’s a wolf in sheep's skin.  

For myself, I’m aware that gossip is always a temptation. It’s easier for me to hear negativity or “juice” about others, than to deal with the reality of my internal struggles, but it’s wrong and never justified. The Talmud (Erchin 15b) teaches that slander kills three people, the inventor of the slander, the one who relates it and the listener. If we’d pause for just a moment before being any part of the gossip, we’d be saving ourselves from spiritual malpractice and ensuring we aren’t spilling someone else’s emotional blood, their self-worth and public image, which is worse than actual murder.

In the words of the Spanish proverb “whoever gossips to you, will gossip about you”!

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 cousin I wish I knew!

As I make my way back to Bozeman for Shabbos, I reflect on my week away. I was honored to represent Montana at the AIPAC policy conference in D.C. and meet with lovers of Israel of all political persuasions. I had the opportunity to pray for our community at my Rebbe’s resting place in Queens and I joyously danced at the Brooklyn wedding of my dear friend Akiva and his bride Esther. Yet, sadly I also spent a few hours at the gut-wrenching funeral of my cousin Moshe Hirsch of Woodmere. Moshe’s wife Malkie is my second cousin and, while we didn’t grow up together, our families are close at heart.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shemini, we read about Aaron, the High Priest, mourning the untimely passing of his sons Nadav and Avihu. They were holy, they were chosen for sanctification, Aaron still had two living sons Elazar and Eitamar, but the pain was raw, the hurt was unbearable and the only option that was viable for Aaron was silence. Words don’t cut it when the young are ripped from us, leaving, in Moshe’s case, his widow Malkie and five beautiful Kinderlach Dovid, Nisson, Yosef, Gavriel and Rosie shattered. As I listened to the eulogies, I realized that Moshe was incredibly kind, and I wished I had the honor of knowing him.  His family love was palpable, and he spent every free moment with his children, praying together in the Shul he helped build, attending school events and, together with Malkie, creating a home of joy and kindness.

I will land in Bozeman, G-d willing, in a few hours and I just want to hug my kiddos and never let go. Moshe went to work Wednesday morning as a healthy man and passed without any warning while at his desk. I know he’d do anything for one more kiss, one more father-child learning session, one more outing with his kiddos. With tears rolling down my cheeks, I resolved to be a father that’s more present. Community work can wait, responding to texts can wait, worrying about the finances can wait; cousin Moshe, like Aaron, taught me that moments with our children are precious and I’d rather be remembered for the extra hug than for the quickest “retweet”.

Time is a gift; don’t waste it!

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!!!

Jews with Guilt?

Despite Spring Break and half of Bozeman escaping the melting snow and falling roofs, over eighty people joined us last night for Purim Under the Sea (Photo Gallery Here). While it’s always a rockin’ party, I find that people celebrate, not just because of the food and entertainment, but because the story of Purim resonates with their soul, with their very essence. Why? Because Haman is still around, Esther and Mordechai are still fighting for Jewish survival and the world is full of “neutral people” that don’t necessarily dislike us but for few dollars or a smile from Haman would be happy to rid the world of “the Jew”. Spoiler alert: you will never defeat us.

In this week’s Torah portion, Tzav, we read about the various types of Tabernacle offerings: daily, Shabbos, holidays, Rosh Chodesh, sin, guilt, peace, thanksgiving and more. An offering is a mechanism to get closer to G-d and the way I see it is that you can choose to get closer via guilt or via thanksgiving. You can either continue the 3,300-year-old traditions of Judaism because you feel guilty ignoring them. That guilt may be self-inflicted or through the “loving” intervention of your mother or Bubby, but guilt it is. Or you can have a relationship with Hashem based on thanksgiving, recognizing that you were chosen at Sinai for the unique service of being a “light unto the nations” and you’re expressing your thanks for being part of Am Yisroel by living its traditions.

Last night, as I read the eternal words of the Megilla, It was clear to me that no one was there reluctantly, they were there because until this very day Haman is saying “There is one nation scattered and dispersed among the nations throughout the provinces of your kingdom, whose laws are unlike those of any other nation and who do not obey the laws of the King. It is not in the King's interest to tolerate them”, Esther is pleading “For my people and I have been sold to be annihilated, killed and destroyed!” and at the end of it all we know that our unity, our prayers and our repentance will result in “For the Jews there was light and happiness, joy and glory”. We celebrate Purim to give thanks to G-d  for the daily Purim’s in which G-d ensures, one way or another, that Haman will fail.

Time For A Thanksgiving Offering!

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!!!

Peace, inshallah!

Last night, just before heading to bed, my friend Yankel tweeted something about a shooting attack at a mosque in New Zealand. It was heartbreaking to learn this morning that forty-nine Muslim worshipers at two mosques were targeted for annihilation for simply choosing to pray to G-d. Does anyone really believe that terror like this, inflicted on men, women and children, is going to make the world a better place? Whether it’s in Israel against Jews, Iraq against Christians, India against Buddhists or in New Zealand against Muslims, we must never remain silent when pure evil, Amalek-style hatred, proliferates in our midst.    

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayikra, the first in the book of Leviticus, we read about the communal sin offering. While in the literal sense it refers to a case in which the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court, errs in judgment and as a result all of Jewry sins, figuratively, it’s a reminder that at times we must be collectively honest, digging deep into our souls, asking ourselves how we got here? Did we contribute in any way to this communal sin? Just last week I heard one of my kids joking about an Arab name they thought was funny and I immediately reminded them that “people think our names sound weird too, but you wouldn’t want them to make fun of us”. As a community, we must join to remove hate ideology. Before we open our mouths, we must ask ourselves whether what we are about to say will bring people together, shine a positive light on the person/community of which we speak and if not, make the righteous choice of keeping our mouths shut.

Muslims are certainly frightened today. Like Jews in Pittsburgh, Catholics in the Philippines and Sikhs in Wisconsin, Muslims are hurt and rightfully so. I am at the forefront of condemning Islamic terrorism and love Israel and its people with every fiber of my being, but that doesn’t mean we can sit back and ignore the atrocities done to innocent Muslims in Myanmar, China or New Zealand. I am raising my children to respect every human being, it’s not easy, but I give it all I’ve got, please join me in doing the same. In the words of Albert Einstein “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it”. 

May peace reign soon, inshallah!

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!!!

Blueprints!

This week, as I do each year, I had the pleasure of speaking to high school students of Bozeman’s Heritage Christian School. During my one-hour talk I asked the students a few questions: “Who was the greatest Prophet to ever live on earth?”, “What day of the week is the Sabbath?”, “Why do we celebrate Passover?” and there was one student, sitting in the second row, that knew the answers to almost all my questions. I was impressed, as being a sixteen-year-old today with the addiction to smart phones, social media and pop culture, it’s hard to keep up with Moses, the Ten Commandments and Queen Esther.  

In this week’s Torah portion, Pekudei, the last in the Book of Exodus, we read about the accounting of the Tabernacle donations and the completion of its construction. With two primary project managers, Betzalel and Oholiav, every Jew was able to join the team of artisans, building a G-d-guided architectural masterpiece. Hashem didn’t just say “it’s your intent that matters”, “You get an A for effort” or “If you run out of silver use copper instead”; He was extremely clear that in order for His presence to dwell on earth, for heaven and earth to kiss perfectly, every instruction detail must be followed to the last socket.  

Americas incredible freedom has confused people into thinking they can tell G-d how “they think” the world can be made better. In truth, there is only one way to make a more holy, more ethical, more moral and more habitable home for G-d on earth, that is by following His ingredients for a better life. It’s not magic or with overnight miracles, as with those building the Tabernacle, it takes lots of hard work and devotion. For us, there is Five Books of blue prints and thousands of pages of interior design specs available in the Talmud and Halacha that were prepared for our project, we just need to study them. Let’s raise a generation who are taught the plans, instead of us complaining when they make up their own.

It’s all in the details!

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!!!

Weekend Gossip!

Montanans are not ones to complain about inclement weather, but the past couple of weeks has changed the rules of the game and almost everyone I’ve run into is basically saying the words I keep thinking “enough is enough”. To paraphrase from Tevya on Fiddler on the Roof “I know Montana is Your chosen State but could You choose someplace else once in a while”. Naturally, the weather brings people together. We are more understanding of canceled appointments, we are more thoughtful about a car or person at the side of the road, we are more forgiving to the post office who won't deliver to some areas and when my SUV was stuck, it didn’t take eight minutes before two friends immediately came to pull me out.

This week’s Torah portion, Vayak'hel, begins with these words “Moses called the whole community of the children of Israel to assemble, and he said to them: "These are the things that the Lord commanded to make. Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to the Lord…You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwelling places on the Sabbath day." On the first post-Egypt Yom Kippur, Moses descends the Mountain with the Second Tables and G-d’s forgiveness, and the next morning he gathers the people, commands them to build a Tabernacle and that Shabbos ingenuity, deciphered as the 39 forms of creativity including lighting fires, is prohibited, even when used in service of G-d.

To me the verse has an additional meaning: to bring people together, to “assemble the children of Israel”, you need a Moses, an individual who is principled and firm, yet loving and devoted to the wellbeing of his people above all. Moses reminds them that each Jew needs a day of rest, a Shabbos, and on that day, we cannot ignite fire, we can’t be engulfed in divisive fiery rhetoric, gossip or screaming matches. Moses teaches us that in life, when trying to build our own internal Tabernacle, in our body, our home, our workplace, we need to introduce a peaceful experience of rest that is free of all types of “fire”. For that to happen we each need a Moses that can guide us to be disciplined, humble and focused on the task at hand without getting caught up in the “saga of the day”.

I have a Moses, do you?

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' Sinners!

We had the honor of spending this past Shabbos with the Wolf’s at Chabad of the Flathead Valley and visiting with the Vogel’s at Chabad of Missoula on Monday. I remember the time, not too long ago, when Chavie and I served as the only Chabad couple in the State and to see the growth, not only with two more couples, but with hundreds who attend our programming is heartwarming and indicative of a bright future. While in Kalispell, the Wolf’s hosted a full table of locals for Shabbos dinner and six Jews showed up the next morning for Torah study. We are not the UJA and Jews are not statistics, it’s about souls searching for Torah light and having families on site ready to offer them just that.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Tisa, we read about the infamous Golden Calf. The Jewish people sin against G-d, betraying Him and his envoy Moses, and G-d is adamant on wiping them off the face of the earth. Yet, just at that critical moment, something radical transpires. Moses tells G-d that either He forgives Jewry for their betrayal or he’s out. He doesn’t want his name mentioned in the Torah, he doesn’t want his name listed in the Book of Life; it’s me and my people or none of us, period. G-d offers Moses a grandiose opportunity for a new nation with Moses at its helm, but Moses sticks to his guns and doesn’t capitulate to G-d’s seduction.

Moses understood something that our Rebbe taught us three thousand years later: If one Jew doesn’t matter, no Jew matters. If a Jewish family in Columbia Falls isn’t important enough for a Kosher Mezuzah, if a Jew in Stevensville isn’t worthy of his own pair of Tefillin and if a Jewess in Roundup isn’t worthy of Shabbat candles, then no Jew anywhere, matters at all. The logic is simple: If the individual isn’t important, then putting a bunch of unimportant people together doesn’t make it any more important. Let’s take to heart Moses’ defense of the ultimate sinners and remember that we each have inherent value that must be recognized first and foremost by ourselves and then by our leaders, rabbis and the community at large.

Every Neshama’le Matters!

 

 

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!!!

Integrity!

Raising five children, like living life, is complex, but a vital component throughout the process, is constancy.  Children need the integrity of consistency, but it’s hard for them to integrate this invaluable attribute, if they see their parents live capriciously. We are their role model and therefore must live with the standards we wish of them. I had the opportunity of visiting with Shoshana for a few hours this week and this was the theme throughout our conversations: integrity, integrity, integrity. Living with integrity is not just a bonus attribute to support wholesome living but it’s really at the core of all of life’s experiences.

In this week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, we read of the daily commandment “ The one lamb you shall offer up in the morning and the other lamb you shall offer up in the afternoon.”. The Midrashic sages debate the most important verse of the Torah. Is it the Shema Yisroel, the proclamation of, and belief in, G-d’s oneness? Is it to love your fellow as yourself? Is it the idea that G-d created every human in His image and should be treated with dignity? Yet, despite the importance of these concepts, Ben Pazi says that the verse commanding two daily offerings in the Holy Temple is most central, even more than those more popular ideas. The Midrash concludes that Ben Pazi is correct.  

What did Ben Pazi recognize that the other sages didn’t? It’s that Judaism without consistency is destined to failure.

Internalization, building a deep relationship with our Creator, is key and it’s impossible without a steady experience enabling its growth. Bringing bonus Musaf offerings, windfall spiritual highs, are awesome, but can only survive long-term, if they sit on the shoulders of a daily relationship with G-d. There’s no guarantee that holidays will be as super uplifting as we’d like or that our children will adhere to the values we impart to them, but at a minimum we should do our part of “walking the walk” with G-d and humanity, not just “talk the talk”.

In the words of a wise author “Consistency isn’t rocket science, it’s commitment”!

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!!!

State of my union!

The Constitution states that the President “shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Indeed, on Tuesday, over forty-six-million Americans, including members of both Houses of Congress, watched as President Trump spoke to the nation. This 200+ year-old custom, which started with President George Washington, gives the citizens of our precious union an opportunity to hear where things currently stand in our country; making some happy, some furious and some confused.

In this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, we read about the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, the earthly display of the human-Creator relationship. As we ponder the Holy Ark, the Menorah, the Alter, the Showbread and all the other holy furniture, we are taught life lessons. The Ark, housing the Torah, reminds us to stick to G-dly wisdom and not get seduced by other, sometimes appealing, ways of thinking. The Menorah with its seven lamps reminds us to always be a source of light in our tumultuous world. The Alter reminds us the importance of sacrifice/selflessness and the showbread teaches us that all our sustenance is a result of G-d’s kindness.

Every so often, we should pause and ask ourselves, what is the state of my union? What is the state of my relationship with G-d?. Just this morning, while bemoaning a financial challenge, Chavie said to me “Chaim Shaul, you don’t have enough trust in Hashem”. She’s 100% right, but I’m the first to admit that it’s hard. When saying the bedtime Shema, I must ask myself “Chaim, are you learning enough Torah? Are you brightening the world around you? Are you lessening your ego and living selflessly? Are you trusting in the Aibershter for real?”. My union certainly needs some real work to reach healthfulness, how about yours?

In the words of King David “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will bear you”!

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!!!

Throw it to the dogs!

Earlier this week, I came across a heartwarming story that happened right here in Bozeman. UPS driver, Ryan Arens, was out delivering packages, when he jumped into a frozen pond to rescue Sadie, a drowning dog. It was inspiring but not shocking, as Ryan lived up to the Montana ethic that I’ve learned to appreciate: doing what’s right even at your own expense and comfort and caring for all G-d’s creatures in a most considerate way.

In this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, we are taught regarding Kosher consumption “And you shall be holy people to Me, and flesh torn in the field you shall not eat; you shall throw it to the dogs”. Even if an animal is Kosher, having fully split hooves and chewing its cud, if it dies of natural causes or is killed, it shouldn’t be eaten by a Jew as it’s not ritually slaughtered. One must wonder: why should we give it to the dogs? Isn’t it ok to serve it to any non-Jew who isn’t Kosher observant? Midrash Mechilta teaches “Because the Holy One, blessed is He, does not withhold the reward of any creature, as it is said: “But to all the children of Israel, not one dog will whet its tongue” (Exod. 11:7). Said the Holy One, blessed is He, “Give it its reward.”. The dogs didn’t bark at Jewry during the Egyptian Exodus, so they are rewarded with extra care by our people.

G-d, once again, is teaching us the importance of gratefulness. If a dog, who G-d programmed to remain silent during the exodus miracle, is given credit for its behavior and we reciprocate for all eternity, how much more so, when a fellow human being chooses to do an act of kindness, should it be recognized by the recipient and credited. The one who is acting kind may not need or want the recognition, but in our hearts, we mustn’t ever forget what they’ve done for us, our community and our world. There is no time limit to gratefulness, as it should be vivid in our memory forever.

As they say, “a grateful heart is a magnet for miracles”!

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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