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Weekly Message

Don't Choose Insanity!

 

It was certainly no coincidence that during the week in which we launched the Montana Academy for Judaic Studies, with our first class focusing on the life of Joshua and the virtues of leadership (Watch class), a local friend offered me a healthy dose of rebuke.  It’s never fun to be the recipient of genuine critique, but as I heard my friend share where they thought I had failed, I had a choice to make: do I choose stubbornness and refuse to ever change or do I choose to recognize that I act poorly sometimes, and must own up to it and make the necessary changes.

In this week’s Torah portion, Beshalach, we read about the miracle of miracles, the splitting of the Red Sea. Seven days earlier the Jews departed Egypt, they reached a milestone at Pi HaChiros, a place that signified freedom, as no other slave had ever passed that locale en-route to independence, and then, despite being trapped between the sea and the Egyptian army, G-d gave them miraculous passage and changed the course of history. Pharaoh should’ve known better: He experienced the ten plagues, his country was in turmoil and in a chaotic state, his own people begged him to let the Jews go, but when a person is egocentrically stubborn, logic is ignored, and they make insane choices.

We each have moments where pride blurs our logic and sends us astray. We don’t want to be arrogant, we don’t want to get a bad rap for our behavior, but we simply don’t think we have what it takes to change, especially when we’ve been doing something for a long time. I’d like to believe that at 37, I can still change, I can listen to critique coming from a place of care and make better choices. Will I succeed immediately? I doubt it, but unlike Pharaoh, I will certainly try. Today I am grateful that I have a support base who will set me straight when needed so that I can be a better husband, father, son, friend and rabbi. It’s easy to see Pharaoh as stubborn, but much harder to see that same attribute within ourselves.

In the words of Rumi “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” 

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!!!

I can't wait for the weekend!

He was talking about it for weeks, and finally on Sunday, Menny hit the slopes, as he enjoyed his first ski lesson of the winter season. While Chavie and the kids love Bridger Bowl and the thrill of the sport, I enjoy sitting in the coffee shop, gazing at the incredible mountains, chatting with the many friends I run into and even getting some work done in my makeshift office. Skiing entails a lot of Shlepping, but for real Montanans it's worth the time and effort. I’m happy to live in a place where we choose hiking over video games and skiing over T.V. addiction.

In this week’s Torah portion, Bo, we read about the first Mitzvah commanded to the Jewish nation: Sanctification of the moon. At the onset of each month, we take a moment to celebrate the renewal of the moon and the cycle of time it represents. G-d, as He commenced the exodus of His people from Egyptian bondage, teaches them an eternal lesson: slaves don’t care about time as they can’t control its usage; free people control their time and must cherish it, utilizing it for good and productive endeavors. Jewry follows a lunar calendar, not only to remind us that even when things seem dark, the light will be coming soon enough, but that time itself is precious and mustn’t be squandered.

My friend Quincy has been drilling me for fifteen years about the importance of being present and living in the moment; he’s right. Too often I’m told on a Monday “Rabbi, I can’t wait for the weekend” or on a Wednesday “the weekend can’t come soon enough”; that’s not a healthy or G-dly way to live. Time is limited, a commodity whose quantity is decided by G-d but we get to choose its quality. There’s no better gift for ourselves, our children and our sanity than living in the moment and not wasting life away waiting for what’s up next.

In the words of William Penn “Time is what we want most, but... what we use worst.”

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!!!

I'm a Zionist through Fire & Water!

Yes, I’ve always loved our homeland Israel, but this week, Chavie and I, along with our four younger children, made our inaugural visit to Utah’s Zion National Park. As we gazed at the rock formations and colors, I kept humming the words to a Yiddish song I cherish “Don’t tell G-d how big your problems are, tell your problems how big your G-d is”.  Breathtaking, awe-inspiring and spectacular are just words and don’t truly do justice to what one experiences in Zion. It’s a place that turns agnostics into believers and the “I’m not a nature person” people, into folks screaming “I love nature”.

It touches the essence of our being.

Interestingly, just hours before entering the park, I started my day, as I try to everyday, studying Chassidic philosophy and this discourse, by Divine Providence, began with Isiah’s words “Zion shall be redeemed through justice and her captives through tzedakah”. In it, our Rebbe of blessed memory, teaches that Zion in Hebrew means a Siman, a sign, referring to essence of the soul, which is indescribable and incomprehensible and can only be referenced through intimation. How can one redeem his/her Zion? How can one reveal their essence so that it brightens their expressive self? For that there is Justice, which is the study of Jewish law which is justice epitomized and acts of Tzedakah to those who need it most. Our personal Zion wants to impact us, practically, in the day to day, but for that to happen it needs nourishment, which is provided through intense study and selfless acts of service of others.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va’eria, we read how G-d administered the first seven, of the ten, plagues. We can choose to see the plagues as angry punishments or as wake up calls to change. G-d isn’t into punitive sentencing; He is into helping us fix our ways and sometimes that beckons tough love. Chavie and I got a call while leaving Zion that due to the frigid temperatures in Bozeman and actions unrelated to us, a few pipes burst in our home and caused some heavy damage. We could’ve blown up and blamed the whole world and G-d for this ordeal, but we chose, through meditation and working it through, to recognize that Hashem has a plan and if this is the only way to get two bedrooms remodeled courtesy of the insurance company, then we need to be grateful for the flooding.

Liberate Zion; one meditation 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!!!

We Each Have a Story!

While road-tripping with Chavie and the kids, I ordered a black coffee at a Starbucks drive-through in Ogden, Utah. I pulled up to the window and was pleasantly surprised when the cashier told me “the person in front of you paid it forward”. The unsolicited gesture of kindness granted to me, inspired me to do the same for the person behind me in the, seemingly endless, line. As we drove away Chavie said “that was awesome, and I now know what you’re going to write about in your weekly email”. She was right, because I think that moment meant so much to me and it teaches me, and hopefully you, something so important: The person ahead of me on line, didn’t know me, my family or my story, yet chose to interact with me as if we were good friends.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shemot, the first in the book of Exodus, we read about the birth, adoption, exile, marriage and leadership appointment of Moshe Rabeinu, AKA Moses. Moses was an exceptional leader, not only because he tended to his flock, the Jewish people, with unbridled TLC, but because he did so without broad generalizations. Moses understood that he must look at everyone like G-d does, untainted by preconceptions, unbiased by external features or behaviors, and focused on the individual set of circumstances and realities of each person. Before Moses passes away, he asks G-d to appoint a man of Ruach, spirit, as his successor and G-d acquiesces. The Midrash explains that “a man of spirit” means “someone able to deal with the character and spirit of each individual”. Moses’ leadership success was attributed to his appreciation of each person’s story.

How often do we judge others without knowing anything about them? How often do teachers make rules that are equal for all students and won’t allow exceptions, even when there should be? How often do we assume things about our friends or co-workers, when in truth, we simply don’t know what’s really going on in their life? It’s been done to me and regretfully, I’ve done it to others more than I’d like to believe. Moses taught, along with the “pay it forward” person in Ogden, that we need to see a world, not in which everything is black and white or even slightly colorful, but a world in which there are billions of stories coming together to create a G-dly mosaic of goodness.

Let’s have a little bit of Moses in ourselves!

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!!!

Jacob Style Parenting!

After an uplifting family Shabbos in New York commemorating my mom’s eighth Yahrtzait, I traveled to South Florida to spend a day with Shoshana, who is studying at the Rohr Bais Chaya Academy in Coral Springs. Although I only had 9 hours with her, we enjoyed every second, as we chatted, laughed, caught up on her school grades and discussed life and its intricacies. We rode a beach surrey along the Hollywood boardwalk, enjoyed fine Kosher dining in Aventura and even got to see some reptiles at Miami’s Jungle World; when it was time for me to leave, it was hard for both of us. Parenting has interesting twists and turns, but for me the key has been to learn the language of each individual child and speak to them accordingly.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, the last in the book of Genesis, we read of Jacob’s final words to his beloved tribes before his passing. In what is undoubtedly a healthy mixture of rebuke, fatherly hopes, prophecy and blessings, Jacob respected the individuality of each child and talked to them in a way that resonated most with them, telling them each what they needed to hear most. He could’ve blessed all of them together “Y'all shall all be Torah scholars, righteous leaders and pious Jews”, but collective blessings don’t tap into the exceptionality of each person, allowing their inimitable personalities to shine; individual focus does.

I admit that at times, I wish that my kids would journey through life as angels without any hiccups along the way. Yet Jacob taught us that some kids are warriors, some kids are scholars, some kids are businessman and some kids are farmers. Every nation, every family, needs a diverse group of souls who each contribute something special to the family and the world. It's the wish of Chavie and I, indeed our every prayer, that Shoshana, Chaya, Zeesy, Menny and Chana Laya, all grow to be Chassidim, soldiers in G-d’s army of world illumination, but how they go about that task, it is our hope that they do it with their distinct touch. In the words of Reb Mendel of KotzkIf I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you. But, if I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you”.

Are you the best 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!!!

Thank You Mommy!

What a bright time in Big Sky Country. After celebrating with Jews in fourteen Montana cities, we wrapped up Chanukah with a Menorah lighting downtown with Mayor Cyndy Andrus, who surprised us all when revealing her Jewish roots, followed by an incredible celebration at The Rialto with Ilan Smith, in which we honored Edis Kittrell for her unwavering kindness, Sheriff Brian Gootkin for his commitment to our safety and young Max Goodwin for his devotion to making the Minyan (photo galleries here). It is inspiring when a 15-year-old, growing up in 2018, still sees Judaism as illuminating and recognizes the importance of Jewish continuity.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, we read about Joseph’s emotional reunion with his eleven brothers. In the process, he introduces them to his sons Efraim and Menashe, who were born and raised by Joseph and Osnas while living in depraved Egypt. Osnas herself was raised by Potifar and his wife, but was the biological daughter of Dina, Jacob’s daughter and Joseph’s half-sister. This power couple didn’t allow the circumstances to dictate the fate of their children, rather amid the G-dless Egyptian environment, they raised two Hebrew-speaking, Jacob-loving, moral-following Jewish kids. Max, like Efraim and Menasha, has a mother, Sarah, who encourages him to embrace Torah and joins him in Shul, watching with Nachas as he gets his Aliyah.

This weekend marks eight years since my beloved mother Chana Leah Bas Reb Shimon passed away. I miss her dearly and the ache in my heart is as painful today, as it was on that freezing December day of 2010. Like many others, during my childhood I experienced extremely challenging moments that necessitated vast amounts of love and care. My parents, my Joseph and Osnas, didn’t surrender to the circumstances, didn’t diminish their hopes for me and didn’t minimize their expectations of me; they helped me embrace my inner potential, didn’t allow me to fall victim to the thorny realities and propelled me to be the Chaim they believed I could be. My mother saw things in me that I didn’t see myself and that is a gift that I thank her for every day.

So, Mommy, please listen closely in heaven! Your five children and their spouses, along with your twenty grandchildren, including five Chana Leah’s named for you, have not forgotten you. We thank G-d every day for the gift of having a mother/Bubby like you. We, your kids, didn’t always do things your way, but we always cherished having a mother who would set us straight, guided us through the dark tunnels of life and wanted us to be happy people. You taught us in your actions as a school teacher how to be kind, especially to those most vulnerable in our society. You showed us while riding the subway how to be a light unto the nations around us. You taught us how to treat family in how you cared for your parents and worshiped your siblings. Ma, when you hugged me, it felt right, it felt like everything was going to be ok and that even when it won’t, you will always have my back and be there for me. I miss your hug, I miss your reassurances, but please know that I send you a virtual hug and will never stop loving my beloved mom who not only gave birth to me back in 81’, but raised to be the Mentsch I strive to be.

A Yiddishe Mame!

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!!!

Rainy Day Spirit!

It ain’t over until Monday, when we light up Montana with eight points of light, but the first five nights have already been so illuminating. I was blown away by the L’Chaim toasts we made with the massive crowd gathered for Chanukah Bash 2018, I was touched by those who braved the cold and came out to the Menorah lighting in Livingston, I was invigorated by the Jews and gentiles who celebrated the Maccabees victory together in Dillon, I was moved by those celebrating with us while incarcerated at Montana State Prison and Warm Springs, I was enthused by the MAJCO Menorah lighting in Helena with Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney, and the kids and I really enjoyed lighting Menorah's in Attorney General Tim Fox's office and with Commissioner Matt Rosendale (all Chanukah pics will post next week G-d willing), but what took my breath away this entire week was the fact that for the first time ever there are three full-service Chabad centers operating in Big Sky Country, providing soul sustenance to Montanan Jewry.

In this week’s Torah portion, Mikeitz, we read about Joseph interpreting The Pharaoh’s dreams, something his sorcerers and astrologers couldn’t do correctly. He tells the Egyptian ruler that seven years of plenty will ensue followed by seven years of famine and Egypt must retain the services of a Controller to ensure food is stockpiled for the famine years. The Pharaoh loves the idea and hired Joseph as his Viceroy to ensure just that. This role leads Joseph to the eventual reunion with his family, starting with his brothers who sold him into slavery, as they are forced to travel from Israel to Egypt to purchase food.  

In life, we too have times of plenty and other times of famine. There are times that we struggle with our interpersonal relationships, our rapport with G-d and sometimes we just struggle with everything, with life itself. It is important to think ahead and, when times are spiritually, emotionally and mentally good, to store the courage that will be needed to sustain us when things aren’t pretty, when life is giving us a run for our money. It’s not that life will be perfect, as by definition that’s impossible, but rather, that we will have the inner space needed to see those struggles, those downturns, as temporary challenges which is what they are, instead of life altering catastrophes which they aren’t. Joseph taught us to load up on “G-d”, so that when He’s in hiding, we can still say Shema Yisroel loud and clear.

Set aside a spiritual Rainy-Day Fund, today!

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!!!

Turn your frown upside down!

What a week it’s been! Sunday started off with a bang as children gathered at Home Depot to enthusiastically build their own Menorah’s. On Tuesday we hosted the incredible Rabbi Yechezkel Kornfeld of Mercer Island as he Farbrenged with our community for Yud Tes Kislev, giving us a healthy dose of perspective and inspiration. On Thursday, however, I broke from the celebratory mode and headed to Helena to perform the Tahara and officiate at the funeral of Bruce “Chaim Baruch Ben Moshe Chatzkel” Hodess, a warm Jew who will be dearly missed. Dealing with end-of-life experiences serves as my personal reminder of the fragility of life, the preciousness of each moment and the need for continuous gratefulness.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeishev, my Bar-Mitzvha Parsha, we read about incarcerated Joseph. The verse says “And Joseph came to them in the morning, and he saw them and behold, they were troubled. And he asked Pharaoh's chamberlains…Why are your faces sad today?" “ Yes, Joseph, the young lad who lost his mom when he was a young child, Joseph who was placed in a snake-infested pit and later sold as a slave by his brothers, Joseph who was falsely accused by his masters wife and thus imprisoned wrongfully; how does this same Joseph genuinely wonder why the butler and baker, fellow inmates, are having a tough day? Shouldn’t he be the first to understand why they looked sad? Yet, Joseph didn’t get it, as he recognized a deep truth of Judaism: each day that we are alive is a unique gift from G-d and should be utilized and celebrated as such. His joyful "good morning" changed the trajectory of humanity, as it led to dream interpretation and eventual appointment as viceroy of Egypt. 

On Sunday evening we will usher in the festival of lights. We will listen closely to the story shared by the candles. It’s the story of Judah the Maccabee and his band of Jews, who, despite seeing death and destruction, despite knowing that most Jews disagreed with their tactics in dealing with the Syrian-Greeks, despite losing family members in the battle for Jewish survival, they remained committed to fighting the good fight and were grateful every morning anew for the life G-d had given them. Judah, like Joseph, didn’t spend his day thinking about what isn’t right in his life, but rather, the very fact that he was still alive was a sign that he must forge ahead in bringing more brightness to a darkened world.  

Miracle of light! 

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 Kiddos...

Dear Kiddos,

Happy Thanksgiving!

While I didn’t grow up formally celebrating Thanksgiving, we always gave thanks. While my parents, your beloved Bubby and Zayde, didn’t understand why we needed a special day to do what we Jews do many times each day, giving thanks to Hashem, as I got older, I realized that Thanksgiving is good for our country, so that people pause, at least annually, to recognize the myriad of things that G-d does for them daily, for which they are to be deeply appreciative.    

In the first-ever Presidential proclamation for Thanksgiving issued by George Washington on Oct. 3, 1789 he wrote “Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”. While on Veterans Day we thank the amazing men and women who have fought for our liberty and on Memorial Day we remember those who we lost in defense of that liberty, on Thanksgiving it’s all about thanking G-d.

So, kiddos, allow me to share with you a list of some of the things that I am grateful for, with the hope that you will create your own list. When you’re feeling down or crummy, look at the list and remember that life is pretty-awesome, and G-d is truly incredible:

I am thankful to G-d for gifting me two remarkable parents who I adore with every fiber of my being. Not all parents are amazing, and G-d gave me two that are and that is not something I take for granted.

I am thankful to G-d who through many acts of Divine Providence brought Mommy and I together. She is the greatest gift given to me by G-d and I thank Him for her every day.

I am thankful to G-d for gifting us with each one of you Kinderlach. Sometimes I may give you the impression that you're a burden or annoying, but you’re not; you’re my everything and every morning when I wake up and see you, whether in person or on Facetime, my heart fills with overwhelming joy for the children G-d has given mom and I.

I am thankful that G-d introduced me to Montana and that He honored me to be the Rabbi of its amazing citizens. There’re so many places I could’ve ended up, but He knew Bozeman would steal my heart.

I am thankful to G-d for the wisdom He gifts scientists who discover new medical devices and treatments and for the doctors who utilize these developments to caringly help our family (and the rest of world) with “Medical miracles”.

I am thankful to G-d for things that shouldn’t be taken for granted like clean water and air and for the fact that mom and I have never experienced hunger or homelessness. Food on our table and a roof over our heads is not guaranteed and for that I am thankful.

I am thankful to G-d for friends. Not only Facebook friends or Twitter followers, but for my dearest friends, some from my childhood and teenage years and others who I met later in life. I’d cross seas to help them when needed and I know they’d do the same for me.

I am thankful to G-d for in-laws who come in all shapes and sizes and I was blessed to have Bubby and Zaidy from Texas who get me (most of the time) and who have welcomed me into their family as one of their own since 2006.

I am thankful to G-d for our Rebbe. There are so many influences that guide our lives and shape our futures and I merited to live near the Rebbe and have him as a mentor. It’s what made me who I am, and I am so grateful that He gave me a Lubavitcher soul.  

My dear children, I am thankful to G-d for choosing our family to be part of the Jewish nation and serving as a light onto the world around us.

This Thanksgiving I offer thanks in the words of the Modim prayer “for our souls that are entrusted to You; for Your miracles that are with us daily; and for Your wonders in every season - evening, morning and afternoon. The Beneficent One, for Your compassions were never exhausted, and the Compassionate One, for your kindnesses never ended - always have we put our hope in You.”

Now go and write your own list. Tuck it away in your night table drawer and whenever you’re wondering whether G-d actually cares about you, pull it out and read your list, it will change your perspective immediately.

Happy Thanksgiving and Good Shabbos.

Aba

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!!!

Hope in the Hospital!

Taking Zeesy for her periodic visits to Denver’s Children Hospital is normally Chavie’s expertise, but due to a scheduling conflict, I had the honors this time. Spending three days in an environment of sick children is tough; It tugged at my core, rocked my emotions and gave me lots to ponder upon. Yet, while I was surrounded by so much suffering, so many families struggling and so much debilitating illness, I was also surrounded by the best medical practitioners in the world. They are not only experts in their field, but they, and the entire hospital staff, are full of love, care and unparalleled devotion. I was blown away, full of gratitude, as I experienced once again the genuinity of humanity. You wouldn’t know this when watching the news, but most people are really good and it’s reassuring.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeitzei, we read about our patriarch Jacob’s life in the home of wicked uncle Laban. While one can focus on the thievery, thuggery and sadism of Laban, it wouldn’t do justice to the whole story. Yes, Laban was trouble, but so many other Charan residents who were part of Jacob’s life were kind and generous. Rachel epitomized kindness by helping her older sister Leah marry Jacob first, against her own self-interest, just so she wouldn’t be shamed. Leah expressed kindness by praying to G-d that her seventh child be a girl so that Rachel should merit having at least two of the twelve tribes, and not less than Bilhah and Zilpah, Jacob’s concubines. Reuven would only collect flowers and herbs that were on public lands, refusing to follow grandpa Laban’s larcenous lifestyle. Yes, there was wickedness, but Jacob was surrounded by goodwill.

Focusing on the kindness that surrounds us is so important. This week as Shoshana was sharing with me all the “WhatsApp” news she received about the horrific situation in Israel and other negative incidents experienced by Jews around the world, I implored her to share good news and she did. We need to train ourselves to see good and focus on it. It’s not easy but is doable. Jacob saw the good and it changed the way he saw the world and even how he saw his brother Esau later on.  He wasn’t fooled by Esau’s theatrics, but he learned a vital trait: don’t see the worst in everyone. Not everyone walking behind you on the subway is a mugger and not every plumber overcharges their customers. Like Jacob, see good and your life will only get better and better.

Learn to see the light all over the tunnel!

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!!!

Aba, you don't understand me!

Children, like adults, are complex beings, making the blessing of parenthood a most fascinating journey. As Chavie and I raise our children, we are constantly seeking guidance on how to better the parent/child dynamic. Whether dealing with our high schooler Shoshana, who is excelling in Florida or interacting with our four kiddos at home, we learn new things every day and it’s imperative to reassess the relationship according to what we learn. When Chaya says “Aba, I feel like you didn’t understand me”, I need to pause and work with her so that there’s better communication.

In this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, we read of Rebecca’s pregnancy. When passing a Yeshiva, she felt the baby kicking in her womb, same when she passed a place of pagan worship. It was confusing: is the kid inching towards spirituality or heading into idolatry? Will the child seek morality or depravity? When she consults with the prophet she is assured that she will have twins, her beloved Jacob and Esau, not a child with a double identity. Yet, it’s important to realize that many good people do seek out both holy experiences and secular temptations, sometimes, even simultaneously. Recognizing this fact, makes us, the parents, more suited to respond to our children and help them choose the right path. We must strive to be “in touch” with our children and convey to them that holy and fun are not mutually exclusive, but that true holiness is indeed meaningful, fulfilling and joyous.

Today marks forty-one years since the miraculous recovery of my dear Rebbe of blessed memory after suffering a massive heart attack during Hakafot on Shemini Atzeret of 1977. On this day, Rosh Chodesh Kislev, he finally was strong enough to leave his study, where he was being treated, and head back home. There are many angles to this story, including the fact that his recovery allowed me to spend my childhood with him (I was born in 81’), but what speaks most to me is the Rebbe’s insistence in staying near his Chassidim, his soul-children, as his hospitalization would’ve terrified them, and he didn’t want to ruin their holiday. When choosing closeness over convenience, we send a clear message to them: you matter. You are always important to me and I cherish this journey.

In the words of Fredrick Douglass “It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”!  

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!!!

Vote with your feet!

Twenty-four hours after the Pittsburgh Massacre, after speaking at the local memorial gathering, I tried chatting with Chaya and Zeesy about it. I’m not sure they understood the severity of the tragedy, the way I hoped they would’ve, but I’m guessing this is normal for children their age. An hour later Zeesy asked me “Why would that person want to hurt other people?”. So innocent, so pure, so raw, yet all I was able to say was “Zisha, there are bad people in the world, really bad; we have to be, and do, good”. She agreed, as she listed off a bunch of good things she thinks we can do for the betterment of the world.  

Am Yisroel is broken; we are all seeking comfort.

In this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, we read of Eliezer’s courtship of Rebecca as a wife for Isaac, son of his master Abraham. After their initial meet-and-greet, we are told “ And Isaac brought her to the tent of Sarah his mother, and he took Rebecca, and she became his wife, and he loved her. And Isaac was comforted for the loss of his mother. ” Isaac, who mourned for three years after Sarah’s untimely death, finally begins to find comfort, not only because he found a soulmate, but because she brought all of Sarah’s unique blessings back to life. When Sarah was alive there were three constant miracles: 1) A candle burned from one Shabbat eve to the next. 2) A blessing was found in the dough that she’d use for baking. 3) A cloud was attached to the roof of the tent. When she passed away, these things ceased, and when Rebecca arrived, they resumed.

Pittsburgh will never be the same, the families of those murdered will mourn forever and we don’t know how much grieving time the Jewish community will need, but we do know that we will find comfort and move forward. Isaac found comfort in continuity, knowing that the traditions of his beloved mother carried on and will be passed on to his future children. Joyce, Richard, Rose, Jerry, Cecil, David, Bernice, Sylvan, Daniel, Melvin and Irving died while praying in Shul on Shabbat, they voted with their feet and were not only devoted Jews in thought and speech, but in action. We can honor their legacy by making that our tradition too. 5K’s, skiing, hiking, sleeping, chilling are all important activities, but let’s follow in their sacred footsteps and, in their honor, make Shabbat morning in Shul a weekly activity, starting from tomorrow morning. 

 

Vote for Shabbat; endorsed by eleven sanctified souls!

 

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!!!

Be Sensitive

Jon Kean’s “After Auschwitz” left me speechless.  Watching it at The Ellen Theater on Wednesday and listening to the life stories of six amazing women, their pain and joy, anguish and contentment, hopes and sorrows, my innards were gut-wrenched. I couldn’t, and still can’t, stop thinking of my Zayde Shimon and all the questions I should’ve asked him to shed light on his after-holocaust experience. What broke me was what happened to these women when they finally went home after the war and how their childhood dwellings were now occupied by their Polish neighbors who refused to give it back and how that shattered their morale. When we lose our care for our neighbors, our very own “buddies”; that’s the decay of a society.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeira, we read about the evil people of Sodom. They were guilty of many sins from sexual immorality to unjust courts, but what really did them in was their failure to be kind. Hospitality was against the law. Kindness among locals was prohibited. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless; all verboten. Stealing from the rich was permitted and robbing a passerby encouraged. Even as Abraham does his very best to advocate to G-d on behalf of the Sodom populace and it’s four suburbs of Amora, Adma, Tzvoyim and Tzoar, he fails, as he simply couldn’t justify their redemption to The Creator. Lot, Abraham’s nephew and a few family members made it out in recognition of their innate kindness, but as-a-whole a society such as Sodom would inevitably self-destruct.

Chavie and I try to instill in our children the importance of respect, no matter who and no matter when. When Shoshana and I were doing homework over Facetime this week, we delved into this idea as well while talking about King Solomon and his son Rechavam overburdening the populace in Israel and the subsequent loss of politeness. When we become out of touch, when we self-inflict with numbness by choice, we hurt neighbors, acquaintances and eventually those we love most. Whether it’s Sodom 1846 BC or Poland in 1945 CE, we must never follow suit. We must be like the Abraham’s or Sugihara’s of the world; be kind, sensitive and respectful.

“Everyone does it” is not an excuse; we can do better!

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!!!

Infusion of Chutzpah!

David, a recent transplant to Bozeman, asked me if we could pull together a Minyan for his father’s Yahrtzait on the 6th of Cheshvan. Knowing that it would come a short time after the High Holiday season with non-stop Minyans, I was skeptical, but assured him we would give it our best shot. Thanks to the devoted souls in our amazing community, we did it, and he was able to say Kaddish for his dad on Sunday evening and Monday morning. It wasn’t easy for the guys to come over at 6:45 AM before sunrise, but they did, happily, because that’s what Jews do. The next day I was invited by a local family to upgrade the Divinity of their home, ensuring that every door in the entire home, not just the front door, had a Kosher Mezuzah as we’re instructed. It’s not cheap to buy twelve Mezuzot and to explain its significance to every gentile visiting your home, but if there’s a will, there’s a way.

In this week’s Torah portion, Lech-Lecha, we read about the sojourns of Abraham and Sarah. They are commanded to hit the road without a known destination, they encounter severe famine in Canaan, Sarah is held hostage by the Egyptian Pharaoh, Abraham is forced to fight with mighty kings to redeem his captured nephew Lot, he experiences a G-dly vision in which he’s foretold of his descendants enslavement, he and Sarah experience infertility, he marries Hagar and has a child Ishmael, and after all this G-d commands him with his first Mitzvah, to circumcise himself at the young age of ninety nine. Imagine (or perhaps don’t) what it would be like to be told to do this at this point in your life, and how despite its challenges, Abraham does it without hesitation.

We are the descendants of Abraham and Sarah and are to emulate them in every way possible. Judaism is fun, meaningful and spiritual and Torah is stimulating, insightful and authentic. Undoubtedly most of the time we can scream “S’Iz Gut Tzu Zain a Yid – It’s awesome being Jewish”. Yet, there are moments that, especially while living in rural America, it can be a bit tough, necessitating a bit more Chutzpah and resilience. This week taught me once again that we have it in us to go big. we could find excuses to be like Noah or Adam, to be like Eve or Na’ama, but we are the children of Abraham and Sarah and they set the tone for our higher standards.

Noah’s ark was nice, but Abraham/Sarah’s tent is where we belong!

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!!! 

Batman or Superman?

This week, while attending Menny’s martial arts class, I listened in, as his sensei Robin explained to the children the difference between Batman and Superman. Though Batman and Superman both help people in their time of need, Batman only lives as a superhero when wearing his bat-suit, otherwise he’s just Bruce Wayne roaming Gotham. Superman, on the other hand, is Clark Kent 24/7, a unique world-saving Kryptonite who is ready to do what’s right with, or without, his cape. The sensei told the kids that they need to choose whether to be Batman or Superman, to only behave with the proper discipline while wearing their uniforms or will they choose to be Clark Kent and live with this discipline at home, school and wherever life takes them.

In this week’s Torah portion, Noach, we read about a young fellow Abram, who was a great grandson of Shem, Noach’s oldest and most righteous son. Abram is accredited with re-introducing monotheism into a world that had shifted away from it for way too long.  Once Abram deduced that there must be a Creator, he internalizes it and launches a lifelong campaign to move the world away from paganism and closer to Hashem. He starts internally with the homes of his father Terach and grandfather Nachor, ridding them of all idols and once he starts, he can’t stop. Wherever he goes, he’s a de-facto Lubavitcher, seeking to sell G-d to anyone who will listen. From those who ate in his home to those he’d meet in his travels, from King Nimrod who considered himself a god and was a self-proclaimed “atheist”, to his nephew Lot, a kid that he raised but was off the beaten path; he never stopped being the superman who will fight for what’s right.

It was tough. Aside from his wife Sarah and a few friends, he was doing his outreach solo, with everyone else on planet earth in the opposition. Yet, with determination and a deep recognition that we change the world through individuals, he pulled it off. He didn’t act like Abram only during business hours, he didn’t wear his Yarmulke only when he was in Flatbush, he didn’t change his morals when he was on vacation; Abram was Abram through and through, authentic, genuine and unwavering. When G-d realized that humanity was now gifted with a holy warrior, He changed his name from Abram, High Father, to Abraham, Father of Multitudes, earning that elated title, for which he’s recognized until today.   

Batman types aren’t bad, but superman style is the way to go!

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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