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Weekly Message

A Million Dreams!

Earlier this week, we were standing around in the kitchen and the kids asked if they can watch Shulem Lemmer sing “A Million Dreams”. As his incredible voice came through my phone, the lyrics spoke to my heart:

'Cause every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it's gonna take
A million dreams for the world we're gonna make

True that!

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Tavo, Moses reminds Jewry that they hold the key to their own destiny. There is right and wrong, good and bad, healthy and unhealthy, ethical and unethical, moral and immoral, and the path we travel on, is a choice we make each-and-every moment. We can opt for the path of blessing, co-creating with G-d a world of peace, unity and holiness, a world where dreams do come true or we can choose a cursed path of destruction for ourselves and the world at large. It’s not about reward and punishment, it’s not about fearing Satan with a pitchfork or awaiting a paradise in the sky but rather about our actions and their natural, and occasionally unnatural, consequences, reaping what we sow.

They can say, they can say it all sounds crazy
They can say, they can say I've lost my mind
I don't care, I don't care, so call me crazy
We can live in a world that we design

Dream Baby, Dream!

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

 

Lego Lives!

 

Growing up, Yanky, my younger bro and Irish twin, was the Lego kid. He’d spend hours building police stations, helicopters, car garages and everything in between. I never understood it, as I was an avid student, book reader and socializer par excellence, not a floor kid. Fast forward twenty-five years and Menny comes along and loves Lego. On Monday, he received a new sports car Lego set and wanted me to help him. It took a couple of days, short increments of Lego time, but what I’ve learned is that Lego is incredibly therapeutic, demands lots of focus and provides quality father-son time. Above all, we learned the hard way, that you can’t skip ahead in the instructions book, or you will eventually be seeking a do-over.

We find ourselves almost halfway through Elul, the month that prepares us for the High Holy Days. The Chassidim of old would say “S’Blozt An Elul Vint”, meaning that there is an Elul wind that blows into our psyche, into our homes, into our communities, as we get into the New Year mode. We are blowing the Shofar daily, adding extra Psalms to our prayers and counting down to the holiest days of the year, but it’s more than the things we do, it’s how we Elul think. Elul is that time when we reflect on what we’ve done right, what needs improvement and how we plan to change. Lego reminded me that following G-d’s instructions matter, even if we’d like to believe that somehow it doesn’t.

During the next 16 days until Rosh Hashana, join me in allowing yourself a few moments of personal honesty. In those moments let’s ask ourselves “What can I do to improve my Mitzvah observance?”. Can I ensure that I always light Shabbos candles before sundown on Friday even in the heart of winter? Can I be sure to recite the Shema once in the morning and once at night? Can I prepare a kettle on Friday so I don’t need to boil the water on Shabbos? Can I increase at least one more Kosher Mezuzah on a door post somewhere in my home? Can I skip one “eating out” experience and choose Kosher at home instead? Just some food for thought. We all have spiritual struggles, I certainly do, let’s join, both you and me, to figure out how we can “Lego Our Lives”, following the instructions just a bit better than last year.

Like Lego’s motto: the best is never too good!

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

Chaos in the kitchen!

Tuesday morning, while Chavie was up in Kalispell celebrating the Bris of Montana’s newest Menachem Mendel, born to Rabbi Shneur and Chana’le Wolf, I was in our Bozeman kitchen, wrapped in my Talis and Tefillin, trying to sneak in an Amidah prayer amidst the morning chaos of the kids' first school day. I made it almost to the end where we pray for peace and unity, when rather rapidly things got noisy. Zeesy began an activity of scratching the rice off of the bottom of soaking pot from Monday’s dinner, Menny found it important to pull on my pants while asking me about the content of his lunchbox and Chana Laya was on the other side of the room playing with a salt shaker, which normally doesn’t bring about kitchen cleanliness. I was trying to Daven but it was hard, I gave it my everything, with extra Kavana, focus, so that I don’t drop G-d mid-sentence.

It’s hard to stay focused.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, we read about prophets. A key factor in recognizing the holiness of a prophet or their falsehood, is whether they bring you closer to G-d or pull you further away. It’s a fairly simple mechanism: when a man or woman claiming to be Divinely inspired, helps us focus more on Hashem’s Mitzvot, to be more G-d fearing and G-d loving, to ignore the temptation of secularism and the addiction to superficiality, then there’s at least a good chance that their prophecies are authentic, but, when in the name of G-d, they instruct you, overtly or subtly, to defy G-d, then we must run for the hills as this is a farce and a soulless endeavor.

There are books, gurus, programs, cults, movements, Ism’s, schools and leaders that are motivational, intellectual, deep, raw, inspirational and even spiritual, but if what they are selling, the ideas they are teaching and implanting in our minds,  makes us observe one less Mitzvah, forces us to transgress one biblical prohibition, encourages us to love Hashem any less or focus less on Him, then it’s not for you. It can feel good, taste good and smell good, but like soda, it’s produced with toxic chemicals and will never quench our thirst for G-d. Having Kavana, focusing healthfully on G-d, requires lots of inner courage and determination to withstand all types of pressure, but it’s worth the relationship with the Creator of heaven and earth.

Feeling spiritual is not as good as being spiritual!

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

Horsing Around in Utah!

Our family just returned from a road trip southern Utah, where we visited Shoshana at the school she attends, just outside Zion National Park. In addition to the academics, the school’s therapeutic component includes Equine Therapy, allowing them to grow through their work with horses. We watched Shoshana impressively interact with her horse, Roman, a horse who experienced great trauma in his youth and whom Shoshana is helping rehabilitate. All in all, the girls at this school, wake up each morning at 5:30 AM and must choose what type of day to have: one with a positive attitude or one with a negative outlook, and that choice determines the trajectory of their day.

This week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, begins with “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse”. The basic understanding of the chapter is that just before his passing, Moses is reminding Jewry that if they choose the path of G-d, a path Jewish observance, it will result in blessing and if they choose an idolatrous path, it won’t end well. Yet, recently I heard a fellow share a novel interpretation: Behold, I set before you today. G-d is telling us that He has gifted us with a new day. Each day is an opportunity for us: either turn it into a blessing by focusing on “now” or, as we do so often, think of our time as unlimited, because there’s “tomorrow” and “next week”, and live "today" fruitlessly. It’s not easy to consciously utilize each day, each moment, but G-d doesn’t shower us with unearned blessings, rather, He gives us the ability to see the blessing in each day, but whether we do or don’t, that’s on us.

I’m no Tzadik and too often I think long term, I stress over the bigger picture and I even miss opportunities to live in the moment because I’m overwhelmed by “everything on my plate”. It’s unhealthy, and perhaps silly, to live this way as along the way to the bigger “stuff”, I miss out on all the amazing blessings that are right here “before me”. Five days and fifteen hundred miles of driving with four kids in the car, can either make one miserable with deep prayer for peace and quiet or we could cherish each – or almost each – moment and enjoy the craziness and the meltdowns, the potty stops and the never ending need for snacks, recognizing that they are kids who are alive, healthy and acting their age, a blessings, a blessing, a blessing.

Don’t let the big picture distract you from the Kodak moments!

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

Ecstasy in our living room!

Last Shabbos, as I slowly awakened from my well-earned - and totally refreshing – snooze, my heart warmed at the sound in our home. Wherever I turned, no matter the room, I could hear genuine Torah study. Tourists and locals alike spent their Shabbat afternoon enthralled in the wisdom of old. Two Yeshiva students from Lakewood studying Daf Yomi engrossed in the tractate of Temura, one young man from Israel was deep in a Yerushalmi while cross-referencing with a Shulchan Aruch, a Lubavitcher on the sofa was deep into his daily study of Maimonides, two women were demystifying the mysticism of Tanya and a Jewish senior from Monsey was enjoying the responsa of Reb Yoel of Satmar.

In this week’s Torah portion, Eikev, we read the second portion of Shema. In it, we read “And you shall set these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul…And you shall teach them to your sons to speak with them, when you sit in your house and when you walk on the way...” It’s basic, yet deeply profound: If we want our children to “live” Torah, if we want the next generation of Jews to study Moses’ Five Books and all of its commentaries morning and evening, we need to have it etched in our hearts and soul. Kids don’t learn from the unlearned, they can’t internalize superficiality and they will not utilize their time healthfully when those who are raising them don’t respect the gift of time allotted to them.

Sports is fun and politics addictive, but children won’t take Judaism seriously if they hear more about LeBron and Trump, Pelosi and Messi, than they do about Hulda and Pinchas. This is a personal struggle for me. There are times I want to kick back and just scroll through my twitter feed, my Facebook messages and not fill those moments with meaning; I just want to do nothing. Humanly, it’s almost impossible to be studious and holy 24/7, but if my children never see me in ecstasy with Tosfos, engrossed in a Maamar or debating a ruling of Reb Moshe, how can I expect them to take Torah study to heart? If it’s real to us, there’s a chance it will be real to them, but unopened books have never produced scholars.

Geysers are G-dly; so is a teaching of Reb Shlomo Zalman!

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

G-d, we need Advil!

Sunday evening, as I stood in Shul for a beautiful Mincha Minyan commemorating Tisha B’Av, my head was splitting. It was one of the worst headaches I can recall, and I couldn’t wait for the fast to end. When the headache finally subsided close to midnight, I realized that the desperation I felt for an end to my personal suffering, is how we are all meant to feel about the exile. We say “Blessed are You…. Who comforts Zion and rebuilds Jerusalem”, but we are tired of the prayer and are seeking that G-dly reality; we want the spiritual water and caffeine that will get rid of our collective headache.

This week is endearingly called “Shabbat Nachamu”, the “Shabbat of Comfort”, as we read Isaiah’s prophecy that foretells better days “Console, console My people," says your God…. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh together shall see that the mouth of the Lord spoke… Like a shepherd who tends his flock, with his arm he gathers lambs, and in his bosom he carries them, the nursing ones he leads… Lift up your eyes on high and see, who created these, who takes out their host by number; all of them He calls by name…”. It’s a deeply comforting message that has reminded Jews for some 2,600 years that exile isn’t permanent, and that our ultimate, when we are living a holy life in the Holy Land, unburdened by strife, war, hunger and stress, with full access to unfettered spirituality, will come about sooner than later.

Yes, every Mitzvah we do, every moment we connect with G-d, inches us closer to that era, but today I take the liberty to turn the tables on G-d: Dear G-d, in Lamentations we read “Restore us to You, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old.”. In our daily prayers we combine Psalm 25 and 130 and recite “O God, redeem Israel from all its troubles. And He will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.” We’ve been working hard to do our part, but it’s high time for You to bring about that Messianic change we’ve all been waiting for, without any preconditions or expectations of us. Your people who You entrusted at Sinai to live Your Torah and brighten Your world, have been doing just that for over 3,000 years! Our Jewish headache, or better yet, migraine, has been rough, and today I, Chaim Shaul Ben Chana Leah, demand that You provide the ultimate Advil and bring about the comfort You’ve promised just like that. Just do it!

I’m waiting; don’t procrastinate!

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

Stop: Crime Ahead!

Yesterday, I visited Montana State prison in Deer Lodge, as I do when needed. It’s never easy going into a prison, as the stories, anguishes, yearning for family, and sometimes, the gravity of the offense, is heartbreaking to the core. As I headed home to Bozeman, with my buddy Alan who joined me for Torah study on the road, I kept thinking of the warning signs we are shown in order to remain lawful and moral. Flashing lights that proclaim “trouble ahead”, and yet so many of us in the human family aren't able, in the weakness of the moment, to refrain from breaking the law, hurting others, hurting ourselves, hurting our families, and forcing the authorities to do something about it.

In this week’s Torah portion, Devarim, first in the book of Deuteronomy, we read about Moses’ rebuke to his people, just a couple of weeks before his passing. Moses, who normally rebuked them only in the heat of the moment, so they could be stopped in their tracks and cease their inappropriate activity, chose, at the end of his life, to rebuke them for all of their past weaknesses, failures, and mistakes made during their forty years together in the Sinai desert. It wasn’t easy for Moses to hit them hard, but he knew, like good parents and teachers, that if they don’t understand that their behavior, good, bad and ugly, has consequences, the end result, the final product, will be even worse.

This weekend, we usher in the 
Ninth of Av, a day on which we commemorate the destruction of both of our Holy Temples in Jerusalem, and, sadly, many other tragic events that plagued Jewry. We gather to mourn, we read Lamentations, we express, collective and individual, regret for our past behavior,  as well as, resolve to make tomorrow brighter. Sure, G-d could’ve saved our Temples and ignored our sins, but He wouldn’t be doing a good job, and wouldn’t be having our best interest at heart. The consequences bestowed unto us help us reach greater heights and be better versions of ourselves.

Rebuke is never easy, but silence is worse!

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

Berkeley's Warm Welcome!

On Tuesday, I flew out to Oakland, where I was honored to attend the premiere of The Rabbi Goes West, produced by Amy Geller and Gerald Peary about Chavie and I and our life to Big Sky Country. It was strange watching myself on a theater screen, but I was really touched to be received so warmly by the two hundred in attendance at the Landmark's Albany Twin Theater near Berkeley. While so much of the film is about the Chabad Lubavitch philosophy and movement, about the Rebbe and his incredible mission, about our achievements and future aspirations, what inspired me most, was the many conversations with Montanan, both Jews and gentiles, who spoke warmly about our friendships and their appreciation for the Jewish traditions that we celebrate together in our beloved Bozeman.

 

In this week’s double Torah portion, Matot-Massei, the last in the book of Numbers, we read about Jewry’s forty-two encampments during their forty years of desert dwelling. The Baal Shem Tov taught that these specific locals are not only geographical, but also a reflection of the internal journey we each are on in life. Like the Jews leaving Egypt en-route to Israel, every human being experiences many liberations from internal slavery, some bigger breakthroughs and some smaller, but each step is vital for our spiritual growth. It doesn’t say “this is the journey” leaving Egypt, but “these are the journeys”, because yesterday’s exodus may have been enough for yesterday’s bondage, yesterday’s struggles, but today we must leave our current Egypt, our self-inflicted restrictiveness created anew today.

A “Jew on a journey”. Constant development.

Paola and Brooke, each in their own way, eloquently addressed this precise topic in the film: At Chabad everyone is always welcomed as they are, no strings attached. We aren’t scared off by your self-imposed labels, we aren’t unprepared for the reality that most Jews have previous “Jewish trauma”, we aren’t journalists seeking to assess your current “relationship with G-d”; we care about you, period. Every member of our Jewish family has their own unique journey and Chabad is a place, both physical and in mindset, for each to see their beautiful self, their naturally embedded G-d spark, and strive to make brightness ensue. I’m certain that not all the Berkeley Jews in attendance agreed with everything I said or how Chavie and I live our life, but they were respectful, grateful that I showed up and recognized that we are a family and, while we don’t always agree on methods, we are journeying to a common destiny with Mashiach Tzikeinu.

Thank you, Berkeley!!!

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honorable Rebels!

While traveling through Salt Lake City to take Chaya to Pardas Chana summer camp in Val-David, Quebec, I ran into Montana’s Attorney General Tim Fox. We had a good chat about his health, as we’d pray for him at The Shul each week while he was undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, we spoke about the work he’s done for crime victims in Big Sky Country, and, naturally, we conversed about his run for the Governorship. We addressed the challenges of remaining a Mentsch in today’s political climate and the need for class. It isn’t easy to remain honorable and “clean”, but in life, as Chavie and I teach our children, it’s always better to lose with honor than to win dirty.

In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, we read about Tzlafchad’s five daughters and their quest for a portion in the Holy Land. They knew that the law at the time wasn’t in their favor and they could’ve easily taken to dirty, unholy, tactics to make their point. They could’ve chosen the road of Korach, the spies, Dasan and Aviram and attacked Moses' leadership, condemned Elazar and his priesthood and laid out their case to the nation in an unbecoming manner. They could’ve succumbed to the temptation of screaming “injustice” in an unjust way and they may have even gotten pats on the back for it, but they were raised by Tzlafchad to be better than that. They chose a path of respect, having a public conversation with dignity, and in a positive twist of Halachic trajectory, they brought about the results they had sought.

It had to be a struggle for them to be so vulnerable in the presence of the entire Jewish community. They had to be somewhat scared of results that wouldn't end well for them, embarrassing them before everyone. Yet, they felt they had a good case, they presented it with clarity and Moses queried of G-d for a ruling and He ruled in their favor. I’m impressed with Tzlafchad’s feminist daughters, as they didn’t just rebel against a G-dly system that seemed to ignore their plight, but rather, they sought to make changes and did so within the framework given to them by G-d and in the process changed history forever.

Screaming may start the battle; a healthy voice wins the war!

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

Life, Death & 17 hours in Moscow!

My week encapsulated the fragility of life. On Sunday, I received the tragic call from Bozeman’s on-call ER physician that our Bozeman Bubby, holocaust survivor Georgette Cassen, an honorary member of our family and someone our kids visited regularly, passed away. With the help of our incredible community volunteers, we were able to give Georgette the proper Jewish respect and burial, just before I embarked on a short trip to Moscow. I traveled halfway across the world to celebrate with pure joy the wedding of Chana Lipsker, daughter of my dear friend Yossi and his wife Luba, to her groom Shlomy of Lyon, France. My heart has been swinging back and forth all week, from the grieving end-of-life moments to the beautiful moments of marriage which brings about so much new life.

If my soul wasn’t stirred enough, while flying Aeroflot back to the States, a sixty-year-old Russian man on board our flight had a heart attack and, despite four doctors preforming forty minutes of CPR, he passed away just as we entered Icelandic air space. The plane made an “emergency” landing in Reykjavik, and as the deceased was taken off then plane, the flight attendants and many passengers were crying as they experienced the loss of life. Taking this all in and seeing life through the lenses of this week’s tragedies, reminded me why it indeed DOES make sense to Schlepp to Moscow for just seventeen hours to celebrate a joyous occasion. Life is unpredictable and we should live in the moment.

While the portion we read this week, Balak, is awe-inspiring, this weekend also ushers in the “Three Weeks” when we mourn the destruction of both our Holy Temples and pray for a new era, one in which Mashiach will bring about, not only the Third Temple, but a world free of hunger and strife, jealousy and war, a ecosphere where peace will reign and G-dliness will be sought by all. When praying for that special era, we don’t just ask for that time to come “sometime”, but we ask for it “now”, like the lyrics of famous Lubavitch song “We want Mashiach now”. I often wondered why the emphasis on “Now”? Why not “We want Mashiach soon”, “We want Mashiach so much”, “We want Mashiach with all our heart”; why “now”?

 

 

 

 

Yet, the answer is simple. Everything in our life is about the now. If we live in the moment, not focused on yesterday or tomorrow, not focused on this morning or this evening, but focused on now, we end up being calmer, healthier, more spiritual, and certainly more appreciative for what we’ve been gifted. It’s not always easy to forget our many stresses, real life challenges, but “Mashiach now” tells us that life is about the now and in a world of unpredictability, living in the now is key to wholesomeness.

We Want Mashiach - and our perspective to be in the - Now!  

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

 

 

A Little Seichel!

After a special Shabbos at the Rebbe’s Ohel with Menny, we headed to South Texas to join Chavie and the younger girls for a Block family reunion. Though they live in San Antonio, the get-together took place in Port Aransas, near Corpus, where we spent time playing games, catching up, visiting Texas State Aquarium, hanging at the pool and having quality time together with many good laughs. Admittedly, I’m no big fan of these gatherings, but now that it’s over, I must say I loved every minute and the experience is so important for myself and Chavie, the kids and the entire family.

In this week’s Torah portion, Chukat, we read about Moses and his people, Jewry, attempting to make their way into the Holy Land via the lands of Edom and Moab. While strategically there was no logic behind their opposition to Jewish passage, they refused, because they held old vendettas from their nation’s founders, Esau and Lot. The Jews and these nations were relatives, and while they didn’t see eye to eye, they could’ve had a bit less resentment and little more Seichel and let them through. Yet, family feuds tend to fester to the point of illogical and self-destructive behavior and that’s just senseless.  

Families are complex, we don’t always see eye to eye, we don’t think alike, speak alike, or act alike, but that shouldn’t stop us from spending time together and getting over ourselves and our silly observations, opinions and misconceptions about those who are our blood. The art of “liking the people you love” isn’t always easy, but it’s the only sane way. I enjoyed our time on the Coastal Bend not because we are all the same, but because three dozen relatives, including a boat-load of first cousins, joined together to celebrate ”family”. We mustn’t make the mistake of the nations on the east side of the Jordan River; let’s resolve to end family feuds quickly, or even better, before they even start.

Choose family!

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

Dear Rebbe...

Dear Rebbe,

I can’t believe it’s been twenty-five years. A quarter of a century!!! has passed since that horrible Sunday morning, the 3rd of Tammuz, June 12th, 1994, when my parents woke me to share the news that I never thought would come. We walked by your room at 770 that morning and saw you laying on the ground covered in a Talis, we begged you for forgiveness for anything we may have done to dishonor you during your lifetime and for all of your precious time that you spent on us, we cried as we tore our garments in mourning and we went home that night battered and broken and unsure how to move forward.

Yet, twenty-five years later, I am here in Queens, where Menny, my six year old, and I, will spend Shabbos near your resting place. We Schlepped from Montana, where we serve as your ambassadors, so that we can be next to you on this day of loss; we miss you and we just want to be close. Yes, even Menny who never met you, misses you, because he sees films of you, he knows what you teach, he, and his sisters, live your goal of spreading light to Montana and even he, born nineteen years after your passing, wants that priceless dollar from your hand, not mine. I miss you too. I bask in the memories of those twelve illustrious years under your wing and my heart aches for more of that comfort, more of that light, more of that electricity.

Yet, amid my yearning, as Chavie and I wish we could call Rabbis Hodakov or Krinsky and ask them to speak to you on our behalf regarding our challenges, both personal and work related, we are not Kvetching. We are not complaining or despairing, because you continue to electrify us every day. You excite us not only through your teachings and brilliant life lessons, not only through your depth and incredible perspective, not only through our bonding at your Ohel and holding the books that you gave us close to our heart, but through your amazing Chassidim, those precious students you gifted to the world. Sure, I try my best to be one of them too, but today I’m writing about our family being on the receiving end of your disciples’ love.

It’s your student Benny who spends hundreds of hours each month caring for Jewish children, including our own Shoshana, who are in Utah getting the therapeutic care they need. It’s your students Mendy and Dinie who take families in who may be visiting Cherry Hill for medical appointments like when Chavie and Zeesy needed just that. It’s your students Yossi and Luba who with unimaginable kindness took a newborn premie baby into their home, a baby who became our baby Chaya. It’s students like Levi and Chani who, without knowing us, opened their home and hosted Menny’s Bris when we were in Baltimore for his adoption and it’s students like Ovadia and my uncle Chaim Shaul, who after adopting Chana Laya and having a full plate with five Kinderlach, have continued to guide me in the right direction and ensure my sanity.

I don’t take any of that for granted. Each one of these students, and thousands like them, electrifies me and inspires me with their love, concern and care for anyone who may be in need. Not just spiritually, but like you dear Rebbe, their care is first and foremost for the physical and material needs of those seeking their help. I know you’ve been unable to answer my calls since 1994, I know I haven’t received a personal letter from you since my Upshernish in 1984, but your students, like Joshua influenced by Moses and Elisha influenced by Elijah, allow me to see you so very often.

I await that hopeful day when we will reunite and you’ll meet Shoshana, Chaya, Zeesy, Menny, Chana Laya and of course our beloved Bozeman community, but until then, please know Rebbe dear that you’re not only a picture on peoples walls, but a Rebbe who is etched in hearts, minds and souls.

Come see us soon Rebbe; the red carpet is rolled out for you in Big Sky Country.

Your grateful student,

 

Chaim

 

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

Pessimism is easy!

While driving home from a Kosher supervision visit to Simply 406 in Polson, I received a phone call from an old friend in Lakewood, New Jersey. In our conversation, he was bemoaning the future of Judaism and how we are losing too many souls to secularization. I listened, I agreed with him that Jewry surely has its challenges, but I also explained to him why I totally disagree with him about his prognosis: every day I get to see the sacrifice that Jews, young and old, are ready to endure in order to get a Kosher chicken, in order to observe Shabbos, in order to use a Mikvah. Heck, just this past Saturday night, a woman who was on vacation with her husband in Big Sky, drove up after Shabbos, to fulfill the Mitzvah of immersing herself in the Mikvah at 12:20 AM!!

In this week’s Torah portion, Shelach, we read about the twelve scouts Moses sent on a reconnaissance mission to Israel. When they returned, ten of them reported that Israel was unconquerable, and while Caleb and Joshua disagreed, their voices were drowned out by the hysteria of the masses who refused to travel to the “terrifying land”. As they bewailed what awaited them in Israel, they said “why does the Lord bring us to this land to fall by the sword; our wives and children will be as spoils. Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?". They didn’t say “we lack trust in G-d”, “we don’t think we have what it takes” or “are we sure the spies are being objective?”; instead, they chose the “it’s all about the kids” excuse, while essentially professing their own pessimism.

In G-d’s response, He says “As for your infants, of whom you said that they will be as spoils, I will bring them there, and they will come to know the Land which You despised.” Sure, the internet is exposing innocent children, teenagers and even adults to a world of folly and coarseness, but that will not define our future. The elementary students who are explaining Mezuzah to their classmates, the middle schoolers who are teaching the story of Purim to their principal, the high schoolers who are defending Israel in hostile environments, the college students who are choosing Shabbos dinner over club hopping and the adults who each day choose charity, Torah, Tefillin, Shabbos candles and Kosher, they are the future. As Corrie Ten Boom wrote “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” 

I believe in a bright future, do you?

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

Is it worth it?

I was elated. My heart felt warm and fuzzy. Every time I popped into The Emerson this week and saw Camp Gan Israel of Bozeman rocking and rolling, it made me happy, literally.  Throughout the Spring, leading up to camp, I often wondered "Is it worth it”; it involves a lot of preparation by Chavie, a good amount of money and incredible devotion of the camp counselors Devorah, Gitty and Pessel. Yet, on Monday morning the first moment I saw the campers, I knew that it was indeed “worth it”, as no one could ever put a price on the education of a Jewish child.

This week’s Torah portion, Behaalotecha, proves it.

In it, we read about a group of Jews who were impure during the first Passover experience in the Sinai desert. Instead of conceding to their reality and accepting their exclusion from the Pascal Lamb offering, they turned to Moses and demanded a second chance. In those unforgettable words they said “Lama Nigara”, why should we be left out? Moses is unsure how proceed, so he asks G-d for a remedy to this spiritual malady and G-d gives them “The Second Passover”. G-d didn’t say “too  late”, “you missed the boat” or “make better choices”, instead he instructed Moses that one month later, the 14th of Iyar, all those who were “out to lunch” on round one of Passover, are gifted a second chance.  

It was Divine Providence that we read this during the first week of camp. You see, the souls of Bozeman Jewry demands of G-d “Lama Nigara”, why shouldn’t our children be taught about the beauty of Shabbos candles and Mezuzos? why can’t our kids learn about their birthday on the Jewish calendar? Dosen't the next generation of Jews deserve a two-week environment of Jewish pride and Kosher lunches? I’m sure, some consultant or outreach professional would recommend that Jews move to cities with stronger Jewish infrastructure, but that’s not a practical solution, as home is home, Montana is breathtaking, and Moses’ solution would’ve been: Give them a camp experience in their own backyard. When Menny wants to say something was awesome, he says “one hundred and infinity”.

The value of a Jewish kid singing “Am Yisroel Chai” is "one hundred and infinity".

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

Reality Check!

Shavuos rocked! We hosted six Minyans, ninety souls attended our various holiday meals and services, and, with my dad and his wife Leah visiting, it was a truly remarkable Yom Tov. Among our guests were three Israeli soldiers Ariel, Yakir and Asaf, who were motorcycling across America and were a pleasant addition to the community.  I had the opportunity to study with them late into Saturday night and Farbreng with them quite a bit throughout the holiday. One of the subjects we discussed was “realism” and how tough it is in our world to remain real and even optimistic during the turbulence of life’s journey.  

In this week’s Torah portion, Naso, the longest in Moses’ Five Books, we read about the Nazirite. Rashi explains that when a person witnesses the downfall of those accused of adultery which is discussed earlier in the Torah portion, he/she may decide to withdraw from the “crazy” world and seek asceticism, leading them to Nazirism.  Yet, being a Nazir does include positivity: the Nazir doesn’t drink alcohol, which is important when seeking realness, as drinking creates numbness which separates us from reality. The Nazir doesn’t cut their hair, leaving It kinda wild, as being real and true to ourselves means living for ourselves and refraining from impressing others with our good looks and well-kept appearance.  The Nazir doesn’t even become impure by contacting a deceased body, as that is an impurity that comes from something outside of ourselves and to be real we need the ability to see ourselves for who we are, without being corrupted by the outside world, or perhaps worse, using the outside world as an excuse for our personal defilement.

Being real may seem unreal.

We often use terms like “let’s be real”, “let’s get back to reality” or “in the real world”, but are those statements true? Is the “real world” indeed that superficial experience that so often disturbs our soul and challenges our wellbeing? Do we prefer that “reality” because it numbs our truth for a little bit longer? Yes, grabbing a beer after work, watching some T.V. and catching up on politics may be easier than dealing with raw emotions, sharing our deep feelings or tapping into our souls yearning for meaning, but is it just a cover up?. The Nazir reminds us to take the occasional break from the “real world” and visit with our personal realness and enjoy the peace that comes with comforting and perfecting ourselves.

In the words of Albert Einstein “Reality is merely an illusion; albeit a very persistent one”!

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

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