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Weekly Message

Don't blame yourself!

I was sitting in my Helena hotel room watching as ten thousand Jews were banished from their home in Gaza, and I was fuming. It was the summer of 2005 and Jews were exiled from their own land because Israeli politicians believed that eliminating twenty-one Jewish villages, making Gaza “judenrein”, would bring about peace. I waited, even hoped, for peace, I wondered whether the silent majority in Gaza and Ramallah would choose peace over war, love over hate, growth over destruction, but sadly,  they named streets after suicide bombers, voted in Hamas as their leaders, (yes, the same Hamas that writes in its Charter “Israel will exist, and will continue to exist, until Islam abolishes it, as it abolished that which was before it.”), and has chosen to send thousands of rockets into our homeland time and time again.

This Sunday night, Jewry will usher in the forty-eight-hour holiday of Shavuot, when G-d gifted us His Torah at Sinai. It’s a moment of inner joy, recognizing that we were asked to serve as His ambassadors of light, morality, ethics and wisdom to the entire world. The gift was given at Mount Sinai, Sinai from the root word “Sin’ah” which means hatred, because the idolaters of the world were so envious of our gift, of our Torah, they hated on us and still do. As we stand in Shul hearing the Ten Commandments, let’s remember an eternal truth: there is no logic to the hatred. They don’t hate us because of land or theology, they don’t hate us because of 1948 (remember the massacres of 1929?) or 1967 (remember they started that war?), they hate us because we received something that no one else did, employed by heaven to brighten the world.

Stockholm Syndrome is real and after almost two thousand years of exile, many Jews have become spokespeople for their captors, for those who hate them, abuse them, and would murder them in a heartbeat, if they could. I will never apologize for standing with my brothers and sisters in Israel and for my love of the Holy Land. I can’t in good conscious ignore what my family is enduring in Israel. “But Rabbi, don’t you want peace? When will there be peace?”, I am actually a pacifist, I always prefer peace, but not “peace” that brings to collective suicide. Golda Meir once said, “Peace will come when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us”.

Dear Jews, you did nothing wrong, their hate isn’t logical!

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

Greed Isn't Jewish!

Earlier this week Shoshana, along with her classmates at the Bozeman Field School, headed off to Moab, Utah for a ten day expedition of hiking, camping and science based learning immersed in nature. When I dropped her off at school on the day of their departure, I glanced at some of the vehicles being used for the trip and wondered why they didn’t just rent two nice vans or three suburbans, but then I searched the rentals in Bozeman and realized it would cost them over five thousand dollars, because prices around here are unacceptably insane. 

In this week’s double Torah portion, Behar-Bechukotai, we read about real estate law in the land of Israel. There are laws of ownerlessness in the Sabbatical and Jubilee years, there are laws about inherited homes that were family based from the days of Joshua, there are laws about vineyards, but one verse really spoke to me “And when you make a sale to your fellow Jew or make a purchase from the hand of your fellow Jew, you shall not wrong one another.” The Torah is telling us that even though in real estate transactions it’s easy to cheat the buyer either directly or by omission, we are mandated as ethical, G-d fearing, Jews to disclose the correct information, all of it, including the exact date when this field will reach "redemption time", so that the buyer isn’t robbed of what is rightfully his/hers and what they paid for at the sale time. 

We are seeing this issue with real estate in our beloved Montana. Wealthier people are offering tens of thousands of dollars above asking price and many of our local brothers and sisters, the hard working nurses at the hospital, cashiers on Main Street, employees at the DMV, aren’t able to find a home. If they want to visit grandma in Cheyenne, that’s impossible too, because of the rental car prices. Capitalism is good, greed isn’t, and when a society is too greedy, it eventually comes back to bite us all in the you-know-what. I am no expert in real estate, but we must always ask ourselves if the extra $20,000 will make all the difference to us, because It certainly will to our friend or co-worker who is part of our community and just wants a place to live.

Be a Mentsch, even if it cost a bit more!

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

He didn't love her!

It is said that “the greatest gift a father can give his children is to love their mother”, meaning, there is no better form of education than role modeling. Parents can babble all we want about ethics, morals, and ideas, but if our children see us living differently than those espoused values, they won’t live up to anything we preach. We live in a time when education has been tarnished by never-ending testing and homework, and while these mechanisms may not be a bad idea, they aren’t infallible and they only help us know about the students’ knowledge, not their internalization of the teachings.

In our Torah portion, Emor, we read about the priestly Kohanic laws. Rashi, the preeminent biblical commentator explains that the double wording “Emor” and “Ve’Amarta”, which both mean “to speak to”, is to teach the older Kohanim that they must always instruct, illuminate the path, and inspire the younger Kohanim to be on track. Unrealistic parental expectations are futile and only set parents up for disappointment, but we must still give them the best shot in life by role modeling for them what a productive life, a healthful Jewish life, looks like, which doesn’t happen by giving them speeches, rather by showing them what we value.

The Talmud relates that when Rabbi Akiva, the man of Lag B’Omer, came home after being away for twenty-four years teaching Torah, he was escorted by an entourage of his students. His wife, Rachel, dressed in her simple house clothes, went out to greet him and fell before his feet. It creates a scene – an elderly woman thrusting herself before the great rabbi Akiva surrounded by scores of devoted students. They move to push her away, but Rabbi Akiva stops them, uttering a line which has since become legendary: “Leave her. What is mine and what is yours is hers.” He didn’t just love his wife, he respected her, he honored her, this is healthy role modeling.

Love is cheap; respect is the name of the game!

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

Don't mess with vulnerable!

Earlier this week I saw a 2015 video clip from CBS Evening News about Jayden Hayes of Savanah Georgia. Jayden, who lost both his parents by the age of six, was blessed to be raised by his loving aunt and was tired of seeing grouchy-looking people out and about. His six-year-old mind got thinking, and he started a movement to bring little rubber-duckies and dinosaurs to random people on the street with the simple goal of putting a smile on their face. As I watched this kid, I couldn’t stop thinking about the vulnerability of this innocent child and how fortunate he was to see the world with a bright perspective.

 

In this week’s double Torah portion, Acharei-Kedoshim, we read about a convert to Judaism. The verse says “When a convert lives in your land, you should not harass him. The convert who lives with you should be considered by you like a native among you, and you should love them as yourself. For you too were strangers in the land of Egypt”. Like similar verses throughout the Five Books, G-d is always looking out for those who feel left out, those who are in a vulnerable state, those who are grieving, mourning, suffering or lost and yes, even those who may lack self-confidence due to their background and “fitting in” challenges. We are obligated to treat all people properly, but Hashem adds bonus commandments, looking out for individuals who are at risk for mistreatment.

 

Our country is in turmoil. We don’t give others the benefit of the doubt, we judge people based on political affiliation, we lambast people before getting all the details, and we are ready to decide the fate of fellow Americans without even knowing them. The “individual” we are gossiping about is not a caricature; he/she is a real person and without knowing their background, their family story, their medical conditions, their weaknesses, their personal experience, we attack mercilessly. Whether it’s the woman checking you in at the Delta counter, the Uber driver, the dentist working on your root canal or even a close friend, most of the time we simply don’t know the full story. The Torah is teaching us to just be kind, be respectful, be generous, be a listener instead of a babbler, and you will be better for it and so will our fractured world.

 

See it yourself! https://www.cbsnews.com/.../after-losing-parents-6-year.../

 

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

 

Loving tears!

I cried a lot this week. It’s never easy when a child leaves home and yesterday our beautiful Menny, who turns eight tomorrow, started a journey of healing at a unique facility that helps diagnose children and give them the life tools needed to deal with their particular emotional/psychological challenges. The idea that my 24/7 sidekick, my only boy, who crawls into my bed and breaths on me mercilessly, who hugs me with so much love that I can feel it even when he isn’t embracing me, who is smart, witty and fun, will be out of my arm’s reach for four to eight weeks, is heartbreaking. He needs it, he knows it, we know it, and yet it’s still so hard.

In this week’s double Torah portion, Tazria-Metzora, we read about the Metzora, a Jew plagued with Tzaraas, supernatural leprosy-looking blotches that comes upon a person’s home, home-furniture, clothing, and body as a result of Lashon Hara, speaking negatively about others. The one who pronounces them a Metzora must be a Kohen, a priest, a descendant of Aaron. Why? Because Aaron’s family were pursuers of peace and lovers of humanity and when someone is going to be exiled from the community, even for a short time, it needs to be done by someone who loves them, respects them, and in a way that the recipient of the sentence feels that it isn’t punitive G-d forbid, but simply an act of love for their own benefit.

The incredible Brad Reedy writes “When we understand that our pain is our love uncovered, that feeling pain means that we are alive, we move away from behaviors that anesthetize us and embrace our pain as part of a life that is whole.” He’s so right. Parenting isn’t just a journey of memorable family trips, fun bedtime experiences or even legitimately funny selfies. It also includes lots of pain, mostly internal pain, and instead of numbing that inner cry, we should allow ourselves to feel it and realize that it hurts because we love these kids so much. I will speak to Menny every day, but I will miss him, miss him a lot, but his life’s mission isn’t just to bring me and Chavie Nachas and joy, but to be his best self and that takes work, work that sometimes pains me a lot.

The more we love our children, the more they learn to love others!

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

 

Crying for Uighurs!

Yesterday, I was honored to sit on a Holocaust Remembrance panel for Malmstrom Air Force Base in collaboration with University of Montana. One of the questions I was asked by the moderator was “What conditions and factors made the Holocaust possible?” in my answer I explained that “It could only happen when people don’t see what’s happening elsewhere as their problem. when abuse comes into our lives, we are indignant, when suffering happens in our country, we are ready to explode with fury, but if it’s in someone else’s family, another nation, we aren’t as involved for the cause as we should be. Sure, we care about all human suffering, but caring and doing something about it are millions of miles apart.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shemini, we read of the untimely passing of Nadav and Avihu, Aaron’s two sons, after entering the Holy of Holies without authorization. The verse says, “your brethren, the whole House of Israel, shall weep about the fire that the Eternal caused to burn”. It’s clear that though it was Aaron and Elisheva’s two sons, Elazar and Isamar’s two brothers, and seemingly their personal time for mourning, the death of these two Jews in the Tabernacle was transformed into communal grieving. When we see each other as family, brothers and sisters, children of the same G-d, then we don’t allow genocides to happen, not in China, Rwanda, Sudan or Syria. Bumper stickers aren’t enough to stop evil from rising its ugly head, we have to do the hard work of making a difference, even if that difference is small at first.

Anne Frank wrote “I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that every-thing will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.” Do we feel the suffering of millions? When we read about the Uighurs, do we wonder why the world is silent? Doesn’t that silence make you sick to your stomach? There are over twelve million Uighurs living in Northwest China that are being exiled, tortured, abused and families are being separated by their government, have I cried for them? Have I prayed for them enough? Talk was always cheap, and it’s even cheaper with social media posts where one can make believe we care with a meme; action is a lot harder and crying for someone else’s suffering is really tough, but if it doesn’t hurt us enough, doesn’t that mean we haven’t learned from the past?

As they say “Where there is deep grief, there is great love”!

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

Dear Chava'le...

Tonight, Jewry will usher in the ShabbatHaGadol-Passover nine-day experience. We are also coming-off the one-year anniversary since Montana went into Covid lockdown and turned life the way we knew it upside down. It is with this in mind, that I’ve put fingers to keyboard to share my feelings with my beloved Chavie, who is the bedrock of our home and has gotten us through everything:

 


Dear Chava’le,

I’m writing this just as you are wrapping up a full week of cooking, prepping our home for our holiday Seders and meals, while i finished my whirlwind month of ensuring that every Jew in the State has Shmurah Matzah for their Passover Mitzvah. Despite our mutual exhaustion, infused with our common love for our fellow Jews, I needed to take a moment amid all the craziness and hullabaloo to say thank you. Why am I writing to you in public? Why not just give you a hallmark card with a gift card to Anthropologie and call it a day?  Because in our society we grieve in public, kvetch in public, rant in public, opine in public, so it only makes sense to share gratitude in public too.

I’ve often wondered why the Midrash teaches that it was “in the merit of the righteous women that our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt”. Though a part of me gets it, they were devoted to their families with heart and soul; another part of me is confused: It wasn’t like their husbands were vacationing in Sharm El Sheikh! They were enslaved, suffering day-in and day-out from the task mastering Egyptians and so the mothers had no choice but to step up and care for their families. Why do they deserve so much credit for a most basic human responsibility? Does one deserve accolades for caring for their own children?  

Yet, as we delve deeper into the Exodus story, and as I lived through the Covid pandemic with you, my own “righteous woman”, I now understand this concept so much better. You see, the Jewish women in Egypt didn’t just care for their families while kvetching about their lot. They didn’t just reluctantly step up to the plate and ensure that all the Jewish babies survived as they defied Pharaohs ruthless decree. They didn’t just bring food and drinks to their husbands who were out working with sweat, blood and toil. They did a lot more and they did it with class, love and enthusiasm.

These devoted wives beautified themselves so that their husbands, always on the verge of physical collapse, were overly attracted to the loves of their lives. They were there for their fellow women who were struggling in childbirth, and postpartum, and created a clandestine team of Jewesses, led by Yocheved and her daughter Miriam, who ensured that all the Jewish women giving birth were pampered and cared for until they were fully back to themselves. They set aside tambourines, because despite their unimaginable hardships, they never lost hope in the future redemption and wanted to be ready to celebrate properly, with song and dance, when the miracle of Exodus came about.

These women were warriors through and through. Hope permeated every fiber of their being. They didn’t veer off the G-dly path despite their life challenges, despite seeing so many Jewish children murdered, and despite not being 100% sure when the change, the light, they dreamed of, would become reality. “We shall overcome” was felt through their every sleepless night.

Chav, I know you don’t like my mushy writing, but this is exactly what I’ve seen in you over the past year. You didn’t just reluctantly care for our children. You didn’t bemoan the experience of our kids being home 24/7 for months on end and kvetch about it all day. You didn’t shut down, despair or even lose your bearings; you stepped up every day bright and early to be there for our family, for our spiritual, emotional and mental wellbeing. I know I’m speaking for so many other husbands who were also blown away by the devotion, sacrifice and sensitivity that their spouses professed during these trying times. In addition, you were there for me. I don’t stay as calm as you, I can’t handle the change of pace with the stride that you do and you were there for me, through thick and thin, to make this year bearable, and super successful.

I’m in awe.

You found innovative ways to keep our kiddos busy and their minds intrigued, we did family hikes and road trips together, you re-invented their playroom, the community playroom, so that they, and their friends, can have a most educational, productive, and fun experience during their play time. You read thousands of books to them, baked and cooked with them (though you don’t like a messy kitchen), you prepared beautiful Shabbos dinners and lunches even when we weren’t hosting our myriads of guests, and you made each of them feel loved and special even on days when all they did was make you, us, feel exhausted and half dead.

I watched (and still do) as you spent hundreds of hours each month on the phone with teachers, principals, counselors, therapists, doctors, holistic healers, friends, mentors, and anyone that may be able to guide and help us, as we endeavor to figure out what to do next to help each of our children and their never-ending needs. You did this all when we were emotionally drained ourselves and as our Chabad in-person activities came to an abrupt halt and the world seemed to be falling apart, causing all of us, the masked-up souls of 2020-2021, aggravation, hopelessness and uncertainty.

I looked back at Egypt and realized that my Chavie, and so many of her fellow Jewish women the world over, are truly the righteous ones, making us worthy of redemption. I think it’s straightforward: when you live in a redeemed state of mind, state of being, you are able to bring all of us closer to redemption, helping an “enslaved nation” realize that miracles aren’t only possible but probable. When you live with feminine faith, a deeply embedded recognition that Hashem is in charge, then believing G-d could rock redemption is not a farfetched idea, it’s actually a realistic option.

So now Erev Pesach, one year after Big Sky Country entered this pandemic era, I want to salute you my dear Chavie for showing me, showing our children, showing our beloved Montana community, what perseverance looks like and how to wake up each morning and be there for each child that Hashem has gifted you with love that is palpable, seeing redemption in yourself, each of them and all of Klal Yisroel.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, “A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water”, she was right. This year, when we reached our collective boiling point, I realized once again how blessed I am to have you as my partner, and how much Jewish women do for the survival and growth of Jewry.

L’Chaim dear Chav! We are deserving of redemption thanks to you and your fellow women troopers! Looking forward to a special Pesach together with friends and family. 

Love,

Chaim Shaul

 


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

Crossing the border!

Yesterday, Chaya and I journeyed to Clark, Wyoming to place Mezuzot on two Jewish homes. Though it’s in Wyoming and our colleagues Rabbi Zalman and Raizy in Jackson Hole oversee Chabad’s activities in the Cowboy State, they were delighted that we could get there, as for us it’s only six hours round trip and for them it would be eleven. In addition, I was excited to stop and visit my buddy Jim in Belfry to deliver Matzah on our side of the border. When an opportunity beckons to create a Temple for G-d to “dwell among them”, there is nothing more exhilarating.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayikra, the first in the book of Leviticus, we read about the Korbanot, the sacrificial offerings in the Tabernacle/Temple. The Mincha meal offering, which was primarily of flour, was given to us by G-d so that even those who couldn’t afford a bird or animal for an offering, were able connect with Him at His Divine residence. In Jewish law we are instructed that “a rich person who brings a poor person offering, has not fulfilled his/her obligation”. Just because G-d appreciates the offering of the pauper, that doesn’t mean He wants that from a wealthy person who could do more. The meal offering, which came wholeheartedly from the poor person, giving his very best to his Creator, was really special to G-d, and for that same reason, a rich person who tries to bring that type of offering does not do himself, or G-d, any favors.

This upcoming Wednesday, the 11th of Nissan, we will celebrate the Rebbe’s 119th birthday. The Rebbe would repeat this Halachic truism often enough, as it represented his worldview. What suffices for one with less energy and time, doesn’t suffice for those who were blessed with more of it. Just because each of us may be doing good, doesn’t mean that we can’t do better, and even better. The Rebbe shifted our outlook from seeing the potential prospects that come our way from being a “Shlepp” to being a “Mitzvah opportunity”. It was many hours in the car in the crucial pre-Pesach days, but if I’m too busy for Mezuzot, then why am I in Montana altogether? The Rebbe’s ninety-two years, every of its moment, were filled to capacity with goodness, holiness and devotion to our people, I try to emulate just that.

If I were a rich man…!

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

Start a forest!

Pesach is just two weeks away and we are very much in the Passover mode. I spent a few hours this week mapping out the route for our Yeshiva students who, together with me and the kids, will be hand delivering Shemurah Matzah to 550 Jewish homes across Big Sky Country. Normally, we reach about 250 souls, but as so many Jews will still be unable to join a Seder with friends and family, it only makes sense to bring what the Zohar calls “Bread of faith, bread of healing” to our brothers and sisters from Roundup to Dillon.

In this week’s double Torah portion, Vayakhel-Pekudei, which concludes the book of Exodus, we read about the contributions of supplies donated by men, women and children to build the Tabernacle, the G-dly dwelling in the Arabian desert. This drive was not aimed at a particular tribe, it wasn’t just for the adult males like some of the other gifts, it wasn’t a request of the wealthy Jews who could afford it with ease or even an equal coin for all Jews; it was “bring as much as you can” and “we must all be part of this vital project”. There are moments, where we need, we want, every Jew on board, no matter the labels we give ourselves or others “bestow” upon us.

Passover is one of those moments.

Our Exodus, our freedom, is something every Jew or Jewess should experience first-hand. They may, or may not, come to Shul on Rosh Hashana to hear the Shofar, they may, or may not, fast on Yom Kippur, they may, or may not, sit in a Sukkah on Sukkot, but Matzah on Pesach must happen. Matzah represents the miracle that is Jewish survival, it teaches us that there’s always hope for redemption even when all seems bleak, it reminds us that we eventually do overcome, and it blesses us with enhanced faith in G-d and physical healing for our body. We are making Montana a Mishkan, a Divine dwelling, for G-d, and that can’t happen if even one Jew in Belt or Cameron isn’t part of operation Matzah 2021.

One tree can start a forest; each of us is a tree! 

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

Strong, smart and brave!

After the miraculous purchase of our new Chabad Center, I traveled to New York for fourteen short hours to visit the Rebbe’s resting place and say thank you for the inspiration he gives me and Chavie daily, the trust he has placed in us as spiritual leaders, and the blessings he bestowed upon our community with this acquisition. As I awaited my flight back from LaGuardia at the wee hours of Tuesday morning, I wrapped myself in my Talis and Tefillin and Davened as the sun was rising over the city that never sleeps. There is something really special about being Jewish and doing Judaism in public and standing alone with G-d like Abraham and Sarah

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Tisa, we read about the sin of all sins, the formation of, and service to, a golden calf. Hur, the honorable son of Miriam and Caleb and nephew of Moses and Aaron, is asked to join, even lead, the G-dless resistance movement. He refuses and, instead, condemns their forbidden behavior that included the cardinal sins of adultery and idolatry, and so they murder him, adding bloodshed to their list of “good deeds”. Hur didn’t sugarcoat it for them, he didn’t play along; he knew that his allegiance is to G-d, G-d only, and though the peer pressure was real, he stood alone at that moment defending Hashem and His Torah.

It is said “Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help, and brave enough to ask for it”. Being a Hur isn’t easy, living life authentically won’t always garner loving acceptance, and withstanding peer pressure is really hard, especially if the pressuring peers are your friends and loved ones, but character is built, and self-awareness is created, when we know our soul and live by its conviction. I was pleasantly uplifted the other week when I saw Marc, a recent transplant to Bozeman, walking on Main Street with a Yarmulke, it warmed my heart. Being one of a few doesn’t make you weird, just devoted.

Be like Marc; sticking out like a healthy Jew, not a sore thumb!

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

All the Jews!

A few weeks ago, I did a “Rabbi Goes West” Q&A with Congregation Aitz Chayim in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was fun, the crowd was nice and the questions, even the hardballs, were intellectualizing. Yet, one question was about why “Orthodox” Jews don’t follow the governmental restrictions during Covid? I was puzzled. Not because there have not been infractions, I know there have been a few, but the question in itself is something we’d never asked of another minority group, certainly not with the same tone, and we’d spend 101 hours defending why “for them” it’s different, yet, with our own brothers and sisters, we are ok assuming the worst and can’t wait ten-seconds to actually confirm whether the New York Post or Haaretz are reporting accurately.

Today is Purim, and one of the most powerful moments in the Megillah is when Queen Esther tells her cousin Mordechai “Go and gather all the Jews who are in Shushan and fast for my sake…Then I shall go to the king”. She didn’t say go to the “Orthodox” or “Charedi” Jews of Shushan, she didn’t ask him to skip over inviting “those Jews” who attended, and sadly enjoyed, the feast hosted by wicked Achashveirosh, she didn’t ask which Yeshiva they did or didn’t attend, she didn’t even want to know their politics, whether they supported the Persian rule or preferred the Median rule that came before, she made it clear “Go and gather ALL the Jews”. She needed all of them, we need each other.

This year, as our world seems so fractured, we must ensure that within the halls of Jewish life we treat each other like family. No, we don’t need to agree, we can debate issues, even passionately, but we can’t see a fellow Jew as the “other” or we are feeding into Haman’s wishes. Haman said “There is one nation scattered and dispersed among the nations“, he saw a divided community, away from each other and saw an opening to attack. Esther’s response to the Haman’s of the world was “Gather all the Jews”. Unity amongst Jewry is the antidote to Haman, Hitler, Khaled Mashal and anyone who envisions our annihilation. When we respect each other as fellow members of the Sinai covenant, there is “light, joy, gladness and honor”.

L’Chaim brothers and sisters! We are one!

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

Grid stability

With Chavie’s parents and four siblings living in South Texas, it’s heartbreaking to see what they’ve been dealing with all week. The temperatures and snow/ice is something we are used to in Montana, but Texas’ infrastructure is obviously not built for a once-in-a-lifetime storm and the results are catastrophic. While we pray for good news soon and more sunshine for the Lone Star Ståate, it’s a timely reminder about the importance of a solid foundation that's needed to feed electricity.  In this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, we read about the building of the Tabernacle in the desert. We often discuss the holy components like the ark, menorah, table with showbread, alter, but there are also many verses that discuss the pegs, the bases, the pillars, and the middle rod. These, seemingly expendable, items created the foundation of the actual Tabernacle, they made it the home for G-d that it was for hundreds of years. Sure, we don’t spend our days talking about the foundation or drywall of our homes, but I assure you that if those foundations weren’t installed properly, it becomes a make it or break it for any home or structure.  In life we must ask ourselves: “What is my foundation?”. What are my principles that are unbreakable? What Mitzvah keeps me grounded and connected to the “G-d grid” that will keep me electrified even through the storms of life?. I hate it when psychologists say “we have to dig deeper”, I don’t have the patience for digging deeper, but they are right. If we don’t take the time to ask ourselves the tough questions, to solidify that which we consider foundational, we won’t have the wherewithal to withstand the storms that will blow into our lives. As they say “the loftier the building, the deeper must the foundation be laid”.  Don’t ignore the pegs!  May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Mashiach speedily. May G-d protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

Grace or Shame?

“shame says that because I am flawed, I’m unacceptable, grace says that though I am flawed I am cherished”. We are living through a time when shaming others has become a way of life for far too many and grace is all but gone. We can shame you without even knowing you, we have the right to destroy you because of something you said, did or even because of the bumper sticker on your car. Grace? How often are we forgiving and giving the benefit of the doubt to others. If they apologize for an expression that is hurtful or derogatory, are we accepting it with a recognition that we all make mistakes and don’t always see the world with the healthiest lens? Is a culture that cancels people good for society?

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, we read bout the laws of damages. Maimonides writes “One who rebukes his fellow should not speak so harshly that he shames him…Even though one who shames his fellow does not receive lashes, it is a terrible sin. So did the Sages say, “One who shames the face of his fellow in public has no share in the World to Come...Therefore, one must be careful in this matter – that he does not embarrass his fellow publicly, whether a small or great person. And he should not call him a name which shames him, nor should he speak before him about a matter which embarrasses him.” Furthermore, the Talmud states unequivocally that “One should be extremely careful to never shame another in public. This sin is akin to murder”.

It doesn’t matter whether you know the person or not, it doesn’t matter if you’re saying the truth or not, it doesn’t matter if you’re right and they’re wrong, shaming Is shaming is shaming. I have said regretful things in my life; I’ve hurt people with my words, and I’ve been hurt by others. I’ve said things that I wish I could take back, I’ve spoken to fellow Jews, at times, insensitively. Words are powerful and shameful words can, and do, destroy the recipient. You may convince yourself that you’re “doing it for their benefit” or you’re “saving your country”, but you’re actually just shaming others. The Torah has a much better idea for how to “save your country”: don’t do onto others, what you wouldn’t want done to you.

 

Never look down on anyone, unless you’re helping them up!

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

The sound of silence!

 

On Wednesday, I left home at 3:40 AM, four hours before sunrise, and drove six hundred miles for a day devoted to Kosher. I started at a plant in town, then onto Chester, Big Sandy, Fort Benton and Denton. We merited lots of snow Tuesday night and the roads weren’t plowed when I started the journey, so I needed something to play in the background as I focused on my driving. I tried both AM and FM Radio and they had doomsayers on talking about an “impending market crash” and the “environments’ destruction”. So, I turned on Rabbi Eli Mansour, whom I’ve never heard before, and enjoyed a 57-minute Talmud class about the rules in the Holy Temple regarding paschal-lamb-offering group assignments. It was heavenly, it was peaceful, it nourished my soul.

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, we receive the Torah at Sinai, with special focus on the Ten Commandments. We are told that when the revelation happened “a bird did not chirp or take wing, an ox didn't low, angels didn't fly or sing G‑d's praise, the sea didn't move.”, the entire universe was tranquil, silent. I’ve often thought of this phenomenon, where the entirety of creation absorbed the holiness of the moment, inhaled the purity of the Torah and it makes so much sense. The word of Hashem, when studied with proper intent and with recognition of its Author, has that unique ability to silence the many external noises that seem to bombard us 24/7. The Torah, when internalized, shifts us from anxious worriers to tranquil beings in service of our Creator.

 

This tranquility reminds me of our Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, wife of the Rebbe, whose 33rd Yahrtzait we commemorated yesterday. She was a regal woman, a compassionate woman, a life partner with the Rebbe in making his leadership a reality, but more than anything, she was a tranquil woman who absorbed the innate holiness of Torah from her father Reb Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson and lived a life of devotion without fanfare, fully present but not loud, embodying Divinity with every fiber of her majestic being. As I finally reached Townsend, where the roads were dry again, I was thankful for 57 minutes of purity, of a world that is good and productive, not pathetic and noisy.

 

Shhhhhhhh…enjoy some inner calmness; noise unwelcome!

 

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

It hits me in the pupik!

Earlier this week, while standing outside Longfellow School awaiting dismissal, Mrs. Bunkers, Zeesy’s kindergarten teacher back 2017/18, said to me “I just want you to know how happy we are to have you guys back. When I saw the Bruk kids back in the building, I knew, I felt, we are going to be ok, the world will be ok”. I shared this with Chavie and we were both so touched by that heartfelt comment. It always feels good to be appreciated, to be seen in the way you’d like to be seen. It could be hard at times to be on display 24/7, as a Jew, as a rabbi, as a Shliach, and sometime we wonder if we are living up to the role modeling, representing G-d, Judaism and Lubavitch in the best light, and hearing Mrs. Bunkers' praise for our family was reassuring.

In this week’s Torah portion, Beshalach, we read about the splitting of the Red Sea for the Jews and the drowning of the Egyptians in it. The Talmud tells us that the ministering angels on high wanted to sing praise to G-d for what was transpiring on earth, and G-d stopped them, admonishing them “my handiwork are drowning in the sea and you want to sing?”. That heavenly conversation always hits me in the “pupik”, it really hits home; just because they have acted unspeakably cruel to us, doesn’t mean we should gloat in their suffering. It’s easy to dance for the fall of an enemy, when we keep our distance from them, when we don’t see them as a child/parent/sibling, as a man or woman created by G-d in His image, but every one of these people is a distinctive creation. It is this message of deep human respect that Chavie and I try to engrain in our children and share with all.

Frankly, this Torah-oriented respect expands beyond humans. Yesterday we celebrated Tu B’Shvat, the New Year of the trees, a day on which we celebrate the ecological gifts of Hashem. Judaism demands that we recognize the G-dliness, the life, embedded within every creation including the inanimate. We aren’t meant to treat rivers, fields, animals or humans with disrespect; the Torah mandates that we seek Divine wisdom to learn what’s proper, and what isn’t, when it comes to our role as custodians of the world. I once read “when you can bless someone else while you’re going through your own storm, you’ve done love”.

Let’s do lots of love!

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

 

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