Want to keep in the loop on the latest happenings at Chabad Lubavitch of Montana. Subscribe to our mailing list below. We'll send you information that is fresh, relevant, and important to you and our local community.
Printed from JewishMontana.com

Weekly Message

Not bad, just clueless!

Earlier this week, though visiting San Antonio to celebrate her dad’s sixtieth birthday, Chavie resumed her women’s Tanya class and meditation. It was fascinating to see nine women join together on a Sunday morning to speak about, and meditate on, their Neshama, their soul and its struggles. In a world where people “don’t have lots of spare time”, in a society that is overly obsessed with political fodder and at a time when most people are experiencing some level of anxiety due to Covid, it’s impressive, simply impressive, to see people come together to focus inward, on their core, distraction free.

In this week’s Torah portion, Noach, we read about the tower of Babel. A group of Mesopotamians were concerned that the great-flood survivors would scatter across the earth, leaving the centralized community, as they each seek a parcel of land to homestead. These “concerned citizens” decided that the only way to stop the scattering, is to build a megalopolis that would include the worlds largest skyscraper/tower, so they can “create for themselves a name”. They understood that to gain popularity, to ensure a self-aggrandizing legacy, one can’t do it without a crowd of admirers and if everyone is living rurally, their desperate need for never-ending recognition, will go unfulfilled. G-d didn’t like the idea and He miraculously confused the builders, thus quashing their plans.

Each moment on earth gives each of us an opportunity to choose whether to live or not. No, not whether to exist, but whether to live; living with balance, focus and productively. Creating a legacy with “things” that don’t have eternal value, is silly and fruitless. The people building the Tower of Babel weren’t “bad”, just clueless and misguided. We too mustn’t spend our life pursuing lifeless and finite legacies, instead, we should create legacies for G-d, for Judaism, for authenticity, for the spirituality that lives on long after we’re gone. Building towers of light and spirit are selfless and provide for us the only legacy that really matters which is a rock-solid relationship with our Creator and a future generation that gets it. Towers of arrogance or towers of holiness? You decide.

Construction is tough; make sure you’re following the right architect!

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!!!

I slept for nine hours!

Earlier this week, I visited five companies in seven cities across north-central Montana to inspect their manufacturing plants, ensuring they’ve earned their holy “Kosher” status. Chavie saw how exhausted I was from the non-stop holiday season, so she encouraged me to leave a day early and get a break. After checking In to the hotel, I spent time catching up on my daily studies of Maimonides, Chitas, Talmud and Chassidic thought and proceeded to turn off my phone, laptop and every bit of light in the room and slept for nine hours. It was healing, refreshing, and rejuvenating. No noise, no distractions, not interruptions; just self-care to give myself the rest I needed.

In this week’s Torah portion, Bereishis, the first in Genesis, we read about the six days of creation and the seventh day on which G-d rested and asked us to do the same. G-d dictates that for the six weekdays (including our beloved Sunday) we should devote our time, energy and money to creativity and productivity. During the week we ask ourselves what we can do to make the world a better place, a home for the Divine, a place of morality, ethics and kindness. Sunday through Friday afternoon we are on a mission to weed G-d’s garden that is the world, but on Friday just before sunset, we say goodbye to the garden, and spend the next twenty-five hours ensuring the health of the gardener. It’s vital, because If the gardener is too tired, unstable or dysfunctional, the garden will never be cared for properly.  

Envision a blissful Shabbos: We come home Friday afternoon, we ensure our home is stacked with Kosher delicacies, eighteen minutes before sunset the candles are lit, we welcome the Shabbos Queen in melodious prayer, we eat an incredible meal filled with harmony and wisdom, we enjoy quality time with our spouse if we’re married, we get a rock solid night sleep, we wake up to a cup of coffee with a dose of mysticism, we hear the Torah being read as we chat with our Creator, we enjoy another stupendous meal, we get a good Shabbos nap or spend time with our children reading/talking/playing, we pray again, we eat a meal made up mostly of fruit and wrap it up with a beautiful hallowed Havdala ceremony. No phone, no TV, no election, no politics, no radio, no work, no market, no business. I did it on Monday, and we can do it every Shabbos.

The Gift of Rest!

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!!!

Joy of Divinity!

Sukkos is my favorite holiday. I enjoy sitting in the Sukkah with friends and family, singing, Farbrenging and devouring Chavie’s incredible cuisine, as we celebrate the agricultural holiday that vividly reminds us of G-d’s love and protection. I looked at my Lulav and Etrog this morning, Hoshana Raba, and smiled, as it looked fairly beaten, but for a good reason: Seventy-five Jews made a blessing on it this holiday (see pics from Sushi in the Sukkah). Yet, the quintessential joy of this season comes to life on Simchat Torah. As a child I was honored to dance and sing with the Rebbe of blessed memory at his Shul and experience pure joy. I was thinking back to those days and pondering the name itself “Simchat Torah”, the “Joy of Torah” and the importance of actually celebrating the Torah as a gift, not a burden.

In a beautiful letter to his grandson, Reb Chaim Volozhiner (1749-1821), the renowned Talmudist and Ethicist, writes “I encourage you to learn with great excitement and passion; for the material studied an entire day sluggishly can be learned through several hours of studying energetically”. Sitting down to learn Torah is a good start, but if we are in love, not only with the wisdom of Judaism, but with Almighty G-d, the Author of the Torah, then we learn these eternal words with zest and enthusiasm. We dance with the Torah two days each year, but the dance, or at least the joy, should be a daily exercise for our soul.

You may be saying “Oh I wish I could’ve studied Torah as a youngster, but now it’s too late”. Yet, like Rabbi Akivah, a noble shepherd who started his Torah journey at age forty, it is never too late to bring the life of Torah into your life. Starting Sunday (October 11th, 2020) we will commence the new cycle of Torah study with Bereishis, the first portion in Genesis. One portion each week, divided into seven for each day of the week, and at the end of the one-year cycle you’ve studied the Five Books of Moses in its entirety. You can study it online, order Chayenu or buy a Chumash, but the bottom line is: it’s 2020 and the Torah is at your fingertips, don’t let it slip away.

How I love Your Torah! All day it is my conversation!

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!!!

I love the willows!

It was a truly uplifting Yom Kippur in our front yard. We had beautiful Minyanim throughout the entire day and there was a deep sense of gratefulness to Hashem for blessing us with weather that allowed for in-person services. Yet, before we even broke the fast, the joy of Sukkot was felt in the air. As we concluded the Day of Atonement with the special Napoleon’s March, and the powerful “Gut Yom Tov, Gut Yom Tov, Gut Yom Tov”, we immediately shifted from our inscription in the Book of Life to the Festival of Booths, Sukkot, when we celebrate G-d’s protection of our people in the Sinai desert and His continuous protection this very moment.

One of the Mitzvot of Sukkot is the shaking of the Lulav. We take a citron, date palm tree branch, myrtles and willows and we bind them as one and make a blessing. It represents the four types of Jews: The citron that smells and tastes good signifies the Jew who studies Torah and observes its precepts. The palm branch whose dates taste good, but are unscented, signifies those who study G-d’s wisdom but don’t follow His instructions. The myrtles that smell great but are tasteless, signifies the scrupulous Mitzvah observer who doesn’t spend time studying Torah. The willow, tasteless and fragrance-free, signifies the Jew who neither studies nor acts Jewishly. On Sukkot we bring all types of people together as one, focusing on their essence, their soul, and not allowing outward differences to get in the way of our harmony.

I’ve been thinking about the willow Jew a lot lately.

It is true that many Jews don’t study nearly enough Torah and don’t devote their precious time to the observance of Mitzvos, yet they are proud Jews, comfortable in their connection to our three-thousand-year-old heritage and are happy to do a Mitzvah if the opportunity arrives at their doorstep. I looked it up, willows are a great source of vitamin C, they are used medicinally for toothaches, skin irritation and reducing fever and contain salicin, the main ingredient in aspirin. So, my dear fellow willow Jews, I just want you to know that my Rebbe instilled in me and Chavie the ability to see that every single person contributes something to our world. Don’t ever call yourself a “bad Jew” or any other derogatory term, as you may not be learned or observant yet, but you can heal our community and with you, only with you, can we heal our world.

I am deeply grateful for the willows! 

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!!!

My Yom Kippur Letter to G-d!

Dear G-d,

It’s been a long six months since Your world was cast into chaos and I feel the need to write to You, to share with You just how much I love Your people Israel and how they inspire me to rock on. I won’t bore You with pages and pages of incredible moments that I experienced since March, I will just share a few anecdotes that I witnessed over the two days of Rosh Hashana in my hometown of Bozeman, Montana.  

In the prayers of Rosh Hashana we read Jeremiah’s words “thus said the Lord, I remember for you the devotion of your youth, the love of your bridal days, as you went after Me in the wilderness, in an uncultivated land”. Indeed, it’s true dear G-d, that historically, we Jews have followed You through thick and thin, through pogroms and exiles, a holocaust and inquisitions, but in addition to recognizing, perhaps even giving accolades to, those who came before us, I want to focus on the Jews of today, those living in Your universe in 5781.

The sages who composed the Rosh Hashana liturgy wrote these words In the “Remembrance – Zichronos” section of Musaf: “Happy is the person, who does not forget You, the son of man who holds fast to You; for those who seek You will not stumble forever, nor will anyone who places their trust in You be put to shame eternally”. There is a Chassidic Niggun to these words and as I hummed it to myself during the silent Amidah on both days, I turned my head to look at the crowd and knew it to be true; they haven’t forgotten You; not one bit.

Hashem, I saw Arend, who I now know is “Aharon ben Sidney”, a son of a regal holocaust survivor Rita, who attended Shul for the first time in his life and six decades after his 13th birthday was called to the Torah as a Bar-Mitzvah to the blessings of “Mazal Tov”. Happy is the person, who does not forget You!

Hashem, I peeked at Jim, who isn’t Jewish, yet for a few years now his soul is yearning to join Am Yisroel and he’s working so hard to make it a reality. He drove six hours round-trip from a small town to experience Rosh Hashana in the Shul. Happy is the person, who does not forget You!

Hashem, I chatted with Brooke, a new mom, who came to Shul with her four-month-old baby Wilder and when I praised her for making the effort, she said “You think I would let Wilder miss her first Rosh Hashana?”. Happy is the person, who does not forget You!

Hashem, I observed a young child Eli, whose mother stayed back in Shul with his younger sibling, make the two mile roundtrip walk to Tashlich and stand listening carefully as we prayed at the water and cast away our sins. Happy is the person, who does not forget You!

Hashem, I stood in my front yard, under canopies, with tens of Jews at a time (over 100 throughout the holiday) who, despite the pouring rain on the first day of Yom Tov and the nutty wind on the second, came together with the proper precautions to celebrate the New Year in unity. Happy is the person, who does not forget You!

Hashem, I appreciated seeing Jennifer’s face all lit up when she came to thank us for hosting a short Shofar service for those who couldn’t make the whole thing and was so very grateful to fulfil the Mitzvah. Happy is the person, who does not forget You!

Hashem, I was joined by our very own Chaya, Zeesy and Menny, who stood with me selflessly on Shabbos afternoon amid a severe wind/rain storm, each holding the polls of a canopy, to ensure the canopies survive the storm and are still standing for the second day of Rosh Hashana. Happy is the person, who does not forget You!

Hashem, I was uplifted when I received a note after the holiday from Janet saying “Just wanted to let you know that my son very much appreciated the jar of honey and honey cake that you left at his door. I believe it helped get him thinking about the High Holidays and Teshuva”. Happy is the person, who does not forget You!

So dear G-d, when you’re wondering in Your infinite wisdom whether to sign and seal Jewry for a year of life, revealed blessings and loads of sweetness, don’t think twice. Please recognize that, like the Jews in Montana, my sisters and brothers around the globe are still deeply in love with You and are showing up to express it. We’ve arrived with flowers at Your door to repair the relationship, it would be wise to accept our apology and mend those broken fences. We have issues and need lots of help, but we are a committed people and have never stopped trusting our beloved Father In Heaven.

May You grant us all a year of wonders, miracles, and lots of good Sushi.

Your ambassador,

Chaim

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!!!

A letter to my children!

A letter to my children!
Erev Rosh Hashana 5780


Dear Shoshana, Chaya, Zeesy, Menny & Chana Laya,

Tomorrow, Kinderlach, is Rosh Hashana. In just twenty-four hours we will transition from 5780 to 5781 ushering in a year of “visible wonders”, the translation of the new years’ Hebrew acronym.

Firstly, I’d like to take a moment to wish each of you my heartfelt wishes for a sweet year. May this be a year in which you surprise yourself in fulfilling and expressing your incredible G-d given potential. May it be a year in which you are proud of yourself often. I bless you to grow like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah and you dear Menny, to grow like Ephraim and Menashe, Joseph’s boys; confident, comfortable and healthy Jews, though you may find yourselves in a gentile environment.

Secondly, I like to take some time to share my feelings with you, because 5780 was the roughest year we’ve ever known and it’s easy to get caught up in the negative and lose sight of all the good.

As your father, I’ve radiated lots of strength since the beginning of this horrific pandemic. Mom and I have worked overtime to be a reassuring voice for you and to live our lives as normally as possible. I’ve watched y’all struggle with isolation, insecurity and uncertainty and I wish I would’ve had better answers, but it was out of our control, obliging us to place our trust in Hashem.

Yet, in the midst of the chaos, while the world was on fire figuratively and literally, we managed to have so much fun, so many good times, and I don’t want us to forget all the amazing moments that we experienced in 5780 as a family. So I sat down, putting fingers to keyboard, to share the good memories, because I want you to look back at the year and remember - not just the masks, the closed Shul and school closure, but -  the blessings that G-d gifted us throughout it all.

5780 brought us incredible holiday celebrations. From Sushi & Scotch in the snowy Sukkah to Chanukah @ Jump Time & the Library, from Purim in NYC to Seders to go, to a memorable Shavuot celebration in the front yard.

5780 brought us a Bozeman-altering event with Anne Frank’s sister Eva Schloss with 1,400 in attendance at MSU, a Farbrengen with Rabbi Mendel from Boise for the Chassidic New Year, a Babka bake for women with Rebbetzin Chaya from Playa Del Carmen, countless Zoom events with speakers from around the globe, live morning inspiration almost every single day since April and the online women’s Tanya class which rocked the house and will resume again after the holidays.

5780 brought us a memorable family Shabbos in La Verkin, Utah, a road trip through Zion, Bryce, Escalante, Capitol Reef, Goblin, Arches, Canyonland State/National parks, a trip to Florida and Tybee Island, Georgia, an RV road trip throughout Western Montana, five weeks of summer camp in San Antonio and the opportunity to celebrate at your aunt’s wedding in a discreet location in Big Sky Country.

5780 brought us so many Shabbosim to sit as a family, together, and Daven with song and heart. It gave us the opportunity to visit so many homes of new, and old, friends, bringing Shabbos and Yom Tov care packages around our spectacular valley. It’s also the year in which you got a new trampoline and, thanks to Covid, watched way more videos than you ever did before or ever will again :)

5780 forced your school, Shoshana, into lockdown, forcing you to celebrate Passover alone, but allowing you to wrap up your studies and graduate with honors in late August and to come back home. It gave us all precious time to spend with each other (maybe a bit too much time:)), to be excited about hikes and parks like never before and to jump for joy when we merited to see a friendly face after months in lockdown.

5780 made your mom a world renowned speaker as she traveled to over fifteen communities in person, and over 50 if we include the Zoom’s, as she inspires the world about faith in G-d and the honor of being your parent. Mom also launched her blog www.clearasmud.blog and is single handedly changing the “norms” as she shifts the perspective of the Jewish world one Instagrammer at a time.

5780 brought us remarkable family visits that could only happen when the world is shutdown. Shneur and Chana’le for Pesach, Eli Nachum and Tzivia for Menny’s birthday, Shayna, Devorah and Brocha for Shavuos, Sruli and Mendel (ok their parents to :)) for months and so many others who popped in and out.

5780 brought peace between our homeland Israel and two Arab states, it convinced airlines to cancel their ridiculous change fees and Nissim Black rocked our home with many new songs, including the powerful “Hold On”.

I don’t know, dear Kinderlach, what 5781 will bring, but I don’t want to forget all the priceless moments of 5780. I could easily focus on the hardships of life that we felt during this past year, on the loss of my uncle Ahrele, mom’s Zaidy Kahanov, or even the most recent communal loss of our beloved Joe Sharber. I could focus on the Bozeman fires and our friends losing their homes or on the riots taking place across our beloved country, I could focus on Alabama hurricanes and Iowa storms and I could focus on all the terrifying moments when I didn’t know if my beloved uncle Chaim Shaul, and so many others, would make it, but for bad news you could read the paper or listen to the news, you don’t need your Aba.

Though it’s been eight months since I last entered the holy resting place of our dear Rebbe, I am inspired by his Positivity Bias, constantly realigning my perspective to match the Torah, to match the soul, to match G-d, and not to buy the constant sources of negativity from within myself and from outside influencers. Kiddos, the biggest incentive I have to see the good in our world, is you. When I see you bounce up, or down, the stairs each morning I am filled with joy, Nachas, gratefulness and hope. Each of you is very unique, with your own set of challenges, and you work so hard to get through them and that puts a smile on my face. Too often mom and I don’t have answers to all your valuable and soulful questions, but despite your inner conflicts and core yearnings, please know that each of you is a masterpiece, a beautiful, colorful, masterpiece worthy of infinite blessings.  

Personally, I believe that when we blow the Shofar on Sunday, we will usher in incredible Divine energies for 5781; but whatever 5781 brings to us collectively and to each of you personally, all I ask is that you make every moment count. It’s a hope out of my control, but please don’t be a Farshlofene waste of oxygen; take the gift of life that Hashem has given you and always utilize us to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem.

You can be anything you want to be; don’t let anyone, including yourself, tell you otherwise.

Kesiva Vachasima Tova, a sweet year kiddos; we will rock it.

Love you forever.

Aba

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!!!

Fire Won't Burn Us!

Bozeman is grieving. The fires of last weekend destroyed almost thirty homes, as well as ranches, barns, equipment, not to mention the devastating effect on the natural gorgeousness of Bridger Canyon. When speaking to the Feniger’s and Mendelsohn’s, I heard the heartbreak in their voice but also the gratefulness for life and the resolve to rebuild. Bill Feniger, who took only a handful of items before evacuating, managed to take his Tefilin with him. Jason Mendelsohn asked that I come to their new home once it’s built, to place the new Mezuzos. In the words of the old Yiddish song “Feyer Vet Unz Nisht Farbrenen”, sung by Chassidim back in Russia, “fire won’t burn us and water won’t drown us”.

In this week’s double Torah portion, Nitzavim-Vayelech, Moses informs his people that after he passes away they will stray from G-d “And I will hide My face on that day, because of all the evil they have committed, when they turned to other deities…And now, write for yourselves this song, and teach it to the Children of Israel”. In the darkest of times, when the trajectory of Judaism seems gloomy, G-d says that what will keep the Jews alive, what will keep them connected to their heritage, is the song of Torah, Judaism that’s experienced as a living organism of joy and meaning. When two families lose their entire home and hours after going back to see the ruin they are talking about Mezuzos and Tefilin, you know that Am Yisroel Chai.

On Saturday night, right after Shabbos, I called my buddy Quincy, who is a fire expert, and asked him how they would put this monster out and he responded “they won’t, and they can’t. The cooler temperatures and the expected rain/snow fall will do it”. For a fire ignoramus like me that was surprising, but I finally understood the incredible words of  King Solomon in Song of Songs, a book we should all read, “Many waters cannot quench the love, nor can rivers flood it”. The fire itself, that brought its horror show to Bozeman and is still only 52% contained, taught me that when a fire explodes, water and fire retardant cannot extinguish it. Let’s be that Jew on fire, aflame with G-d and spreading that fire, that passion, everywhere.

Inextinguishable! 

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!!!

Chaya's Cookie Lesson!

Over the years, therapists have shared with me, that for most people it’s extremely hard to accept constructive criticism, without taking it personal and getting offended. On Wednesday I had a double whammy: A dear friend and member of our community corrected me, rightfully so, on something I should’ve done but failed to do. Later that day, Chaya wanted to bake cookies and I told her, “you could do it tomorrow”. She approached me respectfully sometime later and expressed to me why she thought my decision wasn’t logical and asked me to reconsider. I did, and, on her own, she baked the most amazing gluten free cookies. It’s hard to swallow when someone questions our actions or motives, but it’s insecurity that stops us from owning our mistakes and from being better.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Tavo, we read of G-d’s warnings to the Jewish people should they choose to ignore His instructions and follow their lustful yearnings instead. The repercussions are severe, but contrary to those who misunderstand Judaism, it’s not punitive or sadistic. G-d wants His children to do their absolute best. He gives us His holiest ideas, His holiest land, makes us His holiest nation; He does that all because He believes in us and desires for us to live soulfully, healthfully and wholesomely. When we don’t live up to His high standards, He gives us the kick in the pants that we need so that we can get back on track and live appropriately.

Don’t get the wrong idea; I naturally hate constructive criticism. I would like to believe that I see things with the proper lens, I do things the right way and I understand everything best, but that simply isn’t possible. Us humans aren’t perfect and without friends, spouses and children helping us see our mistakes, we will spend our entire life in an unhealthy bubble of falsehood, holding us back from bettering ourselves and the world around us. I am grateful to my buddy and to Chaya for helping me pause and see my failures and move forward to correct myself into the future. As I once heard “making mistakes is better than faking perfections”.

He loves us, so He rebukes us!

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!!!

Fellow Jew, tear down this wall!

Earlier this week, our family had the honor of attending the marriage of Chavie’s sister Shayna and her groom Mendel, as we celebrated in a small Covid guided wedding. It was so fresh, as love and romance filled the air. As I stood at the Chuppah I reflected on the fact that the Chuppah has no walls, because it is our hope that the bride and groom, a now inseparable couple, are going to create a Jewish home similar to Abraham and Sarah’s tent, where hospitality and kindness is a mainstay of the experience, open to all.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Teitzei, we continue reading Moses’ parting words to his people prior to his passing and their entry into the Holy Land. He is crystal clear about how we are to treat our fellow: don’t pay your employees late, don’t harass and humiliate those who borrowed money from you and haven’t paid back, be sure to leave grain in the fields for those who are poor, don’t charge interest on a loan, treat orphans and widows especially well and many other compassionate obligations. It’s part and parcel of Judaism to create an environment in which kindness is a way of life, not an occasional act of “charity”.

As I watched Shayna and Mendel embark on their new journey, it was clear that wherever they settle, wherever they choose to build their home and create their family, it will be a home in which G-d will not only be about self-refinement and personal growth, but it will be about kindness to every human being. Living in a constant state of kindness isn’t always easy, it demands selflessness, but it’s surely the only way to be a healthy Jew. We must keep the roof over our head, keeping the structure strong and fully in tact so that we don’t get abused by those who take advantage of kind souls, but we should enjoy a home without walls, so all feel welcome and respected.

Fellow Jew, tear down this wall!

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!!!

Home at last, home at last!

After two years away at school, including 18 months in Utah, Shoshana is back home. It was a wonderful moment when Chavie along with her special delivery pulled into the driveway to the sounds of the other kiddos screaming “Sho-Sha-Na, Sho-Sha-Na, Sho-Sha-Na”. it’s amazing to watch a child come home; without guidance or explanations, they fit right back in and are at ease being in their “safe space”. A child in a healthy home instinctively knows that they can be themselves, that they can be vulnerable, that they can turn to their parents for help and they can enjoy their daily life without the stress to conform that society places on them.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, we read about the six cities of refuge, where an unintentional murderer finds sanctuary from the avenger of their victims’ blood. Spiritually, we too are to seek refuge in a place that can take-in a sinner, a Jew who has made many mistakes throughout the year and seeks change. The time for refuge is the month of Elul which starts today; one month given to us each year prior to the High Holidays to step up and, with deep introspection, up our human-G-d relationship. Yet, knowing about the Elul-refuge, escaping the crazy cousin as if you’re life depends on it, is only step one.  Truly coming home to G-d, to feel like you’re at home, takes five more steps, each of which is reflected in another Elul acronym:

  1. Teshuva: “Es Levavcha V’es Levav Zarecha – Your heart and the heart of your descendants”. Our outreach to G-d must come from the heart, genuinely, which means removing the dust and soot that cover it.
  2. Torah: “Ina LeYado Vesamti Lach – but G‑d brought it about into his hand, I will make for you a place”. G-d gave us a Torah. Immersing in it, even for a few minutes each day, is the most precious gift we can award ourselves.
  3. Tefilah: “Ani Ledodi Vedodi Li - I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me,”. G-d loves you, so don’t be worried about getting close, He appreciates you reaching out, so pray, pray a lot.
  4. Tzedakah: "Ish Lereieihu Umatanos Laevyonim - one to another, and gifts to the poor.” One can only get really close to G-d if we are close with His fellow creations and help them out.
  5. Mashiach: "Ashira Lahashem Vayomru Leimor – Sing to the Lord they spoke saying…”. This rearranged acronym reminds us that the ultimate coming home is with the coming of Mashiach, which will come about through our Torah study, prayer, acts of Tzedakah and wholesome Teshuva.

Let’s get busy!  

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!!!

Blessings up north!

I loathe the heat; so the difference between “heaven” and “hell” was unmistakable. As I made the two hour drive north from Phoenix to Flagstaff, through the Coconino National Forest, I experienced both the hot unbearable desert, where it was a balmy 108 degrees, and the refreshing mountainous Bozeman-like oasis that is 25 degrees cooler. As I stood at the Citizens Cemetery, alongside an incredible showing of friends and family, honored to officiate at my Buddy Joe’s funeral, I realized that a short  geographical distance, can change everything, taking me from “get me out of here” to “amazing”. As we climb higher and higher out of the dry desert, living becomes feasible.

In this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, we read of the eternal choice G-d gives humanity. He tells us “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse”, simply speaking: follow G-d’s path and our life will be blessed, choose un-G-dliness and our temporary gratification won’t last long and will only mess life up. So often, we think of this “choice” between right and wrong as undoable, implausible and really a hard choice to make. We see ourselves as “weak” for even wanting vanity and don’t feel “strong” enough to attain the holy life demanded of us. Yet, the truth is, once we begin heading upwards, heading away from the scorching temptations and addictions that burn us, the elevation, the mountain atmosphere, starts feeling really good and inspires us to go a bit higher, act a bit holier, choose a bit healthier and find G-d within our beautiful self.

The Chinese proverb says, “be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still”. We must not allow ourselves to be paralyzed with the fear of failure and must always allow blessings into our life, including the blessing of believing that we stand a chance at being better.  Personally, I often wonder whether I’m capable of change, “come on Chaim, you’re 38, you’re stuck in your old ways and you are who you are”. Then I pause, think for a moment, and realize that the status quo is unbearable, so I certainly can strive to do better, incorporate more meaning; changing at the core. It’s a long windy road from Phoenix to Flagstaff, but the change that occurs along the way, makes it all worth it.

The curses hurt, which is why the blessings always seem like an attainable choice.  

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!!!

I'll miss you Joe!

While the beginning of my week was uplifting, serving as the Sandak for baby Meir Shlomo Vogel in Missoula, the end of my week was heartbreaking. My dear friend Joe Sharber, Yosef Ben Noach, passed away after a struggle with cancer. Joe had a one-of-a-kind mind and a love for wisdom that was insatiable. He was gentle, sensitive, and kind and I, along with my family and community, will miss him dearly. Though he wasn’t Jewish, he’d always tell me “I’m going to Daven in Hashem’s Shul” referring to the majestic natural settings of Big Sky Country.

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Eikev, we read the second portion of the Shema prayer. In it, G-d tells us “ if you hearken to My commandments that I command you this day to love the Lord, your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul ”. Maimonides asks “ What is the path to love and awe of God?” and he goes on to explain that “When one ponders God's great and wonderful acts of creation, and sees in them a genius that has no comparison, then automatically a person will love, praise, glorify – and deeply desire to know the greatness of God”. Straightforward and simple: if we want to know G-d, not just believe in Him, we must immerse ourselves in nature, cherishing every roly-poly and eagle, every elk and bison and enjoying every sunset and sunrise. Belief in G-d is only valid when we can’t see Him, otherwise, it’s a copout.

 

Joe was my mentor. He educated me about science and history, nature and Greek culture. We swapped knowledge; he’d learn Torah at my classes, and I’d take in every bit of incredible wisdom he shared. In 2015 Joe emailed me a quote from The Great Mission, a book about the Baal Shem Tov, which said, “ Whenever he returned to the village, the Jewish residents shook their heads in dismay….”Another traipse in the forest! Why does he disappear for hours on end in that dangerous place?” …..Yisrael ignored their well-meaning criticism. He knew they could never understand what drew him to the forest – the untouched majesty of nature, his craving for solitude and privacy, and the closeness he felt to the Creator.” And then he added " Rabbi, if nature is good enough for the Baal Shem Tov, then it’s good enough for me. Off to the woods I go.”

 

Enjoy heaven brother Joe; I hope it’s as beautiful as Montana!

 

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 Storm That Wasn't!

Earlier this week, parts of Texas were experiencing summer storms, and, though the forecast for San Antonio seemed calm for Monday morning, the clouds over the Airport told another story. As I have a semi-phobia for turbulent flying, I was concerned for the ride over to Salt Lake City. As we took off, I said the usual Travelers Prayer from the Siddur, and awaited the bumps, which never came. The troublesome looking clouds turned out to be a very slim layer of slight bumps, and in mere seconds we were enjoying the brilliantly shining sun and the smoothest of air.

Lesson learned.

Just last night we concluded the Tisha B’Av fast, mourning the destruction of our Holy Temples in Jerusalem. Superficially, demolition seems awful, but if the demolition is to create a newer, fresher, more sturdy structure in its place, then the demolition is super positive and growth oriented. G-d gave way to the destruction, to help us repair ourselves, the world around us and bring about the third, and final, Temple. It is fitting that during this time we read the Torah portion of Va’etchanan in which we are told to “love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might”. Loving G-d with every fact of our complicated being, loving G-d when it costs us financially, loving G-d even to death as so many Jews have done, is all conceivable; but loving G-d with “all my might”, no matter “whatever measure He metes out to you” that seems unbearable. How could I love a Creator who allows me or my loved ones to suffer? To die for G-d, sure, but to live a broken life with Him, how?

As I sat and read Lamentations and reached the words “ the kindnesses of the Lord never cease, Indeed, His mercies never fail ” I felt like I was being uplifted out of my low Tisha B’Av seat. G-d throws curveballs to each of us, they are hard, they are agonizing and sometimes dispiriting. Yet, behind the darkness, above the stormy clouds, there is a light that is bolstered by the challenge. We don’t know G-d’s reasons, but we know the sacred truth that there are reasons and that this relationship, this loving bond, is worth fighting for. Like you, I too struggle, I too wonder “why me, Hashem?”, but I am always reassured that the clouds are temporary and help me appreciate the smooth air and blue skies that follow.

In the words of Helen Keller “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it”!

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!!!


Ethical Leadership!

Each week I have the great privilege to study with many locals, one-on-one. Bonding over G-d’s wisdom, deeply insightful and practical, is always stimulating and we tend to have lots of fun. Learning with brother Baruch, AKA Seth, each week, has taught me so much. We’ve completed two Talmudic tractates, Rosh Hashana and Avoda Zara, and we are inching closer to the end of Sanhedrin which is a pretty long adventure. In our last study session, we discussed the responsibility of being a Jewish High Court member and the trepidation, fear of heaven, in which that role must be carried out.

In this week’s Torah portion, Devarim, the first in the book of Deuteronomy, we read about leadership. Moses recounts his request of Jewry, “Provide for yourselves distinguished men, who are wise, understanding, and well known to your tribes, and I shall appoint them as your heads”. Rashi explains that the Hebrew words for “appoint”, “Va’Asimem”, also comes from the root Hebrew word “Asham” which means atone: This teaches us that Israel’s transgressions are hung over the heads of their judges, since the judges should have prevented them from sinning, and directed them along the right path. Leadership is about inspiring an ethical, moral, and spiritually balanced society. The Torah demands that we find leaders whose character is impeccable; whose leadership conduct role models all the values that G-d would expect of a healthy citizenry.

When those entrusted to lead, especially those in religious/spiritual leadership, fail in their ethical and moral behavior, it’s a big letdown. Yes, humans all make mistakes and G-d is amazingly forgiving, but leaders must recognize the magnitude of their sins and the demoralization it brings with. Moses lost his ability to enter the land of Israel because he made one mistake with the rock, Miriam was plagued with Tzaarat due to a one-time mistake of gossip and King David lost out on building the Temple he dreamed of because of his war time actions. While, sadly, too many have given up on politicians exhibiting true leadership, we mustn’t ever give up on our spiritual leaders acting 100% ethically. If not them, who?

In the words of MLK “The time is always right to do what is right”!

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!!!

Zeesy is grateful!

I was honored to represent Montana in the Ruderman Family Foundation initiative, celebrating thirty years since President George H. W. Bush signed the American with Disabilities Act into law (Click here and then click on Montana). Being Zeesy’s father, a child who has a rare medical condition and as a result has special needs, it was especially meaningful. It’s humbling to recognize that children, and adults, with unique needs, didn’t always have the support of society; parents, politicians, educators and almost everyone used to see special children as burdensome and unworthy of a warm and loving home. It is by the grace of G-d that this has changed, and we now understand that these wonderful souls deserve the same care and life experience as their “regular” peers.

In this week’s double Torah portion, Matot-Massei, we read about the tribes of Gad and Reuven who requested permission to stay on the east of the Jordan River, outside of Israel. They had lots of animals and believed that the pasture in Transjordan was more suited for their needs. When expressing themselves to Moses they said “We’ll build sheep enclosures for our livestock here and cities for our children…” assuring their beloved leader that they will take care of their business and familial obligations, help their fellow Jews conquer the Holy Land and only then return back home. In Moses’ response, he says, “So build yourselves cities for your children and enclosures for your sheep”, subtly reminding them that our priority must be our children, those most vulnerable in society, and our finances, the flock, are always  secondary.

As Americans, we have come a very long way in how we see and treat our fellow human beings. Yet, even today, in our prosperous United States, there are many who struggle, who aren’t ready to face a new day each morning. The struggles may be physical and thus visible, but they can also be internal, emotional or mental, and you’d never know it. Moses teaches us to care for those who can’t go it alone and each of us has the ability to do just that by reaching out to someone, a friend, coworker, acquaintance or neighbor and see how they are doing. Not just to give them the traditional Montana wave but to actually check in and see if you can be a shoulder for them to lean on and a friend for them to talk to.

Non nobis solum nati sumus!

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!!!

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.