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Weekly Message

When Jewry went camping!

There's a first for everything. Chavie and I, along with the four younger kiddos, hit the road for our first ever RV road trip. We visited Missoula, Kalispell, Big Fork and Helena and enjoyed so much of Montana's beauty from a thirty-foot home on wheels. Learning to make a fire, emptying the black/grey water, staying at KOA's/Campgrounds, Zooming Torah classes from park benches, biking in State Parks; all of it was part of the experience. It was out of my comfort zone, but truth be told, I can't wait to do it again sometime soon. It was good for me to let go a bit of the "me" syndrome and get a good taste of what "not me" can offer. 

In this week's Torah portion, Bamidbar, first in the book of Numbers, we read about the life and encampments of the Jewish people during their forty-year journey in the desert, living outside of their comfort zone. Life in Egypt was no picnic, but the harshness was coupled with stability.  They had food, dwelling, laundering, and basic life amenities; they were in decent shape. Now they enter a barren desert, an unknown place that is uninhabited and certainly an "odd" place to raise a family and build a nation. It is there that G-d wanted their foundation to be structured and solidified. Though they did indeed have Manna, clouds of glory, a miraculous well of Miriam; they didn’t have the cushion of permanence and every day demanded of them to live in the moment and hope for G-d's protection, sustenance and salvation. 

Spending five days in an RV, a place that is certainly more vulnerable than our home, was good for me. When the wind shook the RV a bit I was concerned, when it rained I could hear every drop, when I left a light on the battery died, when I needed to reverse it was more complicated than my car; all of it made life more adventurous, real and fun. It seems like the risk and susceptibility in the unknown creates more excitement, a dose of which we could all use just about now.

"Do" time in the wilderness; it will rejuvenate you!

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!!!

Take a Sabbatical!

While Covid-19 has made our lives vastly different, some of those differences are quite positive. Sunday morning ten women join on Zoom for Chavie’s Tanya class and meditation, later that day, sixty eight friends from around the state join together for a collective Montana Zoom discussion in which Mrs. Rivkah Slonim discussed “Unorthodox”, on Monday I spoke for a Brooklyn girls high school about living life meaningfully despite the occasional challenge, on Wednesday I gave my weekly Parsha class and later spoke for the Jewish community of North Ranch and Santa Clarita California, on Thursday Chavie joined tens of relatives for a Zoom Shloshim memorial for her Zaidy and every morning this week we’ve had our LIVE morning inspiration.

 

Covid-19 is forcing us to be more connected, more inspired.

In this week’s double Torah portion, Behar-Bechukotai, we read about the Shemitah year. At the end of each six-year cycle in which the land of Israel is worked by its citizens to produce sustenance, we are obligated to take a break. No sowing, plowing, pruning or planting; we are simply expected to place our full trust in Almighty G-d. He assures us that He will “command His blessing” to give us everything we need to thrive during this Shemitah experience, but He knows that for us to accept His promise, instinctively, takes a deep realization that the world has only one boss and it’s Hashem.

This current epidemic is one way in which G-d asks us to trust Him. So many of us have lost jobs, have had a reduction in pay, have been furloughed, own a company whose survival is questionable and are experiencing anxiety about the length of this reality and how it will finally end. I get it, I too have a family to feed (It’s incredible how much children can eat in a day) and I too don’t know exactly how this will play out, but I have no choice but to implement the Sabbatical year standard: recognize that the ultimate sustainer of man is super capable of ensuring we are all taken care of, as He’s done this for a very long time with great success, I may add.

In the words of King David “for him who trusts in the Lord- kindness will encompass him.”

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!!!

 

 

Finding Chavie's picture!

Just before Passover, Chavie’s uncle Mendy in Plano, Texas came across a picture of him visiting with the Rebbe on his wedding day in 1990. Alongside his mother, our Bubby Laya, stands his young niece Chavie, face to face with the Rebbe. For over a decade every time a new photo gallery was uploaded to the Living Archive, I would search, sometimes for hours, to find such a photo, but to no avail. Her younger sisters Rochel, Chaya Mushka and Rikal are all seen in the photos, but the oldest sister Chavie was nowhere to be found. I never gave up, hoping to find one and today a picture of Chavie and the Rebbe, eyes locked, is hanging upliftingly in our home (click here to see the picture). 

Today is Pesach Sheini, the Second Passover. In Temple times if a Jew missed Passover due to impurity or traveling far off from Jerusalem, they would have the opportunity to bring their Pascal Lamb and celebrate Passover thirty days later, on the 14th of Iyar. Even if they deliberately chose a path or behavior that kept them from doing Passover properly, G-d gives them a second chance. G-d never wants a Jew to feel like “it’s all over”, “I’m a goner” or “I have no hope”. Making bad choices is wrong and, for a Jew, somewhat insane, but that doesn’t mean G-d wants the Jew to stop yearning, and fighting, for a better tomorrow.

At times each of us feels like giving up. Whether related to weight loss, family relationships, mending friendships, sobering up, quitting smoking or drugs, studying Torah, increasing Mitzvah observance or getting through Covid-19; it gets hard and we want to give up. Pesach Sheini reminds us that with G-d there are always second chances to make first impressions as He’s infinite and past, present and future are equal before Him, so you can be healed retroactively. It’s acceptable to change course, rethink strategies and own our past mistakes, but it’s never acceptable to use our past errors and failures as the reason for today’s laziness.

There is no failure, except in no longer trying!

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 want to be induced!

On Wednesday Menny turned seven with a party for the books. Thirty plus members of our Jewish community, classmates from Longfellow along with Menny’s teacher Ms. Garton, friends from around town and Gallatin County’s Sheriff Brian Gootkin with a team of deputies all drove along Huffman Lane to surprise Menny and bless him with good wishes for his big day (see video here). It was special, really touching; we adapted to the Covid-19 situation and created an induction of joy and fun for all. So many of those driving by commented how grateful they were that we did this, “it was so much fun”, “it’s great to be here with others”, “so glad to see you guys”; all while following the distancing recommendations.

In this week’s double Torah portion, Acharei-Kedoshim, we read about the priestly service on Yom Kippur in the Holy Temple. Every move the Kohen Gadol made was detail oriented: what he ate and drank in the days prior to Yom Kippur, where he slept, who spent the nights with him, when and where he immerses in the Mikvah, what offerings he sacrificed on the alter, what clothing he wore at which time of the service and how he celebrated, along with Jewry, upon reaching atonement at the end of Yom Kippur. Judaism recognizes that though inspiration comes from within the depth of our soul, the atmosphere around us, can help induce the needed feeling for the day.

We are all struggling as we journey through this new reality. Kids are yearning for school, parents are yearning for a quiet moment, businesses are yearning for income, employees are yearning for a paycheck and everyone I know is yearning for “normal”. Amid all this, it’s easy for us to fall into the trap of despair, depression and hopelessness; on some days, I feel that way too. Yet, Menny’s birthday reminded me that simple things can change that mood, by intentionally creating an atmosphere of joy, positivity and optimism. Find a good excuse, a birthday, anniversary, graduation, new home, or anything else you can think of, and throw a party. Whether online, via a drive-through or by meeting in your front lawn 20 feet apart, see, and interact, with fellow humans who you love and you will cheer up.

Create the tone; the change of heart will follow!

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!!! 

We aren't toast!

We are blessed in Big Sky Country. While so many around the country are at home 24/7, our family was able to healthfully visit Madison Buffalo State Park and bike/skateboard/scooter our way through Bozeman’s incredible trails while still following the Governors instructions and remaining  “distant” from others. Yet, even with these outings, I am beginning to get slightly stir crazy. As I Zoom study with members of our community each day, publicly and one-on-one, I realize that the biggest challenge of Covid-19, aside from the virus itself, is the national anxiety about the future as it relates to financial stability, healthcare functionality and upbeatness of humanity. It’s hard when we don’t know the future and have to rely on G-d who is the only one who knows how this all ends.

Yet, as Jews we are hopeful.

Today and tomorrow we celebrate 48 hours of Rosh Chodesh Iyar, a month connected to Divine healing as in its acronym “Ani Hashem Rofecha – I am G-d your healer”. In addition, it was on Rosh Chodesh Iyar in the year 370 BCE that the Jewish people, led by Zerubbabel and Yehoshua the High Priest, commenced the construction of the second Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It was fifty-three years after Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian thugs burned the first Temple to the ground and now, in a drastic shift of events, Cyrus, king of Persia, encouraged Jewry to rebuild their essential home for G-d on Mount Moriah. Though there were interruptions, courtesy of the lying Samaritans, and the new Temple was only inaugurated under Darius’s rule some twenty one years later, it’s important to note when the process started, as it was a sign of how turbulent times can, and do, change rapidly. The same G-d that allow it to start, can end it in the blink of an eye.   


If you were a Jew living through the Babylonian, Median and Persian reign of terror, you’d think all is lost, the future is bleak and we, the Jewish people, are toast. Yet, five decades later the tides turned, the Holy Land was orphaned no more and Jerusalem shined brilliantly once again with its holy radiance. It’s easy to fall into despair and fret when the world is chaotic and, seemingly, unbearable, but with a bit of prayer, a dose of Torah and a thorough reading of Jewish history, we start looking at reality differently; ultimately seeing it through the lens of G-d which is a lens of sensibility, calm and meaning.

Never give 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 Art of Few Words!

While we ended Passover last night with an inspiring Mashiach Feast, a few hours earlier, I stood alone in The Shul for Yizkor. Holding Chanchy’s Torah in my arms with Helen’s Torah on the Bimah, I recited the Yizkor Memorial Service. I had my beloved mom and grandparents in mind, I thought about my recently departed uncle Arele, I stood near the memorial board and had the loved one of all our conregents in my prayers, but I also had Zaidy Kahanov fresh in my memory. Zaidy is Chavie’s grandfather, father of Mrs. Block, and someone we admired and loved with heart and soul. He passed away and was laid to rest just a few hours before we ushered in the 48 hours Passover finale.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shemini, we read about Aaron, the High Priest, mourning two of his sons, Nadav and Avihu. These two spiritual giants erred, entering the Holy of Holies which is prohibited by G-d, and it resulted in their untimely death. When Moses tells his older brother Aaron that it is his two sons whom G-d meant when He said, “I will be sanctified through those near to me", Aaron remained silent. He didn’t argue, he didn’t respond, he didn’t even mourn vocally; he just remained silent. He taught us all that at times, silence is the only correct path. Ranting or babbling may be natural, but the thoughtful path is one of introspection which is expressed in silence.

Zaidy helped countless Jews escape Stalin’s hell while operating in the underground. He put his life on the line to save others and then devoted his life to his family as a craftsman who earned an honest wage with hard work. In the fourteen years in which I merited to call him Zaidy, like Aaron never once did I hear him brag about any of his incredible accomplishments; he was a Chassid who loved a deep Niggun and chose silence over self-aggrandizement. He was ninety-six when he passed, and he left a generation of descendants who will carry his torch of heartfelt Judaism into the future. He really hoped for Mashiach and as we sang last night we hoped too; it’s long overdue. 

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!!!

Covid-19, stress & Mashiach!

Passover’s first days confirmed a new reality for all of us: Judaism can be enjoyable even in isolation. We celebrated with family Seders, Minyan’less prayers, Torah study without holy scroll readings and, for me and Chavie, more kid-time than we could’ve ever imagined experiencing. We are now gearing up for round two as we usher in the two day finale of Pesach. We will celebrate the splitting of the red sea without singing Moses’ and Miriam’s songs from the Torah, we will memorialize our loved ones without a formal Yizkor service in Shul (If you’d like me to mention your loved ones while holding the Torah on Thursday in Shul, please email me) and we will eat the Mashiach meal, at a time when Mashiach seems most needed, yet, seemingly so far away. 

Earlier this week, I caught a glimpse of “Health” magazine in our home. In it, author Sunny Sea Gold, in an article entitled “Begin your day mindfully”, talks in great length about an idea that has been at the core of Judaism since Sinai. She writes about the value of a “mindful morning routine”; talking about “turning inward”, focusing on “consciousness” and emphasizing “immediate gratitude” before even getting out of bed upon awaking.

The Jewish basics: Modeh Ani. Washing hands. Immersing in a Mikvah. Morning Prayer. Blessing before eating. Kissing the Mezuzah before heading out. Always focusing on the current moment.

We are now living in the “now”. Chavie and I aren’t thinking about the summer or when schools will reopen, as we are clueless and thinking about it just freaks us out and creates unnecessary anxiety. We aren’t thinking about our kids’ dentist appointments or climbing gym lessons as those are canceled until further notice. We aren’t planning events at Chabad for Lag B’Omer, Shavuos, summer or even Rosh Hashana yet, as we don’t know where things will be at those particular times. We are living day by day, expressing gratitude for that which we have, mourning those who we've lost and praying for those who are ill. So we will enter the holiday in a most peaceful mode: We will have two days to think about “now” and that is the essence of Mashiach, living in the moment, stress-free. We need to stop “bringing” Mashiach, and start “living” in a Mashiach mindset. Covid-19 is making that possible; don’t miss out on internalizing it.

Chag Sameach

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. Chag Sameach! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

Dear Chana Laya...

Dear Chana Laya,

Although you’re only two years old, I am taking a few minutes during this most hectic Erev Pesach to put pen to paper to share with you my feelings. Though you won’t understand this until you’re a bit older, I want you to know how I felt in real time, so perhaps the feeling will come through even a few years down the road and give you a glimpse into this historic period.

We are just hours away from the Seder, the night of all nights, as we sanctify the holy holiday of Passover on a royal cup of wine, ushering in freedom. The last few weeks have been surreal and as I spend so much time with you, I’m envious of you and all the children your age. I look at you every day, running around, smiling, being mischievous, increasing your vocabulary and you’re blissfully, innocently, ignorant of the Covid-19 chaos around us.

You won’t remember missing your Montessori class or your speech therapy sessions, you won’t remember the hours you spent in the car with me delivering “Tatzah”, you won’t remember the anxiety I was experiencing about my relatives in New York, including Zayde, and what this dreaded disease could do to our beloved Bozeman community.

I’m glad you won’t.

You live life in the moment, enjoying every breath of Big Sky Country fresh air and I’m jealous.

Yet, I feel like you should know some of the good things we learned during this time of isolation and stress and the incredible energies we tapped into. So dearest Chana Laya, allow me to share with you some invaluable lessons I learned in the month between Purim and Pesach of 2020:

Who’s the boss: During this period, every country on earth from Russia to Denmark, Israel to our beloved United States struggled with this deadly disease. It didn’t matter where you ranked on the “superpower” list or your financial ranking with the IMF; we were all plagued, equally. We were all forced to recognize that G-d runs the show and when we say on Yom Kippur “Mi Bamageifa - who by pestilence” we now know that indeed Hashem can make that a sad reality even in the most modern of times and civilized of countries. We learned this the hard way, but we mustn’t ever underestimate our Creator.

 

Gratitude: Gratefulness is an important virtue, but for the first time that I can remember, we’re not only expressing our gratitude to the incredible health care workers on the front lines, the law enforcement officers keeping the peace, the teachers who are devoted to teaching our children remotely and the soldiers protecting the homeland; we’re grateful for the grocery workers, for the delivery services, for the truckers, for the pilots and flight attendants, for the janitors and garbage collectors and so many others. As a society, we finally realize that too many of the people we’ve “poo-pooed” are more essential to our well-being than those we’ve held on a pedestal for far too long.

 

Home: Sports, prayer, movies, meals, drinks, fun; sadly, we’ve come to believe that those things need to take place at arenas, stadiums, Synagogues, theaters, restaurants, bars and “anywhere else”. Covid-19 came along and reminded me the ancient Jewish value of “home sweet home”. Life’s anchor, the foundation of our mental/emotional/spiritual wellbeing is created and solidified in a healthy home. Instead of watching football, play it with your child. Instead of sitting in a fancy eatery, make a meal with the kids over your shoulder and when the ketchup splatters all over your shirt during dinner, get a good family laugh. Sit down with your kids and watch Marry Poppins or Uncle Moishy, even if it bores you, the parent, to death, and instead of drinking with your “friends”, have a glass of wine with your spouse and enjoy each other’s company.

Family: Families are complicated and large ones even more so. Yet, for me, the past few weeks has included so much prayer for my relatives. First and foremost, I davened for Zayde, my beloved father, but also for his brothers Areleh (who still needs a big miracle as I write this), Shmulik and Chaim Shaul who have since recovered by the grace of G-d. My aunt Kraindy and cousin Shloime, my aunts Rochel Leah and Blumie and many others needed G-d’s mercy and though I’m physically distant, my heart was with them at home and at the ICU. It was scaryChana Laya, and it was amazing to know, that deep in my heart family is family, and there’s a part of my essence that will always love them and care for them deeply.

Government: I am not big fan of “big brother” sticking their “Pinocchio noses” into everyone’s business, yet, this past month showed me a different side of “politicians”. During all the bickering and fighting, our politicians set aside their differences, for the most part, and worked diligently together for their fellow Americans. Being in a leadership role, whether President, Governor, Senator, Congressman, Mayor, health Dept. official or any other political official, during this era, means having many sleepless nights. The non-stop meetings and strategy to figure out a plan of instructions, school closings, bringing home citizens stranded abroad, closing national parks; it’s a lot and it’s not easy. For a change, I am blown away by the devotion of our leaders and give credit where credit is due.

Last thing Chana Laya dear, when you read this in 2025 or so, I want you to know about Pesach 5780 (2020):

Initially, I was worried heading into the holiday that having just our family around the table will be boring and lonely. We aren’t used to celebrating anything without our beloved Jewish community. Yet, as we get closer and closer to the holy moments of the Seder, I am beginning to feel really good about it. I think Hashem is asking each of us to stay at home, take care of ourselves from the inside out. He is asking me to give up my rabbi title for one holiday, no sermonizing no Torah Reading/Chazzan’ing; just be Chaim, a husband, a dad and an individual who too, can, and should, experience self-reflection and internal freedom. Each of us will be focused inwards and the results for our future and the future of humanity, I believe, will be transformative. For the next three days, we will have no phone or internet, no conference calls or classes, no grocery shopping or “Tatzah delivery”; it will be us, just our raw authentic self.

As you get older Chana Laya dear, I am sure your siblings will share with you how it was during “Corona”. Menny will tell you how much he missed his friends, Chaya will tell you how much she missed Yenting at the Shabbos table with the guests and Zeesy will tell you how much she missed school. For mom and I this is a very hard holiday, as your dear sister Shoshana, our beloved oldest, who was supposed to be home for Pesach, is in school lockdown in Utah and won’t be with us. She has everything she needs for Yom Tov and we are all making do with the reality, but we miss her so much and a part of me is broken in her absence. You will hear many stories about this time, both positive and negative, but I truly think the outcome will be a better nation.

As I sit at the Seder, I will listen to the four of you recite the Ma Nishtana, I will pause for a moment to telepathically listen to Shoshana’s Ma Nishtana and then I will tell you the answer, the most incredible response to the eternal Jewish question of “Why are we different” and “why is tonight different”: We were slaves, we suffered and we still suffer on occasion, but our incredible Creator redeemed us and He will do it again soon; Jerusalem here we come!

Sweetie, when you read this, it’s my hope that we will have been long time residents of Jerusalem and you, along with my mom, the Chana Leah you’re named for, will be celebrating Pesach in a plague free world! Mashiach baby!

Love you forever my little girl,

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!!!

My Rebbe, My Urim Vetumim!

With a kid or two in tow, I hit the road this week to deliver Matzah to 250+ homes. The kids didn’t leave the car, but with gloves, and mask if needed, I walked up to door after to door and left a box of Shemura Matzah for my Jewish brothers and sisters. We all have some level of anxiety and uncertainty these days. I’ve watched tens of elderly role models from my native Crown Heights community perish of this dreaded disease, while too many others continue to fight for their life, but while delivering Matzah with the kiddos favorite Nissim Black or Mordechai Shapiro music blasting, there’s no news, no reports, no Dr. Fauci or Governor Cuomo, it’s just me, Passover and my Jewish family.

In this week’s Torah portion, Tzav, we read about the Urim VeTumim, a parchment etched with G-d’s name, placed behind the breastplate of the High Priest. When the Jewish people were in doubt, when the leaders of Jewry found themselves uncertain about the right path forward, the High Priest’s breastplate, which had the names of the twelve tribes engraved on it, would give them answers. How so? Certain letters would shine, allowing the High Priest to combine the brightened letters and form words that gave answers.  Hence, why It was named Urim VeTumim, as Urim means illumination and Tumim means complete; it would give them light in times of darkness, clarity in times of confusion.

This Sunday, the 11th of Nissan is the 118th birthday of my Rebbe of blessed memory. The Rebbe was, and is, my Urim VeTumim. No, he didn’t wear the Temple vestments and he wasn’t a Kohen, but he served as a guiding light of clarity even during universal turbulence. Whether during the Pogroms in Ukraine or the Gulf War in the Middle East, whether while living in Vichy in the early 40’s or in Brooklyn in the 90’s, whether in response to the King of Morocco or to the parents of a little baby named Chaim born at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital in 1981, the Rebbe shined light. G-d gifted me, and you, with a Moses who is an “Island of Calm” during tough times and with Divine wisdom was able to provide us with the same. When I’m scared, I get close to my Urim VeTumim, and it illuminates the darkness, big time.

Happy birthday Rebbe!  

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!!!


G-d of Goats!

Coronavirus is on everyone’s mind. Those who are struggling, fighting for life itself, are in our prayers. I’ve been praying a whole lot for my father and three of his brothers who are all plagued by this dreaded disease. It’s heartwarming to see how much love and positive energy is being shared amongst neighbors, friends and the general public. There’s a lovely sense of “we are all in this together” and an inner drive to step up for those who are in need. In addition, there’s an increased feeling of deep appreciation for the selfless healthcare professionals, law enforcement officers and all those, including grocers and truckers, who are working tirelessly to keep our families fed.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayikra, first in the book of Leviticus, we read about the sacrificial offerings in the Tabernacle. While there are ten Kosher animals, only three could be utilized for the holy service and of the many Kosher birds, only two, the mature turtledove and the young dove are permitted on the alter. Why? The Midrash tells us that G-d gifted us with the eternal lesson that like He, we should always stand with victims. Oxen are harassed by lions, lambs are hunted by wolves, goats are attacked by panthers and doves are constantly confronted by birds of prey. Hashem cares about all His creations but He has a warm spot for these creatures, placing them on a pedestal, so that we never forget being holy includes caring for victims.  

It is my hope, that when this plague subsides, G-d willing really soon; when we finish mourning those who perished, celebrating the lives that were spared, re-learning the art of social interaction, we will also have become a kinder, gentler, society, internalizing that which we experienced. The plague didn’t care about our political affiliation, skin color, gender, religion, nationality or even country of residence, it attacked all mercilessly. Let’s re-channel that non-discriminatory experience to treat all - yes, even those we can’t stand - with equal dignity. We can have differences, we can debate issues, but we must never mistreat another human being, never.

Seeking our fellow’s wellbeing, even if they aren’t on a ventilator!

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!!!

Singing in the mud!

The universe is trembling; humanity is on edge. Too many deaths, so much illness, implausible uncertainty, deep feelings of loneliness and a world dreading isolation. While there’s many blessings for us to celebrate, being home alone with the kids for a lengthy period, especially in a home that is accustomed to the hustle and bustle of Jewish life, will be a hard adjustment. We will get through this, no doubt, but in the meantime, I share with you a practical idea to deal with the natural anxiety.

The book of Psalms.

I recently read in “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...And Maybe The World” that “if you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud”. King David had many such moments, misery from enemies, both from outside the palace and from within his own family. Whether Saul or Absalom, the Philistines or Ahithophel, his seventy years on earth were filled with constant saga, fear, hardship and sadness. It was in those fearful moments that David would compose his melodies and Psalms. He’d sing to the Lord with lyre and harp, praising G-d for all His kindness, beseeching Him for mercy, and praying that his enemies don’t reach him.

One week ago, just before Shabbos, and many times since, I’ve done something I’ve never done before, I recited Psalms just to feel close to G-d. I didn’t do this when my mother was dying, I didn’t do it when I’ve been financially broke, and I didn’t do it after 9/11; I did it now. I don’t know why I didn’t do it then, perhaps the “natural” options were more visible. My mother had treatment, I could always fundraise more to secure the bank and after 9/11 we fought back and attacked the terrorists. Covid-19 is something for which I couldn’t fathom a quick enough solution, so I did what Jews do, I talked to G-d. I say Psalms every day as is customary, but this wasn’t to follow the custom, but rather to chat with Hashem.

I know He was listening, I felt it in my bones.

This Shabbos, as you celebrate at home, don’t waste these holy moments on the news, on your phone or checking your portfolio; take out your Psalms and sing to your Creator.

He will sing along!

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!!!

We're not getting divorced!

What an incredible Purim! I Recently heard someone say that “we need to face the fact that young Jews are not interested in Yiddishkeit”. I argued quite the contrary that Jews, including millennials, aren’t interested in watered-down forms of religion, but when offered a dose of soulfulness, they are in. With over 100 of us celebrating Tuesday evening at the Baxter, I felt vindicated. You see, they didn’t just come because it was a costume party, they have Halloween for that. They didn’t come because it was free, as it wasn’t. They didn’t come because of the L’Chaim served, as there are way better bars in town. They didn’t come for the amazing NY Deli, as we never advertised the menu. They came because they are seeking a connection with their essence, and Purim is a celebration of just that (See Purim pics here). 

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Tisa, we read about the sin of all sins, Jewry building a golden calf. The oddity of that act is discussed at length in every Torah commentary; the one detail on which they all agree, is that this was a “teachable” moment on steroids. Jewry was experiencing an existential crisis, questioning the essence of holiness, and they came out on the other side with stronger faith and a more forgiving G-d. Indeed, the Sinai newlyweds, G-d the groom and Jewry the bride faced separation that was close to an unamicable divorce, but thanks to the matchmaker Moses, they came around and their relationship prospered. It was then that it became clear that even when we struggle, this marriage will persevere, and it has for over 3,000 years.  

Being a naysayer is effortless. It’s easy to be anxious about the trajectory of the Jewish people. I’ll make an admission; I too have moments where I wonder what the future will look like. Yet, it is then that I remember the Purim celebrations,  Passover Seders, Chanukah bashes and most importantly the hundreds of annual one-on-one Torah classes, Mitzvah moments and coffee discussions I enjoy with souls on fire, wanting to tap in to our heritage, and I’m comforted. The future isn’t bright because I want to be optimistic or because I’m somewhat delusional; it’s bright because we study history and we know Jews have had it rough, rougher than today, and we overcame and are still rockin’ and Rollin.  

Who was it that said “In this bright future you can’t forget your past”?

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!!!

Clear as mud!

On Wednesday, Chavie launched her new blog Clear As Mud. It’s a new medium for her to share with the masses her unique journey and perspective on parenting, travel, wellness and so much more. I’m so impressed with all that she does to share her story, our story, with the world via Instagram and now her blog. It’s a unique balance for a Chabad Rebbetzin, as she’s devoted to Torah and its incredible spirituality, while simultaneously opening-up about the inner struggles, the moments of uncertainty and the beauty that exists in the day to day life.

In this week’s Parsha, Tetzaveh, we read about the crushed olive oil used for kindling the Menorah in the Holy Temple. The Menorah wasn’t needed for light, as there was a pillar of fire that guided the Jews during the nights in the desert; it was there as a symbolic light of holiness and it was from there that light emanated to the entire world. It was a reminder to the Jew and all those seeking spirituality, that G-d is light and if we allow Him into our lives, it is always bright.

Chavie and I have always cherished our interaction with Montanans of all flavors and backgrounds. While we are focused on the Jewish community and its continuity, we also spend lots of time and energy, sharing the light of G-d, the meaning of Torah, with all who seek it. We express how that incredible light guides us through thick and thin, through times of calm (a rare commodity) and times of tumult. It is on this public platform, that I take a moment to wish my dear Chavie all the blessings from on high for her blog to succeed as a new source of inspiration to so many, as they, like us, seek G-d’s eternal guidance in every facet of life.

G-d is there even when it’s Clear As Mud!

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!!!

Sometimes I just don't get it!

I spent Tuesday at Children’s Hospital Colorado and it’s highly impressive. You see, at Wednesday night’s class, Jennifer asked a great question. Why does G-d need to give us the exact measurements of the Tabernacle? Does it really matter to the Creator of heaven and earth if the wooden planks are Ten Amot (cubits) high or if there is an exact number of rings to hang the tapestries? It sounds kind of petty for G-d to care about these details. I loved the question, because it’s not only a question about the Tabernacle, it’s a question about all spirituality: do the details matter? And if the details don’t matter, do the commands themselves matter?

Our Torah portion, Terumah, is basically a blueprint for tabernacle construction. If you’re like me, and don’t like math and Home Depot isn’t your stomping ground, it could drive you insane. Yet, it’s the Mishkan study that makes two things really clear: 1) Details do matter to G-d. 2) Though we may not understand it, there’s a reason for everything. For example: The ten-cubit height of the wooden planks reflects the ten faculties of the soul, three intellectual and seven emotional. When placed in the foundational sockets, which reflect the subservience to G-d, and wrapped in tapestries which represent the all-encompassing faculties of will power and pleasure, we are putting together the components for a healthy human being.

Which brings me back to the hospital. This immaculate “home of healing” for children has everything down to a science. They know everything about Zeesy and her “magic diet”, they know our flight schedules and work accordingly, they are so careful not to transfer diseases from one patient to another (especially with this Corona outbreak) and no sane person would ever want them to be less detail oriented. I don’t understand every protocol they have in place, but I’m sure glad they are on top of their game. G-d is infinite, so I certainly can’t understand everything He asks me to do, but I am sure glad that my Creator cares enough about me that He wants to make sure I get it all right.

G-d is my specialist; He knows what He’s doing!   

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's not my fault!

Whether it’s forgetting their lunch at home or misplacing their MP3 Player, Chavie and I always remind the kids of their responsibilities. Yes, parents are responsible for a lot, but children need to appreciate their own value, their wisdom and abilities, recognizing that they can, and should, care for certain aspects of their life. It’s vital that we all understand that even if something isn’t “our fault”, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t our “responsibility”. You may have planned for a different outcome or these results may have been out of your control, still, that doesn’t remove our accountability for the reality and being straightforward as to how it happened.  

In this Mitzvah-laden Torah portion, Mishpatim, we read lots about human behavior, including the detail-packed laws of monetary loans and the laws of damages. Whether it’s lighting a fire that spread, owning a dangerous animal that gores, creating a public hazard of any kind, owning a harmful object on private property or serving as a guardian for a friends’ item and losing it, the Torah, elaborated mostly in the large Talmudic tractate of Bava Metziah, guides us for each scenario and what our obligations and consequences would be accordingly.

It’s hard to convey to our children the ethic of personal responsibility, the ethic of integrity, when CEO’s, politicians and, sadly, many religious leaders, don’t take responsibility for their actions and simply blame someone, or something, else for their missteps. G-d doesn’t demand our perfection, He just expects us to be honest with ourselves and others. Lao Tzu wrote “A great nation is like a great man: When he makes a mistake, he realizes it. Having realized it, he admits it. Having admitted it, he corrects it. He considers those who point out his faults as his most benevolent teachers. He thinks of his enemy as the shadow that he himself casts.”

Stop passing the buck; it’s on you!

 

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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