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Weekly Message

Aba, you don't understand me!

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

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

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

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

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

Vote with your feet!

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

Am Yisroel is broken; we are all seeking comfort.

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

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

 

Vote for Shabbat; endorsed by eleven sanctified souls!

 

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

Be Sensitive

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

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

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

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

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

Infusion of Chutzpah!

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

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

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

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

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

Batman or Superman?

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

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

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

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

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

You (and I) are a keeper!

“Indescribable” Is the only way I can sum it up. Not only was It three weeks of heavenly holidays with incredible services, celebrations and community meals, it was full of first-time experiences.  It was the first time that Sarah attended the lively Simchat Torah day service, first time Ben made a blessing on the four species in the Sukkah, first time Rebecca heard the Shofar on Rosh Hashana and the first time in decades that Sheila fasted the entire Yom Kippur, even though it was hard for her. I changed their names to retain their anonymity, but these are all real experiences, from among countless, of Montanan Jews who enjoyed a Jewish “first” at the Bruk home this month. 

In this week’s Torah portion, Bereishis, the first of Moses’ Five Books, we read about the first case of brotherly rivalry that lead to jealous Cain murdering his younger brother Abel. When G-d oratorically asks Cain about his brothers’ whereabouts, he foolishly assumes he can evade G-d and says “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”. This free-thinking, and dangerously wicked, answer has reverberated among humanity for over five thousand years. Am I indeed the protector, the caretaker, the keeper of my brothers and sisters? When a fellow human is being murdered, either literally or figuratively, are we to remain silent and if we do, do we bear any responsibility? Indeed, G-d made it clear, we do! In His words “Hark! Your brother's blood cries out to Me from the earth”.

We must learn from Cain’s dreadful mistake and never ignore the pleas for help whether it be for physical, spiritual or material needs. I’m asked occasionally, how can you and Chavie live with your home being open to the public almost 24/7? Don’t you feel like it’s an invasion of privacy? The answer lies in G-d’s eternal response to Cain: we are always responsible for our fellow. We can’t say “he ain’t my kid”, “she isn’t my problem”, “it’s none of my business and I don’t have time for it”. Whether it’s a student at MSU looking for guidance or a Jewish backpacker in Yellowstone looking for a hot Kosher meal, we are the keepers of our brothers and sisters and should never lose touch with the interconnectivity of the human spirit.

We are Keepers!

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

I'm not a dancer!

It’s no secret that while I love music, the pen of the soul, I am not a big fan of dancing. For me to get into it, to invoke authentic joy that is expressed in physical dancing, it must be a real joyous event like the wedding of a sibling, a euphoric Purim moment or, occasionally, when it’s just me and the kids in their room, and we dance like nobody’s watching. Yet, this coming week, after wrapping up Sukkot with Sushi and Scotch in the Sukkah, we will usher in Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, the finality of this incredible Holiday season, when we take the priceless scrolls out of the Aron HaKodesh, the Holy Ark, and dance the night away as we hold them with palpable love.

Why the love? I will tell you:

Growing up as an orthodox Jewish boy in Brooklyn gave me slight shelter from outside, un-Jewish, influences, but our family was still quite aware of, and somewhat interactive with, the realities of the world around us. We were blessed to have our own Torah-based value system that guided our every move and which we cherished deeply, but we knew that secularism or “Western Culture” had its own set of rules and way of thinking. As adults, Chavie and I are witness daily to what secularism has offered America and the tragic ramifications of its impact on our culture. Which is why when Simchat Torah arrives, we will join in Shul, conclude Deuteronomy, begin Genesis, read the Torah verses of “Ata Hareisa” emphasizing the Torah’s value and then, despite my reservations, I will lift my lazy legs off the ground and, together with our beloved community, boogie to the energizing Jewish music of our collective soul as it soars spiritually.

The Talmudic sages predicted some 1,800 years ago that in pre-messianic times society will become brazenly senseless and oh how right they were. The more divisive, unholy and corrupt humanity is, the more grateful we must be, that despite having to deal with the coarseness directly, we have a bright Torah that helps us wade through the murky waters without drowning in it. Next week, as I hold Chanchy’s Torah in my arms dancing with my younger children and amazing Shul-buddies, I will be dancing like there’s no tomorrow, thanking G-d for the amazing scroll that give us inner life, inner liberty and inner happiness, not just the “pursuit” of it.

L’Chaim! Gut Shabbos! Gut Yom Tov!  

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

Keep the family close!

Having just wrapped up an incredible Montana Yom Kippur, I am convinced that we are one people with one heart. Recently, I experienced this oneness twice: last week I spent a few hours being interviewed for "The Rabbi Goes West” alongside my friend Rabbi Allen Secher. Allen is Reformed/Renewal and I’m Hassidic, but we had such a good time together, because family is family. On a more bitter note, this past Sunday I was a basket case, as I watched a live feed of Ari Fuld’s funeral in Efrat, Israel. Ari was murdered by an Arab terrorist, just for having the audacity of being Jewish and it broke my heart, deeply. I never met Ari but felt like I was mourning the loss of a dear family member.

 

This is the essence of Sukkot.

Sukkah is a unique Mitzvah that allows innumerable Jews to experience the commandment simultaneously. We are all enwrapped in the same four walls, sitting under the same Schach ceiling and that is the observance. Yes, many Jews can do individual Mitzvot while under the same roof, but they are each doing their own Mitzvah, not an equal one. Personally, Sukkot is my favorite holiday. There is something about the feeling in the Sukkah that is so crisp, so wholesome and so invigorating. Each year we host Jews of all flavors in our Sukkah and the feeling is indescribable. Despite the frosty temperatures, we are warmed as we enjoy Chavie’s mouthwatering delicacies, a bottle or two of L’Chaim and a spirited dose of Torah.

This Sukkot please take a moment to cherish your Jewish family. We’ve got our problems, all families do, but we are one. We can all commit that for the seven days of the holiday, we will put aside our politics, social status and religious background and focus on the essence, the G-dly spark embedded in our Jewish brothers and sisters. You have a Jewish neighbor who loves President Trump and you’re a hardcore fan of Senator Bernie Sanders? invite them over for a meal in the Sukkah. You have a Synagogue acquaintance who loved Bibi and you’d like to give Tel Aviv back to the British? say L’Chaim with them in the Sukkah. Remember, when all is said and done, keeping the family together is something that makes our Father in Heaven most happy!

Keep the family close!

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

 

My Yizkor Letter...

My Yizkor Letter…

Dear Friends,

In honor of Yom Kippur, a day of introspection and Yizkor, I’ve chosen to write a heartfelt letter to my maternal great-grandparents, Shmuel Zanvil and Menucha Kraindel Goldman, who together with six of their children were murdered by the Nazis Yemach Shemom, leaving my Zayde, Reb Shimon, as a sole survivor, the only remaining branch on what was a beautiful family tree. I hope this helps you in your Yom Kippur experience.

Remember.

Rabbi Chaim Bruk

Dear Elter Zayde & Elter Bubbe,

I am writing to you almost eighty years after your lives were snuffed out by the Nazis Yemach Shemom. You, along with six of your beautiful children, Chana, Leah, Tzvi Hirsh, Chaim, Yakov and Yosef, were murdered in cold blood, because fellow human beings believed that you were inferior and not worthy of the oxygen you breathed. You never merited meeting any of your grandchildren, you never had the opportunity to see the amazing family your one surviving son Shimon created together with his beloved Esther, and you wouldn’t believe how the Gur Chassidic dynasty, whose founder was your family patriarch, is a prospering community that numbers hundreds of thousands in Jerusalem, Brooklyn and the world over.

Every Shabbat morning, as I studied and chatted with my Zayde, your beloved Shimon, somehow, he’d ensure that the conversation made it back to Shedlitz (Siedlce) and you guys. With a twinkle in his eye, and an occasional tear rolling down his cheek, he’d share as much as he could remember of his beloved family. He would talk about how you’d admonish him for playing soccer during services, how kind you were to visiting Jews who needed a place to eat while in town and how, despite your unhappiness about the spiritual direction some of your children chose, you never ceased loving them with all your heart and soul. Shedlitz, his cherished hometown, was always on the tip of his tongue and the one picture he carried with him, physically and internally, was that of your daughter, his beloved sister Chana and her fiancé, who were both murdered before their wedding day.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about you. I live in a world that doesn’t necessarily think of the Holocaust as it used to. In Europe, the Middle-East and even here in the United States, there are those that would like to trivialize the incalculability of the Holocaust, and I assure you that your grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including Chavie and I, will never forget and will keep reminding whoever will listen. We won’t remember in sadness, we won’t carry bitterness in our heart; we will reminiscent with conviction, ensuring that our children and the communities we live in, from Johannesburg to Paramus, Waterloo to Kuai, Toulouse to Monsey, will never forget that for every survivor there was an incredible family and heritage left behind in the ash heaps of Central Europe.

In our prayers, every Monday and Thursday, we turn to G-d and we tell Him “Gaze down from heaven and see that we’ve become an object of scorn and derision among the nations. We have become considered like sheep led to the slaughter, to be slain, to be obliterated, to be stricken and to be disgraced. Nevertheless, we have not forgotten Your name. Please don’t forget us.”. I meditate on this prayer twice weekly and think of you. How proud you’d be of your family today and how we will never let your Kiddush Hashem, your G-dly sanctification, which you experienced in death, be wasted.

As I stand in Shul at Yizkor on Yom Kippur, I will think of all of those I adore and love. my mother Chanchy, my grandparents Reb Shimon and Esther Goldman, my Saba and Savta Mendel and Chana Brook, my Rebbe of righteous memory, and a few others, but this year I will think of you. I will think about how, despite all odds, we haven’t forgotten G-d’s name and that we haven’t forgotten yours either.

We have not forgotten your name: For close to seventy years, every year, on the 12th of Elul, the day he was told that Shedlitz was lit aflame and his family slayed, your son Shimon would stand in Shul and say Kaddish for his entire family. In a voice of yearning, sadness and honor he’d cry bitterly and memorialize his treasured Mishpocho.

We have not forgotten your name: After naming his first child for his beloved Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak, he named his three other children, Menucha Kraindel (AKA Kraindy) for his mom, Chana Leah (AKA Chanchy) for his two sisters and Shmuel Zanvil (AKA Shmuly) for his father. His love for ya’ll was real and boundless.

We have not forgotten your name: my brother Yanky is Yakov Yosef for two of your sons and so many of your great grandchildren are named for you: Shmuly, Chaim, Tzvi, Chani; you are part and parcel of our family story and we ponder often on how lucky we are to be the bearers of your torch.

We have not forgotten your name: You were devoted to Torah-Judaism and to a Chassidic lifestyle and, while we shifted from Gur to Chabad-Lubavitch, you’d enjoy so much Nachas to know that we continue that sacred lifestyle promulgated by the holy Baal Shem Tov with beards, modest dress, joyous lives and the study of Jewish mysticism.

We have not forgotten your name: My youngest daughter Chana Laya is named for her Bubby, my beloved mom, but she’s our family’s living embodiment of the Chana Laya her Bubby was named for. So, it lives on in Bozeman, Montana.

I often wonder what you were like and I would’ve loved to meet the people who shaped the life of my beloved Zayde. From what he told me, you guys were awesome and, while you didn’t have much, you were always grateful for that which G-d bestowed upon you. It wasn’t easy for Zayde to let go of you and run that day in the market place, but he knew in his gut that it was his only chance to survive, and he was right. Since Zayde Shimon passed I light a candle on the 12th of Elul in his stead, as your flame will remain lit forever. As I stand at Yizkor, I will remember those who came before me, who shaped those who guided me and who, despite being gone for over seventy years, still are a living inspiration to their hundreds of descendants.

This Yom Kippur, as you sit around in heaven with all your seven children, with your daughter-in-law my Bubbe Esther, with your granddaughter my mom Chanchy, please remember us, think about us, seek out your great-grand-children and their children and intercede on our behalf. Tell G-d that you’ve given enough for the Jewish people, it’s time for Him to give back to your family with blessings of health, financial stability and Nachas from our children.

While you’re at it: Tell Him we’ve suffered enough and we need Mashiach already, enough is enough.

Have an Easy Fast!

A proud heir,

Chaim

PS Please give my mom a hug for me. I miss her dearly.

 

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

Dearest Shoshana...

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

 

 

 

 

 

Rosh Hashana is upon us. Although I know that only two of you can read this today, it is my hope that you’ll share its message with your siblings, until they are old enough to read it for themselves. I’ve taken the liberty to share it with a “few” of my closest friends via email and social media, only because I believe its content is universal and can inspire others.

In just a few short days we will be standing in Shul, hearing the Shofar blow, as we repent for our past behavior, crown G-d as our king for another year and most importantly, ask Him in deep prayer to solidify our upcoming year to be one of sweetness and joy. Yet, I am sure you wonder on occasion: why do we need two special days for that? Why the countless hours of prayer? Can’t I just think it in my mind, feel it in my heart for a few minutes, and move on to politics/sports/pop culture?

It’s 2018 and I will speak to you in relatable terms: Smart phones. We enjoy them all the time, it allows us to connect with our friends and family, at times it’s a love/hate relationship and every so often we are told that we need a “software update”. If we’re good at taking care of our stuff, the hardware could last a very long time, but the software is constantly needing upgrades and if we want the phone to function properly and give us the most benefit, we’d be smart to follow the upgrade instructions.

Rosh Hashana is the day we were given by G-d for our annual software update, system reboot and overall upgrade. We don’t need to understand Java or HTML, we don’t need to be a computer geek or hacker, we must simply take the time, to plug in our phone, look in our settings icon and allow the updates to do their thing. G-d doesn’t expect us to understand everything about His infinite operating system, to figure out the exact cause for this year’s malfunction that needed fixing, but He does need us to allow the update to occur and we can only do that if we follow the Rosh Hashana steps.

We can certainly choose to ignore Rosh Hashana, ignore the system update, but then we’re stuck in the past where it’s not easy to communicate with Him anymore, we’re vulnerable to malware attacks, system crashes and viruses of all kinds, and we just get left behind. Its not because we did something wrong, it’s because we didn’t make the effort to do something right. Remember: Nobody, not our “friends”, neighbors or cousins, gets hurt by our refusal to update/upgrade, the only one that really gets stuck is us, all by ourselves.

So dear Kinderlach, here’s my New Year recommendation and you’d be wise to heed my advice: update your system. Don’t fall for the myth that Shul is boring. Some Shul’s may be out of touch, but ours is not and the sacred time of prayer should be utilized by all of us to reboot our relationship with Hashem. If there’s anything phones teach us, it’s that not upgrading is basically downgrading. Last year is not good enough for this year and if you don’t believe me call Apple or Verizon and see what they say.

In summation: I really don’t like Smart Phones, but it’s a reality. You may not like all the rules of Judaism every minute of every day, but it’s a reality that your soul was chosen by G-d to be part of “A kingdom of priests and a holy nation”. G-d, along with Mom and I, are pleading with you to cherish that chosenness, treasure that uniqueness and do your part to stay up-to-date.

May Hashem bless you in ways that only He can, with balance, both emotional and mental, with rich health, with success in your studies, with the courage to make the right/good choices, the strength to resist the temptations of secularism and the opportunity to be ranking soldiers in G-d’s army of light to brighten the world around us, and together with Klal Yisroel and all of humanity reunite with the third Holy Temple in our Hometown of Jersusalm, now!

A Gut Gebenched Yur!

Love,

Aba

 

 

 

 

 

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

Unaccompanied Minors!

On Sunday, just before the start of school, after spending almost three weeks at overnight camp in Lake Worth, Florida, Chaya flew home from Fort Lauderdale, as an Unaccompanied Minor. She did great and the smile on her face when she walked up the jetway and saw me, Menny and Zeesy waiting for her, was out of this world. I never understood the title “Unaccompanied Minor”. These “Unaccompanied” children are the only passengers that are “Accompanied” by airline staff and yet because it’s not the natural “accompaniers” they are considered “Unaccompanied”.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Tavo, we read about the various agricultural gifts that one is obligated to give in the land of Israel. Coming on the heels of the battle with Amalek, the Midrash teaches that Moses was reminding Jewry, that unlike Amalek who despised humanity’s recognition of G-d, we must never forget that the produce of our fields, the fruits of our orchards, the grapes in our vineyards, are all a Divine gift to us and we must share it with the Kohen, the Levi, the orphan, the pauper, the widow and the convert. Often, we are accompanied in life by good people, helpful people, loving people, but we still feel “unaccompanied”, alone, as we are missing our natural protectors, our parents, or in this case, our Father in Heaven.

Life, like a long flight, has plenty of turbulence, the people around us aren’t always pleasant, the climate outside isn’t always friendly and sometimes the seats aren’t even comfortable. Yet, we make it through life, doing the best we can, while giving our pilot, who also happens to be our accompanying flight attendant, the credit that He is due for getting us through it. There is a beautiful song, originating from the Skulener Chassidim of Romania, on the words in the Book of Lamentations “ Chasdei Hashem Ki Lo Somnu Ki Lo Chalu Rachamov - Verily, the kindnesses of the Lord never cease! Indeed, His mercies never fail ”. It should warm our hearts to know that G-d doesn’t give us off to others, He was, is and will always be our personal attendant.

Don’t fly alone!

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

Rabbi Judah & a bunch of weasels!

Shoshana was away for almost nine weeks in summer camps and on Monday she finally came home. During her time at the nature camp in Vermont, she learned everything about outdoor/farm living including spinning/dying, wood chopping, knife throwing, fire building, wool making and of course interacting with the animal kingdom. When we interact with a farm animal whether milking, care taking or even riding, it gives us a deeper appreciation for these G-dly creations and inevitably reinforces the importance of treating animals humanly.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Teitzei, as throughout the Torah, we are taught the value of animal care. We are told that we must help unload an overburdened donkey who is suffering, that we must send the mother bird away before taking the baby chick, and that animals plowing our fields mustn’t be muzzled from eating along the way. Animals are not superior or even equal to humans, and eating Kosher beef/poultry is permitted, but unguided, inhumane and sometimes purely cruel treatment is prohibited. The Talmud in Bava Metzia tells us that Rabbi Judah the Prince was punished with kidney stones and scurvy because while a sad calf was being led to slaughter he said: Go, as you were created for this purpose. Thankfully, years later he was healed after witnessing his maidservant in the process of sweeping away a few young weasels, he stopped her and said: Let them be, as it is written: “The Lord is good to all; and His mercies are over all His works”.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” wrote Ghandi. He’s wrong, as Nazi after Nazi treated animals wonderfully. It’s the other way around: if you are a great nation, that greatness must be reflected in your attitude towards animals as well. When we hear of trophy killings, abused farm animals or dying animals on airplanes, we must pause and ask ourselves “what am I doing to raise awareness about this issue?”. Not everyone will agree on what “humane” means, but one thing we must all agree on: we can, and should, do better.

Remember three words:  Tzaar Balei Chaim !

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

Knightly Justice!

As Chavie and I -with three kiddos in tow- made our way back home through the winding roads of Central Wyoming, we were awe-struck by the beauty of Wind River Canyon. Anyone with a beating heart is certain to be humbled in the presence of such a breathtaking heavenly gift embedded in what we casually call “nature”. It got me thinking of “Rules for a Knight”, a unique collection of letters written by Sir Thomas Lemuel Hawke, that my buddy Zach recently shared with me. In it he addresses humility and writes “Never announce that you are a knight, simply behave as one. You are better than no one, and no one is better than you….Expect nothing, and you will enjoy everything”.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, we read about the Jewish judicial system. Bribery in any form is prohibited, even if it’s to ascertain a just judgment and bias, even slight gestures from a judge in favor of the plaintiff or the defendant, is considered inappropriate. When Jewish courts lose the moral high ground, it leads to the decay of our Jewish community and our role as Light unto the Nations. In my short life I’ve seen, and worked with, Beit Din’s, Jewish courts, that are honorable and scrupulous in their devotion to justice, no matter what price they may pay for their honesty, but I’ve also seen enough injustice. Being just, takes humility; being humble enough to take one self out of the picture and look at it objectively or at least have the decency to find a Judge that can be.

Justice carries over into our individual lives too. We often make decisions, voice opinions and lock in life principles that are laden with biases and some form of bribery. Why do I like/dislike this individual? Why do I give this or that kind of advice? Why do I choose the way I eat or who I date? Are we being honest and is it based on objective facts, or did we seek our own pleasures, our own selfish interests, and then try to turn our subjective choices into universal truths. Humility is the ability to see things beyond our egocentric self. I don’t have an easy time with humility, but I know that living humbly is so much healthier. Recently, something was bothering me. A mentor asked me “Chaim, did you ask yourself why it bothers you so much?” I had never thought about the “why”. it forced me to seek truth which is bigger than myself, way bigger.

If you want a just world, be just!  

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

 

Jew+Armenian+Muslim!

August 22, 1939. Hitler, speaking to his Wehrmacht commanders about the upcoming invasion of Poland, says, “Wer redet heute noch von der Vernichtung der Armenier? Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians? I heard this from Harry & Vicki, a wonderful couple who were seated near me on a recent flight. During our three-hour conversation I learned so much about their Armenian culture, faith, history and of course gut-wrenching genocide. Turkey ousted them, Lebanon mistreated them and finally in the 70’s his parents, along with hundreds of thousands of their countrymen, found a home in the United States. He spoke of his commonality with the Jews: Persecuted, small in number, they stick together, send their children to private religious school, speak and read their native language, and don’t understand why people can’t just get along.

Sadly, we both wondered why the silence about the Rohingya in Myanmar.

In this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, we read about a person sold into servitude, either by the Jewish court, Beis Din, forcing a thief to repay his theft or selling himself to get out of poverty and back onto his own two feet. We are told that when his servitude term is up “You shall surely provide him from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your vat...And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord, your God, redeemed you...” G-d wants us to treat those who are vulnerable, inherently or temporarily, really well. We know too well how hard it is to be the underdog, so we must channel that recognition into an expression of compassion.

Rwanda genocide came and went, Sudan genocide came and went, Syria genocide came and went; a couple of condemnations, a few “Oy Veys”, and the world went back to eating Sashimi, vacationing in Hawaii and discussing petty politics. I’m just a rabbi in Montana and I don't know what the solution is, but when in pain, we scream, even if it doesn’t help. I can’t remain silent as 700,000 men, women and children have been forced from their home, 288 villages were destroyed by the Myanmar military and close to ten thousand people, including almost one thousand children, were murdered just because they are Muslim. If you have ideas of ways to help, please let me know, but in the meantime, let’s pray for these innocent souls and hearken to G-d’s command to remember those who need us most.

Enough politics; it’s time for compassion!

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

Jew+Armenian+Muslim!

August 22, 1939. Hitler, speaking to his Wehrmacht commanders about the upcoming invasion of Poland, says, “Wer redet heute noch von der Vernichtung der Armenier? Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians? I heard this from Harry & Vicki, a wonderful couple who were seated near me on a recent flight. During our three-hour conversation I learned so much about their Armenian culture, faith, history and of course gut-wrenching genocide. Turkey ousted them, Lebanon mistreated them and finally in the 70’s his parents, along with hundreds of thousands of their countrymen, found a home in the United States. He spoke of his commonality with the Jews: Persecuted, small in number, they stick together, send their children to private religious school, speak and read their native language, and don’t understand why people can’t just get along.

Sadly, we both wondered why the silence about the Rohingya in Myanmar.

In this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, we read about a person sold into servitude, either by the Jewish court, Beis Din, forcing a thief to repay his theft or selling himself to get out of poverty and back onto his own two feet. We are told that when his servitude term is up “You shall surely provide him from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your vat...And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord, your God, redeemed you...” G-d wants us to treat those who are vulnerable, inherently or temporarily, really well. We know too well how hard it is to be the underdog, so we must channel that recognition into an expression of compassion.

Rwanda genocide came and went, Sudan genocide came and went, Syria genocide came and went; a couple of condemnations, a few “Oy Veys”, and the world went back to eating Sashimi, vacationing in Hawaii and discussing petty politics. I’m just a rabbi in Montana and I don't know what the solution is, but when in pain, we scream, even if it doesn’t help. I can’t remain silent as 700,000 men, women and children have been forced from their home, 288 villages were destroyed by the Myanmar military and close to ten thousand people, including almost one thousand children, were murdered just because they are Muslim. If you have ideas of ways to help, please let me know, but in the meantime, let’s pray for these innocent souls and hearken to G-d’s command to remember those who need us most.

Enough politics; it’s time for compassion!

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

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