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ב"ה

Weekly Message

Dear Zeesy...

With Yom Kippur a few days away, I am sharing my Yom Kippur letter today! May you all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a stupendous 5783!


 

Dearest Zeesy,

I’m writing to you on Erev Shabbos Shuva 5783, with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, just a few days away. Since the day we adopted you back in 2010, Mommy and I have watched you grow up so beautifully as a Bas Yisroel, a daughter of Israel. Your poise, grace, patience, sweetness, innocence, is remarkable and noteworthy. Despite all of your challenges you greet each sunrise with a smile, a beaming face that says, “I am so happy to be alive and to live another day filled with laughter, learning and of course artsy coloring”. While others spend their life complaining, you spend yours fighting for betterment, and you fight with heartfelt gratitude.

You were gifted to the world on Shemini Atzeres, a day on which we recite these words in the Rain Prayer “Remember the twelve tribes whom You brought across the split waters; for whom You have sweetened the bitterness of the water” and that’s the story of your entire life Zisha’le, accepting G-d’s specific life plan for you and turning bitter moments into sweetness. Your go to place isn’t self-pity, isn’t self-loathing; you work hard, help others, and you know that you have something really special to offer the world. Yes, I see you, I feel you. I see how much you yearn to eat Mommy’s incredible food, I saw how excited you were when Mommy broke protocol and allowed you to eat a singular pomegranate seed and a taste of "Shehechiyanu" new fruit on Rosh Hashana, it breaks my heart to see you wanting something that Mommy and I can’t provide, yet I also see how amazingly classy you are and how you take on your challenges with stride.

In less than three weeks you will become a Bas Mitzvah, obligated to fulfill the Torah’s 613 commandments. I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that, as it stands now, you will never be able to fast on Yom Kippur. On the day when even the most unfamiliar Jew comes to Shul and fasts, you will be in Shul, you will pray, you will wear non-leather shoes, you will refrain from washing and moisturizing your beautiful face, but you won’t be able to fast. I know how much that bothers you, but I want you to know that you should be elated, as you are able to bond with G-d on Yom Kippur like almost no one else on earth.

To be sure, fasting is no small matter. It’s the Day of Atonement and Hashem expects every Jew to fast for 25+ hours. There are rare circumstances that certain people with severe medical ailments may break their fast, but generally there are no loopholes or leniencies. Yet, Zeesy, you are one of very few Jews who have special medical conditions that makes fasting for you an issue of life and death and therefore it isn’t only ok for you to eat, but when you eat you’re fulfilling a Mitzvah. With every bite you are connecting with G-d on the deepest of soul-levels.  

The great Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz in his Sefer Birchas Shmuel writes that there was a Chossid who was forced to eat on Yom Kipppur due to a medical condition and he would pronounce “Hineni Muchan Umezuman…I am herby prepared and ready to fulfill the Mitzvah of V’Chai Bohem” which is the Mitzvah in Leviticus that commands us to live and be healthy. Furthermore, the second Belzer Rebbe said about his father the Sar Shalom that when he wasn’t well and fasting on Yom Kippur wasn’t possible, he didn’t procrastinate, instead, right after Kol Nidrei he broke his fast and said that he’s fulfilling the obligation to live and ate with such joy that seemed more joyous than when he fulfilled the Mitzvos of eating Matzah on Passover and shaking the four species on Sukkos.

I know it’s so hard to be different, Zeesy, I know that so often you want to be like everyone else. Mommy and I talk so often about your courage and uniqueness, it’s so extraordinary. You want to enjoy Mommy’s delicious cooking, you want to be able to listen to louder music, you want to be able to go to summer camp for longer than ten days and you want to be able to drink a vitamin water like everyone else during our road trips. I know that you wish you could fast like Chaya and Shoshana, you’ve expressed how hard it will be for you to eat on this Holy Day and not have the Zechus, the merit, to fast like every other Bas Mitzvah, yet, I assure you my dear Zisha that G-d loves you so much, He appreciates every word of your prayers, every line of Hebrew reading and every precious Mitzvah you perform. He knows that with every bite you take on Yom Kippur you are connecting with His ultimate wish for you to live and keep making the world brighter.

I don’t know Zeesy why Hashem made you different. I don’t know why you have the one-in-a-billion genetic challenge. I pray every day that the brilliant medical researchers will find a cure for Glut-1 bringing about a miracle for you, your biological mom and all those who struggle with this ailment. I pray that one day you will get married, have a family, and show the world what your fight song sounds like, but in the meantime Zees, I know that you’re doing something for Hashem that not many get to do, which is to meet Him as He made you and give your very best to be a superhuman.

May you have a meaningful Yom Kippur. May you forgive G-d for giving you a rough life and may He give you all that you need for a year of growth, fulfillment, and lots of smiles.  

Gmar Chasima Tova!

With love, adoration and admiration,

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!!!

 

Queen Esther & Rosh Hashana!

Rosh Hashana is upon us and in fifty-eight hours we will usher in 5783. It’s always an auspicious time for us to rejuvenate, recenter, and reenergize ourselves, allowing our past inadequacies to be disregarded, our future to be infused with optimism, and to remain anchored in the present moment. It’s the Day of Judgment, it’s our trial, where G-d will assess if we are deserving of a sweet year and I, as a loyal rabbi and spiritual defense attorney, am confident that indeed G-d knows who we really are and knows we are worthy of His mercy and will welcome us back into His home.

I was thinking about this on Tuesday when our Shul was host to a discussion with Diane Nilan of Hear US and activist Pat LaMarche to discuss childhood and teenage homelessness in our country and in our local Bozeman community. It’s heartbreaking to realize that there are teenagers, elementary age kids, even toddlers who go home to their parents’ car every night or perhaps live with unhealthy relatives or worse. Every American child should have a place to call home and we must ask ourselves how is it that our children’s classmates don’t have the basic security of shelter? I’ve always cared for the homeless but homeless kids? That’s unfathomable and wrong.  

I read a Chassidic anecdote about Reb Yosef of Yampala (Yampil, Ukraine) who would be the “Makri”, the pointer in Shul on Rosh Hashana, directing the one blowing the Shofar to the individual blast order in the prayer book. Before he’d begin he would commence with a verse from the Scroll of Esther, normally read on Purim, “ And it came to pass when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, that she won favor in his eyes, and the king extended to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand, and Esther approached and touched the end of the scepter” and with that the Shofar blasts would begin.

Why bring Purim into Rosh Hashana? It seems odd. Yet, there was deep meaning here:

The King is G-d, the Jews are the queen. We married at Sinai, got a Ketubah which is the Torah, and though we have ups and downs, the King never forgets His bride, He never forgets His vows, and when we stand at His inner chamber seeking to enter, He extends His scepter and brings us in to His place of joy and happiness. Like a loving spouse, He chooses to forget that He was upset at us for our mistakes and says, “forgiveness is welcome”. Rosh Hashana is not a time for depression or sadness, we don’t need to give up or check out, we don’t need to be scared to “face the music” in Shul, we just need to show up and say, “Dear Heavenly Father, I have sinned, we have sinned, I recognize that, and want to come home, please allow me back”.

Rosh Hashana is our reminder that as Jews we do have a real home. No matter where we’ve journeyed, no matter where we’ve lost our way, no matter how many nights we’ve slept in the car or on the streets, we can come home with an inner cry to Hashem, an inner Shofar blast, informing Him that we want in, we want to do better and that we want spirituality to be active in our challenging lives. Yes, we are scattered and busy, yes, we are overworked and underpaid, but no, we don’t want to lose the most cherished relationship of all, the one with our Creator. G-d isn’t always happy with us, no parent is always happy with their kids, but every healthy parent wants to stay in touch and have their child come home when they are ready. G-d is no different, so knock on His door and He will undoubtedly welcome you, His bride, home and celebrate you with romance and kindness, ushering in a New Year of love, commitment, and lots of catching up.

Don’t miss your court date, the Judge has a bias and it’s for you! Shana Tova!

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!!!

Menny & Chaya were sad!

Earlier this week, we partnered with the MSU Leadership Institute and brought an awe-inspiring film “Three Minutes – A Lengthening” to the Procrastinator Theater. During the Q&A panel at which I presented together with Marnie from the JSA, we discussed aspects of the film that spoke to our hearts. To me, seeing the Shtetel in color, in 1938, gave me goosebumps, thinking of my Zayde Shimon’s childhood in Poland from his birth in 1926 until his escape. I was gratified that Chaya and Menny watched the film beside me, despite moments of deep sadness; they need to know.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Savo, we read about Bikkurim, the gift of first fruit. When a Jew brings those precious fruits to the Temple and gives them to the priest, he proclaims “ an Aramean sought to destroy my forefather, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned…and there, he became a great, mighty, and numerous nation. and the Egyptians treated us cruelly and afflicted us, and they imposed hard labor upon us. So we cried out to the Lord... And the Lord brought us out from Egypt with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm...And He brought us to this place, and He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the ground which you, O Lord, have given to me."

This awareness is crucial. 

It’s hard to appreciate our life’s blessings, if not placed in the context of what came before us, both collectively and individually. I got a bit uncomfortable for Menny to hear about the trains to the death camps, but if I don’t teach him, who will? if he doesn’t know, he won’t appreciate the freedom, that we take so often for granted. Wearing a Yarmulke has more meaning when you know we couldn’t always do that with ease. Keeping Kosher is super special when we realize how Jews starved just eighty years ago. Modesty is meaningful when you see the same modesty observed in a film from 1938. History is being forgotten by too many and it’s on us to ensure it’s remembered.

Thank you Hashem!

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!!!

Lost and Found!

Five kids, two dogs, an open home, a phone that never stops buzzing; not a recipe for quiet. On Tuesday, I wanted to catch up on my Talmud studies, so I turned on “Do Not Disturb”, left my phone upstairs, and spent 45 minutes engrossed in unadulterated Torah wisdom in the tractate of Kesubos. It was so nice, so tranquil, so soul-calming, I hope to choose more and more moments of spiritual self-care, giving my soul and body what they need to be one with our Creator, giving me alone time with myself.  

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Seitzei, we read about the obligation of Hashovas Aveida, returning a lost object to its righteous owner. In Chassidic thought we are taught that the obligation is not only for physical objects that are found in a public domain, but it’s spiritual as well, giving back to our fellow Jew that which is rightfully theirs, their soulful connection with G-d that may have been misplaced. When I read this teaching from the Belzer Rav, I couldn’t help but ponder how this applies to us too. When we feel lost, when we can’t find ourselves, it’s obligatory to lift ourselves up, taking the time to bring ourselves back home and to celebrate the lost self that has finally been found.

During the month of Elul, all through the holiday of Sukkos, we recite Psalm 27 twice a day. In it, King David expresses his inner yearning “One thing I ask of the Lord, that I seek-that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to see the pleasantness of the Lord and to visit His Temple every morning.” He wasn’t seeking another “like” or “share”, he wasn’t pursuing “popularity”, he wasn’t even hoping for a “reward” for his holy wars on behalf of Hashem, he just wanted to have some time with G-d. He sought for his soul to feel at peace with its Creator, and this is a wish, I believe, we can all relate to, big time.

Dear G-d, I’m coming home, please don’t ever let go of me!

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 cop who pulled me over!

Yesterday, I enjoyed lecturing at UM Western in Dillon for a class of future teachers, eager to get a crash course on Jews and Jewish life. As I headed up Highway 41 from Dillon to Twin Bridges, while on the phone with Chavie, I lost track of my speed and saw a Beaverhead County Sheriff’s Deputy put on his lights and make a U-turn. I knew it was me, so I immediately pulled over. He told me that I was doing 80 in a 70 zone; he knew the professor for whom I lecture, he loved the Vikings sticker on my car, and he was grateful for my “ministering”. He checked me out, let me off with a gracious warning, and I cruised on 70 all the way until I hit the I-90.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, we read about the laws of war. We are commanded that “When you approach a city to wage war against it, you shall make a peaceful proposal to it”. Reading this got me thinking about the message that Hashem is sending: Our initial response mustn’t be an attack. War can always be done later if needed, so why not start off on a good note, giving those we encounter the benefit of the doubt and not assume the worst in humanity. It’s so easy to judge people based on preconceptions or even based on something you’re seeing them do in the moment, like speeding, but without knowing the bigger picture. Yet, if we pause and say “is this really the whole story? Is there more? Is this a person who is doing good for society and is rushing to pick up his kids from school? Perhaps he doesn’t need a ticket in his life or points on his record right now?”.

People are genuinely good. It’s universal. Russians aren’t drunks, Frenches aren’t immodest, Jews aren’t cheap, Israelis aren’t rude, rural Americans aren’t ignorant, Muslims aren’t murderers, cops aren’t racists, and New Yorkers aren’t all loud. We need to stop labeling, we must stop seeing people as “guilty until proven innocent”, but rather we should see individuals for who they are, seeing the good in them, giving them the benefit of the doubt and always trying to resolve situations peacefully instead of forcefully. As someone wise once said “Don’t let people pull you into their storm. Pull them into your peace”.

Cowards attack; people with strength seek peace!

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!!!

Shrimp on the Clark Fork River!

Before sailing into another school year, Chavie and I took the kids for some family time, spending four days on a farm South of Hamilton. We woke each morning to milk the goats, feed the chickens, collect the eggs, inspect the beehives, drink crystal water, and enjoy the view of the Bitterroot Mountains, including a spectacular evening lightening show. In addition, we swam in Lake Como, enjoyed dinner on the Frenchtown Pond, boated on Flathead Lake, celebrated Menny Wolf’s Upshernish in Kalispell, and rafted on the Clark Fork River between Tarkio and Superior. Our guide Cy was a super intelligent eighteen-year-old who taught us a lot about his Hindu heritage, and we taught him a lot about Kosher.

It was delightful.

In this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, we read about Kosher fish, birds, and domesticated animals. We are Jews and G-d says, “For you are a holy people to the Lord, your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a treasured people for Him”. Jews have a food code that includes salmon and ribeye, duck and halibut and of course almost everything that grows in the ground, but it doesn’t include shrimp, oysters, lobsters, crabs, squid, bacon, hunted game, cheeseburgers and bear meat. Yes, my friend Cy told me that he’s eaten bear and went on to explain to me how it tastes. Human beings can’t decide which foods are good for our souls and which aren’t. We have a guide from G-d that instructs us how to eat spiritually to attain holiness.  

Humanity respects those who are bold. We appreciate vegans and vegetarians who stand on principle, we salute Muslims who eat Halal and Hindus who don’t eat beef, we admire those who farm their own food and won’t eat food that is transported three thousand miles via gas-guzzler trucks, and I assure you, based on my many years of experience, that not only is Hashem happy when we eat Kosher, but the world stands in awe of those who choose a relationship with G-d over convenience. “I’m not Kosher” is a Jewish excuse for not taking some steps towards incorporating Kosher eating habits. Just because your chicken isn’t Kosher, doesn’t mean you should eat shrimp, it’s not all or nothing.

Eat like your soul depends on 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!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's not old-fashioned!

A Bris is such a powerful covenant, yet the cry of the baby can be so distressing. A father and mother who were gifted with a newborn son are asked by G-d to have that child circumcised at eight-days-old. This week our Shul merited a Bris. Rabbi Nachman Kreiman, a Mohel from Los Angeles, flew to Bozeman to circumcise the newborn son of Nate and Rachel, a wonderful young couple in our community. It wasn’t a forty-five-minute surgery with anesthesia, but rather a ninety second holy Mitzvah connecting Zev Michoel with three millennia of Torah observance and Abrahamic tradition. What a fortunate baby.

In this week’s Torah portion, Eikev, we read about the secularization of society and the red flags that flash when a nation is heading in the wrong direction. “Beware” says the Torah, “that you do not forget the Lord, your God, by not keeping His commandments…Lest you eat and be sated, and build good houses and dwell therein, and your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold increase…and your heart grows haughty, and you forget the Lord, your God, Who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage”. When we are blessed with an abundance and living in the “land of the free”, we can’t forget who blessed us. We would be wise to do what G-d asks of us, even if we need to cry a bit, or hear our baby cry, in the process. Remembering G-d in the good times, keeps the good times coming.  

I stand in awe of parents like Nate and Rachel. They could’ve easily joined the “hip” bandwagon of those who dismiss tradition and find new-age options for “doing Judaism”. Who could even judge a young couple for making a choice that fits with the modern philosophies and gets them more brownie points in today’s “highfalutin” circles? Yet, they made the choice thinking of only one thing: Their child’s relationship with G-d, those who came before him, those who lived and died as Jews in the European Shtetel and the North African villages, and doing right because it’s right, no questions asked. It may not always be convenient to do the right thing, but it sure feels good on the inside, where our soul talks to our heart and mind and shows us inner clarity.

G-d isn’t old-fashioned, and paganism isn’t a modern-day invention!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Say no to numbing!

Earlier this week, I was working through some inner emotions that were bogging me down. It was nothing earth shattering or life altering, just some “inner stuff” that has been kept locked away for a very long time in the recesses of my heart and were starting to surface. It wasn’t easy to talk about them with Chavie, I am a guy, and we don’t like to talk about feelings, and, truthfully, I’ve never really tried before, but it really felt good to stop talking about the periphery, the externalities, and get to the bottom of something I feel, as hard as it may be to do that.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va’eschanan, we read the Shema, in which we are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might”. If we are constantly suppressing how we feel and why we feel that way, do we really think loving Hashem is even a remote possibility? We want to create healthy emotions guided by our meditations and intellectual pursuit of G-dly ideals, but can we do that when we quash any attempt at feeling? In the words of Brene Brown “We cannot selectively numb emotion. If we numb the dark, we numb the light. If we take the edge off pain and discomfort, we are, by default, taking the edge off joy, love, belonging, and the other emotions that give meaning to our lives.”

In Tanya this week we read the words of the Alter Rebbe instructing his Chassidim to behave humbly and not with haughtiness, telling them that they are “to subdue your spirit and heart before everyone according to the attribute of truth unto Jacob”. The 4th Rebbe, Reb Shmuel, said that “if the Alter Rebbe had not inserted the three Hebrew words that mean ‘according to the attribute of truth unto Jacob’, he would have had another 50,000 disciples, but the Alter Rebbe demands truth”. We need to be true to ourselves, working through the sunny days and muddy waters, and when we do the work, we are in sync with our inner self, allowing us to be better human beings and better servants of our Creator.

Feeling can hurt, but quashing is deadly! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!!!

Four words that warmed my heart!

On Sunday evening, Chaya and I boarded a flight from LaGuardia to Detroit to pick up Menny from his amazing summer camp in Tustin, Michigan. An observant looking Jew, and what seemed like his mother, sat down in the row in front of us, upon takeoff he recited the “Traveler's Prayer” loud and clear, and in no-time we were beginning our descent into DTW. Upon landing, waiting for the plane door to open, we chitchatted about possibilities for a morning prayer Minyan near the airport, and when hearing that I was from Montana and Shlepping cross country to pick up the kids from camp, he said “you’re an amazing father”, which warmed my heart.

What didn’t I know about my fellow passenger Elie?

This Shabbos is the 9th of Av and beginning Shabbos (Saturday) evening we will begin a 24-plus hour fast to mourn the destruction of both of our Holy Temple’s in Jerusalem. The second Temple was destroyed in 69 CE, and we are told it was due to Jewish infighting and lots of “reasonless hatred”. I once read that the meaning of “reasonless” is that when we hate on the “other”, even though it will hurt us even more than it hurts them, and yet we won’t give up on hating, it’s “reasonless”, it’s illogical, and must be eradicated. The antidote to that is “reasonless love”, loving someone even if it means giving up on something we really enjoy, so in a sense loving them more than we love ourselves.

When I tracked down Elie via a LinkedIn friend, we had a warm, heartfelt phone conversation. It turns out that Elie’s nine-year-old daughter passed away six weeks ago after battling Leukemia for almost five years. He told me that she always made people feel good, showering them with anything complimentary that would uplift them, and Elie resolved to do the same in her memory. So, when he saw me, beaten from the travel, he said something simple “you’re an amazing father”, which made my day, my week, and really hit the spot deep in my heart. An Act of reasonless love, no strings attached, makes a real difference, and makes our world a more loving place worthy of a third Holy Temple.

Let’s do our part and make it happen!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ignore tomorrow!

Yesterday, just a few hours before the sun set and we ushered in the month of Menachem-Av and the nine-days of mourning leading to Tisha B’Av, I had the great honor of officiating at the wedding of Nate and Rachel, a beloved couple in our growing community, who have, in the sixteen months since we’ve met, become very dear friends. There was something so pure, so pristine, so beautiful about the ceremony. I will share with y’all what I shared with them under the Chuppah, just before Nate broke the glass, recognizing the absence of our Holy Temple:

This week we read two Torah portions, Matos and Massei, wrapping up the Book of Numbers. In Matos we read about vows, the power of verbal commitments and their potential nullification. In Massei we read about the forty-two journeys, locations at which Jewry resided while in the desert, en-route to Israel. At each place, even if only spending the night, they would erect the Tabernacle in all its glory. It represented the stability that is needed in life that guides us to focus on the “now”, living life in the present. Ignoring today and its value because of our excitement or anxiety about tomorrow is illogical, unhealthy and unholy.

My wish for the bride and groom, is really a wish for all those seeking a “G-d inspired” relationship, including me and Chavie, and that is to have the “Matos”, the unwavering commitment to each other through thick and thin, and the “Massei”, the journey that is anchored in remaining focused on the gift that is before us now. Internalizing these combined values creates a sacred, successful, union, and helps inch our world closer to celebrate the ultimate union, the wedding we all await, that of G-d and His people, in the holy city of Jerusalem, when mourning will be substituted with joy and gladness.

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift.

That is why it is called the present!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 good care of yourself!

With Chaya in Sweden, Menny in Michigan, Zeesy in New York and Shoshana in California, Chavie and I took our almost-five-year-old “baby” Chana Laya and spent four nights on the north shore of Lake Superior, Minnesota. It was refreshing, adventurous, gorgeous, and fun, and it’s important for couples to find the time to get away, even it means a little kiddo comes along. I still stayed on top of my never-ending workload, I still had an occasional stressful moment, but overall, it was relaxing and healthy for us to just be.

In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, we read about Shabbos and the Jewish holidays, and the offerings associated with each of them. It’s fascinating that Judaism has so many days associated with rest and “holding back” from creativity and “work”. These holy days aren’t just about leaving the mundane, but about entering a state of “service”, bringing “offerings” to G-d, which is really just a form of spiritual fulfillment for each of us. It's an opportune time for us to tap into our depth and spend time focusing on that which really matters.

In his book “The gift of rest”, Joe Lieberman writes that “G-d gave us the Sabbath as a gift, and He meant for us to enjoy it. We begin the holy day with darkness so that we can more fully appreciate the light of the Sabbath day when it dawns.”. We all need downtime, but not downtime to do nothing and tune-out, but rather downtime to tune-in to our souls, our emotions, our psyche and to why we are blessed to live on G-d’s green earth. In one of the wilderness cabins at which we stayed, there was a cellphone lockbox that said, “For a true escape, forget your phone inside”. We all need breathers and sooner is always better than later. 

 

Taking care of ourselves, ensures we can take care of others!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carrots, not sticks!

Wednesday morning, before sunrise, I brought Zeesy and her beloved counselor Shana to the Bozeman Airport to send them off to Camp Simcha, a camp for children with special needs, where Zeesy will spend two weeks being wined and dined with boundless joy and fun. I approached the Delta agents, who know me well, and told them that Zeesy was off to a special needs camp, and it would be super nice, if they have the seats, to upgrade her and Shana to business. 30 minutes later Shana sent me a picture of them both sitting up front with smiles from ear to ear.

In this week’s Torah portion, Balak, we read about haters coming together to spew negativity against the Jews. Yes, Balaam didn’t succeed, because as a prophet he had no choice but to follow G-d’s will, but he certainly tried to use his G-d given powers to bring down a nation that he disliked. I think it’s so unfortunate to live in this beautiful world and spend time, precious time, messing with G-d’s other children and belittling them in any way. Each human being is considered G-d’s only child, perhaps His special needs child, and it’s a gift to be like those Delta agents and see that specialness and do something about it.

On Tuesday my buddy in New York was having an issue with the building department in his village. Before he brought in the big guns, the threats and attorney letters, I told him to try the carrot before the stick. He called me later that evening and was delighted to share that he met with the head of the building department, and it went super well. He couldn’t believe it; he always thought you must be the tough cookie, but it turns out that a bit of Mentchlechkait, humanity, goes a long way. The Torah reminds us that almost everyone appreciates blessings and good words and almost no one likes a Balaam or Balak who spend their life mistreating G-d’s children.

Don’t be Balaam; be a Delta agent! 

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!!!

Love from Helsinki!

On Monday, I arrived at JFK Airport to escort Chaya onto her flight to Europe. She flew as an Unaccompanied Minor; I was just there to sign the paperwork and hug her goodbye. She is spending the month of July in Finland and Sweden with fellow Lubavitch girls, where she will enjoy time with her classmates from the Jewish online school and, I’m sure, making new friends. I was delighted to meet the Finnair team, from the check-in staff to the flight attendants, gate agents to the pilots, they all made me feel like “we’ve got this” and did their best to minimize Chaya’s anxiety about flying alone. They exuded kindness, and it went a long way.

In this week’s Torah portion, Chukas, we read about Moses leading Jewry towards the Promised Land. As they traversed the Transjordan, they were refused passage by various nations for no good reason. The Jews had pledged to purchase their water from the locals, eat their own food, stick to the road without deviating left or right; all they wanted was the right to cross the territory by foot. In Jewish law there is an idea of “Zeh Nehene, Vezeh Lo Chaser” meaning “One person benefits and the other person doesn’t lose anything as a result”. The Edomites, Emorites, Bashanites and the rest of them had nothing to lose, nada, and it would be so helpful to the Jews, yet they couldn’t find the kindness within their hearts to allow them through.

One of the three traits that the Talmud attributes to the Jews is that we are “merciful”. One can’t be Torah observant and cruel, it’s impossible and a contradiction in terms. Cruelty and kindness don’t dwell together. When we are younger, we can, sadly, believe that our religious principles are more important than basic humanity, genuine kindness, but it’s an absolute falsehood. My Rebbe, whose resting place I visited on Sunday, always lived by this ideal: Religion and kindness are always in sync, and when viciousness is on display one can be certain that Torah values are nowhere in the vicinity.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Praying on the Piano Bench!

Tonight, the world will commemorate the 28th Yahrtzait of our dear Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson of blessed memory. Every day, whether at sunrise when I study in the dining room or during meetings later in the day at my office, I often look up and gaze at the photo of me and the Rebbe that hangs on the wall, captured candidly on my 9th birthday, and I yearn. I miss him. I miss his smile, his dollars, his letters, his love, and I ache for our children who never met him. I know that he’s my guardian angel, but I prefer the physical, I thirst for the one-on-one, and I’m tired of visiting his holy gravesite and would rather spend time with him in his study.

In this week’s Torah portion, Korach, we read about the rebellion of Korach and his team of rabble rousers. There are so many questions about this odd uprising and how it came about, but one thing is certain, team Korach didn’t appreciate how much they needed their Moses, how beneficial he was for them, and how a strong Moses presence in one’s life makes serving G-d more meaningful, more practical, and more spiritual. Don't misunderstand: we aren’t codependents. Moses is not our savior, he’s not our crutch; he’s our guide, our uplifter, our beacon of light when the darkness overwhelms. It is he who shows us the way up to the mountain of G-d even when we feel like we are faltering.

Twenty-eight years is a long time, it’s an eternity. I still remember the call we received from my aunt Zahava sharing with my mom that the Rebbe had fallen while praying in Queens, and we should say Tehilim, holy words of Psalms. My brother Yanky and I sat down on the piano bench and prayed with all our might. Just over two years later the Rebbe passed at the age of ninety-two. Yet, despite my longing, despite his absence, despite the void I feel in my heart, his words and writings guide our every move and inspire what we do in Montana and beyond. Friends, lift a glass tonight and say L’Chaim to our Rebbe who teaches us so much and who ensured that his ambassadors won’t rest until Mashiach is here.

Rebbe, I won’t stop until we getter done!  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Torah on Flight 441!

On Tuesday, I had the honor of officiating at a memorial service in Tucson for Michel Kouhana, a special Jew of Algerian descent, who passed away unexpectedly just over two years ago. Yet, the trip was also pumped with joy, as later in the day we completed the new Torah, dedicated by our very own Nate and Rachel in Michel’s memory, now joining our other two Torahs in Bozeman. I carried the scroll with me on my two Southwest flights back home and so many people stopped me to say something nice. From the TSA agents to airline personnel, passengers on the flights and people arriving with me into Bozeman; they didn’t mock, they respected and stood in awe.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shelach, we read about the twelve scouts that Moses sent on a reconnaissance mission to Israel. Ten of the twelve came back with a negative, unsolicited, opinion about whether they should head to Israel altogether, despite G-d’s instructions to do just that. In one statement the scouts said, what I believe, sums up the Jewish identity challenge since our founding, “There we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, descended from the giants. In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.” They felt insecure, they thought the people in Israel were too intimidating for them to take on, so they projected their insecurity onto the entire Jewish populace.

I meet Jews all day, every day. Too many of them are unsure how to share their Judaism in public spaces, whether out and about or with friends. Too many of our brothers and sisters feel like “grasshoppers” and feel like those around us are “giants” who see us as such. Kellen, the fellow behind me on line at boarding, said something to the effect of “you’re bringing a Torah to Bozeman? Are you Chabad?”. When I responded in the affirmative, he said, “my father-in-law studies with the Chabad Rabbi in Pleasanton” and we continued with a warm conversation. As Jews we don’t ever shove our faith down other people’s throats, but we shouldn’t shy away from being comfortable in our own Jewish skin, because we aren’t grasshoppers, we are children of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.

Get a grip and be comfortable being 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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