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Weekly Message

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!!!

Let's Have a Baby!

With my family away in Texas and me missing them immensely, I’ve been thinking about our experience with infertility . When encountering this unbearable challenge, Chavie and I were forced to make a choice: live a meaningful life without children or create an unconventional family by adopting children who need loving parents. For us, the thought process went something like this: just because G-d decided that biological children weren’t in the cards for us, it doesn’t mean we should resign to, what would be for us, a gloomy reality. Rather, it was clear, that Hashem in His infinite wisdom was giving us a chance to be adoptive parents. In the words of a wise woman “You may not have my eyes or smile, but from that very first moment you had my heart”.

Being challenged with infertility, doesn’t mean you need to remain infertile.

In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Eikev, we continue reading Moses’ farewell speech to Jewry. He tells them that if they adhere to G-d’s Torah, then “You shall be blessed above all peoples: There will be no sterile male or barren female among you or among your livestock.”. Its self-understood why infertility is so painful and why it’s the ultimate blessing when, in partnership with G-d, a married couple can create a family. Yet, it also teaches us a fundamental idea of Judaism: spiritual procreation. It’s incumbent on each of us, single or married, to bring new life into the world, giving birth to new light. Every day on G-d’s green earth must be infused with productivity, creativity and inspiration.

Every moment should be “fertile”.

In physical childbirth you need a father and mother, nine months of patience and once the baby is born the real work begins, as nurturing a child is a lifelong endeavor.  Similarly, when seeking to procreate light, bringing about new spirituality, we must collaborate with others, as going it alone is never easy, we must be very patient, as instant gratification is a universally accepted myth, and then we must continue to nurture and develop the light so that it doesn’t fade away. When we wake up each morning, we must ask ourselves, will I be fertile today? Will I help create goodness today? Will I be part of a miracle today? Physical infertility is something decided by G-d, but spiritual infertility is a choice we make and one we should never choose. Moses reminded Jewry that being unproductive, or even worse counterproductive, it not the Jewish way.

Let’s give birth together!

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!!!

G-d & Our Stolen Minivan!

“Life happens” and how we deal with it is what builds our character. Tuesday morning, Chavie woke up in San Antonio to discover that our fairly new minivan was stolen right out of her parents’ driveway. Car seats, stroller, topper, 100’s of DVD’s; it’s just a royal pain in the neck. It’s hard to digest this reality and it brings up feeling of anger and general distrust in humanity. Yet, we are expected to see our reality from a different lens, a holier perspective. The Talmud says that when G-d destroyed the Holy Temples in Jerusalem “He poured His wrath on to wood and stones”, instead of onto the people, and for that we are to be grateful.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va'etchanan, we read the key prayer of Judaism, the Shema. In it, G-d commands us to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your might”. Rashi explains that “with all your might” is instructing us to love G-d with whatever measure He metes out to you, whether it be the measure of good or the measure of retribution. Thus, King David says: “I will lift up the cup of salvations and I will call upon the name of the Lord” and “I found trouble and grief and I called out in the name of the Lord”. G-d is always our address, our comfort space, whether things seem to be superb or extremely challenging.

Woodrow Wilson said “If you lose your wealth, you have lost nothing; if you lose your health, you have lost something; but if you lose your character, you have lost everything.” I don’t claim to know what G-d is smoking at every moment of every day. I don’t know why our minivan was stolen or why I was chosen to spend quality time with insurance companies and the amazing team at Denny Menholt Honda in Bozeman. What I do know is that He’s been good to me and for that I am grateful. I will do my very best to remain focused, remain upbeat and remember: it’s only a car, Baruch Hashem.

With all your might, 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!!! 

La Familia!

As Yeshiva students, Tzemach and Mendel, were out visiting homes in Great Falls, Helena and throughout Northcentral Montana, I, together with my brother in law Rabbi Shneur, were up in the beautiful Flathead Valley visiting fellow Jews and Kosher supervising plants in the area. I’m asked fairly often “Rabbi, how do you seem to always find common ground with other Jews? Aren’t our people more prone to division and tribalism? Don’t we need to argue all the time?”, the answer is one word “family”. I was taught by my beloved Rebbe of blessed memory to see Jewry as family, as Michael J. Fox once wrote “Family is not an important thing. It's everything.”.

In this week’s Torah portion, Devarim, the first in the book of Deuteronomy, we read of Moses’ pre-passing reminder to his people that when they conquered the land of Israel G-d instructed them not to mess with their relatives of Edom, Moab and Amon. Although these “distant relatives” didn’t always behave like family, it didn’t matter; we always need to treat them like they are. These nations who were descendants of Esau and Lot were not close to the Jews by any stretch of the imagination, but they were progenies of Abraham and G-d expects family to have higher standards. It may be that our family members are the ones who get under our skin most, but that’s because we care about them more, and so it bothers us more, but that’s no excuse of silly fights and counterproductive divisions.  

Whether in Bigfork or in Glendive, it’s easy for us to focus on what divides us as Jews, but it’s fruitless. Brothers and sisters can debate their political opinions, discuss their childhood religious experiences, research their ancestral origins and even, recognize their dissimilar financial brackets, but fighting over these issues is not familial. La Familia, or as we call it “Mishpocho”, is a beloved organism of connected souls that must never be fragmented. When we know of a Jew in Libby or Miles City, who may need a hug or an interest-free loan, a spiritual boost or a dose of inspiration, we must step up. I don’t care how you label yourself, because “family” is the only label that ever mattered to me.  

If Esau was family, cousin Irving certainly is!

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!!! 

Wise Words of Dr. Seuss!

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain - and most fools do.” Many of us are easy to find fault with organized religion, but this week I saw a totally different side of Judaism and it was quite organized. I had the honor of attending the  AKO conference  with over one hundred rabbis who represent Kosher agencies in their respective communities. From Turkey to Sydney, Montreal to Houston, these individuals awake each morning and strive to make Kosher food available to Jewry and to ensure that the standards are 100% in accordance with the Torah’s instructions. It humbled me to be amongst such Halachic luminaries and to be able to learn from their wisdom and vast knowledge of Jewish law.

In this week’s double Torah portion, Matot-Massei, the last two in the Book of Numbers, we read about Kashering. After the Jewish people waged a fierce battle against Midian, which included killing their five kings and their evil prophet Balaam, they had lots of war spoils. Now, G-d commands the Jewish people to Kosher the food utensils and tells them exactly how to do it. If it’s a pot that’s used for water-based cooking, it’s Koshered by immersing it in boiling water. If it’s a utensil used for baking/frying without water, you must use a direct flame to Kosher it. In addition, if it was acquired from a gentile, as the Midianite vessels were, it must be immersed in a Mikvah. G-d recognized the expense of purchasing new utensils, He doesn’t like when we waste money, and so He gave us a solution for re-Koshering most items.

Once in a while I’m told “But Rabbi, I can’t keep Kosher? I can’t stop eating out? It’s too late for me.”. In truth, Kashering most dishes and utensils in your kitchen is very doable. Making separate areas for dairy and meat foods is very possible. Immersing your utensils at the Bozeman Mikvah, as so many do already, is doable. No doubt, it would be really nice if we could get a Kosher restaurant in Big Sky Country, but until then, even if you’re not ready to give up eating out, it shouldn’t stop you from making your home, your kitchen, a Kosher one. There are Kosher agencies who send Mashgichim, supervisors, at 3 AM to manufacturing plants to ensure that Kosher products are available in every grocery in America, the least we can do is show appreciation and join the 3,000 year old bandwagon and increase our Kosherness.

In the words of Dr. Seuss “Nobody said it would be easy, they just promised it would be worth it”!

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!!!

Super Mario!

As our family hit the road, making our way from Bozeman to San Antonio, for our annual summer pilgrimage, we needed to see a mechanic in Clayton, New Mexico, population 2,763. We ran over a dead deer, as there was nowhere to swerve, and a non-essential metal plate beneath the car needed to be reattached.  It was just a few hours before the 4th and Mario, the nicest fellow, saw us on 15-minutes notice. He spent 45 minutes getting the minor issue resolved. While working, I said to him “Mario, you’re teaching me the art of perseverance” to which he responded “Hey man, patience is the key to perseverance. You gotta be patient”. When he was done he said it would cost me “10 bucks”, I insisted on a generous tip for his remarkable help and for being a solid Mentsch.

In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, we read about the five daughters of Tzlafchad who understood that giving up shouldn’t be an option. It’s a novel concept. You see, many people believe it’s black or white; either you never try to change the rules, or you just go ahead and break them. The wise daughters of Tzlafchad felt that they deserved a portion in the land of Israel. They didn’t attack Moses, they didn’t ignore G-d and they didn’t fight “the system” the way Korach and the spies did. They approached Moses, they respectfully pleaded their case, Moses turned to G-d and they got their plot of land. We can work within the G-dly ordained system of Judaism to address issues that we feel need addressing, but it’s cowardly and even callous to just give up on change, or worse, making up our own rules when we don’t have that authority.

I admit (and have admitted before) there are aspects of Judaism that are challenging for me. So what? Does that mean it’s not important? Does that mean I get to make up my own religion based on my personal whims? Mario stood in the sweltering heat to get the metal plate reattached. He didn’t Kvetch, he didn’t curse, he didn’t even try to make a killing off me (which he could’ve under the circumstances); he wiped the sweat off his brow and kept going until he got it done. He didn’t say “I give up” and he didn’t decide that I need a new car; we kept the same car and he worked with it until it was in ship shape. Thank you, Mario, for teaching me that we can all persevere, but we need to be patient and work with what G-d have given us to make it work best for ourselves, our families, our communities and our world.

Tzlafchad’s girls changed the rules within the system of Judaism; the only Jewish Ism!

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!!!

Daddy, why do they hate us?

With mixed emotions, Shoshana, our soon-to-be 14-year-old, was off for the summer to Camp Emunah in Ellenville, New York; a camp that hosted my mother of blessed memory as camper and head-counselor back in the day. As the charter bus made its way along Eastern Parkway, beginning the three-hour journey to the Catskills, I thought about the many benefits of this experience. As a recent graduate of Sacajawea Middle School, Shoshana encountered her fair share of ignorant, hurtful and, sometimes even, malicious, comments about Jews. In camp, she will not only learn Torah, do Mitzvot and have a blast in a super Jewish environment, she will be in a place where everyone loves Jews and Judaism, unapologetically.   

In this week’s Torah portion, Balak, we read about the Moabite king Balak hiring the Midianite prophet Balaam to curse the Jewish people. Rashi points out that Balak said only, “and I will drive him out of the land”, but Balaam hated the Jews even more and wanted to annihilate them, not just expel them. The Rebbe explains that the Moabites obviously didn’t know that G-d had forewarned Jewry that they shouldn’t “distress the Moabites, and do not provoke them to war” and so the Moabites’ intolerable hatred was fear based. Yet, Balaam, hated the Jews, not because of fear, a previous beef or due to “Israel’s policy”; he hated Jews, just because; no reason needed.

Anti-Semitism is real and comes in many shapes and forms. We cannot be shielded from it and we need to stop looking for excuses to explain it. Sometimes there is no reason for Anti-Semitism; it’s pure unadulterated hate. So, what should we do? What can we do? We can, and should, remind ourselves and teach our children to have a healthy Jewish identity, a vast knowledge of Torah and put them, as much as possible, in environments that are conducive to Jewish growth. It’s hard, at times, to thrive as Jews when our Twitter/Facebook/Instagram feeds include plenty of Jewish hate, but if we’re healthy Jewishly, we can persevere, as have our ancestors going back to Abraham and Sarah.

Defying haters; one Jewish experience at a time!

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!!!

Blowtorch Judaism!

It was five hours of majestic driving, as I made my way to The Ranch at Rock Creek, to Kosher a kitchen for a Jewish family vacationing in Montana. I witnessed, first-hand, so much understanding and sensitivity from the head chef, ranch managers and everyone on staff, as they worked overtime to accommodate the needs of their Kosher client. They saw it as an honor and a learning experience, not a burden placed on them by those “weird Jews”. As I made my way home along the spectacular Georgetown Lake, I stopped at a gas station in Anaconda and experienced the same thing: respect and decency to a, potentially, odd looking man with a Yarmulke, beard and Tzitit.

In this week’s Torah portion, Chukat, we read about Moses’ colossal mistake when he hit the rock instead of speaking to it as commanded. It cost him and his older brother Aaron their entry visa to Israel and to paraphrase our Creator “you missed a super opportunity to sanctify my name”. Every moment on earth, each of us is trusted to bring honor to Hashem and to make G-d beloved to the masses. We were hired to be G-d’s PR team, to ensure He looks good, yet that is very hard to accomplish, when hiding our relationship with Him and His Torah. We assume that “the resort of our choice” won’t be able to handle our Kosher needs, will think it’s a bit crazy or won’t deal with a rabbi that shows up with a blowtorch, hot water kettle and a lot of Chutzpah; but in truth, they will be comfortable with it, if we are.

It’s the sanctification idea that leads the Jewish people, later in the Parsha, to make a peace offer to the nation of Sichon. When we are on a mission to make G-d beloved in the world, the natural course is to seek peace first. Sadly, the Emorites didn’t accept the offer, but that was their unfortunate choice. We need to reflect the Divine in all our endeavors, 24/7. We must approach all aspects of life from a G-dly place and then hope that the world sees the depth of what we’re expressing. I’m no fool (at least I don’t think so), I know there are scoffers, even Jewish ones, out there and occasionally we run into one of them, as they belittle our way of life. Yet, 99% of the time, humanity respects those who respect themselves.

Kiddush Hashem; the only Jewish way!

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!!!

Dear Rebbe...

Dear Rebbe,

I’m writing to you just hours before I, together with countless around the globe, begin commemorating your Yahrtzait, the 24th anniversary since your passing. I grew up in your neighborhood and had the distinct honor of meeting you, face to face, so many times. You guided my parents how to raise me, you guided me into community service and you gave me a perspective on life that only you could.

I remember when my aunt Zahava - whose husband Yossi was a volunteer EMT that rushed to the scene - called to tell us that you suffered a stroke while praying at your father-in-laws resting place. I recall the two years of anguish, as you suffered, and we prayed for your recovery. I remember sitting at Beth Israel Hospital with my Bubbe Esther, a woman who adored you, as we both read Psalms in your honor.  You wanted Mashiach to come, you worked so hard to make it happen in your lifetime and, at the time, we couldn’t think of a better candidate that G-d should choose for the mission of redeeming His people from exile and bringing us back home to Israel.

I remember my parents waking me at approximately 5:00 AM on that bitter Sunday morning of June 12, 1994. I saw their face, I knew the worst had happen. You left us bereaved, brokenhearted and, I’d venture to say, even hopeless. I walked by your office, trembling, as I saw you, my favorite superhero, wrapped in a Talis as I asked you for the traditional forgiveness for the things I may have done to disrespect you. I stood on the 4th floor of 770 Eastern Parkway and watched from the fire escape as your coffin began its journey to old montefiore cemetery in Queens.

I’ve missed you every day since.

I spent the next 12 years studying your wise teachings, your rigid, yet non-judgmental, perspective and spending hundreds of hours in thought, internalization and Farbrengen, Shabbos after Shabbos, near your resting place. I came to visit with you at every major junction in my life: before marriage, before medical procedures, before infertility treatment, before adoptions, before buying a new property for our soon-to-be-built Center for Jewish Life and Learning. I turn to you when things are good but also when they are unbearable. You are my anchor and I know that you are listening.

Chavie and I moved to Bozeman thirteen years after your passing and we’ve never looked back. It is an honor to serve as your emissary to bring the authentic light of Judaism to Big Sky Country. I know that, at times, people are puzzled about my obsession with you, but they shouldn’t be. You’re such a good teacher, such an amazing mentor, such a beloved father-figure that I think it makes perfect sense. You never asked me verbally to move to Montana, but I know that you’re smiling as Yiddishkait makes a strong comeback in the Treasure State with two, soon to be three, Chabad centers.

I wish you were alive to answer my questions directly, I wish you could look into my eyes and give me that priceless dollar to keep me going and oh how I wish my children could meet you. Yet, Rebbe, I want you to know, that despite my yearning for your physical presence, you’re way bigger than a physical smile and way larger than a swing of the arm. You’ve gifted our family with spiritual structure, unadulterated love for humanity and inner courage to get through anything that life throws at us. I try to live up to your standards and to represent you as best as I can, it’s not always easy and I don’t always succeed, but I do try.

I’m going to spend the weekend near you in Queens where I will pray, Farbreng, study and get reconnected. Reconnected to you and your legacy of love, to inspire every human being in Montana with the light of Hashem and His beloved Torah. I await the moment that you rejoin us, along with my beloved mom, when your lifelong dream becomes a reality as Mashiach will come and we will celebrate in Jerusalem!

I know you have my back Rebbe, I hope to have yours.

Your grateful student,

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!!!

Take a Hike!

A few weeks back, my father-in-law called me, and kinda freaked me out. He reminded me that he’s still in the year of mourning for his dad, Professor Irving Block, and will need at least one Minyan per day so he could say Kaddish while in Bozeman. I knew it was possible but didn’t think it was probable. Yet, with LOTS of Nudging we pulled it off, as 26 different guys came together Friday through Monday to make it happen. It reminded me something vital: No challenge is insurmountable, no obstacle too hard to overcome and nothing, truly nothing, is impossible for a person to achieve when they are determined and devoted to making it work.

In this week’s fascinating Torah portion, Shlach, we read about Moses’ spies sent on a reconnaissance mission to scout out the Holy Land. With Joshua and Caleb in the righteous minority, the ten other spies reported back that the Holy Land is unconquerable. Its people are mighty, its cities are super fortified, and its fruit are enormous and super natural. They acted like an amateur hiker looking up at the Absaroka Range or like me looking at the mighty “M” in Bozeman and saying, “Hell no, I will never be able to climb that trail”. Except that the spies - like me and all the amateur hikers - were wrong. One time, a wagon got stuck in the mud, and the gentile driver asked the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov for help. The disciples replied: “We’re sorry, but we aren’t strong enough to lift it.” The man replied: “You can, but you don’t want to.”

Being a realist is not a bad thing and it was no mistake for the spies to see the real challenges that existed. Yet, they made a very wrong turn, when their realism turned into pessimism. I struggle in this regard: I love when I’m in control, I love when things go my way and I can’t stand it, it makes my blood boil, when it doesn’t. Yet, I am working on myself, working through my emotions, my feelings, to recognize that which Chassidism has tried to teach me all along: Ignoring the challenges before us is delusional; seeing them, acknowledging them, and then unleashing our inner reservoirs of courage to take them head on, is a very Jewish thing. Caleb and Joshua did it, so can we.

Don’t limit your challenges, challenge your limits!

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!!!

City of Saints!

Last night, along with my colleagues from our Mountain West region, I had the honor of celebrating 25 years of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah and saluting its founders Rabbi Benny & Sharonne Zippel. In 1992, one day before his debilitating stroke, the Rebbe of blessed memory sent the Zippel’s to Salt Lake City, where they opened Chabad’s first center in the Wild West. Benny and Sharonne are authentic, so dedicated and have enormous hearts; I cherish our friendship. Personally, Benny is my role model, he walks the walk and never forgets what its all about, not big budgets and glamorous cocktails, but laying Tefillin, affixing Mezuzot and inspiring souls in Mormon Country.

In this week’s Torah portion, Behaalotecha, we read about the kindling of the Tabernacle’s Menorah by the Aaronic priestly family. Historically, a lamplighter would walk the streets at night, carrying a flame at the end of a pole , going from lamp to lamp  to set them alight. Whether the lamp was in a desolate desert or out at sea where one must dive into the water to reach the lamps, the lamplighters job is to light it, no matter the conditions. Rabbi Sholom Dovber, the 5th Chabad Rebbe, taught that a Chassid is to be a lamplighter; knowing how to find the Jewish lamps, the Jewish souls, and utilizing the long reach of the spiritual pole to ignite them.  Like in the Tabernacle, lighting lamps must be done by those who are like Aaron, full of kindness, seeing the good in everyone and seeking peace.

Benny and Sharonne are lamplighters. They’ve walked through the darkness - before the social media age -  when no one, but G-d, noticed, they’ve illuminated the desert when so many thought it was impossible, and they never forget the mission, brightening the Beehive State. As buddies, Benny and I commiserate with each other, but three things always remain the same: 1) We recognize that without our respective wives we would’ve never made it this far. 2) No matter what the challenge that we are dealing with at a particular moment, we cherish our children and love them unconditionally 3) We know how privileged we are to be in service of the Jewish people and living the loving legacy of our mentor Rabbi Menachem Schneerson.

Salt Lake City is known as City of the Saints; I know why!

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!!!

Role Playing!

The Sushi, Blintzes and Cheesecake were thoroughly enjoyed by the seventy-five souls who attended the Shavuot celebration. Our hearts were warmed by the morning Minyan’s all three days. Heaven was smiling when on Shabbos morning our quorum included a 14-year-old teenager from Sacajawea and a 92-year-old WW2 vet Davening together. Yet, the most memorable part of the holiday for me, was spending time with my Aba, as the kids call him “Zayde”, and his wife Leah. They are so much fun, so thoughtful and so energetic. We had many great conversations, including one about child rearing and things we could’ve both done/do better.

In this week’s Torah portion, Naso, we continue the conversation about the role each Levite family played in the Tabernacle. Levi had three sons, and each had a form of service:  The clan of Gershon was charged with the curtains of the Tabernacle and the veils of the enclosure; the clan of Merari was charged with the walls of the Tabernacle and the pillars of the enclosure; and the clan of Kehot carried the vessels used in the Tabernacle and the screen. Kehot, who was the middle brother, was given the most prestigious responsibility, yet, they all accepted G-d’s vision regarding service, encampment and prestige. We do ourselves a disservice when taking down the G-d given roles. Later, Korach tries just that and it fails miserably.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”. He was right. Every morning a new movement is invented to tell the Jew (and every other group on earth) what is in fashion, what is outdated, what parts of Judaism are still ok and what can be uttered and what can’t. I know people who are even scared to share Torah ideas for fear of how “open minded” people will respond. We need to get over it and remember that G-d gave each individual, each tribe, each nation their unique role and it should be celebrated. Some days, I’d love to be a Kohen, but I am not. Some days I am sure Merari wanted to be Gershon or Kehot, too bad, he wasn’t. We don’t always get to choose; some things G-d chooses for us. 

I can sing “If I were a rich man”, but I can’t lose sleep over it if I’m not!

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!!!

 

Sinai was Romantic!

On Tuesday, Chavie hosted a wonderful pre-Shavuot women’s event at Labellum Flower Boutique, where they learned how to make their very own flower arrangements. It’s important: 3,330 years ago at the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, G-d beautified the mountain with a wide array of flowers. To commemorate that special moment, we beautify our homes and Synagogues with flowers of all sorts during the two-day Festival of Weeks, Shavuot.

Why flowers? Does G-d need flowers to make Him happy?

I believe He was sending us a subtle message about how He views our relationship with Him.

Too often I chat with fellow Jews who are, genuinely, trying to understand Torah based on the premise that secular thought is absolute truth. We need to switch that around: Torah is not an archaic set of rules, but rather a flowery wisdom that is fragrant, deep, beautiful, appealing and even romantic. It’s this special document that has been kept in the family for millennia, and we, the Jewish people of the 21stcentury, have the opportunity to keep its authentic observance alive for ourselves and the future of Jewry. Let  our premise of truth be the Torah, the Sinai guidelines, and then we can utilize our intellect to match the infinite wisdom with secularism. Ask yourself "Is my kid an expert in Shakespeare?" Maybe not, but I hope that he/she is well versed in Genesis. "What do I know about Hinduism?" Not much, but I’ve got the Mishna on the laws of real estate memorized. "Did my Shtetel parents teach me Darwinism?" Not a chance, but they sure did teach me to appreciate the significance of Eretz Yisroel in Jewish observance.

Secular studies aren’t bad, but life’s foundation comes from a much higher place.

This Sunday, as you stand in Shul listening to the Big Ten, the Ten Declarations uttered by G-d (not Charlton Heston), think about what actually matters in your life. Does Hollywood gossip, D.C. politics or the Korean Peninsula matter as much as Rav Yosef’s 2nd century feelings about the novelty of Shavuot "If not for this day that allowed me to learn Torah and become spiritually exalted, how many Yosefs are there in the market", 12th century Maimonides' writing about holidays “When a person eats and drinks as part of celebrating a holiday, they are obligated to feed "the stranger, the orphan, and the widow” and the 20th century words of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe who wrote that a “ single act is better than a thousand groans. Our G d lives, and Torah and Mitzvot are eternal; quit the groaning and work hard in actual service, and G d will be gracious to you.”.

Sinai is an invaluable currency; not susceptible to market fluctuation!

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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