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Weekly Message

A Little Seichel!

After a special Shabbos at the Rebbe’s Ohel with Menny, we headed to South Texas to join Chavie and the younger girls for a Block family reunion. Though they live in San Antonio, the get-together took place in Port Aransas, near Corpus, where we spent time playing games, catching up, visiting Texas State Aquarium, hanging at the pool and having quality time together with many good laughs. Admittedly, I’m no big fan of these gatherings, but now that it’s over, I must say I loved every minute and the experience is so important for myself and Chavie, the kids and the entire family.

In this week’s Torah portion, Chukat, we read about Moses and his people, Jewry, attempting to make their way into the Holy Land via the lands of Edom and Moab. While strategically there was no logic behind their opposition to Jewish passage, they refused, because they held old vendettas from their nation’s founders, Esau and Lot. The Jews and these nations were relatives, and while they didn’t see eye to eye, they could’ve had a bit less resentment and little more Seichel and let them through. Yet, family feuds tend to fester to the point of illogical and self-destructive behavior and that’s just senseless.  

Families are complex, we don’t always see eye to eye, we don’t think alike, speak alike, or act alike, but that shouldn’t stop us from spending time together and getting over ourselves and our silly observations, opinions and misconceptions about those who are our blood. The art of “liking the people you love” isn’t always easy, but it’s the only sane way. I enjoyed our time on the Coastal Bend not because we are all the same, but because three dozen relatives, including a boat-load of first cousins, joined together to celebrate ”family”. We mustn’t make the mistake of the nations on the east side of the Jordan River; let’s resolve to end family feuds quickly, or even better, before they even start.

Choose family!

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

Dear Rebbe...

Dear Rebbe,

I can’t believe it’s been twenty-five years. A quarter of a century!!! has passed since that horrible Sunday morning, the 3rd of Tammuz, June 12th, 1994, when my parents woke me to share the news that I never thought would come. We walked by your room at 770 that morning and saw you laying on the ground covered in a Talis, we begged you for forgiveness for anything we may have done to dishonor you during your lifetime and for all of your precious time that you spent on us, we cried as we tore our garments in mourning and we went home that night battered and broken and unsure how to move forward.

Yet, twenty-five years later, I am here in Queens, where Menny, my six year old, and I, will spend Shabbos near your resting place. We Schlepped from Montana, where we serve as your ambassadors, so that we can be next to you on this day of loss; we miss you and we just want to be close. Yes, even Menny who never met you, misses you, because he sees films of you, he knows what you teach, he, and his sisters, live your goal of spreading light to Montana and even he, born nineteen years after your passing, wants that priceless dollar from your hand, not mine. I miss you too. I bask in the memories of those twelve illustrious years under your wing and my heart aches for more of that comfort, more of that light, more of that electricity.

Yet, amid my yearning, as Chavie and I wish we could call Rabbis Hodakov or Krinsky and ask them to speak to you on our behalf regarding our challenges, both personal and work related, we are not Kvetching. We are not complaining or despairing, because you continue to electrify us every day. You excite us not only through your teachings and brilliant life lessons, not only through your depth and incredible perspective, not only through our bonding at your Ohel and holding the books that you gave us close to our heart, but through your amazing Chassidim, those precious students you gifted to the world. Sure, I try my best to be one of them too, but today I’m writing about our family being on the receiving end of your disciples’ love.

It’s your student Benny who spends hundreds of hours each month caring for Jewish children, including our own Shoshana, who are in Utah getting the therapeutic care they need. It’s your students Mendy and Dinie who take families in who may be visiting Cherry Hill for medical appointments like when Chavie and Zeesy needed just that. It’s your students Yossi and Luba who with unimaginable kindness took a newborn premie baby into their home, a baby who became our baby Chaya. It’s students like Levi and Chani who, without knowing us, opened their home and hosted Menny’s Bris when we were in Baltimore for his adoption and it’s students like Ovadia and my uncle Chaim Shaul, who after adopting Chana Laya and having a full plate with five Kinderlach, have continued to guide me in the right direction and ensure my sanity.

I don’t take any of that for granted. Each one of these students, and thousands like them, electrifies me and inspires me with their love, concern and care for anyone who may be in need. Not just spiritually, but like you dear Rebbe, their care is first and foremost for the physical and material needs of those seeking their help. I know you’ve been unable to answer my calls since 1994, I know I haven’t received a personal letter from you since my Upshernish in 1984, but your students, like Joshua influenced by Moses and Elisha influenced by Elijah, allow me to see you so very often.

I await that hopeful day when we will reunite and you’ll meet Shoshana, Chaya, Zeesy, Menny, Chana Laya and of course our beloved Bozeman community, but until then, please know Rebbe dear that you’re not only a picture on peoples walls, but a Rebbe who is etched in hearts, minds and souls.

Come see us soon Rebbe; the red carpet is rolled out for you in Big Sky Country.

Your grateful student,

 

Chaim

 

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

Pessimism is easy!

While driving home from a Kosher supervision visit to Simply 406 in Polson, I received a phone call from an old friend in Lakewood, New Jersey. In our conversation, he was bemoaning the future of Judaism and how we are losing too many souls to secularization. I listened, I agreed with him that Jewry surely has its challenges, but I also explained to him why I totally disagree with him about his prognosis: every day I get to see the sacrifice that Jews, young and old, are ready to endure in order to get a Kosher chicken, in order to observe Shabbos, in order to use a Mikvah. Heck, just this past Saturday night, a woman who was on vacation with her husband in Big Sky, drove up after Shabbos, to fulfill the Mitzvah of immersing herself in the Mikvah at 12:20 AM!!

In this week’s Torah portion, Shelach, we read about the twelve scouts Moses sent on a reconnaissance mission to Israel. When they returned, ten of them reported that Israel was unconquerable, and while Caleb and Joshua disagreed, their voices were drowned out by the hysteria of the masses who refused to travel to the “terrifying land”. As they bewailed what awaited them in Israel, they said “why does the Lord bring us to this land to fall by the sword; our wives and children will be as spoils. Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?". They didn’t say “we lack trust in G-d”, “we don’t think we have what it takes” or “are we sure the spies are being objective?”; instead, they chose the “it’s all about the kids” excuse, while essentially professing their own pessimism.

In G-d’s response, He says “As for your infants, of whom you said that they will be as spoils, I will bring them there, and they will come to know the Land which You despised.” Sure, the internet is exposing innocent children, teenagers and even adults to a world of folly and coarseness, but that will not define our future. The elementary students who are explaining Mezuzah to their classmates, the middle schoolers who are teaching the story of Purim to their principal, the high schoolers who are defending Israel in hostile environments, the college students who are choosing Shabbos dinner over club hopping and the adults who each day choose charity, Torah, Tefillin, Shabbos candles and Kosher, they are the future. As Corrie Ten Boom wrote “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” 

I believe in a bright future, do you?

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

Is it worth it?

I was elated. My heart felt warm and fuzzy. Every time I popped into The Emerson this week and saw Camp Gan Israel of Bozeman rocking and rolling, it made me happy, literally.  Throughout the Spring, leading up to camp, I often wondered "Is it worth it”; it involves a lot of preparation by Chavie, a good amount of money and incredible devotion of the camp counselors Devorah, Gitty and Pessel. Yet, on Monday morning the first moment I saw the campers, I knew that it was indeed “worth it”, as no one could ever put a price on the education of a Jewish child.

This week’s Torah portion, Behaalotecha, proves it.

In it, we read about a group of Jews who were impure during the first Passover experience in the Sinai desert. Instead of conceding to their reality and accepting their exclusion from the Pascal Lamb offering, they turned to Moses and demanded a second chance. In those unforgettable words they said “Lama Nigara”, why should we be left out? Moses is unsure how proceed, so he asks G-d for a remedy to this spiritual malady and G-d gives them “The Second Passover”. G-d didn’t say “too  late”, “you missed the boat” or “make better choices”, instead he instructed Moses that one month later, the 14th of Iyar, all those who were “out to lunch” on round one of Passover, are gifted a second chance.  

It was Divine Providence that we read this during the first week of camp. You see, the souls of Bozeman Jewry demands of G-d “Lama Nigara”, why shouldn’t our children be taught about the beauty of Shabbos candles and Mezuzos? why can’t our kids learn about their birthday on the Jewish calendar? Dosen't the next generation of Jews deserve a two-week environment of Jewish pride and Kosher lunches? I’m sure, some consultant or outreach professional would recommend that Jews move to cities with stronger Jewish infrastructure, but that’s not a practical solution, as home is home, Montana is breathtaking, and Moses’ solution would’ve been: Give them a camp experience in their own backyard. When Menny wants to say something was awesome, he says “one hundred and infinity”.

The value of a Jewish kid singing “Am Yisroel Chai” is "one hundred and infinity".

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

Reality Check!

Shavuos rocked! We hosted six Minyans, ninety souls attended our various holiday meals and services, and, with my dad and his wife Leah visiting, it was a truly remarkable Yom Tov. Among our guests were three Israeli soldiers Ariel, Yakir and Asaf, who were motorcycling across America and were a pleasant addition to the community.  I had the opportunity to study with them late into Saturday night and Farbreng with them quite a bit throughout the holiday. One of the subjects we discussed was “realism” and how tough it is in our world to remain real and even optimistic during the turbulence of life’s journey.  

In this week’s Torah portion, Naso, the longest in Moses’ Five Books, we read about the Nazirite. Rashi explains that when a person witnesses the downfall of those accused of adultery which is discussed earlier in the Torah portion, he/she may decide to withdraw from the “crazy” world and seek asceticism, leading them to Nazirism.  Yet, being a Nazir does include positivity: the Nazir doesn’t drink alcohol, which is important when seeking realness, as drinking creates numbness which separates us from reality. The Nazir doesn’t cut their hair, leaving It kinda wild, as being real and true to ourselves means living for ourselves and refraining from impressing others with our good looks and well-kept appearance.  The Nazir doesn’t even become impure by contacting a deceased body, as that is an impurity that comes from something outside of ourselves and to be real we need the ability to see ourselves for who we are, without being corrupted by the outside world, or perhaps worse, using the outside world as an excuse for our personal defilement.

Being real may seem unreal.

We often use terms like “let’s be real”, “let’s get back to reality” or “in the real world”, but are those statements true? Is the “real world” indeed that superficial experience that so often disturbs our soul and challenges our wellbeing? Do we prefer that “reality” because it numbs our truth for a little bit longer? Yes, grabbing a beer after work, watching some T.V. and catching up on politics may be easier than dealing with raw emotions, sharing our deep feelings or tapping into our souls yearning for meaning, but is it just a cover up?. The Nazir reminds us to take the occasional break from the “real world” and visit with our personal realness and enjoy the peace that comes with comforting and perfecting ourselves.

In the words of Albert Einstein “Reality is merely an illusion; albeit a very persistent one”!

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

Dear G-d...

Dear G-d,

I’m writing to You just hours before we commence the three days of holiness, starting with Shabbat and continuing with Shavuot. I want to take a moment to thank You for Your Torah. In a world plagued by superficiality and coarseness, the Torah is my anchor of light, my walking stick when I feel spirituality blind and a source of deep comfort to me in those most challenging moments, that You’ve gifted to me, for reasons only known to You.

Yet, today I write to ask for a favor. I need Your help with a matter close to my heart related to those dearest to me, my beloved children, Shoshana, Chaya, Zeesy, Menny and Chana Laya.

Every morning when I awake, I say a prayer called “Vehaarev Na”. In it, I ask of You “Please G-d, our Lord, make the words of the Torah sweet in our mouths, and in the mouths of all Your people, the House of Israel”. This part of the prayer speaks to me and I often see results. There are days that, with Your help, I merit to have great joy in the study of Torah, mystical and historical, biblical and homiletical, rabbinic and Jewish customs. I sit in my library and bask in the sweetness that is imbedded in every facet of this incredible system of life called Torah. With visitors to Yellowstone and locals, I have the great privilege of discussing Jewish thought and enjoy it immensely, as we debate heatedly the meaning of Your Holy words.  

I was blessed to grow up with teachers who role modeled for me a love for Torah. Rabbis Burston, Zeiler, Zalmanov & Twersky showed me, each in their own unique way, that Torah is truly the best product known to man. In addition, studying with my Zayde Shimon every Shabbos, as we enjoyed a French Toseftist commentary on Talmud or a Kotzker thought on the Parsha lifted my spirit. My dad, after a long day of work in the city, coming home to test me on how many Mishnas I memorized by heart, are the childhood moments that remain etched in my mind and heart.

It’s the second half of that morning prayer with which I need more of Your help, dear G-d.

We say “May we and our offspring, and the offspring of Your entire people, the House of Israel, all know Your name, and study Your Torah for its own sake”. I truly Daven, G-d, that my children not only study Torah “because that’s what we Jews do”, that they not only appreciate the depth that is at the core of each verse of Moses’ Five Books, but that they experience “Vehaarev Na”; they see Torah as attractive and soothing, stimulating and heartwarming, gut-wrenching and soul calming, seeing it as sweet as sugar.

It’s not easy, as the competition to Torah is loud and seductive. Secularism works overtime to make our children think that promiscuity is better than Kuzari, that partying in Cancun is better than a dose of Abarbenel and that social media can bring meaning and friendship to one’s life. We need to fight back. Let’s make Torah woke again. It should be the “in” thing and at least, my children, should see that Chavie and I don’t see Torah as an afterthought or burden, but as a gift from Hashem to make life worth living.

G-d, I pledge to do my part with the Kinderlach You entrusted with me, but please do Yours, that the Bruk children of Bozeman, and all Jewish children the world over, should merit to choose Moses over Bieber, Sinai over Hollywood, and let us all say Amen.

With gratitude for our chosenness.

Your Montana salesman,

Chaim

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

Vulnerability Rocks!

While chatting with my friend Lance, a native Salish Kootenai tribesman, he shared with me the words that his grandma would always ask him. She’d say, “ Stem a Spus ”, which translates in English to “What’s in your heart”. It’s a question that cuts through all the superficial wreckage that clouds our essence and allows us to dig deep and share what’s on our mind and, perhaps more importantly, what’s churning in our hearts. It’s more than the unintentional “How are you?”, “How’s it going?” or “What’s cooking?”; it’s soul-talk, vulnerability talk, and that is something we could all use a dose of, at least every once in a while.

In this week’s Torah portion, Bechukotai, the last of Leviticus, we read about the consequences that will engulf Jewry, when they choose to neglect G-d’s wishes, following an idolatrous and immoral path, choosing frivolity over holiness. Many Jews fear the word “sin” as they think of it through the lens of human judgmentalism. We may be frightened by the concept of reward and punishment, as it forces us to think of the Afterlife and no one enjoys that while thinking of their next vacation to Turks and Caicos. We prefer to think of G-d as a nice fellow that kicks-in to help us, if we scream loud enough, but not someone who is there 24/7. Personally, I Chaim Shaul Ben Chana Leah, prefer a G-d, who does care about my behavior, who cherishes my free choice, yet, is hoping that I choose His way. I want a daddy in heaven who is concerned enough about my wellbeing that He will knock me into shape, if He deems it necessary (and trust me, He does, often).

If “Sin” exists, if there is accountability, then I become vulnerable and who likes that? Yet, both Torah and psychology have guided us to understand that the fear of vulnerability is simply a way for us to remain numb, for us to come across as tough, creating a big façade, while, sadly, struggling deeply inside. “Sin” means we can make mistakes or even deliberately make bad choices. Does that mean that I’m inherently bad? No! It just means that I’m human and my G-d, who knows what’s in my heart, understands the human challenges and therefore uses His various tools to get us back on track. Sometimes the tool is consequences, sometimes it’s Teshuva/Repentance/Return and sometimes it’s letting things go, but I’d sure rather have a G-d who cares to punish me when I deserve it, than one who always lets me off the hook, in which case, like a wayward child, I will never learn my lesson.

You’re human, you sin; now, get over yourself and change!

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!!!

Muhammad Ali was right!

They came from Great Falls and Livingston, Billings and The Flathead, Bozeman and Missoula, as Montanan Jews gathered for Montana’s Jewish Retreat in Ennis. The learning, Davening, meals, socializing, holy Shabbat atmosphere, guest speakers, were all part of what made this Shabbaton exceptional, but mostly it was the people attending who, with warmth and joy, celebrated our familial unity. We took a break for a couple of days and then rejoined last night for our annual Lag B’Omer BBQ, as we celebrated the lives of Rabbi Akivah and his beloved student Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, both of whom lived full, extremely productive, lives.

In this week’s Torah portion, Behar, we read about the treatment of slaves. We are commanded “You shall not work him with rigor”, as Rashi explains “Unnecessary jobs, for the purpose of tormenting him. E.g., do not say to him: “Warm up this drink for me,” when you do not need it; or “Hoe under this vine until I come back” and you may never come back there”. It seems so obvious, why would any sane Torah-following individual want to torment their servant just for the heck of it? Yet, I think G-d is subtly teaching us a life lesson: no one should be fruitless. Every move we make, every word we utter and every thought we think, should be goal oriented and produce results that better ourselves and our world.

“The Greatest” Muhammad Ali once said “Don't count the days. Make the days count.” Even when anguished with Parkinson’s, he still made the best of every moment life offered him. At the Retreat, we were able to utilize so many hours of Shabbos productively. We weren’t spending time on social media or watching T.V., we weren’t reading our daily paper or catching up on work; we were simply allowing ourselves to see life through the Shabbos lens, seeing ourselves as agents of meaning, inspiration, holiness and output. We all need a break on occasion to rejuvenate but we mustn’t ever take our eye off the ball, the ball of making a difference.

Give productivity a shot; you’ll feel like a million bucks!

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 vs. Turkey!

Earlier this week, I was chatting with a local friend, and I told him that I missed him at Tuesday’s Jewish history class at the library. With a smile, he said, “Sorry Rabbi, it’s the last week of the turkey hunting season and when you have to choose between class and hunting….”. I laughed; we all had a good laugh. In humor, I quipped “wow, it’s humbling to know that you chose a turkey over your rabbi”. Humility is hard to achieve on our own, and is mostly attained through an experience that is a trigger from the outside-in.

Being a legend in your own mind, is just that, in your own mind.

This Sunday, Jewry will celebrate Pesach Sheini, the second Passover. In the Sinai desert, a group of Jews, were impure during Passover and wanted a second chance to experience the pascal lamb offering. They were not lowlifes; they were impure for a good reason, as they were tending to the bodies of Nadav and Avihu, or, according to others, Joseph’s bones being carried to Israel. Asking for a second chance, comes with the recognition that the first time around was imperfect. When we lack humility, or worse, have overblown egos, we find excuses for our past actions, even holy excuses, while refusing to admit that we may be missing something. These individuals could’ve comforted themselves by saying “We didn’t eat from the Passover lamb, as we were doing G-d’s work and Jewish law exempts us under the circumstances”. Yet, they humbly said to Moses “Lama Nigara - why should we miss this great Mitzvah”? Moses listens, brings their request to G-d, and a second Passover is gifted for all time.

It’s easy to conflate a strong self-image with egocentricity, except that one is vital for living healthfully and the other is detrimental. There were times in my life that I was too arrogant and when thinking about it, it’s, noticeably, ugly. Everything we do, whether being a spouse, a parent, a professional, a citizen, a child, a friend, is done better when done with humbleness. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that “a great man is always willing to be little”, but that isn’t accurate as it’s not “being little”, it’s “being healthy”. Mother Teresa got this one right when she said, “If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are”.

Realizing we aren’t perfect, gives us second chances!

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!!!

Holiness in Venezuela!

Anti-Semitic terrorism in Poway and Israel, Prince Harry and Meghan giving birth to royalty and of course hearing the name Robert Muller three thousand times a day, but sadly, it’s only an occasional shock-value news piece that focuses on the absolute horror being experienced by the people of Venezuela. I have a pretty good imagination, but somehow, I can’t wrap my head around children, in an oil rich country, dying of hunger, elderly being left in medicine-depleted hospitals and millions, like the Jews being exiled to Babylonia, leaving their homeland just so they can survive.

This week’s Torah portion, Kedoshim, one my all-time favorites, has fifty-one Mitzvot including so many that are interpersonal in nature. We are taught that holiness begins with the basics: to have a just court system which doesn’t favor the wealthy or overly empathize with the poor, don’t be a gossiper, love your neighbor, don’t seek revenge, respect your elders and sages, don’t hold a grudge, don’t have uneven measures to cheat your customers, fear your parents, love the convert, help the poor, and so many others. These are all holy ways in which G-d holds us accountable to live lives of honor, treating every human being with dignity.

First lady Barbara Bush once said, “Never lose sight of the fact that the most important yardstick of your success will be how you treat other people - your family, friends, and coworkers, and even strangers you meet along the way”. This is something I try to impart to my children every day. Life is not a popularity contest nor is it an endeavor of selfish pursuits, rather it’s a G-d given opportunity to enhance the world for all and to do so by seeing other human beings as having been created in G-d’s image. Dictatorships begin when we forget this vital perspective.  In Venezuela, Gaza, Sudan and, sadly, even the United States, at times, we forget that mistreating/disrespecting others, is not a reflection of them but representative of our moral failure and lack of self-respect.

Loving your neighbor starts with respecting them!

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!!!

Is G-d your addiction?

While Jewry is still reeling from the tragedy in Poway, we mustn’t forget about the incredible Passover celebration that preceded the heartbreaking news. The warmth with which hundreds received their hand-made Shemurah Matzah, the depth in which so many studied about the holiday, the six exciting Seders offered by Chabad’s three branches in Big Sky Country and the thousands touched by the rabbinical student visits and Montana’s Jewish Voice in the mail. I’ve been doing this for twelve years, yet for me, the inspiration increases from year to year. I’m truly honored to be part of the Montana Miracle.

Yet, the challenge is for Passover to carry on.

In this week’s Torah portion, Acharei, we read about the passing of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu. While he was comforted by their holiness and by his surviving sons Elazar and Esamar, the pain he, and his wife Elisheva, experienced by their loss was so raw and deep. The Holy Or HaChaim, explains their sin as follows: they yearned for sanctity, they were addicted to G-d to a fault, reaching a spiritual peak of no return. Judaism 101 teaches that our holy moments must penetrate our mundane, even coarse, life experiences and they sinned by forgetting this vital principle. If we seek, and even attain, light, but don’t use the tools at our disposal to channel that light into the nitty gritty, then we’ve missed the boat. Nadav and Avihu knew how to get high on G-d but didn’t know how to sober up to deal with reality.

On Passover we get high. We have Seders, do lots of Mitzvot, pray in Shul, remember our loved ones at Yizkor and even make resolutions on how to keep the inspiration going. Then, Passover is over, we “turn the kitchen over”, out with the Matzah back with the Pizza and “we get real” and often lose the high. It is in the aftermath of a joyous holiday, that we must remember the “Nadav & Avihu” blunder and remain focused on G-d’s plan. If G-d wanted us to be angelic, He would’ve created us as angels in a heavenly abode. He didn’t. He wanted us as humans, with all our struggles and weaknesses, seeking a relationship with Him despite, or perhaps due to, our shortcomings.

Passover mustn’t be passed over, even after Passover!  

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!!!

Raise a Glass!

Tonight, Jewry will gather at Seder tables across the globe to usher in an eight-day Passover journey to collective, and personal, freedom. Yes, the most important Mitzvot on Passover are to remove leavened items from our property and to eat Matzah, yet I’d like to ask you to focus on a different aspect of the Seder this year. As the Seder begins with everyone lifting their first cup of wine/grape juice and sanctifying the holiday with Kiddush, I’d like you to take a deep breath, pull yourself together and think about the words being recited and allow it to uplift you to a place of higher consciousness:

Blessed are You, G-d, our G-d, King of the universe, who has chosen us from among all people, and raised us above all tongues, and made us holy through His commandments. And You, G-d, our G-d, have given us in Shabbaths for rest and festivals for happiness, feasts and festive seasons for rejoicing this Shabbat-day and the day of this Feast of Matzot and this Festival of holy convocation, the Season of our Freedom in love, a holy convocation, commemorating the departure from Egypt. For You have chosen us and sanctified us from all the nations, and You have given us as a heritage Your holy Shabbat and Festivals in love and favor, in happiness and joy. Blessed are You, G-d, who sanctifies the Shabbat and Israel and the festive seasons.

Let these words of Kiddush carry you through the Seder and beyond. It’s ok to take a moment and relish in the fact that we are Jewish, and that G-d gave us an opportunity for holiness through Mitzvot. It’s not an unhealthy arrogance, it’s not boasting for the sake of showing off, it’s simply stating the fact that we are different, we were chosen from on high to be different and instead of escaping from that chosenness, we embrace it and allow it to brighten ourselves, and illuminate our families, our communities and the entire world.

Internalize Kiddush, the rest will fall into place!

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!!!

Joy Baby, Joy!

While Chavie was away enjoying Mexico, our friend Linda, took the kids and I, on Sunday, to a goat farm in Manhattan (Manhattan, Montana that is). It was extremely windy, but the kids, unlike their father, were unfazed. For them, holding goats/chickens, brushing the horse’s mane, learning about the newborn triplet lambs and bringing home 6 dozen fresh eggs, was so joyous, so special, that the forty mile an hour winds didn’t get in the way of their happiness. Me on the other hand…

In this week’s Torah portion, Metzora, we continue learning the details of the spiritual-leprosy that plagued the home/clothing/skin of a gossiper. The Holy Rav Moshe Alschich, a 16th century Torah commentator, writes that when the Torah uses the word “Vehaya”, which it uses with a Metzora, it always means “Simcha” which is joy. A joyous plague? Indeed! When a Jew is beleaguered, conventional wisdom says to whine or Kvetch, but the Jew shouldn’t, rather he/she should be joyous that their Father in Heaven cares so much about them that He personally sets them straight with a touch of challenge. It's not fun or exciting, but either is a colonoscopy; it’s Hashem’s way of helping our tomorrow be healthier than today and for that joy is in order.

In a 1955 Farbrengen, the Rebbe of blessed memory shared a thought taught by a student of the great Lubliner: King David says in Psalms “then they will say among the nations, The Lord has done great things with these. The Lord has done great things with us; we were happy”. Normally, this verse is translated to mean that “because G-d has redeemed us, we are happy”. Yet, it can be understood differently, teaching us that “when the world will be trying to figure out how the Jews survived and reached redemption? How did they earn a Messianic moment? the will discover that it was because they were always joyous, no matter the harsh reality they experienced”. Our kids bike in the snow, love turbulence on planes and hang with goats when it’s tornado-ing outside, they find joy in everything; let's try to do the same. 

Lebedeik!  

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!!!

A confession during the confessions!

WhatsApp is a popular app these days, especially among the Jewish community. I am grilled often as to why I don’t have the app on my phone, and my answer is always the same, telling the questioner that “Two Yom Kippur’s ago, I realized that for me, most of the sins I atone for in the Al Chet confession prayer, I transgress on WhatsApp. Gossip, evil talk, jealousy, contempt, desecrating the Divine name, foolish talk, disrespect; it’s my one stop shop for depravity.

In this week’s Torah portion, Tazria, G-d addresses the Metzora, an individual plagued with peculiar skin/home/clothing blotches that resemble, but aren’t, the medical ailment of leprosy. One of the signs of this plague is the discovery of an “Intensely white spot on the skin, and it has turned the hair white”. It seems odd that the color white, which is normally associated with cleanliness and purity, would suddenly be the biblical sign for impurity? Why the sudden change? Yet, I’ve come to realize that when it comes to interhuman quarrelling, when dealing with human addiction to slander, gossip and instigation, even pure ideas become impure. When pristine holiness is used as a cover for backstabbing or self-righteousness, it’s a wolf in sheep's skin.  

For myself, I’m aware that gossip is always a temptation. It’s easier for me to hear negativity or “juice” about others, than to deal with the reality of my internal struggles, but it’s wrong and never justified. The Talmud (Erchin 15b) teaches that slander kills three people, the inventor of the slander, the one who relates it and the listener. If we’d pause for just a moment before being any part of the gossip, we’d be saving ourselves from spiritual malpractice and ensuring we aren’t spilling someone else’s emotional blood, their self-worth and public image, which is worse than actual murder.

In the words of the Spanish proverb “whoever gossips to you, will gossip about you”!

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!!!

The cousin I wish I knew!

As I make my way back to Bozeman for Shabbos, I reflect on my week away. I was honored to represent Montana at the AIPAC policy conference in D.C. and meet with lovers of Israel of all political persuasions. I had the opportunity to pray for our community at my Rebbe’s resting place in Queens and I joyously danced at the Brooklyn wedding of my dear friend Akiva and his bride Esther. Yet, sadly I also spent a few hours at the gut-wrenching funeral of my cousin Moshe Hirsch of Woodmere. Moshe’s wife Malkie is my second cousin and, while we didn’t grow up together, our families are close at heart.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shemini, we read about Aaron, the High Priest, mourning the untimely passing of his sons Nadav and Avihu. They were holy, they were chosen for sanctification, Aaron still had two living sons Elazar and Eitamar, but the pain was raw, the hurt was unbearable and the only option that was viable for Aaron was silence. Words don’t cut it when the young are ripped from us, leaving, in Moshe’s case, his widow Malkie and five beautiful Kinderlach Dovid, Nisson, Yosef, Gavriel and Rosie shattered. As I listened to the eulogies, I realized that Moshe was incredibly kind, and I wished I had the honor of knowing him.  His family love was palpable, and he spent every free moment with his children, praying together in the Shul he helped build, attending school events and, together with Malkie, creating a home of joy and kindness.

I will land in Bozeman, G-d willing, in a few hours and I just want to hug my kiddos and never let go. Moshe went to work Wednesday morning as a healthy man and passed without any warning while at his desk. I know he’d do anything for one more kiss, one more father-child learning session, one more outing with his kiddos. With tears rolling down my cheeks, I resolved to be a father that’s more present. Community work can wait, responding to texts can wait, worrying about the finances can wait; cousin Moshe, like Aaron, taught me that moments with our children are precious and I’d rather be remembered for the extra hug than for the quickest “retweet”.

Time is a gift; don’t waste 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!!!

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