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Weekly Message

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!!!

Flooded with gratitude!

Can’t we ever catch a break? That’s the feeling many of us are feeling. Covid, inflation, interest rates hikes, monkeypox, forest fires, individual challenges, terrorism, school shootings, and now floods. We’ve all seen the gut-wrenching videos of our beloved Yankee Jim Canyon, Red Lodge, Gardiner, Stafford Animal Shelter as our entire region aches from this natural catastrophe. Yet, there is one thing I didn’t hear all week long: complaints. There was no blaming, no finger pointing, no looting, no confusion; there was kindness, understanding, support, gratitude, community and devoted citizens, law enforcement and search and rescue teams working with class and heart.

Montanans don’t bicker very much.

In this week’s Torah portion, Behaalosecha, we read about Jewry complaining in the desert. Imagine Moses, our beloved leader of all time, as he pronounces the arrival of Manna, miraculous sustenance from heaven, and nevertheless he hears the Jews complaining that they miss the leeks, garlic and watermelon that they had in Egypt? You want to pull your hair out when encountering such ungratefulness. So often we pray from Psalms "Hodu L’Hashem Ki Tov, Ki L'olam Chasdo”, meaningGive thanks to the Lord because He is good, for His kindness is eternal”. Let’s all try to internalize that more and not complain as much.

Cicero once said, “gratitude is not only the greatest virtue; it’s the parent of all others”.  At times, Chavie reminds me to just pause and recognize all the good, all the successes, all the positivity, because it’s way too easy to get caught up in the lack of “watermelons” when there’s Manna from heaven at your front door. It’s going to take Montana a while to rebuild, redesign and re-imagine life in the affected areas of our beloved State, but knowing Montanans, I believe it will be done with grace, gratefulness and lots of brotherhood and sisterhood.

Mighty waters can’t extinguish the love!

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

I love my village!

Occasionally one can hear a child celebrating the end of their school year, “I’m finally free” or “Summer can’t come quick enough” are common expressions. Yet, that is never the case at Longfellow School where Zeesy and Menny attend. Just yesterday, they each individually expressed to me their sadness with school ending and how much they will miss their friends and teachers at this home away from home. It’s a truly amazing place of wholesomeness, where they are cherished by every staff member, and where academia is a priority, but where they also strongly value mental/emotional health, home/school balance and where my child isn’t a “number” but rather a soul in need of a rock-solid foundation.

In this week’s Torah portion, Naso, second in the Book of Numbers, we read about the roles that the Levi family played in the service of G-d in the Tabernacle. Interestingly the Hebrew word for “taking a census” or “counting” is “Naso”, which in Hebrew can also mean to “lift up”. Hashem was asking Moses to take the Levi census, but also to uplift those being counted. Sometimes when we count people, even with the greatest of intentions, some of those “people” can get lost in the mix, they can go unnoticed; so, we are reminded that we “must lift up”, recognizing each of those individuals, not as a number, but as a soul yearning for inner and societal stability.

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating. Chavie and I are pretty decent parents, maybe even “good” parents, but there is no way that we could “raise” these gems, gifted to us with G-d’s incredible Providence, without the unbelievable support of their schoolteachers, Hebrew tutors, Jewish online school, counselors, energy healers, extracurricular instructors, community members, and all the people who believe in these children along with us. From the depth of my heart, I am grateful to every individual who has helped the progress and development of my children (and me).

It's takes a village, and Bozeman is an awesome village!  

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!!!

Wide Receiver!

My son Menny is a devoted Vikings fan and a firm believer that Justin Jefferson is G-d’s gift to humanity. I like the term wide receiver, because in life we are surrounded, at times, by good “givers”, but lack the emotional intelligence to be proper “receivers”. Last week, we were in New York celebrating my dad’s 70th. My “Aba” is a great giver; he’s there for his family 24/7, he’s a loyal friend, and is a listening ear and shoulder to lean on for strangers in need. Yet, he is not very good at getting compliments and receiving love which is why a weekend dedicated to him being the wide receiver, not the quarterback, was really special.

Shavuos is upon us, and we know that G-d not only gave us the Torah 3,334 years ago, but gives us that same gift every year, every day, anew. G-d is very good at giving us His wisdom, but we struggle, at times, being healthy receivers. It’s like He’s handing us the key to the treasure chest, but we are too lazy, overwhelmed, “busy”, or oblivious, so we don’t turn the key to open it. He’s showering us with hugs and kisses and He’s hoping we reciprocate with interest, mutuality and by taking the gift, celebrating it and allowing it to enrich our lives.

Brené Brown writes that “Until we can receive with an open heart, we're never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help”. She’s right. The holiday is called “the time of the giving of our Torah”, but the wish we bless each other is that we “should receive the Torah with joy and inwardness”, because it’s about getting that which G-d is giving, and doing so with grace, joy and internalization.

Receive wide!

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 Cry from Uvalde!

Children. They were innocent children.

We need to pause and mourn the horror of Uvalde, Texas. We need to ask ourselves the introspective question: How do we make our world healthier, safer, and saner? It’s not about what “someone else” will do, it’s about us. We need to come together, neighbors of all flavors, to have the complex conversations about weapons, mental health, video games, TV violence, school security. Above all, we need to mourn the loss of little kids whose crime was learning math and geography.

We know that we can do better.

In our Torah portion, Bechukosai, we read about the blessings and curses that come our way. Too often, we take the simplistic view, thinking that HaShem decides whether to curse or bless us, yet that isn’t exactly accurate. G-d says that I’ve given you choices, good and bad, healthy and unhealthy, positive and negative, and our choices define what our outcomes will look like. We decide what values to instill in our children, what they hear and see, what treatment they receive for their emotional/mental/spiritual/physical challenges and what we choose to ignore and “pay for” later.

I don’t have solutions for this American tragedy, but with a broken heart and deep inner ache I propose we revisit the Moment of Silence idea that the Rebbe of blessed memory spoke about, and pleaded for, in the 1980’s. Let’s give our kids in Montana and beyond a moment each morning to think about a Higher Power, not just sports and politics. We need to do better with our country’s spirituality, and we all need to do more about the mental health pandemic; enough is enough.

May G-d comfort Uvalde, Texas, and the United States of America!

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!!!

Thunder in Paradise!

It’s Spring in Montana and the thunderstorms are going strong. On Monday, as we watched the storm roll in from the West, I had the beautiful opportunity to make the two special blessings on thunder and lightning and the kids joined me in the Brachos. We bless G-d who “Who performs the work of creation” and “Whose power and might fill the world”. There was something special in the air, as I sat at then dining room table and waited for both the lightning and thunder to appear to the North of our home over the Bridgers, so that we can make the blessings. Instead of bemoaning the storm, it felt nice to express gratitude to Hashem for the storms He showers us with.

In this week’s Torah portion, Behar, we read about the Sabbatical year. When the Jews entered Israel, they’d work the land for six years and during the seventh, they’d take a break. G-d wanted us to recognize that the physical parcel of land, which is resting, the produce of the land which is ownerless and available to all, and the farmer who is spending a year staycationing, are all created by Him and their destiny, their success, their wellbeing is determined by a Higher Power. It’s not easy to implement psychologically, but it’s so so healthy.

Pausing throughout the day whether for observing lightning, after using the restroom, or seeing a rainbow and saying “Wow Lord, this is awesome and You’re spectacular” is a really good way to live G-d-centric. We ask for so much, we seem to always seek more and more, it’s good practice to find time here and there to say, “Dear G-d, I am taking a minute not to ask you for anything, I just want to simply say thank you for all that I have”. Next time you smell a fragrant flower, make a blessing and be grateful for the flower and for the ability to smell.

Gratitude is wine for the soul. Go on. Get drunk.

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!!!

Sori's Infectious Smile!

On Sunday I was Facetiming with my dad while he visited his older sister Sori in the Israeli city of Bnei Brak. 24 hours later, his beloved sister, just a year older than him, passed away while eating dinner. Sori was a special aunt, who, together with her husband Chaim, welcomed me warmly into her home countless times. She always greeted me with a smile, making me feel at home, and never once, even when popping in unannounced, made me feel like I was a burden. Sori and her family are Biala Chassidim, we are Lubavitchers; never did that become a point of contention or even debate, we are family, we are blood, we are one.

In this week’s Torah portion, Emor, we read about the cycle of biblical holidays including Sukkos. Regarding Sukkos, the Festival of Booths, it says “and you shall rejoice before the Eternal, your God, for a seven-day period”. While joy is the Jewish way of life, in the words of the Psalmist “Serve Hashem with Joy”, there are times when we are to increase that joy, making it more palpable and noticeable both internally and externally. Sometimes we dance because we are happy, while at other times we dance to make us happy; on Sukkos we must do things that increase and stimulate our Simcha, our joy.

Sori lived with Sukkos ideology all year long. No, her life wasn’t perfect, and she certainly had her fair share of challenges and hiccups, but her zest for life, her love for family, her faith in G-d, and her contagious smile always reminded me that happiness isn’t something attained because of “things” or “statuses”, it comes from within. I didn’t speak to Sori often, we lived in two different worlds and very distant time zones, but she was an aunt who taught me so much and who always had a spot for me in her heart and her three-bedroom apartment in Bnei Brak.

Being happy never goes out of style!

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!!!

Stretch those quads!

I’ve never been an exerciser. Not that I’ve never tried, I have, it just doesn’t seem to click for me. I purchased a Peloton, it didn’t work, I purchased exercise apps and they never worked, I even tried walking/biking in the neighborhood, and it was short lived. Yet, after turning 40 in December I became more and more determined to focus on my health and this week I started a workout regimen with a personal trainer. It wasn’t easy, but I hope it will be life changing in my pursuit of a healthier me.

In this week’s Torah portion, Kedoshim, we are commanded a lot. Don’t gossip, don’t live immorally, don’t ignore the poor, don’t lie or steal, don’t entrap someone to sin, don’t mistreat a convert, stay away from incest, don’t cheat your customers, don’t get a tattoo and so much more. There are so many instructions on how to live our lives in sync with G-d’s will, some of which entail refraining from juicy activities like “talking about your neighbors marriage challenges” and “making good money with a little cheating here and there”.  Yet, these choices are worthwhile, even if done incrementally, like my journey in exercise.

I once read that “if you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”. If Rabbi Akiva could start learning Torah at forty, I can start working out at forty; and even if I don’t become a marathon runner or weightlifter, I can do my baby steps to enhance my health, strengthen my muscles and hopefully stick around in good shape for Chavie and the kids for a long time. Don’t give up on dreams and goals, it’s never too late for new beginnings.

Quads, biceps and abs; one stretch at a time!

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 sound of silence!

Passover was spectacular. Packed Seders, awesome services, delectable meals, and of course amazing guests, as we hosted dear friends and my brother Yanky and his beautiful family. On the first day of Chol HaMoed, we did a caravan trip to Yellowstone National Park. Though we’ve been there countless times, it never gets old visiting the Prismatic Springs, Old Faithful and the Fountain Mud Pots. The beauty of Yellowstone is that you can visit in silence, no need to utter a word. You simply ingest the incredible phenomenon’s that G-d created and stand mesmerized in the novelty of nature.

This week, the first week between Passover and Shavuos, we begin studying the six chapters of Pirkei Avot, Ethics of our Fathers. In Chapter one we read “Shimon, son of Rabban Gamliel, said: All my days I grew up among the Sages and did not find anything better for one’s person than silence…and whoever engages in excessive talk brings on sin”. It’s a basic Jewish tenet: speak less and do more. We have countless Torah laws about oaths, pledges, promises and idle talk; it’s intimating to us the power of speech and utilizing it properly.

They say that “a meaningful silence is always better than meaningless words”, or as it is said about a Chassidic Farbrengen “One person remains silent, and everyone listens”. In Yiddish there’s a word “Ploideren”, which means “blabbering”, a sin for which I am guilty on occasion too. We’d all do better if we blabbered less, internalized a bit more and spoke words of wisdom, depth and spirituality, not gossip, vulgarity and superficiality. I’ve been working on myself to be more intentional with my words, why not join me in this journey for the betterment of our fractured world?

Silence is better than unnecessary drama!

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!!!

 

Dear "secular" Jew...

Tomorrow evening, Jewry will usher in the eight-day Passover experience. It's a holiday that commemorates the founding of our Jewish nation, so I feel compelled to write a letter to address the nature and soul of our people:

 

April, 14, 2022

13th of Nissan, 5782

 

Dear “secular” Jew,

I write this letter to you today, on the eve of Passover 5782, with the deep hope of conveying certain unspoken truths about our Jewish faith, discuss the nature of our people, and to demystify a few myths about your soul. I know that I am opening myself up to a longer conversation with many of you, but I cherish that, because it’s who we are, a people that argues and debates and comes out stronger on the other side, more informed, as we traverse this harsh exile and journey from challenge-to-challenge, en-route to redemption.   

Let me start with a clarification: I used the term “secular” in reference to you, a fellow Jew, only in quotations, employing the term that is commonly used “out there” ">attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis: Contrasted with sacred.”. With this in mind, I find it to be impossible for a Jew to be secular, simply impossible. I don’t accept that a Jew, a descendent of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Rachel and Leah, can have no “spiritual basis”, or is the opposite of “sacred”. It is my firm belief that every one of us was gifted a Divine Soul, a natural, conscious or subconscious, bond with our Creator, connecting us with a Higher Power and a yearning for spiritual meaning.

Sure, you can be a Jew that is passionately opposed to the rituals and faith of your people, but let’s be honest, why are you passionate about it? Why do you care so much that you need to state your “atheism” or “secularism” so often? Why do you need to identify as being “not religious”? The passion is a result of an inner calling to stand with Judaism or to oppose Judaism, but we can’t ever ignore Judaism or the Jewish people, because it’s embedded in our essence. Your passion, though expressed negatively, Is a beautiful sign of your Jewishness, carrying the inner torch gifted to you by the Jews who came before you and fought for their Judaism through thick and thin. 

I’ve spent fifteen years traversing Montana and experiencing life with my beloved fellow Jews. Everywhere I go, every family or individual I meet, I find that gem-like sacredness, the holy touch and familial warmth, alive and well in our brothers and sisters. They may not wear a Yarmulke, but have you seen their zest while singing Dayenu on Passover or lighting their Menorah? They may not fast on Yom Kippur yet, but have you seen their joy in baking Challah for Shabbos?. They may not use the Mikvah currently, but have you seen the excitement with which they kiss the Mezuzah on their home. How can we use the un-G-dly term of “secular” when these souls are so connected to their people and so in touch with their faith? If they didn’t care about Am Yisroel why are they up in arms when Jews are under attack?

Of course, they care.  

I get it. When one grows up in a home where the 613 Mitzvos of the Torah and the illumination of Chassidic thought isn’t ingrained in your education and day-to-day living, where Kosher and Shabbos are something “Bubby does” or where “religious” is something “great grandpa Benjamin used to be”, how can we expect that you will jump for joy when discovering more observances? It’s hard to imagine feeling connected to a 3,300-year-old religion when some of the ideas seem archaic and some of your fellow Jews seem “fanatical" to the untrained eye. Yet, let me assure you that while we have superficial differences, at our core, we are one in our bedrock relationship with G-d and His Torah. We are one organism; one wholesome Jewish body and each limb is connected to the other in times of pain and happiness. Your Mezuzah brings us all protection as does my Tefillin-flanked prayers each morning. Your Tzedakah in the charity box brings positive energetics into the universe as does each woman who Chavie takes for a private Mikvah experience. The Jewish people aren’t whole without you, as it isn’t without me.

We are one.

We don’t need to agree on every Issue, we can differ in our political views, our religious affiliation or lack thereof, we can support Israel more or less, you can claim with religious certainty that there is “no G-d” and I can claim that there is nothing “outside of G-d”, but like at a healthy family dinner table, we are blood, we share DNA, we are all students of Moses, disciples of King David and grandchildren of those who endured so much in order to carry on the traditions of Judaism. We don’t need to die for our Jewishness like those who came before us, we can live for our Jewishness, to learn, explore and enjoy the holiness of Torah. Just because we don’t understand everything or don’t feel compelled to observe it all, doesn’t mean we should throw the baby out with the bath water and ignore our heritage. No one could claim to disagree with Einstein if they don’t study his works, so how can one deny their Judaism if they haven’t delved deeply into its reservoirs of wisdom?

My mentor the Lubavitcher Rebbe of blessed memory taught me, and everyone who would listen, that we need to stop parading around with labels that divide us, “I am super reformed” or “I am ultra-orthodox”, “I am a progressive” or “I am conservative”, let’s rather spend our time focusing on that which brings us together. The title “secular” and “religious” are terms used to separate people, to break us apart, and who wants to be divided? We are all Jewish, thus we seek to make our world more peaceful, our planet more pristine, our conversations more productive, our lives more meaningful and our souls more nourished. I grow my beard as G-d commanded in Leviticus and you may not, I have a Mezuzah on each door in my home and you may choose to have it only on your front door, but are we really that different? When I’ve shown up at your door you’ve been appreciative, when I mailed you Jewish books you’ve expressed gratefulness and when antisemites attack us, as they do every so often, we all feel the same pain and fear, recognizing that we are one people on the same boat.

So dear “not-so-secular” Jew, let’s not disassociate; my traditional garb shouldn’t scare you and your Mohawk shouldn’t make me run the other way. Superficiality can’t define us, rather our inner core, our fiery love for goodness, should guide us to unite, to seek inner freedom as identifiable Jews in our 2022 reality. It’s easy to create a tribalistic environment, “we are not them”, but why take the easy road out, if we can choose the harder road that keeps us in and together.

Tomorrow night, as you sit at your Seder or even if you don’t, please remember that G-d took us all out of Egypt, split the sea, and handed us a Torah at Sinai. He did this for me, He did this for you, He did this for all of us, for His beloved Jews that are on a lifelong journey. When you recite the “Ma Nishtana” four questions, drink your four cups of wine and eat the Matzah, or even if you’re sitting at home wondering why you aren’t a Seder this year, remember we are all free on this night, free to be Jews, free to be different, free to choose oneness over divisiveness.

Next time you see me in town or watch me on YouTube, don’t get uncomfortable, I don’t bite, I love Sushi, hiking the M and spending time with my kids, me and you are more alike than you could ever imagine. We are all part of the awesome Jewish family and I love you with every fiber of my being, because family is family and you can run all you want but you can’t hide.

May this Pesach, this festival of freedom, bring about inner freedom for all of us, free to be ourselves, and may we merit the redemption of all our people with the coming of Mashiach when the obstacles that divide us will be obliterated, will be torn down, and we will stand as one in the holy city of Jerusalem, Amen!

Happy and Kosher Passover,

Chaim

Your “religious” rabbi.

 

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 Calm Hacking!

Earlier this week, my dear Chavie’s Instagram account was hacked. It’s devastating to watch a beautiful online community, built with sweat and thoughtfulness, go up in flames because Instagram has zero customer service and cares little for their clients. Whether she gets the account back or not, I know that she will “build back better”, and she has totally accepted this injustice with calm and grace. She said, “Hashem is in charge, and this is obviously happening for a reason, and I know it will end up bringing something even better”. It was her account, and yet she found herself comforting me about her debacle.

In this week’s Torah portion, Metzora, we read about the Tzara’as lesions that plagued the walls of a gossiper’s home. This plague isn’t punitive or inflicted with “collateral damage”, it’s pinpointed to affect the recipient so that he/she learns their lesson and is better educated to make good choices going forward. The Kohen encourages the homeowner to remove all their vessels and garments from the home before he pronounces it impure, so that those items won’t obtain impurity vis-à-vis the home itself. This is an expression of the true kindness embedded in the plague: Here to teach you a lesson, not to ruin your life, so it’s always infused with the kindness of a parent and empathetic educator.

Whatever ends up happening with Chavie’s account, she is right, it will be better. Hashem isn’t out to get us, even when it feels that way sometimes; He just wants what’s good for us and to get there He puts us through the wringer at times. I am preaching to myself because I struggle with this big time. I like when things “go my way” and I believe Hashem is running the show, but I don’t act that way when under duress. Chavie is my anchor, my inspiration, my proof that women are spiritually superior to men, and I am glad that I married someone who not only talks the talk but walks the walk, even when it’s hard.

I really shouldn’t stress it because G-d can’t be hacked!

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!!!

Sweet Sixteen!

Sixteen years ago today, Chavie and I stood under our San Antonio Chuppah and smiled as the crowd proclaimed Mazal Tov upon our marriage. We danced the night away and thus began a journey of commitment, love, and admiration. Loving someone properly isn’t necessarily natural, as we are inherently self-centered, not selfless. It takes work to act, and be, altruistic. We say, “I love you” a lot, but that too can be selfish, it’s all about me; but as Rabbi Manis Friedman points out, under the Chuppah the groom tells his bride “Harei At”, “you are hereby sanctified to me”, starting with “you” instead of “I”, implying “you are loved”.  

In this week’s Torah portion, Shemini, we read about the passing of Nadav and Avihau, two of Aaron’s sons who entered the Holy of Holies unsanctioned. The Or HaChaim explains that they experienced spiritual ecstasy, thirsting so deeply for a relationship with G-d that they forgot about what G-d wanted in the relationship, and it all became about their needs, a selfish spiritual endeavor. They had good intentions, but so what? They yearned for something that wasn’t meant for them, and lost life itself over their inappropriate expression of love.

The word love in English means so many things. We love our spouse, our kids, sushi, good weather, trips to Mexico, and certain politicians. Sometimes we love in ways that service us, making us feel good, instead of loving our loved ones in ways that focus on them and their needs. It is said that “true love begins when nothing is looked for in return” and while it would be hard to sustain a marriage without reciprocal expressions of love, in our mind it should always be about our beloved, not about us. Here’s to the next sixteen years of me and Chavie discovering love, happiness and sanctity.

My beloved is mine, and I am hers!

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!!!

 

Haman was right!

It was just one week ago that Chavie and I were chatting about Purim being celebrated during spring break, when half of Bozeman is defrosting in Mexico and Hawaii. We then realized that it is also on the day when Montanans are dressed like shamrocks and drinking like Irishmen; so Purim attendance was iffy. Yet, one week later, I am happy to say that I was wrong again; Jewish souls are always on fire and eighty-five of them flocked to the Chabad Lubavitch Center last night to hear the Megillah, enjoy Chavie’s fantastic dishes, say L’Chaim, and celebrate Purim in the Circus.  

There is one detail in the Purim story that doesn’t add up. When Haman sees that only one Jew, Mordechai, refuses to bow to him, why not kill Mordechai alone. Why does wicked Haman seek to annihilate all of Jewry, including the Shushan Jews who do bow to him? Last night I shared an insight that I heard from my mentor the Lubavitcher Rebbe of blessed memory: Haman was no fool, he looked at Mordechai and realized that the same holy core, the same eternal bond with G-d, the same unyielding Jewish identity that enlivened Mordechai, exists in every Jew, even those who currently are bowing to him. He foresaw a time when they too will be inspired and will fight back against the Hamanfication of the Persian Empire, so he decided to get rid of them all.

Last night we celebrated with Jews of flavors. One who grew up religious in Monsey and felt like religion wasn’t for them and others who grew up unaware that they were Jews and realized it was their Jewish religion that they were missing in their life. I even said L’Chaim with one woman who always reminds me that she’s not religious and always does so while at a celebration of Jewish life. Haman was right about one thing, it’s the one thing that most antisemites get right, we are different, we are a thorn in their side, because come what may, Jews, even those who think they are distant, are holy at their core and it’s only a matter of time before their inner Mordechai comes to life and they inform Haman that they ain’t bowing to anyone but G-d.

 A Yid never breaks!

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 Sin of Frostbite!

On Monday, Chavie and I enjoyed a two-hour dog sledding experience out in the back country terrain of Moonlight Basin. With below zero temperatures outside, we were freezing cold. I was literally shivering with chattering teeth and Chavie thought her toes would need to be amputated. When we got to the half point, they offered all fourteen participants non-Kosher hot chocolate and cookies, leaving us, the amateurs, with only one option: move our bodies, walk, jog in place, any movement, increasing blood circulation and warming ourselves up.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayikra, the first in the Book of Leviticus, we read about various mistakes, transgressions, for which a person is obligated to bring a sin or guilt offering. Judaism doesn’t condemn people to “eternal hell” because of our mistakes, it doesn’t cancel people because we’ve made horrible choices; we give people hope, a chance to return, a path forward, and an opportunity to repair the damage we’ve inflicted on our fellow human and onto our own soul. Our mistakes are so often a result of us freezing up, getting stuck, and hoping those toes will thaw on their own without us making the effort to warm them.

As the sled driver took us through some of the most picturesque areas in Madison County, I turned my gratitude to our dear friends Mick and Holly, who gave me this adventure for my 40th birthday. Like with each moment in life, this unique experience taught me so much. We certainly could’ve been slightly more prepared for the frigid Big Sky weather, especially because we couldn’t rely on the piping hot chocolate, but Chavie and I had each other and the inner gift of biology, moving those legs, wiggling those toes, and using instinct to endure, and enjoy, the journey.

Don’t let stuckness bring you spiritual frostbite, just warm yourself up!

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


Pray for the Russian people!

 

It’s personal for me.

 

I have friends and relatives who live throughout eastern Europe including Ukraine, Russia, Hungary, and Poland. The loss of life in Ukraine, the sheer devastation, the number of refugees, is unimaginable. I’ve spoken with a few colleagues on the ground this week and I can’t stop thinking of my brave soul-brothers Avremi Wolff in Odessa and his brother Yossi in Kherson, who with their families are weathering the storm so they can care for those who couldn’t get out, especially the elderly.

 

It's 2022 and we should be better than this.

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Pekudei, we read about the inauguration of the Tabernacle. While there were plenty of opportunities for Jews to donate according to their means to build a home for G-d, there was also the half-Shekel gift that each Jew was to contribute for the foundational sockets that held up the entire structure. Each person brought the same amount, it didn’t matter if you were wealthy or poor, well-connected or a Shlepper, from the tribe of Judah or Gad, it was the same amount for everyone. It was a way for us to see every Jew, every person, as an equal valuable life, worthy of all that G-d offers us in our lifetimes.

 

We know that the people of Ukraine need our prayers; homes have been bombed and too many lives have been upended. Here's a little secret: the Russian people need our prayers too. Sanctions can sound good on paper, but it doesn’t only impact the government and the oligarchs, it affects all the citizens. I spoke to people who don’t have access to their money, to some who do but their money Is now practically worthless, Russian commercial airplanes won’t get parts, which will cause more crashes, and with 144 million citizens, Russia is certain to see enormous increases in hunger and homelessness. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, so let’s pray that our world leaders find ways to punish the aggressors without hurting the beautiful people of Russia.

 

United against all human suffering, every time, everywhere.

 

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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