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Weekly Message

Windy Inspiration!

It was another very busy week with classes, program planning, a jail visit, a talk at the Cancer Support community, time with an elderly Jew at an Alzheimer’s care facility and fun with the kiddos at the mall, but the highlight was my fifteen hour visit to Chicago, the one place on earth that felt colder than Bozeman. I was invited to address a Farbrengen of men in the local Chabad community as well as to talk with one hundred or so teenage girls at the Lubavitch Girls High School; it was one of those life moments where I came to inspire and left inspired. They came to listen to what I’d share and with their listening taught me so so much.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeira, we read about our founding father Abraham seeking out travelers who would accept his warm and royal hospitality. It was then, outside his tent, with the desert sun sizzling, that G-d visited him and helped his healing process. You see, ninety-nine-year-old Abraham was physically uncomfortable, as he had circumcised himself just three days earlier, yet, instead of focusing on his own ailment, he sought others who were in need. He understood that the joy we experience when giving to others is so pleasurable, so emotionally rewarding, that, if but for a moment, it allows us to forget about our own “issues” and gives us genuine rejuvenation.

It wasn’t the Glenlivet L’Chaim and healthy dose of Sushi that blew me away; it was my Chabad brothers in West Rogers Park. These hardworking men, laymen and rabbis, who needed to be up for work just a few hours later, sat and listened for five hours, sang melodious tunes that penetrated our hearts and even debated me on various matters until 1:30 AM; it was real, it was deeply authentic. I spent a few solid hours engaged with some people I've never met but who wanted to know more, do more and be better; it left an impressionable mark on me.  As my flight headed back from O’Hare to Bozeman, I couldn’t stop thinking of the Talmudic Idiom “More than the calf wants to suckle, the cow wants to nurse”.

Giving is getting. If you don’t believe me, just try it!

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

Don't judge people by their lousiness!

Love is a big word and this week I fell in love. No, not a new romantic love, rather, the love that is expressed with deep adoration, in my case, it’s for Eva Schloss, stepsister of Anne Frank, who accepted our invitation and spoke for fourteen hundred people at MSU (Event Pics Here). The way I see humanity is forever changed thanks to Eva’s story, energy, humor and Mentchlichkait. In some ways she changed our beloved community for the better and I’m honored to have made her visit a reality. 

As I sat beside her during her talk, I thought not only of those who perished during the holocaust, but also of the tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of Jews that would’ve been living on earth, had their ancestors survived the death camps like Eva did.

In this week’s Torah portion, Lech-Lecha, we read about Abraham’s treck north from Israel to Syria to demand, and fight for, the return of his wicked nephew Lot, who was captured in the battle of the four/five kings. One wonders: why did Abraham bother? Lot was immoral and unethical and chose to live far away, both physically and spirituality, from his uncle Abraham, so why go into full war mode just to save him? Yet, our sages teach that Abraham wasn’t only saving Lot, but he was saving Ruth, David, Mashiach and many others who descended from Lot and were great assets for Jewry and the world. We tend to look at people just for who they are, mostly, superficially. Imagine, if we were able to see not only their soul, but the souls of their future offspring.

In a world plagued by division and hatred, where riots and demonstrations now seem to be the norm, it may be a good time, not only to treat people with dignity, but to see their bigger picture, for what they could potentially bring the world and what could be gifted to the world long after they’re gone through their family. It’s not easy to treat every individual with that kind of respect and love, but imagine what the world would be like if we did.

Humans are like trees; the fruit is unpredictable! 

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!!!

Hard working butterflies!

With the kids off school for parent/teacher conferences and the weather dropping way below zero with an abundance of snow, we sought indoor activities. While Chavie had them under her wing most of the time, I had the good fortune of taking them to see the new butterfly exhibit at the Museum of the Rockies. We learned lots about this mystifying creature, including how an adult butterfly works so very hard to emerge from its chrysalis, transitioning from its first version as a caterpillar.

Life’s beautiful moments don’t necessarily come easy.

In this week’s Torah portion, Noach, the second in the book of Genesis, we read about the great flood and those meriting to be aboard Noach’s ark. While there was the lower compartment for waste, the middle compartment for animals and the upper compartment for humans, Noach was entrusted by G-d to care for all the living beings on his hand-built boat. One day, Noach arrived late for the lion feeding and was greeting with an injuring bite. Noach could’ve complained about the unfairness of his suffering, as it was G-d who got him into this job in the first place and the little He could’ve done was to protect him, but he didn’t Kvetch. He accepted his mission as animal caretaker without self-pity bemoaning of his awful lot in life.

All of us, at some point, wonder why G-d must make our life so hard, especially as we are trying to be good citizens, healthy Jews and better the world through our deeds. News flash: It’s a thought that Noach taught us is futile. We do what’s right, what’s good, what’s vital, without any expectation for reward or G-dly guarantees. Sometimes our good work gets us hurt, physically or emotionally, but that shouldn’t result in us dropping it like a hot potato. Part of our experience is to develop our perseverance and if we cowardly run from anything that doesn’t go our way, we will never internalize the endurance attribute. I’m sure Noach had a grievance or two, but when on a mission, there isn’t any time to share it, let alone to dwell in it.

Love your work, recognize your mission and beauty will ensue!

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!!!

White collar, blue collar & arty!

What an incredible holiday season! The meaningful moments of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret & Simchat Torah are forever etched in my mind and on my heart. So much life, so much upliftment, so much inspiration; I know that out of the thousands of Shuls the world over, Hashem gazed at the purity of the Bozeman joy, as we danced, sang and wished each other well with L’Chaim, and He hummed to Himself “My people are awesome, they really do get it, they deserve only revealed good”. An especially vivid moment for me was when our beautiful Chaya asked if she could shake the Lulav and Etrog with the women and girls in the Sukkah; it made my day.

Children need to actualize themselves.  

In this week’s Torah portion, Bereishis, the first in Genesis, we read about Adam, Eve, their sons and their many descendants. Among their offspring was a fellow named Lemech who, together with his two wives, had three sons and a daughter. The daughter, Na’ama, married Noah and together survived the great flood in the Ark. The sons, Yaval, a rancher, Yuval, an artist, and Tuval-Kayin, a craftsman, inherited grandpa Kayin’s ingenuity gene, using their G-d given talents to invent creatively. Rav Shamson Rafael Hirsch explains that our world needs businessmen such as ranchers, artists such as musicians and craftsman such as blacksmiths to each do their part in making our world a better place. It’s the combination of white collar, blue collar and arty individuals that give our communities a healthy balance.

As the first portion of Moses’ Five Books, Bereishis lays the foundation for our behavior this coming year. G-d, the Creator, asks each of us to partner with Him in perfecting His imperfect world, by finding the Creator within every fiber of existence. If we ignore our talents and insight, our style and personality, then the G-dliness in those aspects of our lives will remain dormant and undiscovered. If we have a passion, if we have a drive, if we are gifted with a strong suit, we must ask ourself: Am I doing enough self-development? Am I using these incredible tools to enrich my spirituality and subsequently the world at large?  Lemech’s kids made the world better, each with their own special touch, Chavie and I hope the same for Chaya and all the kiddos.

In the words of Oscar Wilde “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken”!

 

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!!!

 

He needs a hug!

Though my mind is inquisitive, I never thought about hugs enough to wonder who enjoys them more, me or the kids. Last week, as I sat on the couch, Zeesy climbed her way onto my lap and got into a cozy position and just sat there in a delicious embrace for what felt like an eternity. It was so good that she asked me the following day if she could do it again. It got me thinking about how powerful a loving embrace can be, and while the kids love them, I think I love them more. It’s sort of a validating process in which kids, who are normally in their own world of school and play, who are constantly demanding unrealistically of their parents, suddenly turn into these squishy lovable kiddos, who make it all worth it.

On Sukkot, which commences Sunday evening, we celebrate G-d’s embrace. The four walls of the Sukkah are Hashem’s way of hugging His newly returned children, who finally came home to visit during the High Holy Days. He asks us to step out of our comfort zone, come into His domain, the great outdoors, and allow Him to care for us and show us His ability be there for His vulnerable children for the entire Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret. I would venture to say that, like me and the kiddos, He enjoys the Sukkah hug even more than we do. Perhaps therefore Sukkot comes so soon after Yom Kippur, G-d wants to get a hold of us while we are still around, still in touch with Him, and He hangs on to us as long as He can.

Nature and Montanans are old friends, but following G-d’s command and entering the Sukkah for the specific purpose of connecting with Him, is something even more special than regular camping. Yom Kippur was great to repair the relationship, but Sukkot is the opportunity to chill with our Creator post court date drama. We sit together, sing and Farbreng, learn and say L’Chaim and just enjoying familial company in the presence of our Big Daddy. Step into a Sukkah, you’ll be right at home.

Enjoy His bear hug!

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!!!

A Yizkor Reflection!

If Teshuva means “repentance”, I officially give up, as “losing service” enough times leaves me believing a relationship with this “carrier” is impractical. How many times a day can we regret, feel remorse and try to be “born again”? If, on the other hand, Teshvua means returning, coming home, going back to my essence, then I’m all in, all in, as coming home is never tiring, it’s my home, my natural space. I share this going into the Shabbat of Teshuva, as It’s during these ten days from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur that we try to remember who we really are.

Never forget.

My own Teshuva process includes the Yizkor memorialization of those who taught me such valuable life lessons, some that I forget, and others I choose to ignore and thus experience personal failure. I think of my beautiful mother Chana Leah (Chanchy) who cared, with every fiber of her being, for widows, orphans, broken families and children who were vulnerable. I think of my maternal grandparents Zayde Shimon and Bubbe Esther Goldman who epitomized Hachnosas Orchim, five-star hospitality to all, including people who were different and those who they didn’t know personally. I think of my paternal grandparents, Saba Mendel and Savta Chana Bruk, who had a cherished work ethic and earned every Shekel honestly, whether driving his truck for Carmel Mizrachi wine, her hours of teaching at the Jerusalem orphanage or her extracurricular activity of sowing clothing for her family. It forces me to ask myself: Could I learn a thing or two from them about being happier with less? Can I do more for those in our community that are struggling? Can I, perhaps, make our home more open and host more guests who need a place to put their head down?  

Remembering them, helps me remember who I am and where I need improvement.

Yet, this year, I will also say Yizkor for our family friend Georgette who survived the holocaust and passed away three months ago without a husband or children to say Yizkor for her. As our Bozeman Bubby, she taught me, Chavie and the kids so much about loving life and the prominence of New York Pastrami. She could’ve focused on all the trauma in her early life and all the missed opportunities in her later life, but she didn’t. Sure, she Kvetched as much as any healthy Jew, but she enjoyed a life of travel, immersion in nature and a love for animals and good friends. I’ll remember her, because she reminded me where I come from. She enriched our family immensely and the least I can do to say thank you is to say Yizkor for her.

Let’s remember to remember! And let’s do Teshuva, let’s go home, our Father is waiting anxiously for our arrival, even if it’s only a short visit!

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,

It’s that time of year again. Humanity is getting ready to crown You as King of Kings on Rosh Hashana. It’s not only because we couldn’t find a better candidate, but because we really think You’re the best.

I’m no stranger, as I pray and talk to You three times each day and You’re quite familiar with my ups and downs and our family’s journey during 5779. You are intimately aware of our challenging hours, sleepless nights and occasional moments in which I doubted You and everything You stand for, yet, I pen this letter to You, not only to get some grievances off my chest, but to ask You to try to see things from our simplistic perspective down here on earth.  

I know that in the “bigger picture” You’re awesome and take such good care of us, but “in the present” it’s hard to always perceive what You do as good, so I seek Your blessing for uncovered good. With Your “Book of Life” wide-open this season of heavenly judgment, it would be so beneficial for us if You could express Yourself in ways that even us, stressed, overworked, overwhelmed humans, could see as essentially good, if but for a moment or two.

In the Selichot liturgy we said “Rachamana D’Onei L’Svirei Liba Aneina, May the Merciful One, Who answers the broken-hearted, answer us. I ask You today, Master of the Universe, to listen as I share with You what You already know, but perhaps from a human angle that will encourage more revelation and less mystery on Your part.  

When we visit the cancer wards, especially the children cancer centers, we ask ourselves, why? Why are so many of our fellow humans experiencing so much pain? When we see a pure nine-year-old with a brain tumor lighting Shabbos candles, we ask ourselves “is there a sin that is deserving of her suffering”? Is single parenthood not hard enough that a single mom must endure breast cancer while trying to build her family Sukkah? So, I ask You dear G-d please heal them and give us all a break from this dreadful disease. Aneina

Aibershter, I know that you strolled through the IVF and infertility clinics around the globe. You’ve seen those precious couples whom You gifted with an insatiable yearning to procreate, fulfilling your commandment to “be fruitful and multiply”, yet, You’ve taken away that ability from far too many of them. I don’t think it’s fair to give them the longing but take away the prospect. I don’t think it’s OK to bless couples with a seven-month pregnancy only to lose their precious baby to a miscarriage. I don’t think it’s fair and I’m guessing You’re not too happy about it either. I know You test the righteous, but this borders on cruelty and I know You’re not cruel, so I plead with you to bless all families with an opportunity to fulfill their worthy yearnings. Aneina

When You’re done taking care of the sick and infertile, the homeless and the weak, take a second out of Your busy schedule and help my brothers and sisters who struggle with their faith in You. I’m sure, that like us, You too give them credit for struggling and not giving up, because there are moments in which we all want to give up on You. The burden You’ve placed on some of us is just too much and we don’t know what else to do but to express anger and resentment for You. We don’t hate You during those tense moments, we aren’t real “atheists”, we simply have no one else to turn to with our frustration. Think of Rosh Hashana as campaigning for office: make it a bit easier for us and we would happily vote You in again. Aneina

Sometime during Rosh Hashana as Jews in Bozeman and beyond cry, Shofars are blown, and Your people beg for a relationship, think of those among us whose childhood was stolen from them by evil people who used their positions of power to prey on those most vulnerable in society. These Neshamos are trying so hard to fit in, working to overcome, but the trauma they’ve experienced has affected them mentally, emotionally, spiritually and, sometimes, physically, making it so hard to “just move on”. Bless them to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel and help them find proper support so that they can live a brighter future. Aneina

Dear G-d, when you’re done with the big needs, see if you can help the NIH find cures for orphan diseases like Zeesy’s Glut-1. I mean, I get there are bigger issues to deal with, but government funding or, worse yet, lack of funding, shouldn’t stop great researchers from helping those that have special genetics and bring them their much-needed healing. While you’re at, please bless Zeesy in her developmental “catch-up” studies; I’d love to see her reading Hebrew sometime soon. Aneina

Hashem, there are those who are working tirelessly to save their marriages. Husbands and wives who truly love each other but can’t seem to see the beauty in each other that they once saw. These quarrels are tough and sometimes quite messy, but You are the ultimate peace maker, Oseh Shalom Bimromav, so please gift them with the ability to make amends and keep their love and like spark alive. Aneina

Father in Heaven, our homeland Israel is under constant assault. The Jew-haters have found a “secretive” way to hate Jews and it’s via “Israel”. As promised, You’ve done an awesome job protecting Israel and its citizens, but I beseech you to inspire those seeking our demise to find alternative activities besides Jew bashing. Perhaps guide them to play Sudoku or even better to fight for those truly suffering in our world; it would be nice. Aneina

Gut'nyu, send special love to all those struggling with addiction. This is not a choice, but a disease that is so terribly hard to control. These addictions come in different shapes and sizes and consume their victims in ways that are truly destructive. Allow them the opportunity to find the “G-d of their understanding” with the assistance of their fellow fighters at meetings. Aneina

If I may, Super Daddy, peek at the social service agencies, and see what you can do for all those foster kids looking for stable homes. King David wrote that You’re “Father of orphans and Judge of widows", so help these children who with no fault of their own, ended up in some pretty horrible situations and match them up with loving parents who can gift them with a decent life. Aneina

Lastly, G-d, I need you to bless our beloved America. Our country is ripped apart by political strife. Each side claims they are right, and they are fighting for our blessed future. Personally, I think there are remarkable people on both sides of the aisle, but the animosity is out of control. Send an angel or, better yet, come Yourself, and help our country heal. We need our citizens to see the good in their fellow man and woman, so that we can work together to make tomorrow brighter. Aneina

I’m wrapping up, but please don’t misunderstand me, Almighty G-d. I love You, adore You and teach my kids and community that without You there is nothing, nothing at all. Yet, I think we are on good enough terms for me to be candid with You, so that we can start off the year on the right foot. Obviously, if you want to respond, You know where to find me. You could also solve all these issues, by ushering in Mashiach and boom, it’s all better.

I hope You have a Shana Tova, Your 5780 should be filled with Nachas from Your creation and from the people who hung with You at Sinai.

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!!!


A Million Dreams!

Earlier this week, we were standing around in the kitchen and the kids asked if they can watch Shulem Lemmer sing “A Million Dreams”. As his incredible voice came through my phone, the lyrics spoke to my heart:

'Cause every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it's gonna take
A million dreams for the world we're gonna make

True that!

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Tavo, Moses reminds Jewry that they hold the key to their own destiny. There is right and wrong, good and bad, healthy and unhealthy, ethical and unethical, moral and immoral, and the path we travel on, is a choice we make each-and-every moment. We can opt for the path of blessing, co-creating with G-d a world of peace, unity and holiness, a world where dreams do come true or we can choose a cursed path of destruction for ourselves and the world at large. It’s not about reward and punishment, it’s not about fearing Satan with a pitchfork or awaiting a paradise in the sky but rather about our actions and their natural, and occasionally unnatural, consequences, reaping what we sow.

They can say, they can say it all sounds crazy
They can say, they can say I've lost my mind
I don't care, I don't care, so call me crazy
We can live in a world that we design

Dream Baby, Dream!

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!!!

 

Lego Lives!

 

Growing up, Yanky, my younger bro and Irish twin, was the Lego kid. He’d spend hours building police stations, helicopters, car garages and everything in between. I never understood it, as I was an avid student, book reader and socializer par excellence, not a floor kid. Fast forward twenty-five years and Menny comes along and loves Lego. On Monday, he received a new sports car Lego set and wanted me to help him. It took a couple of days, short increments of Lego time, but what I’ve learned is that Lego is incredibly therapeutic, demands lots of focus and provides quality father-son time. Above all, we learned the hard way, that you can’t skip ahead in the instructions book, or you will eventually be seeking a do-over.

We find ourselves almost halfway through Elul, the month that prepares us for the High Holy Days. The Chassidim of old would say “S’Blozt An Elul Vint”, meaning that there is an Elul wind that blows into our psyche, into our homes, into our communities, as we get into the New Year mode. We are blowing the Shofar daily, adding extra Psalms to our prayers and counting down to the holiest days of the year, but it’s more than the things we do, it’s how we Elul think. Elul is that time when we reflect on what we’ve done right, what needs improvement and how we plan to change. Lego reminded me that following G-d’s instructions matter, even if we’d like to believe that somehow it doesn’t.

During the next 16 days until Rosh Hashana, join me in allowing yourself a few moments of personal honesty. In those moments let’s ask ourselves “What can I do to improve my Mitzvah observance?”. Can I ensure that I always light Shabbos candles before sundown on Friday even in the heart of winter? Can I be sure to recite the Shema once in the morning and once at night? Can I prepare a kettle on Friday so I don’t need to boil the water on Shabbos? Can I increase at least one more Kosher Mezuzah on a door post somewhere in my home? Can I skip one “eating out” experience and choose Kosher at home instead? Just some food for thought. We all have spiritual struggles, I certainly do, let’s join, both you and me, to figure out how we can “Lego Our Lives”, following the instructions just a bit better than last year.

Like Lego’s motto: the best is never too good!

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!!!

Chaos in the kitchen!

Tuesday morning, while Chavie was up in Kalispell celebrating the Bris of Montana’s newest Menachem Mendel, born to Rabbi Shneur and Chana’le Wolf, I was in our Bozeman kitchen, wrapped in my Talis and Tefillin, trying to sneak in an Amidah prayer amidst the morning chaos of the kids' first school day. I made it almost to the end where we pray for peace and unity, when rather rapidly things got noisy. Zeesy began an activity of scratching the rice off of the bottom of soaking pot from Monday’s dinner, Menny found it important to pull on my pants while asking me about the content of his lunchbox and Chana Laya was on the other side of the room playing with a salt shaker, which normally doesn’t bring about kitchen cleanliness. I was trying to Daven but it was hard, I gave it my everything, with extra Kavana, focus, so that I don’t drop G-d mid-sentence.

It’s hard to stay focused.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, we read about prophets. A key factor in recognizing the holiness of a prophet or their falsehood, is whether they bring you closer to G-d or pull you further away. It’s a fairly simple mechanism: when a man or woman claiming to be Divinely inspired, helps us focus more on Hashem’s Mitzvot, to be more G-d fearing and G-d loving, to ignore the temptation of secularism and the addiction to superficiality, then there’s at least a good chance that their prophecies are authentic, but, when in the name of G-d, they instruct you, overtly or subtly, to defy G-d, then we must run for the hills as this is a farce and a soulless endeavor.

There are books, gurus, programs, cults, movements, Ism’s, schools and leaders that are motivational, intellectual, deep, raw, inspirational and even spiritual, but if what they are selling, the ideas they are teaching and implanting in our minds,  makes us observe one less Mitzvah, forces us to transgress one biblical prohibition, encourages us to love Hashem any less or focus less on Him, then it’s not for you. It can feel good, taste good and smell good, but like soda, it’s produced with toxic chemicals and will never quench our thirst for G-d. Having Kavana, focusing healthfully on G-d, requires lots of inner courage and determination to withstand all types of pressure, but it’s worth the relationship with the Creator of heaven and earth.

Feeling spiritual is not as good as being spiritual!

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!!!

Horsing Around in Utah!

Our family just returned from a road trip southern Utah, where we visited Shoshana at the school she attends, just outside Zion National Park. In addition to the academics, the school’s therapeutic component includes Equine Therapy, allowing them to grow through their work with horses. We watched Shoshana impressively interact with her horse, Roman, a horse who experienced great trauma in his youth and whom Shoshana is helping rehabilitate. All in all, the girls at this school, wake up each morning at 5:30 AM and must choose what type of day to have: one with a positive attitude or one with a negative outlook, and that choice determines the trajectory of their day.

This week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, begins with “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse”. The basic understanding of the chapter is that just before his passing, Moses is reminding Jewry that if they choose the path of G-d, a path Jewish observance, it will result in blessing and if they choose an idolatrous path, it won’t end well. Yet, recently I heard a fellow share a novel interpretation: Behold, I set before you today. G-d is telling us that He has gifted us with a new day. Each day is an opportunity for us: either turn it into a blessing by focusing on “now” or, as we do so often, think of our time as unlimited, because there’s “tomorrow” and “next week”, and live "today" fruitlessly. It’s not easy to consciously utilize each day, each moment, but G-d doesn’t shower us with unearned blessings, rather, He gives us the ability to see the blessing in each day, but whether we do or don’t, that’s on us.

I’m no Tzadik and too often I think long term, I stress over the bigger picture and I even miss opportunities to live in the moment because I’m overwhelmed by “everything on my plate”. It’s unhealthy, and perhaps silly, to live this way as along the way to the bigger “stuff”, I miss out on all the amazing blessings that are right here “before me”. Five days and fifteen hundred miles of driving with four kids in the car, can either make one miserable with deep prayer for peace and quiet or we could cherish each – or almost each – moment and enjoy the craziness and the meltdowns, the potty stops and the never ending need for snacks, recognizing that they are kids who are alive, healthy and acting their age, a blessings, a blessing, a blessing.

Don’t let the big picture distract you from the Kodak moments!

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!!!

Ecstasy in our living room!

Last Shabbos, as I slowly awakened from my well-earned - and totally refreshing – snooze, my heart warmed at the sound in our home. Wherever I turned, no matter the room, I could hear genuine Torah study. Tourists and locals alike spent their Shabbat afternoon enthralled in the wisdom of old. Two Yeshiva students from Lakewood studying Daf Yomi engrossed in the tractate of Temura, one young man from Israel was deep in a Yerushalmi while cross-referencing with a Shulchan Aruch, a Lubavitcher on the sofa was deep into his daily study of Maimonides, two women were demystifying the mysticism of Tanya and a Jewish senior from Monsey was enjoying the responsa of Reb Yoel of Satmar.

In this week’s Torah portion, Eikev, we read the second portion of Shema. In it, we read “And you shall set these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul…And you shall teach them to your sons to speak with them, when you sit in your house and when you walk on the way...” It’s basic, yet deeply profound: If we want our children to “live” Torah, if we want the next generation of Jews to study Moses’ Five Books and all of its commentaries morning and evening, we need to have it etched in our hearts and soul. Kids don’t learn from the unlearned, they can’t internalize superficiality and they will not utilize their time healthfully when those who are raising them don’t respect the gift of time allotted to them.

Sports is fun and politics addictive, but children won’t take Judaism seriously if they hear more about LeBron and Trump, Pelosi and Messi, than they do about Hulda and Pinchas. This is a personal struggle for me. There are times I want to kick back and just scroll through my twitter feed, my Facebook messages and not fill those moments with meaning; I just want to do nothing. Humanly, it’s almost impossible to be studious and holy 24/7, but if my children never see me in ecstasy with Tosfos, engrossed in a Maamar or debating a ruling of Reb Moshe, how can I expect them to take Torah study to heart? If it’s real to us, there’s a chance it will be real to them, but unopened books have never produced scholars.

Geysers are G-dly; so is a teaching of Reb Shlomo Zalman!

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!!!

G-d, we need Advil!

Sunday evening, as I stood in Shul for a beautiful Mincha Minyan commemorating Tisha B’Av, my head was splitting. It was one of the worst headaches I can recall, and I couldn’t wait for the fast to end. When the headache finally subsided close to midnight, I realized that the desperation I felt for an end to my personal suffering, is how we are all meant to feel about the exile. We say “Blessed are You…. Who comforts Zion and rebuilds Jerusalem”, but we are tired of the prayer and are seeking that G-dly reality; we want the spiritual water and caffeine that will get rid of our collective headache.

This week is endearingly called “Shabbat Nachamu”, the “Shabbat of Comfort”, as we read Isaiah’s prophecy that foretells better days “Console, console My people," says your God…. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh together shall see that the mouth of the Lord spoke… Like a shepherd who tends his flock, with his arm he gathers lambs, and in his bosom he carries them, the nursing ones he leads… Lift up your eyes on high and see, who created these, who takes out their host by number; all of them He calls by name…”. It’s a deeply comforting message that has reminded Jews for some 2,600 years that exile isn’t permanent, and that our ultimate, when we are living a holy life in the Holy Land, unburdened by strife, war, hunger and stress, with full access to unfettered spirituality, will come about sooner than later.

Yes, every Mitzvah we do, every moment we connect with G-d, inches us closer to that era, but today I take the liberty to turn the tables on G-d: Dear G-d, in Lamentations we read “Restore us to You, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old.”. In our daily prayers we combine Psalm 25 and 130 and recite “O God, redeem Israel from all its troubles. And He will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.” We’ve been working hard to do our part, but it’s high time for You to bring about that Messianic change we’ve all been waiting for, without any preconditions or expectations of us. Your people who You entrusted at Sinai to live Your Torah and brighten Your world, have been doing just that for over 3,000 years! Our Jewish headache, or better yet, migraine, has been rough, and today I, Chaim Shaul Ben Chana Leah, demand that You provide the ultimate Advil and bring about the comfort You’ve promised just like that. Just do it!

I’m waiting; don’t procrastinate!

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!!!

Stop: Crime Ahead!

Yesterday, I visited Montana State prison in Deer Lodge, as I do when needed. It’s never easy going into a prison, as the stories, anguishes, yearning for family, and sometimes, the gravity of the offense, is heartbreaking to the core. As I headed home to Bozeman, with my buddy Alan who joined me for Torah study on the road, I kept thinking of the warning signs we are shown in order to remain lawful and moral. Flashing lights that proclaim “trouble ahead”, and yet so many of us in the human family aren't able, in the weakness of the moment, to refrain from breaking the law, hurting others, hurting ourselves, hurting our families, and forcing the authorities to do something about it.

In this week’s Torah portion, Devarim, first in the book of Deuteronomy, we read about Moses’ rebuke to his people, just a couple of weeks before his passing. Moses, who normally rebuked them only in the heat of the moment, so they could be stopped in their tracks and cease their inappropriate activity, chose, at the end of his life, to rebuke them for all of their past weaknesses, failures, and mistakes made during their forty years together in the Sinai desert. It wasn’t easy for Moses to hit them hard, but he knew, like good parents and teachers, that if they don’t understand that their behavior, good, bad and ugly, has consequences, the end result, the final product, will be even worse.

This weekend, we usher in the 
Ninth of Av, a day on which we commemorate the destruction of both of our Holy Temples in Jerusalem, and, sadly, many other tragic events that plagued Jewry. We gather to mourn, we read Lamentations, we express, collective and individual, regret for our past behavior,  as well as, resolve to make tomorrow brighter. Sure, G-d could’ve saved our Temples and ignored our sins, but He wouldn’t be doing a good job, and wouldn’t be having our best interest at heart. The consequences bestowed unto us help us reach greater heights and be better versions of ourselves.

Rebuke is never easy, but silence is worse!

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!!!

Berkeley's Warm Welcome!

On Tuesday, I flew out to Oakland, where I was honored to attend the premiere of The Rabbi Goes West, produced by Amy Geller and Gerald Peary about Chavie and I and our life to Big Sky Country. It was strange watching myself on a theater screen, but I was really touched to be received so warmly by the two hundred in attendance at the Landmark's Albany Twin Theater near Berkeley. While so much of the film is about the Chabad Lubavitch philosophy and movement, about the Rebbe and his incredible mission, about our achievements and future aspirations, what inspired me most, was the many conversations with Montanan, both Jews and gentiles, who spoke warmly about our friendships and their appreciation for the Jewish traditions that we celebrate together in our beloved Bozeman.

 

In this week’s double Torah portion, Matot-Massei, the last in the book of Numbers, we read about Jewry’s forty-two encampments during their forty years of desert dwelling. The Baal Shem Tov taught that these specific locals are not only geographical, but also a reflection of the internal journey we each are on in life. Like the Jews leaving Egypt en-route to Israel, every human being experiences many liberations from internal slavery, some bigger breakthroughs and some smaller, but each step is vital for our spiritual growth. It doesn’t say “this is the journey” leaving Egypt, but “these are the journeys”, because yesterday’s exodus may have been enough for yesterday’s bondage, yesterday’s struggles, but today we must leave our current Egypt, our self-inflicted restrictiveness created anew today.

A “Jew on a journey”. Constant development.

Paola and Brooke, each in their own way, eloquently addressed this precise topic in the film: At Chabad everyone is always welcomed as they are, no strings attached. We aren’t scared off by your self-imposed labels, we aren’t unprepared for the reality that most Jews have previous “Jewish trauma”, we aren’t journalists seeking to assess your current “relationship with G-d”; we care about you, period. Every member of our Jewish family has their own unique journey and Chabad is a place, both physical and in mindset, for each to see their beautiful self, their naturally embedded G-d spark, and strive to make brightness ensue. I’m certain that not all the Berkeley Jews in attendance agreed with everything I said or how Chavie and I live our life, but they were respectful, grateful that I showed up and recognized that we are a family and, while we don’t always agree on methods, we are journeying to a common destiny with Mashiach Tzikeinu.

Thank you, Berkeley!!!

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!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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