Want to keep in the loop on the latest happenings at . Subscribe to our mailing list below. We'll send you information that is fresh, relevant, and important to you and our local community.
Printed from JewishMontana.com

Weekly Message

Jews with Guilt?

Despite Spring Break and half of Bozeman escaping the melting snow and falling roofs, over eighty people joined us last night for Purim Under the Sea (Photo Gallery Here). While it’s always a rockin’ party, I find that people celebrate, not just because of the food and entertainment, but because the story of Purim resonates with their soul, with their very essence. Why? Because Haman is still around, Esther and Mordechai are still fighting for Jewish survival and the world is full of “neutral people” that don’t necessarily dislike us but for few dollars or a smile from Haman would be happy to rid the world of “the Jew”. Spoiler alert: you will never defeat us.

In this week’s Torah portion, Tzav, we read about the various types of Tabernacle offerings: daily, Shabbos, holidays, Rosh Chodesh, sin, guilt, peace, thanksgiving and more. An offering is a mechanism to get closer to G-d and the way I see it is that you can choose to get closer via guilt or via thanksgiving. You can either continue the 3,300-year-old traditions of Judaism because you feel guilty ignoring them. That guilt may be self-inflicted or through the “loving” intervention of your mother or Bubby, but guilt it is. Or you can have a relationship with Hashem based on thanksgiving, recognizing that you were chosen at Sinai for the unique service of being a “light unto the nations” and you’re expressing your thanks for being part of Am Yisroel by living its traditions.

Last night, as I read the eternal words of the Megilla, It was clear to me that no one was there reluctantly, they were there because until this very day Haman is saying “There is one nation scattered and dispersed among the nations throughout the provinces of your kingdom, whose laws are unlike those of any other nation and who do not obey the laws of the King. It is not in the King's interest to tolerate them”, Esther is pleading “For my people and I have been sold to be annihilated, killed and destroyed!” and at the end of it all we know that our unity, our prayers and our repentance will result in “For the Jews there was light and happiness, joy and glory”. We celebrate Purim to give thanks to G-d  for the daily Purim’s in which G-d ensures, one way or another, that Haman will fail.

Time For A Thanksgiving Offering!

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!!!

Peace, inshallah!

Last night, just before heading to bed, my friend Yankel tweeted something about a shooting attack at a mosque in New Zealand. It was heartbreaking to learn this morning that forty-nine Muslim worshipers at two mosques were targeted for annihilation for simply choosing to pray to G-d. Does anyone really believe that terror like this, inflicted on men, women and children, is going to make the world a better place? Whether it’s in Israel against Jews, Iraq against Christians, India against Buddhists or in New Zealand against Muslims, we must never remain silent when pure evil, Amalek-style hatred, proliferates in our midst.    

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayikra, the first in the book of Leviticus, we read about the communal sin offering. While in the literal sense it refers to a case in which the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court, errs in judgment and as a result all of Jewry sins, figuratively, it’s a reminder that at times we must be collectively honest, digging deep into our souls, asking ourselves how we got here? Did we contribute in any way to this communal sin? Just last week I heard one of my kids joking about an Arab name they thought was funny and I immediately reminded them that “people think our names sound weird too, but you wouldn’t want them to make fun of us”. As a community, we must join to remove hate ideology. Before we open our mouths, we must ask ourselves whether what we are about to say will bring people together, shine a positive light on the person/community of which we speak and if not, make the righteous choice of keeping our mouths shut.

Muslims are certainly frightened today. Like Jews in Pittsburgh, Catholics in the Philippines and Sikhs in Wisconsin, Muslims are hurt and rightfully so. I am at the forefront of condemning Islamic terrorism and love Israel and its people with every fiber of my being, but that doesn’t mean we can sit back and ignore the atrocities done to innocent Muslims in Myanmar, China or New Zealand. I am raising my children to respect every human being, it’s not easy, but I give it all I’ve got, please join me in doing the same. In the words of Albert Einstein “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it”. 

May peace reign soon, inshallah!

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!!!

Blueprints!

This week, as I do each year, I had the pleasure of speaking to high school students of Bozeman’s Heritage Christian School. During my one-hour talk I asked the students a few questions: “Who was the greatest Prophet to ever live on earth?”, “What day of the week is the Sabbath?”, “Why do we celebrate Passover?” and there was one student, sitting in the second row, that knew the answers to almost all my questions. I was impressed, as being a sixteen-year-old today with the addiction to smart phones, social media and pop culture, it’s hard to keep up with Moses, the Ten Commandments and Queen Esther.  

In this week’s Torah portion, Pekudei, the last in the Book of Exodus, we read about the accounting of the Tabernacle donations and the completion of its construction. With two primary project managers, Betzalel and Oholiav, every Jew was able to join the team of artisans, building a G-d-guided architectural masterpiece. Hashem didn’t just say “it’s your intent that matters”, “You get an A for effort” or “If you run out of silver use copper instead”; He was extremely clear that in order for His presence to dwell on earth, for heaven and earth to kiss perfectly, every instruction detail must be followed to the last socket.  

Americas incredible freedom has confused people into thinking they can tell G-d how “they think” the world can be made better. In truth, there is only one way to make a more holy, more ethical, more moral and more habitable home for G-d on earth, that is by following His ingredients for a better life. It’s not magic or with overnight miracles, as with those building the Tabernacle, it takes lots of hard work and devotion. For us, there is Five Books of blue prints and thousands of pages of interior design specs available in the Talmud and Halacha that were prepared for our project, we just need to study them. Let’s raise a generation who are taught the plans, instead of us complaining when they make up their own.

It’s all in the details!

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!!!

Weekend Gossip!

Montanans are not ones to complain about inclement weather, but the past couple of weeks has changed the rules of the game and almost everyone I’ve run into is basically saying the words I keep thinking “enough is enough”. To paraphrase from Tevya on Fiddler on the Roof “I know Montana is Your chosen State but could You choose someplace else once in a while”. Naturally, the weather brings people together. We are more understanding of canceled appointments, we are more thoughtful about a car or person at the side of the road, we are more forgiving to the post office who won't deliver to some areas and when my SUV was stuck, it didn’t take eight minutes before two friends immediately came to pull me out.

This week’s Torah portion, Vayak'hel, begins with these words “Moses called the whole community of the children of Israel to assemble, and he said to them: "These are the things that the Lord commanded to make. Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to the Lord…You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwelling places on the Sabbath day." On the first post-Egypt Yom Kippur, Moses descends the Mountain with the Second Tables and G-d’s forgiveness, and the next morning he gathers the people, commands them to build a Tabernacle and that Shabbos ingenuity, deciphered as the 39 forms of creativity including lighting fires, is prohibited, even when used in service of G-d.

To me the verse has an additional meaning: to bring people together, to “assemble the children of Israel”, you need a Moses, an individual who is principled and firm, yet loving and devoted to the wellbeing of his people above all. Moses reminds them that each Jew needs a day of rest, a Shabbos, and on that day, we cannot ignite fire, we can’t be engulfed in divisive fiery rhetoric, gossip or screaming matches. Moses teaches us that in life, when trying to build our own internal Tabernacle, in our body, our home, our workplace, we need to introduce a peaceful experience of rest that is free of all types of “fire”. For that to happen we each need a Moses that can guide us to be disciplined, humble and focused on the task at hand without getting caught up in the “saga of the day”.

I have a Moses, do 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!!!

 

Moses' Sinners!

We had the honor of spending this past Shabbos with the Wolf’s at Chabad of the Flathead Valley and visiting with the Vogel’s at Chabad of Missoula on Monday. I remember the time, not too long ago, when Chavie and I served as the only Chabad couple in the State and to see the growth, not only with two more couples, but with hundreds who attend our programming is heartwarming and indicative of a bright future. While in Kalispell, the Wolf’s hosted a full table of locals for Shabbos dinner and six Jews showed up the next morning for Torah study. We are not the UJA and Jews are not statistics, it’s about souls searching for Torah light and having families on site ready to offer them just that.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Tisa, we read about the infamous Golden Calf. The Jewish people sin against G-d, betraying Him and his envoy Moses, and G-d is adamant on wiping them off the face of the earth. Yet, just at that critical moment, something radical transpires. Moses tells G-d that either He forgives Jewry for their betrayal or he’s out. He doesn’t want his name mentioned in the Torah, he doesn’t want his name listed in the Book of Life; it’s me and my people or none of us, period. G-d offers Moses a grandiose opportunity for a new nation with Moses at its helm, but Moses sticks to his guns and doesn’t capitulate to G-d’s seduction.

Moses understood something that our Rebbe taught us three thousand years later: If one Jew doesn’t matter, no Jew matters. If a Jewish family in Columbia Falls isn’t important enough for a Kosher Mezuzah, if a Jew in Stevensville isn’t worthy of his own pair of Tefillin and if a Jewess in Roundup isn’t worthy of Shabbat candles, then no Jew anywhere, matters at all. The logic is simple: If the individual isn’t important, then putting a bunch of unimportant people together doesn’t make it any more important. Let’s take to heart Moses’ defense of the ultimate sinners and remember that we each have inherent value that must be recognized first and foremost by ourselves and then by our leaders, rabbis and the community at large.

Every Neshama’le Matters!

 

 

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!!!

Integrity!

Raising five children, like living life, is complex, but a vital component throughout the process, is constancy.  Children need the integrity of consistency, but it’s hard for them to integrate this invaluable attribute, if they see their parents live capriciously. We are their role model and therefore must live with the standards we wish of them. I had the opportunity of visiting with Shoshana for a few hours this week and this was the theme throughout our conversations: integrity, integrity, integrity. Living with integrity is not just a bonus attribute to support wholesome living but it’s really at the core of all of life’s experiences.

In this week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, we read of the daily commandment “ The one lamb you shall offer up in the morning and the other lamb you shall offer up in the afternoon.”. The Midrashic sages debate the most important verse of the Torah. Is it the Shema Yisroel, the proclamation of, and belief in, G-d’s oneness? Is it to love your fellow as yourself? Is it the idea that G-d created every human in His image and should be treated with dignity? Yet, despite the importance of these concepts, Ben Pazi says that the verse commanding two daily offerings in the Holy Temple is most central, even more than those more popular ideas. The Midrash concludes that Ben Pazi is correct.  

What did Ben Pazi recognize that the other sages didn’t? It’s that Judaism without consistency is destined to failure.

Internalization, building a deep relationship with our Creator, is key and it’s impossible without a steady experience enabling its growth. Bringing bonus Musaf offerings, windfall spiritual highs, are awesome, but can only survive long-term, if they sit on the shoulders of a daily relationship with G-d. There’s no guarantee that holidays will be as super uplifting as we’d like or that our children will adhere to the values we impart to them, but at a minimum we should do our part of “walking the walk” with G-d and humanity, not just “talk the talk”.

In the words of a wise author “Consistency isn’t rocket science, it’s commitment”!

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!!!

State of my union!

The Constitution states that the President “shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Indeed, on Tuesday, over forty-six-million Americans, including members of both Houses of Congress, watched as President Trump spoke to the nation. This 200+ year-old custom, which started with President George Washington, gives the citizens of our precious union an opportunity to hear where things currently stand in our country; making some happy, some furious and some confused.

In this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, we read about the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, the earthly display of the human-Creator relationship. As we ponder the Holy Ark, the Menorah, the Alter, the Showbread and all the other holy furniture, we are taught life lessons. The Ark, housing the Torah, reminds us to stick to G-dly wisdom and not get seduced by other, sometimes appealing, ways of thinking. The Menorah with its seven lamps reminds us to always be a source of light in our tumultuous world. The Alter reminds us the importance of sacrifice/selflessness and the showbread teaches us that all our sustenance is a result of G-d’s kindness.

Every so often, we should pause and ask ourselves, what is the state of my union? What is the state of my relationship with G-d?. Just this morning, while bemoaning a financial challenge, Chavie said to me “Chaim Shaul, you don’t have enough trust in Hashem”. She’s 100% right, but I’m the first to admit that it’s hard. When saying the bedtime Shema, I must ask myself “Chaim, are you learning enough Torah? Are you brightening the world around you? Are you lessening your ego and living selflessly? Are you trusting in the Aibershter for real?”. My union certainly needs some real work to reach healthfulness, how about yours?

In the words of King David “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will bear 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!!!

Throw it to the dogs!

Earlier this week, I came across a heartwarming story that happened right here in Bozeman. UPS driver, Ryan Arens, was out delivering packages, when he jumped into a frozen pond to rescue Sadie, a drowning dog. It was inspiring but not shocking, as Ryan lived up to the Montana ethic that I’ve learned to appreciate: doing what’s right even at your own expense and comfort and caring for all G-d’s creatures in a most considerate way.

In this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, we are taught regarding Kosher consumption “And you shall be holy people to Me, and flesh torn in the field you shall not eat; you shall throw it to the dogs”. Even if an animal is Kosher, having fully split hooves and chewing its cud, if it dies of natural causes or is killed, it shouldn’t be eaten by a Jew as it’s not ritually slaughtered. One must wonder: why should we give it to the dogs? Isn’t it ok to serve it to any non-Jew who isn’t Kosher observant? Midrash Mechilta teaches “Because the Holy One, blessed is He, does not withhold the reward of any creature, as it is said: “But to all the children of Israel, not one dog will whet its tongue” (Exod. 11:7). Said the Holy One, blessed is He, “Give it its reward.”. The dogs didn’t bark at Jewry during the Egyptian Exodus, so they are rewarded with extra care by our people.

G-d, once again, is teaching us the importance of gratefulness. If a dog, who G-d programmed to remain silent during the exodus miracle, is given credit for its behavior and we reciprocate for all eternity, how much more so, when a fellow human being chooses to do an act of kindness, should it be recognized by the recipient and credited. The one who is acting kind may not need or want the recognition, but in our hearts, we mustn’t ever forget what they’ve done for us, our community and our world. There is no time limit to gratefulness, as it should be vivid in our memory forever.

As they say, “a grateful heart is a magnet for miracles”!

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!!!

If you treat her like a queen...

In the 60’s we were taught that “Behind every great man there's a great woman” and that “If you treat a woman like a queen, she'll treat you like a king”. Even the Talmud mentions that Rav Akivah said about his wife Rachel, who encouraged him to study Torah for twenty-four uninterrupted years, “What is mine and what is yours is hers”. Yet, as Chavie flew to rainy New York to attend the Chabad Shluchos conference, I was pondering “women's lib” and how as we inch closer to the era of Mashiach, it is becoming more apparent how vital women’s roles are in Jewish life, not as “support staff” but as key representatives of Torah and its values.

In this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, we read about the Sinai revelation and the giving of the Torah. G-d bequeathed the world with His infinite wisdom and chose Moses as His messenger to deliver the gift. Who did Moses marry? we are taught that Tziporah was born into royalty, a daughter of Jethro, and she was a devoted mother to her sons, Gershom and Eliezer, and a dedicated backbone to Moses. The Midrash tells us that when Moses first arrived in Midian, Jethro the pagan wanted to kill Moses the Jew. He placed Moses in a decrepit dungeon, and it was Tziporah, his future wife, who sustained him in secret and later married him. She certainly stood by Moses in every way and allowed us to benefit from her Moses.

Yet, today we need more.  

You see, Chavie is not the force behind my rabbinic work and I am not the force behind her countless activities. We each have different roles both at home and in the community, but they are equally important. Yes, we support each other in every way possible, but more than anything else, we are partners, teammates, that work hand in hand to reach the same goals. There were times in Jewish history that men, like Moses and David, were the primary face of Judaism and times that women, like Deborah and Yehudis, were the face of our people. In our era, as we seek to infuse the world with the firm, yet delicate energies of femininity, we must have women at the forefront of the Jewish experience, inspiring the world so that the Shechina, the feminine powers of spirituality can reign in her, the holy city of Jerusalem, once again!

L’Chaim to Chavie and her fellow Hassidic feminists!

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!!!

Don't Choose Insanity!

 

It was certainly no coincidence that during the week in which we launched the Montana Academy for Judaic Studies, with our first class focusing on the life of Joshua and the virtues of leadership (Watch class), a local friend offered me a healthy dose of rebuke.  It’s never fun to be the recipient of genuine critique, but as I heard my friend share where they thought I had failed, I had a choice to make: do I choose stubbornness and refuse to ever change or do I choose to recognize that I act poorly sometimes, and must own up to it and make the necessary changes.

In this week’s Torah portion, Beshalach, we read about the miracle of miracles, the splitting of the Red Sea. Seven days earlier the Jews departed Egypt, they reached a milestone at Pi HaChiros, a place that signified freedom, as no other slave had ever passed that locale en-route to independence, and then, despite being trapped between the sea and the Egyptian army, G-d gave them miraculous passage and changed the course of history. Pharaoh should’ve known better: He experienced the ten plagues, his country was in turmoil and in a chaotic state, his own people begged him to let the Jews go, but when a person is egocentrically stubborn, logic is ignored, and they make insane choices.

We each have moments where pride blurs our logic and sends us astray. We don’t want to be arrogant, we don’t want to get a bad rap for our behavior, but we simply don’t think we have what it takes to change, especially when we’ve been doing something for a long time. I’d like to believe that at 37, I can still change, I can listen to critique coming from a place of care and make better choices. Will I succeed immediately? I doubt it, but unlike Pharaoh, I will certainly try. Today I am grateful that I have a support base who will set me straight when needed so that I can be a better husband, father, son, friend and rabbi. It’s easy to see Pharaoh as stubborn, but much harder to see that same attribute within ourselves.

In the words of Rumi “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” 

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!!!

I can't wait for the weekend!

He was talking about it for weeks, and finally on Sunday, Menny hit the slopes, as he enjoyed his first ski lesson of the winter season. While Chavie and the kids love Bridger Bowl and the thrill of the sport, I enjoy sitting in the coffee shop, gazing at the incredible mountains, chatting with the many friends I run into and even getting some work done in my makeshift office. Skiing entails a lot of Shlepping, but for real Montanans it's worth the time and effort. I’m happy to live in a place where we choose hiking over video games and skiing over T.V. addiction.

In this week’s Torah portion, Bo, we read about the first Mitzvah commanded to the Jewish nation: Sanctification of the moon. At the onset of each month, we take a moment to celebrate the renewal of the moon and the cycle of time it represents. G-d, as He commenced the exodus of His people from Egyptian bondage, teaches them an eternal lesson: slaves don’t care about time as they can’t control its usage; free people control their time and must cherish it, utilizing it for good and productive endeavors. Jewry follows a lunar calendar, not only to remind us that even when things seem dark, the light will be coming soon enough, but that time itself is precious and mustn’t be squandered.

My friend Quincy has been drilling me for fifteen years about the importance of being present and living in the moment; he’s right. Too often I’m told on a Monday “Rabbi, I can’t wait for the weekend” or on a Wednesday “the weekend can’t come soon enough”; that’s not a healthy or G-dly way to live. Time is limited, a commodity whose quantity is decided by G-d but we get to choose its quality. There’s no better gift for ourselves, our children and our sanity than living in the moment and not wasting life away waiting for what’s up next.

In the words of William Penn “Time is what we want most, but... what we use worst.”

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!!!

I'm a Zionist through Fire & Water!

Yes, I’ve always loved our homeland Israel, but this week, Chavie and I, along with our four younger children, made our inaugural visit to Utah’s Zion National Park. As we gazed at the rock formations and colors, I kept humming the words to a Yiddish song I cherish “Don’t tell G-d how big your problems are, tell your problems how big your G-d is”.  Breathtaking, awe-inspiring and spectacular are just words and don’t truly do justice to what one experiences in Zion. It’s a place that turns agnostics into believers and the “I’m not a nature person” people, into folks screaming “I love nature”.

It touches the essence of our being.

Interestingly, just hours before entering the park, I started my day, as I try to everyday, studying Chassidic philosophy and this discourse, by Divine Providence, began with Isiah’s words “Zion shall be redeemed through justice and her captives through tzedakah”. In it, our Rebbe of blessed memory, teaches that Zion in Hebrew means a Siman, a sign, referring to essence of the soul, which is indescribable and incomprehensible and can only be referenced through intimation. How can one redeem his/her Zion? How can one reveal their essence so that it brightens their expressive self? For that there is Justice, which is the study of Jewish law which is justice epitomized and acts of Tzedakah to those who need it most. Our personal Zion wants to impact us, practically, in the day to day, but for that to happen it needs nourishment, which is provided through intense study and selfless acts of service of others.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va’eria, we read how G-d administered the first seven, of the ten, plagues. We can choose to see the plagues as angry punishments or as wake up calls to change. G-d isn’t into punitive sentencing; He is into helping us fix our ways and sometimes that beckons tough love. Chavie and I got a call while leaving Zion that due to the frigid temperatures in Bozeman and actions unrelated to us, a few pipes burst in our home and caused some heavy damage. We could’ve blown up and blamed the whole world and G-d for this ordeal, but we chose, through meditation and working it through, to recognize that Hashem has a plan and if this is the only way to get two bedrooms remodeled courtesy of the insurance company, then we need to be grateful for the flooding.

Liberate Zion; one meditation at a time!

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

We Each Have a Story!

While road-tripping with Chavie and the kids, I ordered a black coffee at a Starbucks drive-through in Ogden, Utah. I pulled up to the window and was pleasantly surprised when the cashier told me “the person in front of you paid it forward”. The unsolicited gesture of kindness granted to me, inspired me to do the same for the person behind me in the, seemingly endless, line. As we drove away Chavie said “that was awesome, and I now know what you’re going to write about in your weekly email”. She was right, because I think that moment meant so much to me and it teaches me, and hopefully you, something so important: The person ahead of me on line, didn’t know me, my family or my story, yet chose to interact with me as if we were good friends.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shemot, the first in the book of Exodus, we read about the birth, adoption, exile, marriage and leadership appointment of Moshe Rabeinu, AKA Moses. Moses was an exceptional leader, not only because he tended to his flock, the Jewish people, with unbridled TLC, but because he did so without broad generalizations. Moses understood that he must look at everyone like G-d does, untainted by preconceptions, unbiased by external features or behaviors, and focused on the individual set of circumstances and realities of each person. Before Moses passes away, he asks G-d to appoint a man of Ruach, spirit, as his successor and G-d acquiesces. The Midrash explains that “a man of spirit” means “someone able to deal with the character and spirit of each individual”. Moses’ leadership success was attributed to his appreciation of each person’s story.

How often do we judge others without knowing anything about them? How often do teachers make rules that are equal for all students and won’t allow exceptions, even when there should be? How often do we assume things about our friends or co-workers, when in truth, we simply don’t know what’s really going on in their life? It’s been done to me and regretfully, I’ve done it to others more than I’d like to believe. Moses taught, along with the “pay it forward” person in Ogden, that we need to see a world, not in which everything is black and white or even slightly colorful, but a world in which there are billions of stories coming together to create a G-dly mosaic of goodness.

Let’s have a little bit of Moses in ourselves!

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!!!

Jacob Style Parenting!

After an uplifting family Shabbos in New York commemorating my mom’s eighth Yahrtzait, I traveled to South Florida to spend a day with Shoshana, who is studying at the Rohr Bais Chaya Academy in Coral Springs. Although I only had 9 hours with her, we enjoyed every second, as we chatted, laughed, caught up on her school grades and discussed life and its intricacies. We rode a beach surrey along the Hollywood boardwalk, enjoyed fine Kosher dining in Aventura and even got to see some reptiles at Miami’s Jungle World; when it was time for me to leave, it was hard for both of us. Parenting has interesting twists and turns, but for me the key has been to learn the language of each individual child and speak to them accordingly.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, the last in the book of Genesis, we read of Jacob’s final words to his beloved tribes before his passing. In what is undoubtedly a healthy mixture of rebuke, fatherly hopes, prophecy and blessings, Jacob respected the individuality of each child and talked to them in a way that resonated most with them, telling them each what they needed to hear most. He could’ve blessed all of them together “Y'all shall all be Torah scholars, righteous leaders and pious Jews”, but collective blessings don’t tap into the exceptionality of each person, allowing their inimitable personalities to shine; individual focus does.

I admit that at times, I wish that my kids would journey through life as angels without any hiccups along the way. Yet Jacob taught us that some kids are warriors, some kids are scholars, some kids are businessman and some kids are farmers. Every nation, every family, needs a diverse group of souls who each contribute something special to the family and the world. It's the wish of Chavie and I, indeed our every prayer, that Shoshana, Chaya, Zeesy, Menny and Chana Laya, all grow to be Chassidim, soldiers in G-d’s army of world illumination, but how they go about that task, it is our hope that they do it with their distinct touch. In the words of Reb Mendel of KotzkIf I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you. But, if I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you”.

Are you the best 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!!!

Thank You Mommy!

What a bright time in Big Sky Country. After celebrating with Jews in fourteen Montana cities, we wrapped up Chanukah with a Menorah lighting downtown with Mayor Cyndy Andrus, who surprised us all when revealing her Jewish roots, followed by an incredible celebration at The Rialto with Ilan Smith, in which we honored Edis Kittrell for her unwavering kindness, Sheriff Brian Gootkin for his commitment to our safety and young Max Goodwin for his devotion to making the Minyan (photo galleries here). It is inspiring when a 15-year-old, growing up in 2018, still sees Judaism as illuminating and recognizes the importance of Jewish continuity.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, we read about Joseph’s emotional reunion with his eleven brothers. In the process, he introduces them to his sons Efraim and Menashe, who were born and raised by Joseph and Osnas while living in depraved Egypt. Osnas herself was raised by Potifar and his wife, but was the biological daughter of Dina, Jacob’s daughter and Joseph’s half-sister. This power couple didn’t allow the circumstances to dictate the fate of their children, rather amid the G-dless Egyptian environment, they raised two Hebrew-speaking, Jacob-loving, moral-following Jewish kids. Max, like Efraim and Menasha, has a mother, Sarah, who encourages him to embrace Torah and joins him in Shul, watching with Nachas as he gets his Aliyah.

This weekend marks eight years since my beloved mother Chana Leah Bas Reb Shimon passed away. I miss her dearly and the ache in my heart is as painful today, as it was on that freezing December day of 2010. Like many others, during my childhood I experienced extremely challenging moments that necessitated vast amounts of love and care. My parents, my Joseph and Osnas, didn’t surrender to the circumstances, didn’t diminish their hopes for me and didn’t minimize their expectations of me; they helped me embrace my inner potential, didn’t allow me to fall victim to the thorny realities and propelled me to be the Chaim they believed I could be. My mother saw things in me that I didn’t see myself and that is a gift that I thank her for every day.

So, Mommy, please listen closely in heaven! Your five children and their spouses, along with your twenty grandchildren, including five Chana Leah’s named for you, have not forgotten you. We thank G-d every day for the gift of having a mother/Bubby like you. We, your kids, didn’t always do things your way, but we always cherished having a mother who would set us straight, guided us through the dark tunnels of life and wanted us to be happy people. You taught us in your actions as a school teacher how to be kind, especially to those most vulnerable in our society. You showed us while riding the subway how to be a light unto the nations around us. You taught us how to treat family in how you cared for your parents and worshiped your siblings. Ma, when you hugged me, it felt right, it felt like everything was going to be ok and that even when it won’t, you will always have my back and be there for me. I miss your hug, I miss your reassurances, but please know that I send you a virtual hug and will never stop loving my beloved mom who not only gave birth to me back in 81’, but raised to be the Mentsch I strive to be.

A Yiddishe Mame!

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!!!

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.