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Weekly Message

Joseph of Montana!

WOW, WOW, WOW! Six days of light! It started Saturday night with a packed crowed downtown for a Havdalah & Menorah lighting ceremony with Senator Steve Daines, on to Sunday where the Yeshiva students visited homes in Three Forks, Manhattan and Belgrade, continuing on Monday with a Chanukah Wonderland at Southgate Mall in Missoula, visits to Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs, Anaconda and Butte and ending with a Menorah lighting at the Livingston Depot, moving on to Tuesday with a Menorah lighting at Rocky Mountain Bank in Billings and a lovely Chanukah Bash at our home with over seventy souls and on to Wednesday with visits to Great Falls and a MAJCO Menorah lighting in Helena with Governor Steve Bullock at the Capitol. This bright week wrapped up so joyfully last night with heartfelt dancing in Brooklyn as former Malmstrom Airman Yehouda Abecassis married his beloved Lieba Bard-Wigdor!

In this week’s Torah portion, Mikeitz, we read about how lonely/hurt/estranged Joseph transitions from longtime prisoner to viceroy of the Egyptian Empire. It’s a remarkable tale of perseverance and hope. In addition, Joseph remains an unwavering Jew, never forgetting his Hebrew language, his holy roots and his beloved father Jacob, who was back in Israel. Despite living in depraved Egypt, he teaches his sons Efraim and Menashe about their familial heritage and the importance of living a sacred lifestyle. When his brothers show up from Israel, during the middle eastern famine, seeking food, he immediately asks how their father is doing, even before identifying himself to them. Over two decades of separation didn’t extinguish the light of his soul, the connection to his people, as it miraculously continued to glow.

I meet Joseph’s all over Montana.

Chavie and I have been living in Bozeman for almost a decade now, and we constantly see, that, like the Chanukah Menorah, the light of the Jewish soul is bright and increases it brightness every day. For many it’s been years, or even decades, since they last observed certain Mitzvos or went to Shul, “Rabbi I can’t recall the last time I lit Shabbat candles”, yet when delicately reminded of their radiant soul, they experience a genuine resurgence. When you witness a ninety-seven-year-old Holocaust survivor joyfully lighting the Menorah on the same day that a five-year-old dresses up like Judah the Maccabee, you know that Am Yisroel Chai, you know that, like Joseph, we don’t only survive despite the spiritual challenges but the darkness itself incentivizes us to remain strong and create even more light.

“Out of touch”, doesn’t equal “connection lost”!

 

 

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

Role Model of Courage!

It was so special and truly touched my heart. Despite the -24 temperatures outside, forty friends gathered to celebrate my 35th birthday while enjoying a gourmet Shabbat dinner courtesy of Chavie. It was a great start to a Chabad marathon: On Sunday evening, twenty five souls gathered with Pittsburgh Rabbi Shmuly for a Dinner Farbrengen in honor of the 19th of Kislev, Monday and Tuesday were “Keep the fire burning” days, raising over $18,000 in 36 hours for our vital work, Tuesday night the Women’s League gathered for a pre-Chanukah “Painting and Wine” at The Painted Buddha, Thursday we hosted a fun Chanukah pottery event for Jewish kids at Arts on Fire and Chanukah hasn’t even started yet….

I’m asked often: How do you have the energy?

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeishev, the one I read at my Bar Mitzvah, we read about Joseph’s descent into depraved Egypt. During his “employment” at the home of Potiphar, lonely Joseph is seduced by his master’s wife and found himself just moments away from sinning. Instead, in an unquestionable act of defiance, he resists her and, as a result, pays the heavy price of long term imprisonment. Where did he get the inner courage to hold back? Our sages teach that the image of his father Jacob flashed in his mind and it inspired him to resist her. We all need figures to remind us who we are, for Joseph it was his dad and for me it’s my mom, Bubby and Zaidy all of blessed memory and my father Zol Zain Gezunt.

But it’s more.

I was gifted to not only have wonderful parents, grandparents and teachers who I adore, admire and seek to emulate, but I have a Rebbe. When I have a moment of weakness, a day of stress, a gut wrenching experience, it is the Rebbe I see. He’s handing me that dollar, giving me that Tanya, responding to my innocent L’Chaim and giving me a little cup of Kos Shel Bracha wine; it uplifts me. We each need a guide or two, whose love we cherish and whose smile we see when we close our eyes, inspiring us to make the right/holy/moral decision. As we enter the eight days of Chanukah, we must remember that the choice of light over darkness isn’t always easy and a push from a role model, in words or thoughts, goes a long way. 

A Freilichen Chanukah!

 

 

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!!!

Spiritual Hypothermia?

Years ago, my friend Greg from Gardiner, gifted me with a pair of socks that have kept my feet warm even in Montana’s occasional -40 temperatures. As I’ve learned over time, when our feet are kept warm it’s extremely helpful with blood circulation and keeping the body temperature stable. Though feet seem somewhat unimportant in relation to the vital bodily organs, yet because of its flat surface it allows for a good amount of blood flow. I thought a lot about this over the past ten days as we experienced our annual “Ice Age” in Bozeman.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, we read about Dina’s horrific abuse by, and in, Shechem/Nablus. Our sages teach us that Dina, like her mother Leah, was extremely outgoing and were both true socialites. Yet, Chassidus explains this, not as a negative trait G-d forbid, but very positive. Dina saw a bright world, where everyone, including Esau, Shechem and other lowly individuals, has the potential to change their ways. She believed in humanity’s goodness, even when it was at her own expense. She didn’t see negativity and hide; she saw negativity and ran toward it, hoping to transform it.

When a brother/sister needs you, introvertism is not an option.

This Monday world Jewry will celebrate the 19th of Kislev, the liberation of Rav Schneur Zalman of Liadi from czarist imprisonment. He was arrested because, following in the footsteps of his teacher Rav Dovber and the founder of Chassidism Rav Yisroel Baal Shem Tov, he believed that we must reach in and reveal the depth of each soul. We mustn’t see people based on externalities, but rather see them for who they are at the core. They may be Torah ignorant, lacking in Mitzvos observance, they may seem like the feet of our people, the unimportant ones, but without their warmth, without their super functionality, the collective hJewish body can die of spiritual hypothermia.  

Let’s take Dina’s approach; see the best in humanity! 

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!!!

Funeral Dancing!

We tend to experience many of life’s moments overwhelmed by conflicting emotions. I was chatting with the kids this week about the momentous Warsaw wedding of the Rebbe and Rebbetzin of blessed memory, which took place in November of 1928. I shared with them that Reb Levik and Rebbetzin Chana, the Rebbe’s beloved parents, were prohibited from leaving Ukraine courtesy of the Soviets and instead celebrated the Simcha in their hometown of Dnepropetrovsk. They danced and cried the night away, overjoyed for their eldest son to have found his beloved Bashert, but deeply saddened that they couldn’t celebrate in person.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeitzei, we read about Jacob’s lonely sojourn away from his Israel based family to the unknown boonies. On the one hand, it was extremely sad, being separated from his parents for over thirty years and he struggled with that detachment. Yet, it was specifically under those unbearable Laban-pervaded circumstances that Jacob prospered and created a family. It was a constant internal struggle: a somber longing for home, coupled with a joyous appreciation for the current successes.

Tonight we celebrate Yud Kislev. The second Chabad Rebbe, Rav Dovber, was freed from Czarist imprisonment on this day in 1772. One day before the one year anniversary of his liberation, when the Chassidim were going to hold a mass celebration, the Rebbe passed away. Hours before he passed he told his students “be joyous”, be joyous no matter what. The following day at the funeral the Chassidim cried as they escorted and laid their Rebbe to rest while singing the words “Der Rebbe Hut Geheisen Freilach Zain”, meaning “the Rebbe instructed us to be joyous”. This is the take away: life doesn’t always go our way, but in our tears we must never forget, like Jacob, that there’s always reason for happiness and gratefulness.

Der Rebbe Hut Geheisen Freilach Zain!

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!!!

Double Identity!

There was a time in Jewish history that people would kiss the Torah in Shul with their mouth and give Tzedakah with their hands, today people kiss the Torah with their hands and give Tzedakah with their mouths”. I heard this anecdote many times in the countless conversations I shared with my Zayde, Reb Shimon Goldman, whose Shloshim we commemorated this week. He’d say “Chaim Shaul, a person must be sincere. It’s easy to impress your friends by pledging to charity; it’s a lot harder to pay it up”. We don’t like seeing a two-faced individual and we shouldn’t act that way ourselves either.

You see, in this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, we read about the marriage of Esau. Why suddenly a yearning to settle down at the age forty? The Midrash says that “Esau was compared to a swine...This swine, when it lies down, stretches out its hooves, as if to say, “See, I am a kosher animal (even though it doesn’t chew its cud). So do the chiefs of Esau rob and plunder and then pretend to be honorable. During the entire forty years, Esau kidnapped wives from their husbands and violated them. When he was forty years old, he said: “My father married at forty; I, too, will do the same.” He played holy, while living unholy.

When I was younger I would occasionally say or do things to impress others. When guided by our emotions, whether love or fear, we choose to create a façade to present ourselves to the public in one way, while living a different life on the inside. It’s painful to live this way and the Torah encourages us to learn from Isaac, not Esau. Isaac preferred internal transformation over instantaneous cover ups. Expressing “one thing in our mouths and another in our hearts” is unhealthy and something my Zayde disdained. He was a hardworking butcher, who earned an honest living while teaching me by example to be myself all around.  

Double identity may be a good movie title, but not for real life!  

 

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

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