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Weekly Message

I love my brothers!

Earlier this week I celebrated my 39th birthday. It was nice ushering it in with a beautiful family dinner produced by Chavie with bells and whistles just for the seven of us. While our Montana community will come together on Zoom to Farbreng, as we do each year for Yud Tes Kislev, this year with Turkish Rabbi Mendy Chitrik (sign up for the zoom link here), it was really uplifting for me to spend three hours on Tuesday with classmates, colleagues, relatives and my two brothers, Yochanan and Yanky, on a Zoom Farbrengen with our uncle Chaim Shaul who we adore and respect. It’s been hard the past nine months being away from loved ones, and having two hysterical brothers, who make me laugh and are always there for me, is something I cherish every day.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, we read about the heartbreaking, and heartwarming, reunion of Jacob and Esau. After thirty-six years of estrangement, during which each of their families grew and their mother Rebecca passed-away, these antithetical twins reunite. They loved each other, they missed each other, but, sadly, they can’t live with each other, as Esau’s lifestyle is one of larceny, homicide, idolatry and womanizing, forcing Jacob to keep his family far away from him. At times we overlook the human aspect of our biblical figures; the grief, the hope, the sorrow, and the affection. Jacob and Esau couldn’t live with each other, but they couldn’t, and didn’t want to, ignore each other either.

Reading these stories stirs me to be grateful for my siblings. My two brothers and two sisters - aren’t just pitiful blood relatives who share my DNA, but - are my best friends. It’s not a given, as too many families experience acrimony and separation, so I am deeply appreciative of my beloved siblings. Jacob’s son Joseph had it rough with his brothers too, so did Cain and Abel, Solomon and his brother and too many others; the Torah shares these sad episodes to teach us how fragile the human ego can be and how quick a family can fall apart. I, for one, hope and pray that our family always remains unified; there is nothing like it.

We may not have it all together, but together we have it all!  

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 New "Humane Society"!

 

Chavie encouraged me to spend quality time with the kids on Thanksgiving, so, I make pancakes with Menny, baked granola bars with Chaya, broiled sweet potato fries with Zeesy and we had a wonderful Thanksgiving, Yud Kislev, dinner together. I shared with the kids the Thanksgiving proclamation, presented by President Kennedy, just seventeen days before his assassination, in which he writes “ On that day let us gather in sanctuaries dedicated to worship and in homes blessed by family affection to express our gratitude for the glorious gifts of God; and let us earnestly and humbly pray that He will continue to guide and sustain us in the great unfinished tasks of achieving peace, justice, and understanding among all men and nations and of ending misery and suffering wherever they exist .”

 

 

Oh, how I wish.

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeitzei, we read about our patriarch Jacob waking up the morning after his wedding, only to find out that he married Leah, the older, less-attractive, sister of his beloved soulmate Rachel. Unwilling to bring shame onto her sister, Rachel gave Leah the intimate signs that she and Jacob had agreed upon, so that Jacob doesn’t catch on and dishearten Leah on her wedding night. She was willing to give up on her first love just to save her sister from disgrace. Yet, when Jacob makes the appalling discovery, he vows to marry Rachel too, despite the harsh labor Laban would force upon him. Though Jacob was G-d fearing and knew of the prohibition to marry two sisters even before it was formally instituted at Sinai, he chooses Rachel’s dignity over his personal spirituality, so that she isn’t wronged into oblivion on account of his “holiness”.

 

Jacob and Rachel both chose benevolence over self-centeredness.

 

It’s a fascinating lesson for us. In a world plagued by “name calling”, “guilty until proven innocent” judgmentalism, acceptance of “destroy a reputation based on high school behavior” and constantly questioning the integrity of others based on self-defined assumptions, it’s time for us to take a good look at Jacob and Rachel. Even when mistreated by Laban, they both chose love and compassion, over egoism and sanctimoniousness. Next time you’re about to dig into someone else’s life, hoping to find something damaging, ask yourself if it’s your place to do so and whether it’s truly coming from a place of love. We have a “humane society” for animals, it’s time to introduce one for humans. JFK reminded us that it’s our role to end misery, but we can’t do that if we are creating more of it.

 

Less shaming; more humanity!

 

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 Papa, the Papa! Tradition!

On January 15th, I was in New York for eighteen-hours and spent a few minutes with my dad. Though we Facetime six days a week, like clockwork each morning, I haven’t seen him face to face since that chilly day in Brooklyn. Today, the 10 months stretch, that included his illness and recovery from Covid-19, ended, and I got to embrace my beloved father; it felt so good, so right. It was also good timing as on Tuesday my father lost his Chavrusa of fifteen years, Reb Leizer Teitelbaum, a brilliant Torah scholar with whom my father studied daily at the wee hours of the morning and with whom he shared a deep appreciation for Torah insight.

I needed his hug, and he mine.

In this week’s dramatic Torah portion, Toldos, we read about how Rebecca encourages Jacob to mislead his dad Isaac and merit the blessings intended for Esau. Isaac undoubtedly knew who Esau was and appreciated Jacob so much, but as a good father, he saw the potential in each of his children and worked overtime to reveal the best in each of them. It’s a unique ability of a parent, either by nature or nurture, to interact with each child, meet them wherever they are at, and have their children, all of them, look up to them for support, parental perspective and life guidance. Isaac knew that Jacob was his protege, someone who emulated his ways, but he also saw Esau - not as an idolatrous murderer, but - as a potentially fearless warrior who can change the world with his inner fight.

My dad can be a tough cookie. He is a no-holds-barred dad who says what he thinks and shares his opinion whether I want to hear it or not. Yet, behind the steamroller façade is a man who loves his children unconditionally, prays for our wellbeing more that he would admit, and wants nothing more than to see our successes as we enjoy Nachas from our children, his grandchildren. When I told the kids that they would see Zayde in person for the first time in eighteen months, all of them, from Shoshana to Chana Laya were truly delighted, because children always see through the externalities, and they know that, like Isaac our Patriarch, their Zayde sees their infinite potential, not their occasional flaws.

I pray that I can emulate my dad; it ain’t easy!  

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!!!

We're not macho!

Earlier this week, I was a guest speaker for two Jewish communities, one in the Berkshires and the other in Northern New Jersey. Though the meetings were on Zoom, it’s always nice to meet Jews of all flavors and Farbreng together for an hour or so. I was so grateful to receive a call Thursday morning from a fellow, living in rural Massachusetts, who was on the Zoom talk and took the time to call me and tell me how much he enjoyed hearing our story. He asked to be added to this email list and hoped to meet our family in person post Covid.

It meant a lot to me.

Rashi

Words are powerful and a kind word goes a long way. At times, we convince ourselves that we’re macho and don’t need compliments or appreciation, but I’ve personally learned to be thankful for those personal “thank you” calls and understand how effective they are and how good they make us feel. More than ever before, I am trying to take time to thank anyone who is kind to our family, our Shul and to those I love as I believe our world needs a lot of positive vibes. In a world plagued by hurtful words, let’s be the change we hope for and start using our verbal power to change hearts with kindness.

Compassion!

Monday evening, just hours before the polls opened on the east coast, I had the great honor of placing Mezuzot at the Bozeman homes of two young Jews. Patrick and Zoe both grew up in Bozeman with a healthy Jewish identity and were excited to get a Mezuzah placed on their front door. Chaya and Zeesy joined me for the Mitzvah and on the way home, while listening to the radio, a conversation ensued about the election process. I explained to them that we have good friends on both sides of the aisle; friends whose wisdom and thoughtfulness I appreciate deeply, and that we mustn’t ever judge someone's character based on the bumper sticker on their car or sign in their front yard. It’s important for them to hear it from me, especially as our country is so divided with lots of hurt and anxiety to go around.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeira, we read about Abraham and Sarah’s hospitality. They served food and drinks, they provided lodging and washing basins, and they even escorted their guests on their way out, so they don’t feel like they were a burden. They gave it their all for total strangers, no strings attached, and here’s the scoop, when we are busy giving, we don’t have time to Kvetch in misery. Maimonides writes  “We are obligated to be careful with regard to the mitzvah of charity…because charity is an identifying mark for a righteous person, a descendant of Abraham…Everyone who is merciful evokes mercy from others…Whenever a person is cruel and does not show mercy, his lineage is suspect…”.

Powerful words.

Abraham and Sarah lived in a pagan world that wasn’t very fond of them, yet they didn’t spend their time bemoaning their surroundings, instead they gave, gave and gave more. They served equally those who appreciated their belief in G-d and those who thought it was ridiculous. They took care of their nephew Lot and those who they would never meet again. Americans, like all human beings, don’t all see the world the same way. Your neighbor, fellow worshipper and work colleague may have different views than you do, but like Abraham and Sarah, we should show them an outpouring of kindness, pure unadulterated benevolence, and it will heal us and our country.

Compassion begets compassion; viciousness begets viciousness!   

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!!!

Vote & Let Go!

Chavie and I voted; so should you. Not because “it’s the most consequential election of your life”, not because “if you don’t vote, you aren’t doing your civic duty” and not even because “you can’t complain about the challenges plaguing our society, if you don’t go out and vote”. You should vote because Jews almost never had the right to join the public discourse and have a say about their government. They didn’t let us vote in the Muslim middle east or in Catholic Europe, they didn’t let us run for state office in Maryland until 1828 and they didn’t let us vote at all anywhere in this country back in 1776. It’s a gift that came to the Jew some two hundred years ago and we mustn’t ever take it for granted. Don’t be anxious, don’t fret, don’t freak out; America will still be America on Wednesday morning, no matter the results. Do your part, vote, and let Hashem take care of the rest, as He always does.

In this week’s Torah portion, Lech-Lecha, we read about Abram and Sari (later to be renamed Abraham and Sarah) who are told at the age of 75 and 65 respectively, to pack up and leave everything they knew behind and head out to the land that G-d would show them. It was an act of faith, obedience, that resulted in them inheriting the land of Israel, garnering wealth, having children, winning a war, partnering in a covenant with G-d about the Jewish future, and, for Abraham and the Jewish males, bonding with G-d through circumcision, a sign in the flesh creating an eternal bond. I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but letting go of that which was out of their control was a healthy choice that brings peace of mind, heart and soul.

I’m an anxious guy. I like being in control, I enjoy being busy and following a rigorous schedule and I hate, absolutely hate, being powerless. This is my daily, perhaps even hourly, struggle; it’s one of my demons that I wrestle with all the time. In my head I know that G-d is in charge, in my heart I really want to let Him in, but sometimes I simply can’t and so I get panicky. The tenseness never helps, it get’s me nowhere and so I fight back and work hard to remain trustful and faithful and recognize that I could only make the vessel for the blessings, I can only do my part, and the rest, the outcome, will come about exactly as it should, exactly as the Architect Himself plans for it to.

Vote, pray and trust in the One Above!

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!!!

Not bad, just clueless!

Earlier this week, though visiting San Antonio to celebrate her dad’s sixtieth birthday, Chavie resumed her women’s Tanya class and meditation. It was fascinating to see nine women join together on a Sunday morning to speak about, and meditate on, their Neshama, their soul and its struggles. In a world where people “don’t have lots of spare time”, in a society that is overly obsessed with political fodder and at a time when most people are experiencing some level of anxiety due to Covid, it’s impressive, simply impressive, to see people come together to focus inward, on their core, distraction free.

In this week’s Torah portion, Noach, we read about the tower of Babel. A group of Mesopotamians were concerned that the great-flood survivors would scatter across the earth, leaving the centralized community, as they each seek a parcel of land to homestead. These “concerned citizens” decided that the only way to stop the scattering, is to build a megalopolis that would include the worlds largest skyscraper/tower, so they can “create for themselves a name”. They understood that to gain popularity, to ensure a self-aggrandizing legacy, one can’t do it without a crowd of admirers and if everyone is living rurally, their desperate need for never-ending recognition, will go unfulfilled. G-d didn’t like the idea and He miraculously confused the builders, thus quashing their plans.

Each moment on earth gives each of us an opportunity to choose whether to live or not. No, not whether to exist, but whether to live; living with balance, focus and productively. Creating a legacy with “things” that don’t have eternal value, is silly and fruitless. The people building the Tower of Babel weren’t “bad”, just clueless and misguided. We too mustn’t spend our life pursuing lifeless and finite legacies, instead, we should create legacies for G-d, for Judaism, for authenticity, for the spirituality that lives on long after we’re gone. Building towers of light and spirit are selfless and provide for us the only legacy that really matters which is a rock-solid relationship with our Creator and a future generation that gets it. Towers of arrogance or towers of holiness? You decide.

Construction is tough; make sure you’re following the right architect!

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 slept for nine hours!

Earlier this week, I visited five companies in seven cities across north-central Montana to inspect their manufacturing plants, ensuring they’ve earned their holy “Kosher” status. Chavie saw how exhausted I was from the non-stop holiday season, so she encouraged me to leave a day early and get a break. After checking In to the hotel, I spent time catching up on my daily studies of Maimonides, Chitas, Talmud and Chassidic thought and proceeded to turn off my phone, laptop and every bit of light in the room and slept for nine hours. It was healing, refreshing, and rejuvenating. No noise, no distractions, not interruptions; just self-care to give myself the rest I needed.

In this week’s Torah portion, Bereishis, the first in Genesis, we read about the six days of creation and the seventh day on which G-d rested and asked us to do the same. G-d dictates that for the six weekdays (including our beloved Sunday) we should devote our time, energy and money to creativity and productivity. During the week we ask ourselves what we can do to make the world a better place, a home for the Divine, a place of morality, ethics and kindness. Sunday through Friday afternoon we are on a mission to weed G-d’s garden that is the world, but on Friday just before sunset, we say goodbye to the garden, and spend the next twenty-five hours ensuring the health of the gardener. It’s vital, because If the gardener is too tired, unstable or dysfunctional, the garden will never be cared for properly.  

Envision a blissful Shabbos: We come home Friday afternoon, we ensure our home is stacked with Kosher delicacies, eighteen minutes before sunset the candles are lit, we welcome the Shabbos Queen in melodious prayer, we eat an incredible meal filled with harmony and wisdom, we enjoy quality time with our spouse if we’re married, we get a rock solid night sleep, we wake up to a cup of coffee with a dose of mysticism, we hear the Torah being read as we chat with our Creator, we enjoy another stupendous meal, we get a good Shabbos nap or spend time with our children reading/talking/playing, we pray again, we eat a meal made up mostly of fruit and wrap it up with a beautiful hallowed Havdala ceremony. No phone, no TV, no election, no politics, no radio, no work, no market, no business. I did it on Monday, and we can do it every Shabbos.

The Gift of Rest!

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!!!

Joy of Divinity!

Sukkos is my favorite holiday. I enjoy sitting in the Sukkah with friends and family, singing, Farbrenging and devouring Chavie’s incredible cuisine, as we celebrate the agricultural holiday that vividly reminds us of G-d’s love and protection. I looked at my Lulav and Etrog this morning, Hoshana Raba, and smiled, as it looked fairly beaten, but for a good reason: Seventy-five Jews made a blessing on it this holiday (see pics from Sushi in the Sukkah). Yet, the quintessential joy of this season comes to life on Simchat Torah. As a child I was honored to dance and sing with the Rebbe of blessed memory at his Shul and experience pure joy. I was thinking back to those days and pondering the name itself “Simchat Torah”, the “Joy of Torah” and the importance of actually celebrating the Torah as a gift, not a burden.

In a beautiful letter to his grandson, Reb Chaim Volozhiner (1749-1821), the renowned Talmudist and Ethicist, writes “I encourage you to learn with great excitement and passion; for the material studied an entire day sluggishly can be learned through several hours of studying energetically”. Sitting down to learn Torah is a good start, but if we are in love, not only with the wisdom of Judaism, but with Almighty G-d, the Author of the Torah, then we learn these eternal words with zest and enthusiasm. We dance with the Torah two days each year, but the dance, or at least the joy, should be a daily exercise for our soul.

You may be saying “Oh I wish I could’ve studied Torah as a youngster, but now it’s too late”. Yet, like Rabbi Akivah, a noble shepherd who started his Torah journey at age forty, it is never too late to bring the life of Torah into your life. Starting Sunday (October 11th, 2020) we will commence the new cycle of Torah study with Bereishis, the first portion in Genesis. One portion each week, divided into seven for each day of the week, and at the end of the one-year cycle you’ve studied the Five Books of Moses in its entirety. You can study it online, order Chayenu or buy a Chumash, but the bottom line is: it’s 2020 and the Torah is at your fingertips, don’t let it slip away.

How I love Your Torah! All day it is my conversation!

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 the willows!

It was a truly uplifting Yom Kippur in our front yard. We had beautiful Minyanim throughout the entire day and there was a deep sense of gratefulness to Hashem for blessing us with weather that allowed for in-person services. Yet, before we even broke the fast, the joy of Sukkot was felt in the air. As we concluded the Day of Atonement with the special Napoleon’s March, and the powerful “Gut Yom Tov, Gut Yom Tov, Gut Yom Tov”, we immediately shifted from our inscription in the Book of Life to the Festival of Booths, Sukkot, when we celebrate G-d’s protection of our people in the Sinai desert and His continuous protection this very moment.

One of the Mitzvot of Sukkot is the shaking of the Lulav. We take a citron, date palm tree branch, myrtles and willows and we bind them as one and make a blessing. It represents the four types of Jews: The citron that smells and tastes good signifies the Jew who studies Torah and observes its precepts. The palm branch whose dates taste good, but are unscented, signifies those who study G-d’s wisdom but don’t follow His instructions. The myrtles that smell great but are tasteless, signifies the scrupulous Mitzvah observer who doesn’t spend time studying Torah. The willow, tasteless and fragrance-free, signifies the Jew who neither studies nor acts Jewishly. On Sukkot we bring all types of people together as one, focusing on their essence, their soul, and not allowing outward differences to get in the way of our harmony.

I’ve been thinking about the willow Jew a lot lately.

It is true that many Jews don’t study nearly enough Torah and don’t devote their precious time to the observance of Mitzvos, yet they are proud Jews, comfortable in their connection to our three-thousand-year-old heritage and are happy to do a Mitzvah if the opportunity arrives at their doorstep. I looked it up, willows are a great source of vitamin C, they are used medicinally for toothaches, skin irritation and reducing fever and contain salicin, the main ingredient in aspirin. So, my dear fellow willow Jews, I just want you to know that my Rebbe instilled in me and Chavie the ability to see that every single person contributes something to our world. Don’t ever call yourself a “bad Jew” or any other derogatory term, as you may not be learned or observant yet, but you can heal our community and with you, only with you, can we heal our world.

I am deeply grateful for the willows! 

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!!!

My Yom Kippur Letter to G-d!

Dear G-d,

It’s been a long six months since Your world was cast into chaos and I feel the need to write to You, to share with You just how much I love Your people Israel and how they inspire me to rock on. I won’t bore You with pages and pages of incredible moments that I experienced since March, I will just share a few anecdotes that I witnessed over the two days of Rosh Hashana in my hometown of Bozeman, Montana.  

In the prayers of Rosh Hashana we read Jeremiah’s words “thus said the Lord, I remember for you the devotion of your youth, the love of your bridal days, as you went after Me in the wilderness, in an uncultivated land”. Indeed, it’s true dear G-d, that historically, we Jews have followed You through thick and thin, through pogroms and exiles, a holocaust and inquisitions, but in addition to recognizing, perhaps even giving accolades to, those who came before us, I want to focus on the Jews of today, those living in Your universe in 5781.

The sages who composed the Rosh Hashana liturgy wrote these words In the “Remembrance – Zichronos” section of Musaf: “Happy is the person, who does not forget You, the son of man who holds fast to You; for those who seek You will not stumble forever, nor will anyone who places their trust in You be put to shame eternally”. There is a Chassidic Niggun to these words and as I hummed it to myself during the silent Amidah on both days, I turned my head to look at the crowd and knew it to be true; they haven’t forgotten You; not one bit.

Hashem, I saw Arend, who I now know is “Aharon ben Sidney”, a son of a regal holocaust survivor Rita, who attended Shul for the first time in his life and six decades after his 13th birthday was called to the Torah as a Bar-Mitzvah to the blessings of “Mazal Tov”. Happy is the person, who does not forget You!

Hashem, I peeked at Jim, who isn’t Jewish, yet for a few years now his soul is yearning to join Am Yisroel and he’s working so hard to make it a reality. He drove six hours round-trip from a small town to experience Rosh Hashana in the Shul. Happy is the person, who does not forget You!

Hashem, I chatted with Brooke, a new mom, who came to Shul with her four-month-old baby Wilder and when I praised her for making the effort, she said “You think I would let Wilder miss her first Rosh Hashana?”. Happy is the person, who does not forget You!

Hashem, I observed a young child Eli, whose mother stayed back in Shul with his younger sibling, make the two mile roundtrip walk to Tashlich and stand listening carefully as we prayed at the water and cast away our sins. Happy is the person, who does not forget You!

Hashem, I stood in my front yard, under canopies, with tens of Jews at a time (over 100 throughout the holiday) who, despite the pouring rain on the first day of Yom Tov and the nutty wind on the second, came together with the proper precautions to celebrate the New Year in unity. Happy is the person, who does not forget You!

Hashem, I appreciated seeing Jennifer’s face all lit up when she came to thank us for hosting a short Shofar service for those who couldn’t make the whole thing and was so very grateful to fulfil the Mitzvah. Happy is the person, who does not forget You!

Hashem, I was joined by our very own Chaya, Zeesy and Menny, who stood with me selflessly on Shabbos afternoon amid a severe wind/rain storm, each holding the polls of a canopy, to ensure the canopies survive the storm and are still standing for the second day of Rosh Hashana. Happy is the person, who does not forget You!

Hashem, I was uplifted when I received a note after the holiday from Janet saying “Just wanted to let you know that my son very much appreciated the jar of honey and honey cake that you left at his door. I believe it helped get him thinking about the High Holidays and Teshuva”. Happy is the person, who does not forget You!

So dear G-d, when you’re wondering in Your infinite wisdom whether to sign and seal Jewry for a year of life, revealed blessings and loads of sweetness, don’t think twice. Please recognize that, like the Jews in Montana, my sisters and brothers around the globe are still deeply in love with You and are showing up to express it. We’ve arrived with flowers at Your door to repair the relationship, it would be wise to accept our apology and mend those broken fences. We have issues and need lots of help, but we are a committed people and have never stopped trusting our beloved Father In Heaven.

May You grant us all a year of wonders, miracles, and lots of good Sushi.

Your ambassador,

Chaim

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 letter to my children!

A letter to my children!
Erev Rosh Hashana 5780


Dear Shoshana, Chaya, Zeesy, Menny & Chana Laya,

Tomorrow, Kinderlach, is Rosh Hashana. In just twenty-four hours we will transition from 5780 to 5781 ushering in a year of “visible wonders”, the translation of the new years’ Hebrew acronym.

Firstly, I’d like to take a moment to wish each of you my heartfelt wishes for a sweet year. May this be a year in which you surprise yourself in fulfilling and expressing your incredible G-d given potential. May it be a year in which you are proud of yourself often. I bless you to grow like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah and you dear Menny, to grow like Ephraim and Menashe, Joseph’s boys; confident, comfortable and healthy Jews, though you may find yourselves in a gentile environment.

Secondly, I like to take some time to share my feelings with you, because 5780 was the roughest year we’ve ever known and it’s easy to get caught up in the negative and lose sight of all the good.

As your father, I’ve radiated lots of strength since the beginning of this horrific pandemic. Mom and I have worked overtime to be a reassuring voice for you and to live our lives as normally as possible. I’ve watched y’all struggle with isolation, insecurity and uncertainty and I wish I would’ve had better answers, but it was out of our control, obliging us to place our trust in Hashem.

Yet, in the midst of the chaos, while the world was on fire figuratively and literally, we managed to have so much fun, so many good times, and I don’t want us to forget all the amazing moments that we experienced in 5780 as a family. So I sat down, putting fingers to keyboard, to share the good memories, because I want you to look back at the year and remember - not just the masks, the closed Shul and school closure, but -  the blessings that G-d gifted us throughout it all.

5780 brought us incredible holiday celebrations. From Sushi & Scotch in the snowy Sukkah to Chanukah @ Jump Time & the Library, from Purim in NYC to Seders to go, to a memorable Shavuot celebration in the front yard.

5780 brought us a Bozeman-altering event with Anne Frank’s sister Eva Schloss with 1,400 in attendance at MSU, a Farbrengen with Rabbi Mendel from Boise for the Chassidic New Year, a Babka bake for women with Rebbetzin Chaya from Playa Del Carmen, countless Zoom events with speakers from around the globe, live morning inspiration almost every single day since April and the online women’s Tanya class which rocked the house and will resume again after the holidays.

5780 brought us a memorable family Shabbos in La Verkin, Utah, a road trip through Zion, Bryce, Escalante, Capitol Reef, Goblin, Arches, Canyonland State/National parks, a trip to Florida and Tybee Island, Georgia, an RV road trip throughout Western Montana, five weeks of summer camp in San Antonio and the opportunity to celebrate at your aunt’s wedding in a discreet location in Big Sky Country.

5780 brought us so many Shabbosim to sit as a family, together, and Daven with song and heart. It gave us the opportunity to visit so many homes of new, and old, friends, bringing Shabbos and Yom Tov care packages around our spectacular valley. It’s also the year in which you got a new trampoline and, thanks to Covid, watched way more videos than you ever did before or ever will again :)

5780 forced your school, Shoshana, into lockdown, forcing you to celebrate Passover alone, but allowing you to wrap up your studies and graduate with honors in late August and to come back home. It gave us all precious time to spend with each other (maybe a bit too much time:)), to be excited about hikes and parks like never before and to jump for joy when we merited to see a friendly face after months in lockdown.

5780 made your mom a world renowned speaker as she traveled to over fifteen communities in person, and over 50 if we include the Zoom’s, as she inspires the world about faith in G-d and the honor of being your parent. Mom also launched her blog www.clearasmud.blog and is single handedly changing the “norms” as she shifts the perspective of the Jewish world one Instagrammer at a time.

5780 brought us remarkable family visits that could only happen when the world is shutdown. Shneur and Chana’le for Pesach, Eli Nachum and Tzivia for Menny’s birthday, Shayna, Devorah and Brocha for Shavuos, Sruli and Mendel (ok their parents to :)) for months and so many others who popped in and out.

5780 brought peace between our homeland Israel and two Arab states, it convinced airlines to cancel their ridiculous change fees and Nissim Black rocked our home with many new songs, including the powerful “Hold On”.

I don’t know, dear Kinderlach, what 5781 will bring, but I don’t want to forget all the priceless moments of 5780. I could easily focus on the hardships of life that we felt during this past year, on the loss of my uncle Ahrele, mom’s Zaidy Kahanov, or even the most recent communal loss of our beloved Joe Sharber. I could focus on the Bozeman fires and our friends losing their homes or on the riots taking place across our beloved country, I could focus on Alabama hurricanes and Iowa storms and I could focus on all the terrifying moments when I didn’t know if my beloved uncle Chaim Shaul, and so many others, would make it, but for bad news you could read the paper or listen to the news, you don’t need your Aba.

Though it’s been eight months since I last entered the holy resting place of our dear Rebbe, I am inspired by his Positivity Bias, constantly realigning my perspective to match the Torah, to match the soul, to match G-d, and not to buy the constant sources of negativity from within myself and from outside influencers. Kiddos, the biggest incentive I have to see the good in our world, is you. When I see you bounce up, or down, the stairs each morning I am filled with joy, Nachas, gratefulness and hope. Each of you is very unique, with your own set of challenges, and you work so hard to get through them and that puts a smile on my face. Too often mom and I don’t have answers to all your valuable and soulful questions, but despite your inner conflicts and core yearnings, please know that each of you is a masterpiece, a beautiful, colorful, masterpiece worthy of infinite blessings.  

Personally, I believe that when we blow the Shofar on Sunday, we will usher in incredible Divine energies for 5781; but whatever 5781 brings to us collectively and to each of you personally, all I ask is that you make every moment count. It’s a hope out of my control, but please don’t be a Farshlofene waste of oxygen; take the gift of life that Hashem has given you and always utilize us to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem.

You can be anything you want to be; don’t let anyone, including yourself, tell you otherwise.

Kesiva Vachasima Tova, a sweet year kiddos; we will rock it.

Love you forever.

Aba

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!!!

Fire Won't Burn Us!

Bozeman is grieving. The fires of last weekend destroyed almost thirty homes, as well as ranches, barns, equipment, not to mention the devastating effect on the natural gorgeousness of Bridger Canyon. When speaking to the Feniger’s and Mendelsohn’s, I heard the heartbreak in their voice but also the gratefulness for life and the resolve to rebuild. Bill Feniger, who took only a handful of items before evacuating, managed to take his Tefilin with him. Jason Mendelsohn asked that I come to their new home once it’s built, to place the new Mezuzos. In the words of the old Yiddish song “Feyer Vet Unz Nisht Farbrenen”, sung by Chassidim back in Russia, “fire won’t burn us and water won’t drown us”.

In this week’s double Torah portion, Nitzavim-Vayelech, Moses informs his people that after he passes away they will stray from G-d “And I will hide My face on that day, because of all the evil they have committed, when they turned to other deities…And now, write for yourselves this song, and teach it to the Children of Israel”. In the darkest of times, when the trajectory of Judaism seems gloomy, G-d says that what will keep the Jews alive, what will keep them connected to their heritage, is the song of Torah, Judaism that’s experienced as a living organism of joy and meaning. When two families lose their entire home and hours after going back to see the ruin they are talking about Mezuzos and Tefilin, you know that Am Yisroel Chai.

On Saturday night, right after Shabbos, I called my buddy Quincy, who is a fire expert, and asked him how they would put this monster out and he responded “they won’t, and they can’t. The cooler temperatures and the expected rain/snow fall will do it”. For a fire ignoramus like me that was surprising, but I finally understood the incredible words of  King Solomon in Song of Songs, a book we should all read, “Many waters cannot quench the love, nor can rivers flood it”. The fire itself, that brought its horror show to Bozeman and is still only 52% contained, taught me that when a fire explodes, water and fire retardant cannot extinguish it. Let’s be that Jew on fire, aflame with G-d and spreading that fire, that passion, everywhere.

Inextinguishable! 

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!!!

Chaya's Cookie Lesson!

Over the years, therapists have shared with me, that for most people it’s extremely hard to accept constructive criticism, without taking it personal and getting offended. On Wednesday I had a double whammy: A dear friend and member of our community corrected me, rightfully so, on something I should’ve done but failed to do. Later that day, Chaya wanted to bake cookies and I told her, “you could do it tomorrow”. She approached me respectfully sometime later and expressed to me why she thought my decision wasn’t logical and asked me to reconsider. I did, and, on her own, she baked the most amazing gluten free cookies. It’s hard to swallow when someone questions our actions or motives, but it’s insecurity that stops us from owning our mistakes and from being better.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Tavo, we read of G-d’s warnings to the Jewish people should they choose to ignore His instructions and follow their lustful yearnings instead. The repercussions are severe, but contrary to those who misunderstand Judaism, it’s not punitive or sadistic. G-d wants His children to do their absolute best. He gives us His holiest ideas, His holiest land, makes us His holiest nation; He does that all because He believes in us and desires for us to live soulfully, healthfully and wholesomely. When we don’t live up to His high standards, He gives us the kick in the pants that we need so that we can get back on track and live appropriately.

Don’t get the wrong idea; I naturally hate constructive criticism. I would like to believe that I see things with the proper lens, I do things the right way and I understand everything best, but that simply isn’t possible. Us humans aren’t perfect and without friends, spouses and children helping us see our mistakes, we will spend our entire life in an unhealthy bubble of falsehood, holding us back from bettering ourselves and the world around us. I am grateful to my buddy and to Chaya for helping me pause and see my failures and move forward to correct myself into the future. As I once heard “making mistakes is better than faking perfections”.

He loves us, so He rebukes us!

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!!!

Fellow Jew, tear down this wall!

Earlier this week, our family had the honor of attending the marriage of Chavie’s sister Shayna and her groom Mendel, as we celebrated in a small Covid guided wedding. It was so fresh, as love and romance filled the air. As I stood at the Chuppah I reflected on the fact that the Chuppah has no walls, because it is our hope that the bride and groom, a now inseparable couple, are going to create a Jewish home similar to Abraham and Sarah’s tent, where hospitality and kindness is a mainstay of the experience, open to all.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Teitzei, we continue reading Moses’ parting words to his people prior to his passing and their entry into the Holy Land. He is crystal clear about how we are to treat our fellow: don’t pay your employees late, don’t harass and humiliate those who borrowed money from you and haven’t paid back, be sure to leave grain in the fields for those who are poor, don’t charge interest on a loan, treat orphans and widows especially well and many other compassionate obligations. It’s part and parcel of Judaism to create an environment in which kindness is a way of life, not an occasional act of “charity”.

As I watched Shayna and Mendel embark on their new journey, it was clear that wherever they settle, wherever they choose to build their home and create their family, it will be a home in which G-d will not only be about self-refinement and personal growth, but it will be about kindness to every human being. Living in a constant state of kindness isn’t always easy, it demands selflessness, but it’s surely the only way to be a healthy Jew. We must keep the roof over our head, keeping the structure strong and fully in tact so that we don’t get abused by those who take advantage of kind souls, but we should enjoy a home without walls, so all feel welcome and respected.

Fellow Jew, tear down this wall!

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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