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Weekly Message

Don't Quit Breathing!

The International conference of Chabad Shluchim (emissaries), took place this past weekend. Though I didn’t participate in person this year, the images of my colleagues celebrating in Brooklyn, were naturally inspiring. Jonathan Mark of The Jewish Week wrote “From Africa to the Arctic, Chabad’s ‘Happy Warriors’ Now In 100 Countries”. Yair Ettinger in the Jerusalem Post wrote “A new Uganda Plan: Emissaries to open first Chabad House in Kampala” and Rabbi Shmuly Boteach, wrote in the Algemeiner “Chabad is no longer a Jewish movement. It is Judaism. Even those who were once critics now travel to Caribbean island vacations and are blown away that they can pray with a minyan and get kosher food because of Chabad. No other organization even comes close to its global reach and grassroots impact. And it is growing exponentially.”

So, what is the secret? How do we do it? What keeps us going?

Finally, after a long hiatus, my morning routine is back on schedule. It was 4:45 AM on Monday and I was reading a letter that my beloved Rebbe of blessed memory wrote in the summer of 1954. In it, he explains that sadly, some Jews view Judaism like immunizations, you get inoculated occasionally, either preventatively or as a cure, but it’s rare and sometimes ineffective. In truth, Judaism is like oxygen and we need it 24/7 to survive. Moses tells Jewry before his passing "for that is your life and the length of your days”. Judaism is not an elective or a beautiful philosophy of “Tikkun Olam”, it’s who we are, how we live and without it we are like fish out of the water.

So, while Chabad couples do have a unique, Rebbe-gifted, energetic approach and joy of life, it’s available to all who choose to have Judaism embedded in their day to day. Breathing can be hard; just ask anyone with asthma or catch me while hiking up to the M, yet, I’ve never met someone who said, “I’ll quit breathing because it’s too hard”. The oxygen of Judaism isn’t always easy either, yet it’s worth the effort, because it’s life. This Thanksgiving weekend, let’s thank G-d for giving us his Torah oxygen that has kept His people alive for thousands of years and will continue to do just that for all eternity.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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!!!

Birthright Control!

While returning from a joyous Simcha in California, I walked through the airports in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Bozeman carrying Helen’s Torahscroll in-hand, as placing it underneath the plane is not an option. As I Shlepped from terminal 2 to terminal 1 for my connecting flight, all eyes were on the Torah. As I made a left turn into gate area B, a young fellow walked up to me and asked, “May I kiss the Torah?” Of course, he did, and I invited him to come visit our Shul in Bozeman. While getting off the plane in Bozeman, I heard a fellow behind me telling his wife “He must be carrying a Torah”.

In this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, we read about Esau and Jacob, twin sons of Isaac and Rebecca. After their grandfather Abraham’s passing, Jacob was cooking a lentil stew for the mourners, when Esau arrived home irritable and hungry. He demanded “Pour into me, now, some of that very red stuff for I am exhausted”. Jacob agrees to feed him for the “cheap” price of Esau’s “birthright”. Esau agrees to the sale without any hesitation, saying “Look, I am going to die, so of what use to me is the birthright…Esau spurned the birthright”. It was sold to Jacob, fair and square and it forces our minds to wonder: how does one reach a place in life where they are ready to sell their birthright, simply for instant gratification, for a pot of lentils? Yes, ritualistically there are responsibilities for a firstborn, but isn’t worth the blessings?

I think in some ways we all struggle with the Esau Syndrome. How often are we ready to give up on a valuable experience, whether with family or G-d, simply because of instant gratification? For us it may not be a literal pot of lentils, but it may be a great non-Kosher Sushi restaurant, a meeting with the President on Shabbos, a once-in-a-lifetime concert on Friday night, a hard business choice that messes with at least one of the Ten Commandments, spending time with our families when we are stressed out; how often have we sold our Jewish birthright cheaply, simply to gain a moment of so-called bliss? Is it really that hard to remember that we have a birthright? As I marched through the airports, I was reminded that we should be delighted to have an eternal covenant with Hashem and that, for the most part, the world respects those who respect themselves. Can you really find something more valuable as a substitute to the beauty of our heritage? Impossible.

Don’t sell yourself short!

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!!!

Save the Whales?

Our family loves animals. Were it not for my opposition, they would’ve had a pet dog long ago. Last week, before we merited the below zero temperatures and bombardment of snow, as the kids were playing in the front yard, I heard Chaya telling Menny to refrain from killing an insect because “you’re taking its life away and they want to live too” (I will not share Menny’s response :)). I guess, when living out west, in the beautiful Rocky Mountains, surrounded by deer, elk, moose, bison, bears and occasional mountain lions, it gives us an opportunity to be more in tune and sensitive, not only to nature, but to the magnificent animal kingdom.

In this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, we read of Abraham’s search for a suitable bride for his beloved Isaac. He sends his servant Eliezer to his ancestral hometown, in modern day Syria, and Eliezer settles near the local well, a popular meeting spot. He asks G-d to preform the following sign: Whichever of the young maidens will offer to give his camels water in addition to quenching his own thirst “her have You designated for Your servant, for Isaac, and through her may I know that You have performed loving kindness with my master”. He wasn’t testing her on how often she visited the sick, helped the poor, studied Torah or her devotion to honoring her father and mother; the test was simply whether she expressed kindness to animals or not and Rebecca passed the test.

This is not a plea for everyone to become vegan or join PETA, as Judaism has its own unique approach to food consumption and treatment of animals. Yet, it is a reminder that our sensitivity to animals reflects who we are and whether we are kind or cruel human beings. Sadly, there are those in our world that would hurt an animal before a human, simply because there’s a better chance they won’t end up in prison. Yet, for us, prison or expensive fines aren’t the barometer. The Psalmist says in the Ashrei prayer “His mercies extend over all His work”.

Save yourself, be nice to a whale!

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!!! 

Stereotyping!

Stereotyping is a rotten philosophy. Most of us, myself included, generalize from time-to-time, even when we are unfamiliar with those that we are singling out. On Sunday, I visited Chester, up on the Montana Hi-Line, just thirty miles south of the Canadian border. I was there to visit Stricks Ag, a newly certified company under our Montana Kosher – Vaad HaKashrus of Montanasupervision. Chester is small town and I didn’t know what to expect, but everyone, the kids and I met, were sweet, respectful and gracious. These people could’ve easily been labeled “rednecks” or worse, when in truth they are good people who work the land, love their neighbors and respect people like me who don’t exactly fit the Hi-Line profile.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeira, we read about the moral decay of the five municipalities in Israel’s Sodom region. Just before G-d brought eternal destruction to this local, Abraham, the first Jew and humanity’s most prominent monotheist, beseeches G-d to save the people. He demands of G-d to reexamine the towns and see if, perhaps, there are a few righteous people, whose worthiness would make saving the neighborhood worthwhile. G-d is open to Abraham’s idea, but these people simply did not exist. Abraham didn’t stereotype. It would’ve been way easier for Abraham, who knew the immoral attitude and behavior of these people, to simply “mix out” and allow G-d to do His thing, unbothered. Instead, Abraham, doing what every kind and spiritual person should, individualized instead of generalizing, hoping a few good apples would save the rest. Instead of lumping the good with the bad, he tried to lump the bad with the good.

We are easy to judge “other” societies, yet, get all bent out of shape when “our” society is judged. It’s high time that we stopped looking at others, seeking to find “something” we don’t like about them, and, instead, go out and meet them, talk to them and listen to them over a cup of coffee; it will be pleasantly surprising, even refreshing, when we learn how wrong we are about them. A bumper sticker is glued to the the filing cabinet in my office, it was gifted to me back in 2010 by the beloved Rabbi Yisroel Deren. It says something I try to internalize every day:

Don’t believe everything you think!

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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