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Weekly Message

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!!!

Rainy Day Spirit!

It ain’t over until Monday, when we light up Montana with eight points of light, but the first five nights have already been so illuminating. I was blown away by the L’Chaim toasts we made with the massive crowd gathered for Chanukah Bash 2018, I was touched by those who braved the cold and came out to the Menorah lighting in Livingston, I was invigorated by the Jews and gentiles who celebrated the Maccabees victory together in Dillon, I was moved by those celebrating with us while incarcerated at Montana State Prison and Warm Springs, I was enthused by the MAJCO Menorah lighting in Helena with Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney, and the kids and I really enjoyed lighting Menorah's in Attorney General Tim Fox's office and with Commissioner Matt Rosendale (all Chanukah pics will post next week G-d willing), but what took my breath away this entire week was the fact that for the first time ever there are three full-service Chabad centers operating in Big Sky Country, providing soul sustenance to Montanan Jewry.

In this week’s Torah portion, Mikeitz, we read about Joseph interpreting The Pharaoh’s dreams, something his sorcerers and astrologers couldn’t do correctly. He tells the Egyptian ruler that seven years of plenty will ensue followed by seven years of famine and Egypt must retain the services of a Controller to ensure food is stockpiled for the famine years. The Pharaoh loves the idea and hired Joseph as his Viceroy to ensure just that. This role leads Joseph to the eventual reunion with his family, starting with his brothers who sold him into slavery, as they are forced to travel from Israel to Egypt to purchase food.  

In life, we too have times of plenty and other times of famine. There are times that we struggle with our interpersonal relationships, our rapport with G-d and sometimes we just struggle with everything, with life itself. It is important to think ahead and, when times are spiritually, emotionally and mentally good, to store the courage that will be needed to sustain us when things aren’t pretty, when life is giving us a run for our money. It’s not that life will be perfect, as by definition that’s impossible, but rather, that we will have the inner space needed to see those struggles, those downturns, as temporary challenges which is what they are, instead of life altering catastrophes which they aren’t. Joseph taught us to load up on “G-d”, so that when He’s in hiding, we can still say Shema Yisroel loud and clear.

Set aside a spiritual Rainy-Day Fund, today!

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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