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Weekly Message

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!!!

Home at last, home at last!

After two years away at school, including 18 months in Utah, Shoshana is back home. It was a wonderful moment when Chavie along with her special delivery pulled into the driveway to the sounds of the other kiddos screaming “Sho-Sha-Na, Sho-Sha-Na, Sho-Sha-Na”. it’s amazing to watch a child come home; without guidance or explanations, they fit right back in and are at ease being in their “safe space”. A child in a healthy home instinctively knows that they can be themselves, that they can be vulnerable, that they can turn to their parents for help and they can enjoy their daily life without the stress to conform that society places on them.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, we read about the six cities of refuge, where an unintentional murderer finds sanctuary from the avenger of their victims’ blood. Spiritually, we too are to seek refuge in a place that can take-in a sinner, a Jew who has made many mistakes throughout the year and seeks change. The time for refuge is the month of Elul which starts today; one month given to us each year prior to the High Holidays to step up and, with deep introspection, up our human-G-d relationship. Yet, knowing about the Elul-refuge, escaping the crazy cousin as if you’re life depends on it, is only step one.  Truly coming home to G-d, to feel like you’re at home, takes five more steps, each of which is reflected in another Elul acronym:

  1. Teshuva: “Es Levavcha V’es Levav Zarecha – Your heart and the heart of your descendants”. Our outreach to G-d must come from the heart, genuinely, which means removing the dust and soot that cover it.
  2. Torah: “Ina LeYado Vesamti Lach – but G‑d brought it about into his hand, I will make for you a place”. G-d gave us a Torah. Immersing in it, even for a few minutes each day, is the most precious gift we can award ourselves.
  3. Tefilah: “Ani Ledodi Vedodi Li - I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me,”. G-d loves you, so don’t be worried about getting close, He appreciates you reaching out, so pray, pray a lot.
  4. Tzedakah: "Ish Lereieihu Umatanos Laevyonim - one to another, and gifts to the poor.” One can only get really close to G-d if we are close with His fellow creations and help them out.
  5. Mashiach: "Ashira Lahashem Vayomru Leimor – Sing to the Lord they spoke saying…”. This rearranged acronym reminds us that the ultimate coming home is with the coming of Mashiach, which will come about through our Torah study, prayer, acts of Tzedakah and wholesome Teshuva.

Let’s get busy!  

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!!!

Blessings up north!

I loathe the heat; so the difference between “heaven” and “hell” was unmistakable. As I made the two hour drive north from Phoenix to Flagstaff, through the Coconino National Forest, I experienced both the hot unbearable desert, where it was a balmy 108 degrees, and the refreshing mountainous Bozeman-like oasis that is 25 degrees cooler. As I stood at the Citizens Cemetery, alongside an incredible showing of friends and family, honored to officiate at my Buddy Joe’s funeral, I realized that a short  geographical distance, can change everything, taking me from “get me out of here” to “amazing”. As we climb higher and higher out of the dry desert, living becomes feasible.

In this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, we read of the eternal choice G-d gives humanity. He tells us “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse”, simply speaking: follow G-d’s path and our life will be blessed, choose un-G-dliness and our temporary gratification won’t last long and will only mess life up. So often, we think of this “choice” between right and wrong as undoable, implausible and really a hard choice to make. We see ourselves as “weak” for even wanting vanity and don’t feel “strong” enough to attain the holy life demanded of us. Yet, the truth is, once we begin heading upwards, heading away from the scorching temptations and addictions that burn us, the elevation, the mountain atmosphere, starts feeling really good and inspires us to go a bit higher, act a bit holier, choose a bit healthier and find G-d within our beautiful self.

The Chinese proverb says, “be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still”. We must not allow ourselves to be paralyzed with the fear of failure and must always allow blessings into our life, including the blessing of believing that we stand a chance at being better.  Personally, I often wonder whether I’m capable of change, “come on Chaim, you’re 38, you’re stuck in your old ways and you are who you are”. Then I pause, think for a moment, and realize that the status quo is unbearable, so I certainly can strive to do better, incorporate more meaning; changing at the core. It’s a long windy road from Phoenix to Flagstaff, but the change that occurs along the way, makes it all worth it.

The curses hurt, which is why the blessings always seem like an attainable choice.  

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'll miss you Joe!

While the beginning of my week was uplifting, serving as the Sandak for baby Meir Shlomo Vogel in Missoula, the end of my week was heartbreaking. My dear friend Joe Sharber, Yosef Ben Noach, passed away after a struggle with cancer. Joe had a one-of-a-kind mind and a love for wisdom that was insatiable. He was gentle, sensitive, and kind and I, along with my family and community, will miss him dearly. Though he wasn’t Jewish, he’d always tell me “I’m going to Daven in Hashem’s Shul” referring to the majestic natural settings of Big Sky Country.

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Eikev, we read the second portion of the Shema prayer. In it, G-d tells us “ if you hearken to My commandments that I command you this day to love the Lord, your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul ”. Maimonides asks “ What is the path to love and awe of God?” and he goes on to explain that “When one ponders God's great and wonderful acts of creation, and sees in them a genius that has no comparison, then automatically a person will love, praise, glorify – and deeply desire to know the greatness of God”. Straightforward and simple: if we want to know G-d, not just believe in Him, we must immerse ourselves in nature, cherishing every roly-poly and eagle, every elk and bison and enjoying every sunset and sunrise. Belief in G-d is only valid when we can’t see Him, otherwise, it’s a copout.

 

Joe was my mentor. He educated me about science and history, nature and Greek culture. We swapped knowledge; he’d learn Torah at my classes, and I’d take in every bit of incredible wisdom he shared. In 2015 Joe emailed me a quote from The Great Mission, a book about the Baal Shem Tov, which said, “ Whenever he returned to the village, the Jewish residents shook their heads in dismay….”Another traipse in the forest! Why does he disappear for hours on end in that dangerous place?” …..Yisrael ignored their well-meaning criticism. He knew they could never understand what drew him to the forest – the untouched majesty of nature, his craving for solitude and privacy, and the closeness he felt to the Creator.” And then he added " Rabbi, if nature is good enough for the Baal Shem Tov, then it’s good enough for me. Off to the woods I go.”

 

Enjoy heaven brother Joe; I hope it’s as beautiful as Montana!

 

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 Storm That Wasn't!

Earlier this week, parts of Texas were experiencing summer storms, and, though the forecast for San Antonio seemed calm for Monday morning, the clouds over the Airport told another story. As I have a semi-phobia for turbulent flying, I was concerned for the ride over to Salt Lake City. As we took off, I said the usual Travelers Prayer from the Siddur, and awaited the bumps, which never came. The troublesome looking clouds turned out to be a very slim layer of slight bumps, and in mere seconds we were enjoying the brilliantly shining sun and the smoothest of air.

Lesson learned.

Just last night we concluded the Tisha B’Av fast, mourning the destruction of our Holy Temples in Jerusalem. Superficially, demolition seems awful, but if the demolition is to create a newer, fresher, more sturdy structure in its place, then the demolition is super positive and growth oriented. G-d gave way to the destruction, to help us repair ourselves, the world around us and bring about the third, and final, Temple. It is fitting that during this time we read the Torah portion of Va’etchanan in which we are told to “love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might”. Loving G-d with every fact of our complicated being, loving G-d when it costs us financially, loving G-d even to death as so many Jews have done, is all conceivable; but loving G-d with “all my might”, no matter “whatever measure He metes out to you” that seems unbearable. How could I love a Creator who allows me or my loved ones to suffer? To die for G-d, sure, but to live a broken life with Him, how?

As I sat and read Lamentations and reached the words “ the kindnesses of the Lord never cease, Indeed, His mercies never fail ” I felt like I was being uplifted out of my low Tisha B’Av seat. G-d throws curveballs to each of us, they are hard, they are agonizing and sometimes dispiriting. Yet, behind the darkness, above the stormy clouds, there is a light that is bolstered by the challenge. We don’t know G-d’s reasons, but we know the sacred truth that there are reasons and that this relationship, this loving bond, is worth fighting for. Like you, I too struggle, I too wonder “why me, Hashem?”, but I am always reassured that the clouds are temporary and help me appreciate the smooth air and blue skies that follow.

In the words of Helen Keller “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it”!

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!!!


Ethical Leadership!

Each week I have the great privilege to study with many locals, one-on-one. Bonding over G-d’s wisdom, deeply insightful and practical, is always stimulating and we tend to have lots of fun. Learning with brother Baruch, AKA Seth, each week, has taught me so much. We’ve completed two Talmudic tractates, Rosh Hashana and Avoda Zara, and we are inching closer to the end of Sanhedrin which is a pretty long adventure. In our last study session, we discussed the responsibility of being a Jewish High Court member and the trepidation, fear of heaven, in which that role must be carried out.

In this week’s Torah portion, Devarim, the first in the book of Deuteronomy, we read about leadership. Moses recounts his request of Jewry, “Provide for yourselves distinguished men, who are wise, understanding, and well known to your tribes, and I shall appoint them as your heads”. Rashi explains that the Hebrew words for “appoint”, “Va’Asimem”, also comes from the root Hebrew word “Asham” which means atone: This teaches us that Israel’s transgressions are hung over the heads of their judges, since the judges should have prevented them from sinning, and directed them along the right path. Leadership is about inspiring an ethical, moral, and spiritually balanced society. The Torah demands that we find leaders whose character is impeccable; whose leadership conduct role models all the values that G-d would expect of a healthy citizenry.

When those entrusted to lead, especially those in religious/spiritual leadership, fail in their ethical and moral behavior, it’s a big letdown. Yes, humans all make mistakes and G-d is amazingly forgiving, but leaders must recognize the magnitude of their sins and the demoralization it brings with. Moses lost his ability to enter the land of Israel because he made one mistake with the rock, Miriam was plagued with Tzaarat due to a one-time mistake of gossip and King David lost out on building the Temple he dreamed of because of his war time actions. While, sadly, too many have given up on politicians exhibiting true leadership, we mustn’t ever give up on our spiritual leaders acting 100% ethically. If not them, who?

In the words of MLK “The time is always right to do what is right”!

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!!!

Zeesy is grateful!

I was honored to represent Montana in the Ruderman Family Foundation initiative, celebrating thirty years since President George H. W. Bush signed the American with Disabilities Act into law (Click here and then click on Montana). Being Zeesy’s father, a child who has a rare medical condition and as a result has special needs, it was especially meaningful. It’s humbling to recognize that children, and adults, with unique needs, didn’t always have the support of society; parents, politicians, educators and almost everyone used to see special children as burdensome and unworthy of a warm and loving home. It is by the grace of G-d that this has changed, and we now understand that these wonderful souls deserve the same care and life experience as their “regular” peers.

In this week’s double Torah portion, Matot-Massei, we read about the tribes of Gad and Reuven who requested permission to stay on the east of the Jordan River, outside of Israel. They had lots of animals and believed that the pasture in Transjordan was more suited for their needs. When expressing themselves to Moses they said “We’ll build sheep enclosures for our livestock here and cities for our children…” assuring their beloved leader that they will take care of their business and familial obligations, help their fellow Jews conquer the Holy Land and only then return back home. In Moses’ response, he says, “So build yourselves cities for your children and enclosures for your sheep”, subtly reminding them that our priority must be our children, those most vulnerable in society, and our finances, the flock, are always  secondary.

As Americans, we have come a very long way in how we see and treat our fellow human beings. Yet, even today, in our prosperous United States, there are many who struggle, who aren’t ready to face a new day each morning. The struggles may be physical and thus visible, but they can also be internal, emotional or mental, and you’d never know it. Moses teaches us to care for those who can’t go it alone and each of us has the ability to do just that by reaching out to someone, a friend, coworker, acquaintance or neighbor and see how they are doing. Not just to give them the traditional Montana wave but to actually check in and see if you can be a shoulder for them to lean on and a friend for them to talk to.

Non nobis solum nati sumus!

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 have a dream, do you?

Recently, Chavie and I were accused of having a secret agenda when asking a fellow Jew to do a Mitzvah; “They believe that this Mitzvah will bring about the Mashiach”. I thought of that claim yesterday when completing the one-year cycle of Rambam, in which I, along with thousands of fellow Jews, finished Maimonides’ fourteen books of codified law. The 12th century Torah giant concludes his magnum opus with the following words “In that era, there will be neither famine or war, envy or competition, for good will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know God…The world will be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the ocean bed." Who wouldn’t want that? Who doesn’t want to believe that this is achievable?

This week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, gives us insight into the spiritual schizophrenia of humanity. Yes, Pinchas was a selfless hero, Moses a fearless leader and the daughters of Tzlafchad  succeeded in their fight for a portion of Holy Land, but so much of what we read reminds us that all humans, whether by nature or nurture, struggle to live sinless, are easily brainwashed into “buying” negativity and are great at talking the talk while having a much harder time walking the walk. Instead of giving up on ourselves so easily, we’d be way better off Incorporating a Mashiach outlook into our lives, bringing the internal change we so desperately need, so that we can think, speak and act, guided entirely by purity and upbeatness.

Maimonides ends his Halachic code with Mashiach and the new cycle, which starts today, begins with the laws of believing in one G-d and they’re connected. If we internalize our belief in the oneness of G-d, how every facet of creation and our personal lives is G-d guided, ordained and permeated, than we will instinctively want to live in an era where spirituality is the “real world” and temptations, suffering, addictions and strife are “unrealistic”. It’s a shift in worldview that isn’t naïve or childish, but rather optimistic, beautiful and innocent. Yearning for Mashiach, for such a harmonious time, is our way of saying that exile isn’t working for us; we want a more peaceful world, we need a more spirited society and “In G-d we Trust” shouldn’t be relegated to our currency but rather should be engraved in our heart and soul.

I want Mashiach now, how about you?

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!!!

 

Just ask the anti-semite!

It was heartbreaking to see demonstrators marching in New York, D.C and Los Angeles this week, spewing vile anti-Semitic and anti-Israel lies while cloaked in the cover of anti-racism. Every Jew I know stands shoulder to shoulder with the plight of black people; we understand what long term mistreatment looks like and we get how long it takes to heal, but the idea that many who are fighting, and seeking allies in their fight, for civil rights would utilize their moment of pain, their expression of anger, to attack another minority, the Jews, who have experienced so much hatred themselves, is beyond me.

It hurts to the core.

In this week’s double Torah portion, Chukat-Balak, we read about a partnership of two anti-Semites, Balak the king of Moab and Balaam the prophet of Midian, as they team up to curse the Jews and infuse them with negative energy. Thankfully, G-d tells Balaam that he will only have the ability to express words that are placed in his mouth by G-d, and as it turns out, those words were some of the kindest and most complimentary blessings that were ever showered on Jewry. It’s been the theme throughout Jewish history: when paying close attention to the rhetoric spewed against our people, you will find, in their lies and distortions, subtle compliments about who we are, and they are flattering.

When they scream “the Jews own the banks and Wall Street”, it’s their way of saying “darn, these Jews are so charitable”. When they scream “the Jews killed the savior”, it’s their way of saying “we’ve tried for 2,000 years and they still believe in ONLY one G-d”. When they say, “Jews use gentile blood in their Matzah”, it’s their way of saying “we’ve tried to get them away from their religion for so long and they are still baking Matzot for Passover”. When they say Israel is apartheid, it’s their way of saying “we are in shock of how kind the Jews are to all people in the land of Israel, no matter their race or religion”. We just need to learn to listen closely and we will see that they are trying to praise us, but their hatred stops them, so they attack. Balaam tried, Balak strived, Amalek attempted, and the Amorites gave it their best shot, but after all is said and done “Am Yisroel Chai”.

If you don’t believe me; ask your local anti-Semite!

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!!!

When G-d smiled!

Many waters would not be able to quench the love, and rivers would not drown it.

King Solomon's words rang true, as a beautiful Minyan came together yesterday, outdoors, to commemorate the Rebbe’s 26th Yahrtzait and when we reached the Amidah it started raining. The unexpected rain didn’t faze us, and I realized that it was the heavens opening up to us with tears of joy. Yes, we mourned throughout the day and followed the memorializing customs of lighting candles, saying mourners Kaddish and learning Mishnayot in memory of our beloved Rebbe, but these heavenly tears weren’t bitter ones, they didn’t reflect a person who is gone and missed. I believe, Hashem was recognizing a Rebbe who continues to live on in the lives of so many, including in breathtaking Bozeman, and he shed a tear with a Shmeichel, a smile, for all the love the Rebbe gifted Jewry.

You see, being a lover of Jews isn’t easy. In this week’s Torah portion, Korach, we read about Moses and Aaron’s struggle with a group of Jewish rebels who questioned the leadership structure instituted by G-d. Yet, despite their unwarranted, and horrific, behavior towards their Levite cousins, Moses worked overtime to bring them back into the fold. Moses didn’t allow his ego and public disgrace to push for his opponents demise; quite the contrary, he tried knocking sense into them, even after their fate was sealed by G-d, hoping their Teshuva, their return to religious sanity, would change G-d’s mind.

The Rebbe had his fair share of Korach’s who questioned, and even opposed, his bold leadership and undeniable love for humanity. Occasionally, they even riled up segments of the Jewish community in support of their dissent. Yet, the Rebbe never saw them as opponents and never stopped loving and caring for their wellbeing. Though today it’s clear that Rebbe’s vision of dignified respect for every living creature, non-judgmentally, is the correct path, not always did the Korach’s get it in real-time, but the Rebbe persisted and love won the day. As the rain dripped on my Talis and I read Korach’s story from the holy scroll, I looked behind me and saw magnificent souls wrapped in their Talis and Tefillin and I knew that Moses, and the Moses of our time, always triumphs.

L’Chaim dear Rebbe!

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!!! 

Protecting my forest!

Earlier this week, I spent time up in Northwest Montana to Kosher certify three “Made in Montana” manufacturing plants. I took three kiddos along, so Chavie could catch her breath, as they enjoy swimming in the hotel pool. While heading to the pool at 7:45 AM, we ran into a big delegation of US Forest Police officers who were in town to serve at the upcoming Rainbow Festival. Three of them, two from California and one from Wyoming, initiated a conversation with Menny that included explaining their dress-code with all its amenities and giving the kids badges, pins, and bracelets. It was good our family to spend time chatting with officers of the law, especially those who keep our forests safe from prison escapees, arsonists, and other potential trouble.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shlach, we read about the Meraglim, the infamous twelve scouts that Moses sent on a reconnaissance mission to the Holy Land. All of them, except for Joshua and Caleb, returned and said the land is unconquerable. It’s so sad that they chose to substitute their actual mission with a naysaying report. Instead of sharing with Jewry the healthiest form of conquest, they chose to disagree with G-d, who already promised we would conquer the land. It’s like a doctor, who was blessed by G-d with the ability to heal, who decides to replace G-d and tell the patient “you have six months to live”. G-d decides “who shall live and who shall die” and all others must stick to their day job, the one entrusted to them by G-d, in the case of doctors, the job of healing those who are ill.

As I was sitting with these friendly officers, I realized that they too have no say about their mission. They get the call, immediately get into their car whether in Folsom, California or Gillette, Wyoming and, with a smile and energetically, head out to the Bitterroot Valley of Montana and scout out the forest, assessing the risks for humans and animals. I, for one, am grateful that our incredible forests are cared for and protected, so that I can visit with our kids without too much worrying about our safety. G-d gave us each a mission, we have demons to conquer and flames to ignite, let’s spend less time swapping the mission and more time, getting the job done.

You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it!

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!!!

Moses & Associates!

Chavie and I can’t go it alone. Making decisions for our Shul, for our beautiful community, especially during a pandemic, is overwhelming. We are blessed to have a Chabad Advisory Board in Bozeman, made-up of men and women who for eleven years have been working together for Chabad’s success. Sitting with them a week ago, discussing our options for re-opening our Shul building and the summer plans, we realized how truly blessed we are doing this as team. Each member gives their input, different points of view are shared, and when it’s all done you feel understood, supported, and have deep gratitude for the people who are there for you 24/7 to ensure that it gets done right.

It genuinely takes a village.

In this week’s Torah portion, Behaalotecha, we read of the Jewish people’s complaints to Moses about the food conditions in the desert. Moses tell the Almighty “Alone I cannot carry this entire people for it is too hard for me. If this is the way You treat me, please kill me..." In response, G-d instructs Moses to choose “seventy elders”, the same individuals who served selflessly as officers while in Egypt and were now appointed co-CEO’s with Moses. In G-d’s words “and I will increase the spirit that is upon you and bestow it upon them. Then they will bear the burden of the people with you so that you need not bear it alone.” It was an amazing lesson in delegating, one first taught to Moses by his father in law Jethro and now again when he Kvetched to G-d about his lot in life.

It is said, “you can do anything, but not everything”. It is true; only a fool or arrogant soul believes that they can go it alone. Delegating isn’t easy; we have to be vulnerable, recognizing our vincibility and open to the style/ideas of others, but the results of delegating are incredible. Phil Jackson once said, “Good teams become great ones, when the members trust each other enough to surrender the Me for the We”. I’m sure Moses would’ve liked to lead all by himself, but G-d taught him that when we are feeling lost or swamped, bringing in your friends, teammates, supporters and working it together changes everything for the better.

In the words of king Solomon “Two are better than one”!

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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