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Weekly Message

Don't forget #5!

Too often, children assume they are smarter than their parents, but most of the time, they aren’t. It’s just that we expect our parents to see the world the way we do, and when they don’t, we are frustrated. I can’t count the times I thought my parents were wrong and it turned out it was I who was mistaken. As I grow older, sometimes, just a few weeks older, I realize that my father, with whom I love arguing for sport, is correct. Even when he is wrong, I regret mouthing off at him about our disagreements, because he’s my father and has earned my respect, period.

In this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, we are introduced to the Ten Commandments. While we are expected to follow the entirety of Torah, somehow, we are divided into tablet one Jews and tablet two Jews. Tablet one Jews focus on the G-d oriented Mitzvos found on the first tablet: Belief in G-d, no idols, not saying G-d’s name in vain and observing the Sabbath. Tablet two Jews are focused on the human oriented Mitzvos of not murdering, not coveting, not kidnapping, not bearing false witness and not committing adultery. Yet, too often commandment number five, “Honor your father and your mother, in order that your days be lengthened on the land that the Lord, your God, is giving you” doesn’t get the attention it deserves from either group of Jews.

The idea is simple.

You don’t need love them, like them or adore them; you need to honor them. It’s easy things like not calling them by their name, not sitting in their designated seat and not speaking back at them. It’s also complex things like traversing life when they don’t behave healthfully to you or your family, when they are mentally/emotionally/spiritually unstable or when they’ve passed away and you still want to honor them. Judaism discusses all the options and approaches, but one option is never an option: disrespecting them. Parents don’t always make it easy, but G-d made rule number five clear: He thinks we owe them honor and He offers immense blessing in return.

In the words of a Chinese Proverb: Respect for ones parents is the highest duty of civil life!

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

He Ain't Glitchy!

Technology, oh technology. While it has incredible advantages, including the ability to share my recent article in our local paper about our Rebbe and his seventy years of mentorship with folks across the globe, it also has flaws. While I was attempting to email “thank you” notes for 2019 to our beloved partners, I “merited” a computer glitch that sent it out to each recipient multiple times. It was unprofessional and somewhat embarrassing, but also reminded me that, aside from G-d Almighty, everything and everyone has glitches and how we deal with those glitches is key.

In this week’s Torah portion, Beshalach, a personal favorite, we read about the moment of all moments. Jewry was standing near the Sea of Reeds with the Egyptians closing in on them from behind; they felt trapped and acted accordingly. They were divided: War, prayer, surrender and suicide were all on the proverbial table as viable options. Moses himself was perplexed and G-d kept it simple: tell them to move forward. They all saw the sea as an impediment, an impossible obstacle, but G-d knew there was a sea and instructed them to march in that direction. There are no glitches with G-d and His masterplan, never, even if it may be hard for us to see, or understand, it at first. Once they entered the sea, led by Nachshon, everything came into place and it split into twelve paths for each tribe individually.

So, while we are finite and experience personal glitches, G-d is perfect and glitch-less. He didn’t dump a foot or so of snow on us Bozemanites in the last 24 hours because He’s clueless about our driving conditions; He did it because He knew we needed it, whether we recognize it at this moment or not. I have a long way to go in my own journey of accepting G-d’s life instalments as is, but I’ve come a long way, allowing me to see so much more of His providence in my life, our life and the world as a whole.

It’s easy to blame Him for all our problems; it’s more honorable to be grateful for His love!  

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

Honor Guard!

Late last night I returned from Cedar Rapids, Iowa where I had the honor of officiating at the funeral of 97-year-old Bert Katz, father of Sally Feniger and Toni Neta. Bert lived with integrity, was wholeheartedly devoted to his community and had a love for life that was extraordinary. It was my first time officiating at a funeral that included military honors and it was so stirring; their presentation brought me, and everyone else, to tears. The Veterans and the Honor Guard are so caring, so dedicated and have a love affair with our country. While I said the mourners Kaddish for Bert’s Neshama, his beautiful soul, they honored his service as a captain of an all-black platoon during the allied invasion in Normandy.

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Bo, we read about the Exodus from Egypt. G-d, through Moses our Master, freed us from harsh slavery and gifted us freedom. Yet, G-d tells Jewry that when they leave Egypt, they will journey to serve Him at Mount Sinai, referring to the giving of the Torah. With this simple proclamation, G-d taught us such an invaluable lesson: freedom isn’t given to us in order that we be served, it’s the blessing that enables us to serve others. An enslaved person cannot choose to serve, they are forced to; a free person, on the other hand, chooses every day either to be noble and in service or to be lazy and seeking to be served.

Bert was part of “the greatest generation” who were incredible souls seeking to serve and make the world a better place for their families. They didn’t Kvetch, they didn’t pontificate, they didn’t procrastinate; they rose each morning, thanked G-d for their freedom and did the best they could, through hard work and selflessness, to ensure a brighter tomorrow. G-d made it clear: I didn’t take you out of Egypt so you should be enslaved to your selfish addictions and absorbed with your needs 24/7; rather I took you out of Egypt so you can shine uninterrupted, connect with your Higher Power and celebrate every moment of life, healthfully, with meaning and joy.

The greatest generation doesn’t have to be a one-time thing!

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

 

My Moment of Shame!

I don’t want to be like Pharaoh.

Yesterday morning, I lost my cool and raised my voice at three of our children. I was frustrated about the repetitive breaking of valuable tech items, and instead of staying calm and dealing with them like a sensible father and mature adult, I dropped the ball. Fifteen minutes later, after realizing how wrong it was, I was taken over by deep shame. I sat the kiddos down, told them how embarrassed I felt, apologized profusely for my behavior and asked them for their forgiveness. It wasn’t my finest moment, but Chavie reassured me and reminded me how important it was that I was transparent with them and vulnerable in our conversation.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va’eira, we read about a fellow who could’ve easily ended the horror plaguing his nation, but he was stubborn and dug his heels into his wayward ways. Sure, G-d implanted his stubbornness, but he could’ve made a wise choice or two and freed the Hebrews, and he didn’t. instead of internalizing the damage his country was experiencing, instead of doing what was in the best interest of his people, including his family, he chose power over courage, ego over humility, and at the end, Egypt was left with nothing.

An empire destroyed due to an unwillingness to change.

No question, the kids needed to be reminded not to mistreat their “stuff”, but the way I initially went about it was wrong and, potentially, harmful. If I, as an adult, don’t like people screaming at me, why should young beautiful children incur that? Yet, I also did something that I hope will remind me never to raise my voice again and that I hope they will remember later in life: I sat them down, expressed to them my deepest remorse and allowed them to see my humanity. We cried, we hugged, we laughed, and I was forgiven. I haven’t recovered from my shame, but I will, and hopefully be a better dad. I’d rather they remember me as their humble Moses than their arrogant Pharaoh.

In the words of Brene Brown “Through my research, I found that vulnerability is the glue that holds relationships together. It's the magic sauce!

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

Saved by the women!

On Monday evening, seven women attended Chavie’s monthly Torah and Tea. The week before, six women attended Chavie’s Taste of Tradition Cooking Class and the new bi-weekly Tale of Two Souls class on Tanya if off to a great start, attracting women from all segments of the community for study and meditation. I share this because our community is seeing incredible growth in women’s programing and participation. It’s heartwarming, as Jewish women are the guarantors of our future.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shemot, the first in the book of Exodus, we read about The Pharaoh. As a Jew-hater par excellence, he decreed horrifically that all male Jewish babies are to be exterminated and all the females are to be indoctrinated into Egyptian culture and idolatrous ideology. Who was it that worked tirelessly to ensure the boys’ physical survival and the girls’ spiritual survival? It was a team of heroic women led by Moses’ mother Yocheved and older sister Miriam. They knew that their lives were in danger, they knew that if they were caught they’d be toast, but their wellbeing wasn’t as important to them as the nation’s survival and so they did whatever it took to save our people from an Egyptian holocaust.

Currently, there is widespread confusion on almost all matters, from medicine to politics, religion to dieting, never-ending amounts of misinformation resulting in too much interhuman mistrust. It’s vital that we Jews have clarity on the components needed to ensure the prosperity of our souls and the wellbeing of our nation. First and foremost on that list of vital ingredients are Jewish women, who have always had a greater spiritual intuition than the men and who have been pillars of redemption through thick and thin.

Biblical feminism; almost 4,000 years old!

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

Jackie Robinson & Labelism!

There are many societal norms that are good; but some are really bad, including the lumping together of people, thinking that if they live in “that neighborhood” or “drive that car” or “watch that news station”, they are probably “one of those”. It’s a travesty, that instead of giving each human being individualized respect, personalized attention and a chance to share for themselves where they stand on issues, we “assume”, “generalize” and “judge”, without ever knowing the truth of who they are.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, the last in Genesis, we read about Jacob’s deathbed conversation with his twelve tribes before his passing at one-hundred-and-forty-seven years-old. First, Jacob ascertains that they have all remained firm believers in one G-d and that the depraved Egyptian influence hasn’t affected them negatively, encroaching on their spirituality. Following that, Jacob talks to each of them individually, blessing them, highlighting their virtues and, for some, emphasizing their negative traits, which if worked on with a healthy dose of character refinement, can be transformed into very positive passion. He didn’t just say “guys, you are all special, all good, and I hope you carry my legacy into the future”. He knew, what we should all know, that every child, every human, needs a special touch.

I find that with labelism we have lost touch with the uniqueness of each human. You are “progressive”, “Reform”, “Religious”, “Modern Orthodox”, “Secular” “Hassidic”, “Libertarian” and on and on and on. Not only do we not give people the benefit of the doubt, we don’t even allow them to be themselves, as we reach conclusions about them by generalizing before even saying hello. Why is it that we expect people to treat us with dignity, while we ourselves can’t recognize human distinctiveness and come with an open mind to each human interaction? Jacob did it with his children; I hope I can do it with mine and with all of you.

In the words of Jackie Robinson “I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.”!

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

A Letter to my Mom...

Dear Mommy,

It’s that time of year AGAIN. The time of year that takes me off my Chanukah high and throws me, cold turkey, into painful moments that are truly gut stirring. I want to believe that your Yahrtzait, the anniversary of your passing, will be smooth sailing, but it isn’t; it breaks my heart each year anew. Furthermore, I simply can’t believe it’s been nine years!

On that awful Tuesday morning at Lenox Hill Hospital, we, your five children, stood together singing Shamil, a Chassidic song that reflects the journey of the soul. We sang our broken and aching hearts out as we escorted your soul to heaven, undoubtedly to its shopping mall…nine years ago. When you left us, your beloved baby Mushkie was still single, Chaya and Zeesy were babies, Bubbe and Zayde were still with us, Menny, Shoshana and Chana Laya weren’t part of our family and Montana only had one Chabad Center.

Nine freakin’ years!

Nine years is so long, I feel like Joseph whom we read about in this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, who was separated from his loved ones for twenty two years, and through that painful process taught us how to deal with the void and yearning of physical separation. Yes, the ultimate reunion was super emotional, as neither Joseph or his broken father Jacob believed that the other was still alive, but the emotions weren’t a constant. During those twenty two years, Joseph thought about his father often, he yearned deeply for his brothers, especially Benjamin, his maternal baby brother, but he wasn’t paralyzed, he wasn’t shut down, he lived, he functioned, he ran the entire Egyptian empire, he married and had two sons. He “moved on” with his life and that inspires me because I feel like after these many years, I am there with Joseph.

Ma, I know you won’t be offended or hurt when I tell you that I don’t cry very much anymore. I think about you all the time, I even dreamt about you and your dear older sister Kraindy just the other night, but the emotions are far and few-between. I could be triggered with a song, a story, a book in which the author discusses losing a parent or sometimes it’s when life just gets a bit too rough for me. I love unloading with a good cry, it feels really good, I feel connected, I feel the love that we have between us, but nine years later mom, It’s not the same and you moved from being that helicoptering figure to my larger-than-life role model I could only dream of emulating.

Not all of your kids, my beloved brothers and sisters, see it the same way, but this is how I feel and sharing it in the open, is freeing for my fragile soul.  

Joseph and his brothers refused to drink wine during their separation, as they mourned the family break-up and wine is the life of the party. Yet, Joseph went one step further: he set aside a bottle because he believed in his heart of hearts, he’d reunite with them some day and would need L'Chaim on-hand to celebrate.  When they did finally reunite, he sent the now vintage bottle of wine to his dad in Israel, to express to him how much hope he had that this moment would come. He also shared with his dad, via his brothers, a reminder of the last thing they learned together before his brothers abducted him and allowed him to be sold. It was soothing for Jacob to know that his son hadn’t lost touch, emotionally or mentally, with his beloved father. 

Ma, I don’t have a bottle of wine set aside for my reunion with you, though I know how much you loved the bubbly Moscato “wine” and so do I, but I do have so much I want to share with you, especially my beloved Chana Laya, who carries your name with love and who reminds me each day that I was blessed with a mother of the century. There’s so much I’d love to share with you, all the info. I would’ve shared in our morning calls which I’ve missed for the past 2,800 days. So, emotionally I’m in a better place, and that has allowed me to think with clarity and truly contemplate how your incredible character and devotion to your five children shaped who we are.

Joseph reflected his dad Jacob and I try to reflect you. Jacob lived amongst the thugs in Laban’s world and thrived spiritually and Joseph lived amongst the depraved Egyptians and did the same. I hope Ma that I too reflect your integrity, your thoughtfulness, your straightforwardness and most importantly, your love for those in our world that are less fortunate. You didn’t sugarcoat the truth, but you did make it bearable. You didn’t hold back from sharing your opinions but you didn’t bite those with whom you disagreed and you didn’t always like what G-d had in store for you, for us, but that never stopped you from being His biggest advocate and confidant. For most of your life you weren’t blessed with lots of money, but that never stopped you from kicking-in for the orphans, children of divorced parents and those struggling with mental illness in your beloved Crown Heights community. You didn’t care “what it looked like”, you always stood with those who needed a shoulder to lean on.

Listen Mommy, for the first time in nine years, I will be in Bozeman for Yahrtzait, as Yochanan will be in Florida, Rochel in Montreal and Yanky and Mushkie in New York, each bringing you to life in our respective communities. We got together yesterday at your resting place in Queens; we prayed, we cried, we reminisced, and we laughed; always laughing because that is the best reflection of you. I hope to pull off three Minyans to say Kaddish in Bozeman over Shabbos and the wonderful members of our community are on board to make it happen. The seventh of Teves changed my life and there’s no going back; only Mashiach could bring about the change I need to heal and the reunion I await.

Ma, I will lift my glass tonight and say L’Chaim to my beloved mother, whose love, wisdom and authenticity is etched in my mind and heart. Sometime soon, like Joseph, I’d like to hear the news that you’re alive, that Mashiach came and that Beth Rivkah's 1st grade class has their best teacher back!

In the words of a couple of kids who loved their mom “You showed me when I was young just how to grow; You showed me everything that I should know; You showed me, just how to walk without your hands; 'Cause mom you always were the perfect fan”

Love you my dear mama!

Chaim Shaul

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

Menorah on the bar!

So far, Chanukah has rocked in Big Sky Country! It started with an amazing family event at Jump Time Bozeman on Sunday, MAJCO Menorah lighting at the State Capitol and Menorah lighting at the Livingston Depot on Monday, Chanukah home visits in Butte, Billings and Big Timber on Tuesday, incredible Chanukah Bash at our home on Wednesday, Chanukah celebration at Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs and Yeshiva students Dovid and Nisson visiting Great Falls on Thursday and that doesn’t even include the remarkable events in Missoula, Hamilton, Whitefish and Kalispell hosted by our colleagues the Vogel’s and Wolf’s.

Chanukah is a time of brightness and it’s been bright, both internally and externally.

Yet, what brightened me most this Chanukah was my buddy Danny who serves as a bartender out in Three Forks. He showed me a picture of himself lighting his Chanukah Menorah on the bar with three gentile patrons smiling, enjoying and encouraging his Jewish Mitzvah experience. He was shining brightly as he shared with me what it was like, and rightfully so; it reflected the Jewish soul that is unbeatable, unstoppable and forever bright. It’s the Joseph gift that keeps giving. You see, in this week’s Torah portion, Miketz, we read about Jacob and Rachel’s son Joseph who - despite being utterly mistreated by his brothers and locked up in Egyptian prison due to a libelous claim by his master’s wife - ends up chosen by The Pharaoh as Viceroy of the mighty Egyptian Empire.

You’d think that to honor his appointment and to blend into the melting pot of Egypt, Joseph would change his name, marry a local, hide his Abrahamic ancestry and refuse to circumcise his sons Ephraim and Menashe, but he didn’t assimilate. He retained his Jewish identity, fully, and everyone in Egypt knew that their “sustainer”, the one who ensured that enough food was saved during the seven years of plenty in order to survive the seven years of famine, was a Jewish kid from Israel who “had a record”. Joseph ingrained in every Jew, for all eternity, that no matter our surroundings, whether in a bar or dressed as Santa, we could connect and feel our soul and act on it on a moment’s notice.

Burn, Burn, Burn!

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

Falling down, getting up!

Those of you who attended Sunday’s incredible Farbrengen/dinner with Idaho’s Rabbi Mendel Lifshitz, may have noticed that I was walking funny and perhaps experiencing a bit of pain. I was. Ten days ago, while focused on my phone and walking down the stairs, I tripped on a toy and had quite the fall. I had the wind knocked out of me, landed flat on my back and faced brutal physical pain for a week. I am now on the mend, but It’s still sore and I guess I won’t be skiing this season :).

While aching on the couch I realized that this is the collective story of our people.

During the era of Chanukah, the Syrian Greeks did their very best to knock us down. We were hit hard, as most Jews chose assimilation over defiance, secularism over Torah observance, new age over tradition; our people were at a low. We had fallen down the spiritual stairs and the road to recovery seemed improbable. Yet, we can look back and smile; not only did we make a comeback due to the heroic Maccabees, but in the 2,200 years since, Judaism has flourished in unimaginable ways and reached infinite heights. Since the first Chanukah, we’ve merited the Era of Mishna/Talmud in Israel, the era of the Geonim in Babylonia, the Era of the Rishonim in Germany, France, North Africa and Spain, the era of the Achronim in Holland, Italy and Czechoslovakia and the era of Chassidim in Ukraine, Poland, New York, and, now, the world over. 

We, the Jewish people, have bruised our ribs, pulled a few muscles and have even had the wind knocked out of us. We’ve been through so much, we've been down, but we are not out, as Torah Judaism is blossoming everywhere. The Antiochus’s of history wouldn’t believe how alive Jewry is. Thanks to Judah, his relative Yehudis and their band of religious freedom fighters, Moses’ teachings are still celebrated in Bozeman and beyond. Sunday night, as you kindle your Menorah, pause and smile, smile at the flickering flame that is representative of our people, our faith, our perseverance. 

Hold on, just hold on, don’t let go, don’t let go, you can’t let go, you gotta keep on movin’ on!

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


Happy Birthday to Me!

Yup, it’s my 38th birthday. While I’m so grateful to the many who sent me heartwarming wishes on December 11th which is my Gregorian/Facebook birthday; I was born on the 15th of Kislev and our family celebrated last night around the dinner table. Birthdays are tricky as they remind us of our fragility and the aging process but it also gives us so much reason for celebration. On my special day, I think of my mother who carried me for nine months in her womb, of my parents who raised me with love through thick and thin, of my siblings who I was lucky to grow up with and for a time it was a family of seven in a two bedroom apartment, and I think of everything that G-d has given me in my life, most especially Chavie and our five beautiful children.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, Jacob encounters his brother Esau, a somber reunion after thirty six years of separation. Before they meet up, Jacob is scared and proclaims “Katonti”, telling G-d that he “feels small”, humbled and perhaps unworthy of more blessings and supernatural protection; as he’d already experienced so much kindness in his life and figured he had already cashed in on everything G-d will give him. When a man like Jacob, the premiere patriarch, who epitomized everything that’s good in our world, expresses so much gratitude that it results in a refreshing dose of humility, we can garner a life lesson in “Katonti” for ourselves in the process.

Life isn’t always peachy but the more we embrace “Katonti”, the more we'll be able to breathe-in those close moments with HaShem that will not only make us grateful humans, but guide us to be smaller and less egocentric. When the Alter Rebbe was freed from prison on the 19th of Kislev in 1798, he emphasized “Katonti”, urging his beloved Chassdim to be kind to those Jews who, sadly, informed on him with lies that led to his arrest. He beseeched his students to focus their energies on growing the study of Chassidism and inspire others to follow in its ways. If you meet a Chassid who isn’t grateful and humble, then the lessons of Jacob as illuminated in Chassidic thought, hasn’t permeated their life. Today, almost 221 years since the Alter Rebbe's liberation and 38 years since my mom birthed me at Mount Sinai hospital in New York City, I express gratitude to Hashem who has given me life and allowed me to live it fully; I pray He will allow me to share those feelings for decades to come!

Katonti! 

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

Dealing with my Crazy Uncle!

Tit for Tat seems to be the current way of the world. I see it with my children, I see it in the repulsive world of politics, and I see it, sadly, sometimes within myself. We get easily “triggered”, our fragile egos get hurt, and instead of expressing restraint in our response, instead of being true to our core values and thinking things through before we explode, we choose to reciprocate to the “agitator” in-kind, fulfilling the bumper sticker prophecy “an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind”.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeitzei, we read about Laban swindling his nephew Jacob. As his employer, Laban cheated Jacob financially, mistreated him physically and, perhaps, most notably, he lied to him about marriage, giving him Leah, though promising him his beloved Rachel. Could any of us imagine having a solid agreement, working towards its outcome for seven years and then, without any guilt, the one who entered the agreement with us, reneging? The feeling of betrayal and hurt is unimaginable! Yet, Jacob, the Patriarch par excellence, didn’t respond to Laban on Laban’s terms, he responded to Laban on his terms, continuing to be a moral, devoted and ethical employee/son-in-law/nephew. I’m sure Jacob would’ve liked to reciprocate to his crazy uncle with a taste of his own medicine, but that wouldn’t reflect his values that were essential to Jacob’s character.  

Jacob paved the way.  

If we scream at our kids because they’re screaming, if we lie to our spouse because they’re lying, if we cheat our bother in law because he’s a cheat, if we’re nasty to our employer because they are nasty to us, we aren’t being thoughtful and Jacob-like. We can have grievances, we can certainly be frustrated and we could really want to let them have it, but then we must remember that we are the “congregation of Jacob”, we are the people who have been gifted with the ability to be in an adverse environment surrounded by the Laban’s of the world, and retain our Jacob soul, one that is uncompromising in its clarity and devoted to living soulfully.

In the words of President Eisenhower “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”

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

Sleeping in a Yurt!

After an incredible family Shabbos with Shoshana in Hurricane, Utah, we were off on an adventurous drive home. We drove through picturesque Zion, visited sunrise point at Bryce, ran through Devil’s Garden and overnighted in a Yurt in Escalante, couldn’t get enough of breathtaking Capitol Reef, put our hands in the air like we just don’t care at Goblin State Park, ran through the Sand Dune Arch of Arches, and stood high atop Island In the Sky at Canyonlands and saw G-d's greatness. Yes, it was one week and seventeen hundred miles in a minivan with four kiddos, but the quality of the experience and a lifetime of memories was unbeatable.

In this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, we read about Rebecca instructing Jacob to siphon Isaac’s blessings from his twin brother Esau and Jacob’s subsequent escape. Jacob spent thirty six years away from his parents, away from home, and although he thrived in Torah study and built an incredible family during that time, he misses out on so many years with his beloved dad and, sadly, never sees his mother Rebecca again. Yes, Rebecca’s guidance procured Jacob and Jewry’s future, but no matter how we twist the story, it was a family ripped apart. Parents living in Israel, one local son who is a thief, idolater and murderer, a second son who is living far away without social media or email and the loneliness is palpable. 

So often, I hear of people’s regrets. Good people, holy people, friendly people, who simply keep pushing off spending quality time with their families for one reason or another. I don’t know how long I will live, it’s out of my control; what I do know is that G-d gifted me with an incredible Chavie and five Divine children and they deserve my time. I love our crazy workload for the furtherance of Jewish life in Montana, but I will not let that stop me from fulfilling my primary role as husband and father. Sleeping in a Yurt is not something I could’ve imagined doing, but it was an experience that our family will cherish forever and that is priceless.

I don’t want to Kvetch about my regrets; I want to laugh about great memories! 

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

Strange Kindness?

It was the usual quick trip. I flew to Boston for a night on Sunday, invited by the Boston Jewish Film Festival, to do the post film Q&A of the Rabbi Goes West at the packed Somerville Theater. Hundreds of people who knew very little about Chabad philosophy, who haven’t necessarily ever interacted personally with one of the Rebbe’s emissaries and were never directly exposed to our views on Mashiach, Israel, Halacha, lifestyles and so much more, had an opportunity to watch the film and openly ask me how we, Chassidim, view certain issues, including topics that are emotionally charged. A room filled mostly by those who self-label as “liberal”, “reform” or “non-orthodox”, were extremely hospitable, warm and friendly; I felt like I was among family, not in hostile territory.

The next morning, I caught a glimpse of the impeachment hearing at Logan Airport…

In this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, we read about Abraham seeking a wife for his forty-year-old son Isaac. He chooses his selfless servant and prime student Eliezer for this significant mission and when Eliezer sees a young woman who is kind to a stranger and to the stranger’s animals, he figures she’s the right one for Isaac. He didn’t look to see which Ivy League she attended, what her father’s portfolio looks like or even what type of Jewish education she received; he simply wanted to see if she’s a kind individual. It seems so basic, and perhaps it is, but Eliezer focused on this aspect of Rebecca, as he knew that for someone to live with Isaac, a son of the incredibly kind Abraham and Sarah, they need to be kind at heart as well.

Back to the hearings, I think we can all agree that our country is losing its kindness for each other. Too many of our very own citizens, sometimes our own friends, are choosing extreme judgementalism and nastiness, instead of finding commonality and decency. It’s happening across the spectrum, on both sides of the political aisle, and is, sadly, penetrating young beautiful souls, who should see the G-d spark in every human being and instead are actively focusing on that which divides us, thinking they are superior to those they disagree with. Rebecca saw a stranger at a well, she didn’t ask him who he voted for, his opinion on taxes or if his boss Abraham was a Democrat or Republican; she offered water to him and his camel; old fashioned kindness.

Kind; not just a label for a bar!

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

Windy Inspiration!

It was another very busy week with classes, program planning, a jail visit, a talk at the Cancer Support community, time with an elderly Jew at an Alzheimer’s care facility and fun with the kiddos at the mall, but the highlight was my fifteen hour visit to Chicago, the one place on earth that felt colder than Bozeman. I was invited to address a Farbrengen of men in the local Chabad community as well as to talk with one hundred or so teenage girls at the Lubavitch Girls High School; it was one of those life moments where I came to inspire and left inspired. They came to listen to what I’d share and with their listening taught me so so much.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeira, we read about our founding father Abraham seeking out travelers who would accept his warm and royal hospitality. It was then, outside his tent, with the desert sun sizzling, that G-d visited him and helped his healing process. You see, ninety-nine-year-old Abraham was physically uncomfortable, as he had circumcised himself just three days earlier, yet, instead of focusing on his own ailment, he sought others who were in need. He understood that the joy we experience when giving to others is so pleasurable, so emotionally rewarding, that, if but for a moment, it allows us to forget about our own “issues” and gives us genuine rejuvenation.

It wasn’t the Glenlivet L’Chaim and healthy dose of Sushi that blew me away; it was my Chabad brothers in West Rogers Park. These hardworking men, laymen and rabbis, who needed to be up for work just a few hours later, sat and listened for five hours, sang melodious tunes that penetrated our hearts and even debated me on various matters until 1:30 AM; it was real, it was deeply authentic. I spent a few solid hours engaged with some people I've never met but who wanted to know more, do more and be better; it left an impressionable mark on me.  As my flight headed back from O’Hare to Bozeman, I couldn’t stop thinking of the Talmudic Idiom “More than the calf wants to suckle, the cow wants to nurse”.

Giving is getting. If you don’t believe me, just try it!

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

Don't judge people by their lousiness!

Love is a big word and this week I fell in love. No, not a new romantic love, rather, the love that is expressed with deep adoration, in my case, it’s for Eva Schloss, stepsister of Anne Frank, who accepted our invitation and spoke for fourteen hundred people at MSU (Event Pics Here). The way I see humanity is forever changed thanks to Eva’s story, energy, humor and Mentchlichkait. In some ways she changed our beloved community for the better and I’m honored to have made her visit a reality. 

As I sat beside her during her talk, I thought not only of those who perished during the holocaust, but also of the tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of Jews that would’ve been living on earth, had their ancestors survived the death camps like Eva did.

In this week’s Torah portion, Lech-Lecha, we read about Abraham’s treck north from Israel to Syria to demand, and fight for, the return of his wicked nephew Lot, who was captured in the battle of the four/five kings. One wonders: why did Abraham bother? Lot was immoral and unethical and chose to live far away, both physically and spirituality, from his uncle Abraham, so why go into full war mode just to save him? Yet, our sages teach that Abraham wasn’t only saving Lot, but he was saving Ruth, David, Mashiach and many others who descended from Lot and were great assets for Jewry and the world. We tend to look at people just for who they are, mostly, superficially. Imagine, if we were able to see not only their soul, but the souls of their future offspring.

In a world plagued by division and hatred, where riots and demonstrations now seem to be the norm, it may be a good time, not only to treat people with dignity, but to see their bigger picture, for what they could potentially bring the world and what could be gifted to the world long after they’re gone through their family. It’s not easy to treat every individual with that kind of respect and love, but imagine what the world would be like if we did.

Humans are like trees; the fruit is unpredictable! 

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

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