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Weekly Message

G-d & Our Stolen Minivan!

“Life happens” and how we deal with it is what builds our character. Tuesday morning, Chavie woke up in San Antonio to discover that our fairly new minivan was stolen right out of her parents’ driveway. Car seats, stroller, topper, 100’s of DVD’s; it’s just a royal pain in the neck. It’s hard to digest this reality and it brings up feeling of anger and general distrust in humanity. Yet, we are expected to see our reality from a different lens, a holier perspective. The Talmud says that when G-d destroyed the Holy Temples in Jerusalem “He poured His wrath on to wood and stones”, instead of onto the people, and for that we are to be grateful.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va'etchanan, we read the key prayer of Judaism, the Shema. In it, G-d commands us to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your might”. Rashi explains that “with all your might” is instructing us to love G-d with whatever measure He metes out to you, whether it be the measure of good or the measure of retribution. Thus, King David says: “I will lift up the cup of salvations and I will call upon the name of the Lord” and “I found trouble and grief and I called out in the name of the Lord”. G-d is always our address, our comfort space, whether things seem to be superb or extremely challenging.

Woodrow Wilson said “If you lose your wealth, you have lost nothing; if you lose your health, you have lost something; but if you lose your character, you have lost everything.” I don’t claim to know what G-d is smoking at every moment of every day. I don’t know why our minivan was stolen or why I was chosen to spend quality time with insurance companies and the amazing team at Denny Menholt Honda in Bozeman. What I do know is that He’s been good to me and for that I am grateful. I will do my very best to remain focused, remain upbeat and remember: it’s only a car, Baruch Hashem.

With all your might, Chaim!

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!!! 

La Familia!

As Yeshiva students, Tzemach and Mendel, were out visiting homes in Great Falls, Helena and throughout Northcentral Montana, I, together with my brother in law Rabbi Shneur, were up in the beautiful Flathead Valley visiting fellow Jews and Kosher supervising plants in the area. I’m asked fairly often “Rabbi, how do you seem to always find common ground with other Jews? Aren’t our people more prone to division and tribalism? Don’t we need to argue all the time?”, the answer is one word “family”. I was taught by my beloved Rebbe of blessed memory to see Jewry as family, as Michael J. Fox once wrote “Family is not an important thing. It's everything.”.

In this week’s Torah portion, Devarim, the first in the book of Deuteronomy, we read of Moses’ pre-passing reminder to his people that when they conquered the land of Israel G-d instructed them not to mess with their relatives of Edom, Moab and Amon. Although these “distant relatives” didn’t always behave like family, it didn’t matter; we always need to treat them like they are. These nations who were descendants of Esau and Lot were not close to the Jews by any stretch of the imagination, but they were progenies of Abraham and G-d expects family to have higher standards. It may be that our family members are the ones who get under our skin most, but that’s because we care about them more, and so it bothers us more, but that’s no excuse of silly fights and counterproductive divisions.  

Whether in Bigfork or in Glendive, it’s easy for us to focus on what divides us as Jews, but it’s fruitless. Brothers and sisters can debate their political opinions, discuss their childhood religious experiences, research their ancestral origins and even, recognize their dissimilar financial brackets, but fighting over these issues is not familial. La Familia, or as we call it “Mishpocho”, is a beloved organism of connected souls that must never be fragmented. When we know of a Jew in Libby or Miles City, who may need a hug or an interest-free loan, a spiritual boost or a dose of inspiration, we must step up. I don’t care how you label yourself, because “family” is the only label that ever mattered to me.  

If Esau was family, cousin Irving certainly is!

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!!! 

Wise Words of Dr. Seuss!

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain - and most fools do.” Many of us are easy to find fault with organized religion, but this week I saw a totally different side of Judaism and it was quite organized. I had the honor of attending the  AKO conference  with over one hundred rabbis who represent Kosher agencies in their respective communities. From Turkey to Sydney, Montreal to Houston, these individuals awake each morning and strive to make Kosher food available to Jewry and to ensure that the standards are 100% in accordance with the Torah’s instructions. It humbled me to be amongst such Halachic luminaries and to be able to learn from their wisdom and vast knowledge of Jewish law.

In this week’s double Torah portion, Matot-Massei, the last two in the Book of Numbers, we read about Kashering. After the Jewish people waged a fierce battle against Midian, which included killing their five kings and their evil prophet Balaam, they had lots of war spoils. Now, G-d commands the Jewish people to Kosher the food utensils and tells them exactly how to do it. If it’s a pot that’s used for water-based cooking, it’s Koshered by immersing it in boiling water. If it’s a utensil used for baking/frying without water, you must use a direct flame to Kosher it. In addition, if it was acquired from a gentile, as the Midianite vessels were, it must be immersed in a Mikvah. G-d recognized the expense of purchasing new utensils, He doesn’t like when we waste money, and so He gave us a solution for re-Koshering most items.

Once in a while I’m told “But Rabbi, I can’t keep Kosher? I can’t stop eating out? It’s too late for me.”. In truth, Kashering most dishes and utensils in your kitchen is very doable. Making separate areas for dairy and meat foods is very possible. Immersing your utensils at the Bozeman Mikvah, as so many do already, is doable. No doubt, it would be really nice if we could get a Kosher restaurant in Big Sky Country, but until then, even if you’re not ready to give up eating out, it shouldn’t stop you from making your home, your kitchen, a Kosher one. There are Kosher agencies who send Mashgichim, supervisors, at 3 AM to manufacturing plants to ensure that Kosher products are available in every grocery in America, the least we can do is show appreciation and join the 3,000 year old bandwagon and increase our Kosherness.

In the words of Dr. Seuss “Nobody said it would be easy, they just promised it would be worth it”!

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!!!

Super Mario!

As our family hit the road, making our way from Bozeman to San Antonio, for our annual summer pilgrimage, we needed to see a mechanic in Clayton, New Mexico, population 2,763. We ran over a dead deer, as there was nowhere to swerve, and a non-essential metal plate beneath the car needed to be reattached.  It was just a few hours before the 4th and Mario, the nicest fellow, saw us on 15-minutes notice. He spent 45 minutes getting the minor issue resolved. While working, I said to him “Mario, you’re teaching me the art of perseverance” to which he responded “Hey man, patience is the key to perseverance. You gotta be patient”. When he was done he said it would cost me “10 bucks”, I insisted on a generous tip for his remarkable help and for being a solid Mentsch.

In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, we read about the five daughters of Tzlafchad who understood that giving up shouldn’t be an option. It’s a novel concept. You see, many people believe it’s black or white; either you never try to change the rules, or you just go ahead and break them. The wise daughters of Tzlafchad felt that they deserved a portion in the land of Israel. They didn’t attack Moses, they didn’t ignore G-d and they didn’t fight “the system” the way Korach and the spies did. They approached Moses, they respectfully pleaded their case, Moses turned to G-d and they got their plot of land. We can work within the G-dly ordained system of Judaism to address issues that we feel need addressing, but it’s cowardly and even callous to just give up on change, or worse, making up our own rules when we don’t have that authority.

I admit (and have admitted before) there are aspects of Judaism that are challenging for me. So what? Does that mean it’s not important? Does that mean I get to make up my own religion based on my personal whims? Mario stood in the sweltering heat to get the metal plate reattached. He didn’t Kvetch, he didn’t curse, he didn’t even try to make a killing off me (which he could’ve under the circumstances); he wiped the sweat off his brow and kept going until he got it done. He didn’t say “I give up” and he didn’t decide that I need a new car; we kept the same car and he worked with it until it was in ship shape. Thank you, Mario, for teaching me that we can all persevere, but we need to be patient and work with what G-d have given us to make it work best for ourselves, our families, our communities and our world.

Tzlafchad’s girls changed the rules within the system of Judaism; the only Jewish Ism!

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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