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Weekly Message

Unaccompanied Minors!

On Sunday, just before the start of school, after spending almost three weeks at overnight camp in Lake Worth, Florida, Chaya flew home from Fort Lauderdale, as an Unaccompanied Minor. She did great and the smile on her face when she walked up the jetway and saw me, Menny and Zeesy waiting for her, was out of this world. I never understood the title “Unaccompanied Minor”. These “Unaccompanied” children are the only passengers that are “Accompanied” by airline staff and yet because it’s not the natural “accompaniers” they are considered “Unaccompanied”.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Tavo, we read about the various agricultural gifts that one is obligated to give in the land of Israel. Coming on the heels of the battle with Amalek, the Midrash teaches that Moses was reminding Jewry, that unlike Amalek who despised humanity’s recognition of G-d, we must never forget that the produce of our fields, the fruits of our orchards, the grapes in our vineyards, are all a Divine gift to us and we must share it with the Kohen, the Levi, the orphan, the pauper, the widow and the convert. Often, we are accompanied in life by good people, helpful people, loving people, but we still feel “unaccompanied”, alone, as we are missing our natural protectors, our parents, or in this case, our Father in Heaven.

Life, like a long flight, has plenty of turbulence, the people around us aren’t always pleasant, the climate outside isn’t always friendly and sometimes the seats aren’t even comfortable. Yet, we make it through life, doing the best we can, while giving our pilot, who also happens to be our accompanying flight attendant, the credit that He is due for getting us through it. There is a beautiful song, originating from the Skulener Chassidim of Romania, on the words in the Book of Lamentations “ Chasdei Hashem Ki Lo Somnu Ki Lo Chalu Rachamov - Verily, the kindnesses of the Lord never cease! Indeed, His mercies never fail ”. It should warm our hearts to know that G-d doesn’t give us off to others, He was, is and will always be our personal attendant.

Don’t fly alone!

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!!!

Rabbi Judah & a bunch of weasels!

Shoshana was away for almost nine weeks in summer camps and on Monday she finally came home. During her time at the nature camp in Vermont, she learned everything about outdoor/farm living including spinning/dying, wood chopping, knife throwing, fire building, wool making and of course interacting with the animal kingdom. When we interact with a farm animal whether milking, care taking or even riding, it gives us a deeper appreciation for these G-dly creations and inevitably reinforces the importance of treating animals humanly.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Teitzei, as throughout the Torah, we are taught the value of animal care. We are told that we must help unload an overburdened donkey who is suffering, that we must send the mother bird away before taking the baby chick, and that animals plowing our fields mustn’t be muzzled from eating along the way. Animals are not superior or even equal to humans, and eating Kosher beef/poultry is permitted, but unguided, inhumane and sometimes purely cruel treatment is prohibited. The Talmud in Bava Metzia tells us that Rabbi Judah the Prince was punished with kidney stones and scurvy because while a sad calf was being led to slaughter he said: Go, as you were created for this purpose. Thankfully, years later he was healed after witnessing his maidservant in the process of sweeping away a few young weasels, he stopped her and said: Let them be, as it is written: “The Lord is good to all; and His mercies are over all His works”.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” wrote Ghandi. He’s wrong, as Nazi after Nazi treated animals wonderfully. It’s the other way around: if you are a great nation, that greatness must be reflected in your attitude towards animals as well. When we hear of trophy killings, abused farm animals or dying animals on airplanes, we must pause and ask ourselves “what am I doing to raise awareness about this issue?”. Not everyone will agree on what “humane” means, but one thing we must all agree on: we can, and should, do better.

Remember three words:  Tzaar Balei 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!!!

Knightly Justice!

As Chavie and I -with three kiddos in tow- made our way back home through the winding roads of Central Wyoming, we were awe-struck by the beauty of Wind River Canyon. Anyone with a beating heart is certain to be humbled in the presence of such a breathtaking heavenly gift embedded in what we casually call “nature”. It got me thinking of “Rules for a Knight”, a unique collection of letters written by Sir Thomas Lemuel Hawke, that my buddy Zach recently shared with me. In it he addresses humility and writes “Never announce that you are a knight, simply behave as one. You are better than no one, and no one is better than you….Expect nothing, and you will enjoy everything”.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, we read about the Jewish judicial system. Bribery in any form is prohibited, even if it’s to ascertain a just judgment and bias, even slight gestures from a judge in favor of the plaintiff or the defendant, is considered inappropriate. When Jewish courts lose the moral high ground, it leads to the decay of our Jewish community and our role as Light unto the Nations. In my short life I’ve seen, and worked with, Beit Din’s, Jewish courts, that are honorable and scrupulous in their devotion to justice, no matter what price they may pay for their honesty, but I’ve also seen enough injustice. Being just, takes humility; being humble enough to take one self out of the picture and look at it objectively or at least have the decency to find a Judge that can be.

Justice carries over into our individual lives too. We often make decisions, voice opinions and lock in life principles that are laden with biases and some form of bribery. Why do I like/dislike this individual? Why do I give this or that kind of advice? Why do I choose the way I eat or who I date? Are we being honest and is it based on objective facts, or did we seek our own pleasures, our own selfish interests, and then try to turn our subjective choices into universal truths. Humility is the ability to see things beyond our egocentric self. I don’t have an easy time with humility, but I know that living humbly is so much healthier. Recently, something was bothering me. A mentor asked me “Chaim, did you ask yourself why it bothers you so much?” I had never thought about the “why”. it forced me to seek truth which is bigger than myself, way bigger.

If you want a just world, be just!  

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!!!

 

Jew+Armenian+Muslim!

August 22, 1939. Hitler, speaking to his Wehrmacht commanders about the upcoming invasion of Poland, says, “Wer redet heute noch von der Vernichtung der Armenier? Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians? I heard this from Harry & Vicki, a wonderful couple who were seated near me on a recent flight. During our three-hour conversation I learned so much about their Armenian culture, faith, history and of course gut-wrenching genocide. Turkey ousted them, Lebanon mistreated them and finally in the 70’s his parents, along with hundreds of thousands of their countrymen, found a home in the United States. He spoke of his commonality with the Jews: Persecuted, small in number, they stick together, send their children to private religious school, speak and read their native language, and don’t understand why people can’t just get along.

Sadly, we both wondered why the silence about the Rohingya in Myanmar.

In this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, we read about a person sold into servitude, either by the Jewish court, Beis Din, forcing a thief to repay his theft or selling himself to get out of poverty and back onto his own two feet. We are told that when his servitude term is up “You shall surely provide him from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your vat...And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord, your God, redeemed you...” G-d wants us to treat those who are vulnerable, inherently or temporarily, really well. We know too well how hard it is to be the underdog, so we must channel that recognition into an expression of compassion.

Rwanda genocide came and went, Sudan genocide came and went, Syria genocide came and went; a couple of condemnations, a few “Oy Veys”, and the world went back to eating Sashimi, vacationing in Hawaii and discussing petty politics. I’m just a rabbi in Montana and I don't know what the solution is, but when in pain, we scream, even if it doesn’t help. I can’t remain silent as 700,000 men, women and children have been forced from their home, 288 villages were destroyed by the Myanmar military and close to ten thousand people, including almost one thousand children, were murdered just because they are Muslim. If you have ideas of ways to help, please let me know, but in the meantime, let’s pray for these innocent souls and hearken to G-d’s command to remember those who need us most.

Enough politics; it’s time for compassion!

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!!!

Jew+Armenian+Muslim!

August 22, 1939. Hitler, speaking to his Wehrmacht commanders about the upcoming invasion of Poland, says, “Wer redet heute noch von der Vernichtung der Armenier? Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians? I heard this from Harry & Vicki, a wonderful couple who were seated near me on a recent flight. During our three-hour conversation I learned so much about their Armenian culture, faith, history and of course gut-wrenching genocide. Turkey ousted them, Lebanon mistreated them and finally in the 70’s his parents, along with hundreds of thousands of their countrymen, found a home in the United States. He spoke of his commonality with the Jews: Persecuted, small in number, they stick together, send their children to private religious school, speak and read their native language, and don’t understand why people can’t just get along.

Sadly, we both wondered why the silence about the Rohingya in Myanmar.

In this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, we read about a person sold into servitude, either by the Jewish court, Beis Din, forcing a thief to repay his theft or selling himself to get out of poverty and back onto his own two feet. We are told that when his servitude term is up “You shall surely provide him from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your vat...And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord, your God, redeemed you...” G-d wants us to treat those who are vulnerable, inherently or temporarily, really well. We know too well how hard it is to be the underdog, so we must channel that recognition into an expression of compassion.

Rwanda genocide came and went, Sudan genocide came and went, Syria genocide came and went; a couple of condemnations, a few “Oy Veys”, and the world went back to eating Sashimi, vacationing in Hawaii and discussing petty politics. I’m just a rabbi in Montana and I don't know what the solution is, but when in pain, we scream, even if it doesn’t help. I can’t remain silent as 700,000 men, women and children have been forced from their home, 288 villages were destroyed by the Myanmar military and close to ten thousand people, including almost one thousand children, were murdered just because they are Muslim. If you have ideas of ways to help, please let me know, but in the meantime, let’s pray for these innocent souls and hearken to G-d’s command to remember those who need us most.

Enough politics; it’s time for compassion!

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!!!

Let's Have a Baby!

With my family away in Texas and me missing them immensely, I’ve been thinking about our experience with infertility . When encountering this unbearable challenge, Chavie and I were forced to make a choice: live a meaningful life without children or create an unconventional family by adopting children who need loving parents. For us, the thought process went something like this: just because G-d decided that biological children weren’t in the cards for us, it doesn’t mean we should resign to, what would be for us, a gloomy reality. Rather, it was clear, that Hashem in His infinite wisdom was giving us a chance to be adoptive parents. In the words of a wise woman “You may not have my eyes or smile, but from that very first moment you had my heart”.

Being challenged with infertility, doesn’t mean you need to remain infertile.

In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Eikev, we continue reading Moses’ farewell speech to Jewry. He tells them that if they adhere to G-d’s Torah, then “You shall be blessed above all peoples: There will be no sterile male or barren female among you or among your livestock.”. Its self-understood why infertility is so painful and why it’s the ultimate blessing when, in partnership with G-d, a married couple can create a family. Yet, it also teaches us a fundamental idea of Judaism: spiritual procreation. It’s incumbent on each of us, single or married, to bring new life into the world, giving birth to new light. Every day on G-d’s green earth must be infused with productivity, creativity and inspiration.

Every moment should be “fertile”.

In physical childbirth you need a father and mother, nine months of patience and once the baby is born the real work begins, as nurturing a child is a lifelong endeavor.  Similarly, when seeking to procreate light, bringing about new spirituality, we must collaborate with others, as going it alone is never easy, we must be very patient, as instant gratification is a universally accepted myth, and then we must continue to nurture and develop the light so that it doesn’t fade away. When we wake up each morning, we must ask ourselves, will I be fertile today? Will I help create goodness today? Will I be part of a miracle today? Physical infertility is something decided by G-d, but spiritual infertility is a choice we make and one we should never choose. Moses reminded Jewry that being unproductive, or even worse counterproductive, it not the Jewish way.

Let’s give birth together!

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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