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Weekly Message

Throw it to the dogs!

Earlier this week, I came across a heartwarming story that happened right here in Bozeman. UPS driver, Ryan Arens, was out delivering packages, when he jumped into a frozen pond to rescue Sadie, a drowning dog. It was inspiring but not shocking, as Ryan lived up to the Montana ethic that I’ve learned to appreciate: doing what’s right even at your own expense and comfort and caring for all G-d’s creatures in a most considerate way.

In this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, we are taught regarding Kosher consumption “And you shall be holy people to Me, and flesh torn in the field you shall not eat; you shall throw it to the dogs”. Even if an animal is Kosher, having fully split hooves and chewing its cud, if it dies of natural causes or is killed, it shouldn’t be eaten by a Jew as it’s not ritually slaughtered. One must wonder: why should we give it to the dogs? Isn’t it ok to serve it to any non-Jew who isn’t Kosher observant? Midrash Mechilta teaches “Because the Holy One, blessed is He, does not withhold the reward of any creature, as it is said: “But to all the children of Israel, not one dog will whet its tongue” (Exod. 11:7). Said the Holy One, blessed is He, “Give it its reward.”. The dogs didn’t bark at Jewry during the Egyptian Exodus, so they are rewarded with extra care by our people.

G-d, once again, is teaching us the importance of gratefulness. If a dog, who G-d programmed to remain silent during the exodus miracle, is given credit for its behavior and we reciprocate for all eternity, how much more so, when a fellow human being chooses to do an act of kindness, should it be recognized by the recipient and credited. The one who is acting kind may not need or want the recognition, but in our hearts, we mustn’t ever forget what they’ve done for us, our community and our world. There is no time limit to gratefulness, as it should be vivid in our memory forever.

As they say, “a grateful heart is a magnet for miracles”!

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!!!

If you treat her like a queen...

In the 60’s we were taught that “Behind every great man there's a great woman” and that “If you treat a woman like a queen, she'll treat you like a king”. Even the Talmud mentions that Rav Akivah said about his wife Rachel, who encouraged him to study Torah for twenty-four uninterrupted years, “What is mine and what is yours is hers”. Yet, as Chavie flew to rainy New York to attend the Chabad Shluchos conference, I was pondering “women's lib” and how as we inch closer to the era of Mashiach, it is becoming more apparent how vital women’s roles are in Jewish life, not as “support staff” but as key representatives of Torah and its values.

In this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, we read about the Sinai revelation and the giving of the Torah. G-d bequeathed the world with His infinite wisdom and chose Moses as His messenger to deliver the gift. Who did Moses marry? we are taught that Tziporah was born into royalty, a daughter of Jethro, and she was a devoted mother to her sons, Gershom and Eliezer, and a dedicated backbone to Moses. The Midrash tells us that when Moses first arrived in Midian, Jethro the pagan wanted to kill Moses the Jew. He placed Moses in a decrepit dungeon, and it was Tziporah, his future wife, who sustained him in secret and later married him. She certainly stood by Moses in every way and allowed us to benefit from her Moses.

Yet, today we need more.  

You see, Chavie is not the force behind my rabbinic work and I am not the force behind her countless activities. We each have different roles both at home and in the community, but they are equally important. Yes, we support each other in every way possible, but more than anything else, we are partners, teammates, that work hand in hand to reach the same goals. There were times in Jewish history that men, like Moses and David, were the primary face of Judaism and times that women, like Deborah and Yehudis, were the face of our people. In our era, as we seek to infuse the world with the firm, yet delicate energies of femininity, we must have women at the forefront of the Jewish experience, inspiring the world so that the Shechina, the feminine powers of spirituality can reign in her, the holy city of Jerusalem, once again!

L’Chaim to Chavie and her fellow Hassidic feminists!

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!!!

Don't Choose Insanity!


It was certainly no coincidence that during the week in which we launched the Montana Academy for Judaic Studies, with our first class focusing on the life of Joshua and the virtues of leadership (Watch class), a local friend offered me a healthy dose of rebuke.  It’s never fun to be the recipient of genuine critique, but as I heard my friend share where they thought I had failed, I had a choice to make: do I choose stubbornness and refuse to ever change or do I choose to recognize that I act poorly sometimes, and must own up to it and make the necessary changes.

In this week’s Torah portion, Beshalach, we read about the miracle of miracles, the splitting of the Red Sea. Seven days earlier the Jews departed Egypt, they reached a milestone at Pi HaChiros, a place that signified freedom, as no other slave had ever passed that locale en-route to independence, and then, despite being trapped between the sea and the Egyptian army, G-d gave them miraculous passage and changed the course of history. Pharaoh should’ve known better: He experienced the ten plagues, his country was in turmoil and in a chaotic state, his own people begged him to let the Jews go, but when a person is egocentrically stubborn, logic is ignored, and they make insane choices.

We each have moments where pride blurs our logic and sends us astray. We don’t want to be arrogant, we don’t want to get a bad rap for our behavior, but we simply don’t think we have what it takes to change, especially when we’ve been doing something for a long time. I’d like to believe that at 37, I can still change, I can listen to critique coming from a place of care and make better choices. Will I succeed immediately? I doubt it, but unlike Pharaoh, I will certainly try. Today I am grateful that I have a support base who will set me straight when needed so that I can be a better husband, father, son, friend and rabbi. It’s easy to see Pharaoh as stubborn, but much harder to see that same attribute within ourselves.

In the words of Rumi “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” 

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!!!

I can't wait for the weekend!

He was talking about it for weeks, and finally on Sunday, Menny hit the slopes, as he enjoyed his first ski lesson of the winter season. While Chavie and the kids love Bridger Bowl and the thrill of the sport, I enjoy sitting in the coffee shop, gazing at the incredible mountains, chatting with the many friends I run into and even getting some work done in my makeshift office. Skiing entails a lot of Shlepping, but for real Montanans it's worth the time and effort. I’m happy to live in a place where we choose hiking over video games and skiing over T.V. addiction.

In this week’s Torah portion, Bo, we read about the first Mitzvah commanded to the Jewish nation: Sanctification of the moon. At the onset of each month, we take a moment to celebrate the renewal of the moon and the cycle of time it represents. G-d, as He commenced the exodus of His people from Egyptian bondage, teaches them an eternal lesson: slaves don’t care about time as they can’t control its usage; free people control their time and must cherish it, utilizing it for good and productive endeavors. Jewry follows a lunar calendar, not only to remind us that even when things seem dark, the light will be coming soon enough, but that time itself is precious and mustn’t be squandered.

My friend Quincy has been drilling me for fifteen years about the importance of being present and living in the moment; he’s right. Too often I’m told on a Monday “Rabbi, I can’t wait for the weekend” or on a Wednesday “the weekend can’t come soon enough”; that’s not a healthy or G-dly way to live. Time is limited, a commodity whose quantity is decided by G-d but we get to choose its quality. There’s no better gift for ourselves, our children and our sanity than living in the moment and not wasting life away waiting for what’s up next.

In the words of William Penn “Time is what we want most, but... what we use worst.”

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!!!

I'm a Zionist through Fire & Water!

Yes, I’ve always loved our homeland Israel, but this week, Chavie and I, along with our four younger children, made our inaugural visit to Utah’s Zion National Park. As we gazed at the rock formations and colors, I kept humming the words to a Yiddish song I cherish “Don’t tell G-d how big your problems are, tell your problems how big your G-d is”.  Breathtaking, awe-inspiring and spectacular are just words and don’t truly do justice to what one experiences in Zion. It’s a place that turns agnostics into believers and the “I’m not a nature person” people, into folks screaming “I love nature”.

It touches the essence of our being.

Interestingly, just hours before entering the park, I started my day, as I try to everyday, studying Chassidic philosophy and this discourse, by Divine Providence, began with Isiah’s words “Zion shall be redeemed through justice and her captives through tzedakah”. In it, our Rebbe of blessed memory, teaches that Zion in Hebrew means a Siman, a sign, referring to essence of the soul, which is indescribable and incomprehensible and can only be referenced through intimation. How can one redeem his/her Zion? How can one reveal their essence so that it brightens their expressive self? For that there is Justice, which is the study of Jewish law which is justice epitomized and acts of Tzedakah to those who need it most. Our personal Zion wants to impact us, practically, in the day to day, but for that to happen it needs nourishment, which is provided through intense study and selfless acts of service of others.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va’eria, we read how G-d administered the first seven, of the ten, plagues. We can choose to see the plagues as angry punishments or as wake up calls to change. G-d isn’t into punitive sentencing; He is into helping us fix our ways and sometimes that beckons tough love. Chavie and I got a call while leaving Zion that due to the frigid temperatures in Bozeman and actions unrelated to us, a few pipes burst in our home and caused some heavy damage. We could’ve blown up and blamed the whole world and G-d for this ordeal, but we chose, through meditation and working it through, to recognize that Hashem has a plan and if this is the only way to get two bedrooms remodeled courtesy of the insurance company, then we need to be grateful for the flooding.

Liberate Zion; one meditation at a time!

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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