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Weekly Message

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!!!

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