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Weekly Message

Horsing Around in Utah!

Our family just returned from a road trip southern Utah, where we visited Shoshana at the school she attends, just outside Zion National Park. In addition to the academics, the school’s therapeutic component includes Equine Therapy, allowing them to grow through their work with horses. We watched Shoshana impressively interact with her horse, Roman, a horse who experienced great trauma in his youth and whom Shoshana is helping rehabilitate. All in all, the girls at this school, wake up each morning at 5:30 AM and must choose what type of day to have: one with a positive attitude or one with a negative outlook, and that choice determines the trajectory of their day.

This week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, begins with “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse”. The basic understanding of the chapter is that just before his passing, Moses is reminding Jewry that if they choose the path of G-d, a path Jewish observance, it will result in blessing and if they choose an idolatrous path, it won’t end well. Yet, recently I heard a fellow share a novel interpretation: Behold, I set before you today. G-d is telling us that He has gifted us with a new day. Each day is an opportunity for us: either turn it into a blessing by focusing on “now” or, as we do so often, think of our time as unlimited, because there’s “tomorrow” and “next week”, and live "today" fruitlessly. It’s not easy to consciously utilize each day, each moment, but G-d doesn’t shower us with unearned blessings, rather, He gives us the ability to see the blessing in each day, but whether we do or don’t, that’s on us.

I’m no Tzadik and too often I think long term, I stress over the bigger picture and I even miss opportunities to live in the moment because I’m overwhelmed by “everything on my plate”. It’s unhealthy, and perhaps silly, to live this way as along the way to the bigger “stuff”, I miss out on all the amazing blessings that are right here “before me”. Five days and fifteen hundred miles of driving with four kids in the car, can either make one miserable with deep prayer for peace and quiet or we could cherish each – or almost each – moment and enjoy the craziness and the meltdowns, the potty stops and the never ending need for snacks, recognizing that they are kids who are alive, healthy and acting their age, a blessings, a blessing, a blessing.

Don’t let the big picture distract you from the Kodak moments!

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!!!

Ecstasy in our living room!

Last Shabbos, as I slowly awakened from my well-earned - and totally refreshing – snooze, my heart warmed at the sound in our home. Wherever I turned, no matter the room, I could hear genuine Torah study. Tourists and locals alike spent their Shabbat afternoon enthralled in the wisdom of old. Two Yeshiva students from Lakewood studying Daf Yomi engrossed in the tractate of Temura, one young man from Israel was deep in a Yerushalmi while cross-referencing with a Shulchan Aruch, a Lubavitcher on the sofa was deep into his daily study of Maimonides, two women were demystifying the mysticism of Tanya and a Jewish senior from Monsey was enjoying the responsa of Reb Yoel of Satmar.

In this week’s Torah portion, Eikev, we read the second portion of Shema. In it, we read “And you shall set these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul…And you shall teach them to your sons to speak with them, when you sit in your house and when you walk on the way...” It’s basic, yet deeply profound: If we want our children to “live” Torah, if we want the next generation of Jews to study Moses’ Five Books and all of its commentaries morning and evening, we need to have it etched in our hearts and soul. Kids don’t learn from the unlearned, they can’t internalize superficiality and they will not utilize their time healthfully when those who are raising them don’t respect the gift of time allotted to them.

Sports is fun and politics addictive, but children won’t take Judaism seriously if they hear more about LeBron and Trump, Pelosi and Messi, than they do about Hulda and Pinchas. This is a personal struggle for me. There are times I want to kick back and just scroll through my twitter feed, my Facebook messages and not fill those moments with meaning; I just want to do nothing. Humanly, it’s almost impossible to be studious and holy 24/7, but if my children never see me in ecstasy with Tosfos, engrossed in a Maamar or debating a ruling of Reb Moshe, how can I expect them to take Torah study to heart? If it’s real to us, there’s a chance it will be real to them, but unopened books have never produced scholars.

Geysers are G-dly; so is a teaching of Reb Shlomo Zalman!

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!!!

G-d, we need Advil!

Sunday evening, as I stood in Shul for a beautiful Mincha Minyan commemorating Tisha B’Av, my head was splitting. It was one of the worst headaches I can recall, and I couldn’t wait for the fast to end. When the headache finally subsided close to midnight, I realized that the desperation I felt for an end to my personal suffering, is how we are all meant to feel about the exile. We say “Blessed are You…. Who comforts Zion and rebuilds Jerusalem”, but we are tired of the prayer and are seeking that G-dly reality; we want the spiritual water and caffeine that will get rid of our collective headache.

This week is endearingly called “Shabbat Nachamu”, the “Shabbat of Comfort”, as we read Isaiah’s prophecy that foretells better days “Console, console My people," says your God…. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh together shall see that the mouth of the Lord spoke… Like a shepherd who tends his flock, with his arm he gathers lambs, and in his bosom he carries them, the nursing ones he leads… Lift up your eyes on high and see, who created these, who takes out their host by number; all of them He calls by name…”. It’s a deeply comforting message that has reminded Jews for some 2,600 years that exile isn’t permanent, and that our ultimate, when we are living a holy life in the Holy Land, unburdened by strife, war, hunger and stress, with full access to unfettered spirituality, will come about sooner than later.

Yes, every Mitzvah we do, every moment we connect with G-d, inches us closer to that era, but today I take the liberty to turn the tables on G-d: Dear G-d, in Lamentations we read “Restore us to You, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old.”. In our daily prayers we combine Psalm 25 and 130 and recite “O God, redeem Israel from all its troubles. And He will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.” We’ve been working hard to do our part, but it’s high time for You to bring about that Messianic change we’ve all been waiting for, without any preconditions or expectations of us. Your people who You entrusted at Sinai to live Your Torah and brighten Your world, have been doing just that for over 3,000 years! Our Jewish headache, or better yet, migraine, has been rough, and today I, Chaim Shaul Ben Chana Leah, demand that You provide the ultimate Advil and bring about the comfort You’ve promised just like that. Just do it!

I’m waiting; don’t procrastinate!

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!!!

Stop: Crime Ahead!

Yesterday, I visited Montana State prison in Deer Lodge, as I do when needed. It’s never easy going into a prison, as the stories, anguishes, yearning for family, and sometimes, the gravity of the offense, is heartbreaking to the core. As I headed home to Bozeman, with my buddy Alan who joined me for Torah study on the road, I kept thinking of the warning signs we are shown in order to remain lawful and moral. Flashing lights that proclaim “trouble ahead”, and yet so many of us in the human family aren't able, in the weakness of the moment, to refrain from breaking the law, hurting others, hurting ourselves, hurting our families, and forcing the authorities to do something about it.

In this week’s Torah portion, Devarim, first in the book of Deuteronomy, we read about Moses’ rebuke to his people, just a couple of weeks before his passing. Moses, who normally rebuked them only in the heat of the moment, so they could be stopped in their tracks and cease their inappropriate activity, chose, at the end of his life, to rebuke them for all of their past weaknesses, failures, and mistakes made during their forty years together in the Sinai desert. It wasn’t easy for Moses to hit them hard, but he knew, like good parents and teachers, that if they don’t understand that their behavior, good, bad and ugly, has consequences, the end result, the final product, will be even worse.

This weekend, we usher in the 
Ninth of Av, a day on which we commemorate the destruction of both of our Holy Temples in Jerusalem, and, sadly, many other tragic events that plagued Jewry. We gather to mourn, we read Lamentations, we express, collective and individual, regret for our past behavior,  as well as, resolve to make tomorrow brighter. Sure, G-d could’ve saved our Temples and ignored our sins, but He wouldn’t be doing a good job, and wouldn’t be having our best interest at heart. The consequences bestowed unto us help us reach greater heights and be better versions of ourselves.

Rebuke is never easy, but silence is worse!

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!!!

Berkeley's Warm Welcome!

On Tuesday, I flew out to Oakland, where I was honored to attend the premiere of The Rabbi Goes West, produced by Amy Geller and Gerald Peary about Chavie and I and our life to Big Sky Country. It was strange watching myself on a theater screen, but I was really touched to be received so warmly by the two hundred in attendance at the Landmark's Albany Twin Theater near Berkeley. While so much of the film is about the Chabad Lubavitch philosophy and movement, about the Rebbe and his incredible mission, about our achievements and future aspirations, what inspired me most, was the many conversations with Montanan, both Jews and gentiles, who spoke warmly about our friendships and their appreciation for the Jewish traditions that we celebrate together in our beloved Bozeman.

 

In this week’s double Torah portion, Matot-Massei, the last in the book of Numbers, we read about Jewry’s forty-two encampments during their forty years of desert dwelling. The Baal Shem Tov taught that these specific locals are not only geographical, but also a reflection of the internal journey we each are on in life. Like the Jews leaving Egypt en-route to Israel, every human being experiences many liberations from internal slavery, some bigger breakthroughs and some smaller, but each step is vital for our spiritual growth. It doesn’t say “this is the journey” leaving Egypt, but “these are the journeys”, because yesterday’s exodus may have been enough for yesterday’s bondage, yesterday’s struggles, but today we must leave our current Egypt, our self-inflicted restrictiveness created anew today.

A “Jew on a journey”. Constant development.

Paola and Brooke, each in their own way, eloquently addressed this precise topic in the film: At Chabad everyone is always welcomed as they are, no strings attached. We aren’t scared off by your self-imposed labels, we aren’t unprepared for the reality that most Jews have previous “Jewish trauma”, we aren’t journalists seeking to assess your current “relationship with G-d”; we care about you, period. Every member of our Jewish family has their own unique journey and Chabad is a place, both physical and in mindset, for each to see their beautiful self, their naturally embedded G-d spark, and strive to make brightness ensue. I’m certain that not all the Berkeley Jews in attendance agreed with everything I said or how Chavie and I live our life, but they were respectful, grateful that I showed up and recognized that we are a family and, while we don’t always agree on methods, we are journeying to a common destiny with Mashiach Tzikeinu.

Thank you, Berkeley!!!

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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