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Weekly Message

Honor Guard!

Late last night I returned from Cedar Rapids, Iowa where I had the honor of officiating at the funeral of 97-year-old Bert Katz, father of Sally Feniger and Toni Neta. Bert lived with integrity, was wholeheartedly devoted to his community and had a love for life that was extraordinary. It was my first time officiating at a funeral that included military honors and it was so stirring; their presentation brought me, and everyone else, to tears. The Veterans and the Honor Guard are so caring, so dedicated and have a love affair with our country. While I said the mourners Kaddish for Bert’s Neshama, his beautiful soul, they honored his service as a captain of an all-black platoon during the allied invasion in Normandy.

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Bo, we read about the Exodus from Egypt. G-d, through Moses our Master, freed us from harsh slavery and gifted us freedom. Yet, G-d tells Jewry that when they leave Egypt, they will journey to serve Him at Mount Sinai, referring to the giving of the Torah. With this simple proclamation, G-d taught us such an invaluable lesson: freedom isn’t given to us in order that we be served, it’s the blessing that enables us to serve others. An enslaved person cannot choose to serve, they are forced to; a free person, on the other hand, chooses every day either to be noble and in service or to be lazy and seeking to be served.

Bert was part of “the greatest generation” who were incredible souls seeking to serve and make the world a better place for their families. They didn’t Kvetch, they didn’t pontificate, they didn’t procrastinate; they rose each morning, thanked G-d for their freedom and did the best they could, through hard work and selflessness, to ensure a brighter tomorrow. G-d made it clear: I didn’t take you out of Egypt so you should be enslaved to your selfish addictions and absorbed with your needs 24/7; rather I took you out of Egypt so you can shine uninterrupted, connect with your Higher Power and celebrate every moment of life, healthfully, with meaning and joy.

The greatest generation doesn’t have to be a one-time thing!

​May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May G-d protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!

 

My Moment of Shame!

I don’t want to be like Pharaoh.

Yesterday morning, I lost my cool and raised my voice at three of our children. I was frustrated about the repetitive breaking of valuable tech items, and instead of staying calm and dealing with them like a sensible father and mature adult, I dropped the ball. Fifteen minutes later, after realizing how wrong it was, I was taken over by deep shame. I sat the kiddos down, told them how embarrassed I felt, apologized profusely for my behavior and asked them for their forgiveness. It wasn’t my finest moment, but Chavie reassured me and reminded me how important it was that I was transparent with them and vulnerable in our conversation.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va’eira, we read about a fellow who could’ve easily ended the horror plaguing his nation, but he was stubborn and dug his heels into his wayward ways. Sure, G-d implanted his stubbornness, but he could’ve made a wise choice or two and freed the Hebrews, and he didn’t. instead of internalizing the damage his country was experiencing, instead of doing what was in the best interest of his people, including his family, he chose power over courage, ego over humility, and at the end, Egypt was left with nothing.

An empire destroyed due to an unwillingness to change.

No question, the kids needed to be reminded not to mistreat their “stuff”, but the way I initially went about it was wrong and, potentially, harmful. If I, as an adult, don’t like people screaming at me, why should young beautiful children incur that? Yet, I also did something that I hope will remind me never to raise my voice again and that I hope they will remember later in life: I sat them down, expressed to them my deepest remorse and allowed them to see my humanity. We cried, we hugged, we laughed, and I was forgiven. I haven’t recovered from my shame, but I will, and hopefully be a better dad. I’d rather they remember me as their humble Moses than their arrogant Pharaoh.

In the words of Brene Brown “Through my research, I found that vulnerability is the glue that holds relationships together. It's the magic sauce!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May G-d protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

Saved by the women!

On Monday evening, seven women attended Chavie’s monthly Torah and Tea. The week before, six women attended Chavie’s Taste of Tradition Cooking Class and the new bi-weekly Tale of Two Souls class on Tanya if off to a great start, attracting women from all segments of the community for study and meditation. I share this because our community is seeing incredible growth in women’s programing and participation. It’s heartwarming, as Jewish women are the guarantors of our future.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shemot, the first in the book of Exodus, we read about The Pharaoh. As a Jew-hater par excellence, he decreed horrifically that all male Jewish babies are to be exterminated and all the females are to be indoctrinated into Egyptian culture and idolatrous ideology. Who was it that worked tirelessly to ensure the boys’ physical survival and the girls’ spiritual survival? It was a team of heroic women led by Moses’ mother Yocheved and older sister Miriam. They knew that their lives were in danger, they knew that if they were caught they’d be toast, but their wellbeing wasn’t as important to them as the nation’s survival and so they did whatever it took to save our people from an Egyptian holocaust.

Currently, there is widespread confusion on almost all matters, from medicine to politics, religion to dieting, never-ending amounts of misinformation resulting in too much interhuman mistrust. It’s vital that we Jews have clarity on the components needed to ensure the prosperity of our souls and the wellbeing of our nation. First and foremost on that list of vital ingredients are Jewish women, who have always had a greater spiritual intuition than the men and who have been pillars of redemption through thick and thin.

Biblical feminism; almost 4,000 years old!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May G-d protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

Jackie Robinson & Labelism!

There are many societal norms that are good; but some are really bad, including the lumping together of people, thinking that if they live in “that neighborhood” or “drive that car” or “watch that news station”, they are probably “one of those”. It’s a travesty, that instead of giving each human being individualized respect, personalized attention and a chance to share for themselves where they stand on issues, we “assume”, “generalize” and “judge”, without ever knowing the truth of who they are.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, the last in Genesis, we read about Jacob’s deathbed conversation with his twelve tribes before his passing at one-hundred-and-forty-seven years-old. First, Jacob ascertains that they have all remained firm believers in one G-d and that the depraved Egyptian influence hasn’t affected them negatively, encroaching on their spirituality. Following that, Jacob talks to each of them individually, blessing them, highlighting their virtues and, for some, emphasizing their negative traits, which if worked on with a healthy dose of character refinement, can be transformed into very positive passion. He didn’t just say “guys, you are all special, all good, and I hope you carry my legacy into the future”. He knew, what we should all know, that every child, every human, needs a special touch.

I find that with labelism we have lost touch with the uniqueness of each human. You are “progressive”, “Reform”, “Religious”, “Modern Orthodox”, “Secular” “Hassidic”, “Libertarian” and on and on and on. Not only do we not give people the benefit of the doubt, we don’t even allow them to be themselves, as we reach conclusions about them by generalizing before even saying hello. Why is it that we expect people to treat us with dignity, while we ourselves can’t recognize human distinctiveness and come with an open mind to each human interaction? Jacob did it with his children; I hope I can do it with mine and with all of you.

In the words of Jackie Robinson “I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.”!

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!!! 

A Letter to my Mom...

Dear Mommy,

It’s that time of year AGAIN. The time of year that takes me off my Chanukah high and throws me, cold turkey, into painful moments that are truly gut stirring. I want to believe that your Yahrtzait, the anniversary of your passing, will be smooth sailing, but it isn’t; it breaks my heart each year anew. Furthermore, I simply can’t believe it’s been nine years!

On that awful Tuesday morning at Lenox Hill Hospital, we, your five children, stood together singing Shamil, a Chassidic song that reflects the journey of the soul. We sang our broken and aching hearts out as we escorted your soul to heaven, undoubtedly to its shopping mall…nine years ago. When you left us, your beloved baby Mushkie was still single, Chaya and Zeesy were babies, Bubbe and Zayde were still with us, Menny, Shoshana and Chana Laya weren’t part of our family and Montana only had one Chabad Center.

Nine freakin’ years!

Nine years is so long, I feel like Joseph whom we read about in this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, who was separated from his loved ones for twenty two years, and through that painful process taught us how to deal with the void and yearning of physical separation. Yes, the ultimate reunion was super emotional, as neither Joseph or his broken father Jacob believed that the other was still alive, but the emotions weren’t a constant. During those twenty two years, Joseph thought about his father often, he yearned deeply for his brothers, especially Benjamin, his maternal baby brother, but he wasn’t paralyzed, he wasn’t shut down, he lived, he functioned, he ran the entire Egyptian empire, he married and had two sons. He “moved on” with his life and that inspires me because I feel like after these many years, I am there with Joseph.

Ma, I know you won’t be offended or hurt when I tell you that I don’t cry very much anymore. I think about you all the time, I even dreamt about you and your dear older sister Kraindy just the other night, but the emotions are far and few-between. I could be triggered with a song, a story, a book in which the author discusses losing a parent or sometimes it’s when life just gets a bit too rough for me. I love unloading with a good cry, it feels really good, I feel connected, I feel the love that we have between us, but nine years later mom, It’s not the same and you moved from being that helicoptering figure to my larger-than-life role model I could only dream of emulating.

Not all of your kids, my beloved brothers and sisters, see it the same way, but this is how I feel and sharing it in the open, is freeing for my fragile soul.  

Joseph and his brothers refused to drink wine during their separation, as they mourned the family break-up and wine is the life of the party. Yet, Joseph went one step further: he set aside a bottle because he believed in his heart of hearts, he’d reunite with them some day and would need L'Chaim on-hand to celebrate.  When they did finally reunite, he sent the now vintage bottle of wine to his dad in Israel, to express to him how much hope he had that this moment would come. He also shared with his dad, via his brothers, a reminder of the last thing they learned together before his brothers abducted him and allowed him to be sold. It was soothing for Jacob to know that his son hadn’t lost touch, emotionally or mentally, with his beloved father. 

Ma, I don’t have a bottle of wine set aside for my reunion with you, though I know how much you loved the bubbly Moscato “wine” and so do I, but I do have so much I want to share with you, especially my beloved Chana Laya, who carries your name with love and who reminds me each day that I was blessed with a mother of the century. There’s so much I’d love to share with you, all the info. I would’ve shared in our morning calls which I’ve missed for the past 2,800 days. So, emotionally I’m in a better place, and that has allowed me to think with clarity and truly contemplate how your incredible character and devotion to your five children shaped who we are.

Joseph reflected his dad Jacob and I try to reflect you. Jacob lived amongst the thugs in Laban’s world and thrived spiritually and Joseph lived amongst the depraved Egyptians and did the same. I hope Ma that I too reflect your integrity, your thoughtfulness, your straightforwardness and most importantly, your love for those in our world that are less fortunate. You didn’t sugarcoat the truth, but you did make it bearable. You didn’t hold back from sharing your opinions but you didn’t bite those with whom you disagreed and you didn’t always like what G-d had in store for you, for us, but that never stopped you from being His biggest advocate and confidant. For most of your life you weren’t blessed with lots of money, but that never stopped you from kicking-in for the orphans, children of divorced parents and those struggling with mental illness in your beloved Crown Heights community. You didn’t care “what it looked like”, you always stood with those who needed a shoulder to lean on.

Listen Mommy, for the first time in nine years, I will be in Bozeman for Yahrtzait, as Yochanan will be in Florida, Rochel in Montreal and Yanky and Mushkie in New York, each bringing you to life in our respective communities. We got together yesterday at your resting place in Queens; we prayed, we cried, we reminisced, and we laughed; always laughing because that is the best reflection of you. I hope to pull off three Minyans to say Kaddish in Bozeman over Shabbos and the wonderful members of our community are on board to make it happen. The seventh of Teves changed my life and there’s no going back; only Mashiach could bring about the change I need to heal and the reunion I await.

Ma, I will lift my glass tonight and say L’Chaim to my beloved mother, whose love, wisdom and authenticity is etched in my mind and heart. Sometime soon, like Joseph, I’d like to hear the news that you’re alive, that Mashiach came and that Beth Rivkah's 1st grade class has their best teacher back!

In the words of a couple of kids who loved their mom “You showed me when I was young just how to grow; You showed me everything that I should know; You showed me, just how to walk without your hands; 'Cause mom you always were the perfect fan”

Love you my dear mama!

Chaim Shaul

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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