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Weekly Message

We aren't toast!

We are blessed in Big Sky Country. While so many around the country are at home 24/7, our family was able to healthfully visit Madison Buffalo State Park and bike/skateboard/scooter our way through Bozeman’s incredible trails while still following the Governors instructions and remaining  “distant” from others. Yet, even with these outings, I am beginning to get slightly stir crazy. As I Zoom study with members of our community each day, publicly and one-on-one, I realize that the biggest challenge of Covid-19, aside from the virus itself, is the national anxiety about the future as it relates to financial stability, healthcare functionality and upbeatness of humanity. It’s hard when we don’t know the future and have to rely on G-d who is the only one who knows how this all ends.

Yet, as Jews we are hopeful.

Today and tomorrow we celebrate 48 hours of Rosh Chodesh Iyar, a month connected to Divine healing as in its acronym “Ani Hashem Rofecha – I am G-d your healer”. In addition, it was on Rosh Chodesh Iyar in the year 370 BCE that the Jewish people, led by Zerubbabel and Yehoshua the High Priest, commenced the construction of the second Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It was fifty-three years after Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian thugs burned the first Temple to the ground and now, in a drastic shift of events, Cyrus, king of Persia, encouraged Jewry to rebuild their essential home for G-d on Mount Moriah. Though there were interruptions, courtesy of the lying Samaritans, and the new Temple was only inaugurated under Darius’s rule some twenty one years later, it’s important to note when the process started, as it was a sign of how turbulent times can, and do, change rapidly. The same G-d that allow it to start, can end it in the blink of an eye.   


If you were a Jew living through the Babylonian, Median and Persian reign of terror, you’d think all is lost, the future is bleak and we, the Jewish people, are toast. Yet, five decades later the tides turned, the Holy Land was orphaned no more and Jerusalem shined brilliantly once again with its holy radiance. It’s easy to fall into despair and fret when the world is chaotic and, seemingly, unbearable, but with a bit of prayer, a dose of Torah and a thorough reading of Jewish history, we start looking at reality differently; ultimately seeing it through the lens of G-d which is a lens of sensibility, calm and meaning.

Never give up!

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

The Art of Few Words!

While we ended Passover last night with an inspiring Mashiach Feast, a few hours earlier, I stood alone in The Shul for Yizkor. Holding Chanchy’s Torah in my arms with Helen’s Torah on the Bimah, I recited the Yizkor Memorial Service. I had my beloved mom and grandparents in mind, I thought about my recently departed uncle Arele, I stood near the memorial board and had the loved one of all our conregents in my prayers, but I also had Zaidy Kahanov fresh in my memory. Zaidy is Chavie’s grandfather, father of Mrs. Block, and someone we admired and loved with heart and soul. He passed away and was laid to rest just a few hours before we ushered in the 48 hours Passover finale.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shemini, we read about Aaron, the High Priest, mourning two of his sons, Nadav and Avihu. These two spiritual giants erred, entering the Holy of Holies which is prohibited by G-d, and it resulted in their untimely death. When Moses tells his older brother Aaron that it is his two sons whom G-d meant when He said, “I will be sanctified through those near to me", Aaron remained silent. He didn’t argue, he didn’t respond, he didn’t even mourn vocally; he just remained silent. He taught us all that at times, silence is the only correct path. Ranting or babbling may be natural, but the thoughtful path is one of introspection which is expressed in silence.

Zaidy helped countless Jews escape Stalin’s hell while operating in the underground. He put his life on the line to save others and then devoted his life to his family as a craftsman who earned an honest wage with hard work. In the fourteen years in which I merited to call him Zaidy, like Aaron never once did I hear him brag about any of his incredible accomplishments; he was a Chassid who loved a deep Niggun and chose silence over self-aggrandizement. He was ninety-six when he passed, and he left a generation of descendants who will carry his torch of heartfelt Judaism into the future. He really hoped for Mashiach and as we sang last night we hoped too; it’s long overdue. 

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

Covid-19, stress & Mashiach!

Passover’s first days confirmed a new reality for all of us: Judaism can be enjoyable even in isolation. We celebrated with family Seders, Minyan’less prayers, Torah study without holy scroll readings and, for me and Chavie, more kid-time than we could’ve ever imagined experiencing. We are now gearing up for round two as we usher in the two day finale of Pesach. We will celebrate the splitting of the red sea without singing Moses’ and Miriam’s songs from the Torah, we will memorialize our loved ones without a formal Yizkor service in Shul (If you’d like me to mention your loved ones while holding the Torah on Thursday in Shul, please email me) and we will eat the Mashiach meal, at a time when Mashiach seems most needed, yet, seemingly so far away. 

Earlier this week, I caught a glimpse of “Health” magazine in our home. In it, author Sunny Sea Gold, in an article entitled “Begin your day mindfully”, talks in great length about an idea that has been at the core of Judaism since Sinai. She writes about the value of a “mindful morning routine”; talking about “turning inward”, focusing on “consciousness” and emphasizing “immediate gratitude” before even getting out of bed upon awaking.

The Jewish basics: Modeh Ani. Washing hands. Immersing in a Mikvah. Morning Prayer. Blessing before eating. Kissing the Mezuzah before heading out. Always focusing on the current moment.

We are now living in the “now”. Chavie and I aren’t thinking about the summer or when schools will reopen, as we are clueless and thinking about it just freaks us out and creates unnecessary anxiety. We aren’t thinking about our kids’ dentist appointments or climbing gym lessons as those are canceled until further notice. We aren’t planning events at Chabad for Lag B’Omer, Shavuos, summer or even Rosh Hashana yet, as we don’t know where things will be at those particular times. We are living day by day, expressing gratitude for that which we have, mourning those who we've lost and praying for those who are ill. So we will enter the holiday in a most peaceful mode: We will have two days to think about “now” and that is the essence of Mashiach, living in the moment, stress-free. We need to stop “bringing” Mashiach, and start “living” in a Mashiach mindset. Covid-19 is making that possible; don’t miss out on internalizing it.

Chag Sameach

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

Dear Chana Laya...

Dear Chana Laya,

Although you’re only two years old, I am taking a few minutes during this most hectic Erev Pesach to put pen to paper to share with you my feelings. Though you won’t understand this until you’re a bit older, I want you to know how I felt in real time, so perhaps the feeling will come through even a few years down the road and give you a glimpse into this historic period.

We are just hours away from the Seder, the night of all nights, as we sanctify the holy holiday of Passover on a royal cup of wine, ushering in freedom. The last few weeks have been surreal and as I spend so much time with you, I’m envious of you and all the children your age. I look at you every day, running around, smiling, being mischievous, increasing your vocabulary and you’re blissfully, innocently, ignorant of the Covid-19 chaos around us.

You won’t remember missing your Montessori class or your speech therapy sessions, you won’t remember the hours you spent in the car with me delivering “Tatzah”, you won’t remember the anxiety I was experiencing about my relatives in New York, including Zayde, and what this dreaded disease could do to our beloved Bozeman community.

I’m glad you won’t.

You live life in the moment, enjoying every breath of Big Sky Country fresh air and I’m jealous.

Yet, I feel like you should know some of the good things we learned during this time of isolation and stress and the incredible energies we tapped into. So dearest Chana Laya, allow me to share with you some invaluable lessons I learned in the month between Purim and Pesach of 2020:

Who’s the boss: During this period, every country on earth from Russia to Denmark, Israel to our beloved United States struggled with this deadly disease. It didn’t matter where you ranked on the “superpower” list or your financial ranking with the IMF; we were all plagued, equally. We were all forced to recognize that G-d runs the show and when we say on Yom Kippur “Mi Bamageifa - who by pestilence” we now know that indeed Hashem can make that a sad reality even in the most modern of times and civilized of countries. We learned this the hard way, but we mustn’t ever underestimate our Creator.

 

Gratitude: Gratefulness is an important virtue, but for the first time that I can remember, we’re not only expressing our gratitude to the incredible health care workers on the front lines, the law enforcement officers keeping the peace, the teachers who are devoted to teaching our children remotely and the soldiers protecting the homeland; we’re grateful for the grocery workers, for the delivery services, for the truckers, for the pilots and flight attendants, for the janitors and garbage collectors and so many others. As a society, we finally realize that too many of the people we’ve “poo-pooed” are more essential to our well-being than those we’ve held on a pedestal for far too long.

 

Home: Sports, prayer, movies, meals, drinks, fun; sadly, we’ve come to believe that those things need to take place at arenas, stadiums, Synagogues, theaters, restaurants, bars and “anywhere else”. Covid-19 came along and reminded me the ancient Jewish value of “home sweet home”. Life’s anchor, the foundation of our mental/emotional/spiritual wellbeing is created and solidified in a healthy home. Instead of watching football, play it with your child. Instead of sitting in a fancy eatery, make a meal with the kids over your shoulder and when the ketchup splatters all over your shirt during dinner, get a good family laugh. Sit down with your kids and watch Marry Poppins or Uncle Moishy, even if it bores you, the parent, to death, and instead of drinking with your “friends”, have a glass of wine with your spouse and enjoy each other’s company.

Family: Families are complicated and large ones even more so. Yet, for me, the past few weeks has included so much prayer for my relatives. First and foremost, I davened for Zayde, my beloved father, but also for his brothers Areleh (who still needs a big miracle as I write this), Shmulik and Chaim Shaul who have since recovered by the grace of G-d. My aunt Kraindy and cousin Shloime, my aunts Rochel Leah and Blumie and many others needed G-d’s mercy and though I’m physically distant, my heart was with them at home and at the ICU. It was scaryChana Laya, and it was amazing to know, that deep in my heart family is family, and there’s a part of my essence that will always love them and care for them deeply.

Government: I am not big fan of “big brother” sticking their “Pinocchio noses” into everyone’s business, yet, this past month showed me a different side of “politicians”. During all the bickering and fighting, our politicians set aside their differences, for the most part, and worked diligently together for their fellow Americans. Being in a leadership role, whether President, Governor, Senator, Congressman, Mayor, health Dept. official or any other political official, during this era, means having many sleepless nights. The non-stop meetings and strategy to figure out a plan of instructions, school closings, bringing home citizens stranded abroad, closing national parks; it’s a lot and it’s not easy. For a change, I am blown away by the devotion of our leaders and give credit where credit is due.

Last thing Chana Laya dear, when you read this in 2025 or so, I want you to know about Pesach 5780 (2020):

Initially, I was worried heading into the holiday that having just our family around the table will be boring and lonely. We aren’t used to celebrating anything without our beloved Jewish community. Yet, as we get closer and closer to the holy moments of the Seder, I am beginning to feel really good about it. I think Hashem is asking each of us to stay at home, take care of ourselves from the inside out. He is asking me to give up my rabbi title for one holiday, no sermonizing no Torah Reading/Chazzan’ing; just be Chaim, a husband, a dad and an individual who too, can, and should, experience self-reflection and internal freedom. Each of us will be focused inwards and the results for our future and the future of humanity, I believe, will be transformative. For the next three days, we will have no phone or internet, no conference calls or classes, no grocery shopping or “Tatzah delivery”; it will be us, just our raw authentic self.

As you get older Chana Laya dear, I am sure your siblings will share with you how it was during “Corona”. Menny will tell you how much he missed his friends, Chaya will tell you how much she missed Yenting at the Shabbos table with the guests and Zeesy will tell you how much she missed school. For mom and I this is a very hard holiday, as your dear sister Shoshana, our beloved oldest, who was supposed to be home for Pesach, is in school lockdown in Utah and won’t be with us. She has everything she needs for Yom Tov and we are all making do with the reality, but we miss her so much and a part of me is broken in her absence. You will hear many stories about this time, both positive and negative, but I truly think the outcome will be a better nation.

As I sit at the Seder, I will listen to the four of you recite the Ma Nishtana, I will pause for a moment to telepathically listen to Shoshana’s Ma Nishtana and then I will tell you the answer, the most incredible response to the eternal Jewish question of “Why are we different” and “why is tonight different”: We were slaves, we suffered and we still suffer on occasion, but our incredible Creator redeemed us and He will do it again soon; Jerusalem here we come!

Sweetie, when you read this, it’s my hope that we will have been long time residents of Jerusalem and you, along with my mom, the Chana Leah you’re named for, will be celebrating Pesach in a plague free world! Mashiach baby!

Love you forever my little girl,

Aba

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

My Rebbe, My Urim Vetumim!

With a kid or two in tow, I hit the road this week to deliver Matzah to 250+ homes. The kids didn’t leave the car, but with gloves, and mask if needed, I walked up to door after to door and left a box of Shemura Matzah for my Jewish brothers and sisters. We all have some level of anxiety and uncertainty these days. I’ve watched tens of elderly role models from my native Crown Heights community perish of this dreaded disease, while too many others continue to fight for their life, but while delivering Matzah with the kiddos favorite Nissim Black or Mordechai Shapiro music blasting, there’s no news, no reports, no Dr. Fauci or Governor Cuomo, it’s just me, Passover and my Jewish family.

In this week’s Torah portion, Tzav, we read about the Urim VeTumim, a parchment etched with G-d’s name, placed behind the breastplate of the High Priest. When the Jewish people were in doubt, when the leaders of Jewry found themselves uncertain about the right path forward, the High Priest’s breastplate, which had the names of the twelve tribes engraved on it, would give them answers. How so? Certain letters would shine, allowing the High Priest to combine the brightened letters and form words that gave answers.  Hence, why It was named Urim VeTumim, as Urim means illumination and Tumim means complete; it would give them light in times of darkness, clarity in times of confusion.

This Sunday, the 11th of Nissan is the 118th birthday of my Rebbe of blessed memory. The Rebbe was, and is, my Urim VeTumim. No, he didn’t wear the Temple vestments and he wasn’t a Kohen, but he served as a guiding light of clarity even during universal turbulence. Whether during the Pogroms in Ukraine or the Gulf War in the Middle East, whether while living in Vichy in the early 40’s or in Brooklyn in the 90’s, whether in response to the King of Morocco or to the parents of a little baby named Chaim born at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital in 1981, the Rebbe shined light. G-d gifted me, and you, with a Moses who is an “Island of Calm” during tough times and with Divine wisdom was able to provide us with the same. When I’m scared, I get close to my Urim VeTumim, and it illuminates the darkness, big time.

Happy birthday Rebbe!  

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


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