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ב"ה

Weekly Message

Fellow Jew, tear down this wall!

Earlier this week, our family had the honor of attending the marriage of Chavie’s sister Shayna and her groom Mendel, as we celebrated in a small Covid guided wedding. It was so fresh, as love and romance filled the air. As I stood at the Chuppah I reflected on the fact that the Chuppah has no walls, because it is our hope that the bride and groom, a now inseparable couple, are going to create a Jewish home similar to Abraham and Sarah’s tent, where hospitality and kindness is a mainstay of the experience, open to all.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Teitzei, we continue reading Moses’ parting words to his people prior to his passing and their entry into the Holy Land. He is crystal clear about how we are to treat our fellow: don’t pay your employees late, don’t harass and humiliate those who borrowed money from you and haven’t paid back, be sure to leave grain in the fields for those who are poor, don’t charge interest on a loan, treat orphans and widows especially well and many other compassionate obligations. It’s part and parcel of Judaism to create an environment in which kindness is a way of life, not an occasional act of “charity”.

As I watched Shayna and Mendel embark on their new journey, it was clear that wherever they settle, wherever they choose to build their home and create their family, it will be a home in which G-d will not only be about self-refinement and personal growth, but it will be about kindness to every human being. Living in a constant state of kindness isn’t always easy, it demands selflessness, but it’s surely the only way to be a healthy Jew. We must keep the roof over our head, keeping the structure strong and fully in tact so that we don’t get abused by those who take advantage of kind souls, but we should enjoy a home without walls, so all feel welcome and respected.

Fellow Jew, tear down this wall!

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!!!

Home at last, home at last!

After two years away at school, including 18 months in Utah, Shoshana is back home. It was a wonderful moment when Chavie along with her special delivery pulled into the driveway to the sounds of the other kiddos screaming “Sho-Sha-Na, Sho-Sha-Na, Sho-Sha-Na”. it’s amazing to watch a child come home; without guidance or explanations, they fit right back in and are at ease being in their “safe space”. A child in a healthy home instinctively knows that they can be themselves, that they can be vulnerable, that they can turn to their parents for help and they can enjoy their daily life without the stress to conform that society places on them.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, we read about the six cities of refuge, where an unintentional murderer finds sanctuary from the avenger of their victims’ blood. Spiritually, we too are to seek refuge in a place that can take-in a sinner, a Jew who has made many mistakes throughout the year and seeks change. The time for refuge is the month of Elul which starts today; one month given to us each year prior to the High Holidays to step up and, with deep introspection, up our human-G-d relationship. Yet, knowing about the Elul-refuge, escaping the crazy cousin as if you’re life depends on it, is only step one.  Truly coming home to G-d, to feel like you’re at home, takes five more steps, each of which is reflected in another Elul acronym:

  1. Teshuva: “Es Levavcha V’es Levav Zarecha – Your heart and the heart of your descendants”. Our outreach to G-d must come from the heart, genuinely, which means removing the dust and soot that cover it.
  2. Torah: “Ina LeYado Vesamti Lach – but G‑d brought it about into his hand, I will make for you a place”. G-d gave us a Torah. Immersing in it, even for a few minutes each day, is the most precious gift we can award ourselves.
  3. Tefilah: “Ani Ledodi Vedodi Li - I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me,”. G-d loves you, so don’t be worried about getting close, He appreciates you reaching out, so pray, pray a lot.
  4. Tzedakah: "Ish Lereieihu Umatanos Laevyonim - one to another, and gifts to the poor.” One can only get really close to G-d if we are close with His fellow creations and help them out.
  5. Mashiach: "Ashira Lahashem Vayomru Leimor – Sing to the Lord they spoke saying…”. This rearranged acronym reminds us that the ultimate coming home is with the coming of Mashiach, which will come about through our Torah study, prayer, acts of Tzedakah and wholesome Teshuva.

Let’s get busy!  

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!!!

Blessings up north!

I loathe the heat; so the difference between “heaven” and “hell” was unmistakable. As I made the two hour drive north from Phoenix to Flagstaff, through the Coconino National Forest, I experienced both the hot unbearable desert, where it was a balmy 108 degrees, and the refreshing mountainous Bozeman-like oasis that is 25 degrees cooler. As I stood at the Citizens Cemetery, alongside an incredible showing of friends and family, honored to officiate at my Buddy Joe’s funeral, I realized that a short  geographical distance, can change everything, taking me from “get me out of here” to “amazing”. As we climb higher and higher out of the dry desert, living becomes feasible.

In this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, we read of the eternal choice G-d gives humanity. He tells us “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse”, simply speaking: follow G-d’s path and our life will be blessed, choose un-G-dliness and our temporary gratification won’t last long and will only mess life up. So often, we think of this “choice” between right and wrong as undoable, implausible and really a hard choice to make. We see ourselves as “weak” for even wanting vanity and don’t feel “strong” enough to attain the holy life demanded of us. Yet, the truth is, once we begin heading upwards, heading away from the scorching temptations and addictions that burn us, the elevation, the mountain atmosphere, starts feeling really good and inspires us to go a bit higher, act a bit holier, choose a bit healthier and find G-d within our beautiful self.

The Chinese proverb says, “be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still”. We must not allow ourselves to be paralyzed with the fear of failure and must always allow blessings into our life, including the blessing of believing that we stand a chance at being better.  Personally, I often wonder whether I’m capable of change, “come on Chaim, you’re 38, you’re stuck in your old ways and you are who you are”. Then I pause, think for a moment, and realize that the status quo is unbearable, so I certainly can strive to do better, incorporate more meaning; changing at the core. It’s a long windy road from Phoenix to Flagstaff, but the change that occurs along the way, makes it all worth it.

The curses hurt, which is why the blessings always seem like an attainable choice.  

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!!!

I'll miss you Joe!

While the beginning of my week was uplifting, serving as the Sandak for baby Meir Shlomo Vogel in Missoula, the end of my week was heartbreaking. My dear friend Joe Sharber, Yosef Ben Noach, passed away after a struggle with cancer. Joe had a one-of-a-kind mind and a love for wisdom that was insatiable. He was gentle, sensitive, and kind and I, along with my family and community, will miss him dearly. Though he wasn’t Jewish, he’d always tell me “I’m going to Daven in Hashem’s Shul” referring to the majestic natural settings of Big Sky Country.

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Eikev, we read the second portion of the Shema prayer. In it, G-d tells us “ if you hearken to My commandments that I command you this day to love the Lord, your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul ”. Maimonides asks “ What is the path to love and awe of God?” and he goes on to explain that “When one ponders God's great and wonderful acts of creation, and sees in them a genius that has no comparison, then automatically a person will love, praise, glorify – and deeply desire to know the greatness of God”. Straightforward and simple: if we want to know G-d, not just believe in Him, we must immerse ourselves in nature, cherishing every roly-poly and eagle, every elk and bison and enjoying every sunset and sunrise. Belief in G-d is only valid when we can’t see Him, otherwise, it’s a copout.

 

Joe was my mentor. He educated me about science and history, nature and Greek culture. We swapped knowledge; he’d learn Torah at my classes, and I’d take in every bit of incredible wisdom he shared. In 2015 Joe emailed me a quote from The Great Mission, a book about the Baal Shem Tov, which said, “ Whenever he returned to the village, the Jewish residents shook their heads in dismay….”Another traipse in the forest! Why does he disappear for hours on end in that dangerous place?” …..Yisrael ignored their well-meaning criticism. He knew they could never understand what drew him to the forest – the untouched majesty of nature, his craving for solitude and privacy, and the closeness he felt to the Creator.” And then he added " Rabbi, if nature is good enough for the Baal Shem Tov, then it’s good enough for me. Off to the woods I go.”

 

Enjoy heaven brother Joe; I hope it’s as beautiful as Montana!

 

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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