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Weekly Message

It hits me in the pupik!

Earlier this week, while standing outside Longfellow School awaiting dismissal, Mrs. Bunkers, Zeesy’s kindergarten teacher back 2017/18, said to me “I just want you to know how happy we are to have you guys back. When I saw the Bruk kids back in the building, I knew, I felt, we are going to be ok, the world will be ok”. I shared this with Chavie and we were both so touched by that heartfelt comment. It always feels good to be appreciated, to be seen in the way you’d like to be seen. It could be hard at times to be on display 24/7, as a Jew, as a rabbi, as a Shliach, and sometime we wonder if we are living up to the role modeling, representing G-d, Judaism and Lubavitch in the best light, and hearing Mrs. Bunkers' praise for our family was reassuring.

In this week’s Torah portion, Beshalach, we read about the splitting of the Red Sea for the Jews and the drowning of the Egyptians in it. The Talmud tells us that the ministering angels on high wanted to sing praise to G-d for what was transpiring on earth, and G-d stopped them, admonishing them “my handiwork are drowning in the sea and you want to sing?”. That heavenly conversation always hits me in the “pupik”, it really hits home; just because they have acted unspeakably cruel to us, doesn’t mean we should gloat in their suffering. It’s easy to dance for the fall of an enemy, when we keep our distance from them, when we don’t see them as a child/parent/sibling, as a man or woman created by G-d in His image, but every one of these people is a distinctive creation. It is this message of deep human respect that Chavie and I try to engrain in our children and share with all.

Frankly, this Torah-oriented respect expands beyond humans. Yesterday we celebrated Tu B’Shvat, the New Year of the trees, a day on which we celebrate the ecological gifts of Hashem. Judaism demands that we recognize the G-dliness, the life, embedded within every creation including the inanimate. We aren’t meant to treat rivers, fields, animals or humans with disrespect; the Torah mandates that we seek Divine wisdom to learn what’s proper, and what isn’t, when it comes to our role as custodians of the world. I once read “when you can bless someone else while you’re going through your own storm, you’ve done love”.

Let’s do lots of love!

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'm in love!

I love “Seforim”, AKA Torah books; I can’t help it, it’s my personal addiction. When Chavie sees large boxes arriving with UPS, she looks at me with that intuitive wifey look, “more Seforim?”. When I was younger, my father and Zaidy bought me a lot of books, my mother knew it was the gift I enjoyed most, I earned many others from studying Mishna by heart in school, yet, my thirst for more knowledge, for another good Torah thought, has never been quenched. My kids know that my favorite spot in the house is the library. This week alone I welcomed sets of the Alter Rebbe’s Maamorim, Aruch Hashulchan, Sod HaHaftoros and a few other Kehot books; they're delicious.

In this week’s Torah portion, Bo, we read about the night of the Exodus, when G-d told the Jews to place blood from the pascal-lamb offering and from the newly circumcised Jews on the lintel and doorposts of their home. Hashem then passed over the Jewish homes, as He killed the firstborn Egyptians. It seems clear that during the first Passover, the night that our nation was founded, G-d was saying “I want your homes to be identifiably Jewish. I want it to be clear that a Jew lives here”. We do it with Mezuzot on the doorposts, a Kosher kitchen, dressing modestly and of course having many Torah books throughout the home. It’s a no brainer; a sports fan has team apparel everywhere, political junkies have their candidates’ picture everywhere, readers have their favorite authors’ books everywhere, so shouldn’t a Jew have their Judaism everywhere?

This Shabbos marks seventy-one years since Reb Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, passed away in 1950 and his beloved son-in-law, our Rebbe, assumed the mantle of Chabad leadership. These two saintly men, and their predecessors, believed strongly that each of us can create the environment we seek. If we want our homes to be football havens, we must have a massive screen, lots of beer, good snacks, mouthwatering wings and a wide array of chips. If want our homes to be bastions of Judaism, where G-dliness is appreciated, enjoyed and celebrated, we must ensure that a conducive atmosphere is created for "Jewishness" to flourish. I don’t sit in my library all day, but when I do, the variety of Seforim nourishes my mind, heart and soul. As Cicero said, “a home without books, is a body without a soul”.

I agree!

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!!!

You're not alone!

Earlier this week, we were joined by Congregation Beth Shalom to co-host a suicide prevention workshop. Leigh Ioffe, our outstanding trainer, shared with us the myths, the signs, the intervention, the questions, the team effort and anything else that the average person should know about suicide, so we could save a life. As a rabbi, too often I’m called on to deal with human hopelessness and it’s heartbreaking. Just two weeks ago, rushing against the clock, I was in touch with my colleague Rabbi Wolf in Kalispell along with Rabbi Secher in Whitefish to help save a Chicagoan life and help the fellow realize that there are better options than suicide.

In this week’s plague-oriented Torah portion, Va’eira, we read of G-d’s response to Moses, after he cried out in last week’s Parsha, “O Lord! Why have You harmed this people? Why have You sent me? Since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has harmed this people, and You have not saved Your people." He sees his people suffering, the people he is supposed to assist, and he demands justice on their behalf. G-d responds this week with a verse that should be on bumper stickers, Facebook posts, and billboards across this union, from sea to shining sea. He says, “I heard the moans of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians are holding in bondage, and I remembered My covenant.” Reassuring His devoted servant that, though it doesn’t always seem like it, He is totally receptive to the cry of a suffering human being.

America has a suicide problem. In 2020 we lost 48,344 lives to suicides and 311 lives in Montana alone. Why? We live in such a beautiful land with so much prosperity? Of course, mental health providers need to increase their services to help people in despair, but there’s another void that must be filled. Too many Americans have abandoned G-d and don’t experience a religious/spiritual elation. For a Jew, Jewish practice and Torah study, observed with warmth, community and enthusiasm, guides us to be strong, even in very tough times. It’s not the only component, but it’s a big one. The Jewish people in Egypt realized that they had a leader who cared about them deeply and a G-d who hears them, our generation must be reminded the same. Life has G-d given purpose, we mustn’t’ let anyone, including ourselves, convince us otherwise.

Watch this when you have a chance and save a life!

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!!!

Chaya's question about America!

On  June 4th, after George Floyd was killed and riots ensued, I wrote that hatred and violence is never a Jewish option. Unless our life is being threatened, we don’t use force, certainly not behaving violently. Chaya came home from school on Wednesday asking me about the Vice President being evacuated from the capitol building and I didn’t know what to say, except to tell her that “Torah following Jews don’t behave this way”. I know elections aren’t perfect, heck, my mother who passed away ten years ago, got a ballot in New York this year, but there’s an ethical way to fight for election integrity and it’s not by putting law enforcement in danger or threatening the families of US Senators. 

In this week’s Torah portion, Shemot, the first in the Book of Exodus, Moses sees two Jewish agitators, Dasan and Aviram, quarrelling. When one lifted their hand to hit the other, Moses rebuked him, “He said to the wicked one, why would you strike your fellow?”. Moses didn't ask him to justify his behavior, he didn’t legitimize the hostility, he didn't even wait for him to actually hit his fellow; lifting his hand with intent to harm was enough for Moses to intervene. I used to laugh at Ukraine when parliamentarians threw chairs at each other, but when police stations in Seattle are burnt to the ground, bombs are being sent to the RNC and DNC offices and people dressed like vikings are parading through the capitol in the name of freedom, I think Ukraine can get a lesson or two from us. 

If you know our family, you know that Chavie and I are centrists in our world view and don’t get too political. Yet, there is right and wrong and we aren’t scared to condemn wrong when it’s apparent, no matter the excuse. I have friends who feel betrayed and want a revolution, I have friends who think that this past election, including this week in Georgia, is part of a revolution, and then of course I have countless friends who are losing hope in America all together. I beseech all of you to fight on, don’t give up on America, keep fighting for what you believe this country is meant to be, but as Jews, fight like Jews. Fight with Torah guidance, fight with Talmudic ethics and don’t ever fall into the trap to think that hatred and animosity will bring about anything but more hatred and more animosity. Einstein once wrote “Freedom, in any case, is only possible by constantly struggling for it”. 

Don’t give up struggling, but struggle like a Jew!

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 time with Puerto Ricans!

After commemorating my mom’s Yahrtzait in New York, Chavie and I took the kids on an unforgettable trip to beautiful Puerto Rico. While there were many Covid restrictions to follow in this “paradise”, it didn’t get in the way of us enjoying the breathtaking ocean, spending quality family time together, distraction free. Before horseback riding in the El Yunque Rainforest, we stopped by a small beach town called Playa Fortuna, where we just sat and watched the waves. While there, a local palm-tree artisan, drove up nearby, sat on the trunk of his car and started crafting flowers for the girls and a fishing rod with a fish for Menny. Despite the clear poverty throughout the island, people, like this sweet fellow, seemed happy and delighted to spend another day alive and healthy.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, the Book of Genesis finale, we read about Jacob’s final years on earth, living in Egypt near his beloved son Joseph, where food was obtainable, despite the famine in Israel and the entire region. The word Vayechi, which means “and he lived”, has four Hebrew letters that equal the numerical value of thirty-four, indicating, as the Baal Haturim explains, that Jacob’s best years were the seventeen years with Joseph before he was sold by his brothers and the seventeen years in Egypt. Despite the depravity of Egypt and the spiritual challenges living there entailed, facing those challenges head on, and overcoming them, made those years the best of Jacob's long life, just as fantastic as the years he spent with Joseph back in the day or perhaps even more so. 

It’s an art to experience the bumpiness of life and still celebrate each moment.

It was good for our family to see how the luxuries we take for granted, are not a given for all people, and how happiness isn’t acquired by “things”. You can have “it all” and be unhappy or have “very little” so that a ten-dollar tip is like winning the lottery, yet still live with inner peace and joy. I can’t solve the challenges facing the people of Puerto Rico, but they’ve taught me so much about how we can live  properly despite them. Their roads are in bad shape, the internet goes down often, there are cops on each corner like a police state and many buildings are dilapidated, but the resolve of the people, the celebration of daily life and the lack of Kvetching, will be remembered by our family for a long time, hopefully, forever.

This upbeat attitude is the snorkel that gives us oxygen, even when we feel suffocated!

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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