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ב"ה

Weekly Message

Dear Chava'le...

Tonight, Jewry will usher in the ShabbatHaGadol-Passover nine-day experience. We are also coming-off the one-year anniversary since Montana went into Covid lockdown and turned life the way we knew it upside down. It is with this in mind, that I’ve put fingers to keyboard to share my feelings with my beloved Chavie, who is the bedrock of our home and has gotten us through everything:

 


Dear Chava’le,

I’m writing this just as you are wrapping up a full week of cooking, prepping our home for our holiday Seders and meals, while i finished my whirlwind month of ensuring that every Jew in the State has Shmurah Matzah for their Passover Mitzvah. Despite our mutual exhaustion, infused with our common love for our fellow Jews, I needed to take a moment amid all the craziness and hullabaloo to say thank you. Why am I writing to you in public? Why not just give you a hallmark card with a gift card to Anthropologie and call it a day?  Because in our society we grieve in public, kvetch in public, rant in public, opine in public, so it only makes sense to share gratitude in public too.

I’ve often wondered why the Midrash teaches that it was “in the merit of the righteous women that our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt”. Though a part of me gets it, they were devoted to their families with heart and soul; another part of me is confused: It wasn’t like their husbands were vacationing in Sharm El Sheikh! They were enslaved, suffering day-in and day-out from the task mastering Egyptians and so the mothers had no choice but to step up and care for their families. Why do they deserve so much credit for a most basic human responsibility? Does one deserve accolades for caring for their own children?  

Yet, as we delve deeper into the Exodus story, and as I lived through the Covid pandemic with you, my own “righteous woman”, I now understand this concept so much better. You see, the Jewish women in Egypt didn’t just care for their families while kvetching about their lot. They didn’t just reluctantly step up to the plate and ensure that all the Jewish babies survived as they defied Pharaohs ruthless decree. They didn’t just bring food and drinks to their husbands who were out working with sweat, blood and toil. They did a lot more and they did it with class, love and enthusiasm.

These devoted wives beautified themselves so that their husbands, always on the verge of physical collapse, were overly attracted to the loves of their lives. They were there for their fellow women who were struggling in childbirth, and postpartum, and created a clandestine team of Jewesses, led by Yocheved and her daughter Miriam, who ensured that all the Jewish women giving birth were pampered and cared for until they were fully back to themselves. They set aside tambourines, because despite their unimaginable hardships, they never lost hope in the future redemption and wanted to be ready to celebrate properly, with song and dance, when the miracle of Exodus came about.

These women were warriors through and through. Hope permeated every fiber of their being. They didn’t veer off the G-dly path despite their life challenges, despite seeing so many Jewish children murdered, and despite not being 100% sure when the change, the light, they dreamed of, would become reality. “We shall overcome” was felt through their every sleepless night.

Chav, I know you don’t like my mushy writing, but this is exactly what I’ve seen in you over the past year. You didn’t just reluctantly care for our children. You didn’t bemoan the experience of our kids being home 24/7 for months on end and kvetch about it all day. You didn’t shut down, despair or even lose your bearings; you stepped up every day bright and early to be there for our family, for our spiritual, emotional and mental wellbeing. I know I’m speaking for so many other husbands who were also blown away by the devotion, sacrifice and sensitivity that their spouses professed during these trying times. In addition, you were there for me. I don’t stay as calm as you, I can’t handle the change of pace with the stride that you do and you were there for me, through thick and thin, to make this year bearable, and super successful.

I’m in awe.

You found innovative ways to keep our kiddos busy and their minds intrigued, we did family hikes and road trips together, you re-invented their playroom, the community playroom, so that they, and their friends, can have a most educational, productive, and fun experience during their play time. You read thousands of books to them, baked and cooked with them (though you don’t like a messy kitchen), you prepared beautiful Shabbos dinners and lunches even when we weren’t hosting our myriads of guests, and you made each of them feel loved and special even on days when all they did was make you, us, feel exhausted and half dead.

I watched (and still do) as you spent hundreds of hours each month on the phone with teachers, principals, counselors, therapists, doctors, holistic healers, friends, mentors, and anyone that may be able to guide and help us, as we endeavor to figure out what to do next to help each of our children and their never-ending needs. You did this all when we were emotionally drained ourselves and as our Chabad in-person activities came to an abrupt halt and the world seemed to be falling apart, causing all of us, the masked-up souls of 2020-2021, aggravation, hopelessness and uncertainty.

I looked back at Egypt and realized that my Chavie, and so many of her fellow Jewish women the world over, are truly the righteous ones, making us worthy of redemption. I think it’s straightforward: when you live in a redeemed state of mind, state of being, you are able to bring all of us closer to redemption, helping an “enslaved nation” realize that miracles aren’t only possible but probable. When you live with feminine faith, a deeply embedded recognition that Hashem is in charge, then believing G-d could rock redemption is not a farfetched idea, it’s actually a realistic option.

So now Erev Pesach, one year after Big Sky Country entered this pandemic era, I want to salute you my dear Chavie for showing me, showing our children, showing our beloved Montana community, what perseverance looks like and how to wake up each morning and be there for each child that Hashem has gifted you with love that is palpable, seeing redemption in yourself, each of them and all of Klal Yisroel.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, “A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water”, she was right. This year, when we reached our collective boiling point, I realized once again how blessed I am to have you as my partner, and how much Jewish women do for the survival and growth of Jewry.

L’Chaim dear Chav! We are deserving of redemption thanks to you and your fellow women troopers! Looking forward to a special Pesach together with friends and family. 

Love,

Chaim Shaul

 


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!!!

Crossing the border!

Yesterday, Chaya and I journeyed to Clark, Wyoming to place Mezuzot on two Jewish homes. Though it’s in Wyoming and our colleagues Rabbi Zalman and Raizy in Jackson Hole oversee Chabad’s activities in the Cowboy State, they were delighted that we could get there, as for us it’s only six hours round trip and for them it would be eleven. In addition, I was excited to stop and visit my buddy Jim in Belfry to deliver Matzah on our side of the border. When an opportunity beckons to create a Temple for G-d to “dwell among them”, there is nothing more exhilarating.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayikra, the first in the book of Leviticus, we read about the Korbanot, the sacrificial offerings in the Tabernacle/Temple. The Mincha meal offering, which was primarily of flour, was given to us by G-d so that even those who couldn’t afford a bird or animal for an offering, were able connect with Him at His Divine residence. In Jewish law we are instructed that “a rich person who brings a poor person offering, has not fulfilled his/her obligation”. Just because G-d appreciates the offering of the pauper, that doesn’t mean He wants that from a wealthy person who could do more. The meal offering, which came wholeheartedly from the poor person, giving his very best to his Creator, was really special to G-d, and for that same reason, a rich person who tries to bring that type of offering does not do himself, or G-d, any favors.

This upcoming Wednesday, the 11th of Nissan, we will celebrate the Rebbe’s 119th birthday. The Rebbe would repeat this Halachic truism often enough, as it represented his worldview. What suffices for one with less energy and time, doesn’t suffice for those who were blessed with more of it. Just because each of us may be doing good, doesn’t mean that we can’t do better, and even better. The Rebbe shifted our outlook from seeing the potential prospects that come our way from being a “Shlepp” to being a “Mitzvah opportunity”. It was many hours in the car in the crucial pre-Pesach days, but if I’m too busy for Mezuzot, then why am I in Montana altogether? The Rebbe’s ninety-two years, every of its moment, were filled to capacity with goodness, holiness and devotion to our people, I try to emulate just that.

If I were a rich man…!

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!!! 

Start a forest!

Pesach is just two weeks away and we are very much in the Passover mode. I spent a few hours this week mapping out the route for our Yeshiva students who, together with me and the kids, will be hand delivering Shemurah Matzah to 550 Jewish homes across Big Sky Country. Normally, we reach about 250 souls, but as so many Jews will still be unable to join a Seder with friends and family, it only makes sense to bring what the Zohar calls “Bread of faith, bread of healing” to our brothers and sisters from Roundup to Dillon.

In this week’s double Torah portion, Vayakhel-Pekudei, which concludes the book of Exodus, we read about the contributions of supplies donated by men, women and children to build the Tabernacle, the G-dly dwelling in the Arabian desert. This drive was not aimed at a particular tribe, it wasn’t just for the adult males like some of the other gifts, it wasn’t a request of the wealthy Jews who could afford it with ease or even an equal coin for all Jews; it was “bring as much as you can” and “we must all be part of this vital project”. There are moments, where we need, we want, every Jew on board, no matter the labels we give ourselves or others “bestow” upon us.

Passover is one of those moments.

Our Exodus, our freedom, is something every Jew or Jewess should experience first-hand. They may, or may not, come to Shul on Rosh Hashana to hear the Shofar, they may, or may not, fast on Yom Kippur, they may, or may not, sit in a Sukkah on Sukkot, but Matzah on Pesach must happen. Matzah represents the miracle that is Jewish survival, it teaches us that there’s always hope for redemption even when all seems bleak, it reminds us that we eventually do overcome, and it blesses us with enhanced faith in G-d and physical healing for our body. We are making Montana a Mishkan, a Divine dwelling, for G-d, and that can’t happen if even one Jew in Belt or Cameron isn’t part of operation Matzah 2021.

One tree can start a forest; each of us is a tree! 

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!!!

Strong, smart and brave!

After the miraculous purchase of our new Chabad Center, I traveled to New York for fourteen short hours to visit the Rebbe’s resting place and say thank you for the inspiration he gives me and Chavie daily, the trust he has placed in us as spiritual leaders, and the blessings he bestowed upon our community with this acquisition. As I awaited my flight back from LaGuardia at the wee hours of Tuesday morning, I wrapped myself in my Talis and Tefillin and Davened as the sun was rising over the city that never sleeps. There is something really special about being Jewish and doing Judaism in public and standing alone with G-d like Abraham and Sarah

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Tisa, we read about the sin of all sins, the formation of, and service to, a golden calf. Hur, the honorable son of Miriam and Caleb and nephew of Moses and Aaron, is asked to join, even lead, the G-dless resistance movement. He refuses and, instead, condemns their forbidden behavior that included the cardinal sins of adultery and idolatry, and so they murder him, adding bloodshed to their list of “good deeds”. Hur didn’t sugarcoat it for them, he didn’t play along; he knew that his allegiance is to G-d, G-d only, and though the peer pressure was real, he stood alone at that moment defending Hashem and His Torah.

It is said “Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help, and brave enough to ask for it”. Being a Hur isn’t easy, living life authentically won’t always garner loving acceptance, and withstanding peer pressure is really hard, especially if the pressuring peers are your friends and loved ones, but character is built, and self-awareness is created, when we know our soul and live by its conviction. I was pleasantly uplifted the other week when I saw Marc, a recent transplant to Bozeman, walking on Main Street with a Yarmulke, it warmed my heart. Being one of a few doesn’t make you weird, just devoted.

Be like Marc; sticking out like a healthy Jew, not a sore thumb!

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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