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Weekly Message

Holy Names; Holy People!

Last “weekend” was spiritually uplifting. On Friday afternoon, with Chana Laya and Menny in tow, I helped a Jewish family adorn their new Big Sky home with six Mezuzot, a Chumash, Tehilim and Tanya along with a Tzedakah box, and even laid Tefillin with the dad and their two teenage sons. The next morning, on Shabbos, we notched it up, when we had the great honor, in the presence of the Torah, to give Jewish names to two local children, with their parents and grandparents in attendance. Tirtza and her brother Ram will always remember the jubilant crowd singing “Siman Tov Umazal Tov” for them, as they stood near the holy scroll.

 Look down from Your holy dwelling, from the heavens, and bless Your people Israel, and the ground which You have given to us, as You swore to our forefathers a land flowing with milk and honey.” When G-d looks from His heavenly abode, He can see us either as flawed people constantly messing up or He can see us for the Torah-loving, Mitzvah-observing, kindness-professing, Jews that we are at our core. It is with the latter, wholesome, view that G-d chooses to see us and thus we are worthy of His Bracha, His infinite blessing.

As we inch closer to Rosh Hashana, a time when too many Jews beat themselves up for what wasn’t right during the past year, let’s do it differently, let’s spend the final eleven days of the year emphasizing to Hashem all that has been right in our spiritual journey during 5781. Despite a topsy-turvy world, plagued by immense uncertainty, Jews are on fire, filled with passion to remain connected to G-d and three thousand plus years of Torah inspiration. Sure, we can always fix a thing or two and we should, but don’t be bashful, wake up in the morning and proclaim “Look down from Your holy dwelling….and bless Your people”, we deserve it.

No sinner-shaming, just holy-soul-extolling!  

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 Bat Mitzvah Fairy!

In a world of fragmentation, Jewish mysticism has always guided us to “Oneness”. There is no real division between the holy and the mundane, it’s just that we, G-d’s gardeners, need to find, and reveal, the holiness, the roses, within the mundane, within the weed-infested garden. After Chaya’s incredible Bat Mitzvah celebration with eighty women and girls in attendance, on Tuesday we headed up with some relatives to Fairy Lake, which is splendid. It was a perfect fit, when reaching a spiritual high as a Jewish girl embarks on a life of Mitzvot and personal accountability, we are to take that Divine energy into nature, into the world, and utilize it to see the world from a new vantage point, seeing the G-d spark in every facet of His world.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, we read about Ma’ake, building a fence around our roof to ensure the safety of all those who ascend to it. In her speech on Monday, Chaya mentioned a fascinating thought: We are commanded to have Mezuzot on our doorposts and also commanded to ensure the physical safety of our home for all who enter our abode. A Jew is to experience G-dliness in every part of our lives, G-d isn’t meant to be compartmentalized. Sure, we have the spiritual protection of the Mezuzah, but we also need to follow through on G-d’s will and make our homes safe from physical danger, and one doesn’t fill in for the other. The oneness of G-d is to be felt in all that we do.

Reb Binyomin Kletzker, a Chabad chassid some two-hundred years ago, was a lumber merchant. One year, while he was adding up the annual accounts, he inadvertently filled in under a column of figures: TOTAL: Ein od milvado ("There is none else beside Him"). When berated by a friend for his so-called “absentmindedness”, Reb Binyomin responded: "We consider it perfectly natural if, during prayer, one's mind wanders off to the fair in Leipzig to think about business. So, what's so terrible if, when involved in business, a alien thought” regarding the unity of G‑d infiltrates the mind?".

Don’t relegate G-d to Shul, He’s at the Farmers Market too; just open your eyes!

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!!!

Unjust Justice!

On Wednesday I was honored to speak at the National Jewish Retreat in Stone Mountain, Georgia. As I awaited the airport train in Atlanta, an African American fellow, perhaps in his 60’s, asked me if I was Jewish (not sure what gave it away). When I answered in the affirmative, he proceeded to tell me about the 1993 Chanukah story with the Schnitzer family in Billings and how he personally opened the “not in our town” chapter in Fort Collins, Colorado and helped both Jewish and Muslim congregations when they were being harassed. It was a fascinating few minutes, as two random people chatted about their commonalities and the importance of fighting for justice and kindness.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, we read the famous words “Justice, justice you shall pursue”. Rashi explains that the meaning of the verse is that when one is seeking to take a case to the Beth Din, the Jewish rabbinic tribunal, they must pick a good one that has honorable sages with impeccable credentials sitting on its bench. Justice isn’t something that we get to make up or to create with our own imagination, G-d decides what’s just and what isn’t, and we pursue justice that is based on those G-dly values, not on our own impulses. Voltaire wrote “It is better to risk saving a guilty person than to condemn an innocent one”, and too often in the name of justice, with subjective vendettas, we simply get it wrong.  

When pursuing justice, it must be balanced by what it says later in our Torah portion, “Be wholehearted with the Lord, your God.” and “According to the law they instruct you and according to the judgment they say to you, you shall do; you shall not divert from the word they tell you, either right or left”. As tempting as it may be, and as convenient as it has become, we don’t get to be judge, jury and executioner for every person who isn’t our cup of tea. In the words of Ethics of our Fathers “Rabbi Shimon the son of Gamliel would say: By three things is the world sustained: law, truth and peace. As is stated (Zachariah 8:16), "Truth, and a judgement of peace, you should administer at your city gates''. You need all three for our world to be healthy.  

Be just in your justice or chaos ensues!

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!!!

A Joyous Stampede!

Joy is so beautiful, but not easily attainable. Last night Menny and I attended the Bozeman Stampede which includes Montana riders and ranchers exhibiting their skills with the animal kingdom. Not everything they do is my cup of tea, some of it hurts the animals, but Menny wanted to go and so I made it happen for him. What amazed me were the people, everyday Montanans, who were out about with their loved ones, enjoying life in Big Sky Country,  who don’t need expensive “things” to bring them joy. They were grateful for the blessings of America, sang the anthem with heart and soul, and made a rabbi with a Yarmulke and a son dressed in a Spiderman onesie feel at home. It’s kind-of how I see all the RVers who spend Shabbos with us each summer week, they seem so happy, so content, though they don’t have the “vital” amenities I am so used to.

In this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, we read a few verses about joy. One of them states “…and you shall rejoice in all your endeavors, you and your households, as the Lord, your God, has blessed you.” It’s that needed pause we take, that moment of inner and out silence in which we contemplate all the good, all the blessings, all that’s right and all that is bright, that envelopes us with positivity. It’s the inner joy that we feel when our child thrives, when our community grows, when our soul feels uplifted and when our spouse is pleased with us. Joy can’t happen if all we focus on is the doom and gloom, with everything that is wrong with the world; we must be able to look up.

This Shabbos we usher in the new month of Elul, the month that prepares us for the High Holy Days. We often think of this time as being one of holiness and spirituality, but in truth, for one to attain this sought-after healthy relationship with G-d, one must have joy. The Torah tells us “Since you did not serve God your Lord, with joy and good heartedness, when you were affluent-- You will serve your enemies”. The Holy Ari, Rav Isaac Luria, interprets this statement to mean that the problem wasn’t that you didn’t serve G-d all-together, but that you didn’t serve Him with joy. Joy is a cure to life’s ailments, and it comes from within.

G-d gave you life, you may as well enjoy it!

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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