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Weekly Message

Sweet Sixteen!

Sixteen years ago today, Chavie and I stood under our San Antonio Chuppah and smiled as the crowd proclaimed Mazal Tov upon our marriage. We danced the night away and thus began a journey of commitment, love, and admiration. Loving someone properly isn’t necessarily natural, as we are inherently self-centered, not selfless. It takes work to act, and be, altruistic. We say, “I love you” a lot, but that too can be selfish, it’s all about me; but as Rabbi Manis Friedman points out, under the Chuppah the groom tells his bride “Harei At”, “you are hereby sanctified to me”, starting with “you” instead of “I”, implying “you are loved”.  

In this week’s Torah portion, Shemini, we read about the passing of Nadav and Avihau, two of Aaron’s sons who entered the Holy of Holies unsanctioned. The Or HaChaim explains that they experienced spiritual ecstasy, thirsting so deeply for a relationship with G-d that they forgot about what G-d wanted in the relationship, and it all became about their needs, a selfish spiritual endeavor. They had good intentions, but so what? They yearned for something that wasn’t meant for them, and lost life itself over their inappropriate expression of love.

The word love in English means so many things. We love our spouse, our kids, sushi, good weather, trips to Mexico, and certain politicians. Sometimes we love in ways that service us, making us feel good, instead of loving our loved ones in ways that focus on them and their needs. It is said that “true love begins when nothing is looked for in return” and while it would be hard to sustain a marriage without reciprocal expressions of love, in our mind it should always be about our beloved, not about us. Here’s to the next sixteen years of me and Chavie discovering love, happiness and sanctity.

My beloved is mine, and I am hers!

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!!!

 

Haman was right!

It was just one week ago that Chavie and I were chatting about Purim being celebrated during spring break, when half of Bozeman is defrosting in Mexico and Hawaii. We then realized that it is also on the day when Montanans are dressed like shamrocks and drinking like Irishmen; so Purim attendance was iffy. Yet, one week later, I am happy to say that I was wrong again; Jewish souls are always on fire and eighty-five of them flocked to the Chabad Lubavitch Center last night to hear the Megillah, enjoy Chavie’s fantastic dishes, say L’Chaim, and celebrate Purim in the Circus.  

There is one detail in the Purim story that doesn’t add up. When Haman sees that only one Jew, Mordechai, refuses to bow to him, why not kill Mordechai alone. Why does wicked Haman seek to annihilate all of Jewry, including the Shushan Jews who do bow to him? Last night I shared an insight that I heard from my mentor the Lubavitcher Rebbe of blessed memory: Haman was no fool, he looked at Mordechai and realized that the same holy core, the same eternal bond with G-d, the same unyielding Jewish identity that enlivened Mordechai, exists in every Jew, even those who currently are bowing to him. He foresaw a time when they too will be inspired and will fight back against the Hamanfication of the Persian Empire, so he decided to get rid of them all.

Last night we celebrated with Jews of flavors. One who grew up religious in Monsey and felt like religion wasn’t for them and others who grew up unaware that they were Jews and realized it was their Jewish religion that they were missing in their life. I even said L’Chaim with one woman who always reminds me that she’s not religious and always does so while at a celebration of Jewish life. Haman was right about one thing, it’s the one thing that most antisemites get right, we are different, we are a thorn in their side, because come what may, Jews, even those who think they are distant, are holy at their core and it’s only a matter of time before their inner Mordechai comes to life and they inform Haman that they ain’t bowing to anyone but G-d.

 A Yid never breaks!

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 Sin of Frostbite!

On Monday, Chavie and I enjoyed a two-hour dog sledding experience out in the back country terrain of Moonlight Basin. With below zero temperatures outside, we were freezing cold. I was literally shivering with chattering teeth and Chavie thought her toes would need to be amputated. When we got to the half point, they offered all fourteen participants non-Kosher hot chocolate and cookies, leaving us, the amateurs, with only one option: move our bodies, walk, jog in place, any movement, increasing blood circulation and warming ourselves up.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayikra, the first in the Book of Leviticus, we read about various mistakes, transgressions, for which a person is obligated to bring a sin or guilt offering. Judaism doesn’t condemn people to “eternal hell” because of our mistakes, it doesn’t cancel people because we’ve made horrible choices; we give people hope, a chance to return, a path forward, and an opportunity to repair the damage we’ve inflicted on our fellow human and onto our own soul. Our mistakes are so often a result of us freezing up, getting stuck, and hoping those toes will thaw on their own without us making the effort to warm them.

As the sled driver took us through some of the most picturesque areas in Madison County, I turned my gratitude to our dear friends Mick and Holly, who gave me this adventure for my 40th birthday. Like with each moment in life, this unique experience taught me so much. We certainly could’ve been slightly more prepared for the frigid Big Sky weather, especially because we couldn’t rely on the piping hot chocolate, but Chavie and I had each other and the inner gift of biology, moving those legs, wiggling those toes, and using instinct to endure, and enjoy, the journey.

Don’t let stuckness bring you spiritual frostbite, just warm yourself 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!!!


Pray for the Russian people!

 

It’s personal for me.

 

I have friends and relatives who live throughout eastern Europe including Ukraine, Russia, Hungary, and Poland. The loss of life in Ukraine, the sheer devastation, the number of refugees, is unimaginable. I’ve spoken with a few colleagues on the ground this week and I can’t stop thinking of my brave soul-brothers Avremi Wolff in Odessa and his brother Yossi in Kherson, who with their families are weathering the storm so they can care for those who couldn’t get out, especially the elderly.

 

It's 2022 and we should be better than this.

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Pekudei, we read about the inauguration of the Tabernacle. While there were plenty of opportunities for Jews to donate according to their means to build a home for G-d, there was also the half-Shekel gift that each Jew was to contribute for the foundational sockets that held up the entire structure. Each person brought the same amount, it didn’t matter if you were wealthy or poor, well-connected or a Shlepper, from the tribe of Judah or Gad, it was the same amount for everyone. It was a way for us to see every Jew, every person, as an equal valuable life, worthy of all that G-d offers us in our lifetimes.

 

We know that the people of Ukraine need our prayers; homes have been bombed and too many lives have been upended. Here's a little secret: the Russian people need our prayers too. Sanctions can sound good on paper, but it doesn’t only impact the government and the oligarchs, it affects all the citizens. I spoke to people who don’t have access to their money, to some who do but their money Is now practically worthless, Russian commercial airplanes won’t get parts, which will cause more crashes, and with 144 million citizens, Russia is certain to see enormous increases in hunger and homelessness. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, so let’s pray that our world leaders find ways to punish the aggressors without hurting the beautiful people of Russia.

 

United against all human suffering, every time, everywhere.

 

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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