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ב"ה

Weekly Message

Dear Zeesy...

With Yom Kippur a few days away, I am sharing my Yom Kippur letter today! May you all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a stupendous 5783!


 

Dearest Zeesy,

I’m writing to you on Erev Shabbos Shuva 5783, with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, just a few days away. Since the day we adopted you back in 2010, Mommy and I have watched you grow up so beautifully as a Bas Yisroel, a daughter of Israel. Your poise, grace, patience, sweetness, innocence, is remarkable and noteworthy. Despite all of your challenges you greet each sunrise with a smile, a beaming face that says, “I am so happy to be alive and to live another day filled with laughter, learning and of course artsy coloring”. While others spend their life complaining, you spend yours fighting for betterment, and you fight with heartfelt gratitude.

You were gifted to the world on Shemini Atzeres, a day on which we recite these words in the Rain Prayer “Remember the twelve tribes whom You brought across the split waters; for whom You have sweetened the bitterness of the water” and that’s the story of your entire life Zisha’le, accepting G-d’s specific life plan for you and turning bitter moments into sweetness. Your go to place isn’t self-pity, isn’t self-loathing; you work hard, help others, and you know that you have something really special to offer the world. Yes, I see you, I feel you. I see how much you yearn to eat Mommy’s incredible food, I saw how excited you were when Mommy broke protocol and allowed you to eat a singular pomegranate seed and a taste of "Shehechiyanu" new fruit on Rosh Hashana, it breaks my heart to see you wanting something that Mommy and I can’t provide, yet I also see how amazingly classy you are and how you take on your challenges with stride.

In less than three weeks you will become a Bas Mitzvah, obligated to fulfill the Torah’s 613 commandments. I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that, as it stands now, you will never be able to fast on Yom Kippur. On the day when even the most unfamiliar Jew comes to Shul and fasts, you will be in Shul, you will pray, you will wear non-leather shoes, you will refrain from washing and moisturizing your beautiful face, but you won’t be able to fast. I know how much that bothers you, but I want you to know that you should be elated, as you are able to bond with G-d on Yom Kippur like almost no one else on earth.

To be sure, fasting is no small matter. It’s the Day of Atonement and Hashem expects every Jew to fast for 25+ hours. There are rare circumstances that certain people with severe medical ailments may break their fast, but generally there are no loopholes or leniencies. Yet, Zeesy, you are one of very few Jews who have special medical conditions that makes fasting for you an issue of life and death and therefore it isn’t only ok for you to eat, but when you eat you’re fulfilling a Mitzvah. With every bite you are connecting with G-d on the deepest of soul-levels.  

The great Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz in his Sefer Birchas Shmuel writes that there was a Chossid who was forced to eat on Yom Kipppur due to a medical condition and he would pronounce “Hineni Muchan Umezuman…I am herby prepared and ready to fulfill the Mitzvah of V’Chai Bohem” which is the Mitzvah in Leviticus that commands us to live and be healthy. Furthermore, the second Belzer Rebbe said about his father the Sar Shalom that when he wasn’t well and fasting on Yom Kippur wasn’t possible, he didn’t procrastinate, instead, right after Kol Nidrei he broke his fast and said that he’s fulfilling the obligation to live and ate with such joy that seemed more joyous than when he fulfilled the Mitzvos of eating Matzah on Passover and shaking the four species on Sukkos.

I know it’s so hard to be different, Zeesy, I know that so often you want to be like everyone else. Mommy and I talk so often about your courage and uniqueness, it’s so extraordinary. You want to enjoy Mommy’s delicious cooking, you want to be able to listen to louder music, you want to be able to go to summer camp for longer than ten days and you want to be able to drink a vitamin water like everyone else during our road trips. I know that you wish you could fast like Chaya and Shoshana, you’ve expressed how hard it will be for you to eat on this Holy Day and not have the Zechus, the merit, to fast like every other Bas Mitzvah, yet, I assure you my dear Zisha that G-d loves you so much, He appreciates every word of your prayers, every line of Hebrew reading and every precious Mitzvah you perform. He knows that with every bite you take on Yom Kippur you are connecting with His ultimate wish for you to live and keep making the world brighter.

I don’t know Zeesy why Hashem made you different. I don’t know why you have the one-in-a-billion genetic challenge. I pray every day that the brilliant medical researchers will find a cure for Glut-1 bringing about a miracle for you, your biological mom and all those who struggle with this ailment. I pray that one day you will get married, have a family, and show the world what your fight song sounds like, but in the meantime Zees, I know that you’re doing something for Hashem that not many get to do, which is to meet Him as He made you and give your very best to be a superhuman.

May you have a meaningful Yom Kippur. May you forgive G-d for giving you a rough life and may He give you all that you need for a year of growth, fulfillment, and lots of smiles.  

Gmar Chasima Tova!

With love, adoration and admiration,

Aba

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!!!

 

Queen Esther & Rosh Hashana!

Rosh Hashana is upon us and in fifty-eight hours we will usher in 5783. It’s always an auspicious time for us to rejuvenate, recenter, and reenergize ourselves, allowing our past inadequacies to be disregarded, our future to be infused with optimism, and to remain anchored in the present moment. It’s the Day of Judgment, it’s our trial, where G-d will assess if we are deserving of a sweet year and I, as a loyal rabbi and spiritual defense attorney, am confident that indeed G-d knows who we really are and knows we are worthy of His mercy and will welcome us back into His home.

I was thinking about this on Tuesday when our Shul was host to a discussion with Diane Nilan of Hear US and activist Pat LaMarche to discuss childhood and teenage homelessness in our country and in our local Bozeman community. It’s heartbreaking to realize that there are teenagers, elementary age kids, even toddlers who go home to their parents’ car every night or perhaps live with unhealthy relatives or worse. Every American child should have a place to call home and we must ask ourselves how is it that our children’s classmates don’t have the basic security of shelter? I’ve always cared for the homeless but homeless kids? That’s unfathomable and wrong.  

I read a Chassidic anecdote about Reb Yosef of Yampala (Yampil, Ukraine) who would be the “Makri”, the pointer in Shul on Rosh Hashana, directing the one blowing the Shofar to the individual blast order in the prayer book. Before he’d begin he would commence with a verse from the Scroll of Esther, normally read on Purim, “ And it came to pass when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, that she won favor in his eyes, and the king extended to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand, and Esther approached and touched the end of the scepter” and with that the Shofar blasts would begin.

Why bring Purim into Rosh Hashana? It seems odd. Yet, there was deep meaning here:

The King is G-d, the Jews are the queen. We married at Sinai, got a Ketubah which is the Torah, and though we have ups and downs, the King never forgets His bride, He never forgets His vows, and when we stand at His inner chamber seeking to enter, He extends His scepter and brings us in to His place of joy and happiness. Like a loving spouse, He chooses to forget that He was upset at us for our mistakes and says, “forgiveness is welcome”. Rosh Hashana is not a time for depression or sadness, we don’t need to give up or check out, we don’t need to be scared to “face the music” in Shul, we just need to show up and say, “Dear Heavenly Father, I have sinned, we have sinned, I recognize that, and want to come home, please allow me back”.

Rosh Hashana is our reminder that as Jews we do have a real home. No matter where we’ve journeyed, no matter where we’ve lost our way, no matter how many nights we’ve slept in the car or on the streets, we can come home with an inner cry to Hashem, an inner Shofar blast, informing Him that we want in, we want to do better and that we want spirituality to be active in our challenging lives. Yes, we are scattered and busy, yes, we are overworked and underpaid, but no, we don’t want to lose the most cherished relationship of all, the one with our Creator. G-d isn’t always happy with us, no parent is always happy with their kids, but every healthy parent wants to stay in touch and have their child come home when they are ready. G-d is no different, so knock on His door and He will undoubtedly welcome you, His bride, home and celebrate you with romance and kindness, ushering in a New Year of love, commitment, and lots of catching up.

Don’t miss your court date, the Judge has a bias and it’s for you! Shana Tova!

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!!!

Menny & Chaya were sad!

Earlier this week, we partnered with the MSU Leadership Institute and brought an awe-inspiring film “Three Minutes – A Lengthening” to the Procrastinator Theater. During the Q&A panel at which I presented together with Marnie from the JSA, we discussed aspects of the film that spoke to our hearts. To me, seeing the Shtetel in color, in 1938, gave me goosebumps, thinking of my Zayde Shimon’s childhood in Poland from his birth in 1926 until his escape. I was gratified that Chaya and Menny watched the film beside me, despite moments of deep sadness; they need to know.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Savo, we read about Bikkurim, the gift of first fruit. When a Jew brings those precious fruits to the Temple and gives them to the priest, he proclaims “ an Aramean sought to destroy my forefather, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned…and there, he became a great, mighty, and numerous nation. and the Egyptians treated us cruelly and afflicted us, and they imposed hard labor upon us. So we cried out to the Lord... And the Lord brought us out from Egypt with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm...And He brought us to this place, and He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the ground which you, O Lord, have given to me."

This awareness is crucial. 

It’s hard to appreciate our life’s blessings, if not placed in the context of what came before us, both collectively and individually. I got a bit uncomfortable for Menny to hear about the trains to the death camps, but if I don’t teach him, who will? if he doesn’t know, he won’t appreciate the freedom, that we take so often for granted. Wearing a Yarmulke has more meaning when you know we couldn’t always do that with ease. Keeping Kosher is super special when we realize how Jews starved just eighty years ago. Modesty is meaningful when you see the same modesty observed in a film from 1938. History is being forgotten by too many and it’s on us to ensure it’s remembered.

Thank you Hashem!

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!!!

Lost and Found!

Five kids, two dogs, an open home, a phone that never stops buzzing; not a recipe for quiet. On Tuesday, I wanted to catch up on my Talmud studies, so I turned on “Do Not Disturb”, left my phone upstairs, and spent 45 minutes engrossed in unadulterated Torah wisdom in the tractate of Kesubos. It was so nice, so tranquil, so soul-calming, I hope to choose more and more moments of spiritual self-care, giving my soul and body what they need to be one with our Creator, giving me alone time with myself.  

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Seitzei, we read about the obligation of Hashovas Aveida, returning a lost object to its righteous owner. In Chassidic thought we are taught that the obligation is not only for physical objects that are found in a public domain, but it’s spiritual as well, giving back to our fellow Jew that which is rightfully theirs, their soulful connection with G-d that may have been misplaced. When I read this teaching from the Belzer Rav, I couldn’t help but ponder how this applies to us too. When we feel lost, when we can’t find ourselves, it’s obligatory to lift ourselves up, taking the time to bring ourselves back home and to celebrate the lost self that has finally been found.

During the month of Elul, all through the holiday of Sukkos, we recite Psalm 27 twice a day. In it, King David expresses his inner yearning “One thing I ask of the Lord, that I seek-that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to see the pleasantness of the Lord and to visit His Temple every morning.” He wasn’t seeking another “like” or “share”, he wasn’t pursuing “popularity”, he wasn’t even hoping for a “reward” for his holy wars on behalf of Hashem, he just wanted to have some time with G-d. He sought for his soul to feel at peace with its Creator, and this is a wish, I believe, we can all relate to, big time.

Dear G-d, I’m coming home, please don’t ever let go of me!

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 cop who pulled me over!

Yesterday, I enjoyed lecturing at UM Western in Dillon for a class of future teachers, eager to get a crash course on Jews and Jewish life. As I headed up Highway 41 from Dillon to Twin Bridges, while on the phone with Chavie, I lost track of my speed and saw a Beaverhead County Sheriff’s Deputy put on his lights and make a U-turn. I knew it was me, so I immediately pulled over. He told me that I was doing 80 in a 70 zone; he knew the professor for whom I lecture, he loved the Vikings sticker on my car, and he was grateful for my “ministering”. He checked me out, let me off with a gracious warning, and I cruised on 70 all the way until I hit the I-90.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, we read about the laws of war. We are commanded that “When you approach a city to wage war against it, you shall make a peaceful proposal to it”. Reading this got me thinking about the message that Hashem is sending: Our initial response mustn’t be an attack. War can always be done later if needed, so why not start off on a good note, giving those we encounter the benefit of the doubt and not assume the worst in humanity. It’s so easy to judge people based on preconceptions or even based on something you’re seeing them do in the moment, like speeding, but without knowing the bigger picture. Yet, if we pause and say “is this really the whole story? Is there more? Is this a person who is doing good for society and is rushing to pick up his kids from school? Perhaps he doesn’t need a ticket in his life or points on his record right now?”.

People are genuinely good. It’s universal. Russians aren’t drunks, Frenches aren’t immodest, Jews aren’t cheap, Israelis aren’t rude, rural Americans aren’t ignorant, Muslims aren’t murderers, cops aren’t racists, and New Yorkers aren’t all loud. We need to stop labeling, we must stop seeing people as “guilty until proven innocent”, but rather we should see individuals for who they are, seeing the good in them, giving them the benefit of the doubt and always trying to resolve situations peacefully instead of forcefully. As someone wise once said “Don’t let people pull you into their storm. Pull them into your peace”.

Cowards attack; people with strength seek peace!

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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