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Rabbi's Blog

Rabbi's Blog

Rabbi Mendel's Blog

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Rabbi Mendel's blog features his Dvar Torah (Torah lesson) column from the weekly E-TORAH, ocassional musings and other articles that he authors from time to time.
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To Vow or Not to Vow?

“I promise not to eat any more ice cream this month.”

“I promise not to go on vacation this year.”

“I promise not to attend the social this week.”

Do you think these are good vows to undertake? Or do you feel they are ill-advised?

***

At the beginning of this week’s double Parshiyot of Matot and Masei, we are taught the rules of oaths.

In Pirkei Avot / Ethics of the Fathers, vows are considered a safeguard of restraint. By prohibiting yourself (through vows) from indulging in even that which the Torah permits, you can effectively fulfill the Torah’s command to “sanctify yourself [even] with that which is permitted to you.”

As the Talmud states, “Asceticism leads to… Read More »

Daily Highlights

 Have you ever gone on an exhilarating hike or thrilling adventure and felt a sense of true euphoria? Have you ever eaten the prefect diet for a day and felt totally connected to your body? Have you ever spent a sacred moment with a loved one and felt completely one with each other?

During those "highs" your entire being sensed a type of perfection and ease with the core of your being. We strive for these highs and sometimes abhor the "lows" of the daily grind.

But, let's ask ourselves: Can our body survive on "highs" alone? Are the highs sufficient to keep us going until the next one?

We may be tempted to answer yes, but that would only be fooling ourselves.  Without constant human… Read More »

Against All Odds

 In 1924 Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn gathered nine of his followers for an urgent, confidential meeting in his Leningrad home.

The Soviet Union was crushing Jewish practice. Rabbis were fleeing Soviet Russia en masse.  Jewish schools, mikvahs, synagogues and butchers were all being forcibly shut down.  The largest Jewish population in the world was slowly being repressed into abandonment of their faith and tradition.  Rabbis, teachers and mohalim were sent off to Siberia, never to be heard from again. The future of Judaism looked desperate and devastating. On pain of death, Jews were simply giving up on their traditions.

With millions of Jews disconnected from their roots, the sixth Rebbe of Chabad asked for a… Read More »

Flowing Water

A famous story is told of the detested town miser who was spitefully given an inconspicuous burial. However, shortly thereafter, everybody realized that the poor people were going hungry. Upon investigation it was discovered that he was secretly paying all their bills.

Similarly, only after her passing was Miriam’s true value recognized.  All too often the real playmakers are unsung heroes during their lifetime. After they are gone, we realize how indispensable they were.

In Parshat Chukat we learn the well-known story of Moshe hitting the rock instead of speaking to it. What is lesser known is why the Jewish people were desperate for water. This sudden dearth of hydration was due to the fact that Miriam had just passed away.… Read More »

Inside and Out

In 1959 an activist in Israel offered the Lubavitcher Rebbe an offer he felt the Rebbe could not refuse. He established a new organization with the agenda of building synagogues throughout the Holy Land. He was offering the Rebbe the title “Honorary President.” The Rebbe, he insisted, would not have to do any actual work. Rather, the Rebbe would just lend his name and this would further the holy cause.

In a letter, the Rebbe declined the offer for two reasons.

Firstly, the Rebbe said that he does not accept offers where there is no actual work. Here is a translated excerpt:

After thanking you for your good intentions, I am compelled to refuse this honor, in keeping with the custom of the Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbes, who as a… Read More »

Stretching & Leaping

This has been a special week to travel the Land of Israel.

I am privileged to spend 10 days in the Holy Land with the boys, families and staff of Cherry Gulch.  We have seen the hills, vistas and rivers. We have touched the millennia-old stones and visited synagogues and sacred spaces.  And we have heard the stories.

It’s a great marvel that the Spies that Moshe sent did not want to enter this land.  This week’s parsha Shelach tells of their dreadful report and the near-mutiny that ensued.  Why were they so reluctant to enter a land with so much potential?

It’s ironic how nowadays everyone is fighting over this tiny land, yet they despised it.

Perhaps, their greatest fear was leaving their own… Read More »

It’s Mine Like It’s Yours

A woman suddenly begins laboring on board an aircraft.  A man suffers a heart attack while on a cruise.

These are startling events that change the trajectory of the journey for both the individual and the entire group.  The plane may need to be diverted and the cruise ship may need to stop at the nearest harbor. Everybody is inconvenienced because they are sharing a vessel. They are literally in the same boat.

But, what if they weren’t tied at the hip? What if this was a single woman living alone – in labor, but also in need of assistance to deliver her baby? What if the man had no family and the only people that might help him were neighbors and passersby?

***

In this week’s parsha we read of the heavenly… Read More »

How, Not If

This Shavuot our family celebrated the Bar Mitzvah of our son Zali (Shneur Zalman). It was a very special occasion. What makes it even more special is sharing it with family and friends.

We are so touched at all the blessings showered upon us. We don’t feel worthy of them, but are honored at the kindness and thoughtfulness of others.

The Talmud teaches that one who blesses others is blessed by Almighty G-d. So it’s not just us saying, “Right back at you!” It’s Hashem Himself showering his blessings upon those that bless others.

***

In this week’s Torah portion, Nasso, we read about the instruction to the Kohanim (priests) to bless the Jewish people.  The Torah states:

The Lord spoke to Moses… Read More »

Personal Identity Theft

How many advertisements a day do we hear about identity theft? It’s a serious concern nowadays.  It may begin with a stolen credit card number, but if identity thieves get your detailed private information they can wreak havoc on your personal and financial life.

As technology continues to develop, concerns about safeguarding information rise. Part of that concern circles around intricate codes and numbers. After all, there may be many Jacob Goldsteins out there, but only one has the social security number with 3841 as the last four digits.

Imagine if we did away with social security numbers, dates of birth, names or any other personal information. Would that make us safer? Perhaps. But at what expense?  Are we prepared… Read More »

Family First

In the Torah’s laws against usury and cheating we find an interesting verse in this week’s Parsha of Behar-Bechujotai. “And when you make a sale to your fellow Jew or make a purchase from the hand of your fellow Jew, one man shall not wrong his brother.”

There are many details to the laws of interest and ethical business dealings. What’s strange here, however, is the end of the verse. Why is the Torah saying, “One man shall not wrong his brother?”  The Torah already included everyone by saying “your fellow.”

***

Perhaps there is a greater lesson here as parents, children and extended family members.

It seems that we often put a little extra financial burden on family… Read More »

Light Night

Along with so many Jews and non-Jews in Boise, I was deeply troubled by this week’s terrible vandalism at the Idaho Anne Frank Memorial in downtown Boise.

The act was heinous. The condemnation is obvious.

But, aside for restoration, calls for unity and standing up to such hatred, what message does it have to me in my everyday life? It’s easy to recite the necessary allegiance to tolerating all peoples and loving humanity.  I wish I had a magic wand capable of making bigotry vanish immediately. Unfortunately, I don’t.

Absent that magic, we will continue to live in a somewhat dark world. What can I do about it? Especially, if I don’t usually come in contact with those that are capable of such horrific… Read More »

The Secret of Jewish Survival

How is it that Jews, in so many disparate locations, under so many oppressive regimes, with so much assimilation, have managed to survive – and thrive – through so many centuries?

***

An interesting law in this week’s Torah portion, Acharei-Kedoshim, is the law of Orloh, fruit that are forbidden for the first three years. Interestingly, if such fruit get mixed into other fruit, they are nullified 200/1 (unlike nonkosher meat for example, which is nullified 60/1).  But, if one tree in an orchard is orloh, but we don’t know which one, it never becomes nullified.

The reason is that something that is attached to the its source (in this case the ground), it can never lose its identity – and thus cannot… Read More »

Two Way Street

One day, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov instructed several of his disciples to embark on a journey. The Baal Shem Tov did not tell them where to go, nor did they ask; they allowed divine providence to direct their wagon where it may, confident that the destination and purpose of their trip would be revealed in due time.

After traveling for several hours, they stopped at a wayside inn to eat and rest. Now the Baal Shem Tov’s disciples were pious Jews who insisted on the highest standards of kashrut; when they learned that their host planned to serve them meat in their meal, they asked to see the shochet (ritual slaughter) of the house, interrogated him as to his knowledge and piety and examined his knife for any possible blemishes. Their… Read More »

Seven or Eight?

What happens when days and nights are blurred into one? I remember the difficulty of sleeping in S. Petersburg, Russia in the summertime when it doesn’t get dark at night. The White Nights cause a surreal feeling that challenges one’s natural rhythm of time and order.

***

In this week’s parsha Shemini, which means “eighth,” we read about the eighth day of inauguration for the Mishkan, the holy Sanctuary.  For seven days, Ahron and his priestly sons were initiated into the service by Moshe.  On the eighth day they finally were allowed to perform the rituals on their own.

What is the significance of the seven days and the eighth day? And, why are the first seven days in one Torah portion and the… Read More »

Redefining Freedom

Can a slave be free? Can a free person be a slave?

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.”

***

A couple days ago we began Counting the Omer. It’s a 49-day count until Shavuot. What’s the connection between this mitzvah and the festivals that it links, Passover and Shavuot?

***

The enslavement in Egypt was horrific. Yet the Jewish people survived. They were now finally free.  What would they do with this freedom? How would they act as free people?

People who are released from an institutional setting after many years often suffer from a failure to adjust to their newfound freedom.

What plan, if any, did G-d have to prevent… Read More »

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