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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.
Your comments are welcome.

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 »

Education and Sharing Day 2017

Governor Otter and Mayor Bieter have both proclaimed today, April 7, 2017, to be Education and Sharing Day in Idaho and in Boise, respectively.

They follow a long tradition of proclaiming the Rebbe’s birthday, 11 Nissan, as a day of reflection and commitment to the values of education and good deeds.  Every United States President since 1978 has made this annual proclamation for Education and Sharing Day USA.

The Rebbe, the only rabbi to receive a Congressional Gold Medal, emphasized that education should not be limited to the acquisition of wisdom and pursuit of a career. Education, the Rebbe taught, must build character and ethics.

As a student of the Rebbe, it’s natural for me to think of the Rebbe in terms of… Read More »

Time & Place

Plowing a field at the wrong time of year may not be helpful. In fact, it may harm the potential to produce.

Driving fast on a crowded street may not get you to your destination any quicker. In fact, it may be a hazard to yourself and others.

Eating certain foods that are healthy for others may not be good for you – if you are allergic to them. In fact, they may damage your well-being.

***

As we prepare for Pesach by removing the Chametz from our homes, selling our Chametz and abstaining from consuming Chametz for eight days, we often wonder, “What’s so bad about Chametz? Why is it banned for all of Passover? I understand that we should eat matzah on Passover to commemorate the Exodus. But, why is bread forbidden? If… Read More »

Arriving

It usually happens around 30 to 45 minutes after departure.

“Are we there yet?”

It’s the first of many redundant questions that my wife and I will enjoy during a road trip, or other long-distance travel.  The plane may have barely achieved liftoff and the incessant need to know if we have arrived has already begun. 

We have, at times, fallen prey to the typical host of responses.  Ply them with treats.  Distract them with games.  Change the clock.  Depart at 3:00am when they are half-asleep. Ignore. Plead. Threaten. Or, simply explain that – no, we have not yet arrived. Again. And. Again.

But, finally, I realized that the answer was simply, “Yes.”

We have arrived.… Read More »

The Forest or the Tree?

Ask two marketing professionals what’s more important – the current sales pitch or the overall strategy – and you’ll likely get two different answers. 

Ask a couple coaches what’s more important – the play in progress or the game plan – and you might receive conflicting opinions.

The argument can be made that the most important moment is the one presently at stake.  If this goes well, everything else will follow. If I lose focus now, the whole deck of cards may collapse. Laser-like attention is necessary to achieve success.

On the other hand, taken from a broader view, this is only one act of many; one cog in the wheel. Yes, each play is vital – but you don’t really win a… Read More »

Wine & Grapes

We all know the story.

The Jews are persecuted.  We survive. Let’s eat food.

Actually, Purim is more than that. There are four mitzvot of Purim, two of which are related to food.

But, when it comes to food, each holiday has its unique foods.  On Purim the Talmud and Code of Jewish Law urge us to drink wine (or grape juice) in large quantities.  Why on Purim are we highlighting wine?

The obvious reason is that the Purim story centered around wine. Achashverosh made a big party with wine and Esther revealed her Jewish identity at a Feast of Wine.

But, that only transfers the question to the story itself. The Purim story is a stark reminder of Hashem’s involvement in every detail of our lives. As displayed in… Read More »

Temple Mount Renovation

The land of Israel is perhaps the most controversial place in the world.  And within Israel, the Temple Mount, the site of the Bait Hamikdash, the Holy Temple, represents a clash of civilizations.  The holiest site in Judaism, it is perhaps the epitome of exile – off limits. (The Western Wall is the only remaining wall of the retaining walls of the mountain. None of the actual walls of the Bait Hamikdash stand today).

This tension has been felt throughout history.  Those that destroyed the two holy Temples were not content on knocking it down. They insisted on burning it to the ground.  The Romans made sure to plow over the land on the Har HaBayit, lest some relic remain. Other structures were prominently built… Read More »

Retroactive Revelations

We often judge people – ourselves included – by what happens today.

We have a great day at work and we think of ourselves as loving our job.

We have a rough moment with our children and consider ourselves rotten parents.

Or, we view ourselves as failures after a weak moment and surrender to a particular temptation.

Of course the long view might suggest otherwise.

Today was a fabulous day at work, but in reality, I’m not particularly happy with my job.

I got angry with my children yesterday, but that doesn’t happen too often. We have a wonderful relationship.

I’ve got a superb track record kicking that old habit of mine. Indeed, I slipped up. But, I’m back on the wagon and haven’t fallen off… Read More »

Babies Welcome!

My wife Esther and our youngest daughter Rivka are enjoying a special time in New York. Seminars, classes, networking, farbrengens, informal reunions and mentoring are all part of the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Women Emissaries.  But, that’s not what’s unique about this conference.

Taking up all the available meeting space at the Brooklyn Marriott are several thousand women and their babies.  Women attend sessions while their infants are watched by babysitters in adjacent rooms.  It’s truly a one-of-a-kind event where nursing mothers, grandmothers, and newlyweds can participate together as equals.

I would venture to say it’s the world’s largest (non-parenting) conference for… Read More »

New Year for Trees?

Tonight begins the annual festival of Tu Bi’Shevat, the fifteenth of Shevat. It is the Jewish New Year for trees.

But, I think it is one of the most misunderstood dates on the Jewish calendar. You see, it’s not the Jewish New Year for the earth, conservation, or even for vegetation. Sorry to disappoint, but it’s specifically the New Year for trees.

As such, we observe it by eating fruit, not grain or vegetables.

The origins of this festival are in the Talmud. The opening Mishnah in Tractate Rosh Hashanah states:

There are four New Year days: The first of Nissan is New Year for Kings and for festivals; the first of Elul is New Year for the cattle-tithe, but according to R. Eliezer and R. Shimon, it is on the first of… Read More »

Jews Without Borders

Borders are something all of us live with.  Countries have borders. Homes have borders. Families have borders. Businesses have borders. Bodies have borders.  Space has borders.

We can debate how many borders we should have, what they should look like and how to best to uphold or diminish them. But, in some form or another, borders are a part of our lives.

***

The final plague that Hashem brought upon the Egyptians was the Death of the Firstborns, which we read about in this week’s parsha, Bo.

Meticulous instructions were delivered to the Jewish people prior to this catastrophic blow to their oppressors.  Jews were to celebrate with a Pesach offering, put blood on the doorposts, and prepare for departure.… Read More »

Thawing a Heart

In Boise’s harshest winter in decades, we have had our share of small challenges.  One morning I awoke to discover that we had no water in our home.  One pipe supplying our well tank had frozen overnight.  I was able to use a hair dryer and space heater to thaw the pipe, but for some reason that didn’t solve the problem. I eventually learned that the system needed to be emptied, shut off, and then restarted in order for the pressure to build and supply the home with water.

Even after the external challenge of freezing temperatures was eliminated, there still was an internal challenge of creating pressure and restarting the flow of water.

This experience made me think that sometimes in life we have both external… Read More »

Meaningless Work

Today, a new era begins in the United States of America.  For the first time in eight years, we will have a new president. Depending on your political persuasion (or lack thereof) this might be good news or bad news.

But, one thing is certain – different it will be.

Donald Trump has promised to undo much of President Obama’s agenda.  Without debating the merits of such an approach, at least some of it is doable. If Mr. Trump winds back President Obama’s executive orders, some of his achievements may be for naught – just as President Obama erased some of President Bush’s policies. This is the reality of a democracy.

It must be a humbling feeling for a past President – accustomed to the power… Read More »

Coming Full Circle

Sometimes we feel like life is linear, leaving behind what once was.

But, other times, we sense that we end up exactly where we began. It may be good, or not-so-good. But, it seems to happen in some fashion quite frequently.

Perhaps it’s a relationship. Maybe it’s a career. Or a place.

What does that say about our destiny?

***

In this week’s parsha, Vayechi, we find two such examples.  And both are about burial.

When Yaakov (Jacob) was buried in Israel, Eisav (Esau) his brother came to protest the funeral procession, claiming that he was the rightful heir to the final resting spot in the Cave of Machpelah.  An argument ensued. Before Yaakov’s sons were able to produce documentation, a deaf grandson… Read More »

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