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Rabbi's Blog

Rabbi Mendel's Blog

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.

The Cave of Life

The world watched in amazement as 12 boys and their coach were rescued in dramatic fashion from deep inside a flooded cave in Northern Thailand. It was an intriguing story with a great ending.

The valor of the Navy SEALS and divers, the stamina of the boys, the selflessness of the countless volunteers and the efforts of thousands of rescue workers all contributed to this incredible rescue.

But, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of those boys. After a week or so in the cave, with no light, no food, and no strength – how do you continue to hope?

The only hope they had was that others were thinking of them, frantically searching for them. Imagine the relief they felt the moment they were found. They still didn’t know… Read More »

Claiming Your Moment

Raymond Zack. Kitty Genovese. Wang Yue.

These are just a few famous examples of the Bystander Effect. In each case there were many bystanders who observed a crime or tragedy and did nothing.

Social scientists have labored to understand and explain this enigma.

In many instances the bystanders have simply remarked, “If no one else was doing anything, I figured I did not need to either.”

Some might even point to the Torah, quoting from Mishlei (Proverbs), “Do not stand in the place of great men.” If people of greater stature than me are doing nothing, I don’t need to act.

*

This week’s parsha, Pinchas, tells us a different story. A terrible plague broke out amongst the Jewish people due to… Read More »

Yichus

A wise man once told me that good pedigree, or yichus, is worth a bunch of zeros.

When I looked at him quizzically, he explained, “If you put a “1” before them, they are worth something. If not, they are worthless.”

*

All jokes about lineage aside, let’s ask an honest question. Does Judaism discount pedigree out of hand? It certainly appears not to be the case. In our prayers, we implore G-d to remember the righteous deeds of our ancestors. We incessantly mention the sacrifice of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs. We give ritual honors and gifts (and responsibilities) to the Kohanim (priests) who have done nothing to earn them other than being born into the ‘right’ family.

It seems pretty… Read More »

When Dirt Cleans

The Lubavitcher Rebbe once encouraged a rabbi to take a position in a community whose standards of Jewish observance were not on par with the rabbi’s.

The rabbi was resistant to this idea, worrying that his family would be adversely influenced by the community’s values. But, the Rebbe insisted.

‘How can I raise my children in such a community?’ he countered. ‘What will protect them from negative influences?’

The Rebbe pointed to this week’s parsha, Chukat, for a persuasive lesson.  One of the strangest laws of the Torah is the mitzvah of ritual purity. According to the Torah, a person may become ritually unclean by, for example, coming in contact with a dead body. In order to become… Read More »

A Shiny World

I’m in New York. I have been helping an elderly woman settle into a new phase of her life, moving from Idaho to New York. Although it has involved lots of challenges, it’s been a great privilege and honor.

This Shabbat, I will turn my attention to something else. I will join tens of thousands of Jews paying homage to the 24th yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. 24 years later and the crowd each year doesn’t get any smaller – it only gets bigger.

What is it about Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson that draws so many people together and – in contrast to expected gradual decline in attention – only intensifies with the passage of time?

***

In this week’s eponymous parsha Korach, a cousin of… Read More »

The Real Exodus

In Idaho, I often am asked what my Jewish uniform means. Some have seen a yarmulke before, so I don’t get as many questions about that. But, my tzitzit are a more common source of curiosity. ‘What are those strings hanging out of your pants?!’

The response is actually at the end of this week’s parsha, Shelach. It is also the third paragraph of the Shema.

In talking about the tzitzit, the Torah states, “When you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the L-rd to perform them, and you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes after which you are going astray. So that you shall remember and perform all My commandments and you shall be holy to your G-d. I am the… Read More »

The Art of Gratitude

Snakes are depressed creatures.

At least that’s what the Sages teach us.

We know that the snake was cursed by Hashem, “You shall walk on your belly, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life.”

I can understand that the original snake was offended at the demotion. Still, ultimately, the snake of today actually has it pretty good. If it walks on its belly and it eats from the dust of the earth – its food is readily available! Why should it be sad?

According to the Zohar, the snake is sad because it’s worried. Even though it’s food is right in front of its face, it worries that eventually it will run out of sustenance... when it consumes all the food on earth!

Similarly, says the Zohar… Read More »

Does Everyone Deserve a Trophy?

We live in a society where everyone gets a trophy. In order to avoid the devastating feelings of failure, we have created a uniform “Everybody’s a winner” society. 

And it’s not just about our kids.

Average grade scores at universities has risen over the last few decades. As waistlines expand, the sizes on labels are actually shrinking.

How do we decide if this is a good or bad phenomenon?

***

In this week’s parsha, Naso, we read about the inauguration of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle). For 12 days in a row, the leaders of each tribe offered a special set of sacrifices.

Though each tribal representative offered the same exact sacrifices, the Torah repeats this process twelve times! Yes, the… Read More »

Joy

Last Thursday, I stood at the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem. I had just finished the morning prayers and was just ‘taking it all in.’ Thousands of years of Jewish history and thousands of Jewish people from all over the world.

As I was standing there, one group after another of Bar Mitzvah boys were marching out of the covered synagogue area to the Kotel plaza with Torah scrolls in hand. Escorted by a small entourage, each group was joyously singing and dancing as they brought the Torah to the bimah.

Mostly, they were Israeli boys. None seemed to be from observant families. But, the celebrations were electrifying.

(If you are ever in Jerusalem on a Monday or Thursday morning, you really should visit the Kotel. Hundreds… Read More »

Real Work

Jews have known their fair share of suffering. Slavery in Egypt, Expulsion from Spain, Millions murdered in the Holocaust.

We have holidays, rituals and memorials for many of these events.

This week I was in Amsterdam and stopped at the Anne Frank Huis (house). It was a reminder of the troubles of our past. But, to me at least, it was also a testament to our present and future.

We are no longer enslaved to Pharaoh or Hitler. We enjoy relatively unprecedented freedom. But, it’s not just that we are less persecuted today. If that would be the case, then all we would have accomplished is going from negative territory back to ground zero.

But, the Torah has a proactive mission for us. Our mandate is to leave a holy imprint on… Read More »

FWD:

Yesterday, on the way home from a fabulous Lag BaOmer celebration at the Chabad Jewish Center, I asked my children to join me in prayer for a child that was in need of a medical recovery after a sporting accident. (Please keep Baruch Shmuel ben Chana in your prayers). One of my children asked aloud, “How does Tatty know about this so quickly if it’s not his friend and if happened today?”

“Don’t you know that it’s ‘going around’?” my daughter responded incredulously.

It’s going around…

Forwarding messages, emails and videos has become so commonplace today, it’s hard to track when and where things originate. But, they do develop a life of their own, traveling around… Read More »

Life’s Make-Up Assignments

Sometimes we simply miss the boat. A failed relationship with someone who has moved on. A business opportunity that has expired. A coveted home that has already sold.

But, then there are moments when we get a second chance.

The person comes back into our lives. The business deal fell through, reigniting a chance for me to get involved. The house is suddenly back on the market.

We don’t always understand Hashem’s mysterious ways – why some things slip away and why we sometimes are given a second chance.

Many times it’s not our fault. An unforeseen illness prevented my attendance at school, so I missed the test. Accidents happen and hopefully others will be understanding and give us a… Read More »

The Environment

Spring finally seems to have arrived.

As we move to more outdoorsy activities and start making our summer plans, our lives begin to expand. The added hours of sunlight, the additional venues available to visit or simply the change of temperature and clothing. They all contribute to the way that spring literally springs us forward and outward. We discard the confined mentality of winter and explore the world around us.

The benefits of sunny spring and summer abound. Connecting with our neighbors, blooming flowers and a more cheerful attitude are just a few to which many people look forward.

I too await the exciting moments of spring. Family bike rides, backyard barbecues and hiking are all special moments that were missed… Read More »

Clinching It!

Who’s more Jewishly connected, you or your Bubby?

Who knows more Torah, me or Moshe?

Who is a greater ambassador for Jewish values, your synagogue president or one of Rambam’s disciples?

Who’s message is more important, the prophetess Devorah or the greatest political leader of modern times?

***

In Jewish tradition, contrary to secular tradition, the closer we are to the origins of Judaism, the more authentic and wise we are. It’s no wonder that the Sages of the Talmud are given far more reverence than a modern-day professor of Talmud – and that’s exactly how it should be. Unlike science, which is merely the continuous discovery of new ideas and theories, Torah is about connecting to the… Read More »

Reluctant Exuberance

Okay, I’ll admit it. It’s not my favorite task. But, then again, it actually is.

Changing diapers is one of the duties of being a dad. But, dirty diapers are… dirty. And, most people aren’t excited to handle them.

But, if I am changing my daughter’s diaper, it’s an act of love. I might not enjoy the motions, but helping my daughter gives me great joy!

Sometimes it’s not the act itself I enjoy, but the deeper objective.

***

At the Seder last week we read about Yaakov (Jacob) traveling to Egypt, resulting in Egyptian exile. The Haggadah informs us that Yaakov went against his will, only because G-d insisted.

Why did G-d need to force Yaakov? Wasn’t he, our Patriarch, the faithful servant… Read More »

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