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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.

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 »

Intent or Act?

Driving in this week’s winter storm can prove hazardous. My family had the challenge of traveling over a mountain pass in the snow. Fortunately we had snow tires and chains with us.  We made it through the mountain pass uneventfully, except that it took about three hours instead of one hour. I didn’t have the expertise to put on the chains, but there were chain installers that were happy to do so for a fee.

The problem was that after we exited the chain-required area, we needed to take off the chains. I tried my luck, but let’s just say that I’m better at deciphering a page of Talmud.

With no chain installers in the area, I stopped one of the nearby truck drivers who happily came over and helped take off the… Read More »

Endless Power Supply

For a more personal reference point of the miracle of Chanukah, there’s a viral message going around social media:

Imagine if your cell phone battery life only had 10% remaining and it lasted 8 days. Now you understand the miracle of the oil!

***

The truth is that we all can relate to times when we wish we just had more juice to continue going. It might be a challenge in a relationship, the ability to persevere against depressing environments, or the strength of character to withstand personal temptations.

So, how can we replicate the miracle of Chanukah in our own lives?

***

In the parsha Miketz, which we study this week, Yosef interprets Par’oh’s dreams and advises him. Par’oh, impressed with Yosef’s… Read More »

The Mosaic Coat of Chanukah

I am overwhelmed at the outpouring of support as over 125 donors helped us meet our matching campaign goal.  It is gratifying and humbling to see how many diverse people care about our sacred cause. Thank you is the least we can say!

What is most striking and remarkable is not the dollar amount. It is the variety of individuals, from all walks of life and places, that came out to support the Chabad Jewish Center.

***

This week’s parsha, Vayeshev talks about the famous story of Yosef. The dreamer and outcast is despised by his brothers, who sell him into slavery.  After numerous challenges, he becomes the viceroy of Egypt and his dreams are realized, literally.

Why is Yosef described by the multi-colored tunic that his… Read More »

Appeasement or Resistance?

Israel wants a seat on the UN Security Council.

President-elect Trump has selected a stalwart Israel advocate to be his Ambassador to Israel.

Are these developments good for Israel? Are they advances for the future of the Jewish people?

***

An interesting passage in the Midrash blames Yaakov for reaching out to his brother Esav (Esau).  This week’s parsha, Vayishlach, opens with Yaakov sending messengers and gifts to Esav, who was marching forward with 400 armed men, some 36 years after he pledged to kill his brother.  The encounter concluded without negative effects for Yaakov.  Nonetheless, the Midrash suggests that Yaakov should have avoided it altogether.

This is comparable to a robber sleeping by the wayside… Read More »

Healthy Jealousy

Virtually all humans suffer from the temptations of jealousy.  To not be jealous is to not be interested in a better life. Of course, the definition of better can vary from person to person and from day to day.

Yet, we all recognize that jealousy is an unhealthy trait. It’s something the Torah warns us strongly about in the Ten Commandments. You’ve certainly heard stories – or shared experiences – where jealousy was the catalyst for something much worse. It’s a slippery slope. Even if you don’t act upon it, your jealousy will lead you into a moral and emotional descent.

Judaism has long preached that we must embrace the lot we have been given by Almighty G-d. “Who is rich? One who is… Read More »

A Yiddishe Mamma

Morris and Miriam, both a bit stubborn, were involved in a petty argument, both of them unwilling to admit they might be in error.

"I'll admit I'm wrong," Miriam told her husband in a conciliatory attempt, "if you'll admit I'm right."

Morris agreed and, like a gentleman, insisted she go first.

"I'm wrong," Miriam said.

With a twinkle in his eye, Morris responded, "You're right!"

***

Dialogue between spouses is as ancient as humanity itself.  Yet, in this week’s parsha, Toldot, we find a startling lack of such dialogue.  When Rivka (Rebecca) hears that her husband Yitzchak (Isaac) is planning to bless their oldest son Eisav (Esau), she immediately devises a plan to… Read More »

Uncertain Certainty

Today I stood with thousands of my colleagues as we prayed together. We prayed for our communities, for our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, and for the entire Jewish people.

There is something uplifting about the sense of commitment when you know that your prayers are shared by so many across the globe.  Jewish tradition teaches that the prayers of the community (in contrast to the individual) is never despised by our Father in Heaven. Imagine the prayers of thousands of Jewish communities worldwide, reflected in the petitions of their rabbis!

As I ponder the awesomeness of my annual attendance at the International Conference of Chabad Lubavitch Emissaries, I am reminded of one of the first emissaries mentioned in the… Read More »

Lifelong Training

You’ve trained all your life for this moment.

Perhaps you are an EMT and have the opportunity to save a life.

Perhaps you are a parent and your child is in a moment of crisis.

Perhaps you are a soldier and your regiment is suddenly hit with enemy fire.

There is no time to think, only for action. In fact, if you actually spent the time contemplating the best course of action, you may fail. You might miss the opportunity. All you can do is rely on your past experience and schooling – and seize the moment.

It’s at that moment that you are reduced to the core instincts that years of training have instilled within you.

***

Avraham, the first Jew, is the main character in this week’s parsha, Vayeira. Three… Read More »

75 is the New 25!

She’s over the age of retirement, accomplished in many ways, left a lasting impression, a household name, wealthy and experienced.

But, she’s still not satisfied.

***

He’s a septuagenarian, rich and well-known. He’s already got a significant following and a large sphere of influence.

But, he’s still not satisfied.

***

No, I’m not talking about Clinton or Trump. You’ve heard enough about them this week!

I’m talking about Sarah and Avraham.

Usually, by seventy five years old, people are looking in life’s rear-view mirror, eager to retire and relax. Perhaps some travel, more time with family and on the golf course.

But Avraham and Sarah began their lives’ most meaningful… Read More »

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