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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 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 »

At the Threshold

As we are at the threshold of Passover, I am reminded of the threshold that the Jewish people stood at 3330 years ago tonight.

The festival of Pesach derives its name from that momentous night when G-d passed over the homes of the Jewish people. By skipping the Jews, Hashem spared them and then delivered them from Egyptian bondage.

But, prior to that, Hashem insisted that the Jews mark their doorposts with the blood of the Pesach offering. Ostensibly, this was to differentiate between Jewish homes and Egyptian homes. But, Almighty G-d certainly doesn’t need a physical marker to know where the Jewish people reside! So, why the sign on the doorposts.

As the Jews found themselves on the eve of liberation, they were confronted… Read More »

Virtually Reality!

One of the items that stands out the most on the Seder plate at Pesach is the zero’ah, the shank bone. A nicely roasted piece of meat stares at us all night long, yet we do not eat from it. True to the theme of the evening, it invites the question: Why do we have it if we are not permitted to consume it?

The reason for the zero’ah is to remind us of the Pesach offering in which every Jew was obligated to participate when the Beit HaMikdash stood in Jerusalem. Since we cannot offer the Pesach sacrifice today (due to the destruction of the Temple), we are not permitted to eat any roasted meat, so as not to mimic the offering.

There are many peculiar rituals performed at the Seder simply to pique our (children’s)… Read More »

Individual Citizen

Am I primarily an individual or a part of the collective?

As an American it’s a relevant question.

As a Jew it’s a very relevant question.

Especially at this time of year when we prepare for Pesach.

Passover celebrates the exodus of the Jewish people from bondage in ancient Egypt. Certainly, as a member of the Jewish people it has meaning. But, does it have meaning to me as an individual?

***

This week we begin studying the third Book of the Torah, Vayikra. It’s also the name of this week’s parsha.

In it we learn about various sacrifices, some communal and some individual.

The fact that G-d demands both personal sacrifices and collective sacrifices tells me something critical. My identity is… Read More »

The Precious Mundane

In the Torah few are the instances of repetition. In short, the Torah is stingy on words. Each word carries deep meaning and application.

Yet, this week, we read in the two parshiyot of Vayakhel and Pekudei some seeming redundant words. In fact, in these two relatively lengthy parshiyot we find a virtual verbatim repetition of the construction details of the Mishkan. We already had two entire parshiyot, Terumah and Teztaveh, dedicated to this. Last time it was G-d’s instruction how to build the Tabernacle. This time it’s the Jewish people fulfilling those commands.

In other words, if the Torah would have simply stated something along the lines of, “The Jewish people did as G-d had commanded,” we would know… Read More »

Tied at the Hip

In the story of Purim, everything was reversed. Instead of Hama destroying the Jewish people, he was destroyed. Instead of Mordechai being the first to fall, he was the first to rise up.

But, the Megillah tells us, he did not rise up alone. Rather, due to the fact that Mordechai was respected so much, the Jewish people as a whole were venerated. As the leader of the Jewish people, he lifted them up with him.

This week’s parsha, Ki Tisa, tells us a similar message.

After the Jewish people had sinned with the Golden Calf, G-d instructed Moshe to, “Go Down.” According to the Midrash, Moshe was commanded to descend from his lofty position. He was excommunicated from the Heavenly Tribunal.

We know that Moshe was not… Read More »

Moshe or Haman?

This week’s Torah portion is one of a kind. Tetzaveh is the only portion that does not have Moshe’s name mentioned in it. From the time we meet Moshe until the end of the Torah (excluding his first-person sermons), he is always mentioned. Except for this parsha.

Interestingly, we read this portion this year right before Purim. Unique among all the books of the Bible (תנ"ך), only the Book of Esther does not contain G-d’s name, not even once.

Might there be a connection?

***

The primary antagonist in the Purim story is a man named Haman.  He plots to annihilate the Jewish people. His name is mentioned numerous times in the Megillah. According to tradition, we make a special effort to denounce him when we hear… Read More »

Renovating our World

It’s just too horrific to bear.

Hearing my classmate, Rabbi Mendy Gutnick of Chabad of Parkland, Florida tell of the tragedies in his community (four of the victims were regulars at Chabad), is simply heartbreaking.

As Ahron, the High Priest responded to the death of his two children, and as is the custom at a Jewish house of mourning, the only thing we can do is be silent. Quietly, paying our respect and showing our sympathy, empathy and support is the Jewish way in bereavement.

But, how do we then move forward?

As difficult as it is to think about that when the wounds are so fresh, we need to look for guidance. We need to find the strength to persevere, to transform pain and anguish into growth and forces for good.

***

In… Read More »

Holy Logic

What comes first, logic or faith?

Faith is often referred to as the place beyond logic. It’s what we access in a situation when our minds are inadequate.

It follows, then, that we approach most things with logic first and, only if that fails, resort to faith.

As we study this week’s parsha Mishpatim we might wonder about that theory. You see, Mishpatim means “rational laws.” This week’s parsha is all about laws that make sense to us – civil laws and basic ethical values. These are the type of laws that, absent a Divine command, we humans would likely institute some variant of.

Last week’s parsha Yitro, however, is all about Revelation at Sinai. The setting is drastic and miraculous. G-d… Read More »

Unclassified

Today President Trump authorized the declassification and release of a memo from Congress, alleging that the FBI “may have relied on politically motivated or questionable sources.”

Understandably, this uncommon move has caused a significant reaction from both sides of the aisle.

Putting aside the politics and the constitutional issues, this does bring to the fore a powerful question: What type of information is important to be shared with the public?  What type of information is useful for the public?

This was not a major document dump, but the nature of the information released, sanctioned by the government, is indeed unique.

Was this a great public service, a political stunt, an abuse of power (on which side?!), or… Read More »

Fake News

Okay, I won’t enter the debate about what’s considered fake news and how prevalent it is in the media today, or whether it is even worthy of discussion.

I’ll leave that for the pundits, media personalities and, well… the President of the United States.

But, I will argue that fake news was a concern for thousands of years.

When the Jews left Egypt – as recounted in this week’s parsha Beshalach – there were plenty of people shouting from the rooftops that it was fake news. Even after it was confirmed that the Jews had indeed departed Egypt, there were still those that questioned just how grand that exodus really was.

Pharaoh himself urged his people not to fall for the 'fake news' that G-d was… Read More »

G-d’s Ace Card

As the country faces a possible government shutdown tonight, we wonder what type of negotiations might succeed in avoiding it.

In the art of negotiating, you might want to leave an ace up your sleeve. But, politicians seem to be expert at both not having an ace card and at waiting until the last minute.

***

When we look at the plagues that G-d brought upon Egypt, we see a purposeful mission. Hashem did not only want to release the Jews from bondage. He wanted to help the Egyptians come to the realization that the one G-d is the true Master of the Universe. The plagues gradually taught the Egyptians this priceless lesson.

During the first two plagues the Egyptian magicians attributed the miraculous events to magic.

At the third plague… Read More »

Short Sightedness

Our son Ari will soon be getting his first pair of glasses.  With 90% of his parents’ families wearing corrective lenses, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise for us.

But, it did.

Ari wasn’t really complaining about his eyesight.

But, Esther noticed that he wasn’t picking up on simple things. So, she asked if he could see certain objects – and the answer was no.

With children, doctors – and parents – sometimes feel that glasses can wait a bit, or be used sparingly. But, Ari’s near-sightedness is actually quite developed already, so the doctor suggested he obtain glasses right away.

*

It turns out that our views on Ari’s near-sightedness were actually quite short-sighted!

Read More »

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