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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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Thank G-d!

As Chanukah approaches, we get excited about the spirit of the holiday. After all, Chanukah is a fun holiday. We don’t need to sit in Shul fasting all day. Nor do we need to go on a strict diet and stuff our face with matzah in record time. Who could complain about latkes, donuts and Chanukah gelt?

The miracle of Chanukah is the miracle of oil. The menorah burned for eight days instead of one. It’s also the miracle of the few versus the many. The tiny Maccabee militia defeated the huge Greek-Syrian army.

But more importantly, it’s a miracle of faith and spirit. After all, what were the Macabees fighting for? It wasn’t for the right to cook gefilte fish and chopped liver – they likely did not exist… Read More »

Winning the No-Win Situation

“None of the above.”

That’s often the answer we give when faced with tough choices.  When placed between a rock and a hard place, what should we do? Throughout history, Jews have faced these types of challenges.

No-win situations are never pleasant.  Even when we know the outcome, we cringe. Certainly, when the results are unknown, we balk at the moment.

How can I get the courage to speak up when a colleague is hurting someone else? Either way, I’ll end up hurting someone…

***

In this week’s parsha, Vayishlach, Yaakov (Jacob) faced a similar dilemma. He was returning to Israel after a long absence.  34 years prior he fled because his brother Eisav (Esau) sought to kill him. When he… Read More »

UGANDA

Esther and I are often asked what is the most challenging part of living as a Chabad rabbi and an observant Jew in Boise, Idaho. How do you manage without all the kosher foods you are accustomed to? Do you really need to travel 5 hours to the nearest mikvah? Do your children resent not having any friends ‘just like them?’

I was privileged last week to attend the annual Kinus Hashluchim – the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries. At the conference, the opening of a permanent Chabad center in Kampala, Uganda was announced. Chabad is now officially in 100 countries!

Having spent time in Uganda as a ‘Roving Rabbi’ in the Chabad Summer Peace Corps program, I know it’s not an easy… Read More »

Heavenly Eavesdropping

Overheard in a Tel Aviv restaurant:

Customer: Is this restaurant kosher?

Big, burly, tattooed proprietor: Look at the picture on the wall of the man with long, white beard and huge kippa on his head. That’s my grandfather! Of course it’s kosher!

Customer: Well, if your grandfather was behind the counter serving me and you were a photo on the wall, maybe I would trust the kashrut and eat here! But, not the other way around.

I could imagine that if someone bumped into Eisav (Esau) and questioned his spiritual bona fides, he would point to his yichus (lineage). Son of Yitzchak. Grandson of Avraham. Brother of Yaakov. That is some pretty serious pedigree.

***

Lots of people tell proudly of their Bubby’s gefilte fish and… Read More »

Imperfect Perfection

It’s considered the longest story in the Torah. Well, at least the most drawn out.

Avraham dispatches his servant, Eliezer, to the land of Charan to find a suitable match for his son Yitzchak.  Eliezer prays to G-d for success, asking for a sign.  In a remarkable scene Rivka shows up immediately and fulfills the sign.

What’s remarkable about this story is that the Torah repeats it – in full detail – again, when Eliezer tells the story himself to Rivka’s family. The Torah dedicates 67 verses to this episode! Contrast that with the two verses the Torah dedicates to the mitzvah of mezuzah, for example. There are hundreds of details to know about affixing a mezuzah – but just two verses. Or, the… Read More »

Holy Hospitality

The Talmud teaches an interesting tradition about nail cutting.  When trimming fingernails, says the Talmud, one should not leave the trimmings lying around. The clippings represent the lowest form of human life. (Our nails – the furthest extremity of the human body - grow, but don’t feel pain when cut.) As such, they invite negative energy when detached from the body. The Mytsics and the Talmud, therefore, encourage proper disposal of nails.

This is what the Talmud states about nail cutters:

One who buries them is considered a Tzaddik (righteous). One who burns them is considered a Chassid (pious). One who throws them down is considered a Rasha (wicked).

The Talmud is suggesting that the superior method of disposal is… Read More »

Role Playing

Rabbi Nachum of Chernobyl often traveled to collect money for a fund for pidyan shvuyim (redeeming Jewish prisoners). While traveling through the city of Zhitomir on one occasion, local authorities imprisoned him for his “criminal” work.

One day an elderly woman wrapped in a shawl appeared near his cell and began to speak: “G‑d tested Abraham by instructing him: ‘Go forth (lech lecha) from your land, and from your birthplace, and from your father's house,’ promising that this would ultimately benefit him. But what kind of benefit can come from leaving everything one has? I don't understand.”

Rabbi Nachum, who realized that this woman wasn't an ordinary person, remained silent.

She continued, answering… Read More »

Patience

I know a principal of a high school who told me that he always waits at least one full day before administering serious punishment to misbehaving students.  That way, he explained, I know I am not acting out of angry impulse, but from measured discipline.

When I read this week’s Torah portion, Noach, and remembered that G-d asked Noach to build the ark to prepare for the flood, I learned a great lesson in patience.

G-d was angry with the behavior of mankind. He wished to destroy the world. He decided that He would spare Noach and his family, but the rest would perish.

Yet G-d does not mete out His plan for another 120 years! Yes, G-d waits one hundred twenty years before the flood actually begins.  Certainly, G-d need… Read More »

It’s All About the Shofar

This coming year we are privileged to a triple-header.  Two days of Rosh Hashanah, followed immediately by Shabbat.  In Judaism, the number three represents a “chazaka.” This means that only when something is done three times, does it have the element of surety, permanence -- one can trust its stability.

Thus, when we have three days in a row of holiness – not an average occurrence – it demonstrates an added infusion of holiness.

Talk about starting the year on the right foot!

So, how do we take advantage of this extra Divine blessing?

By, starting the year on the right foot!

If we show Almighty G-d that we appreciate His blessings, His way of life, we can hope and pray that those blessing will… Read More »

Confident

Imagine, you are on trial. In your heart of hearts, you know you are guilty of the charges.

The judge knows you have an imperfect past.

The prosecution will present condemning evidence, produce many eye-witnesses, display video surveillance and scrutinize your own past admissions.  The proof of your guilt is incontrovertible.

Your attorney has advised you to take a plea deal.  She tells you that the sentencing will be harsh no matter what. Better to show remorse and beg for mercy.

You really don’t have much wiggle room at all.

The big day of judgment arrives.

When you enter the courtroom, how is your stride? Are you well dressed? Is your head held high proclaiming innocence, or hung low with guilt. Do you have an… Read More »

The Eye of the Hurricane

It’s difficult to write, even to think, as so many people are suffering and countless others are in harm’s way.

Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, Earthquake in Mexico and Hurricane Jose are some of the devastating natural disasters that we are dealing with.

Our key focus is – and should be – to pray for, support and help those in need. I am humbled by the outpouring of support to so many that have been affected. In Houston, Chabad has been at the forefront. In St. Martin, my colleague, Rabbi Moshe Chanowitz, reports that his family barely survived by camping out in the unfinished mikvah.  The island suffered almost complete destruction.

In Florida, the warnings of storm surge, life-threatening winds… Read More »

What, Not Why?

The devastation and loss of life in Texas leads many of us to ask, “Why?” How can this happen? So many homeless. So many helpless. So many facing uncertainty.

Our hearts go out to all those affected by Hurricane Harvey and their families.

I received an email today from my colleague Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar, director of Chabad in Cary, North Carolina, a native Houstonian.

He wrote:

My cousin, Dayna Skolkin, had her wedding scheduled for this Sunday.

Pinny Bard-Widgor moved to Houston from New York just last week with his wife and children.

Jim McIngvale, (known in Houston as Mattress Mac) made sure to build all of his furniture stores in a way that would survive bad flooding.

Tomer Ben Shushan had years of experience with the… Read More »

Eclipsing the Eclipse

Since Boise is only a short drive away from the path of the total solar eclipse, huge crowds were expected in town. Even greater hordes were projected to arrive in the towns directly within the path of totality.

Billed as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I woke my family before dawn in order to head out to see the eclipse.  We drove to a favorite recreational site of ours, just north of Horseshoe Bend.  Having read and heard all the dire predictions about traffic and gridlock, we gave ourselves 5 hours of travel time, instead of the 45 minutes it normally takes. We also arrived with enough food and supplies for two days, though we were only planning on staying a few hours.  The trip up took about 45 minutes, as it usually… Read More »

Good Omen or Bad Omen?

It hasn’t happened in nearly 100 years. There’s already traffic on the streets.  State and federal agencies are bracing for the influx of visitors.  It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  Idaho is smack in middle of the action.

On Monday, August 21, the USA will experience a total solar eclipse.  It’s an amazing phenomenon that doesn’t happen too often. And, it’s extremely rare for it to pass over the entire USA, albeit totality will only be in a 70-mile-wide band.

But, should we say a blessing when we see the eclipse? We Jews have a blessing for everything. For the food we eat, for the clothes we wear, for weddings and death, for holidays and burning the chametz, for circumcision… Read More »

Locked and Loaded

President Trump unleashed a media uproar with his comments this week regarding North Korea, the reclusive and menacing Asian country. No doubt, Kim Jong Un, the young and ruthless dictator, needs to be kept in check.  How to accomplish that, however, is a matter of great debate.

In an interview, Trump suggested that America would respond with “fire and fury” if provoked by North Korea. He also tweeted that America’s military solutions are “locked and loaded” should Kim Jong Un act unwisely.

While those are loaded terms (pun intended), what they mean is that North Korea’s suspected nuclear capacity is no match for America’s military might.  America‘s strength is not simply bluster.… Read More »

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