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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.

Inside and Out

In 1959 an activist in Israel offered the Lubavitcher Rebbe an offer he felt the Rebbe could not refuse. He established a new organization with the agenda of building synagogues throughout the Holy Land. He was offering the Rebbe the title “Honorary President.” The Rebbe, he insisted, would not have to do any actual work. Rather, the Rebbe would just lend his name and this would further the holy cause.

In a letter, the Rebbe declined the offer for two reasons.

Firstly, the Rebbe said that he does not accept offers where there is no actual work. Here is a translated excerpt:

After thanking you for your good intentions, I am compelled to refuse this honor, in keeping with the custom of the Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbes, who as a… Read More »

Stretching & Leaping

This has been a special week to travel the Land of Israel.

I am privileged to spend 10 days in the Holy Land with the boys, families and staff of Cherry Gulch.  We have seen the hills, vistas and rivers. We have touched the millennia-old stones and visited synagogues and sacred spaces.  And we have heard the stories.

It’s a great marvel that the Spies that Moshe sent did not want to enter this land.  This week’s parsha Shelach tells of their dreadful report and the near-mutiny that ensued.  Why were they so reluctant to enter a land with so much potential?

It’s ironic how nowadays everyone is fighting over this tiny land, yet they despised it.

Perhaps, their greatest fear was leaving their own… Read More »

It’s Mine Like It’s Yours

A woman suddenly begins laboring on board an aircraft.  A man suffers a heart attack while on a cruise.

These are startling events that change the trajectory of the journey for both the individual and the entire group.  The plane may need to be diverted and the cruise ship may need to stop at the nearest harbor. Everybody is inconvenienced because they are sharing a vessel. They are literally in the same boat.

But, what if they weren’t tied at the hip? What if this was a single woman living alone – in labor, but also in need of assistance to deliver her baby? What if the man had no family and the only people that might help him were neighbors and passersby?

***

In this week’s parsha we read of the heavenly… Read More »

How, Not If

This Shavuot our family celebrated the Bar Mitzvah of our son Zali (Shneur Zalman). It was a very special occasion. What makes it even more special is sharing it with family and friends.

We are so touched at all the blessings showered upon us. We don’t feel worthy of them, but are honored at the kindness and thoughtfulness of others.

The Talmud teaches that one who blesses others is blessed by Almighty G-d. So it’s not just us saying, “Right back at you!” It’s Hashem Himself showering his blessings upon those that bless others.

***

In this week’s Torah portion, Nasso, we read about the instruction to the Kohanim (priests) to bless the Jewish people.  The Torah states:

The Lord spoke to Moses… Read More »

Personal Identity Theft

How many advertisements a day do we hear about identity theft? It’s a serious concern nowadays.  It may begin with a stolen credit card number, but if identity thieves get your detailed private information they can wreak havoc on your personal and financial life.

As technology continues to develop, concerns about safeguarding information rise. Part of that concern circles around intricate codes and numbers. After all, there may be many Jacob Goldsteins out there, but only one has the social security number with 3841 as the last four digits.

Imagine if we did away with social security numbers, dates of birth, names or any other personal information. Would that make us safer? Perhaps. But at what expense?  Are we prepared… Read More »

Family First

In the Torah’s laws against usury and cheating we find an interesting verse in this week’s Parsha of Behar-Bechujotai. “And when you make a sale to your fellow Jew or make a purchase from the hand of your fellow Jew, one man shall not wrong his brother.”

There are many details to the laws of interest and ethical business dealings. What’s strange here, however, is the end of the verse. Why is the Torah saying, “One man shall not wrong his brother?”  The Torah already included everyone by saying “your fellow.”

***

Perhaps there is a greater lesson here as parents, children and extended family members.

It seems that we often put a little extra financial burden on family… Read More »

Light Night

Along with so many Jews and non-Jews in Boise, I was deeply troubled by this week’s terrible vandalism at the Idaho Anne Frank Memorial in downtown Boise.

The act was heinous. The condemnation is obvious.

But, aside for restoration, calls for unity and standing up to such hatred, what message does it have to me in my everyday life? It’s easy to recite the necessary allegiance to tolerating all peoples and loving humanity.  I wish I had a magic wand capable of making bigotry vanish immediately. Unfortunately, I don’t.

Absent that magic, we will continue to live in a somewhat dark world. What can I do about it? Especially, if I don’t usually come in contact with those that are capable of such horrific… Read More »

The Secret of Jewish Survival

How is it that Jews, in so many disparate locations, under so many oppressive regimes, with so much assimilation, have managed to survive – and thrive – through so many centuries?

***

An interesting law in this week’s Torah portion, Acharei-Kedoshim, is the law of Orloh, fruit that are forbidden for the first three years. Interestingly, if such fruit get mixed into other fruit, they are nullified 200/1 (unlike nonkosher meat for example, which is nullified 60/1).  But, if one tree in an orchard is orloh, but we don’t know which one, it never becomes nullified.

The reason is that something that is attached to the its source (in this case the ground), it can never lose its identity – and thus cannot… Read More »

Two Way Street

One day, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov instructed several of his disciples to embark on a journey. The Baal Shem Tov did not tell them where to go, nor did they ask; they allowed divine providence to direct their wagon where it may, confident that the destination and purpose of their trip would be revealed in due time.

After traveling for several hours, they stopped at a wayside inn to eat and rest. Now the Baal Shem Tov’s disciples were pious Jews who insisted on the highest standards of kashrut; when they learned that their host planned to serve them meat in their meal, they asked to see the shochet (ritual slaughter) of the house, interrogated him as to his knowledge and piety and examined his knife for any possible blemishes. Their… Read More »

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 »

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