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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.

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 »

Sneaking In – But Breaking Out

Eating a few more calories than you burn, even from something "healthy" like a glass of orange juice every morning, can make you gain 100 pounds in five years!

Cell phones have slowly become so entrenched in our daily lives that one Supreme Court Justice commented, “The proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.”

In fact, the World Health Organization announced it will soon recognize 'gaming disorder' as a mental health condition for those who play video games obsessively.

We all can relate to the little challenges in life that actually turn out to be not so little.

It might be the gradual build-up of clutter, the tiny difference of opinion that is inching toward… Read More »

A Yiddishe Mamme

A man calls his mother in Florida. "Mom, how are you?"

"Not too good" replies his mother, "I've been very weak".

The son asks, "Why are you so weak?"

She says, "Because I haven't eaten in 38 days."

"That's terrible" says the son, "Why haven't you been able to eat?"

The mother answers, "Because I didn't want my mouth to be filled with food in case you should call me."

*

I am continuously amazed at how seemingly-insignificant details of the Torah contain powerful lessons about life.  This week’s parsha Vayechi provides a remarkable example. Though it’s not ostensibly about mothers, it reminds us how much we ought to cherish our mothers!

Read More »

Purpose

Tonight marks a special date on the Chabad calendar.  In 1987 a Federal Court ruled in favor of the Chabad movement, in a case of the theft of hundreds of volumes of precious and rare Torah books that had been taken from the central Chabad library in Brooklyn, NY.

The library was collected by the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneersohn.  And it was a relative of his that secretly spirited away the books. The ensuing court case focused on who owned the library; was it the Chabad community or personal family members of the Chabad leadership? The result of this case would have a major impact on Chabad in particular and also on libraries of all Jewish or religious groups. The Court ruled that the community and not the… Read More »

Which Side Would I Be On?

I was discussing the Chanukah story with some eighth grade boys last week.  I explained why we celebrate 8 days of Chanukah, about the miracle of the oil. One boy boldly stood up and said, “No Rabbi, you’re wrong! It’s not just the 8 days that the oil lasted. And it’s not just the miraculous victory of the weak and few versus the mighty and many. The real reason for celebration is that the Maccabees decided to search for oil. They could have simply given up. We celebrate (also) because they had the courage and determination to search for holy oil. And that’s why G-d made it last eight days – because they searched!”

It’s a profound statement. And, in a way, he was right.

Let me… Read More »

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 »

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