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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.

A Real Hero?

Who is George Santos?

Most of us cannot properly answer that question. In a fact-is-stranger-than-fiction Capitol-Hill-reality-show, we keep learning more about how little we knew about the Congressman from New York’s third district. Many of his claims have been debunked – including that his Jewish grandparents fled Nazi Europe.

While people seek answers, it jolts us into thinking about the people we idolize, admire or “follow.” Are they, in their real lives, the heroes (or cowards) that we truly wish to emulate (or despise)? Do they exist in the way we believe or have we simply molded them into something that fits our perception, hopes and dreams?

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In this week’s Parsha of Bo the Torah testifies that… Read More »

Houdini’s Magic

My son once bought a magic trick set. He was so proud of the few tricks that he had mastered. He was longing for the opportunity to show off these tricks (after subjecting the family to incessant renditions). He had ample chance to do so and enjoyed his new hobby.  Until he met his match.  When he went to a ‘real’ magic show, his heart sunk. “I can never do those types of tricks.”

It’s one thing to impress family and friends. But to impress the pros is a different league altogether.

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When Moshe and Aharon brought forth the first few miracles and plagues in Egypt, Par’oh was not impressed.

The Midrash recounts that Pharaoh began to mock them and crow at them like a cock, saying to them… Read More »

Who Owes Whom?

It’s a new secular year and it may be time to start thinking about our tax bill. In the United States, taxes are generally owed in arrears (though employers may take it off employees’ paychecks).

The question often arises: Who owes whom? Some citizens owe the government money and others are due a refund. There are so many factors involved that even accountants can get confused. And, the laws keep changing.

In essence, however, the debate rages on. Individual cases vary, but the financial and philosophical query applies to all. Are citizens indebted to their government, or is the state indebted to its citizens?

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In this week’s parsha Shemot we read about Hashem choosing Moshe to deliver the Jewish people from… Read More »

Favoritism?

As we move on from Chanukah, I’m reminded of the annual discussion about gifts. Aside from the debate on how many gifts to give our children, where does this tradition stem from, and gifts vs. gelt – there is another dilemma to deal with. That is the challenge of giving presents to all of our children without causing too much sibling rivalry or jealousy. Lately, we’ve been trying to focus more on shared gifts to eliminate such concerns.

Perhaps we can take a cue from this week’s Parsha of Vayechi, in which Jacob blesses Joseph’s two sons Menashe and Ephraim.  Jacob gives a greater blessing to Ephraim, the younger son.  Over Joseph’s protests, Jacob switches his hands in order to place his… Read More »

Year’s End or Beginning?

As we wind down the secular/fiscal year, we look back at what transpired. What worked and what didn’t work.

For some people, checking the gains and losses in the stock market or personal businesses is the primary focus. For others, it’s school grades.

Luckily, as time elapses, it also moves forward – with next year to look forward to.

There is one investment, however, that is guaranteed to succeed.

The investment of time we have given to others is an eternal gift – to them and to ourselves.

During the recent blizzard in Buffalo we have heard heroic and tragic stories. The efforts invested to help others will never go to waste.

And, this helps us understand a point in this week’s parsha.

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In Vayigash… Read More »

The Ignored Miracle?

Chanukah, one of the most observed Jewish holidays – commemorates two miracles. The first, the victory of the Maccabees’ small, amateur army over the mighty Greek-Syrians, is the lesser-known of the two. The latter, the oil of the menorah lasting eight days instead of one, is relived every year when we kindle the menorah.

In effect, the rededication and kindling of the menorah in the Holy Temple would not have been possible without the military victory. Yet, why is there no overt celebration of this aspect of the Chanukah story? Isn’t the celebration of our religious freedom greater than the remarkable feat of the magical oil?

On Chanukah we were fighting for the soul of Judaism. The Greek-Syrians were happy to accept… 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? Beautiful Candles and decorations bring the festive spirit to life.

There are two miraculous events that we are marking on Chanukah.

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… Read More »

Got Pride?

This is always the time of year that – as a Rabbi – I hear the most kvetching from Jewish parents.

Yesterday it was a shocked parent seeking guidance on how to answer their four-year-old who comes home from school and asks when are we putting up our tree. Or, it’s a mother wondering where she can buy the fanciest Chanukah decorations to outdo her non-Jewish neighbors.

To all of them, I have the same response. And, it’s highlighted in this week’s parsha, Vayishlach.

But, first a passage from Tehillim (Psalms). In Chapter 47, we read, “He chooses our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom He loves eternally.”

In the Hebrew, the term Ge’on Yaakov is colloquially used to connote Jewish… Read More »

My Alternate Life

Like many people, I sometimes play the game of, “What If?”

What if I was raised in a different country? What if I really did become a professional baseball player? What if I went to a different school?

Certainly, any of the what-if scenarios could lead me on a path to a very different life – with alternate people, objects and places – resulting in a different me.

Sometimes, I even find myself living my current life through the lens of an alternate life. How would I do this if I had never met my wife? How would I respond if I was a foot taller?

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Yaakov, the last of the Patriarchs, certainly could have envisioned a totally different life. As this week’s parsha relates, he was forced to flee from… Read More »

The Tortoise and the Hare

We’re all familiar with the famous fable. The tortoise outraces the hare due to her determined and steady progress. The primary lesson the hare – and all of us – must learn is the foolishness of overconfidence and the folly of laziness.

Peering deeper into this parable, even if we aren’t overconfident, and despite our best efforts, we may still succumb to the hare’s fate. Why do so many of us start projects and never wrap up?  In the likes of horse racing, we might be able to reserve our energy for that final stretch. But in the game of life, we often grow tired and never manage to finish strong. Why?

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One of the apparently odd obsessions of our Patriarchs was digging wells. What’s even more odd… Read More »

Real Fruit

No matter how many times I’ve done it before, attending the annual Shluchim conference in New York is always special.  Sitting at a table with friends and strangers, I realize that I am part of something so much larger than myself.

We all have a mission in life, a purpose or calling for which we were created.  In this sense we cannot be more different than one another. Nobody can replace my mission and I cannot serve in their stead.

On the other hand, we all share the same purpose.  We all serve collectively toward the same goal of making this world a G-dly place.

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In this week’s parsha, Chayei Sarah, we learn of the first Shlichut, mission, in the Torah. Avraham charged his right-hand man, Eliezer, with a… Read More »

Manipulation

There’s a big hoopla online about Twitter’s on-again-off-again Blue Check verification system.  The world’s richest man has taken over the social media company, and quickly began implementing changes.

One proposed change was to charge $8 a month to achieve verified status, earning one’s account a Twitter Blue check. However, that system apparently attracted lots of trolls. In fact, Elon Musk’s own account (as well as Tesla’s), was impersonated in a widely-followed parody. So, it’s gone faster than it had appeared.

In the age of social media, when anyone can broadcast their ideas to the entire world in a flash, manipulation seems to be a big issue. It can affect stock prices (cue Eli Lilly)… Read More »

G-d’s Laugh

There’s a famous Yiddish saying, “Der mentsch tracht un Guh-t lacht,” which translates to, “A person thinks and G-d laughs.” The meaning of this idiom is that we have our plans, but G-d has other plans for us. In Yiddish it rhymes as well.

We can all point to situations in life where we put great energy into a certain path in life, only to have the rug torn out from under our feet. G-d had other plans.

Yiddish is a rich language and it often does away with conventional diplomacy in order to make a point. It’s no wonder that this saying pulls no punches in describing G-d as laughing at our grandiose plans.

I wonder, however, if that is really the sole intent. And, if it remains so, is it accurate? Do… Read More »

Finding Excuses

Exploiting situations for political benefit may be an old trick, and will continue to be debated. Is it proper to use a situation that is already present for personal benefit or political gain?

In our own private lives we are often faced with similar challenges.

My biggest rival at work failed miserably today. Should I take advantage and prop myself up in front of my boss?

Sometimes, when in these circumstances, we might be looking for excuses to justify taking advantage of the state of affairs. “Well, it’s not my fault she failed to deliver!”

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In the beginning of this week’s parsha of Noach, the Torah relates: “These are the generations of Noah, Noah was a righteous man he was perfect in his… Read More »

Constant Connection

Can a fish survive out of water? Can a doctor survive without her medical devices? Can a carpenter survive without his hammer? Can a person survive without food?

It depends, you might say, on what survive means. A fish needs water. Without food humans will die.

But without a hammer, a carpenter might lose some of his identity but he won’t disappear.

If a person needs – among other things – food and oxygen to survive, what does a soul needs in order to live?

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In the opening parsha of the Torah, Bereishit, we are taught about the wonderful universe we live in. G-d created everything. By the Torah’s description of creation, G-d employed speech to bring about physical existence. From the stars to the… Read More »

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