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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.

Concentrated Time

 Jewish people often bless each other with “arichut yamim,” meaning longevity. Translated literally, this blessing means length of days. Instead of saying, ‘Have a long life!’ we say, ‘Have lengthy days!’

What is the meaning of this odd wording?

At the Shavuot meal in 1940 the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn) explained what success in time means. It means that every day is long – because the moments of each day are regarded as precious and are utilized to their fullest.

So, when we bless each other with ‘lengthy days’ we mean it literally. Not only should you live a long life, but every day should be long – full of meaning, purpose and… Read More »

They deserve It!

“Look thirty years younger!” the ad exclaims. Anti-aging creams, hair-dyes, diets and better climates are all promoted to encourage us to prevent the inevitable aging of our bodies. As a society we seem to abhor old age.

“Many years impart wisdom,” we are taught in the book of Iyov (Job).  Yet this advice seems hard to come by in today’s society. More and more, the elderly are nudged out of the way to make room for the younger, more ‘vibrant’ segment of society.

Whether it’s in the workforce, in communal affairs, or family life – those with the longest of years often get the short end of the stick.

In this week’s parsha of Kedoshim we read that… Read More »

Life After Death

Life for Jews in America has changed drastically. The tragedies in Pittsburgh and Poway have demonstrated that America today is not as different as we had imagined from the rest of Jewish history. Suddenly, we find ourselves asking about security in our synagogues, the rise of hate speech and what Jewish life will look like for our children.

We mourn the loss of Lori Gilbert-Kaye at Chabad of Poway last week. We pray for the injured and their families. We enhance our security at our shuls and Jewish centers.

Eventually, we assume, life will go somewhat back to normal. But, what should normal look like after Pittsburgh and Poway?

***

Though a clearly imperfect parallel, our generation has an easy reference point. The Holocaust… Read More »

When, Not If

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, the Chassidic giant famous for his indefatigable love for his fellow, was once walking in the marketplace. Seeing someone in an absolute hurry, he inquired what the rush was all about.

“I’m chasing my parnasah (livelihood)!” the man exclaimed.

“Perhaps it’s behind you and you are running away from it?” asked Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. “If it’s meant for you, it will come to you. Stop being so nervous and obsessive and start believing.”

The journey of life can be circuitous. We twist in various directions.

Ultimately, we end up exactly where we were supposed to be. It’s just that sometimes we insist on taking the indirect route.

***

In this… Read More »

Training my Own Dog

Training a dog takes time and effort.  At least that’s what I’ve heard.

No matter which pet it is, none are naturally designed to live in human homes. They require training in order to acclimate to their surroundings – especially if they will be roaming outside of a confined space.

As much as we talk about training animals, we don’t usually use that lingo when talking about people. We don’t merely train our children. We educate our youth.

***

In this week’s parsha Tazria, we are taught many laws regarding ritual purity. From ritual contamination to tzaraat caused by Lashon Harah, there is plenty to discover.

I want to focus, however, not on the laws themselves – but on their… Read More »

Kosher Pigs

If I were to ask 100 Jews, “What is the most treif food you can think of?” I would probably get 100 similar responses. The pig, of course is the least kosher animal on the planet. Pork is the poster child for nonkosher food.

And, of course, there is ample reason it has earned this status. Perhaps, it’s due to the prevalence of pork as a consumed meat in the civilized world, tempting – but off limits – to Jewish people.

Or, due to the Torah singling it out in this week’s parsha. In Parshat Shemini we learn, “And the pig, because it has a cloven hoof that is completely split, but will not regurgitate its cud; it is unclean for you.” Any animal that does not chew its cud or have split hooves… Read More »

Woodchoppers

Wow! The energy of Purim still pulsates through my being.

With over 125 people celebrating together on Thursday, we relived the story of Jewish pride and survival. We listened to the Megillah, a tale that is as relevant today as it was nearly 2500 years ago. We too must trust that Hashem is the one really in charge, not some frightening villain, nor even a queen in the palace.

We danced to the live music of local musicians playing traditional and modern Jewish music. Israeli, Chassidic, folk and ancient melodies reverberated throughout the room.

There was more mouth-watering food than we could consume – pastrami on rye, egg rolls, salads and hamantaschen to name a few.

The tzedaka box filled up as we remembered our less fortunate… Read More »

Balance of Power

Words cannot describe the immeasurable pain and grief coming out of New Zealand today.

Put simply, our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and communities. They may be on the other side of the world – but it is ultimately our world. We all inhabit one world. Considering the select status that a place of religious assembly ought to have, this hits close to home.

As we read parshat Zachor this Shabbat, the special reading remembering the sinister acts of Amalek, we are reminded of the duty to eradicate evil from our midst.

Without debating the policy aspects, is there anything that is directly in my control that I can do?

***

The Midrash in this week’s Parsha of Vayikra, which tells the following… Read More »

Worth its Weight in Gold

Ten kilo of gold is worth over $400,000. The same ten kilos of twigs might not even be worth one dollar.

I imagine carrying the ten kilo of gold would be much more enjoyable than carrying the twigs.

*

This week’s parsha Pekudei records the sum of materials that the Jewish people donated to the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Interestingly, the Torah records the weight of all the items donated equally. In other words, the Torah does not record the value of the individual donations, only their weight. A kilo of copper costs under seven dollars today.

Why does the Torah only care about the physical weight of the donations? Isn’t there a significant difference between the values of different metals? How can we compare someone who donated… Read More »

Got Talent?

There are so many talent shows nowadays that it’s hard to keep up. Win and you receive instant fame. Plus, you might even get a shot at lucrative earnings.

The beauty of discovering an unknown talent certainly has its virtues. But, overall, are talent shows helping society more than harming us?

***

In this week’s parsha Vayakhel we learn about a special talent. A group of women donated goat hairs for the covering and curtains of the Mishkan. However, the Torah tells us they spun these hairs in a unique fashion. While the hair was still attached to the goats, they spun the hairs! This produced a superior finished product due to the vibrancy of these live goat hairs.

The Talmud teaches that this was a very exclusive talent.… Read More »

Facial Recognition

Nowadays, airplane seats might recognize who is sitting in them. Your phone unlocks by looking at you. You can cross borders simply by removing your sunglasses, so your iris can be scanned.

Facial recognition is now part of life. For better or for worse.

We can recognize people by their faces. But, does a face tell us who is really inside?

***

The only sacred vessel that this week’s parsha Ki Tisa introduces is the Kiyor, the Laver. The kohanim (priests) in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) were required to wash their hands and feet prior to officiating.

Similarly, the Code of Jewish Law mandates that we wash our hands prior to prayer. Since prayer replaces the Temple worship, we likewise sanctify… Read More »

Private Offerings

In his famous description of tzedaka (charitable giving), Rambam enumerates the degrees of tzedaka. It’s better to give tzedaka anonymously – with neither the benefactor nor the beneficiary aware of each other. This, writes Maimonides, is performing a mitzvah solely for the sake of Heaven, without ulterior motive and without the blemishes of pride or shame.

The Talmud tells of great rabbis that would throw money into a poor man’s home and run away; of others that would drop coins behind them for the paupers to take. In the Holy Temple there was an anonymous fund to which people contributed anonymously – and the funds of which were distributed anonymously.

We can easily understand the value of modesty in… Read More »

Fashion Statement

Home decorating is a matter of taste. Modern or rustic, it’s meant to express the attitudes and style of the occupants. And, hopefully, provide an inviting space for others as well.

*

In this week’s parsha Teruma the Jewish people are instructed to create a home for Hashem. The Mishkan (Tabernacle) is G-d’s home on earth. As the Torah describes it, “And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst.”

In Hashem’s blueprint two articles stand out for their specific instruction. The menorah, the seven-branched candelabra, and the kaporet, the covering to the Aron (ark) that housed the luchot (Tablets) had something in common. They were the only two items required to be… Read More »

Rooting for the Underdog?

The New England Patriots beat their own record and will appear on Sunday in their eleventh Super Bowl. With the same head coach and quarterback for the past 18 seasons, this is a tried and tested team. If there is a dynasty in American Football – they are it.

They will face off against a team that has recently moved to a new city, has the youngest head coach in the league and a relatively inexperienced team.

So, are you rooting for the reliable favorite or the upstart underdog?

It’s popular today to root for the underdog. First of all, an upset is a great surprise. But also, the rags-to-riches storyline is one that humans love to fall in love with. Perhaps we see some of ourselves in it.

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In this week’s… Read More »

Don’t Hesitate

We live in an era and culture of endless noise. We absorb so much information, we really can’t keep track of it anymore.

The modes of communication are endless. The options of who to interact with have no boundaries. The sheer volume of information we are fed is overwhelming.

All of this begs the question: How much of what we hear do we actually act upon? Are we becoming desensitized to what we see and hear?

***

This week’s parsha Yitro is a coming of age parsha for the Jewish people. G-d chooses the Jewish people to safeguard the Torah. We select G-d as our supreme authority. The Jewish people become a people at Sinai, in the most momentous event in all of history – the Giving of the Torah.

For all the fanfare about… Read More »

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