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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.

Kindness to Strangers

What is the most important character trait to look for in a spouse?

This week’s parsha Chayei Sarah offers an answer. It is the first matchmaking effort in the Torah. Avraham dispatches his trusted servant Eliezer to find a suitable wife for his son Yitzchak.

Eliezer travels to Avraham’s native land of Aram Naharaim to search among Avraham’s relatives.

But, how would he find the right girl?

Eliezer made a deal of sorts with G-d, that the first girl to offer water to him and his camels would be the correct one. Rivka immediately did just that – and the rest is history.

Eliezer also was looking for the right family. And the Torah states that Rivka was beautiful. She was also apparently mature and wise beyond… Read More »

Does it All Boil Down to Motive?

In American criminal law, motive reigns supreme. If someone is to be found guilty of a crime, the prosecution must prove that there was intent. If the motive was innocent, then the act is not criminal, regardless of what actually occurred.

This has far-reaching implications and impacts our dialogue today.

But, what about the flip side? Is a good deed worthless if a positive motive is missing?

***

In this week’s parsha Vayeira, we learn about Avraham’s tactics to spread monotheism. The Torah relates that, “He called there in the name of the Lord, the G-d of the world.” The Midrash explains that Avraham would feed wayfarers at his desert crossroads. When they would offer to pay, he would insist that they… Read More »

Are You an Influencer?

Your best friend is about to commit to a terrible decision. You know it will be detrimental to her, but you are unsure what to do.

Should you scare her off from it by warning of the inevitable destructive outcome? Should you offer her better alternatives? Should you just be a good role model? Or should you just mind your own business?

Granted, there are situations when it’s not clear-cut. But, this one is black and white. You know what the outcome will be if she continues down this path. So, what do you do?

Each of us is entrusted with a divine mission to influence others. No human being is merely a recipient. So, how do I maximize my potential to inspire my family, friends and complete strangers?

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By virtually all… Read More »

Road Win

History was made this week when the Washington Nationals captured their first-ever World Series title. Not only was it the first championship for the baseball franchise - it was also the first time all seven World Series games were won by the road team.

It must have been difficult for the fans attending the games, but a win is a win. Amazingly, the Nationals lost all their home games, yet won all four road games. Never before has a World Series champion lost all their home games.

We all know that sports teams have an easier time winning at home. The home-field advantage is a real phenomenon. The fans are rooting for you, you are on familiar terrain and you are in your psychological comfort zone.

Winning on the road, conversely… Read More »

Tough Beginnings

We are at the tail end of a month of Jewish holidays. We began with the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. Then Yom Kippur, Sukkot & Simchat Torah. It’s a pretty intense start to the year. Introspection, awe, commitment and jubilation – all wrapped in less than a month.

This week we also begin the annual cycle of studying the Torah. The first parsha Bereishit tells the story of Creation. Looking more closely, it tells the story of over a thousand years. It tells of humanity’s first efforts.

Interestingly, all those efforts are marred in failure. The Tree of Knowledge. Murder of a brother. Immorality and wickedness metastasize to the degree that G-d wants to destroy the world.

If I was reading a novel… Read More »

Write it Down!

 Often, when I am pondering something significant, I will tell myself, “That’s a great idea. I should explore it further when I have some time.”

Usually, however, my subsequent attempts to research the subject are met with scant and subpar results (that is, if I even remember to follow up). Sometimes, the only way I’m able to tap into the excitement and richness of the initial inspiration is if I act upon it immediately. If I quickly start developing the idea, it will frequently bear fruit.

One way to make sure the idea does not disappear into the abyss is by discussing it with someone or committing it to writing ASAP. If it gets stale, it will usually just collect dust – at… Read More »

Music to My Ears

The greatest bestseller of all times?

The Torah.

The amount of pages written about the Torah, the countless hours of its study throughout history and the layers and layers of its messages are testament to the endless pursuit of Divine wisdom.

It is described in the book of Iyov (Job) as, “Longer than the earth is its measure, and wider than the sea.”

Yet, in this week’s parsha, the Torah is not presented as an intellectual, theological or philosophical masterpiece. Rather Parshat Haazinu refers to the Torah as a song. 

Great as its wisdom may be, it is a mistake to reduce the Torah to merely the greatest intellectual work. That would be akin to stating that an intellectual idea is soft to the touch. Touch… Read More »

Saving or Spending?

Ever look at the bottom of the receipt when you go shopping? It will often state the amount of money you saved by purchasing your groceries, clothing or furniture.

Obviously, this is somewhat of a misnomer. Everyone likes a good deal – but the greatest savings comes from no deal at all! When you shop, you spend money. But, the marketing experts have figured out that you would feel better focusing on the money you saved rather than the hole in your wallet.

***

In this week’s parsha Vayelech the Torah predicts that the Jewish people will forsake the Torah but will ultimately embrace it again.

This process is particularly relevant this time of year. We now find ourselves in the Ten Days of Teshuva. At this time of repentance… Read More »

Unimpeachable

Impeachment is in the air.

As many people know, I don’t use my rabbinic position to advocate political parties, positions or persons. Today is no different. But, the talk about impeachment does bring some valid questions to the fore.

The truth is that the Framers of the Constitution debated whether a President should be impeachable. And, if removal from office is an option, which crimes would rise to the definition of an impeachable offense? What would be the process for impeachment?

In parliamentary systems, such as in the United Kingdom and Israel, the prime minister can easily be removed from office by a vote of no-confidence. In the American system, the Executive branch has more separation and, subsequently, more… Read More »

Knee-Jerk Praise

Sometimes, when attending or viewing a ballgame it’s difficult to assess exactly what’s happening on the field. Nonetheless, it’s pretty clear when something favorable occurs to the team I support. The field might be too crowded to decipher exactly what happened, but I’m certain that my team has control of the ball. Turns out it was a fumble recovery in our favor. My excitement and cheering began before I even knew what had transpired.

In fact, I might need to wait for the announcer, the instant replay or a friend’s explanation to figure out what really occurred. No matter. I’m cheering because I sense something went right for my team.

I may not know why I’m on board, but I amRead More »

The War on Terror

This week marked 18 years since the horrific attacks of 9/11.

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the United States launched the “War on Terror.” The tactics of this military campaign have long been debated, as has the name itself. Do we wage a war against a tactic and a philosophy, or do we wage a war against enemies? Is the military-engagement-with-no-end-in-sight a worthwhile endeavor? When and how do we win such a war?

Three presidents later, countless American and global sacrifices later and many political promises later – we have not resolved all these questions.

I don’t foray into politics, but I do believe that current events can help us think about our own lives and challenges. What can the… Read More »

Queen for a Day?

Though few and far between in today’s world, true monarchies still exist. I remember standing with awe as I observed the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace some time ago. But, the Queen is largely a figurehead in the United Kingdom. Real kings decide whatever they want.

Actually, this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, talks about kings. We are commanded, “You shall set a king over you.” In our storied history this concept of a monarch has caused great concern, admiration and discord. Of course, that was all a long time ago.

In light of the great progress we have made, how should we view the Torah’s eternal command to “set a king” over ourselves? Isn’t the notion of a… Read More »

Indirect Damage

As Hurricane Dorian nears the Florida coast, we pray that nobody suffers any loss of life, health or property. Hopefully, it will turn away or subside.

Even in a best-case scenario there will likely be indirect damage. Sometimes, it’s not the actual storm, but the storm surge, or the subsequent flooding that causes the most damage.

***

In this week’s parsha, Re’eh, the Jews are told to destroy and uproot all idolatry upon settling in the land of Israel. The Torah states:

And you shall tear down their altars, smash their monuments, burn their asherim with fire, cut down the graven images of their gods, and destroy their name from that place. You shall not do so to the Lord, your G-d.

Why does the Torah need to… Read More »

Begging

As a father of nine children (ka"h) I think I have seen it all when it comes to begging.

“Pretty, pretty please!” is something I have heard many a time. Tantrums for a toy are not foreign to me.

As a parent, I know that accommodating my children’s entreaties should be based on the merits of the child, the situation and the request. However, I cannot say that I have never caved in to incessant nagging. Sometimes, it’s the emotion of the petition, other times it’s the relief of terminating the endless badgering.

*

Perhaps, however, I can use a lesson on how to deal with nagging from this week’s parsha.

In Va’Etchanan, Moshe begs Almighty G-d to PLEASE let him enter the Holy Land.

This… Read More »

Which Side Are You On?

 We live in very pronounced times, to say the least.

I am often asked, “Whose side are you on?”

Sometimes, it’s sports, sometimes it’s religion, and sometimes it’s politics.

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In this week’s parsha, Devarim, the Jews are stationed in the plains of Moab. The fifth Book of the Torah, Devarim, opens with Moshe’s long speech to the Jewish people:

These are the words which Moshe spoke to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan….

However, instead of employing their actual location (as done numerous times in last parsha), the Torah simply states that they were, “on the other side of the Jordan (River).”

Why the ambiguity?

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The answer can be found in the context of… Read More »

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