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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.

The Biggest Gift

What’s the biggest gift you’ve ever received from your parents or your spouse?

Was it a new car? A piece of jewelry? Watching the kids for a week so you can go on vacation? The knowledge they imparted to you?

At Shavuot, we consider the biggest gift the Jewish people have ever received. 3333 years ago, the Jewish people stood at Sinai and received the Torah. This historic event changed the world forever. The wisdom of the Torah has permeated the entire world. Fast forward three millennia and the world has slowly adopted many of its values. It’s the most widely read book on earth.

And, it has helped our people navigate the triumphs and challenges of our distinct history.

Certainly, Shavuot is a day to celebrate.… Read More »

Net Worth

A super wealthy man was once asked about his net worth. After replying with a figure lower than his assumed wealth, he was questioned, “Have you not understated your assets?”

“No,” he replied, “I’ve stated my true assets, the charity that I have given.”

***

In the second of this week’s two Torah portions, Behar and Bechukotai, we read of the pledges to the Temple. The Torah tells us that a standard amount was collected from someone who pledged to give the value of a specific person to the Temple. Regardless of the person’s occupation, piety, or talent – it was the same amount.

So, for example, if Izzy said, “I pledge to give the value of Shmerl to the Holy… Read More »

Responses, Not Answers

How does one celebrate the marriage of a loved one while mourning the loss of a loved one?

It seems impossible.

And, today, Jews the world over have been called upon to do the impossible.

Last night, at the first government-sanctioned mass gathering of the covid era, thousands upon thousands of Jews gathered at the holy tomb of Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai in Northern Israel.

What seemed like the greatest celebration in months quickly turned into tragedy as a terrible accident occurred. Numerous people were crushed in a cascading pile of humanity, apparently heading for the exits. The horrific details slowly emerged. 45 dead. Over 100 injured, some critically.

Our thoughts are with our brothers and sisters in the land of Israel. Our hearts… Read More »

The Best Yichus

In Hebrew and Yiddish “yichus” connotes prestigious pedigree. Tevya worrying about his daughter marrying a “nobody” is the embodiment of “yichus” psychosis.

In British Royal circles, a prince marrying a commoner is a big deal. In WASPy circles, yichus is what you need to get into the country club.

***

This week’s second Parsha, Kedoshim, opens with the words, “You shall be holy, for I, G-d your G-d, am holy.” The dictate to act sacred is tied to the fact that G-d is sacred.

Some commentaries point to a deeper missive in these words. The Almighty is not simply saying: “Emulate Me and be holy!” Rather, G-d is also exhorting, “You can be Holy, because I… Read More »

The Lonely Punishment

Ask anyone who has been wrongly accused of a crime whether they ever got their good reputation back. Their consistent responses underscore the great harm of slander and lashon harah (evil talk).

The headlines are replete with stories of financial impropriety, grand theft and cheating scandals – but the Talmud states, “Money can be reimbursed, but the damage of words is irreparable. Money is a person's property, but words hurt the person himself.” In truth, harming one’s reputation does not only cause one to suffer embarrassment and emotional injury. It also creates a spiral of ill feelings that domino from person to person – leaving a trail of destruction virtually impossible to track.

A lifetime… Read More »

Holy Cow

I’m noticing more and more kosher products in the supermarkets today. When we moved to Idaho 17 years ago, they were few and far between.

I recall inquiring once if a store carried kosher products. The lady working the counter was kind enough to show me around and point out what she called, “all the kosher products.” Pulling out a pastry with Hebrew writing on it she said, “Here’s another kosher product.”

Looking more closely I realized that while it may be produced in Israel and it was covered head-to-toe in Hebrew lettering, it did not bear a mark of kosher certification.

***

What indeed makes a product kosher or non-kosher?

The full answer would be too voluminous for this short thought, but… Read More »

Jumping Ahead

Recently, I had the pleasure of watching my children play football with family.  I saw the ball fly out o the hands of the quarterback and marveled as my son sped ahead to catch up to the ball.  In football, sometimes the quarterback will throw the ball past the current location of the receiver in order that the ball will arrive at the destination at the same time as the receiver does. Throwing ahead is actually throwing on target. It also encourages the receiver to give it his best, knowing that he has to run with precision and speed to make the catch.

As we celebrate Passover, I am reminded of the need to “throw ahead.”

The reason that the festival is called Passover – even though it was but one… Read More »

It's All About the Matzah!

Even the most ignorant Jew is likely familiar with matzah on Pesach. Ask a child and she will tell you why we eat matzah on Passover: Because the Jews left Egypt in haste and their dough did not have time to rise. In commemoration of the unleavened bread that our ancestors ate upon leaving Egypt, we relive the experience by abstaining from leavened bread and eating matzah at the Seder.

The explanation is right on – but it still leaves more unanswered than answered.

Imagine if it so happened that the Continental Army was only able to eat berries during the Revolutionary War. Now imagine that on July 4 it would be forbidden for a week to eat any other fruit save for berries. We would need to scrub our homes clean from other… Read More »

The Power of One

In the past year, we have come to stretch our imagination. We have realized how much of a difference each person makes.

This reminds me of a famous Midrash in this week’s Parsha of Vayikra, which tells the following parable:

A group of people were traveling in a boat. One of them took a drill and began to drill a hole beneath himself.

His companions said to him: "Why are you doing this?" Replied the man: "What concern is it of yours? Am I not drilling under my own place?"

Said they to him: "But you will flood the boat for us all!"

It’s easy for us to remember this lesson when it comes to our immediate surroundings – our family, our workplace and intimate social circle. The… Read More »

A Team of One

The loaded mini-van pulled in to the only remaining campsite. Four children leaped from the vehicle and began feverishly unloading gear and setting up the tent. The boys rushed to gather firewood, while the girls and their mother set up the camp stove and cooking utensils.

 A nearby camper marveled to the youngsters' father, "That, sir, is some display of teamwork."

The father replied, "I have a system. No one goes to the bathroom until the camp is set up.”

***

In G-d’s instruction to the Jewish people to build the Mishkan, the traveling Sanctuary, He establishes a team of artisans led by Bezalel and Oholiav. This team crafted the edifice and vessels of the Mishkan as related in this week’s… Read More »

A Golden Opportunity

As winter gives way to spring, we read in the Torah portion of Ki Tisa about the Sin of the Golden Calf.

Amazingly, in response to one of the most shameful events in Jewish history, we merited one of the greatest revelations. Firstly, once forgiven, the Jews received the second Tablets, which were – in many respects – greater than the first Tablets.

Additionally, G-d revealed the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy – which could always be invoked to attain G-d’s forgiveness.

The English word “forgive” is associated with the notion of granting completely, such as granting pardon in the act of forgiveness.

In the Torah, however, the term forgiveness – as it appears in the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy… Read More »

Hiding in Plain Sight

A popular joke tells: It had been raining for days and days, and a terrible flood had come over the land. The waters rose so high that one man was forced to climb onto the roof of his house.

As the waters rose higher and higher, a man in a rowboat appeared, and told him to get in. "No," replied the man on the roof. "I have faith in the L-rd; the L-rd will save me." So the man in the rowboat went away. The man on the roof prayed for G-d to save him.

The waters rose higher and higher, and suddenly a speedboat appeared. "Climb in!" shouted a man in the boat. "No," replied the man on the roof. "I have faith in the L-rd; the L-rd will save me." So the man in the speedboat went away. The… Read More »

The Pottery Barn Rule

Going shopping with young children can be challenging. I often find myself telling them – incessantly – about the Pottery Barn Rule, “You break it, you own it.”

But I once had the tables turned on me. When my son’s toy broke and he could not find a way to fix it, he came to me with the desperate plea to repair it. I attempted but could not succeed. At that point he cleverly turned to me and said, “I’m giving it to you. Now it’s yours and it’s broken. You need to fix it.”

***

In this week’s parsha Terumah, G-d instructs the Jewish people to donate thirteen items for the construction of the Mishkan, the mobile Sanctuary. From gold and copper to wood and… Read More »

Jurisdiction

I can’t keep up with the current discussions about what is considered constitutional jurisdiction.

But, it did get me thinking about the concept of jurisdiction in a spiritual sense. Who has jurisdiction over the ethical decisions I make? Obviously, we follow the laws of the country we inhabit. But, is that the end of the conversation?

*

This week’s parsha Mishpatim follows the landmark event of Revelation at Sinai (in last week’s parsha). Interestingly, most of the Torah portion is devoted to ethical and civil laws, things like reparation of damages, treating the disadvantaged fairly, granting loans and the like.

The Talmud, commenting on the opening verse of the parsha, teaches that when two Jewish individuals enter… Read More »

GameStop

The army of Reddit investors causing chaos in the markets has mainly been a David vs Goliath storyline. Who wins out and who’s left with losses is above my pay grade.

But, it has highlighted – once again – the financial and cultural classes in our country and world.

The glaring question is, do we occupy two different universes, side by side? Is the spiritual journey of one superior to the other?

One of the most famous commandments of the Torah is the instruction to observe the Sabbath. Shabbat, featured in this week’s parsha, is a sacred Jewish tradition that has--in some form--been embraced by most of the world.

But how does one observe Shabbat?

The Fourth Commandment is unique amongst the Ten… Read More »

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