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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.

Always on the Move

Ian. Sounds like such an innocent name. Yet, caused so much destruction.

When tragedies like Hurricane Ian hit, we are reminded of the great valor of people who are concerned with others. It’s natural to be preoccupied with self-survival when faced with life-threatening and life-savings-destroying catastrophes.

I am touched at the heroic efforts of so many wonderful people that were on the front lines of the storm and put their own priorities aside to help others. Not least of them, my fellow colleagues with Chabad in Florida. One of them, a former roommate of mine, commissioned a boat to rescue a nearby family trapped in their home.

I am reminded of the lesson from this week’s Torah portion Vayelech.

It’s the very… Read More »

Home Repair

Have you ever had a broken appliance to deal with? In our present dispensable era, fixing appliances is less and less common. I can’t imagine how many repair shops have closed down in my lifetime.

How about a leaky faucet or broken air conditioner?

We once had a leak that lasted for months (possibly years) without being able to trace the source.  It seemed to subside, but then came back. After much problem-solving, we finally discovered the culprit: A cracked valve in a second-story bathroom.  The water was continuously leaking drip by drip until enough had accumulated that it seeped through the floorboards and through the downstairs ceiling. Now we had a puddle on our dining room floor.

The crack was tiny, but the… Read More »

Mining for Gold

On a recent family camping trip, we came across a defunct power plant deep in the national forest. The nearest town is about 30 minutes away by car. The plant is about 100 years old, but closed down in the sixties with the advent of diesel.

The plant relied on miles of piping from a nearby lake, an impressive building and a huge amount of manpower. It was a tremendous feat to build. It was an even greater challenge to run and maintain.

I wondered why this plant was built in such a remote location. As I explored the history of the plant, I learned that the plant was not built to support the needs of area towns and cities. Rather, it was built to provide electricity to one enterprise – a nearby gold mine.

If you were mining for… Read More »

G-d Save the King

The United Kingdom is mourning the loss of a monarch.

The United Kingdom is celebrating the ascension of a new monarch.

The national anthem switched from “G-d Save the Queen” to “G-d Save the King.”

It is rather fascinating that both events – with contrary emotions – concur.

How does a nation (or nations in this case) cope with both emotions at the same time?

I’ve also always wondered how a country has been able to maintain – with such passion and dignity – the concept of a monarchy in our day and age, and in a Westernized country.

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In this week’s parsha Ki Tetzei, we learn about the Jewish laws of marriage and divorce.

Our Sages teach that the concept of marriage… Read More »

The Heroism of Cowardice

Being a coward is something looked down upon by society. I remember one Chanukah night in Newark, New Jersey as a yeshivah student. I was waiting for a bus after leading a Chanukah party for elderly Jews at an old age home. I was not from the neighborhood and should have known better. In a few moments, I was virtually surrounded by some teenagers up to no good.  I could have stood my ground. But instead, realizing I was outnumbered and outsized, I noticed an escape route out of the corner of my eye and bolted.  I managed to get away unharmed and with my wallet still intact. How I outpaced the gang is still a mystery to me.

I don’t tell the story to display my courage because some will say I should have fought back. But, in… Read More »

Blaming G-d

At some point in our lives, we inevitably blame G-d.

If something goes wrong, we sometimes blame others. Once in a while, we even blame ourselves.

But, when we are out of options, we simply blame G-d.

Even atheists sometimes blame G-d. “I don’t believe in G-d because G-d would never allow A, B or C to happen.” This is actually putting blame on G-d.

So, the inevitable question is, “Who does G-d blame when things go wrong?”

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In this week’s Parsha of Re’ei, the Torah enjoins us to “cleave to G-d” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 12:5).  The Sages of the Talmud interpret this commandment to mean that we must “cleave to His ways: bestow kindness, bury the dead, and visit the sick, just… Read More »

Lip Service?

Unfortunately, we have been witness in the last months to war and provocation. Fears persist over possible nuclear disasters, exacerbated by the fog of war. Fighter jets over the Taiwan Strait and space malfunctions are other recents concerns.

One thing is certain: We are skating on the edge. One press of a button, or one small shift and a lot of damage can be done.

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In this week’s parsha Eikev we learn about the mitzvah to pray to G-d. Actually, the Torah merely states, “To love G-d your G-d and to serve Him with all your heart.” The Talmud explains that this is prayer.

Isn’t it ironic that what the Torah considers a ‘service of the heart’ is essentially a ritual many perceive as a matter of rote?… Read More »

American Jew or Jewish American?

We just wrapped up an amazing session of Camp Gan Israel! It is truly enriching to watch the boys and girls have so much fun celebrating their Jewishness. From davening to ceramics; from Wahooz to swimming; from Jewish songs to face painting; from vegetable gardens to Challah baking; from sports to kosher lunches – the Jewish pride was oozing out from all sides.

These children displayed that being a modern, proud American and being a proud Jew go hand in hand.

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So, which is more important – being Jewish or being American?

Truth be told there is no contradiction between the two whatsoever, and I am proud to be both. And, I am even more proud of our younger generation – a generation untainted by the traumas of… Read More »

Visions from a Visionary

When my sons were at the ages where sports reign supreme, they were finally ready for their own baseball gloves.  And they let my wife and me know that.

We decided that receiving the mitts would be contingent on how well they studied.  It’s especially important to create incentives for academic diligence, in particular Torah study, during the summer months. 

I was about to tell them that when they learned a specific amount of Tanya by heart, we would purchase the gloves for them.  But then my wife reminded me of the meaning of this Shabbat. It is the Shabbat preceding Tisha B’Av, the day of the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. It is considered a tragic day in Jewish history and is marked by… Read More »

Spreading the Wealth

College Football Realignment seems like it’s only going to get more drastic after USC and UCLA bolted for the Big Ten. Media and money call the shots these days…

All this causes one to wonder?  Is it healthy for the sport to have the best talent concentrated in so few places?

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In the Torah portion of Mas’ei we read about the apportioning of the Land of Israel to the Jewish people. Each tribe is given an inheritance. Except for one. The tribe of Levi is not given a portion in the land. Instead, 48 cities are designated as Levite cities.  These cities were spread out among the provinces of all the tribes.

The Levites were not punished with the lack of a homeland; rather they were privileged to serve as… Read More »

G-d’s Steganography

The chief of MI6, UK’s foreign Intelligence Service, claimed this week that Russia’s espionage capabilities in Europe have been cut in half as a result of the war in Ukraine. Apparently, this is, in large part, due to the expulsion of hundreds of Russian intelligence officers from European countries and the arrest of some spies.

One amazing revelation about modern-day espionage is the hi-tech methodology employed.  As it becomes more and more difficult to snoop, many countries are reportedly resorting to satellite imagery, audio intercepts and unmanned aircraft. I’m not sure if this was impacted. But, the departure of boots on the ground has a major impact on espionage. Despite advances in technology, human spies… Read More »

See No Evil

Literary legend Isaac Asimov related:

“My mother, who came from Russia, decided to go to night school and learn how to write English. One of the teachers finally asked her, ‘Pardon me, Mrs. Asimov, are you by any chance a relation of the brilliant Isaac Asimov?’”

“My mother, who was four feet, ten inches tall, drew herself up to her full height and said, proudly, ‘Yes. He is my dear son.’”

“‘Aha,’ said the teacher, ‘no wonder you’re such a good writer.’”

“‘I beg your pardon,' said my mother, freezingly. ‘No wonder he’s such a good writer.’”

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We certainly inherit many wonderful traits from our parents. And… Read More »

Living with the Times

As a follower of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, I am proud to embrace modern technology. The Rebbe, whose 28th yahrzeit was observed last Shabbat, promoted the Talmudic teaching that everything G-d creates has a holy purpose. This means that the technology behind television, internet, and the like – while posing considerable spiritual challenges – are truthfully gifts from G-d. The choice is ours in how we utilize them. But their ultimate function is for holiness.

My fondness of technology notwithstanding, I feel dwarfed by my children’s expertise.  It seems that the younger one is the more apt one will be at decoding the latest high-tech systems and gadgets. I sometimes wonder if high technology is like a language &ndash… Read More »

Staying Power

June 12, 1994. On the fateful day of 3 Tammuz 5754, the world of Chabad-Lubavitch was suddenly thrust into a new reality.  A reality in which most commentators doubted it could survive. In fact, numerous newspaper articles and media interviews predicted the demise of the movement within a few years.

Yet, here we are 28 years later – on the eve of a historic groundbreaking for Chabad in Idaho. This is just one of myriads of instances of Chabad’s phenomenal growth over the last three decades.

How can a movement, especially one so devoted to its leader, survive without its head?

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In this week’s parsha Korach we read of an unfortunate and unsuccessful rebellion against Moshe. Korach, a respected and wealthy Jew… Read More »

Thinking Jews

Have you ever tried tying a string around your finger to remember something? This age-old method has proven helpful to many people.

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The mitzvah of Tzitzis, wearing fringes on a four-cornered garment, is taught in this week’s Torah portion of Shelach.  The Torah tells us the significance of this mitzvah, as follows:

“This shall be fringes for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord to perform them, and you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes after which you are going astray.”

So if we are looking for a foolproof way to always do right and never do wrong – just look at the Tzitzis.

Why then – many ask – is it that so many people still… Read More »

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