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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.

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?

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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.

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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.

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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 »

Cause Célèbre

We go through many miracles in life. Every breath is a gift from G-d.

But, imagine escaping unscathed in a 23-car collision. Or, you missed a flight, only to discover the tardiness saved your life. You survive wrongful imprisonment in a third-world country. You beat the odds and recover from a life-threatening illness.

In those instances, we feel impelled to offer up some extra thanksgiving to our Creator.

In Judaism, we have a special prayer called Hagomel, which is recited for these types of events.

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Looking back at Jewish history, perhaps the greatest communal act of thanksgiving occurs in this week’s parsha Beshalach. In fact, this Shabbat is also known as Shabbat Shirah, the Shabbat of Song – due to the famous song… Read More »

Midnight

At midnight three weeks ago parts of the federal government shut down. At midnight tonight it will be 21 full days, the longest shutdown in US history.

Without getting into the merits or politics of the shutdown, there is a certain mystique about the clock striking midnight.

The secular new year began at midnight on January 1. The 24-hour day begins at midnight. Midnight has clearly set itself apart as a special time. Why?

The truth is that the modern concept of telling time, from 12:00 am until 11:59 pm, is artificial. Virtually no days are precisely 24 hours. 12:00 am is rarely the actual middle of the actual night.

For example, tonight the midpoint between sunset and sunrise will be at 12:52 am, not 12:00 am.

The artificial… Read More »

Fire & Water

When fire is placed under a pot of water, the water boils. But if the water and fire get too close to each other, they can longer join forces. Either the water will be evaporated or the fire will be extinguished.

An exception to this rule occurred in the seventh plague that Hashem brought upon Egypt. We read about the plague of hail in this week’s parsha Va’era.

Hail is a relatively common occurrence. In some climates hail may be the size of golf balls! But, still, this hardly feels like a message from G-d. What was so harsh and unique about this plague that would cause Pharaoh and his people to learn a lesson?

The Torah adds one detail that makes this hail stand out: “So there was hail, and fire flaring up within… Read More »

Are You a Burning Bush?

Are you a cedar tree, a flowering cherry tree or a thorn bush?

The Torah tells us that man is compared to the tree of the field. But, which tree are you most like?

Some human beings are like tall and firm trees. Some produce flowers or fruit. Some may be compared to bushes, humble plants, without the stature and majesty of a tree.

Just as trees possess roots, trunk, branches and leaves – people have beliefs, emotions, actions and influence on others.

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In this week’s parsha Semot, Moshe meets his Creator at a burning thorn bush.

Why did G-d choose to reveal Himself to Moshe – and initiate the Exodus from Egypt, the birth of the Jewish people and the Giving of the Torah – through a burning thorn bush?

Rabbi… Read More »

When Best is not Best

You might be the best swimmer in your high school class. You might even be the best swimmer in your state. And, you ought to be proud.

But, if your goal is to compete at the international level, you may find that “best” is a relative term.

You might be the absolute best employee in your company. But, if you have a PhD in neuroscience and are working at a car wash, you might believe that “best” is a relative term.

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The name of this week’s parsha is Vayechi, meaning, “And he lived“ – referring to the last 17 years of Yaakov’s life. These last 17 years were spent in Egypt.

(Parenthetically, the Hebrew word טוב (Tov) has the gematria (numeric equivalent) of 17).

According to the… Read More »

Inseparable

In 1985 librarians at the Library of Agudas Chassidei Chabad in New York realized that books were being stolen. Rare books and manuscripts were slowly disappearing.

It was soon revealed that a wayward relative of the Rebbe had been clandestinely entering in the thick of night, swindling books and selling them.

Eventually, a court case ensued. The defendant argued that he was ‘taking his share of the inheritance.’

On today’s date 32 years ago, 5 Tevet, the US Federal Court ruled that the books – collected painstakingly over many years by the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe – belong to the Chabad movement.

On the surface it seems like an inheritance dispute.

But, amongst Chabad Chassidim “Hey Tevet”Read More »

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