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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.

Leaving a Legacy

This week’s parsha, Vayelech, is the shortest in the Torah.

In that spirit, here is a short thought on it.

Moshe is about to pass on from this world. It is the final day of a perfect life. So perfect, in fact, that he passed away on the exact same day he was born – 120 years later.

Instead of getting his own affairs in order, he is busy with the Jewish people. In fact, he had already handed over the reins of leadership to Yehoshua (Joshua).

Nonetheless, on his last day, Moshe delivers the written Torah (Five Books of Moses) to the Jewish people and instructs them about two mitzvot – Hakhel (gathering of all Jews every seven years) and the obligation to write a Torah scroll.

Both of the commandments are emblematic of… Read More »

Distractions

Distractions are a major concern in the 21st Century.

When driving, distractions can cause accidents, with severe and dangerous consequences.

When studying, distractions can cause us to lose focus and miss critical information.

Distractions can derail conversations and destroy relationships.   Distractions can ruin business deals and waste lots of time.

Nowadays, in the information age, there are so many distractions competing for our attention. It often takes a herculean effort to stay focused.

Psychologists and sociologists today are continuously assessing the effects of distractions on our society.

Sounds like a dismal view of reality, doesn’t it?

Not quite.

***

This week’s parsha Nitzavim is the last… Read More »

Tatteh!

I grew up hearing a famous story about Rabbi Schneur Zalman (known as the Alter Rebbe), founder of Chabad and his son Rabbi Dovber, his successor (known as the Mittler Rebbe), related to this week’s parsha Ki Tavo. The parsha includes a very harsh section called the tochacha (rebuke or admonition). In it Hashem spells out the troubles that await us should we fail to follow in the ways of the Torah.

The story, as told by the Previous Rebbe of Lubavitch, Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneersohn:

The Alter Rebbe himself was the regular Torah-reader. Once he was away from Lyozna on the Shabbat of parsha Tavo, and the Mitteler Rebbe, then not yet Bar Mitzva, heard the Torah-reading from another. His anguish at the curses in the tochacha (section… Read More »

Double Standard

No one likes double standards.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, as the saying goes.

It’s easy to spot double standards when comparing two different people, societies or cultures.

But, is it possible to have a double standard in one person? Is it possible for me to treat myself to a double standard?

***

In this week’s parshah Ki Teitzei we are taught about many mitzvot. Some are only between man and G-d and others are between man and his fellow. One such example in the realm of business ethics is, “You shall not keep in your pouch a stone and a stone, one large and one small.” Honesty in business is something the Torah reminds us about on several occasions.

Here, however, the wording… Read More »

Safe Zone

Camping with my children at the shores of the river in the Sawtooth National Forest gave me a wonderful opportunity to fish, enjoy Hashem’s beautiful outdoors and spend quality time with my children. There really isn’t much better than learning a maamar (Chassidic discourse) before the sun rises at a campfire in the middle of the wilderness.

The truth is that right here in Boise I can fish, marvel at natural beauties and spend quality time with my children.

My wife, who was home with our 3-week old daughter, asked me to check in with her and let her know we were okay. With no cell phone service, we had no way of doing so. We traveled about 30 minutes to the nearest town and found a store with Wifi, so I could send a message… Read More »

A Child’s Love

As a parent of 9 children, I’m often asked how I have enough time to give them each enough attention.

“Simple,” I often answer.  “I don’t have a TV.”

*

Showering our children with love, guidance and care is a full-time job. Every child deserves full-time love.  The mistake we make in our self-centered universe is that every child needs full time exclusive attention.  Sadly, parents err on both sides of the coin. It takes tremendous dedication and humility to be there all the time for every child and not turn our children into self-serving monsters.

As a thought experiment, let’s say my child/parent is on the other side of the world and I cannot communicate with or see them for a… Read More »

Bribing G-d

Traveling throughout Africa, I sometimes faced one of the ethical dilemmas of developing countries. Corruption is so rampant in certain places, that people are stopped for no reason by the authorities, all with the goal of extracting a bribe. As an American, I often stood out as a target for this type of extortion. I eventually learned the proper tools to largely prevent these confrontations.

But, it often left me wondering whether this was considered ‘giving a bribe.’ The Torah bans bribery, for obvious reasons. But, if you are living in a corrupt society, and are forced into a situation, is it then justified?

I am reminded of all the pious Jews of yesteryear, who needed to bribe authorities to save their… Read More »

Morality Without Religion?

“Rabbi,” I’ve been told, “I know someone who is religious and is nasty to others, cheating them of their money.”

“Rabbi,” I’ve been told, “I’m not the religious type. But, I would never disrespect someone.”

So, can you be moral without being religious? Can you be religious without being moral?

*

First of all, I’d like to cast away the labels. The term ‘religious’ is virtually abhorrent to me. Some excel in one area, others in another area. I will let G-d decide who is better: the person of great character that does not have a good relationship with G-d or the pious person of prayer who is lacking in his relationship with humans. Judging… Read More »

Merging Two Worlds

History repeats itself.

Amazingly, history repeated itself exactly the same way at exactly the same time. Nearly 500 years after the first Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) was destroyed by the Babylonians, the Romans destroyed the second Beit Hamikdash on the very same day.

Can it be merely a coincidence?

Or is there something about this day, the Ninth of Av, that contains so much misery within it?

***

This week’s parsha Devarim is the beginning of the longest speech in history. Sometimes, short speeches are the most memorable, as in Gettysburg in 1863. But this speech is an entire volume of our holy Torah. And it was delivered by Moshe over a period of 37 days, the very last days of his life.

The first four books of the Torah… Read More »

The Cave of Life

The world watched in amazement as 12 boys and their coach were rescued in dramatic fashion from deep inside a flooded cave in Northern Thailand. It was an intriguing story with a great ending.

The valor of the Navy SEALS and divers, the stamina of the boys, the selflessness of the countless volunteers and the efforts of thousands of rescue workers all contributed to this incredible rescue.

But, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of those boys. After a week or so in the cave, with no light, no food, and no strength – how do you continue to hope?

The only hope they had was that others were thinking of them, frantically searching for them. Imagine the relief they felt the moment they were found. They still didn’t know… Read More »

Claiming Your Moment

Raymond Zack. Kitty Genovese. Wang Yue.

These are just a few famous examples of the Bystander Effect. In each case there were many bystanders who observed a crime or tragedy and did nothing.

Social scientists have labored to understand and explain this enigma.

In many instances the bystanders have simply remarked, “If no one else was doing anything, I figured I did not need to either.”

Some might even point to the Torah, quoting from Mishlei (Proverbs), “Do not stand in the place of great men.” If people of greater stature than me are doing nothing, I don’t need to act.

*

This week’s parsha, Pinchas, tells us a different story. A terrible plague broke out amongst the Jewish people due to… Read More »

Yichus

A wise man once told me that good pedigree, or yichus, is worth a bunch of zeros.

When I looked at him quizzically, he explained, “If you put a “1” before them, they are worth something. If not, they are worthless.”

*

All jokes about lineage aside, let’s ask an honest question. Does Judaism discount pedigree out of hand? It certainly appears not to be the case. In our prayers, we implore G-d to remember the righteous deeds of our ancestors. We incessantly mention the sacrifice of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs. We give ritual honors and gifts (and responsibilities) to the Kohanim (priests) who have done nothing to earn them other than being born into the ‘right’ family.

It seems pretty… Read More »

When Dirt Cleans

The Lubavitcher Rebbe once encouraged a rabbi to take a position in a community whose standards of Jewish observance were not on par with the rabbi’s.

The rabbi was resistant to this idea, worrying that his family would be adversely influenced by the community’s values. But, the Rebbe insisted.

‘How can I raise my children in such a community?’ he countered. ‘What will protect them from negative influences?’

The Rebbe pointed to this week’s parsha, Chukat, for a persuasive lesson.  One of the strangest laws of the Torah is the mitzvah of ritual purity. According to the Torah, a person may become ritually unclean by, for example, coming in contact with a dead body. In order to become… Read More »

A Shiny World

I’m in New York. I have been helping an elderly woman settle into a new phase of her life, moving from Idaho to New York. Although it has involved lots of challenges, it’s been a great privilege and honor.

This Shabbat, I will turn my attention to something else. I will join tens of thousands of Jews paying homage to the 24th yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. 24 years later and the crowd each year doesn’t get any smaller – it only gets bigger.

What is it about Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson that draws so many people together and – in contrast to expected gradual decline in attention – only intensifies with the passage of time?

***

In this week’s eponymous parsha Korach, a cousin of… Read More »

The Real Exodus

In Idaho, I often am asked what my Jewish uniform means. Some have seen a yarmulke before, so I don’t get as many questions about that. But, my tzitzit are a more common source of curiosity. ‘What are those strings hanging out of your pants?!’

The response is actually at the end of this week’s parsha, Shelach. It is also the third paragraph of the Shema.

In talking about the tzitzit, the Torah states, “When you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the L-rd to perform them, and you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes after which you are going astray. So that you shall remember and perform all My commandments and you shall be holy to your G-d. I am the… Read More »

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