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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.

Reviving the Dead

Sometimes, we might feel dead inside. Yes, we are physiologically alive. But, our motivation has been sapped, our movement is heavy and the outlook looks bleak.

The factors may be internal or external, but the dilemma is the same. How do I crawl out of this sad state?

***

This week’s parsha, Chukat, talks about the laws of ritual impurity and purity. There are many causes for a person to wind up in a state of ritual impurity. None of them have anything to do with hygiene or health.

Similarly, the path to ritual purity is not through a physician or shower.

The concept of ritual purification is described by the Torah itself as a supra-rational concept. In fact, it is the name of the parsha. The opening words, “Zot… Read More »

Inspiring a Generation

The former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, has remarked that, “Good leaders create followers. Great leaders create leaders.”

***

Tonight marks the 25th yahrzeit of my dear Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of righteous memory.

For me it’s a bittersweet time. A time to connect with my Rebbe, and a time to meditate on his leadership that has brought us to this moment. A time to thank Almighty G-d for the great privilege to serve as the Rebbe’s emissary. And, a time to implore Almighty G-d to end all the suffering in this world and bring our righteous Moshiach.

As I seek inspiration, I look at this week’s parsha, Korach.

It’s all about leadership. Korach leads a rebellion against… Read More »

Are You a Spy?

Nothing quite hurts a country’s intelligence apparatus more than a double agent.

Although the agent is supposed to be working for you, he is actually working for your enemy.

A similar situation occurs in this week’s parsha Shelach. Moshe send 12 spies to scout out the land. Their mission is meant to help the Jewish people conquer the land promised to them by Almighty G-d.

Most of the spies return with a negative report of the land and its people. They declare, “We are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.”

As they say, “You gotta know your enemy.” Yet, the spies made a tremendous mistake. Their job was to ‘know the enemy.’ It was not to decide whether to fight… Read More »

Strong Foundations

Sports games are judged by the final score. Pundits talk about what a president will do in his or her first 100 days. But, history will judge them on the entirety of their performance.

Is there value in focusing on the beginning, or is keeping our eyes on the long game the best option?

*

The Jewish people wandered for forty years in the wilderness on their way from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael. In all, their journey consisted of 42 pit stops. The type of traveling was not always the same. In this week’s parsha, Behaalotecha, we see a stark difference in how they traveled.

Having camped at Mount Sinai for over a year, they are finally ready to move on. They arrived at Sinai seven weeks after fleeing from Egypt. We don’t know… Read More »

Roadblocks

Sometimes we can see our destination. In fact, it’s easily within reach.

But, there are roadblocks. The roadblocks are sometimes external. At other times they come from within.

Adversaries, curveballs and all types of unforeseen circumstances get in the way of our goals.

My own procrastination, self-imposed challenges and hurdles, addictions and distractions all block me from achieving the goals in a timely fashion. Even when I otherwise am on target to reach my objective.

How can we overcome these hurdles?

It’s easy to simply wish them away. But, oftentimes, they are very real. Whether or not they are of my own making, they throw me off track and I am unable to simply imagine them out of existence.

*

In this… Read More »

Stop Caring About Others!

If you have flown on a major airline recently you will notice that the boring safety videos are gone.

In an effort to get you to actually pay attention to the screen, they have been replaced with hilarious or outrageous videos.

As I sometimes travel with children, I am mindful of one constant instruction. In case of emergency, put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. The logic is simple. If you don’t have adequate oxygen you may not be in position to help others.

Let’s forget for a moment about the parental instincts. Instead let’s ask a more fundamental question. Should you be focused on helping yourself or others?

***

Stop thinking about what you can do for others.

Yes, I know it sounds harsh.

But, in a… Read More »

Yiddishkeit

Most American Jews today may not know what the word “lekach” means. Or “keriah.” Or “holishkes.”

Surprisingly, several outstanding contestants at the Scripps National Spelling Bee knew how to spell these words.

In fact, the first word presented at this year’s bee was, “Yiddishkeit,” correctly spelled by Rishik Gandhasri.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary translates Yiddishkeit as: Jewish character or quality or Jewish way of life or Jewishness.

So, is Yiddishkeit summed up by eating lekach (honey cake) and holishkes (stuffed cabbage)? Or by observing keriah (the ritual of tearing the mourner’s clothes at a funeral)?

I am a Yiddish speaker. I’m not a linguistic expert. I… Read More »

Do All Questions Deserve Answers?

The famous joke goes:

Why do Jews ask so many questions?

Why not?!

***

The most famous night of questions is Pesach. On Passover we encourage our children to ask questions. The format of the Seder is questions and answers.

It’s obvious that in order to enrich one’s knowledge we need to ask questions. As the Talmud states, “The bashful do not learn.”

The only bad question is the unasked question!

However, do we really condone any and all questions? Is it valid to question G-d? How do we cherish questions without saddling Judaism with an unnecessary burden? Other faiths often eschew questions. While we Jews have no such qualms about querying our own faith – we encourage it! – does that mean all… Read More »

Concentrated Time

 Jewish people often bless each other with “arichut yamim,” meaning longevity. Translated literally, this blessing means length of days. Instead of saying, ‘Have a long life!’ we say, ‘Have lengthy days!’

What is the meaning of this odd wording?

At the Shavuot meal in 1940 the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn) explained what success in time means. It means that every day is long – because the moments of each day are regarded as precious and are utilized to their fullest.

So, when we bless each other with ‘lengthy days’ we mean it literally. Not only should you live a long life, but every day should be long – full of meaning, purpose and… Read More »

They deserve It!

“Look thirty years younger!” the ad exclaims. Anti-aging creams, hair-dyes, diets and better climates are all promoted to encourage us to prevent the inevitable aging of our bodies. As a society we seem to abhor old age.

“Many years impart wisdom,” we are taught in the book of Iyov (Job).  Yet this advice seems hard to come by in today’s society. More and more, the elderly are nudged out of the way to make room for the younger, more ‘vibrant’ segment of society.

Whether it’s in the workforce, in communal affairs, or family life – those with the longest of years often get the short end of the stick.

In this week’s parsha of Kedoshim we read that… Read More »

Life After Death

Life for Jews in America has changed drastically. The tragedies in Pittsburgh and Poway have demonstrated that America today is not as different as we had imagined from the rest of Jewish history. Suddenly, we find ourselves asking about security in our synagogues, the rise of hate speech and what Jewish life will look like for our children.

We mourn the loss of Lori Gilbert-Kaye at Chabad of Poway last week. We pray for the injured and their families. We enhance our security at our shuls and Jewish centers.

Eventually, we assume, life will go somewhat back to normal. But, what should normal look like after Pittsburgh and Poway?

***

Though a clearly imperfect parallel, our generation has an easy reference point. The Holocaust… Read More »

When, Not If

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, the Chassidic giant famous for his indefatigable love for his fellow, was once walking in the marketplace. Seeing someone in an absolute hurry, he inquired what the rush was all about.

“I’m chasing my parnasah (livelihood)!” the man exclaimed.

“Perhaps it’s behind you and you are running away from it?” asked Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. “If it’s meant for you, it will come to you. Stop being so nervous and obsessive and start believing.”

The journey of life can be circuitous. We twist in various directions.

Ultimately, we end up exactly where we were supposed to be. It’s just that sometimes we insist on taking the indirect route.

***

In this… Read More »

Training my Own Dog

Training a dog takes time and effort.  At least that’s what I’ve heard.

No matter which pet it is, none are naturally designed to live in human homes. They require training in order to acclimate to their surroundings – especially if they will be roaming outside of a confined space.

As much as we talk about training animals, we don’t usually use that lingo when talking about people. We don’t merely train our children. We educate our youth.

***

In this week’s parsha Tazria, we are taught many laws regarding ritual purity. From ritual contamination to tzaraat caused by Lashon Harah, there is plenty to discover.

I want to focus, however, not on the laws themselves – but on their… Read More »

Kosher Pigs

If I were to ask 100 Jews, “What is the most treif food you can think of?” I would probably get 100 similar responses. The pig, of course is the least kosher animal on the planet. Pork is the poster child for nonkosher food.

And, of course, there is ample reason it has earned this status. Perhaps, it’s due to the prevalence of pork as a consumed meat in the civilized world, tempting – but off limits – to Jewish people.

Or, due to the Torah singling it out in this week’s parsha. In Parshat Shemini we learn, “And the pig, because it has a cloven hoof that is completely split, but will not regurgitate its cud; it is unclean for you.” Any animal that does not chew its cud or have split hooves… Read More »

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 »

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