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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.

Countup

Next week my daughter Chavi will turn twelve years old. According to Jewish tradition she will become a Bas Mitzvah, an adult.

As you can imagine, she has been preparing earnestly for this moment. In fact, as parents, my wife and I  have endeavored to prepare her for the last twelve years.

She is eagerly counting down toward this special moment when she takes her place among the Daughters of Israel. Her anticipation is palpable.

How can we ensure that her attainment of maturity is a time she embraces her role as a proud Jewish woman? What can we do to secure an active and enthusiastic Jewish future for our young adults?

This week’s Torah portion, Emor, speaks of a mitzvah we are currently engaged in – the counting of… Read More »

A Vote for Seniors

“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 »

After-Death

 

This week’s Torah portion is called Acharei Mot, or “after the death,” based on the opening verse, “And G-d spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron's two sons, when they drew near before the L-rd, and they died.”

Why do we name a Torah portion in such a fashion? What message is there in this name that the Torah wishes to convey?

Much ink has been spilled on the meaning of death, the effects of tragedy and the Jewish approach to mourning. Certainly there are lessons to be learned from the death of Aaron’s two sons. But the Torah’s emphasis on after death, versus death itself must mean more.

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A deeper look into the parsha demonstrates another perplexing concept of… Read More »

A Certain Future

We’d like to hope that our future is promising.

We’d like to imagine that war, economic uncertainty, health issues and the nasty neighbor next door are things of the past.

But, alas, none of us can tell the future, so we remain dependent on the volatile situation at hand.

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In Jewish history we, too, have lived perpetually in fear of all sorts of challenges.  Every time things look up for the Jewish people – physically or spiritually – we constantly have our eyes looking around the corner for the next trouble ahead. The Haggadah itself reminds us of this notion, with its piercing words, “This is what has stood by our fathers and us! For not just one alone has risen against us to destroy us, but in… Read More »

Third Party Intervention

From hostile Twitter Takeovers to surprising Sinking Ships in the Black Sea, calls abound for others to intervene.

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Rewind 3300 years. Similarly, Egypt was going engaging in intense oppression.  Moshe had recently arrived on the scene with a promise to liberate the Jewish people from the atrocities of their oppressor, Pharaoh.

The Jews themselves appeared helpless at the hands of a brutal dictator. But the power of the Almighty changed the balance of power.  Ten plagues and many miracles later, G-d whisked them out of Egypt to the new frontier of freedom.

We would be mistaken to assume that they lived happily ever after and the story ends there. In truth, their journey had just begun.  They prepared spiritually for 49… Read More »

Tall & Humble

Time and again, those recalling their private encounters with Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, mention the simplicity and modesty of the Rebbe’s office and surroundings. The Rebbe, it’s fair to say, led a worldwide revolution of Jewish thought and practice. Yet, it was all orchestrated without the trappings of typical bureaucracy, grandeur and pomp.

Apart from other Chassidic Rebbes, the Rebbe did not wear the luxurious, princely garb of Chassidic royalty. He dressed like any other Chassid.

Apart from other Jewish leaders, one did not need connections to see the Rebbe. To be sure, one had to book an appointment months in advance (due to the incredible demand). But, anyone could do so. The Rebbe’s… Read More »

Cleaning House

World events leave us wondering how the world will look in a year or two.  The current war and terror spike in Israel give rise to the speculation of whether we will be so fortunate to live in a more peaceful world.

Some argue that democracy and progress is inevitable in our new internet-driven global community. It’s only a matter of time before the despots are deposed and the masses are empowered.  Others caution that for every step forward we seem to experience a step or two backward, as evidenced in the ongoing conflict and terror.

Perhaps our own history can shed some light on the process of transition.

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This Shabbat is known as Shabbat HaChodesh. On it we study the final of four distinct Torah readings, leading… Read More »

Divine Overdose

The world order seems to be changing in front of our eyes.  War that seemed unfathomable in the twenty-first century is today’s reality. The global economy of yesterday may not be tomorrow’s economy. The morals and values that we consider sacred are being shockingly tested.

Purim has just passed and Passover is around the corner. Here again, our mind starts racing. What is the meaning of Pesach and true freedom? How can I internalize it into my life?

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This week’s parsha, Shmini, tells of the tragic death of two of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu. The Torah states that they died because “each of them took his censer, and put fire in it, and put incense on it, and offered strange fire before G-d, which… Read More »

Shedding Costumes

Over 150 people gathered together at the Chabad Jewish Center to celebrate Purim yesterday. The energy was electric, with some people showing up for the first time in two years. Many donned costumes, hiding their identity – at least on the outside.

Yesterday, we celebrated with delicious food, dancing, and song. Most importantly, we celebrated by listening to the Megillah and by giving gifts to the needy.

Today is Shushan Purim. Purim is a unique holiday. It is observed in most of the world on the 14th of Adar. In Jerusalem, and in other qualifying walled cities, Purim is observed a day later on the 15th of Adar.

We like to feel connected to the international capital of the Jewish people. The Code of Jewish Law instructs that… Read More »

Heart of Stone

The world watches in horror as Ukraine is attacked.  The civilian casualties keep growing and we wonder how can we put an end to this unfathomable situation?

Of course, we can all help in some way – by contributing, by praying and by assisting.

The unbearable loss of life and suffering makes one wonder how heartless one must be to continue unjustified and unexplained brutalities.

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This week’s Torah reading includes Parshat Zachor, the mitzvah to remember what Amalek did to the Jewish people. Amalek attacked the Jewish people after the Exodus from Egypt.

The key characteristic of Amalek, that led to her heinous crimes, was stone cold indifference. Despite the great miracles the Jews had experienced, Amalek shrugged… Read More »

Home Sweet Home

 s the situation in Ukraine worsens, many of our fellow Jews find themselves displaced and without a home.  The dire circumstances are literally unfathomable. We pray for a swift and peaceful resolution immediately.

Chabad has been at the forefront of helping our fellow Jews – and non-Jews – during these very pressing and daunting times.  Shelter, food, evacuation and temporary relocation. These are just a drop in the bucket of what Chabad – the dominant force of Judaism in the former Soviet Union – has been engaged in around the clock.

I can’t imagine the crushing feeling of those who have lost their homes, or been forced to leave their homes with just the shirt on their back.

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An old… Read More »

Are We Together?

The world as we knew it a few weeks ago is not the world we know today.

In the last few days, much of our assumptions have been tossed to the wayside. Full-blown war between Russia and Ukraine is the devastating reality. It’s unfathomable. Yet it is real.

My colleague, Rabbi Levi Greenberg of El Paso, Texas, shared the following insight:

For weeks foreigners in Ukraine were warned to leave. But on Thursday morning, as the invasion began, I paid more attention than usual to the news because I have close family there in several cities currently under attack. All of them are foreigners and yet they chose to stay despite all the warnings. Why?

The short answer is that they are the Chabad emissaries entrusted with the responsibility… Read More »

A Gari Moment


The Jews had just committed a grave sin.

Less than six weeks after experiencing the most unique interaction with their Creator at Sinai, the Jewish people worshipped a golden calf. Moshe, their leader, had been studying the Torah with G-d on top of Mt. Sinai and descended the mountain with two tablets of stone in his hands. Prepared to deliver the Ten Commandments to the people, he instead is witness to the treasonous act. Immediately, he smashes the Tablets and scolds the people.

Eventually they repent and Moshe intercedes on their behalf and G-d forgives them. The sign of their pardon is the second set of Tablets that G-d ultimately grants them.

We can understand Moshe’s reluctance to give the unworthy Jews the Divine Tablets.… Read More »

Crushed, Not Broken

One of my most awkward moments in yeshiva was when a Rabbi called me over and asked me about a subject matter I was not studying at the time. To me it seemed like a typical “gotcha” question; a tough Jewish trivia challenge at which I was bound to fail.  Indeed, I was caught off guard and had no clue as to the answer.

The Rabbi sensed my frustration.  Patiently, he sat down and explained to me, “I only asked you this question because I believed in you. I wanted to see you shine.  I wouldn’t have asked it had I not held out hope that you would respond correctly. That would have given me the greatest nachas.”

His sincere explanation has stayed with me throughout life.  Often, we look at… Read More »

Team USA

As the Olympics get underway, lots of focus is on the performance of an amazing cadre of competitors.  Love or hate the Olympics, it is a unique competition at two levels.

On the one hand, some of the world’s best athletes are looking to stand out. They have competed in international competitions and national trials.

On the other hand, they are not simply acting in their own stead. They are endeavoring to earn medals for their home country.

Their achievements are their own.

And yet, their achievements belong to the community of citizens they represent.

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In this week’s Parsha of Terumah we learn about the instruction to erect the Mishkan, a traveling Sanctuary.  G-d’s command is clear: “Speak to the… Read More »

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