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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.

Chapter One

“This is such a sad book,” my daughter recently commented when we began reading.

“Well,” I countered, “It might be a sad chapter, but we are still on Chapter One. Perhaps the ending will be happy. Maybe in the end it’s a happy book.”

*

This week we begin reading the Book of Shemot (Exodus). The first parsha is also called Shemot.

Unfortunately, the position of the Jewish people takes a drastic nosedive. Gone are the good old days when one of their own ruled the country. Gone are the days of comfort and riches. Gone are the peace and tranquility of sitting at the feet of their wise Patriarch Yaakov.

Servitude. Infanticide. Torture. This is the new reality. It’s depressing.

On the… Read More »

Be Within, Stay Above

My three-year-old daughter has been toilet trained for a while. However, she often wants one of her parents to accompany her for this ritual. Recently, my wife and I have been trying to get her to fulfill her bodily duties on her own. 

My wife devised a plan. Every time our daughter needs to use the bathroom, my wife and I give her an imaginary rope to hold onto. We promise that we are holding the rope the entire time and she is never alone.

Now, instead of asking for one of us to accompany her, she simply asks for a ‘rope.’ We extend our hands and hand off the ‘rope.’

By holding this ‘rope’ she knows that she is not alone.

*

Just before his passing, recorded in this week’s parsha… Read More »

Made in the USA

As recent events indicate a sharp rise in anti-Semitic attacks in our beloved United States, we wonder what the future looks like.

As the conflict between the United States and Israel with terror-sponsoring Iran deepens, we wonder what the future looks like.

As we enter the 2020s, when a majority of Jews in America are already second or third generation Americans, we wonder what the future looks like.

*

In this week’s parsha Vayigash, we learn of an emotional reunion. Yaakov, the father of the Twelve Tribes, comes down to Egypt and is reunited with his son Yoseph. He had long believed his son was dead. Having been recently informed that Yoseph was alive and was indeed the ruler of Egypt, Yaakov was infused with renewed… Read More »

Double Miracle?

My children know good and well that when I repeat instructions to them, it is – in all likelihood – not because I have gone senile (G-d Forbid), but because I am emphasizing something. It is important and sometimes it is urgent.

*

This week’s parsha Miketz tells of two dreams that Par’oh, the king of Egypt, had. After Yodef (Joseph) successfully interprets the dreams he is promoted to viceroy, eventually leading to the reunion with his family.

Why did Hashem make Pharaoh have two virtually identical dreams? Wouldn’t one dream be sufficient?

Yosef explained to Phar’oh that the repetition is emphasizing that this matter is imminent and critical. It requires concentrated attention and forceful action.

Read More »

Outnumbered?

As Chanukah arrives, I hear the annual chatter about how difficult it is to be a Jew during this time of year. At schools, businesses and public places the non-Jewish holiday displays are ubiquitous. Coupled with songs and parties – it’s simply everywhere.

How do Jews remain proud at this time of year, especially in places like Idaho? How can we compete against such great odds? Indeed, we cherish the religious freedom that our great country affords us.  But we are, after all, a minority.

***

Many have argued about the prominence Chanukah receives in modern Jewish society. Some claim that it’s not a major Jewish holiday and its virtue is largely exaggerated, only due to competition with other… Read More »

Defining Ourselves

It’s a story we are, tragically, all too familiar with.

Jews are singled out for murder. Just because they are Jews.

We are still reeling from the horrific attack in Jersey City. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims.

Yes, anti-Semitism still exists. Yes, until Moshiach comes, it will continue in some form. And, no, it’s not limited to one type of perpetrator. History has proven there are many varying sources of such hatred. History has also proven that Jews have never been spared its venom.

Instead of merely asking – and working toward – how we can end anti-Semitism, it’s also import to ask another question: If it’s here, how should I – internally &ndash… Read More »

The Art of Deception

Is there such a thing as good deception?

Is it ever appropriate to deceive others?

*

The hero of our parsha Vayetzei, Yaakov, was a Master of Deception.

In fact, his name Yaakov means trickery.

In last week’s parsha he deceived his father in order to receive the blessings. In this week’s parsha he deceives his uncle Lavan, besting a world-class cheater.

Why is Yaakov – the final of the Patriarchs – associated so much with deception?

*

One of the ways Yaakov deceived Lavan was by escaping with his family without as much as a goodbye. 

The Torah says, “And Yaakov saw Lavan's countenance, that he was not disposed toward him as he had been yesterday and the day before. And the Lord said to Yaakov… Read More »

A Mamma's Marching Orders

Ever meet someone you know at the most awkward time or place?

As a Rabbi, I sometimes visit Jewish inmates.

Chabad Shluchim across the globe reach out to Jews in the most isolated and desperate circumstances. As Chanukah approaches, we reinforce our mission to reach out with love to every Jew.

People often ask me why I bother to visit those that have failed society.

*

I remember once sitting in the waiting area. Suddenly, someone I know walks in. I immediately tried to divert my attention so as not embarrass them. But, the immediate question we each had for each other would be, “What are you doing here?!”

Meeting someone else in a compromised situation reminds me of a story in this week’s parsha.

Parshat Toldot… Read More »

Kindness to Strangers

What is the most important character trait to look for in a spouse?

This week’s parsha Chayei Sarah offers an answer. It is the first matchmaking effort in the Torah. Avraham dispatches his trusted servant Eliezer to find a suitable wife for his son Yitzchak.

Eliezer travels to Avraham’s native land of Aram Naharaim to search among Avraham’s relatives.

But, how would he find the right girl?

Eliezer made a deal of sorts with G-d, that the first girl to offer water to him and his camels would be the correct one. Rivka immediately did just that – and the rest is history.

Eliezer also was looking for the right family. And the Torah states that Rivka was beautiful. She was also apparently mature and wise beyond… Read More »

Does it All Boil Down to Motive?

In American criminal law, motive reigns supreme. If someone is to be found guilty of a crime, the prosecution must prove that there was intent. If the motive was innocent, then the act is not criminal, regardless of what actually occurred.

This has far-reaching implications and impacts our dialogue today.

But, what about the flip side? Is a good deed worthless if a positive motive is missing?

***

In this week’s parsha Vayeira, we learn about Avraham’s tactics to spread monotheism. The Torah relates that, “He called there in the name of the Lord, the G-d of the world.” The Midrash explains that Avraham would feed wayfarers at his desert crossroads. When they would offer to pay, he would insist that they… Read More »

Are You an Influencer?

Your best friend is about to commit to a terrible decision. You know it will be detrimental to her, but you are unsure what to do.

Should you scare her off from it by warning of the inevitable destructive outcome? Should you offer her better alternatives? Should you just be a good role model? Or should you just mind your own business?

Granted, there are situations when it’s not clear-cut. But, this one is black and white. You know what the outcome will be if she continues down this path. So, what do you do?

Each of us is entrusted with a divine mission to influence others. No human being is merely a recipient. So, how do I maximize my potential to inspire my family, friends and complete strangers?

*

By virtually all… Read More »

Road Win

History was made this week when the Washington Nationals captured their first-ever World Series title. Not only was it the first championship for the baseball franchise - it was also the first time all seven World Series games were won by the road team.

It must have been difficult for the fans attending the games, but a win is a win. Amazingly, the Nationals lost all their home games, yet won all four road games. Never before has a World Series champion lost all their home games.

We all know that sports teams have an easier time winning at home. The home-field advantage is a real phenomenon. The fans are rooting for you, you are on familiar terrain and you are in your psychological comfort zone.

Winning on the road, conversely… Read More »

Tough Beginnings

We are at the tail end of a month of Jewish holidays. We began with the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. Then Yom Kippur, Sukkot & Simchat Torah. It’s a pretty intense start to the year. Introspection, awe, commitment and jubilation – all wrapped in less than a month.

This week we also begin the annual cycle of studying the Torah. The first parsha Bereishit tells the story of Creation. Looking more closely, it tells the story of over a thousand years. It tells of humanity’s first efforts.

Interestingly, all those efforts are marred in failure. The Tree of Knowledge. Murder of a brother. Immorality and wickedness metastasize to the degree that G-d wants to destroy the world.

If I was reading a novel… Read More »

Write it Down!

 Often, when I am pondering something significant, I will tell myself, “That’s a great idea. I should explore it further when I have some time.”

Usually, however, my subsequent attempts to research the subject are met with scant and subpar results (that is, if I even remember to follow up). Sometimes, the only way I’m able to tap into the excitement and richness of the initial inspiration is if I act upon it immediately. If I quickly start developing the idea, it will frequently bear fruit.

One way to make sure the idea does not disappear into the abyss is by discussing it with someone or committing it to writing ASAP. If it gets stale, it will usually just collect dust – at… Read More »

Music to My Ears

The greatest bestseller of all times?

The Torah.

The amount of pages written about the Torah, the countless hours of its study throughout history and the layers and layers of its messages are testament to the endless pursuit of Divine wisdom.

It is described in the book of Iyov (Job) as, “Longer than the earth is its measure, and wider than the sea.”

Yet, in this week’s parsha, the Torah is not presented as an intellectual, theological or philosophical masterpiece. Rather Parshat Haazinu refers to the Torah as a song. 

Great as its wisdom may be, it is a mistake to reduce the Torah to merely the greatest intellectual work. That would be akin to stating that an intellectual idea is soft to the touch. Touch… Read More »

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