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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.

Holy Envy

One of the Ten Commandments is not to covet.

“You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or whatever belongs to your neighbor."

I’ve always wondered why the Torah needs to specify so many items. Why not just simply state, ‘Don’t cover anything that belongs to your neighbor’?

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In Vayetzeh, this week’s parsha, we read about the birth of Yaakov’s children.

Leah gave birth to six boys and a girl. Rachel, meanwhile, was childless. The Torah says that after Leah delivered her fourth child, “And Rachel saw that she had not borne any children to Yaakov, and Rachel envied her sister, and she said… Read More »

The Success of Blessings

Thousands of Rabbis posing for a group photo isn’t your average photo op. Nor, was it the highlight of my recent attendance at the International Kinus HaShluchim. A grand banquet with 5500 guests (the largest kosher sit-down dinner in New York!) is inspiring. But, it was not the high point. Even if my son, Ari, was invited on stage to announce the roll call (see here at minute 2:57:18).

Last Thursday night I got together with an intimate group of my colleagues and classmates. Some of them live in Massachusetts, China and California.

Hearing their personal stories and reconnecting with old yeshiva classmates was the real inspiration. I sat with my colleague from Thousand Oaks, California, Rabbi Chaim Bryski. We spent five years… Read More »

Endless Light

Last night, I met my colleague from Bangalore, India, Rabbi Tzvi Rivkin, at the annual conference of Chabad Lubavitch Shluchim in New York.

(Spoiler alert: His son and my son Ari will share a stage on Sunday night).

I learned that he moved with his family to Bangalore ten years ago.

It wasn't something he was planning on doing. In fact, he was eager to join the ranks of Shluchim - but not in India.

He had visited India to assist Rabbi Gavriel and Rivki Holtzberg, the Chabad emissaries to Mumbai. Ten years ago, Rabbi Holtzberg begged him to move to Bangalore, but Rabbi Rivkin did not feel that he was the right fit for an assignment as trying as Bangalore. Again and again, Rabbi & Mrs. Holtzberg tried to convince them to no… Read More »

Hesitation

The Talmud lays out a key distinction between monetary cases and criminal trials. In financial cases (where a guilty outcome will only lead to financial penalties), once the panel reaches a verdict, it is announced and enforced immediately – regardless of whether it is a conviction or acquittal. However, in criminal cases the verdict of a guilty finding is always pushed off until the next day. If the verdict is acquittal, however, it is announced immediately and the defendant is released straightaway.

I can understand why we are more cautious in criminal cases than financial ones – playing with lives is more severe than civil or pecuniary matters. But, why delay the results? The court has already spent all the necessary… Read More »

Changing Course

There is a famous anecdote about George Washington’s youthful years. Once he chopped down his father’s cherry tree. When confronted by his father, he readily admitted his misdeed. “I can't tell a lie, Pa,” he is quoted as replying.

Interestingly, this story only surfaced after George Washington’s death. Having become the great general and President of the United States, there was obvious interest in his childhood. Biographer Parson Weems interviewed acquaintances that knew him half a century earlier to discover this gem of a story.

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This week’s parsha Lech Lecha opens with G-d’s dialogue to Avram. He is commanded to leave his homeland for another unknown land. Avram eagerly complies with… Read More »

Automatically

Once, when the Ba'al Shem Tov was raising money for charity, he knocked on the window of a home but then immediately went on his way without waiting for a response. Eventually, the resident of the home came to the Ba'al Shem Tov and gave him a donation.

Later, the Ba'al Shem Tov was asked: "If you needed that person's help, why didn't you wait for him to come to the window? And if you didn't need his help, why did you knock on his window?" The Ba'al Shem Tov explained: "G-d wants us to make a natural 'vessel' for His blessings. I accomplished this by knocking on the window. However, I had many important things to take care of, and I didn't have time to wait for him to come to the door, ask me what I need, etc. I already had… Read More »

Opportunity

What’s less healthy than only eating unhealthy foods?

Although virtually all dieticians will advise against only eating fatty foods, they will agree that it’s better to subsist on a lousy diet than on no food consumption at all.

When your doctor tells you not to eat foods that are high in cholesterol, she doesn’t mean to limit your food consumption entirely.

In other words, eating food is healthy, not unhealthy. It’s just that without some restrictions it can become unhealthy.

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This can help explain G-d’s first instruction to mankind.

This week we restart the annual cycle of Torah study with the parsha of Bereishit.

After creating Adam, G-d instructs him, “Of every tree of the garden you may… Read More »

Dancing with Books

Ironically, it was the Jewish-German poet Heinrich Heine who famously wrote, “Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings.” Heine sadly abandoned his Jewish faith. But, fast-forward over 100 years and, in 1933, his own books were burned by Germans.

Jews have been called the “People of the Book.” Undoubtedly, Judaism has the largest and oldest corpus of written tradition. The Torah is still the best-seller of all time.

It makes sense, then, that we greatly value our books.

We study them, we revere them, we kiss them, and we keep producing them.

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It’s no surprise then that we celebrate completing – and starting – a Torah study cycle. This is precisely what we do on… Read More »

Muddy Boots

“Sukkah is the only mitzvah that a person enters into with their muddy boots,” according to an old Chassidic saying.

Chassidic sayings are known to be witty. But, more importantly, they often share profound messages in few and simple words.

This is a cute quip, but does it have a deeper meaning?

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According to the Talmud, the mitzvah of Sukkah is considered an “easy mitzvah.”

I know in the modern era you can order a pop-up sukkah, but anyone that’s built a kosher sukkah knows that it takes effort and time to build a sukkah. It’s not free to build a sukkah either, not even for a pop-up sukkah.

So, what does the Talmud mean with its claim that Sukkah is an easy mitzvah?

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Usually, doing a… Read More »

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.

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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?

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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.”

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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 »

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