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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.

Reality Check

Which Festival in the Torah is considered the most joyous?

According to the Torah, it is Sukkot (joy is mentioned three times regarding Sukkot, the most of any Biblical holiday).

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Why is Sukkot the most joyous holiday? Wouldn’t Passover, the liberation and birth of our nation, qualify as more joyous than remembering dwelling in huts and G-d’s Clouds of Glory? Or, wouldn’t the moment G-d revealed Himself to humanity and gave us the most precious gift, the Torah, qualify better than Sukkot?

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Which Book in the Torah is considered the saddest?

Most would respond that it is the Book of Kohelet / Ecclesiastes.

Interestingly, it is this Book that is associated with Sukkot (some have a custom to read the entire Book of… Read More »

Siamese Twins

Siamese twins can think independently, but often need to learn how to cooperate, as they may share some limbs or bodily functions.  At a minimum, they share the space they occupy. They cannot be in separate places at the same time.

For those of us that are not Siamese twins, what would it feel like to be connected to someone at the hip?

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In this week’s parsha, Haazinu, G-d describes His relationship with the Jewish people: ”Because the L-rd's portion is His people Jacob, the lot of His inheritance.”  In Hebrew, it literally reads: “Because the Lord's portion is His people Jacob, the rope of His inheritance.”

Why are the Jewish people compared to a rope? And, how is this relevant to being… Read More »

E Unum Pluribus

One of the great virtues of America dates back to its founding. Thirteen colonies joined together to form the union that is the United States of America.  Thus declares the Latin motto on our currency: E pluribus unum, translated as “Out of many, one.”

Throughout the years this oneness has grown to include many others. 183 years later the 50th state, Hawaii, joined the union. Thousands upon thousands arrived on America’s shores from other countries, embracing America’s values and seeking its opportunities.  And, no doubt, many more will come.

The beauty of America is the joining together of so many different individuals toward a common goal.

What happens, I wonder, when an American leaves America for… Read More »

The Company You Keep

It turns out that the (digital) company you keep can have a profound influence on your financial life.  Some lenders and credit card companies investigate your tweets and Facebook friends to learn more about your spending habits. Apparently, they are also judging you by your friends’ activities.  If your online acquaintances are delinquent or have accumulated too many DUIs – you may be denied a loan.

Many of us might consider it unfair for banks to withhold funds due to my neighbor’s unpaid bills.  Why should I suffer if my coworker’s birthday party was at Seven Eleven instead of the Hilton hotel?

Yet, some financial institutions argue that the information gleaned from your social media interactions… Read More »

Knee-Jerk Praise

Sometimes, when attending or viewing a ballgame it’s difficult to assess exactly what’s happening on the field.  Nonetheless, it’s pretty clear when something favorable occurs to the team I support.  The field might be too crowded to decipher exactly what happened, but I’m certain that my team has control of the ball. Turns out it was a fumble recovery in our favor.  My excitement and cheering began before I even knew what had transpired.

In fact, I might need to wait for the announcer, the instant replay or a friend’s explanation to figure out what really occurred.  No matter. I’m cheering because I sense something went right for my team.

I may not know why I’m on board, but… Read More »

Mission Accomplished?

When President George W. Bush stood on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003 under the banner stating “Mission Accomplished,” it turned out to be a bit premature. The success of the war in Iraq is still hotly debated today.

And, now, the United States is in the final stages of pulling out its last troops – while the Taliban reestablishes its control over Afghanistan.

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Nearly twenty years after September 11, 2001 we are left to reflect on the horrors of that tragic day.  The lives lost, the families broken and the collective pain of our nation.  Add to that the constant inconveniences, reminders and concerns that continue to affect us in airport security lines, job applications and our… Read More »

Should We Do Away with Monarchy?

We’ve never had a king in America. But, for most of history, monarchs have ruled the earth. Even today, kings or queens are in power in numerous lands.

This reminds us of a mitzvah in this week’s Torah portion. We are commanded, “You shall set a king over you.”  In our own nation’s storied history this concept of a monarch has caused great concern, admiration and discord.  Of course, that was all a long time ago. Now, a democratic government controls the Holy Land.

In light of the great progress we have made, how should we view the Torah’s eternal command to “set a king” over ourselves? Isn’t the notion of a monarch archaic and regressive?

Certainly, Judaism rejects the… Read More »

A Merger, Not a Partnership

Two drunks were once overheard debating their friendship.

“I love you,” shouted one to the other.

“No, you don’t!” responded his fellow drunkard.

“Yes, I do! I love you with all my heart! Why don’t you believe me?” retorted the first drunk.

The thundering response was, “Because, if you truly love me, why don’t you know what’s hurting me?”

It so happened that the great Chassidic Rebbe Levi Yirtzchok of Berditchev was the one who overheard this dialogue. He later declared, “I learned the true meaning of love from a couple drunkards.”

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In this week’s parsha Re’eh, we are reminded to observe G-d’s commandments. The Torah states: You… Read More »

Thanks... But No Thanks!

Many scholars have observed that the pandemic has taught many a person the true values of life. We no longer take our health, social interaction, or retirement nest egg for granted.  We listen a little more to the sorrows and challenges of others.  Certainly, there is a silver lining to the… Read More »

Have Your Cake and Eat it Too!

As we prepare for another awesome session of Camp Gan Israel of Boise, I’m reminded of a trip to Wahooz Family Fun Center. Amongst the many activities and attractions are various arcade games, which seem to be a highlight for children (and adults) of all ages.  The most popular games provide tickets – redeemable for prizes – in return of a good score.

The first time my son was old enough to grasp what these games were, he had a great complaint against the machines.  “Why is it,” he questioned, “that sometimes the machine gives a lot of tickets and sometimes just a few, or none at all?!”

I explained that the machines produce tickets based on performance.  If you do well… Read More »

Just Get Over It?

The story is told that Napoleon Bonaparte was once walking by a synagogue and heard terrible wailing. He peered inside to see that the Jews were sitting on the ground and weeping, while reading from books. Upon inquiring what misfortune had befallen these people, he was informed that they were mourning the loss of their Holy Temple. Jews all over fast and pray on this sad day, when their sacred Temple was destroyed – twice.

“How long ago was this Temple destroyed?” the legendary Frenchman asked. When he was told that they were crying over an event that happened over 1700 years before, he declared, “A nation that cries and fasts for a Temple that they lost almost two millennia prior, will certainly merit to see it… Read More »

Spreading In

 

The recent rocket attacks on Israel demonstrate the need for bomb shelters. As the rockets penetrate deeper and deeper into Israel, more and more of the land must be equipped with bomb shelters. It isn’t enough to have a huge bomb shelter in the center of town. Rather, every area needs at least a small bomb shelter nearby. Quick and easy access literally saves lives.

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In the Torah portion of Mas’ei we read about the apportioning of the Land of Israel to the Jewish people. Each tribe is given an inheritance. Except for one – the tribe of Levi. The Levites were the spiritual representatives of the Jewish people, serving in the Holy Temple. They were not given a portion in the land.

Instead, 48 cities were… Read More »

Rubbing It In

When my toddler daughter attended her second day of camp, she cried for a few minutes before settling in. The next day at drop-off we reminded her how much fun she had the day before. And, I also encouraged her by sharing that she had only cried for five minutes the day before.

Why was I rubbing it in? Why remind her that she was anxious and cried?

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In this week’s Parsha of Pinchas we read about Moshe’s final view of Israel. He was, after all, denied entry into the coveted land. The Torah states:

The Lord said to Moses, "Go up to this mount Abarim and look at the land that I have given to the children of Israel.

And when you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people, just as Aaron your brother… Read More »

A Nation Alone

Hacking is no longer only a hobby for the tech-addicted or deluded. From hospitals to pipelines, no one is immune.

In the Facebook era, we seem to really live by the Talmudic dictum, “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is yours.” Any info I post is virtual public knowledge. I may think that I am tweeting something to one individual, but I better be careful– because the whole world may soon know about it.

So what should our attitude be toward an increasingly nosy world with increasingly easy access to our private information? Should we resign ourselves to the fact that we may one day see our own private info on a tabloid? Should we take every possible measure to lock all of our personal… Read More »

Striking the Heart

Summer is here. For many children, it’s an opportunity to relax and enjoy the outdoors. Many kids are thrilled at the break from education.

My mentor, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, argued that the summer is not a break from education. That’s not necessarily because he advocated for summer school.

It’s because the Rebbe viewed the summer as an opportune time for a different type of education. The summer camp experience, for example, is an unparalleled opportunity to teach children by example and inspiration. The life skills acquired during camping and outings cannot be learned in a classroom. The pride of being a Jew cannot be taught. It must be experienced. And, living Jewishly is not something gleaned from a book.… Read More »

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