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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.

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.

***

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?

*

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 »

Greener Pastures

As the Rebbe’s 27th yahrzeit approaches (this Sunday), I am filled with wistful sensations. I recall the uplifting moments I spent with my mentor. I am transported to the cherished feelings of awe and elation standing in the Rebbe’s presence. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to be in the presence of a true tzaddik.

And, to some degree, I pine for the days of my youth; the days when I traveled to New York to hear the Rebbe speak and study his teachings. I long for the feverish dancing at the Rebbe’s Hakafot on Simchat Torah.

Then, I remind myself that I must live in the here and now – that the Rebbe’s deepest wish is that we continue his mission of making this world the holy Garden of G-d it… Read More »

Role Playing

I sometimes feel like the would-be split baby in the famous story of King Solomon and the two women (see Melachim/Kings 1 Chapter 3).

With ten children בלי עין הרע, a trip to the park is lots of fun. It can also be fraught with challenges. One of the greatest challenges is ensuring that each child has his or her time and place. One wants to play ball; the other wants to go down the slide; and a thirds wants me to push her on the swings.

When they complain about having me do this or that, I really wish I could be in two places at once. Because ultimately each one deserves his/her own time and particular age-appropriate activity.

I could easily tell them all to do the same thing, but I would be robbing them of their… Read More »

Cause for Applause

It’s graduation season. And, we may be tiring of the constant applause. Yes, every student deserves the full credit, but some argue that it becomes monotonous and self-defeating to applaud for everyone. Congratulations are certainly due, but when should we applaud? And, should we offer the same compliments to each student?

***

In this week’s Torah portion of Behaalotecha we find someone who did not applaud.

When Aharon (Moshe’s brother) witnessed the inauguration of the Mishkan by the princes – each of whom offered sacrifices – he stood by silently. Why didn’t he applaud?

Rashi explains that Aharon felt bad that he was not one of the participants. And G-d then informed Aharon that he has no need… Read More »

How, Not If

The last week has been a tough one for Jews all over the world. It has also been a miraculous one.

Jews in Israel were targeted in their homes, schools and synagogues. Jews in uniform were forced to defend themselves and their people, often at the cost of other human lives.

Jews in New York and Los Angeles were attacked – just for being Jewish. Our sister organization, Chabad Lubavitch of Utah in Salt Lake City, had its front door vandalized with a swastika.

In all of this, we have seen the hand of Hashem. It’s clear that the Torah’s statement about Israel rings true in all times: “The eyes of Hashem your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.”

And, just this week… Read More »

The Biggest Gift

What’s the biggest gift you’ve ever received from your parents or your spouse?

Was it a new car? A piece of jewelry? Watching the kids for a week so you can go on vacation? The knowledge they imparted to you?

At Shavuot, we consider the biggest gift the Jewish people have ever received. 3333 years ago, the Jewish people stood at Sinai and received the Torah. This historic event changed the world forever. The wisdom of the Torah has permeated the entire world. Fast forward three millennia and the world has slowly adopted many of its values. It’s the most widely read book on earth.

And, it has helped our people navigate the triumphs and challenges of our distinct history.

Certainly, Shavuot is a day to celebrate.… Read More »

Net Worth

A super wealthy man was once asked about his net worth. After replying with a figure lower than his assumed wealth, he was questioned, “Have you not understated your assets?”

“No,” he replied, “I’ve stated my true assets, the charity that I have given.”

***

In the second of this week’s two Torah portions, Behar and Bechukotai, we read of the pledges to the Temple. The Torah tells us that a standard amount was collected from someone who pledged to give the value of a specific person to the Temple. Regardless of the person’s occupation, piety, or talent – it was the same amount.

So, for example, if Izzy said, “I pledge to give the value of Shmerl to the Holy… Read More »

Responses, Not Answers

How does one celebrate the marriage of a loved one while mourning the loss of a loved one?

It seems impossible.

And, today, Jews the world over have been called upon to do the impossible.

Last night, at the first government-sanctioned mass gathering of the covid era, thousands upon thousands of Jews gathered at the holy tomb of Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai in Northern Israel.

What seemed like the greatest celebration in months quickly turned into tragedy as a terrible accident occurred. Numerous people were crushed in a cascading pile of humanity, apparently heading for the exits. The horrific details slowly emerged. 45 dead. Over 100 injured, some critically.

Our thoughts are with our brothers and sisters in the land of Israel. Our hearts… Read More »

The Best Yichus

In Hebrew and Yiddish “yichus” connotes prestigious pedigree. Tevya worrying about his daughter marrying a “nobody” is the embodiment of “yichus” psychosis.

In British Royal circles, a prince marrying a commoner is a big deal. In WASPy circles, yichus is what you need to get into the country club.

***

This week’s second Parsha, Kedoshim, opens with the words, “You shall be holy, for I, G-d your G-d, am holy.” The dictate to act sacred is tied to the fact that G-d is sacred.

Some commentaries point to a deeper missive in these words. The Almighty is not simply saying: “Emulate Me and be holy!” Rather, G-d is also exhorting, “You can be Holy, because I… Read More »

The Lonely Punishment

Ask anyone who has been wrongly accused of a crime whether they ever got their good reputation back. Their consistent responses underscore the great harm of slander and lashon harah (evil talk).

The headlines are replete with stories of financial impropriety, grand theft and cheating scandals – but the Talmud states, “Money can be reimbursed, but the damage of words is irreparable. Money is a person's property, but words hurt the person himself.” In truth, harming one’s reputation does not only cause one to suffer embarrassment and emotional injury. It also creates a spiral of ill feelings that domino from person to person – leaving a trail of destruction virtually impossible to track.

A lifetime… Read More »

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