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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.

Lost Souls

One of my assignments as a rabbinic intern in South Africa was to visit businesspeople on Friday afternoons. In typical Chabad fashion, I went with a colleague searching for Jews. We developed a “route” – a standard contingent of businesses that we would visit each week, reaching out to fellow Jews with Shabbat wishes, Torah materials and an opportunity to do a mitzvah. For some it meant a schmooze about Yiddishkeit, for others a reminder to light the Shabbat candles.

The opportunity to lay tefillin was a key offering. One fellow was particularly angry at us for even asking. He immediately showed me the door and stated, “I know why you guys are here. And I want nothing of it. I may be Jewish but I don’t do… Read More »

The Heroism of Cowardice

Being a coward is something looked down upon by society. I remember one Chanukah night in Newark, New Jersey as a yeshivah student. I was waiting for a bus after leading a Chanukah party for elderly Jews at an old age home. I was not from the neighborhood and should have known better. In a few moments, I was virtually surrounded by some teenagers up to no good. I could have stood my ground. But instead, realizing I was outnumbered and outsized, I noticed an escape route out of the corner of my eye and bolted. I managed to get away unharmed and with my wallet still intact. How I outpaced the gang is still a mystery to me.

I don’t tell the story to display my courage because some will say I should have fought back. But, in… Read More »

Stating the Obvious

Oftentimes my children nag me for reminding them of the obvious. “Clean your room,” I might say, adding that if not they will suffer the consequences of not finding their own toys and clothes.

Although it may seem self-evident at the time, it’s often only a few weeks later when they can’t find something that they learn to keep things tidy themselves. There’s no need to remind my son when he is frantically looking for a book.  But in the interim, many days can pass without the sense of urgency.

In short, if it’s not on the front burner, it may get forgotten.

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In this week’s parsha of Re’ei we are told, “And you shall slaughter of your cattle and flocks which G-d has… Read More »

Un-Scripting the Scripted

One of the projects at Camp Gan Israel in Boise this week was creating havdalah “spice balls.” The children were all given foam balls, cloves and pipe cleaners. The end result, however, was completely different from camper to camper.

***

In this week’s Parsha of Eikev we read the second paragraph of the famous Shema prayer. It opens, “And it will be, if you hearken to My commandments that I command you this day to love the L-rd, your G-d, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Our Sages explain that to “serve Him with all your heart” refers to prayer, because prayer is a “service of the heart.” Prayer is not meant to be lip service. Rather it is… Read More »

Unique Jewish Symbols

This week I led a staff training session at a school. The purpose was to educate them about Jewish beliefs and practice, so they could be sensitive to the needs of the Jewish student population.

It was easy for them to grasp and relate to the fundamental tenets of Judaism and the commandments of Shabbat and kosher. What particularly caught their attention was tefillin.

I guess if I were never exposed to the practice of donning black leather boxes on head and arm, it would seem rather bizarre to me too. But it was not the look of tefillin that intrigued these people who had never seen them before. Nor was it the meaning behind them.

I patiently explained the origin of tefillin, which appear in the famous Shema prayer. The… Read More »

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