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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.

Better Than Nobel Prizes

Ask Google about Jewish contributions to the world and you will get many results about science, medicine, and Nobel prizes.

Jewish people are indeed responsible for a larger share of inventions and medical discoveries than their numbers call for. And, these contributions often reflect values of the Jewish people.

But, is that their most important contribution? Is being a mentsch, having a classy sense of humor or achieving academic success the hallmark of being very Jewish?

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There is an old, wry joke that if you want to know how miserable the Jews are, look in a Jewish newspaper. If you want to see how great the Jews are doing, look in a non-Jewish newspaper.

This truism was especially accurate in Soviet Russia. In the 1920s the… Read More »

Angel vs Man

I’ll admit it. I got on an airplane for the first time in months.

I traveled – wearing a N95 mask – all the way to New York and back within 24 hours. From the airport, I took a 15-minute taxi ride, spent a few hours outdoors, and was on my way back to the airport.

I spent about 18 hours of travel in order to spend a few hours at the Rebbe’s Ohel in honor of Gimmel Tammuz, the Rebbe’s 26th yahrzeit.

It was a very different experience than the last 25 years. I did not step foot indoors. I did not hug my friends whom I haven’t seen in months. I had my temperature taken in order to wait in line – six-feet-apart – with a mask. I had but a few moments at the actual Ohel.

Am I crazy?

Perhaps.… Read More »

Staying in Lockdown

The original lockdown happened many years ago.

Long before any governors issued stay-at-home orders, the Jewish people were condemned to a 40-year lockdown. (I guess several months isn’t looking as bad anymore).

As this week’s parsha Shelach tells, due to the sin of the Spies, the generation that left Egypt and received the Torah was denied its final prize – entry into the Holy Land. Instead, they would all die out in the wilderness. Their children would inherit the land of their fathers.

Initially, G-d wanted to wipe out His people and start anew with Moshe. But, once again, Moshe prayed for his people and G-d forgave them – with the caveat that only the next generation would merit to enter the Promised… Read More »

Get to the Point!

We are living through unique times.

Today, my brother-in-law’s father returned home in London, England – after a seven-week intubation at the hospital due to COVID-19. Baruch Hashem!

Unfortunately, my cousin – who dedicated his life to helping others – did not survive his struggle with COVID-19. This Washington Post article is but a small tribute to a man who gave everything he had to volunteer as a medic.

Meanwhile, race relations and issues surrounding police brutality are at a boiling in America like we have not seen in at least a generation.

Truly solving these issues will likely take many months, if not years. Does that mean we should resolve ourselves to years of suffering, fear, discord and tumult?

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At… Read More »

Lift Up His Head

In a meeting with a Jewish leader the Lubavitcher Rebbe once pointed out the irony that the Israeli government spends tens of thousands of dollars to enable someone to make Aliya, but refuses to invest smaller amounts to incentivize its own citizens to have children.

This leader countered that the Israeli government should not offer per-child stipends because that would also encourage Arab families to have more children, creating a demographic disadvantage to the Jewish state.

Sounds like a significant political quandary, doesn’t it? What would you say?

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We’ll get back to that momentarily. But, first, let’s have a look at this week’s parsha, Naso.

The word Naso means to “lift up.” It is a figure of… Read More »

Can You Have a Downtown Without a City?

Remember downtown?

Whether you live in Boise or Boston, downtown just isn’t what it used to be. No, I’m not referring to whether downtown has been gentrified or not, whether it is the city’s financial district or whether it is home to endless millennials in condos or homeless camps.

I’m talking about the fact that downtown vibrancy has changed recently. There are simply less people on the streets. Which makes many people wonder whether the allure and necessity of downtowns will return.

The truth is that downtown is a bit of a strange word. Usually it refers to the historic core of the city or the center of commerce. But, it’s not necessarily lower. Nor is it always south on a map.

The concept of… Read More »

Digging Deeper

When my father was hospitalized in the ICU with coronavirus, I felt somewhat helpless. He was nearly 2000 miles away in Ohio. He was sedated. I couldn’t even get ahold of the doctor. The staff was simply overwhelmed.

How can I connect with him?

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In this week’s double-header parsha, G-d claims ownership of the Jewish people. In Behar-Bechukotai G-d declares, “For the children of Israel are servants to Me; they are My servants, whom I took out of the land of Egypt.”

Every word in Torah conveys deep meaning. This begs the question: Why the redundancy of stating twice – in the same verse – that the Jewish people are servants to G-d?

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In our relationships, we are driven by a desire to receive. We… Read More »

It’s Not Too Late!

My sister-in-law’s father came home yesterday after over seven weeks in the hospital due to covid-19. He had a tracheostomy and was on a respirator for over a month. At times, there was grave concern for his life. To see him walking on his own two feet, joyously reunited with his family, was truly miraculous.

During the weeks that went by in a haze of conscious and unconscious, he missed out entirely on observing Passover.

It’s hard to imagine the emotional feeling of helplessness when you realize that a period of your life has been virtually deleted. Thankfully, he is around to tell the tale.

As he joked, “I was wrong about how serious covid-19 is. Thank G-d, I was not dead wrong!”

On a more serious note… Read More »

Truly Contagious

Some people wear masks, others don’t. Some have jobs, others don’t. Some are ill, others are healthy. Some have loved ones that have tragically succumbed to this disease; others don’t personally know anybody who is COVID-19 positive.

Some airlines require masks in order to board aircraft, others are stuffing people into every seat. Some businesses in Idaho will open today, others will remain shuttered.

As society knocks off the initial shock of life during COVID-19, the greater discussion is evolving into how we adjust to a more long-term coronavirus lifestyle.

The coronavirus has affected each of us differently. In the diverse society called America, what should be my attitude to all these varying degrees of… Read More »

Forward Looking

What will life look like in 6 months from now? In a year from now, will I still have a job? Will air travel be the same? What will be scars from the coronavirus pandemic – on our families, communities, economies and culture?

Will we go back to our old lives or will we be forever changed by the digital creatures we are slowly becoming?

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This week we read two parshiyot in the Torah. Tazria and Metzora both discuss the biblical, spiritual-physical illness of tzaraat. Most years the two parshiyot are joined together.

Tazria mainly discusses the illness. Metzora mainly discusses the cure.

Tzaraat was a serious illness that required physical isolation from others. It was not contagious. Rather, the quarantine was part of the… Read More »

Invisible Enemy

My children have become accustomed to the ‘stay at home’ and ‘social distancing’ reality. My younger children – though they readily follow along – still struggle to understand why we are doing all of this. Because their grandfather contracted the disease, they have a clear reference point on how dangerous this illness is. I try to explain to them about the spread of coronavirus.

When I tell them of the dangers of crossing streets, they can see the cars zipping by and recognize the hazard. But, they don’t understand how something is so dangerous without being able to see it.

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President Trump likes to refer to the covid-19 pandemic as the Invisible Enemy.

Truthfully, the coronavirus isRead More »

Dayenu!

This Shabbat we read the Haggadah in preparation for Pesach. It’s called Shabbat HaGadol.

Next Wednesday night Jews will gather together in their homes – likely without guests – to celebrate Pesach and observe the Seder. It will be like the original Seder in Egypt. No one left their homes then either.

But, it won’t be like a Seder is meant to be. Toward the beginning of the Seder we announce, “Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come and conduct the Seder of Passover.”

As much as we would like to invite guests, we cannot do so this year.

Some Jews are forced to prepare a Seder for the first time. Others are forced to endure a Seder completely alone. (See this… Read More »

Social Nearness

Social Nearness

“It’s strange,” someone told me this week. “I’m staying home and practicing social distancing. Yet, in a sense, I feel closer to people than I have before. Suddenly, I find myself genuinely concerned about others, inquiring about their well-being like I actually mean it and venturing out of my home not for my own pleasure, but simply to help others. When I call people on the phone, I feel like I really am listening to them.”

We are living through unique and testing times. Each one of us is making sacrifices. Some sacrifices are forced upon us. Others we choose to make.

I may not choose it, but my employer reduced my hours. I may not choose it, but I am unable to attend school or… Read More »

The Sanctuary of Shabbat

For generations, Jews were arrested and murdered because they kept Shabbat. Yet, they still kept Shabbat.

Ironically, today, in an era of freedom, it’s the opposite. For perhaps the first time in history, there is barely a synagogue open on Shabbat. Jews are praying privately at home. Not because of anti-Semitism. Because of a pandemic.

COVID-19 has forced people out of the workplace and schools. It has brought billions of people to shelter at home.

So, what message does the Torah have in dealing with these unprecedented times?

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The parsha this week is a double-header. In Vayakhel and Pekudei we read (again) about the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). G-d demanded of the Jewish people to create a home for Him… Read More »

Soulful Infection

As COVID-19 takes over our daily routines, decision-making and social life, we are faced with lots of stress. To be certain, much of the stress-inducing realities are warranted. At the end of the day, we should be following sound medical advice. I’m not a medical professional and will urge you to adhere to doctors’ orders.

Once we figure out what that medical advice is, the new question, then, is not how to behave. Rather, the question is how to feel. I may indeed need to wash my hands triple the amount of times I have until now. But, how should I feel about it? Frustrated? Anxious? Worried? Angry?

What should my attitude be to missed lifecycle events, to canceled plans, to social distancing, to more careful… Read More »

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