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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.

Rabbis Without Borders

Exactly seventy years ago a 49-year-old man stood in a small synagogue in Brooklyn and embarked on a journey to change the world. In future decades his name would reverberate in Jewish homes throughout the globe. Eventually, his followers would take up posts in over 100 countries.

But, the world he was facing was nothing like the renown and ubiquity that his name now carries.

I am, of course, speaking of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of righteous memory. The Rebbe, as he is affectionately known, accepted the leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch on the Tenth of Shevat 1951. Decimated by the Holocaust and Soviet oppression, it was a small, battered group that he addressed in his inaugural speech.

But, he set out a plan to… Read More »

Talking to Me

It’s easy to point fingers as we observe the challenges America and our world face today. And, the blame that we assess may be fully valid.

However, I was once taught that every time you point a finger at someone else, you are pointing more fingers at yourself.

Does this apply to a situation when I am certain that someone else is at fault? Is this relevant when it’s clear that I am not involved at all in the issue at hand?

*

In this week’s parsha Va’eira, Hashem punishes Egypt and its corrupt leader with the (first seven of the) ten plagues.

G-d declares that, “I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and I will increase My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt.”

It seems obvious that G-d’s plan in… Read More »

Burning, But Inconsumable

Like me, I’m sure you are deeply troubled by this week’s events in America.

And, these recent incidents deserve our attention. The Baal Shem Tov taught that we must take a lesson from everything we experience and observe in life.

How can our faith and our Torah guide us at this critical moment?

*

The Jews were suffering terribly at the hands of the Egyptians, as described in this week’s parsha Shemot. Their future leader Moshe, however, was forced to flee Egypt when Pharaoh tried to have him executed. He was pasturing his father-in-law’s flock in Midian when he chanced upon a strange site.  He saw a thorn bush that was “burning with fire, but the thorn bush was not being consumed.”

The… Read More »

20/20 Foresight

As the clock ticked twelve last night, folks all over the world were eager to usher in the year 2021. Perhaps, more precisely, they were enthusiastic to say goodbye to 2020.

Pining for a healthier world and a life that once was, so many are pinning their hopes on life getting back to somewhat normal somewhat soon.  Millions of people couldn’t be happier to discard 2020 to the wayside.

But, should we?

*

This week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, is also the conclusion of the first of the Five Books of the Torah, Bereishit. It ends with the death and burial of Yosef (Joseph), the Jewish viceroy of Egypt.

Although he was buried in Egypt, he demanded that his family promise to reinter him in the Holy Land when they travel back… Read More »

Joyful Coercion

Some things in life we embrace joyfully.

At other times, we are forced to deal with the situation presented to us.

Is it possible to be coerced and still embrace an undertaking with joy and passion?

*

In this week’s parsha, Vayigash, Yaakov (Jacob) and his entire family relocate from the land of Canaan to Egypt.

Yaakov was excited to go to Egypt in order to be reunited with his long-lost son, Yosef (Joseph).

However, he was also hesitant and fearful to leave the Holy land and dwell in the pagan land of Egypt. G-d reassures him: “Do not be afraid of going down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation.”

Of course, the ultimate reason that G-d wanted Yaakov to go to Egypt would be the eventual… Read More »

The End or The Beginning?

A friend from Montana once commented to me that it’s interesting that a map of Idaho also seems to depict the famous ‘face’ of Montana. I smiled.

Idaho and Montana share a border. So, obviously, the same image can be ‘seen’ on either map.

The border can either be the beginning of Montana or the end of Idaho. Which is it?

*

Today, Chanukah draws to a close.

It’s also about a year since the word coronavirus entered our collective psyche. We pray that very soon the pandemic will end and life will return to normal – or at least the new normal.

As we assess these endings, we are left to wonder, are we at the end of an era or process, or are we at the beginning of a new period?

Of course, you… Read More »

Inside Out

 Tonight, we will kindle Chanukah candles and then Shabbat candles.

The Talmud poses the question: Which is more important – lighting Shabbat candles or lighting Chanukah candles?

The Talmud’s response is that if one can only afford one or the other, Shabbat candles take precedence.

In order to appreciate the Talmud’s reasoning, let’s understand the difference between Shabbat candles and Chanukah candles.

Both mitzvahs are of Rabbinic origin. But, their purposes are markedly different.

Put simply, Shabbat candles are lit in order to bring peace and warmth to the home. They are, by design, inward focused. Therefore, they are ideally lit at or near the dinner table – a place where the household members… Read More »

The 222-Year-Old Vaccine

Wearing masks and avoiding contact is one way to dodge infection from a disease.

Once a person has had the disease, however, the body is often able to defeat it on its own.

This is why so many people are waiting with bated breath for a covid-19 vaccine. The hope is that we will be able to get back to life as we once knew it after a vaccine is successfully rolled out.

The fascinating thing about vaccines is that a small interaction with the disease teaches the body how to fight a full-on threat in the future. There are various methods of inoculation – and I am not a medical expert, nor have I studied the proposed vaccines for covid-19. The common denominator of all vaccines is utilizing the disease itself to prevent its future… Read More »

Equally Unique

Thanksgiving is not a Jewish holiday.

But, its principles are something Jews should celebrate.

The purpose of Thanksgiving is to thank Almighty G-d for the abundance, joy and freedom that the United States of America affords.

Since its inception – and subsequent adoption as a national holiday – America has changed a lot and developed in many ways. In addition to the influx of diverse peoples into the USA, the character of our nation has progressed. From sports to cuisine; from laws to lands – America is a very different country than it was during the era of the Pilgrims and the Founding Fathers.

So, are we thankful in the same vein as our predecessors? Or, are we a new culture hanging onto an old tradition?

Read More »

Unaccomplished?

When reading the life-story of Yitzchak (Isaac) in this week’s parsha Toldot, I am amazed to see that although we are familiar with Yitzchak from birth onwards, the Torah begins the narrative of his life from the point of his marriage to Rivka (Rebecca). To be sure, we know a fair amount about him from previous Torah portions. We know that he was circumcised at eight days old; that his parents threw a grand party when he was weaned; that his father almost sacrificed him at 37 years old; and that his father sought an extraordinary girl for him to marry. According to the Midrash, Yitzchak also spent three years in the Garden of Eden. But all of that is a detail in the tale of his parents. In his own right, we are introduced… Read More »

Promises Kept

America just experienced an historic election. No matter what brand of politics you subscribe to, you would agree that this election garnered the most attention – and participants – in over a century. It’s uplifting to see so many people excited about partaking in our civic process.

This election has torn at the seams of our country. I pray that we can come together.

Although we are still living through unique moments of this election, some people are probably sighing a sigh of relief that the campaigning period is over. The endless ads, the incessant and redundant news cycle, and the shrill chatter can be grinding on our psyches.

During campaign season we hear lots of promises. Time will tell whether those… Read More »

Uplifting

I would not be exaggerating if I said that my wife’s older sister, Chani, may also be her best friend. Just a couple years apart in age, they are very close. Throughout their childhood, however, my wife was – and remains – taller than her big sister. So, Esther was the little-big sister.

But, regardless of physical height, Esther continues to look up to her big sister – to her sage advice, admirable devotion and tall stature.

This reminds me of a story from the youth of the fifth Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Shalom Dovber Schneersohn, whose birthday is tomorrow. He had an older brother, Zalman Ahron, who was shorter than him.

One day, their father came home to see the younger brother in a pit with his older… Read More »

Right or Left?

A friend of mine, implying that we saw things differently, suggested that we take a bit of a break from each other. He didn’t unfriend me on Facebook. Instead, he pointed to an episode in this week’s parsha, Lech Lecha.

The Torah describes the difficulties that Avraham and his nephew Lot were having, primarily due to their numerous flocks and the subsequent dispute between their shepherds.

Avraham, in an effort to maintain the peace, suggests:

“Please let there be no quarrel between me and between you and between my herdsmen and between your herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not all the land before you? Please part from me; if you go left, I will go right, and if you go right, I will go left.”

My friend was… Read More »

Measure Twice, Cut Once

The popular saying in the construction industry is, “Measure twice. Cut once.”

The Russian version takes it a whole bunch further: “Measure seven times and cut once.” Apparently, wood was in even greater demand in Russia of old…

Although Noach was not American or Russian, he seems to have taken this expression to a whole new level. Noach spent 120 years building the ark, as is described in this week’s eponymous parsha. Why did it take him so long?

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A high school principal told me he always waits at least one full day before administering serious punishment to misbehaving students. That way, he explained, I know I am not acting from angry impulse, but out of measured discipline.

Delaying… Read More »

Raising Cain

What’s not a sin, but can be worse than a sin?

***

In the Torah’s opening portion, Bereishit, we glean a great deal about human nature. We are introduced to the purest of souls, G-d’s handiwork – Adam. We also become acquainted with human frailty and iniquity.

The most evil act of all seems to come toward the end of the parsha, when Cain kills his brother Abel.

Cain goes down in history as a terrible fellow. And he was. Though he did not have the luxury of past history to inform him, human blood is human blood. The Torah underlines this value unequivocally.

You would think that such a murderer ends up in the dustbins of history and is never heard from again.

Yet, amazingly, we are all descended from… Read More »

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