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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.

The Tortoise and the Hare

We’re all familiar with the famous fable. The tortoise outraces the hare due to her determined and steady progress. The primary lesson the hare – and all of us – must learn is the foolishness of overconfidence and the folly of laziness.

Peering deeper into this parable, even if we aren’t overconfident, and despite our best efforts, we may still succumb to the hare’s fate. Why do so many of us start projects and never wrap up?  In the likes of horse racing, we might be able to reserve our energy for that final stretch. But in the game of life, we often grow tired and never manage to finish strong. Why?

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One of the apparently odd obsessions of our Patriarchs was digging wells. What’s even more odd… Read More »

Real Fruit

No matter how many times I’ve done it before, attending the annual Shluchim conference in New York is always special.  Sitting at a table with friends and strangers, I realize that I am part of something so much larger than myself.

We all have a mission in life, a purpose or calling for which we were created.  In this sense we cannot be more different than one another. Nobody can replace my mission and I cannot serve in their stead.

On the other hand, we all share the same purpose.  We all serve collectively toward the same goal of making this world a G-dly place.

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In this week’s parsha, Chayei Sarah, we learn of the first Shlichut, mission, in the Torah. Avraham charged his right-hand man, Eliezer, with a… Read More »

Manipulation

There’s a big hoopla online about Twitter’s on-again-off-again Blue Check verification system.  The world’s richest man has taken over the social media company, and quickly began implementing changes.

One proposed change was to charge $8 a month to achieve verified status, earning one’s account a Twitter Blue check. However, that system apparently attracted lots of trolls. In fact, Elon Musk’s own account (as well as Tesla’s), was impersonated in a widely-followed parody. So, it’s gone faster than it had appeared.

In the age of social media, when anyone can broadcast their ideas to the entire world in a flash, manipulation seems to be a big issue. It can affect stock prices (cue Eli Lilly)… Read More »

G-d’s Laugh

There’s a famous Yiddish saying, “Der mentsch tracht un Guh-t lacht,” which translates to, “A person thinks and G-d laughs.” The meaning of this idiom is that we have our plans, but G-d has other plans for us. In Yiddish it rhymes as well.

We can all point to situations in life where we put great energy into a certain path in life, only to have the rug torn out from under our feet. G-d had other plans.

Yiddish is a rich language and it often does away with conventional diplomacy in order to make a point. It’s no wonder that this saying pulls no punches in describing G-d as laughing at our grandiose plans.

I wonder, however, if that is really the sole intent. And, if it remains so, is it accurate? Do… Read More »

Finding Excuses

Exploiting situations for political benefit may be an old trick, and will continue to be debated. Is it proper to use a situation that is already present for personal benefit or political gain?

In our own private lives we are often faced with similar challenges.

My biggest rival at work failed miserably today. Should I take advantage and prop myself up in front of my boss?

Sometimes, when in these circumstances, we might be looking for excuses to justify taking advantage of the state of affairs. “Well, it’s not my fault she failed to deliver!”

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In the beginning of this week’s parsha of Noach, the Torah relates: “These are the generations of Noah, Noah was a righteous man he was perfect in his… Read More »

Constant Connection

Can a fish survive out of water? Can a doctor survive without her medical devices? Can a carpenter survive without his hammer? Can a person survive without food?

It depends, you might say, on what survive means. A fish needs water. Without food humans will die.

But without a hammer, a carpenter might lose some of his identity but he won’t disappear.

If a person needs – among other things – food and oxygen to survive, what does a soul needs in order to live?

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In the opening parsha of the Torah, Bereishit, we are taught about the wonderful universe we live in. G-d created everything. By the Torah’s description of creation, G-d employed speech to bring about physical existence. From the stars to the… Read More »

Write It! Dance It!

Write It! Dance It!

Often, when I am pondering something significant, I will tell myself, “That’s a great idea.  I should explore it further when I have some time.”

Usually, however, my subsequent attempts to research the subject are met with scant and subpar results (that is, if I even remember to follow up).  Sometimes, the only way I’m able to tap into the excitement and richness of the initial inspiration is if I act upon it immediately.  If I quickly start developing the idea, it will frequently bear fruit.

One way to make sure the idea does not disappear into the abyss is by discussing it with someone or committing it to writing ASAP.  If it gets stale, it will usually just collect dust… Read More »

The Parting Poem

The matinee is often less well attended than the evening performance, just as the main show gets more attention than the side show. 

As we celebrate the Shabbat between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, we may be tempted think of it as an afterthought. Yes, it’s Shabbat, but it is so ordinary that it pales in comparison to the two holidays which bookend it.

But, on further reflection, it is perhaps this Shabbat and the theme of it’s parsha, Haazinu, that is most befitting to connect Yom Kippur and Sukkot.

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This is the second-to-last parsha in the Chumash. Its primary feature is Shirat Haazinu, the song or poem that Moshe shares with the Jewish people on his final day on earth. In it he summons heaven and earth to serve as… Read More »

Always on the Move

Ian. Sounds like such an innocent name. Yet, caused so much destruction.

When tragedies like Hurricane Ian hit, we are reminded of the great valor of people who are concerned with others. It’s natural to be preoccupied with self-survival when faced with life-threatening and life-savings-destroying catastrophes.

I am touched at the heroic efforts of so many wonderful people that were on the front lines of the storm and put their own priorities aside to help others. Not least of them, my fellow colleagues with Chabad in Florida. One of them, a former roommate of mine, commissioned a boat to rescue a nearby family trapped in their home.

I am reminded of the lesson from this week’s Torah portion Vayelech.

It’s the very… Read More »

Home Repair

Have you ever had a broken appliance to deal with? In our present dispensable era, fixing appliances is less and less common. I can’t imagine how many repair shops have closed down in my lifetime.

How about a leaky faucet or broken air conditioner?

We once had a leak that lasted for months (possibly years) without being able to trace the source.  It seemed to subside, but then came back. After much problem-solving, we finally discovered the culprit: A cracked valve in a second-story bathroom.  The water was continuously leaking drip by drip until enough had accumulated that it seeped through the floorboards and through the downstairs ceiling. Now we had a puddle on our dining room floor.

The crack was tiny, but the… Read More »

Mining for Gold

On a recent family camping trip, we came across a defunct power plant deep in the national forest. The nearest town is about 30 minutes away by car. The plant is about 100 years old, but closed down in the sixties with the advent of diesel.

The plant relied on miles of piping from a nearby lake, an impressive building and a huge amount of manpower. It was a tremendous feat to build. It was an even greater challenge to run and maintain.

I wondered why this plant was built in such a remote location. As I explored the history of the plant, I learned that the plant was not built to support the needs of area towns and cities. Rather, it was built to provide electricity to one enterprise – a nearby gold mine.

If you were mining for… Read More »

G-d Save the King

The United Kingdom is mourning the loss of a monarch.

The United Kingdom is celebrating the ascension of a new monarch.

The national anthem switched from “G-d Save the Queen” to “G-d Save the King.”

It is rather fascinating that both events – with contrary emotions – concur.

How does a nation (or nations in this case) cope with both emotions at the same time?

I’ve also always wondered how a country has been able to maintain – with such passion and dignity – the concept of a monarchy in our day and age, and in a Westernized country.

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In this week’s parsha Ki Tetzei, we learn about the Jewish laws of marriage and divorce.

Our Sages teach that the concept of marriage… 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 »

Blaming G-d

At some point in our lives, we inevitably blame G-d.

If something goes wrong, we sometimes blame others. Once in a while, we even blame ourselves.

But, when we are out of options, we simply blame G-d.

Even atheists sometimes blame G-d. “I don’t believe in G-d because G-d would never allow A, B or C to happen.” This is actually putting blame on G-d.

So, the inevitable question is, “Who does G-d blame when things go wrong?”

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In this week’s Parsha of Re’ei, the Torah enjoins us to “cleave to G-d” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 12:5).  The Sages of the Talmud interpret this commandment to mean that we must “cleave to His ways: bestow kindness, bury the dead, and visit the sick, just… Read More »

Lip Service?

Unfortunately, we have been witness in the last months to war and provocation. Fears persist over possible nuclear disasters, exacerbated by the fog of war. Fighter jets over the Taiwan Strait and space malfunctions are other recents concerns.

One thing is certain: We are skating on the edge. One press of a button, or one small shift and a lot of damage can be done.

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In this week’s parsha Eikev we learn about the mitzvah to pray to G-d. Actually, the Torah merely states, “To love G-d your G-d and to serve Him with all your heart.” The Talmud explains that this is prayer.

Isn’t it ironic that what the Torah considers a ‘service of the heart’ is essentially a ritual many perceive as a matter of rote?… Read More »

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