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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.

Digital Damage

A Texas family is suing a school district after it failed to act in response to their son being bullied. The school denies that the activity rose to the definition of bullying.

Here’s what happened: Their son, a player on the high school football team, is severely allergic to peanuts. He carries an EpiPen with him wherever he goes. Some students intentionally placed peanuts in his locker and on his uniform. Luckily, he was uninjured from the incident.

So, which is worse: taunting words, derogatory tweets, or harmful acts?

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In this week’s Torah portion, Tazria, we read about the consequences of Lashon Harah (evil talk, gossip and slander).

The Midrash explains that Lashon Harah is terrible because, “What is spoken in … Read More »

What to Say

Do you sometimes wonder what to say to someone when hearing that they suffered a tragedy or are facing a challenge? Are you at a loss for words because you cannot imagine what they are going through? Do you want to say something but aren’t sure if it will help or harm?

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In this week’s parsha, Shemini, we learn of Aharon’s response to the heartbreaking news that two of his sons had perished. The Torah states simply, “And Aharon was silent.”

Because of his silence, explains the Midrash, Aharon merited that the Almighty spoke directly and exclusively to him.

A private audience with G-d is a pretty spectacular reward. What was so special about Aharon’s behavior that earned him this great honor?

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The T… Read More »

A Night of Day

Our day starts at night.

Just look at the first chapter of the Torah.

It’s often a hassle to explain to those unfamiliar with the Jewish faith. All days on the Jewish calendar begin at nightfall.  Shabbat begins on Friday night.  Passover this year will begin on April 22 at sundown. It is, after all, a more accurate calendar that follows the universe in which we dwell.

However, in this week’s parsha, Tzav, we find an exception to this otherwise ironclad system.  The fire on the altar in the Bait Hamikdash remained burning all night. Sacrifices that had not yet been completed during the day were offered at night. In this respect, the night followed the day.

Why the exception? And, what is the lesson for us?

Da… Read More »

Organically Alone

The Economist magazine’s cover this week had two words on it, “Israel Alone.” I did not read the article, but the premise it posits is simple. Israel needs international support for its legitimacy. And, that support is slipping away, leaving Israel isolated. Even Jewish American politicians have raised the alarm, with Senator Chuck Schumer recently saying that Israel’s “future could well be over” without US support.

Is Israel at risk of becoming a pariah state? Should Israel kowtow to worldwide pressure, or should Israel do what is just and proper regardless of what others think?

In 1972, during one of Yitzchak Rabin’s visits to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rebbe discussed with him the concept of Je… Read More »

The Mainstay

It’s always a pleasure to travel to see your children. I’m looking forward to enjoying a wonderful Shabbat where I get to be a yeshiva bochur again. I have three sons studying in Chicago, and I’ll try my best to shake off the rust and keep up with them during my visit.

I feel immensely at home in yeshiva. I dream of these opportunities. It is an infusion to the spirit; a refreshing quench to a parched soul.

Yet, home is still with my family. Cooking dinner, fixing leaks, leading a community.

Do I celebrate more the opportunities for a “high” – be they vacations of the body or the soul – or the daily life I have?

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In this week’s parsha Pekudei we wrap up learning about the Mishkan, the Ta… Read More »

The Perfect Congress

These days even the suggestion that Congress can get it right might seem ludicrous to many.  The squabbling over procedure and the seemingly endless delays suggest we are in need of a major overhaul. We wonder why the buck seems to always be passed.

I will leave it for the pundits to determine what the real goal is and whether our legislature can indeed get it right.

For Jews we have been looking to perfect congress for many centuries.

And in this week’s Torah portion of Vayakhel we are given the Divine recipe for getting it right. What we are searching for is not the legal code of Congress, but rather a congress (assembly) with our Creator.  We often struggle with the challenge of merging with an infinite G-d. How can we… Read More »

Broken, But Whole

If a survey was taken to rate Moshe’s greatest achievement in the Torah, what would it be?

I’d wager that the Ten Plagues would be high on the list, along with the Splitting of the Sea, and the Giving of the Torah.

The very final verse of the Torah extols Moshe’s virtues and lists his major achievements. According to Rashi, the crowning achievement is a rather strange one. It is the shattering of the Tablets, a story that appears in this week’s parsha of Ki Tisa. After the Jews sinned by worshipping the Golden Calf, Moshe arrives and breaks the Tablets that he was due to deliver from G-d to the Jewish people.

We can all understand that the Jewish people were not worthy of receiving the Luchot (Tablets) at that mom… Read More »

You Are What You Wear?

I once received a phone call from a family I did not know. The father was deathly ill and they wanted a rabbi to visit him in the hospital. I rushed over, recited a prayer for recovery and the final prayers.  I offered my support, wished them well and told them to call me any time of day or night if there was a need or if the situation worsened.

The next day I was informed that their father had passed.  I inquired whether arrangements had been made. “Yes,” I was told. We have a funeral home taking care of it.  I asked about a Jewish burial. There was none planned. “Rabbi, we are so grateful for your support in our time of need.  Please tell us how we can give our father and husband the proper Jewish ri… Read More »

G-d’s Housing Crisis

Homelessness is rampant in America’s major cities.  We can debate the core cause of homelessness, but all would agree that not having a home causes further instability.

The fortunately housed amongst us also spend time outside the home. Whether we travel for business or pleasure, we sometimes need to stay in temporary housing. It may be five-star or one-star, but it’s not home. It may be fun, different, or pampered – but it lacks the comfort and familiarity of our own dwelling.

What if you had a home wherever you went? What if you had multiple homes or places to stay whenever you wanted? Would you still have that benefit and secure feeling of ‘home’?

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In the parsha of Terumah that we read this week, G… Read More »

The Greatest Audience

Seven million dollars.

That’s the average cost for a 30-second advertising spot for the Super Bowl on Sunday.

Despite recent concerns that an ad may tank a company, there is no shortage of advertisers.

(Do people still watch the game, or do they just skip to the commercials?)

Contrast this astronomical price tag to an infomercial on a local TV station at 3:00 am.  It’s virtually free.

The clear lesson is that the value of (advertising) time clearly depends on the audience.  At 3:00 am nobody can justify spending millions on a commercial.  But the chance to promote your merchandise or company to what may be the most watched televised event in history is a different story altogether.  Production costs asid… Read More »

The Oral Tradition

As Rebbetzin Esther enjoys a well-deserved week in New York at the annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries, I am privileged to up my game on the home front.

As I filled in for my children’s best Morah (Mommy!), my daughter reminded me, “That’s not the way Mommy does it.” From morning prayers to preparing lunch, I have very big shoes to fill. More importantly, doing it Mommy’s way is sacred!

(And, of course it reminds me how lucky I am. Amongst Shluchim, this week has been nicknamed Shluchos Appreciation Week).

What is it about the motherly touch that is so meaningful to children? Why is a mother-father dynamic so important to the family unit?

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In this week’s parsha Yitro the J… Read More »

A Peek Under the Hood

We had some trouble with our furnace this week. It’s not pleasant when you need to figure out why your heat isn’t working in middle of the winter.

We are fortunate to have a friend who is an HVAC expert and he came out to have a look and troubleshoot the issue. He checked out all types of gadgets and parts inside the furnace and made some tweaks. Hopefully, all is well now.

It reminded me about this week’s parsha Beshalach. We read about the famous story of the Splitting of the Sea. After the Jews departed the horrible prison of Egypt, they found themselves stuck between the sea and Pharaohs advancing army. G-d gave them instructions, “Move forward.” Indeed, they marched forward and, miraculously, the sea spl… Read More »

Come on in!

In 1951 on the tenth of Shevat (which is marked tomorrow) the Lubavitcher Rebbe accepted the leadership of the Chabad Lubavitch movement. He had actually been leading the Chassidim ever since his father-in-law’s passing in 1950. But, he did not formally accept the role of Rebbe until Yud Shevat a year later.

During his inaugural address the Rebbe expounded upon a verse in Shir Hashirim (Son of Songs), which states: “I have come to my garden, my sister, my bride.” Quoting the Midrash, the Rebbe explained that Almighty G-d is stating that He wishes to return to His garden, which is this world.

The beginning of Creation saw G-d comfortably “at home” in His garden, the Garden of Eden. However, subsequent human fa… Read More »

Once Upon a Time

The most famous stories all seem to begin with Once Upon a Time. And they all appear impossible to occur today.

The very words, “Once upon a time,” conjure the image of something legendary and perhaps beyond repetition.

But what if we could relive the ages long bygone? Would that be good or bad?

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In this week’s parsha of Va’eirah the Jewish people begin the process that will lead to their liberation from Egyptian bondage. The first seven of the ten plagues befall Egypt, but the wicked Pharaoh is still reluctant to let the Jewish people go.

Eventually – after ten plagues – he urges them to leave.

This is a story so essential to Judaism that most of our Festivals revolve around it, most notably Pesac… Read More »

Supernatural Resolutions?

“Rabbi, which resolution should I take on this year?”

“Rabbi, for some reason I’m never able to keep my resolutions. What should I do?”

These are the types of questions I receive at this time of year.

Of course, I have a whole laundry list of suggestions, starting with Advice for Life.

But, as far as a general approach to resolutions, this parsha might offer some insight. In the opening eponymous parsha of Shemot, we are introduced to the great Jewish leader Moshe.

Moshe’s first encounter with G-d is described in the Torah as follows:

An angel of the L-rd appeared to him in a flame of fire from within the thorn bush, and behold, the thorn bush was burning with fire, but the thorn bush was not being …Read More »

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