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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.

A Golden Opportunity

As winter gives way to spring, we read in the Torah portion of Ki Tisa about the Sin of the Golden Calf.

Amazingly, in response to one of the most shameful events in Jewish history, we merited one of the greatest revelations. Firstly, once forgiven, the Jews received the second Tablets, which were – in many respects – greater than the first Tablets.

Additionally, G-d revealed the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy – which could always be invoked to attain G-d’s forgiveness.

The English word “forgive” is associated with the notion of granting completely, such as granting pardon in the act of forgiveness.

In the Torah, however, the term forgiveness – as it appears in the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy… Read More »

Hiding in Plain Sight

A popular joke tells: It had been raining for days and days, and a terrible flood had come over the land. The waters rose so high that one man was forced to climb onto the roof of his house.

As the waters rose higher and higher, a man in a rowboat appeared, and told him to get in. "No," replied the man on the roof. "I have faith in the L-rd; the L-rd will save me." So the man in the rowboat went away. The man on the roof prayed for G-d to save him.

The waters rose higher and higher, and suddenly a speedboat appeared. "Climb in!" shouted a man in the boat. "No," replied the man on the roof. "I have faith in the L-rd; the L-rd will save me." So the man in the speedboat went away. The… Read More »

The Pottery Barn Rule

Going shopping with young children can be challenging. I often find myself telling them – incessantly – about the Pottery Barn Rule, “You break it, you own it.”

But I once had the tables turned on me. When my son’s toy broke and he could not find a way to fix it, he came to me with the desperate plea to repair it. I attempted but could not succeed. At that point he cleverly turned to me and said, “I’m giving it to you. Now it’s yours and it’s broken. You need to fix it.”

***

In this week’s parsha Terumah, G-d instructs the Jewish people to donate thirteen items for the construction of the Mishkan, the mobile Sanctuary. From gold and copper to wood and… Read More »

Jurisdiction

I can’t keep up with the current discussions about what is considered constitutional jurisdiction.

But, it did get me thinking about the concept of jurisdiction in a spiritual sense. Who has jurisdiction over the ethical decisions I make? Obviously, we follow the laws of the country we inhabit. But, is that the end of the conversation?

*

This week’s parsha Mishpatim follows the landmark event of Revelation at Sinai (in last week’s parsha). Interestingly, most of the Torah portion is devoted to ethical and civil laws, things like reparation of damages, treating the disadvantaged fairly, granting loans and the like.

The Talmud, commenting on the opening verse of the parsha, teaches that when two Jewish individuals enter… Read More »

GameStop

The army of Reddit investors causing chaos in the markets has mainly been a David vs Goliath storyline. Who wins out and who’s left with losses is above my pay grade.

But, it has highlighted – once again – the financial and cultural classes in our country and world.

The glaring question is, do we occupy two different universes, side by side? Is the spiritual journey of one superior to the other?

One of the most famous commandments of the Torah is the instruction to observe the Sabbath. Shabbat, featured in this week’s parsha, is a sacred Jewish tradition that has--in some form--been embraced by most of the world.

But how does one observe Shabbat?

The Fourth Commandment is unique amongst the Ten… Read More »

Stockholm Syndrome 1.0

A two-year-old scared his family one summer by disappearing during their lakeside vacation. More than a dozen relatives searched the forest and shoreline, and everyone was relieved when they found little Matthew playing calmly in the woods.

"Listen to me, Matthew," his mother said sharply. "From now on when you want to go someplace, you tell Mommy first, okay?"

Matthew thought about that for a moment and said, "Okay. Disney World."

***

Scanning the flight plan of the Jewish people heading from Egypt to Israel, it would seem that somebody was snoozing that day at air traffic control. The journey they took reminds me of the route I was once forced to take in Zambia when the street I was traveling on… Read More »

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 »

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