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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.

Striking the Heart

Summer is here. For many children, it’s an opportunity to relax and enjoy the outdoors. Many kids are thrilled at the break from education.

My mentor, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, argued that the summer is not a break from education. That’s not necessarily because he advocated for summer school.

It’s because the Rebbe viewed the summer as an opportune time for a different type of education. The summer camp experience, for example, is an unparalleled opportunity to teach children by example and inspiration. The life skills acquired during camping and outings cannot be learned in a classroom. The pride of being a Jew cannot be taught. It must be experienced. And, living Jewishly is not something gleaned from a book.… Read More »

Greener Pastures

As the Rebbe’s 27th yahrzeit approaches (this Sunday), I am filled with wistful sensations. I recall the uplifting moments I spent with my mentor. I am transported to the cherished feelings of awe and elation standing in the Rebbe’s presence. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to be in the presence of a true tzaddik.

And, to some degree, I pine for the days of my youth; the days when I traveled to New York to hear the Rebbe speak and study his teachings. I long for the feverish dancing at the Rebbe’s Hakafot on Simchat Torah.

Then, I remind myself that I must live in the here and now – that the Rebbe’s deepest wish is that we continue his mission of making this world the holy Garden of G-d it… Read More »

Role Playing

I sometimes feel like the would-be split baby in the famous story of King Solomon and the two women (see Melachim/Kings 1 Chapter 3).

With ten children בלי עין הרע, a trip to the park is lots of fun. It can also be fraught with challenges. One of the greatest challenges is ensuring that each child has his or her time and place. One wants to play ball; the other wants to go down the slide; and a thirds wants me to push her on the swings.

When they complain about having me do this or that, I really wish I could be in two places at once. Because ultimately each one deserves his/her own time and particular age-appropriate activity.

I could easily tell them all to do the same thing, but I would be robbing them of their… Read More »

Cause for Applause

It’s graduation season. And, we may be tiring of the constant applause. Yes, every student deserves the full credit, but some argue that it becomes monotonous and self-defeating to applaud for everyone. Congratulations are certainly due, but when should we applaud? And, should we offer the same compliments to each student?

***

In this week’s Torah portion of Behaalotecha we find someone who did not applaud.

When Aharon (Moshe’s brother) witnessed the inauguration of the Mishkan by the princes – each of whom offered sacrifices – he stood by silently. Why didn’t he applaud?

Rashi explains that Aharon felt bad that he was not one of the participants. And G-d then informed Aharon that he has no need… Read More »

How, Not If

The last week has been a tough one for Jews all over the world. It has also been a miraculous one.

Jews in Israel were targeted in their homes, schools and synagogues. Jews in uniform were forced to defend themselves and their people, often at the cost of other human lives.

Jews in New York and Los Angeles were attacked – just for being Jewish. Our sister organization, Chabad Lubavitch of Utah in Salt Lake City, had its front door vandalized with a swastika.

In all of this, we have seen the hand of Hashem. It’s clear that the Torah’s statement about Israel rings true in all times: “The eyes of Hashem your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.”

And, just this week… Read More »

The Biggest Gift

What’s the biggest gift you’ve ever received from your parents or your spouse?

Was it a new car? A piece of jewelry? Watching the kids for a week so you can go on vacation? The knowledge they imparted to you?

At Shavuot, we consider the biggest gift the Jewish people have ever received. 3333 years ago, the Jewish people stood at Sinai and received the Torah. This historic event changed the world forever. The wisdom of the Torah has permeated the entire world. Fast forward three millennia and the world has slowly adopted many of its values. It’s the most widely read book on earth.

And, it has helped our people navigate the triumphs and challenges of our distinct history.

Certainly, Shavuot is a day to celebrate.… Read More »

Net Worth

A super wealthy man was once asked about his net worth. After replying with a figure lower than his assumed wealth, he was questioned, “Have you not understated your assets?”

“No,” he replied, “I’ve stated my true assets, the charity that I have given.”

***

In the second of this week’s two Torah portions, Behar and Bechukotai, we read of the pledges to the Temple. The Torah tells us that a standard amount was collected from someone who pledged to give the value of a specific person to the Temple. Regardless of the person’s occupation, piety, or talent – it was the same amount.

So, for example, if Izzy said, “I pledge to give the value of Shmerl to the Holy… Read More »

Responses, Not Answers

How does one celebrate the marriage of a loved one while mourning the loss of a loved one?

It seems impossible.

And, today, Jews the world over have been called upon to do the impossible.

Last night, at the first government-sanctioned mass gathering of the covid era, thousands upon thousands of Jews gathered at the holy tomb of Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai in Northern Israel.

What seemed like the greatest celebration in months quickly turned into tragedy as a terrible accident occurred. Numerous people were crushed in a cascading pile of humanity, apparently heading for the exits. The horrific details slowly emerged. 45 dead. Over 100 injured, some critically.

Our thoughts are with our brothers and sisters in the land of Israel. Our hearts… Read More »

The Best Yichus

In Hebrew and Yiddish “yichus” connotes prestigious pedigree. Tevya worrying about his daughter marrying a “nobody” is the embodiment of “yichus” psychosis.

In British Royal circles, a prince marrying a commoner is a big deal. In WASPy circles, yichus is what you need to get into the country club.

***

This week’s second Parsha, Kedoshim, opens with the words, “You shall be holy, for I, G-d your G-d, am holy.” The dictate to act sacred is tied to the fact that G-d is sacred.

Some commentaries point to a deeper missive in these words. The Almighty is not simply saying: “Emulate Me and be holy!” Rather, G-d is also exhorting, “You can be Holy, because I… Read More »

The Lonely Punishment

Ask anyone who has been wrongly accused of a crime whether they ever got their good reputation back. Their consistent responses underscore the great harm of slander and lashon harah (evil talk).

The headlines are replete with stories of financial impropriety, grand theft and cheating scandals – but the Talmud states, “Money can be reimbursed, but the damage of words is irreparable. Money is a person's property, but words hurt the person himself.” In truth, harming one’s reputation does not only cause one to suffer embarrassment and emotional injury. It also creates a spiral of ill feelings that domino from person to person – leaving a trail of destruction virtually impossible to track.

A lifetime… Read More »

Holy Cow

I’m noticing more and more kosher products in the supermarkets today. When we moved to Idaho 17 years ago, they were few and far between.

I recall inquiring once if a store carried kosher products. The lady working the counter was kind enough to show me around and point out what she called, “all the kosher products.” Pulling out a pastry with Hebrew writing on it she said, “Here’s another kosher product.”

Looking more closely I realized that while it may be produced in Israel and it was covered head-to-toe in Hebrew lettering, it did not bear a mark of kosher certification.

***

What indeed makes a product kosher or non-kosher?

The full answer would be too voluminous for this short thought, but… Read More »

Jumping Ahead

Recently, I had the pleasure of watching my children play football with family.  I saw the ball fly out o the hands of the quarterback and marveled as my son sped ahead to catch up to the ball.  In football, sometimes the quarterback will throw the ball past the current location of the receiver in order that the ball will arrive at the destination at the same time as the receiver does. Throwing ahead is actually throwing on target. It also encourages the receiver to give it his best, knowing that he has to run with precision and speed to make the catch.

As we celebrate Passover, I am reminded of the need to “throw ahead.”

The reason that the festival is called Passover – even though it was but one… Read More »

It's All About the Matzah!

Even the most ignorant Jew is likely familiar with matzah on Pesach. Ask a child and she will tell you why we eat matzah on Passover: Because the Jews left Egypt in haste and their dough did not have time to rise. In commemoration of the unleavened bread that our ancestors ate upon leaving Egypt, we relive the experience by abstaining from leavened bread and eating matzah at the Seder.

The explanation is right on – but it still leaves more unanswered than answered.

Imagine if it so happened that the Continental Army was only able to eat berries during the Revolutionary War. Now imagine that on July 4 it would be forbidden for a week to eat any other fruit save for berries. We would need to scrub our homes clean from other… Read More »

The Power of One

In the past year, we have come to stretch our imagination. We have realized how much of a difference each person makes.

This reminds me of a famous Midrash in this week’s Parsha of Vayikra, which tells the following parable:

A group of people were traveling in a boat. One of them took a drill and began to drill a hole beneath himself.

His companions said to him: "Why are you doing this?" Replied the man: "What concern is it of yours? Am I not drilling under my own place?"

Said they to him: "But you will flood the boat for us all!"

It’s easy for us to remember this lesson when it comes to our immediate surroundings – our family, our workplace and intimate social circle. The… Read More »

A Team of One

The loaded mini-van pulled in to the only remaining campsite. Four children leaped from the vehicle and began feverishly unloading gear and setting up the tent. The boys rushed to gather firewood, while the girls and their mother set up the camp stove and cooking utensils.

 A nearby camper marveled to the youngsters' father, "That, sir, is some display of teamwork."

The father replied, "I have a system. No one goes to the bathroom until the camp is set up.”

***

In G-d’s instruction to the Jewish people to build the Mishkan, the traveling Sanctuary, He establishes a team of artisans led by Bezalel and Oholiav. This team crafted the edifice and vessels of the Mishkan as related in this week’s… Read More »

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