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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.

Triggers

When a loved one is gone for a bit, we remember – and miss – the great qualities they possess and the benefits they bring to our relationship.

When the going gets rough, we remember who our enemies are.

This week, I experienced both of these.

After last Shabbat ended, I turned on my phone to see that there was a voicemail from the Boise Police Department. It was reassuring to hear that our local law enforcement was reaching out to provide physical and moral support to us at a time when a terrible crisis was underway in Texas.

Apparently, the community welcomed this person in, assuming he was in need of support and community. It wasn’t until they heard the sound of a trigger that they realized they were in serious… Read More »

Insanity

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different result. At least according to a famous quote that has been attributed to many origins.

Is it really true?

In this week’s parsha Beshalach, the Jewish people have already departed from Egypt. They are finally free. Yet, they suddenly find themselves in a pickle again. This time they aren’t inside Egypt. Nonetheless, they are frightened by Egypt’s menacing threat again. Egypt is chasing after them.

The Baal Shem Tov compared this to a person that is suffering from a malady. He travels from place to place and cannot understand why his troubles keep following him…

The Jews could not believe that no matter where they went, they still were… Read More »

Transformative Darkness

If the ancient Egyptians would have discovered electricity would they have avoided the suffering of the ninth plague of darkness?

 This week’s parsha Bo describes a week of darkness in Egypt as the second-to-final plague that befell Egypt and soon led to the exodus of the Jewish people. The other plagues all brought about destruction to Egypt and its people. This plague – immediately preceding the harshest of all, the killing of the firstborns – seems meek in comparison. All it did was keep the Egyptians in a state of confusion and inaccessibility. We don’t know of any lasting damage. So, what was its purpose?

During this time, the Jewish people were able to see. In fact, it was during this plague that they… Read More »

Coexistence

I was once trying to enjoy a presentation to no avail. The couple in the row in front of me was chatting so loudly I could not hear the discourse at all.  Unable to bear it any longer, I tapped the man and said, “Excuse me, I can’t hear.”

“I should hope not!” he retorted sharply.  “This is a private conversation.”

***

In recounting the ten plagues that befell the Egyptian people, the Torah tells us about a double miracle that occurred in the seventh plague of hail.  This was no simple hailstorm, as we read in this week’s portion Va’eira, “And there was hail, and fire flaming within the hail” (Shemot/Exodus 9:24).  Usually fire and water don’t get… Read More »

Cultural Propaganda

During the final weeks of December I am not short on parents’ complaints that they are struggling with maintaining their children’s Jewish identity in a society so engrossed in its own holiday celebrations (nor am I oblivious to the challenge my own children face at this time).  The commercialization and invasive, ubiquitous advertising – not to mention the peer pressure – makes it difficult for our children not to get caught up in the excitement that their friends, neighbors and – at times – relatives are experiencing.  In fact, it is apparently a great challenge for many adults as well.

Certainly, we celebrate the right of others to practice their faith. In fact, while we don’t… Read More »

Speaking Greek

I was listening to a few friends talk about the looming spread of Omicron – and it all sounded like Greek to me. I am not simply referring to the Greek alphabet that we are all slowly learning. Nor am I implying an intricate medical jargon. I am talking about the state of discourse in our society. Thanks to Twitter and Google, everyone is an expert on everything. And, everyone has an ironclad opinion.

We talk a lot. But, we seem to have forgotten much of the art of talking to and with each other. Instead, we talk at each other. Or, we simply speak in echo chambers, and slowly lose the ability to converse in language that is slightly out of our comfort zone.

Is there any hope to curing this malady?

***

I’ll leave the… Read More »

Chutzpah!

A good friend of mine once shared with me a podcast describing the difference between the American version of Chutzpah (CHUTS-pah) and the Israeli version of Chutzpah (Chuts-PAH). What emerged from the discussion was that CHUTS-pah is frowned upon, whereas Chuts-PAH is celebrated.

Well what is Chutzpah and what’s the difference between them?

Chutzpah has recently entered the English lexicon and appears in the dictionary as an English word. The common translation is audacity or nerve. A classic example is the boy who kills his parents and then throws himself on the mercy of the court on the grounds that he is an orphan.

But, this is simply CHUTS-pah, the American version. This is actually the more historic version, emanating from… Read More »

Keep Dreaming!

Dreams occupy a significant part of last week’s parsha and in this week’s parsha of Miketz, they are center stage. Yoseph dreams. Yoseph interprets dreams.

These dreams lead to tremendous success. They all depict – or lead the way toward – Yoseph becoming viceroy of Egypt.

However, in the bigger picture, the dreams that elevated Yoseph to near royalty, also led the Jews to eventually become enslaved in Egypt. What seemed like a personal victory for Yoseph became a yoke of oppression for his people.

In fact, Yoseph’s father Yaakov also dreamed. Yoseph dreamed of stars in the sky and Yaakov dreamed of a ladder. Yoseph dreams of bushels of wheat and Yaakov dreamed of angels.

What is the symbolism of the fact… Read More »

What's Your Loss Leader

I have always thought it somewhat amusing that Thanksgiving – a day of reflection and gratitude for the important things in life – is immediately followed by the shopping frenzy of Black Friday.  Isn’t it ironic that we Americans go from our humble feelings of thanksgiving to an all-out campaign of ‘give me more’?  True, many are searching for gifts to give others, but the atmosphere smacks of greed and encourages jealousy. 

Many in America are heading to shopping malls or online merchants in the wee hours of the morning to cash in on Black Friday sales.  In fact, we are witness to fierce price wars between major businesses – each trying to undercut the other’s prices. … Read More »

Family Reunion

Yesterday we welcomed our son Levi into the Covenant of Abraham.  It was wonderful to have so many friends and family present at the bris.

Most special was the tremendous effort by my nonagenarian grandparents to attend their great-grandson’s circumcision. Traveling from New York, their presence was the biggest present we could get.

In case you haven’t noticed, we value family quite a bit – lots of it!

This reminds me of the famous quip of George Burns. He jested that happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family – in another city.

If action speaks louder than words – we couldn’t disagree more heartily!

*

In this week’s parsha of Vayishlach, we read of a unique family… Read More »

Journey Up a Ladder

My family had the great merit of welcoming a new baby boy into our family this week. It didn’t happen overnight. I marvel at Esther grace in enduring nine months of pregnancy. She makes it seem so effortless and casual.

But, as we all know it’s a process. It takes time. And, this is for the baby’s benefit. We don’t want shortcuts in the baby’s development.

*

As I flew home last week from New York, I contemplated the relatively quick shift from the Big Apple to Boise.  Spending a long weekend with colleagues and family immersed in Torah, Chassidic inspiration and simply surrounded by Jewish culture was a special treat. 

Thanks to the invention and advances of the airplane, several hours later I… Read More »

Learning to Learn

The old saying goes, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”

Throughout the years living in the wonderful outdoors of Idaho, I have come to enjoy the art of fishing. I have also come to realize that it’s a much more complex sport than meets the eye.

Fortunately, I’ve had some good teachers – including my own children.

Unfortunately, I’m a better teacher of Torah than I am a student of fishing.

I have learned the basics. I can fend for myself and perhaps help an out-of-town novice.

But, the knack to know which waters are best, when the fish are biting and – most of all – the ability to apply the lessons learned to new situations, are… Read More »

Status Symbols

Whether it be through Facebook or home décor, we are often engaged in some degree of self-promotion. On Twitter we let everyone know what we are up to, at the ballgame we demonstrate our allegiances and at home we show our true colors.

We are, on balance, a very self-obsessed society.  Those of us that are fortunate to be parents are sometimes yanked out of that constant self-promotion with the cry of a baby or the text message of a teen.  We know our duty is primarily to others and we come second.

But how do we ensure that we don’t succumb to our egos the rest of the time? What can we do to faithfully serve our true purpose in life? After all, we can only sense our own hunger, our own angst and worry. When it… Read More »

Just Getting Started

Wherever I go, I see signs that say, “WE’RE HIRING!” Today I was in a store that advertised a finder’s fee of $500 immediate cash for anyone that found an employee.

My friends in retail, services and professional fields all tell me the same thing. We are short-staffed and cannot find anyone to hire. Bonuses and benefits don’t seem to be doing the trick.

In fact, at the Chabad Jewish Center, we are also looking to hire secretarial help. Good luck to us…

Nobody seems to know the root cause of this dearth of employees. Is it still due to the pandemic? Is it due to the government support and handouts? Is it simply a changing psyche within American culture? Is it due to people retiring at a younger… Read More »

Unstoppable

The Lubavitcher Rebbe was once blessed by Mr. David Chase that he be able to continue his wonderful work for many years.

Without hesitation, the Rebbe responded, “I am not satisfied with only continuing. It must increase.”

After this dear supporter insisted that he would be satisfied if the Rebbe simply continued the status quo, the Rebbe added that not only must he (the Rebbe) increase, but he also expects Mr. Chase to increase. A living being, the Rebbe explained, must always grow.

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In this week’s parsha, Lech Lecha, we are introduced to the first Jew, Avraham. G-d’s opening words to Avraham – as recorded in the Torah – are, “Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your… Read More »

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