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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.

American Jew or Jewish American?

We just wrapped up an amazing session of Camp Gan Israel! It is truly enriching to watch the boys and girls have so much fun celebrating their Jewishness. From davening to ceramics; from Wahooz to swimming; from Jewish songs to face painting; from vegetable gardens to Challah baking; from sports to kosher lunches – the Jewish pride was oozing out from all sides.

These children displayed that being a modern, proud American and being a proud Jew go hand in hand.

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So, which is more important – being Jewish or being American?

Truth be told there is no contradiction between the two whatsoever, and I am proud to be both. And, I am even more proud of our younger generation – a generation untainted by the traumas of… Read More »

Visions from a Visionary

When my sons were at the ages where sports reign supreme, they were finally ready for their own baseball gloves.  And they let my wife and me know that.

We decided that receiving the mitts would be contingent on how well they studied.  It’s especially important to create incentives for academic diligence, in particular Torah study, during the summer months. 

I was about to tell them that when they learned a specific amount of Tanya by heart, we would purchase the gloves for them.  But then my wife reminded me of the meaning of this Shabbat. It is the Shabbat preceding Tisha B’Av, the day of the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. It is considered a tragic day in Jewish history and is marked by… Read More »

Spreading the Wealth

College Football Realignment seems like it’s only going to get more drastic after USC and UCLA bolted for the Big Ten. Media and money call the shots these days…

All this causes one to wonder?  Is it healthy for the sport to have the best talent concentrated in so few places?

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In the Torah portion of Mas’ei we read about the apportioning of the Land of Israel to the Jewish people. Each tribe is given an inheritance. Except for one. The tribe of Levi is not given a portion in the land. Instead, 48 cities are designated as Levite cities.  These cities were spread out among the provinces of all the tribes.

The Levites were not punished with the lack of a homeland; rather they were privileged to serve as… Read More »

G-d’s Steganography

The chief of MI6, UK’s foreign Intelligence Service, claimed this week that Russia’s espionage capabilities in Europe have been cut in half as a result of the war in Ukraine. Apparently, this is, in large part, due to the expulsion of hundreds of Russian intelligence officers from European countries and the arrest of some spies.

One amazing revelation about modern-day espionage is the hi-tech methodology employed.  As it becomes more and more difficult to snoop, many countries are reportedly resorting to satellite imagery, audio intercepts and unmanned aircraft. I’m not sure if this was impacted. But, the departure of boots on the ground has a major impact on espionage. Despite advances in technology, human spies… Read More »

See No Evil

Literary legend Isaac Asimov related:

“My mother, who came from Russia, decided to go to night school and learn how to write English. One of the teachers finally asked her, ‘Pardon me, Mrs. Asimov, are you by any chance a relation of the brilliant Isaac Asimov?’”

“My mother, who was four feet, ten inches tall, drew herself up to her full height and said, proudly, ‘Yes. He is my dear son.’”

“‘Aha,’ said the teacher, ‘no wonder you’re such a good writer.’”

“‘I beg your pardon,' said my mother, freezingly. ‘No wonder he’s such a good writer.’”

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We certainly inherit many wonderful traits from our parents. And… Read More »

Living with the Times

As a follower of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, I am proud to embrace modern technology. The Rebbe, whose 28th yahrzeit was observed last Shabbat, promoted the Talmudic teaching that everything G-d creates has a holy purpose. This means that the technology behind television, internet, and the like – while posing considerable spiritual challenges – are truthfully gifts from G-d. The choice is ours in how we utilize them. But their ultimate function is for holiness.

My fondness of technology notwithstanding, I feel dwarfed by my children’s expertise.  It seems that the younger one is the more apt one will be at decoding the latest high-tech systems and gadgets. I sometimes wonder if high technology is like a language &ndash… Read More »

Staying Power

June 12, 1994. On the fateful day of 3 Tammuz 5754, the world of Chabad-Lubavitch was suddenly thrust into a new reality.  A reality in which most commentators doubted it could survive. In fact, numerous newspaper articles and media interviews predicted the demise of the movement within a few years.

Yet, here we are 28 years later – on the eve of a historic groundbreaking for Chabad in Idaho. This is just one of myriads of instances of Chabad’s phenomenal growth over the last three decades.

How can a movement, especially one so devoted to its leader, survive without its head?

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In this week’s parsha Korach we read of an unfortunate and unsuccessful rebellion against Moshe. Korach, a respected and wealthy Jew… Read More »

Thinking Jews

Have you ever tried tying a string around your finger to remember something? This age-old method has proven helpful to many people.

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The mitzvah of Tzitzis, wearing fringes on a four-cornered garment, is taught in this week’s Torah portion of Shelach.  The Torah tells us the significance of this mitzvah, as follows:

“This shall be fringes for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord to perform them, and you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes after which you are going astray.”

So if we are looking for a foolproof way to always do right and never do wrong – just look at the Tzitzis.

Why then – many ask – is it that so many people still… Read More »

Endless Flooding?

Yellowstone National Park is experiencing some of the greatest flooding on record. Our neighbors in Montana are struggling with similar floods. Despite our incessant prayers for rain, we beseech our Father in Heaven to deliver tempered rain.

This reminds me of the story of Choni HaMe’agel in the Talmud. Choni haMe'agel was once asked to pray for rain. So he drew a circle and declared: "Master of the Universe! See how Your children have turned to me! I swear by Your Great Name that I will not move from here until You have shown Mercy towards them! At that moment a few drop of rain began to fall. Choni exclaimed: "I prayed for enough rain to fill the wells and the ditches!" Torrential rain started to pour down from the… Read More »

The Best IPO

Wall Street has had a rocky year. Tech companies sit at the top of the devastated list of battered firms.

Are we in for another tech bubble – and burst?

Ultimately, what causes investor interest in a company that has yet to display significant earnings is the potential to connect people in a new and profound way. In other words, this could be the next big thing. And if it is, let’s get in on it now because soon it will be making tons of money.

Inventors of these new social media ideas, like Twitter, Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook, etc., are heralded as geniuses that can foresee fundamental methods of connectivity and creating community.

The truth, however, is that they are not really so new.  They may have invented the… Read More »

Aftertaste

Some foods hit the spot right away. Others require some time to maximize their effect.

Good or bad, sometimes it’s the aftertaste that prevails.

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In a comment referencing the Giving of the Torah, celebrated this Sunday and Monday during Shavuot, the Talmud states (paraphrased):

At the Giving of the Torah, G-d overturned Mount Sinai upon the Children of Israel like an inverted cask, and said to them: "If you accept the Torah, fine; if not, here shall be your burial."

Rabbi Acha ben Yaakov observed: This resulted in a strong legal contest against the Torah (since it was a contract entered into under duress). Said Raba: But they re-accepted it (out of their own, uncompelled choice) in the days of Achashverosh (the Purim… Read More »

Earth-Centric

I wish I never heard of Uvalde. That’s the way it was a week ago.

Tragically, we have all heard of the horrific attack on teachers and schoolchildren at Robb Elementary School.

Our hearts go out to the families that have suffered unthinkable losses this week.

As they seek peace in their anguish and sorrow, let us share with them that their loss is our loss.

And, let us pledge to do our utmost that this never occur again. Protecting our most innocent and vulnerable must be our highest priority.

One of the refrains we hear often about these pure souls that have been mercilessly taken from their families is that they are now in a good place, in a spiritual space with G-d.

I hope that gives the families some comfort.

But, I hope… Read More »

All in the Family

In the Torah’s laws against usury and cheating we find an interesting verse in this week’s Parsha of Behar. “And when you make a sale to your fellow Jew or make a purchase from the hand of your fellow Jew, one man shall not wrong his brother.”

There are many details to the laws of interest and ethical business dealings. What’s strange here, however, is the end of the verse. Why is the Torah saying, “One man shall not wrong his brother?”  The Torah already included everyone by saying “your fellow.”

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Perhaps there is a greater lesson here as parents, children and extended family members.

It seems that we often put a little extra financial burden on family members.  We… Read More »

Countup

Next week my daughter Chavi will turn twelve years old. According to Jewish tradition she will become a Bas Mitzvah, an adult.

As you can imagine, she has been preparing earnestly for this moment. In fact, as parents, my wife and I  have endeavored to prepare her for the last twelve years.

She is eagerly counting down toward this special moment when she takes her place among the Daughters of Israel. Her anticipation is palpable.

How can we ensure that her attainment of maturity is a time she embraces her role as a proud Jewish woman? What can we do to secure an active and enthusiastic Jewish future for our young adults?

This week’s Torah portion, Emor, speaks of a mitzvah we are currently engaged in – the counting of… Read More »

A Vote for Seniors

“Look thirty years younger!” the ad exclaims.  Anti-aging creams, hair-dyes, diets and better climates are all promoted to encourage us to prevent the inevitable aging of our bodies.  As a society we seem to abhor old age.

“Many years impart wisdom,” we are taught in the book of Iyov (Job).   Yet this advice seems hard to come by in today’s society.  More and more, the elderly are nudged out of the way to make room for the younger, more ‘vibrant’ segment of society.

Whether it’s in the workforce, in communal affairs, or family life – those with the longest of years often get the short end of the stick.

In this week’s Parsha of Kedoshim we read that… Read More »

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