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Rabbis' Blog

Be A Kosher Fish

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On Shabbat I will be in New York celebrating the Ufruf of our dear son Chaim Meir. On the Shabbat prior to the wedding it is customary for the groom to be honored with an Aliya at the Torah accompanied with a celebration. This is called an Ufruf. The Torah reading of Shabbat is the blessing and guidance granted to us for the coming week. As marriage marks the beginning of a new life for the young couple, it is imperative for them to receive guidance and blessing from the Torah and to set down the foundations of their new home accordingly.

In this week’s parsha, Shemini, we learn how to define kosher animals, fish and fowl. Kosher fish have fins and scales. Our sages teach that aquatic creatures that possess these features (1) dwell in the upper, clearer part of the waters, living in an environment with more oxygen and (2) have a spine. So a kosher fish swims against the current in cleaner waters.

We are what we eat. Consuming kosher food inspires and allows us to acquire the positive traits possessed by it.

Be a kosher fish. There is always the possibility of dwelling in murky waters. It may be skeletons of the past or current vices we struggle with on a daily basis. Have the strength to transcend the past and the negativity of today and dwell on opportunities and a positive vision for the future. Be sure to inhale the oxygen of Torah and allow yourself to be enlightened by its guidance.

Additionally, be prepared to resist the temptation of going with the flow. Society is inclined to follow the popular trend but Jews usually need to swim against the current. The first Jew was called “Avraham HaIvri.” HaIvri means “the one on the other side”. As the entire world descended into pagan chaos he courageously raised the banner and introduced awareness of G-d to anyone that would listen. It is for this reason that He was beloved by G-d and his family chosen to be His ambassadors to the world. Never be intimidated that Torah values and behaviors are unpopular.

The festival of Pesach celebrates these same lessons. The Jewish people were enslaved by an evil tyrant yet they refused to dwell on their unfortunate circumstances. They resisted the temptation of assimilating to Egyptian culture, followed Moses to the dessert and joyously received the Torah 50 days later at Sinai. Historically our nation proudly resisted the numerous trends, cultures, ideologies and the like that challenged and continue to challenge our commitment to Judaism.

This is our blessing to our children Chaim Meir and Chaya. May you merit to build your home in a spirit of joy and positivity always anchored to the timeless lessons of the Torah. Have the strength to overcome any challenges you may encounter on the way and be a source of inspiration to your environment.

May we all apply these crucial lessons and merit to the ultimate redemption with the arrival of Moshiach.

Keep That Fire Burning

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On Purim we celebrated Jewish survival in exile. In ancient Persia the Jewish nation lived in peace and prospered within Persian society. Suddenly all chaos broke loose. Throughout the years of relative calm, Haman the Amalekite had been working behind the scenes against our ancestors. Securing himself the position of viceroy and absolute influence over the king, he successfully legislated (probably) the first state sponsored genocide of an entire people. Esther as queen or Mordechai’s high position at the royal court was not sufficient to prevent the decree from being signed and sealed.

As the Megillah recounts, Mordechai and Esther understood that salvation will not depend on standard political maneuvers. It was up to the nation to unite and awaken to the reality that only through selfless commitment to G-d and His Torah will there be chance for survival. And awaken they did. They gathered en masse in prayer and repentance and they inspired each other to greater commitment to mitzvah observance. Only after this national awakening did Esther attempt to plead her case to the king.

Queen Esther was confident that her people would not disappoint her. She knew that even those that had chosen to assimilate to the local culture and to reject Judaism still retained a spark of Jewish pride. One needed to fan the spark and it would become a burning flame of Jewish identity and commitment.

In parshat Tzav we continue to study the laws of the Temple service. The focus of the Temple service is the korbanot (sacrifices) offered on the Altar.  G-d cautioned the kohanim (priests) to ensure that the fire on the Altar should constantly burn.

Every aspect of the Temple is a reflection of ourselves. Our heart is the Altar and the fire is the passion for Judaism we all have. At times it may be on low flame, but it is always there. It is our responsibility to ensure that this flame be eternal and increasingly grow by feeding it with Torah study and mitzvah observance.

Yesterday, on Purim, I witnessed scores of Jews celebrating joyously by hearing the Megillah, sharing Mishloach Manot with friends, generously donating to the poor and enjoying a Purim feast as a community. The flame of Judaism is alive and well in El Paso. May the joy of Purim be felt throughout the entire year.

True Unity

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Earlier this week I had the pleasure of making a quick trip to New York City to celebrate the wedding of a nephew. The wedding was a joyous affair and I wish the young couple abundant blessing in their new marriage.

On the return flight I noticed an interesting phenomenon. After reaching the cruising altitude I imagined that we were in a similar situation as Noah’s Ark: Every conceivable species lived aboard the specially constructed ship for a full year in relative harmony. Our flight had 100 travelers of every conceivable type flouting 35,000 feet above the ground for a few hours and everyone seemed to get along. Perhaps an example of true harmony.

However, walking down the aisle I observed something very different. Fairly recently, American Airlines domestic flights started to provide private screens throughout the cabin allowing each passenger to choose his or her entertainment preference. As I scanned the cabin I realized that everyone was engrossed in their own world. Although the atmosphere was peaceful, these hours of join travel did not necessarily result in real bonding between the fellow travelers.

The holiday of Purim expresses the idea of true unity. Haman accused the Jewish nation of being “scattered among the nations” not only geographically, but more importantly, disconnected from each other and from G-d and His Torah. This argument persuaded Achashveirosh that the time was ripe to annihilate our people despite the fact that the Jews had flourished socially and economically in the ancient Persian Kingdom.

The Jewish reaction to the terrible decree was to unite in repentance and prayer. They all tuned in to the same channel. Their shared identity was expressed in the uniformity of their passion and sacrifice for Torah and Mitzvot. Every Jew was proud to be a member of the tribe and played the part.

It was in this merit that the tables were turned and the Jews once again prevailed over their enemies giving birth to the holiday of Purim. Appropriately, we celebrate Purim with the mitzvah of Mishloach Manot – sharing gifts of food with friends – to express the true unity that we experienced then and that we are empowered to perpetuate today as well.

As Purim is celebrated around the globe, we must be mindful that knowing we are on the same boat is not sufficient; we must be tuned in to the same channel. Jewish unity does not mean merely tolerating and respecting each other – it necessitates active involvement in joint celebration. This Purim we will unite in observing the unique Purim mitzvoth that Mordechai and Esther requested of us and this unity will continue throughout the year.

I invite you to join us for the Megilla Reading and Purim Bash on Wednesday, March 23 at 7:30pm and to the “Purim in Persia” festive dinner on March 24 at 6:00pm. I look forward to celebrating together.

Best wishes for a Good Shabbos and a Happy Purim!

Rabbi Yisrael Greenberg

On Purim – March 23-24 – be sure to observe the four unique mitzvoth of the day.

1.      Listen to the Purim story read from a kosher Megillah on March 23 in the evening and throughout the day of March 24.

2.      Give charity to at least two poor families, or to organizations that will properly distribute the money during the day of March 24.

3.      Share gifts of food with a friend during the day of March 24.

4.      Partake in a festive feast during the day of March 24.

For more information about the Purim story, lessons, observances, recipes and more, I invite you to visit www.chabadelpaso.com/purim

Mission Accomplished!


A child wished to have a brand new bike but his father was not financially capable of providing him with it. One morning the boy runs to his father beaming. “Dad, last night I dreamt that I was riding a brand new bike that you bought for me!” “Very well, my child,” he replies. “Continue to dream and enjoy your new bike”.

In life we have a wish list and a list of accomplishments. Our wish list contains many grand and noble plans for what we would like to accomplish – that have yet to be realized.

This week’s parsha consists of a summary of the construction of the Tabernacle in the Sinai Dessert. It enumerates the contributions by the nation, the meticulous work of the artisans and the beautiful results of the talented tailors. This all seems to be repetitive since the details of the construction were already recorded in previous sections of the Torah. Such repetition is uncharacteristic for the Torah that may articulate scores of laws in a single line.

The Rebbe explains, previously the Torah recorded G-d’s instructions to Moses how to build the Tabernacle. Then it was all a theory and a dream, but will the people actually come forward and participate in erecting an edifice for G-d?

Now that the work was complete the Torah celebrates this accomplishment by once again recording every last detail. They joyously followed the instructions to the tee, G-d’s will had been realized and His presence dwelled, not only within the camp but in the hearts of all the participants. Mission accomplished!

Today, in the absence of the Holy Temple each and every community designates a mini Holy Temple – the synagogue. Just as in the Sinai Dessert G-d dwelled within the hearts of all the participants, when we participate in the construction of a beautiful home for G-d, His presence will dwell in our hearts as well. When building our private home we are mindful to ensure that it should be adequately spacious for the entire family and guests as well. The same applies to G-d’s home. It is crucial that we provide a proper venue to enhance the abilities of our community to expand and blossom. Let us join together in making the new Chabad Lubavitch Center for Jewish Life a reality!

On Shabbat, as we complete the second book of the Torah we will announce “Chazak Chazak Venit’chazeik! – Be strong! Be strong! And let us strengthen each other!” The realization of this dream will be a community effort.

Ladies First

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The book of Shemot records the events that molded our people into G-d’s Chosen Nation: The Exodus from Egypt, Splitting of the Red Sea, Revelation at Sinai and the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) as an edifice that served as G-d’s revealed dwelling place in our midst.

At each one of these junctures the women played an integral and often primary role. The women were the ones credited with the survival of the family of Jacob during the years of terrifying slavery at the hands of Pharaoh. They were the ones to prepare musical instruments in those trying times confident that great miracles would occur warranting a joyful reaction with music. G-d instructed Moses to offer the Torah to the women first and only after securing their commitment continue on to the men’s club.

Finally, in this week’s parshah, after descending Mt. Sinai with the second tablets and G-d’s complete forgiveness for the grave sin of the Golden Calf, Moses starts the official appeal for the construction of the Tabernacle. Almost predictably, the women delivered their (unsolicited) contributions ahead of the men!

The Tabernacle was intended to be the correction of the scandalous sin of the Golden Calf. Then again, while the men were enthusiastically campaigning for the Idol, the women rejected the idea outright. As atonement, the men were commanded to contribute to the construction of the Tabernacle, but the women joined in voluntarily and swiftly.

My friends, the explanation to this phenomenon is that women are endowed with a deep sensitivity for G-dliness. They have a natural intuition for what is true and proper and are ready to lead the way. Due to their unique mission they are not obligated in various time-bound mitzvoth – yet they are still the driving force in ensuring that the rest of us live up to expectations.

As was the case in the era of the birth of our people, today’s Jewish women are the bedrock of the success story of Judaism today. Ensuring that our children receive the highest quality of Jewish education and creating beautiful memories to last a lifetime, they are cultivating the generation that will greet Moshiach who will usher in an era of global peace and prosperity for all.

It is a pleasure to express my gratitude to the women of the Jewish community for, once again, coming together to make the annual Le Café Chabad a spectacular success. The entertainment was top notch, the food delicious and the room was set elegantly. See photos of the beautiful event here.

May you all continue to be a driving force in the growth and success of our entire community.

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