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Rabbis' Blog

The Lesson From a Broken Ankle

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The sages of the Mishna identify 248 limbs of the human body. Some are of greater importance than others and instinctively we try to protect certain organs above others. In truth, every single organ plays a crucial role in our overall functionality. I experienced this firsthand when I broke my foot earlier this year. Pain in the lower realm of your body distracts the head from concentrating, and with such limited mobility there is much that cannot get done.

This week’s parsha opens with the eternal affirmation of the significance of every type of Jew. Describing the covenant that G-d was imminently forging with the Jewish nation, Moshe is particular to mention every level of society in detail: The leaders, elders, sheriffs . . . the woodcutters and water drawers.

This unity is necessary to create an environment of “Nitzavim” – that the Jewish people be able to stand firmly, with pride, in their commitment to G-d’s ways. To withstand the taunts of the naysayers and the seduction of a world of pleasure and vanity, we must stand together in appreciation for each other’s strengths and qualities.

An elderly father once gathered his ten children and handed each one a single twig. He told them to snap the twig which each one proceeded to do so with ease. He then passed around a bundle of ten twigs and, try as they might, none of them succeeded in snapping that bundle in half. “Remember,” he said wisely. “As individuals you are easily breakable. But together, you are invincible.”

The message of “Nitzavim” is appropriately read from the Torah in the synagogue the Shabbat preceding Rosh Hashanah. This serves as the greatest blessing of G-d as we approach the new year. Instead of presenting our cases individually to our Beloved King we pass before Him in judgement as a united force. The pleasure and joy of our Heavenly Father upon seeing our unity assures us of a good and sweet year.

There are no different labels and affiliations. Just one Am Yisrael – Chai!

With great pleasure I express sincere gratitude to our supporters throughout the past year for enabling the work of Chabad in El Paso. Every city has a unique demographic with unique opportunities and the money to accomplish all that needs to be done is provided by G-d locally. The beginning of the new year is a prime time to focus on the financial needs of local individuals and organizations and to make a generous commitment that these needs be fulfilled.

Increased charity during these days makes a great case on our behalf for Rosh Hashanah. Now is the time: The more we give, the more we receive.

Best wishes for a good and sweet new year.

In the spirit of unity, every Jew in El Paso is invited to join us for High Holiday services. No membership or prior reservation is necessary.

Please see the schedule of services here.

The Judge Is My Father


Two Jews met during the month of Elul. One was downcast and nervous and one was elated and upbeat. The joyful character asked his friend what was on his mind. "In just a short while the King of kings will judge me for last year's behavior and I am frightened of the verdict that I can expect", he fretted. "Are you not aware of the upcoming day of judgment? How can you be in such a good mood?"

"Of course I am aware of the impending day of reckoning. But I'm confident of a positive outcome. You see, the judge is my father..."
One of the final mitzvot that Moshe imparted to the Israelites as they prepared to inherit the Promised Land is Bikkurim. One is obligated to bring the first fruits of the annual crop to the Holy Temple as an offering to G-d. An intense declaration of thanksgiving was recited upon delivering this unique gift to the Priest in the Temple.
Bikkurim expresses one of the most crucial elements of divine service: Give gratitude. Awareness and acknowledgement of the good granted to us by G-d strengthens a relationship based on love rather than fear. The attitude to mitzvah observance becomes one of delight and appreciation rather than merely obedience and submission.
In the High Holiday liturgy G-d is titled "Avinu Malkeinu" - Our Father, Our King. We certainly submit ourselves to fulfilling his desires out of a sense of duty as loyal subjects, but with the devotion and alacrity of beloved children.
Wednesday, Elul 18, marked the birth of Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (the Alter Rebbe). These two chassidic giants gifted us with the empowering deep lessons of Chassidus which have caused a paradigm shift in Jewish thinking and philosophy. No need to resort to guilt and self condemnation to be motivated to improvement. Instead, meditate on the greatness of G-d and His unfathomable love for each and every one of us. Identify the core of the G-dly soul within yourself and another and then unleash its divine powers to affect goodness and kindness for all.
The key to this all is expressing gratitude on a consistent basis. Upon waking in the morning, recite the Modeh Ani and appreciate the gift of life. For being granted the opportunity to be an ambassador of Heaven here on Earth for yet another day.
As we prepare for the new year, let us bring Bikkurim. Count the many blessings of this past year and express your thanks by adding another mitzvah or more Torah study to the weekly schedule. The more we appreciate the past, the more confident we can be of the verdict we all wish for - a good and sweet new year.

The Fifth Column


During the Spanish Civil War, a nationalist general, Emilio Mola, commented to a journalist that he had four columns of troops in his army and a fifth column of civilians was waiting for him in Madrid. Citizens that supported the Nationalists and would support him and undermine the Republican Government from within. Since then the term stuck. During WWII many democratic nations felt most threatened by the ideological enemy within – resulting in the imprisonment and deportation of many foreigners.

The Torah records various military conflicts the Jewish people experienced throughout their journey from Egyptian slavery to the Promised Land. Typically, a nation that felt threatened or wronged by the success of the Israelites reacted in the most expected way – bear arms and make war. The Egyptians felt cheated out of their slaves and the Midianites felt the Jews were an immediate threat to their sovereignty.

There was one nation that picked a fight with us for no good reason at all. Immediately after the miraculous exodus from Egypt, our cousins, the Amalekites, made the arduous journey toward our position in the dessert and attacked us like a schoolyard bully. Most peculiar about this specific military campaign is that Amalek was quite certain that they would be defeated in battle. Why would they choose to voluntarily start a fight they cannot win?

The Exodus from Egypt was a miraculous event that played out in full view of the entire civilization. Egypt was the center of the world and cataclysmic show down between Moses and Pharaoh became an immediate international sensation. The climax of all this was the Splitting of the Red Sea and the effects of this particular miracle reverberated throughout the world. All were in awe of the power of G-d and had the greatest respect and fear for His people Israel.

The Jews themselves were like in a trance – on a spiritual high from all they had experienced and anticipating the revelation at Sinai in a few short weeks.

It was this global divine awareness that Amalek could not tolerate and they were willing to risk defeat so long as the Jewish invincibility be disproven. And in this they succeeded. They delivered a devastating blow to Jewish morale and every nation in the world put the idea of war with the Jews back on to the planning table.

Since their goal was ideological and not tactical, their humiliating defeat on the battle field was not considered a final victory. The chilling effects of Amalekite influence reach far beyond national concerns. Every one of us has the Amalek from within, the voice of doubt and confusion in all issues concerning our service of G-d.

Therefore, we are cautioned once again in our Parsha, to never be lulled into a false sense of security. We must always realize that any rationalization that discourages us from the observance of a particular mitzvah, keeping a steady Torah study schedule or from providing assistance to another – is the work of our diabolical enemy Amalek.

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, let us fortify ourselves with additional mitzvoth and increased Torah study. Most importantly, be sure to invite friends and family to Rosh Hashanah dinner and to join us in Shul to hear the Shofar.

The Stock That Is Only Rising


In times of conflict there arise various dilemmas that demand tough choices. An officer on the battlefield needs to chart out the best way to be victorious while at the same time keeping casualties as low as possible. It is inevitable that some morals and ethics will be challenged in the pursuit of the best outcome.

In this week’s parsha we learn the laws of war and the Torah prohibits a Jewish militia from chopping down fruit trees during their conquest of other nations. This is true even in times of peace – as long as a tree can produce fruits it is off limits.

The Torah explains this mitzvah in the following way: Is the tree of the field a man [that you fear will harm you]? Following the well-known tradition that every line in Torah contains layers of depth and alternate meaning (in addition to the basic translation), the original Hebrew verse can be understood as a statement rather than a question:  Man is the tree of the field. This alternate reading is the source for the many rich lessons gleaned from the comparisons between the human race and trees that can be found in Jewish literature.

A tree starts off as a seed and needs much attention to grow properly. Only after many years will it finally produce fruit for the benefit of humanity. Contrast this with kernels of wheat or other vegetable that do not demand nearly as much effort and yet they produce fields of produce in a fairly short amount of time.

Still, the advantage of a tree is obvious to all. Although the wheat and vegetable crops grew on the express lane one needs to invest time and effort in preparing them to be edible. A fruit, on the other hand, once it is ready to be harvested it is ready to be enjoyed by all. No preparation needed. Wheat fields and vegetables survive one season – a tree endures the brutal changes of the climate like a pro.

The message is clear: Like a tree. a human being starts off as a seed that needs to be nurtured and cared for through many stages of life until the child matures into adulthood. Until then the parents must toil and sweat and the nachas is not readily available. And like a fruit, the finished product is a source of true pride.

On Shabbat we will celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of Chabad Lubavitch in El Paso. The beginning was tough and time went by very slowly. But as we continued to plant and to nurture the orchard of our community, the going got smoother and the time moved faster. The investment was well worth it.

We were fortunate to meet many wonderful people that readily showed their support for the young venture. To mention a few that have passed on: The Kurtz, Schuller and Portas families. Fascinating individuals rich in knowledge and history. We learned so much from their life experiences and their personalities.

We are fortunate to have with us many of the founding families that continue to be an integral part of our community. The Rosenbaum, Sidransky, Schlusselberg, Azoulay, Rubin and Goldstein families - to mention a few.

Their investment has produced many wonderful fruits. Over the years, hundreds of children have passed through the doors of Chabad in El Paso and have been educated to know, observe and love our cherished heritage. Many of them are raising families of their own and are leaders in their respective communities in New York, Los Angeles, Israel and all over the world. The hard work in El Paso is showing dividends all over the world.

This is all due to the Rebbe’s vision in the potential of the community in El Paso. And like a tree, the results take time and patience, but they are priceless.

Join us as we look forward to the next stage of Chabad in El Paso. There are children to be educated and people to be helped and inspired. We are ready to forge ahead and we invite you to partake in this wonderful journey.

Invest in the El Paso stock – its value is only rising.

The Son & Daughter of a Mitzvah

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In this week’s parsha the assertion is made that the Jewish people are “the children of G-d” (Deuteronomy 14:1). Interestingly enough, when a child is initiated into Jewish adulthood (full responsibility for their actions and their relationship with G-d), a boy is called a Bar Mitzvah and a girl is a Bat Mitzvah. Bar in Aramaic means son and Bat in Hebrew means daughter. Perhaps a more suitable title would have been “Baal Mitzvah” the owner of the mitzvah, for the young adult starts to “own” his or her action. What’s the significance of specifically the Bar/Bat Mitzvah title?

The common denominator of most ownerships and relationships is that they can come to an end. You can sell your house, car and all your gadgets. Fortunes can be lost or squandered. Friendships fall apart and partnerships are terminated all the time.

There is only one relationship that can never be dissolved. The connection of a parent and a child. Much can separate them but essentially they will always be connected. This is the message to the twelve-year old girl and thirteen-year old boy. The relationship you have with G-d is permanent and transcendental. Nothing, (really nothing!) can create a true distance between you and the mitzvah - which represents your connection with G-d. Even if end up not showing up to anything Jewish for decades – your random participation will be celebrated as a homecoming to where you truly belong.

This Shabbat is Rosh Chodesh Elul. As the month right before Rosh Hashanah it is considered a time for reflection and accounting. An opportunity to assess our relationship with our loving Father. He longingly awaits our return but it is up to us to take initiative. We may be bashful to approach, so in the Torah reading this Shabbat G-d calls out to us and reminds us “You are children of G-d”. A child should never be scared of home.

On Sunday, September 11 we will celebrate the 30th anniversary of Chabad in El Paso. The mission statement of Chabad is to broadcast the message that all Jews are family and to create a home for us all to serve our Father in Heaven. There is no membership – because every Jew in town is a full-fledged member by birthright.

I personally invite you to join us in celebration. See more information below or by clicking here.

Looking forward to greeting you then.

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