This week, Mussie and I both had the opportunity to affix a mezuzah on the doorposts of two different homes. It is an experience we both treasure to have the opportunity to participate in. Whether it is a new family moving to town, someone moving into a new home, or simply choosing to add a mezuzah to their current residence, it is always an uplifting and joyous encounter.
I'll never forget the first time I visited the late Sylvia Henkin at her residence in the Inn on Westport, and she proudly showed me her beautiful mezuzah which she made sure to bring with her from her previous home. At every stage in life, in every residence, a Jewish person should to have a mezuzah. It was clear that she lived by this.
Though we do a mitzvah not for its reward, but because it is the will and request of G-d, mezuzah is one of the few mitzvahs for which the Torah states its reward. In this case, the reward is long life for oneself and one's children: And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts ("mezuzot") of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be prolonged upon the land which the L-rd swore to give to your fathers for as long as the heavens are above the earth (Deuteronomy 11:20-21).
This is such a beautiful mitzvah, and one that is so easy to do. With a blessing for our future generations, and connecting us with our ancestors of days bygone, the mezuzah carries extra special meaning.
Especially in South Dakota, where our population is so small, seeing a mezuzah adorning a door always brings a very special feeling. So I have taken it upon myself to dedicate time to assist Jewish homes across the state to affix at least one mezuzah each week this year. If you would like to learn more, please get in touch!
Our family just got back to Sioux Falls this week after being in New York for my sister's wedding. It was a beautiful time for the family to get together and spend time with one another and it all passed by too quickly. My sister grew up in Bournemouth, England, and her groom in Oklahoma City.
The wedding was full of guests from around the world, reflecting every type and stripe of Jew. There were more observant, and less observant, practicing and cultural. This is not something you see every day, but it very much reminded me of the magic you see at Chabad in South Dakota.
This week the Torah tells us that at the conclusion of the seven day Sukkot festival, G-d commands the Israelites to celebrate for one more day because "your separation is difficult." Meaning, it's "difficult" for G-d when the people of Israel must "separate" from Him to return home from the holiday celebrations.
When reading these verses and their commentary one wonders if it wouldn't be more appropriate to have written "our separation is difficult," as at the culmination of the festival the Jews part from G-d. What is meant by this seemingly odd terminology "your separation is difficult"?
The Rebbe explains the phrase "your separation is difficult," to mean the separation among the Jewish people themselves. When we are not united, when there is separation between us and lack of brotherhood and genuine love, this makes it difficult for G-d to shower us with blessings.
The lesson for us today is obvious. Although no two people are the same, we must each imbue ourselves with the recognition that we are one people. Then like now, the Torah serves as the moral compass and eternal guide for how we can live our lives with real meaning, and just as importantly, with inner-peace, love and unity. When we do so, we cause G-d to grant the Jewish people an abundance of blessing.
This week our family commemorated the 9th yahrzeit of Mussie's late grandfather, Moshe Greenberg. Born in the Soviet Union in 1927 he sacrificed everything to study Torah in the underground schools and at age 20 was sentenced to 25 years of harsh labor in the Siberian gulags.
Inmates would recall how he stubbornly refused to eat even a morsel of food that was not kosher, no matter how great his hunger, nor did he work on Shabbat.
"I figured that the only kosher food," he would later say, "was the 15 grams of bread, the little sugar and a small piece of pickled herring," which was a minuscule portion of food for the backbreaking work he was required to do in the camp. Since he refused to work on Saturdays, each week he was placed in solitary confinement for the day.
Before the High Holidays he borrowed a machzor from a Jewish engineer. For over a month he would hide every day and copy the book, line for line, into a notebook.
After 8 years of brutal imprisonment, Stalin died and his sentence was commuted. He married and raised a family, and immigrated to Israel in 1967 where he continued to live as a happy man.
This is the true Jewish spirit under oppression. Maybe, just maybe, this is why by the time he died he had more than one hundred descendants, including children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, and by now well over two hundred, all living around the world as proud Jews continuing to cherish our sacred heritage, the Torah and Mitzvahs, and teaching them to the next generation.
Today we are blessed to live in a country where we can each celebrate and practice Judaism freely. Torah education is accessible to everyone. We are not asked for that level of self sacrifice that our ancestors once needed just to be Jewish. It is so easy to keep Kosher, and so enjoyable to keep Shabbat. Let's do it!
This Shabbat will mark the 28th yahrtzeit-hilula of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.
The Rebbe’s mother would recall that when he was nine years old, the Rebbe dived into the Black Sea to save the life of a boy who had fallen from the deck of a moored ship. The adult onlookers didn’t feel confident enough to jump in. Those who witnessed this heroic act recalled the sacrifice the Rebbe had made that day. He himself collapsed, almost lifeless, soon after bringing the young boy to shore.
To me, this story is emblematic of the Rebbe’s life; the sacrifice and deep sense of responsibility for all who cry out for help. The call of those drowning and no one hearing their cries. For all people calling out for moral guidance in a world engulfed in darkness, the Rebbe rose to this historic calling offering guidance and leadership.
The Rebbe selflessly acted as that spiritual lifeguard and moral compass, jumping into the most dangerous waters to pull out those who were sinking and save their lives, and going where others were afraid to, despite the personal cost he may have had to pay.
Over decades, he carefully taught, living by example, of complete dedication to G-d and the Torah, dedication to world Jewry with Ahavat Yisrael, and humanity in general, encouraging acts of goodness and kindness, bringing us all closer to the fulfillment of Isaias's prophecy of true peace when "nation shall not lift up sword against nation. . . they shall beat swords into plowshares," when the world will be filled with the wisdom of G-d with the coming of Moshiach.
Through the sheer force of his convictions -- his dedication to G-d and his fellow human being -- along with his deep insight into the human condition, the Rebbe quietly, unassumingly but most determinedly, inspired and empowered people of all walks of life all over the globe with his teachings that stirred the conscience and spirit of a depleted and demoralized post-holocaust world Jewry to rebuild and flourish, and reached far, far beyond the confines of the Jewish people to inspire countless human beings of all walks of life to a life dedicated to serving.
In the last 28 years, the Rebbe's reach has expanded exponentially. Today there is not a single Jewish community in the world that has not been positively impacted, and in many cases transformed and completely revived and revitalized, by the Rebbe's vision and teachings. Recognizing his urgent call for world Jewry and humanity, millions of people around the world study his teachings, and movements well-beyond Chabad are looking to Chabad and the Rebbe's teachings to identify what makes Judaism and Jews tick and what keeps people inspired and engaged.
Of course the Rebbe is very personal to Mussie and myself. Our move and work in South Dakota is inspired and guided by the Rebbe's vision and leadership. When a lonely Jew in South Dakota has a seder to go to and matzah on Passover for the first time in decades, it is because of the Rebbe, when a young child learns Alef Beit, it is because of the Rebbe, when a Jewish college student can have a home away from home, it is because of the Rebbe, and when a destitute woman who had been shunned by her community receives a proper Jewish burial, it is because of the Rebbe.
So today, please join me and millions of women, men and children around the world and do an extra mitzvah in honor of the Rebbe. Take a few moments and study some Torah. If you have a pair of tefilin, put it on and say a short prayer. Light the Shabbat candles this evening. Place a few coins in a tzedaka charity box to be given to a person in need or a worthy cause. And do what you can and be ready "to jump into the water" to save someone in need.
Rabbi Mendel Alperowitz Blog and Mussie's Musings
Serving the spiritual needs of the South Dakota Jewish community. Based in Sioux Falls and travels the state.