Merging Worlds

I first met the family some 7 years ago, when I was called to perform a bris on their newborn son.  A mutual friend had connected us, and was agreeable to do the bris, regardless of what they could pay.

I recall finding it interesting at the time, how a family that had been intermarried so many times, the women’s husband was not Jewish nor was her dad, still cared that a bris be done, and by an orthodox Rabbi/Mohel no less.

I chalked it up to a line I heard my uncle (Schwartzie) say often, that during the three major lifecycle events of a person’s life, even super secular non practicing Jews, reconnect with their roots. Hatch, match and dispatch. Birth, marriage and death.

I basically forgot about them until a few years later I got another call, that my mohel services were once again needed. I noted how the grandmother of the baby, was not present at bris one, but was at bris two. I was told that she was not well and didn’t think much more of it.

A few years later, (at this point, we were friends on facebook) I realized that baby one is now Hebrew School age eligible. So I reached out, and not long thereafter, child one joined our Hebrew School.

With time, the friendship developed and we got to know each other better, they spent a shabbat meal with us, and they were now in the orbit of our Chabad and lives. Making friends with other Hebrew school families and I was able to monitor their Jewish continuity, whether it was Chanukah or other Jewish holidays and activities.

Then I received a message, grandma, the one who missed bris one, and who had battled illness for the past 20 years had passed very unexpectedly. Can I help?

Of course I agreed to do whatever I could and thought nothing more of it.

When the funeral home called to confirm my availability I immediately agreed, and said yes, of course. That was until, I got the details.

She said, you are an orthodox Rabbi, so I assume you will want Taharah (ritual cleansing of the deceased – a very important part of the burial process) done? Yes, of course I said.

However, the woman from the funeral home said, that the family who were not practicing/observant Jews,and the husband who was married to the deceased, was a fine Italian man, and didn’t see the need or value in the Tahaha. Since it was all so sudden, the expenses were huge and unexpected. They didn’t see a need for the extra expense.

That made sense to me, so I offered, to trade my Rabbi’s honorarium for the Taharah. That would cover the cost with a bit to spare. The woman at the funeral home was so moved by the gesture and the fact that it was so important to me, agreed to co-sponsor the Taharah.

Problem one, solved.

Then in going over the details, she said that the service would be held at the Chapel, and the internment at the xxxxx Lawn Cemetery. I was not super familiar with that cemetery, but I knew it was not a Jewish cemetery. This again presented a halachik issue.

Not wanting to hurt or distance this family that we’d had come quite close with, I asked for some time to do some homework. I then made a flurry of phone calls, until I reached one of the top experts in this area of Jewish Law, R. E. Zuhn, and was given a special exemption based on various factors and assuming I be be able to put a few things in place. With this matter resolved, we were able to proceed.

I later met with the family, and as we went over a few details about the funeral, and reviewed the life of the deceased, it was clear, that everyone (the family, the funeral home, and myself) had joined together to ensure that this woman be buried in the holiest of manners possible.

Next on the agenda shiva. The family intended to spend a couple days sitting shiva, in whatever manner that was meant to be. However, making a minyan and saying Kaddish was certainly not on the agenda.

As Hashgocha protis (Divine Providence) would have it, I had yarhtzeit for my mother on the day of the funeral. I myself was having trouble putting together a minyan for mincha, as it had to be concluded earlier than many finish their work day.

I suggested that we merge forces, and do a shiva and yahrtzeit minyan at their home after the funeral.

They had the men needed for my minyan, and they were fine with saying Kaddish, and they were already assembling that afternoon. I needed to say Kaddish as well so everyone would gain.

Indeed, this is what we did. I gave a few basic instructions of what was needed for them to do, and the minyan began. Many of the minyan barely knew of or identified with their Jewish identity, but all donned Yamukah’s and said Amen at the appropriate places.

As I left the Shiva house a bit later, I reflected at the magnitude of what just took place.

You had two worlds, that seemed so diverse with no apparent areas for intersection, yet, when all was said and done, not only had we gotten together for mitzva, but we had crossed that narrow bridge that divides the orthodox religious world, and that less observant world, and managed to meet, and join, for the greater good of both.

I imagined the Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Barditchev, two of the greatest lovers of the Jewish people, looking at this ragtag group of Jewish in suburban Boston, joining forces for the greater good of the Jewish people and then grinning happily with broad smiles on their faces as they witness the fulfillment of Ahavas Yisroel at its greatest.

May the soul of Chaya Bina Bas Yitzchok be bound in the bond of life!

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Knock out his teeth – Chabad’s Secret of Love

As we near Passover, there are two major events that mark the Jewish calendar. One is the birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the lover of Jews, unparalleled since Moshe Rabeinu and the Baal Shem Tov, and we prepare for the Seder. As the noise and sounds in the kitchen die down, we can focus on the Haggada and all the rich text. The words of the Haggada so precise, rich and flavored, they match the kugels and kneidelach in their savory depth.

Perhaps the most frustrating passage in the Haggada is the line, to “knock out,” or “blunt”the teeth of the wicked son who doesn’t appreciate what is going on at the Seder.

Here is the text:

The wicked son, what does he say? “What is this service to you?”7 [By saying,] “to you,” [he implies]: “but not to himself.” Since he has excluded himself from the people at large, he denies the foundation of our faith.

Therefore, you should blunt his teeth and tell him: ….. “Had he been there, he would not have been redeemed.”

The frustration is, what gives? Ok, he doesn’t know what’s going on? Or perhaps, he doesn’t like what’s going on, so he takes himself out of the community and thus we are told to knock out his teeth? We add insult to injury by telling him, that had he been there in Egypt he would have not been redeemed? Rather harsh, don’t you think?

Certainly, the Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, the lovers of the Jewish people cannot be ok, with such harsh treatment of this “wicked son”? He is clearly hurting or unhappy about something, so he is acting out. Beating him, and telling him that he would have not been saved had he had this pugnacious attitude back in the day, is not going to motivate him or bring him back into the fold? 

Particularly, in today’s world of “safe spaces,” and – appropriate – hypersensitivity to those who are struggling, we need to approach these “at risk” youth with a different approach than our parents generation who would deliver a “frask” – Yiddish for a spanking, and expect things to improve. That may have worked for that generation, but does not work for ours.

So what gives?

I’ve heard this critical question explained thus, and I am channeling my inner student of the Rebbe, to present what I think his sentiments would be, using my verbiage. 

There is rarely such a thing as a wicked child, or a wicked Jew. It happens, but it is too rare for the Haggada to spend it’s precious space addressing. What the Haggada is talking about, is the child who behavior is wicked but his core, the neshama, the soul, is pure. It is not able to be contaminated. So you have a pure soul, that has gotten caught up in something that is making them act out in a way that appears wicked. 

For some it’s an abusive home, others an abusive experience by a teacher, friend or family member, others is the Gd given gift/challenge of emotional difficulties and demons that they need to battle. For other its a traumatic experience, the loss of a loved one or any other crisis that creates frustration, pain and suffering. 

What they all have in common, is that they are not at peace with themselves. This child (either literal or figurative child) is suffering. They are hurting and don’t have the tools to work through the situation on their own. So their “behavior” looks like the wicked son. However, their soul/essence remains as pure as their holy wise and righteous wise brother.

The words “Since he has excluded himself from the people…” is a statement about how this suffering child feels about those around him who he hoped he could have relied on to help him through his struggle. He feels excluded by the world, so he excludes himself.

The Haggada then advises us what we must do to fix the situation. Blunt his teeth. NO, don’t knock them out, and beat him further, Gd forbid, but blunt them, grind down the sharp edges, soften the poisonous vitriolic anger and angst this child is struggling with. 

Love him, hug him, embrace him and remove the the sense of exclusion from the community of family and peoplehood that he thinks he does not belong to and has removed himself from (incorrectly).  Let him know that he is not only a part of the family but an integral piece. So much so, that the obligation to do the Seder – “vi’higadita li’bincha – you shall tell your children” – cannot be completed without him. 

I need YOU my dear son. Despite your pain and hurt, I need you, I want you. You are important. Maybe even more important than your other siblings. 

Engage him, help him see his eternal value and worth. Show him how you cannot be complete without him. Show him how much he matters. Then you will have removed some of the bitterness that he is feeling and will have begun to help him heal. You will have helped him reach his person redemption, from his personal Egypt. You will have helped him realize that he belongs and needs only to adjust his behavior to become one with soul, his essence and his true and ultimate worth.

He was hurt by life, let’s show him some compassion and show him how life is really very good. This is what is meant by blunt his teeth. Soften his blows, and show him his own beauty. Show him, that he too is the wise and righteous son at his core. 

This is hinted in the numerology in the term “blunt his teeth.

Rasha/Wicked (son) = 570 
Tzadik/Rightous (son) = 204 
Shinav/Teeth = 366

If you take the “Shinav/teeth – 366, the bitterness/anger/sadness/pain/frustration away from the the Rasha/Wicked -570 – the pained and struggling child, you are left with Tzadik/Righteous – 204. A calm and at peace child who is ready to heal and embrace their inner awesomeness!


This is how the Rebbe looked a “rasha.” He said, let’s show them how beautiful they are. Let’s introduce them to their neshamah, their truest essence and then the misbehavior and negative self imaging will fall away.

Thank you Rebbe for your novel approach to seeing life and showing it in every aspect of Torah. You are balm for a hurting world. 

We, your students miss you, and will continue to endeavor to keep you legacy of positivity and optimism alive!

Happy Birthday!

Credit & Rabbi YYJacobson

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Dear Mommy

Dear Mommy,

It has been 33 years now, and we are celebrating yet another yarhtzeit. It’s sad, its happy, its life. There is a strange feeling that descends on me each year on yarhtzeit. It is an angst of sorts, though that is not a perfect description. It’s a reflective feeling, but an active feeling.

I am not quite sure. A part of me wants to run around the room like a 4 year old having a full blown tantrum, crying that it is so unfair! I want to pound the floor, and scream at the top of my lungs? Not fair, not fair.

On the other hand, I am not only too old for that, but I have had too much therapy to know that this is narcissistic and self-pity, and for me, certainly at this stage of my life, would be foolish and pointless. In fact, perhaps a bit damaging.

The other part of me that, is at (relative) peace all year long with your being gone, that has accepted that this is what is. That this is Gd’s will. That this has made me grow up. That this has molded me into a better, more compassionate human being, and all these other (true) cliches and platitudes, is just not accepting of that today.

So what am I to do? I can’t have a tantrum, but I am not a peace? I picked a fight with everyone in my immediate area, and that didn’t help distract me. I don’t smoke dope, so that’s off the table. I did mishnayos last night, but that too didn’t settle me. So what am I to do?

I know what I am going to do, and that is to distract myself, with a funeral (that happened to have fallen out today), a shiva house, making a mincha minyan in the Peabodian boondocks, hand out as much matza as people will take and other “acts of goodness and kindness.”

All of these will do me good, and be good deeds, but they won’t and don’t settle that hole deep inside.

I will reach out to my siblings and wish them all a long life, and I will wait impatiently for this day to end, and let what has become my new normal to return to my life.

I will still be upset by the celebrations that you missed. The wife that you never met. The grandchildren you never hugged. The advice you never gave. The shoulder that was not there for crying on. The fact that I didn’t see you kvelling in Atlanta last week at your first grandchild’s wedding.

I will still be frustrated that I have no idea if I was vaccinated against the measles and given a booster, since my immunization records are missing, and my father’s memory doesn’t work for things like this. (I don’t blame him, mine doesn’t either register this kind of info.)

I will still miss you when the normal has returned, and I will go back to relegating your passing to a painful piece of the past that I have figured out how to work within.

But today, for one day a year, I will again, tantrum on the inside, smile on the outside, and behave like an adult even if I feel so so sad on the inside.

I miss you mommy. Happy Yartzeit

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Why I hate Pesach – The pain of confronting reality

Ok, sorry for that shocking name of the article, but here goes. I hate Pesach. There, I said it. No, it is not for all the cleaning needed. Though, that really is not my favorite thing, I can handle that. It isn’t even the exorbitant spike in my credit card bill as this holiday comes and goes, though that too is not my favorite thing. The reason I hate Pesach is because to really do it right, you need to confront your chometz/leaven. You need to look inside yourself, and let’s face it, who like doing that?

Let me explain.

We will soon be gathered around the table talking about the four sons, and this is often an emotional call to parents to explore their success and failure as a parent, as to which “kind” of son they did/are raise.

I have four sons, but they are all the righteous one, so for me this is merely an exercise in theory. Seriously though, I think there is powerful conversation to be had here. Indulge me for a moment here.


Parenting, which comes with no manual, is amongst the highest on the list of difficult things.

It often seems that regardless of what is going on, we are not getting it right. Are our kids happy? If not, why not? If they are, we ask ourselves other questions, all in an effort to to attain perfection for them, and thus for ourselves. Why aren’t they more driven and motivated? And if they are, we look for something else. We work ourselves to the bone trying to make them happy, and most often, our efforts to improve things are met with responses like, “just mind your own business” or “stay out of my life!” So, what is going on?

My book on parenting is coming out, so for a more thorough deep dive into this, you are going to have to wait for the book, but for now, let these paragraphs suffice.

I recently listened to a podcast in which Dr. Phil, of the famous Dr. Phil Show, was being interviewed. Most of what he said was common sense, including what struck me, perhaps the simple Southern way in which he said it, finally made it click for me.

He described a scenario that often comes up in his show, where there is a 30-something-year-old, living at home, abusing various substances, and parents are frustrated and don’t know what to do with their failing child/adult.

He continued, that often there is a complex situation, with traumas and other mental health disorders that require delicate handling, but more often the situation is quite simple and easy to explain and fix. The parents don’t want to live with the worry that their child is on the streets, perhaps being taken advantage of, perhaps they are cold, perhaps they may take their substance abuse to its (G-d forbid) worst case scenario. So rather than feel all that fear, the parents will provide their child with a roof over their head, food to eat, a cell phone to call – just in case of emergency – and pay for the insurance on their car – because Gd forbid they will have a car accident and be arrested or be on the hook for major financial obligations – etc.

Basically, they are anxious about the child’s anxiety.

In truth though, in that scenario, the parents “helping” their kid are not doing their child any favor. (They are selfishly only trying to do themselves a favor. The favor of a less anxious night’s sleep, and hurting their kid in the process.)

Kids want to be parented and pushed. They crave boundaries and borders. When they say, back off, what they may often be really saying is, I need some space to figure out all these feelings I feel inside. So please allow me some time to process what you just said or did, while I work this out on my own. I want to be an adult someday too, and I can’t get there if you are always butting in.

They often don’t have the words to express those intense and unfamiliar feelings, but they don’t want us to simply do things for them, so that we can have tranquility for ourselves.

Often it is our own anxiety that is steering the ship of “help” on their choppy waters. If so, we are are actually not saving them, we are making it worse.

I wonder, and that is all this is, me wondering, if this is what is going on in our lives, as viewed from Gd’s perspective. Perhaps our pain, parenting, faith, health, or any other challenge, is the pain of growth. Perhaps the things that appear difficult, are the things that are exactly what we need, and like our children, we need training to push through. These are the challenges we are facing, and simply surviving, will make us thrivers?

Perhaps, the goal is only to make us better and stronger, and while it feels painful down, here, it is really the growing pains of a full and meaningful existence?

(To be clear, this doesn’t make it less painful while we are in it, and crying and kvetching is normal and the healthy reaction usually, but it is not a destination in itself.)


The Passover season, the story, and the modern day program of Passover is filled with so much investment of time, energy and emotion. Sometimes we wonder if all the hassle is worth it? I am suggesting, perhaps it is a part of the process of growing up as a people; mimicking our growing up as a human, as a child. We need to feel the pain of childhood to grow and become an adult. Perhaps, in fact, this is the essence of Pesach? The journey to be free? This is perhaps the deeper meaning of the struggle of the four sons?

So you want to know, why I hate Pesach? Because, confronting these real world ideas, is as real as it gets. When we talk about searching for chometz and getting rid of it, it means to not only rid ourselves of our physical chometz, but of our internal chometz. Our struggles and worries. To get rid of it, you have to look for it, find it, fix it and dispose of it. Now who wants to do that?

Having said that, I would not trade it in for anything. Once you have confronted your chometz, there is no better feeling than that. (Oh, and don’t worry, there will be a new batch of chometz right after Pesach.)

Blog 26/52 Picture credit