Rabbi Greisman's Blog

The Leafy Seadragon


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Since most of our children study out of town, Dobi and I truly enjoy the holidays of Pesach and sukkos, not only because of the holiday but also because we have all our children home for these few weeks. It’s great family time: the little ones enjoy their big brothers and sister and as parents, we just kvell with nachas. (Yes, we try to focus more on the pleasure than on the noise levels or the triple loads of laundry and cooking.)

As everyone was due to leave on Monday, we planned a family horseback riding trip on Sunday, and when canceled due to weather, we scrambled for something to do. We ended up settling on visiting the Exquisite Creatures exhibit at Crystal Bridges.

The show attempts to “reveal the intricate beauty and diversity of nature through three-dimensional works comprised of animal, mineral, and plant specimens arranged in precise, geometric compositions.” It’s a beautiful display and one we thoroughly enjoyed (at least until the little ones got bored of it….)

It usually doesn’t take much to tell apart the animal specimens from the plant and mineral ones. It’s easy to see the difference between a lizard and a seashell, yet a few items were confusing, and it was hard to decide if this was a bug or a rock, or some other unique creature that looked like both a plant and an animal.

Take for example, the leafy seadragon. When I first looked at it, it looked like an interesting plant; but when I took a closer look, I noticed an eye, and when I read the museum label on the side, it confirmed that this was indeed a sea creature that just looked like a plant.

It only looks like a plant, but it is a fish.

‘Don’t just a book by its cover’ is a statement we all heard a thousand times growing up, and ‘do not look at the vessel, rather look at what it contains’ is an important teaching of the Talmud.

This doesn’t only apply to how we view others, this also, and perhaps first and foremost, applies to the way we view ourselves.

When we look at ourselves, we know what is on the inside; yet we often tend to ‘forgive’ ourselves by looking on our ‘outside.’ How many times have we dismissed attempts to do something important or improve something we’re doing by saying ‘I’m too clumsy,’ or ‘I’m not capable,’ ‘I will never get it done’ etc. etc.

We know we have the power to do it, we might be lacking the will. It is critical that we take a close and honest look deep into ourselves and properly analyze what we possess inside of us, and then we must act on it. That defines success.

This week’s Torah portion begins with a statement “Kedoshim Tihiyu.” Generally, we translate that as an instruction, “You should be Holy.” G-d wants each one of us to be holy, to act above and beyond the letter of the law in the way we deal with our physical lives and needs; we should not overindulge in materialism, even when ‘legal and ethical.’ We should be holy and value our spiritual wellbeing and success.

Yet, this verse can also be read as a description or a promise: You WILL be holy, because I, G-d, am Holy.” G-d is telling us that each and every Jew possesses a spark of G-d within themselves and therefore, we are holy.

And if we are holy, we should act holy.

I’ve heard so many Jews tell me over the years statements like “I’m not so religious, this isn’t for me;” or “I am not familiar with this tradition” and many similar lines.

If our holiness was an outcome of what we did, then there might have been different classes of Jews; but our holiness as Jews isn’t a result of our deeds; on the contrary, our deeds are a result of our holiness. If you are born Jewish – you are already holy; and if we are holy, shouldn’t we do something about it? We should live the way G-d wants us to because we are holy.

Wouldn’t it be a pity if a person that has a million dollars in the bank ignores it and lives like a pauper? Or if someone had a great talent but refused to ever put it to use? We would all tell them what a shame it is not to take advantage of the gifts they have.

We all possess a spark of G-d’s holiness, and we are all inherently holy. It’s only rational to make good use of it by doing another Mitzvah today.

Don’t be fooled by the many ‘leaves’ of the seadragon; look out for his eye. Look at yourself in the 'eye' as well, find your inner Jewish spark and when you find it, you will know that you are holy.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman 

Ignition Switch


It was an hour before the Purim party where close to 90 people were scheduled to arrive at the Shul when we noticed that we were out of a few paper goods, so my daughter quickly ran over to Party City to get them, but as she was ready to rush back to Shul, the car wouldn’t start. More accurately, it would start; but wouldn’t stay on once she let go of the key. In her defense, it happened a few times in the weeks prior, but since I was too busy with holiday preparations, I was planning to bring it into the shop right after Purim. Now, however, my hopes that it would last until after the holiday of Purim, were dashed.

When you ignite the engine, it is expected to stay on for as long as you wish to drive. After having the car towed to two mechanic shops (the first one couldn’t fix it,) I learnt that the ignition switch on our car is faulty and turns off the engine as soon as you let go of the key. As I am writing, the car is being worked on and I really hope they can get it fixed.

I’m not telling you this story to simply kvetch (although kvetching can sometimes be fun.) I’m telling it to you because, in one anecdote, this is an issue G-d has been dealing with for far too long.

“I’m on a thirty-day diet; I already lost 21 days,” says the comedian. The way we live our lives often leads us to situations where even when we get inspired, awakened, or motivated to make a healthy lifestyle change or commit to do something noble, the inspiration doesn’t stay with us for too long. The human species isn’t so good at sticking to what it resolves to do, and we quickly default back to our less-than-desirable behaviors. It needs to be something of significant magnitude to keep us at our resolutions for a long time, and a herculean strength of character is required to make lifestyle changes that are permanent.

Our spiritual life reflects our physical one. Throughout our lifetime, we can suddenly feel various spiritual inspirations and awakenings. Without an apparent reason, we feel the need to reconnect with a Jewish custom or generally with our Judaism. We suddenly feel motivated and inspired to become ‘a better Jew.’

We mistakenly call these feelings ‘Jewish guilt.’ In truth, these are ‘pings from Heaven,’ it is G-d sending us signals that He’s thinking of us; it is G-d turning the key in our engine.

These calls are meant to get us excited and involved in our Jewish life, to let our soul’s flame burn brightly. While the ‘turn of the key’ certainly starts our engine, all too often the moment G-d’s hand leaves the key – when the inspiration dissipates – our engine shuts off and the soul once again gets covered up by the nitty-gritty of everyday life.

When King Solomon described the Exodus (Song of Songs 1:4) he writes: “Draw me to You; after You we shall run.” The Chassidic sages have explained this verse to mean, that G-d sent us a signal through Moses, an awakening, and we responded in kind and ‘ran’ towards Him, accepting the Torah and becoming the Jewish nation. We didn’t let that inspiration float away with the wind, we did something about it.

Kind Solomon is telling us that the solution to this problem is to put our engine into drive immediately. When our spiritual engine is ignited – when we feel a Jewish inspiration – we should follow the lead of the Jews of the Exodus and ‘run’ with it. We should do something to anchor that feeling. Our sages promised us that when we put feelings into deeds and translate our spiritual inspirations into actions, they will stick around and last.

So, the next time our engine is started, we should quickly think of a Mitzvah we can do, and then do it immediately. Let’s ‘run’ towards Him, towards our Judaism, towards Shul and towards Jewish activity.

As I learnt this week, running towards a solution is a lot cheaper than having to be towed to it. So let me wish you a Shabbat Shalom and a week of revved up Jewish engines.

Rabbi Mendel Greisman

Are you 'at home' in Northwest Arkansas

My family and I have called NWA home since 2005. One thing you notice when living in NWA is that for many a Northwest-Arkansan, ‘home’ isn’t Northwest Arkansas.

We live in a world where hiring, firing, promotion and remote-work opportunities occur at dizzying speeds. Many home-buyers' first question isn't if this house the right fit for their family, but rather ‘how fast can I sell this if I have to move next year?’

I know people that have lived here for longer than I did, for whom ‘home’ is still somewhere on the East or West Coast (ok, also the Midwest.)

I get it. If someone’s family was in Brooklyn for six generations it may feel sacrilegious to suddenly call a town in the Ozarks ‘home.’ Words are powerful and shape our feelings, so just referring to our hometown as ‘back home’ feels like we haven’t lost that connection. We haven’t really left.

But this cozy feeling comes with a price tag and in my opinion, one that is too steep. We don’t really start creating a new home, until we have left the old one and only once we realized that this is our new home can we begin building it. We lose out on new connections and opportunities when we don’t emotionally connect with our new home.

This is even more critical and vital when it comes to Jewish life. Jews are creatures of community and we thrive on each other’s strength and support. A single sheet of paper is easily torn, but good luck tearing a ream of paper…. And as long as this place isn’t one’s home, he or she may not feel the need, or may even feel reluctant, to establish Jewish roots for themselves in their new home. It’s a nice thing to keep a shul membership ‘back home’ to support that community, but we should not allow it to prevent us from creating an involved Jewish life at the ‘current home.’ We cannot allow that old connection to become an obstacle in the path of connecting to a local Jewish hub of life.

There is something fascinating taught in this week’s Torah reading. As they journeyed from Egypt to Israel through the desert, the Jews encamped in different places along the way. Interestingly, they were never told how long they’re going to stay at each place. The Torah tells us that in some places they encamped for a few years while in others they encamped only overnight, or just for a day or two.

And in each place they had to unpack everything. And build the entire Tabernacle. And set up the formation of the twelve tribes around the central camp where the Tabernacle stood.

Wouldn’t it be easier for G-d to tell them: Hey, we’re only staying overnight in this place, no need to unpack every suitcase, no need to build the entire Tabernacle just for a few hours…. Just take out the essentials and leave the rest packed up?

They had to unpack everything and build the tabernacle to its last detail, even if they were staying only for a few hours. G-d was teaching us a lesson, telling us: Wherever you are right now, be there fully. Get involved, build Me a home, pitch your tents and live life like this is your only ‘home.’

For all of us here, Northwest Arkansas is currently our home. Some of us are here to stay, others are planning to retire in Florida and still others think they’re moving tomorrow. Regardless, as long as you are here, G-d wants you to build your Jewish life here.

Israel is home for every Jew, but throughout history we built beautiful Shuls, communities and centers wherever we were. We knew we couldn’t let the time we are ‘here’ go to waste, even when we were convinced we were going back tomorrow.

Summer is a time of renewal and rejuvenation. Let us resolve to get involved in Jewish life, build strong communities and create a vibrant Jewish life for ourselves and for every Jew in Northwest Arkansas.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman

A warm day in Alaska

Last weekend I spent a few days in Anchorage, AK to participate in the annual conference of Chabad Rabbis in the western United States. As most of us serve smaller Jewish communities, we spent Friday, Shabbat and Sunday connecting, learning from each other and inspiring each other in our sacred mission to bring the Jewish flame and our holy tradition to our respective communities. It was a very uplifting few days and I loved hearing so many stories of Jewish growth and involvement. The future is brighter than we allow ourselves to think.

On Sunday, we had a few hour break between the morning session and dinner so we utilized the time to go see a small portion of the wonderful world Hashem has created. Our first stop was Mt. Alyeska, a beautiful ski resort about an hour away. While none of us had ski gear, we decided to take the tram to the top of the mountain to see some snow and take in the amazing views.

If the sun is out and it isn’t Shabbos, I try very hard to always have a pair of Tefillin with me and while I didn’t anticipate seeing any Jews up there, I took them along with me.

As we were riding the tram, my colleague Rabbi Yosef Kramer from Little Rock was chatting with a young man on the other side of the rather crowded car (we later discovered that it was the last day of the ski season and many were trying to get in on the slopes one more time, making it busier than usual) when he discovered that the boy he chatting with was Jewish and never had a Bar Mitzvah or a chance to wrap Tefillin before.

I quickly gave him the tefillin and a Yarmulke, and right there on the tram deck atop Mt. Alyeska, we celebrated his Bar Mitzvah. As we started dancing Siman Tov uMazal tov, all the rabbis that were present (about 30 of us) joined in and it was a magical moment.

I’m pretty certain this event will remain in the young man’s memory for quite some time and I am certain he will use this as a springboard to get involved in our amazing heritage.

Oh, and a few minutes later we chanced upon a 13 year old boy who just celebrated his Bar Mitzvah a week earlier at the Chabad center in Anchorage. He too was happy to wrap tefillin with us.

Although there was snow all around us and the temperature hovered around the freezing mark, I must say that for me, it was a very warm day; the warmth of our eternal Jewish flame.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman



‘Spare’ was a word that was all over the news this week. While personally I hadn’t read the book, nor do I plan on doing so, enough people apparently took interest in it to make it break some bookselling records. However, what is apparent even without reading the book is that the author had a sense of feeling he was ‘spare’ and was using these feelings as a justification, or explanation, for a whole variety of behaviors and actions.

“These are the names of the sons of Israel that came to Egypt” – begins the 2nd book of the Torah, the one we start reading this week – “Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah….” The list goes on, until concluding that they were 70 souls. 'Why bother listing and counting them again?' asks Rashi, the primary commentator of the Torah; 'hadn’t the children and grandchildren of Jacob been enumerated just a few chapters ago, when the story of their decent to Egypt is told? Why count them again – and by name and number?'

“He counted them again”, says Rashi, “to let us know how precious they are to Him.”

When something is very dear to you, it is always on your mind, you speak of it and keep track of it. When you travel with a large amount of cash or Jewelry on you, you’re always checking on it and counting it to make sure it is safe, never taking your mind off of it. So too, he explains, G-d keeps a watchful eye on the Jewish people, counting them and enumerating them again and again, to show how precious they are.

I find it telling that the verse is telling us of our individual significance specifically when the exile to Egypt becomes challenging. It is in those difficult moments that we need to be reminded that G-d is counting us, letting us know he’s thinking about us. “You aren’t spare,” says G-d, “I need you and I’m thinking of you. I have a plan for you.”

Counting us by number, shows that each of us is important; listing us by name, shows that each of us is unique. Each and every one of us must remember that we are not a meaningless dot in an 8-billion people universe, rather that we each bring something special to G-d’s table, something only “I” can provide.

Being a Jew in ancient Egypt, under the tyrant Pharaoh, wasn’t easy physically – we were enslaved, beaten and tortured; while being a Jew in America today, isn’t easy spiritually – we are challenged with assimilation and the winds of un-holiness and G-dlessness. In both scenarios, however, the antidote is ‘do not feel like a spare.’  Remember, each and every one of us is counted, named and means something special to G-d.

But in order to not only ‘know it’ but also ‘feel it’ we must turn to the practical Mitzvot. The only way to internalize an intellectual knowledge into a sense of being and a personal conviction is by constant activity, by doing something with our hands and feet, in accordance with and as a conclusion of this knowledge. When we constantly ‘do’, we develop a deep bond and connection that intellect alone cannot create. And the more we do, the more we will feel that connection and individual importance.

Practical Mitzvot have kept our bond and connection going strong for over 3,300 years. Let’s keep it going….

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Mendel Greisman

Point-to-point or Hub-and-Spoke


Ever since moving to Northwest Arkansas in 2005, I discovered the one hope on top of every local frequent – and not-so-frequent – traveler’s wish list: Get Southwest to fly to XNA.

It is no secret that XNA isn’t a cheap travel destination and the fact that we have no low-cost airlines serving us doesn’t work in our pocketbook’s favor. However, this week was the first time I was actually happy I couldn’t book a Southwest flight for my son headed back to Yeshiva after Chanukah break. The mess which the airline went through was one of record proportions and we all know someone that has been affected.

While many of my friends and relatives claim it is their lifeline to the world, I knew very little about Southwest as I rarely travel with them and I was curious what has caused specifically this airline to suffer such a fallout from last week’s weather event, significantly more severe than any other airline, including those infamous for their poor performance.

I learned that Southwest operates on what the airline industry calls a ‘point-to-point’ route system vs. the hub-and-spoke route system that most major US carriers operate on. Meaning, most airlines operate to and from major hubs, vs. Southwest that flies many short and mid-range routes point-to-point, without connecting through a major hub. While there are pros and cons to each system, when delays and cancelations occur, there’s one big difference. So for example, if American Airlines is your airline of choice, if you ever get stuck somewhere, it is likely CLT, ORD or DFW; cursor:pointer;background-position-x:50%;background-position-y:100%">mikveh (ritual bath) in Rabbi Meir’s neighborhood stood at the foot of a steep mountain. When the slippery weather came, everyone had to walk all the way around for fear of slipping on the mountain path and breaking their bones—everyone, that is, apart from Rabbi Meir, who walked down that path whatever the weather, and never slipped.

One icy day, Rabbi Meir set out as usual to take the direct route to the mikveh. Two guests were staying in the area, sons of the rich who had come somewhat under the influence of the “Enlightenment” movement. These two young men did not believe in supernatural achievements, and when they saw Rabbi Meir striding downhill with sure steps as if he were on a solidly paved highway, they wanted to demonstrate that they too could negotiate the hazardous path. As soon as Rabbi Meir entered the cursor:pointer;background-position-x: 50%;background-position-y:100%">tzaddik with his question: why was it that no man could cope with that treacherous path, yet the cursor:pointer;background-position-x:50%;background-position-y: 100%">Rebbe never stumbled?

Replied Rabbi Meir: “If a man is bound up on high, he doesn’t fall down below. Meir’l is bound up on high, and that is why he can go up and down, even on a slippery hill.”

On a nice day we can all climb mountains; but when the path is covered in ice, no normal person will climb the mountain unless they are ‘connected’ and harnessed. For a Tzadik, their level of connection to G-d is so intense and powerful, that no ice on earth can make them slip. G-d is quite literally holding their hand.

But I don’t think Rabbi Meir was trying to impart mountain-climbing lessons to his student. I think he was trying to relay that it is essential for a Jew to be ‘connected above’ so they don’t slip below when challenges arise.

Let me explain: I often say that it’s easy being Jewish in Jerusalem or Brooklyn; there are large communities, minyans at any time of the day or night, kosher restaurants galore and a hundred people providing each and every Jewish service imaginable. In Arkansas, however, it isn’t a given; living a solid and meaningful Jewish like requires resolve, commitment and a willingness to take initiative and ‘make it happen’.

Similarly, in our personal lives and regardless of our geographical whereabouts, we all experience moments of ‘Jerusalem’ – Times when things are good, the coast is clear, there is bread on the table and harmony in the home. Moments when we are not faced with any challenges, be it financial, emotional, medical or social (and of course, our kids do exactly what we want them to, every minute of every day).

But every so often a winter storm erupts; things aren’t so smooth in one area or another, the winds are gusting and the roads are covered in thin black ice. We are scared to take the next step, unsure whether it will lead us to safety or land us in a cast for the next few weeks.

It is specifically about moments like these that Rabbi Meir was talking about. The only way to safely traverse trying times is via a solid and strong connection.

In the world of Chasidism there’s a term called ‘Hiskashrus’. In its literal sense it means being connected to the Rebbe. For the chosid, being attached to his or her Rebbe, always learning from him and seeking guidance and direction to illuminate and clarify their path, so they know what to do and what not to do, and make sure the next step is taken on solid ground. Chasidim also rely heavily on their connection to each other, especially since the time the Rebbe has passed away. We draw on each other for strength, support and even an occasional word of rebuke, looking out for each other and making sure we are not slipping on icy roads.

Point-to-point route systems, where you take one task and one step at a time, each independent of the other; focusing only on what’s at-hand right now, might work well when the weather is calm and the sun is shining. But when the clouds are grey, and a wrench is thrown at us, that’s when we need a hub. We need a central place where we can anchor, and an ability to connect with others in our shoes. When we are in a central location, with others in a similar struggle and devoted to a common theme gives us comfort and allows for our collective resources to be pulled together and get us out of the mess quickly.

In today’s day and age we throw around the term ‘climate change’ regularly. I’m no expert on the weather, but as a rabbi, I’ve seen a spiritual climate change quite a bit lately. On the one hand it appears spiritually stormy but at the same time Jews are reconnecting to their roots in greater number than before. Now more than ever, we absolutely need a hub, we absolutely need a community and we absolutely need each other so we can rely on each other.

This is why it is so central to belong to a Jewish community wherever you are. And by belong, I don’t mean pay dues; I mean participate regularly. Just like we don’t suffice with just buying our groceries but we make sure to actually eat, so too must we spiritually consume our Jewish sustenance daily and visit our spiritual home on an ongoing basis. It is only through this central hub that we will be safe when the weather throws a big one.

While Rosh Hashanah was three months ago, the rest of the world celebrates a new year this weekend. Make it your New Year’s resolution to frequent your Jewish hub. We’ll all be there for you and for each other.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman 


If you walked by the book aisle at your favorite store and chanced upon a book titled ‘after’ – what would your first reaction be? Would you try to guess ‘after what’ the author is talking about? Would you think it’s an odd title for a book? Would you just shrug your shoulders?

Well, this week’s Torah portion, the sixth in the books of Leviticus, is exactly that: Its title is ‘Acharei’ – after.

The opening verse in its entirety reads “And the Lord spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron's two sons, when they drew near before the Lord, and they died.” While a Torah portion’s title is typically drawn from the opening verse, the choice of using just the word ‘after’ is interesting. If every word in the Torah is precise, certainly the title of a Torah portion isn’t picked at random, just grabbing a word from the opening verse; it is carefully chosen and therefore must contain a message and a lesson.

Superficially, when reading Lev. 10:1, one draws the conclusion that the sons of Aaron died due to their sin of bringing a foreign fire in front of G-d, one which He didn’t command them. However, the holy Or Hachaim sheds a much deeper light on the events that occurred that day and explains that the sons of Aaron were very holy individuals, ones that were even greater than Moshe and Aaron. Upon witnessing the G-dly flame and the Divine revelation on that first day of service in the Tabernacle, their soul was stirred with an affectionate and passionate desire to attach themselves to G-d. They had such a deep yearning to connect with G-d, that their soul literally departed their bodies and rose to heaven, merging with the Divine essence. They have reached the pinnacle of holiness a human being can achieve.

Their ‘sin’ was that they didn’t keep the ‘after’ in mind; they allowed the holiness of the moment and the G-dly revelation of that day to consume them and they became oblivious to the inevitable result. We are commanded that as long as there’s a breath of life in his or hers nostrils, A Jew must serve G-d in this world, keep their health and life and perform Mitzvot regularly. Allowing oneself to be consumed with the moment, as spiritual and holy as it may be, and ignore the ‘after’ is what they did wrong and this is precisely what the Torah is teaching us to never do.

This is why the portion is titled ‘after’, instructing the Jew to always, always, keep the ‘after’ in mind.

On Yom Kippur in the afternoon, after fasting and immersing ourselves in holiness almost an entire day, we read the portion of the Torah warning us not to imitate the behavior of the Egyptians and Canaanites, a lifestyle that the Torah describes as ‘the most corrupt of all’. The fact that we are warned about such basic ideas at a moment so holy teaches us that, even in a state of extreme holiness we must remember the consequences of our actions, and if we ignore the ‘after’ at that moment, we may plummet to the nadir of humanity, to the most undesirable human behaviors.

If when in a state of holiness one must keep the ‘after’ in mind, how much more so must we weigh the results of our actions in our day to day lives. We are so consumed with the ‘here and now’ that we all too often forget, or ignore, the ‘aftereffects’ of our actions.

I recall a conversation I had many years ago, urging a family to come to Shul regularly on Shabbat morning and bring their children with. They argued that their children play sports every Saturday morning and therefore the family cannot attend Shul. I countered by saying: When they will be adults, I guarantee you that they will not be involved in sports or make their living from it, but they will be Jewish. Their sportsmanship will have very little influence on their life and that of their offspring, yet the level of their Judaism will have a huge impact on the future of Judaism in their families. If we want them to be in Shul regularly as adults and if we wish that Judaism to be part of their lives, then the surest way to do so is to get them to be active Jews as children. Is it fair to sacrifice a lifelong (and eternal) value for the sake of a temporary childhood extra-curricular activity?

Sadly, all too often we think of ‘right now’ and what looks good ‘this moment’, ignoring entirely the consequences on the ‘after’. Aron’s sons forgot about the ‘after’ from a place of great holiness, we must not forget about the ‘after’ from the place we’re in right now.

What we invest in now, what we spend time on now, what we value NOW, will remain with us, with our children and with our grandchildren forever.

Choose your ‘after’ wisely; choose your ‘after’ Jewishly.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman


Seen my light bulbs?


I’d like to share with you an incident that happened with me earlier this week, an incident involving stolen and shattered light bulbs. I would also like to tell you how you can help me deal with it.

Monday afternoon, when I arrived at the Chabad House, I was saddened to see that the Menorah displayed proudly in front of the Shul was lying on the ground and every single bulb had shattered.

The Menorahs we use in the public domain are there exclusively to publicize the miracle, so we often use light bulbs instead of an actual flame, as they burn brighter and don’t run out of fuel. The previous night – the last night of Chanukah – saw severe storms ripping through Northwest Arkansas, so I knew it wasn’t vandalism but a strong gust of wind that knocked over the Menorah (Just to be sure, I confirmed it by checking the security cameras); still, the sight was pretty sad. It’s only light bulbs, I thought, we’ll get new ones for next year.

The following day, when I went to pick up the Menorah that we display on the University of Arkansas campus, I disturbingly discovered that – while thankfully the wind did not knock down that one – someone had taken all of the light bulbs. They are unique bulbs that have little, if any, household use and I’m not sure what a thief would do with them, but they were all gone. Every single one.

At this point, ‘missing light bulbs' was more than a coincidence, and I was trying to figure out what to make of it.

I then recalled a conversation I had a few days earlier. ‘If the message of Chanukah is to always increase in light, never to be satisfied with yesterday’s energy, why stop at night number 8?’, I was asked, ‘Shouldn’t we be adding a flame each night continually?’

Sometimes the obviously ‘silly’ questions are the hardest ones to answer.

I replied by relaying a fascinating thought I read a few months ago: Since both nature and miracles come from G-d, and to Him both are equally achievable, the difference between a miracle and nature is repetition. Were the sun to stop its orbit one afternoon and remain in one spot for an hour, we would call it a miracle; yet the sunrise and sunset that are equally miraculous are called nature, simply because they happen every day. When the dead will resurrect it will be an unprecedented miracle, though the ‘natural’ birth of a child that happens every minute is no less miraculous.

If the Chanukah candles would burn in our home every night, I explained, we would cease to see the miraculous light that we are charged to illuminate the world with. It is the once-a-year kindling of the Menorah that reminds us of its miraculous strength. The rest of the year, we put this energy to use by igniting our inner flame and shining our Jewish light to the outside world.

The broken and stolen light bulbs instantly became a call to action, not a distraction: now that Chanukah is over, I need to ‘bring my own light bulb', spreading the light of Torah with my own inner flame.

But my story doesn’t end here.

As I was standing outside the Chabad House sweeping up the broken glass, a pickup truck pulls over and a man named Jerry gets out. “Two are better than one” he simply said, and he proceeded to assist me in cleaning up the mess. He enjoyed seeing the Menorah on his way to work each day and was disheartened to see it broken on the ground. He just happened to drive by as I was cleaning up so he offered to help. I was touched by his gesture.

And here is how this all relates to you.

 ‘Two are better than one’ and a community is better than an individual. As we forge ahead from Chanukah, Chabad of Northwest Arkansas will continue to spread light, igniting flames and fanning them with the eternal strength of Torah and Mitzvot. We will be turning on many light bulbs.

But we need your help. And we need your support. We need it not only to buy 18 new light bulbs for next year’s Chanukah, but for the untold soul-lightbulbs that will be turning on this coming year.

December is the month of giving and about 20 percent of our annual budget is raised this month. The new Shul that has enabled us to increase our acitvities and celebrate better as a community, has also increased our expenses significantly, so our need for your ‘light bulb' is greater than ever.

As Jerry said, ‘two are better than one’ and we cannot do it without you. Please, open up your hearts and open up your wallets and donate generously to Chabad of Northwest Arkansas. We need your support and your help; we need you to turn on more lights.

Click here to donate by credit card or mail your check to: Chabad of Northwest Arkansas, 3400 SE John Rollow Drive, Bentonville, AR 72712. We are also set up to accept stock donations, potentially saving you money on your taxes.

Please, we need your light bulbs today.

Thank you so much,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman


'DO' never again!

As an avid coffee drinker my children observe me several times a day making, and enjoying, a cup of coffee. A few weeks ago my son Yisrael, who is only six, brilliantly remarked that coffee is one of the rare few things in the world that you get to enjoy for longer than it takes to prepare. Shabbos dinner, he explained, takes a whole Friday to cook and prepare, and it’s over in two hours; to destroy something takes mere seconds while creating it took days or weeks. To brew a coffee (granted, we use a Keurig machine) takes a few seconds, and you can get many minutes of pleasure out of it.

Yisrael was right. With the exception of a cup of coffee, everything in life takes real effort to enjoy, and only once you put in the effort can you take pleasure in the result.

The same is true with relationships. They have moments of pleasure but many more moments of hard work; you cannot ‘kvell’ in your children’s accomplishments without putting in years of work –  hectic days and sleepless nights to see them to the finish line, and a marriage must have serious commitment and investment to back the ‘I love you’ you will whisper.

It is impossible, and irrational, to anticipate to only enjoy the ‘feel good moments’ and not invest the necessary effort to get there. We must put in the work.

A chicken and a cow were taking a stroll one morning when they chanced upon a restaurant advertising a breakfast special of a sausage and eggs for 2.99. “Look”, says the chicken, “You and I make a breakfast”. “Easy for you to speak” replies the cow; “for you it’s a contribution, for me it’s a commitment”.

Being Jewish feels good and there are plenty of ‘feel good’ moments in Judaism. However, these feel good moments can only be truly enjoyed when they are backed by a serious commitment to Judaism; for without that commitment and connection, ‘feel good’ alone hardly produces any results.

This week my social media feed was filled with dozens of posts about the holocaust in connection with the holocaust remembrance day. All of them were proclaiming “never again” or sharing heart wrenching stories about the precious holy souls of the six million kedoshim.

It is heartwarming to see such vocal Jewish passion; but it is important and incumbent upon us to back up these posts with action. Social media posts are primarily (and perhaps entirely) an expression of our feelings; and as mentioned, saying ‘I love you’ is only meaningful when it is an expression of a solid relationship and social media posts are effective only when supported by action.

Hitler wanted less Jews and less Judaism. ‘Never again’ means more Jews and more Judaism. Period.

A woman once wrote to the Lubavitcher Rebbe suggesting that she leave an empty chair at her Seder table to show her anticipation for the release of the millions of Jews that were being held hostage behind the iron curtain during the days of the Soviet regime. The Rebbe replied that designating a chair in their honor is a beautiful idea, but instead of leaving it empty, he suggested  she FILL that chair with a Jew who would otherwise not celebrate Pesach.

‘Never again’ isn’t about eternalizing the void; ‘Never again’ is about filling the void.

My grandmother Henya Schusterman, whose tenth yohrtzeit will be next week, lost her parents and siblings in the holocaust. She was left alone. Yet, she rose from the ashes and built a beautiful family and viewed the hundreds of descendants she left in this world as her true revenge of Hitler.

I don’t think anyone lives with the illusion that social media posts actually prevent any antisemitism or will stop the next Nazi from hating us; nor does anyone in the real world believe antisemitism can just be ‘explained away’.

Those who hate us do so irrationally and rationalizing them and their hate is counterproductive. We need to stop worrying about them and start doing what actually works for us.

The world is like the school cafeteria where the evil bullies pick on the most vulnerable and weakest in the crowd. The answer to the evil anti-Semites out there is a very strong and proud Jewish nation; and a strong and proud Jewish nation can only exist when Jews practice their Judaism with pride.

Hitler wanted less Jews and we take revenge by having more Jewish children; his evil troops burned our shuls and we take revenge by building and filling our shuls; he basked in seeing us hide and we take revenge by wearing our Judaism proudly and to revenge their destroying our Torah scrolls we embrace, study and observe what is in those scrolls.

A strong Jewish nation, strong spiritually and hence strong physically is the true ‘never again’.

So what’s your ‘never again’? Can we count on you to light Shabbat candles tonight? Can we depend on you to go to Shul tomorrow? Will your door proudly display a Mezuzah? What will you DO?

Shabbat Shalom.

No Strangers

dena.jpegOur daughter Dena turns two today and she’s so excited that she has been singing ‘happy birthday to Dena’ all day.

Dena is our ninth child, kein-ayin-hara, but there is something different about her that I noticed lately, something our other children never exhibited. Growing up in a home where Shabbat guests, visitors and Walmart vendors were constantly present, none of our other children were ever ‘afraid’ of strangers as infants or toddlers like the typical toddler may be; they readily accepted the hugs, cuddles and high-fives from our guests. So when we had a backyard coffee with two friends a few weeks ago, I was surprised to see Dena shying away from the guests, which appeared unusual, until I realized that since Covid hit right about her first birthday, she doesn’t really know life with guests.

I sure hope that by the time she turns three and begins lighting Shabbat candles, and hopefully way before that, we will be able to host again and she – like her siblings – will learn to enjoy and cherish our wonderful community members. In the meantime, however, she – and all of us – are craving friendships, yearning to hang out with our friends and cannot wait to celebrate together again in large groups.

Friends and friendships, our feeling of belonging to a family and a community, are critical components of our life and essential to healthy survival. Zoom just doesn’t cut it.

Here’s one solution: Purim.

Purim is coming up in just one week. Some of the Mitzvot of Purim, like hearing the Megillah (which, btw, you can do safely this year) or eating a feast with your family or friends; take work and planning and may not available to everyone, certainly not during a pandemic. But there are two other important Mitzvot on Purim, which are relatively easy to do and can be done safely even now.

Giving charity to the poor (can be done virtually here, note Purim charity to the poor in the comments) and Mishloach Manot - sending gifts of food to a Jewish friend (can be done virtually via any website that will deliver kosher foods) are two of the Mitzvot of Purim you can safely – and easily – do. On this holiday when Haman accused us of being a ‘scattered and dispersed nation’ we always show our unity, our togetherness and our strength as a people.

I once heard that of the critical components for survival: shelter, food, water and air, the more essential the need, the cheaper it is. Food cost much less than a home, water is very cheap and air is free. I’m not one to set a value on a Mitzvah, but I think this year for sure, the two easiest Mitzvot of Purim are also the most critical.

The pandemic has caused us all to be under major stress and it is no secret we can all do better in our relationships with some friends, and perhaps even family. This Purim, send a gift of ‘Mishloach Manot” – some kosher food to a few friends, perhaps those whose relationship with you has been strained lately, and show them (and yourself) that our friendship, our community, our people, are still one and still strong.

Happy Purim and Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman


True Joy


This week’s Torah portion begins with the commandment of Bikurim – first fruit. Every person who owned an orchard of one of the ‘seven species’ with which the land of Israel was blessed was commanded to bring a basket of the first fruit to ripen to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as a gift to G-d, to be eaten by the Kohanim. The purpose of this Mitzvah is to ensure that everyone is aware that the source of their blessings and sustenance is from Hashem.

Upon arriving at the Holy Temple the person bringing the basket had to recite a few passages, expressing their gratitude for the Exodus from Egypt, the gift of the Holy Land and their specific piece of it – the source of their livelihood.  Once these passages are concluded, the Torah says: Then, you shall rejoice with all the good that the Lord, your God, has granted you and your household.

At first glance, the meaning of this verse is that now that you have thanked G-d you may go home and rejoice in the wonderful gifts He has given you. This week, I experienced something that taught me a much deeper meaning to this verse.

On Monday I took my first flight since the pandemic began. I went to Oregon to participate in the wedding of my first cousin. The youngest of the 60 grandchildren my maternal grandparents had, it was a special occasion that I just could not miss. (Don’t worry, everyone on the plane wore a mask and I stayed out of downtown Portland…)

Chassidic weddings are usually large affairs with hundreds of participants and I was not sure what to expect from a small, outdoor wedding. Perhaps everyone felt the same, because all that were present were very involved and there was quite a bit of festive energy. It turned out to be one the most lovely and lively weddings I’ve been at, a truly joyous event.

I lived with my uncle and aunt when this boy was born and I’m closer to their family more than any other in my extended family. I can go on and on about the emotions of seeing them walk their 13th child down the aisle, the special “mezhinke tantz” – done when the last of a large family gets married, the radiance of ‘yiddishe nachas’ my aunt exhibited or the pleasure of meeting many cousins. Instead, I want to share with you one anecdote that touched me very deeply.

The father of the bride was the recent recipient of a kidney donation from ‘a stranger’ – a woman from Lakewood, NJ. After the successful surgery, the families became very close and the donor and her husband came to participate in the wedding. Several times throughout the evening– under the Chuppah, during the meal and in private conversations, the immense gratitude the family felt was expressed, the bride even composed an emotional song for the donor; but upon chatting with the couple and observing them through the course of the evening I noticed just how grateful they felt for being given this opportunity; just how much joy they received from seeing the man that has gotten new life due to their kindness dance at his daughter’s wedding. It was awe inspiring and very meaningful to see. I nearly cried.

The greatest pleasure and joy in life does not come from ‘having’ or ‘receiving’ but from ‘giving’ and ‘sharing’. When you give of yourself to others (and it does not need to be an organ, but anything that is part of you) you feel the greatest connection to the recipient and it brings with it the greatest and truest pleasure and joy.

I witnessed it firsthand. As each step of the new shul was being completed, I noticed how the biggest smiles and the greatest joy were shown by those who wrote the largest checks. Their excitement as they see part of themselves transform into something so wonderful was palpable.

Perhaps, the Torah concluding the portion of giving the first fruit with a wish for us to rejoice in what we have is not only a wish and blessing, but a prescription and a recipe. Do you really want to rejoice with what you have?? Give some to Hashem, give of yourself to others; for only then can you feel the greatest sense of joy.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman

Negative or positive?


“Have you noticed that the most positive word recently is ‘negative’?” asked my sister in a text message sent to me earlier this week.


While obviously referring to a negative covid test, this one liner, which was probably just a forwarded, really got me thinking. For in the context of covid, which is clearly not a good or positive thing, we can find some positive.


Earlier this week my wife and I sent three kids away for overnight camp and we will send two more after the weekend. While we’ve been sending kids away for camp and school for many years now, when I sent them off this time I had a different feeling within me, one that I hadn’t experienced before. It was hard to define at first, but upon further analysis I realized what it was.


For 105 days we had all of our children home. This may not sound like something extraordinary for most, but in our life, where the children are sent to Yeshiva when they are old enough, we don’t all together get to live as a family for an indefinite amount of time. It is the story of the life of many a Jew who lives out of the concentrated Jewish areas.


Initially we thought the lock-down will be short lived and eventually most states realized life has got to resume and started reopening – which is how we can send kids to camp. For a long time in between, however, we lived with the knowledge that this isn’t going to be brief yet there was no reopening in sight. During that time period we were all home, together as a family, indefinitely. It takes a lot of work (think 15 loads of laundry per week) but Dobi and I really enjoyed having them home without a return ticket. It was something we hadn’t experienced for a while, and we realized just how much we will miss it now that life is slowly resuming again.


This is truly a positive within the negative and I know that everyone can find a positive in their negative if they only searched.


This idea is highlighted so often in Chassidic teachings: Since everything comes from Hashem, everything is good, the only options are revealed good or hidden good. What we perceive as bad and negative is truly good in its source – only hidden. Sometimes we will understand it later and sometimes we won’t; but the faith that everything Hashem does is good, is a fundamental part of our faith.


In 1927 the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson, was arrested by the communist regime for his ‘counterrevolutionary’ activities of spreading and teaching Judaism. He was sentenced to death but miraculously the soviets were forced to retreat; at first commuting the death sentence to exile and ultimately they released him within a month. The date of his release is the 12th of Tammuz, which is tomorrow, and is annually celebrated within the Chabad community worldwide and beyond.


In his diary, the Rebbe describes just how terrifying the Spalerno prison was and how every detail in the building and in the process of arrest was orchestrated to frighten and confuse the inmate to the point that they were completely lost and surrendered. He then describes how his faith and the realization that Hashem brought him to this place and He is in control was able to calm him and strengthen him in those difficult moments when they did everything in their power to frighten and confuse him. One paragraph struck me as extremely powerful:


“How great is the inner faith, the perfect faith, which is transmitted through our heritage to all Jews, a spiritual inheritance from our patriarchs. How great is the power of absolute trust in G‑d. These are not only the foundation of our Jewish faith, our holy faith, but the foundations of life itself, normal everyday life, the material existence of every Jew.”


Faith in Hashem isn’t only a ‘religious thing’; it is a ‘life thing’. Through proper faith in G-d our entire lives are different; the knowledge that He is in control and whatever He does is for the good – regardless of my ability to comprehend it – changes the way we live and truly enables us to see the positive within each negative and even if we don’t, it enables us to carry on with joy and resolve.


May Almighty G-d grant us all a life filled only with revealed good.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Mendel Greisman


The Desserted desert

Apparently I wasn't the only one that took their time to figure out when to spell it desert and when it is dessert. I moved to the US as a teenager and tricky/confusing words aren't easy to learn when you had a late start. It wasn't until after I got married and my wife gave me the tip that she got from her English teacher that you 'put in the extra s for sugar', that I was finally able to remember which is which.

This week's Torah portion, the first in the book of Numbers, is called Bamidbar, literally "in the desert"; since the fourth book of the Torah deals with the events that took place from years 2-40 of the Jews' journey in the desert. 

This Torah portion is always read before Shavuot, and there were several messages derived over the generations connecting the two -- desert and Torah -- and offering meaning to the fact that G-d chose to give the Torah to us specifically "in the desert".

At face value a desert is nothing like dessert -- while one brings to mind memories of sweetness and pleasure the other paints images of thirst and scorching heat. Yet, I think there is something about the desert that can be enjoyable and put in 'an extra s' into the desert experience.

The desert belongs to no one, has no structures, no limits and one can live as they please. Spiritually, perhaps, receiving the Torah in the desert meant to be a lesson for the Jew to leave the confines of our home, or even those of our surroundings, our towns, cities and places of work and get used to the concept of doing something 'out of the box'. 

Perhaps, by giving the Torah in the desert G-d was asking us not to be limited by the expectations and limits set by our home, our town, our customs or our peers. Go into the desert, He said, try something new. Don't be boxed in.

Earlier this week someone shared with me an interesting anecdote. A Friend of theirs wasn't well and when they inquired what they can do to help, the friend asked them to do a Mitzvah "they don't normally do"; or one "they haven't done for a long time". 

I thought that this was brilliant. Even in our Judaism, we tend to get used to the Mitzvot 'we do' and those we do 'once in a long while' to those that 'we don't usually do'. How amazing is it to be able to go out of our box, into our perceived desert, and embrace a Mitzvah we have never done? How sweet is it to have the strength of undertaking a Mitzvah that is out of our comfort zone?

In the High Holiday prayers we quote a verse where G-d praises the Jews for going "after Me in the wilderness, in an uncultivated land". I think there is no greater praise for a Jew in 2020 than the fact that they are willing to 'put that extra s' in their desert purely for the sake of G-d.

So this year, for me, Bamidbar means: Go into the desert, go try something new, something you don't usually do or something you haven't done in a while.... turn it into your dessert.

So who said a desert can't be sweet?

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman 

Deja Vu Minyan

A number of years ago I had an interesting episode where I ended up in Frankfurt after being twice rerouted due to weather and mechanical issues on a trip to Israel. I wasn’t supposed to be there, but ended up being able to help someone who needed a Minyan for his mother’s Yohrtzeit. For once,  I understood why I had to experience a flight cancelation and delay. You can read my story here.

Most of the time we do not understand delays, cancelations and plan changes in our life, travel, work, education or anything else. We have no idea why things can’t just go smoothly as we planned them; we get frustrated and we seldom understand the reason for the failure pf our perfectly orchestrated plans.

The believer clearly knows that Hashem puts him or her where they need to be at the very moment they need to be there in order to accomplish something He needs from us. This is a fundamental belief in our Jewish faith and the foundation of the mystical service that the Kabbalah calls “Birurim – elevations”. There are G-dly sparks of energy scattered throughout the world and they need a specific soul to perform a specific Mitzvah at that location. When we need to be somewhere or do something at a certain time and place, G-d conveniently changes our plans so our soul’s purpose can be fulfilled. Rarely do we get to see what it was we needed to do there, most of the time we just have to believe there was a reason for this change.

I flew to New York on Wednesday to spend a day in prayer at the Rebbe’s holy resting place on the day that marked seventy years of his leadership. It was inspiring to mark this special day with thousands of fellow Chasidim and Jews who admire the Rebbe’s work. There were so many people there - that it took me less time to get from Arkansas to NY than it did to get from the end of the line into the chamber of the Rebbe’s Ohel – resting place. Read about the day here.

On Thursday afternoon, before returning to Arkansas, I visited a friend in Manhattan and our conversation drifted to our reaction to travel delays and of course I shared with him the story of my unexpected stopover in Frankfurt, one of the favorite stories that I like to share. I explained that the Rebbe’s message to each and every Jew was to recognize that whatever situation we find ourselves in, we know that there is something Hashem wants from us at that moment and in that place. Since only “I” can do it, G-d puts me where He needs me. With that awareness, we can stay calm even in front of the most unexpected changes.

Later that evening, as I’m sitting in LGA's terminal B, it was “Déjà vu all over again”. My flight to Arkansas gets delayed for two hours and a few minutes later someone approaches me and asks if I can help him put together a Minyan.

I’ve flown through LGA dozens of times and never did I get that request, and while being a pro at minyan-organizing in XNA I never did one in LGA.

Then I remembered my conversation earlier that day and the Rebbe’s call to recognize that Hashem puts you somewhere so you can help another Jew. So I said “Sure. Let me see what I can do” and fifteen minutes later, we had a Minyan at gate C-12.

I wish I can tell you that I pondered the meaning of this during the entire flight back, but I didn’t. I was so tired from the late-night ‘farbrengen’ we had the previous night in 770 – the Rebbe’s shul, that I uncharacteristically slept almost the entire way back.

However, it was sweet to once again appreciate the spiritual message behind a flight delay and I hope Hashem is proud of me for recognizing that I was delayed in order to help out another person. I hope that you too will be inspired to realize that Hashem has a plan for us, every day and in every move whether we planned it or not.

Gut Shabbos,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman

My broken charging cable


Ask anyone what is the monetary value of a quarter and they’ll look at you as you fell off the moon. Every kindergartener knows that it’s worth twenty-five cents.

In reality, sometimes a quarter can be worth a lot more than twenty-five cents. Picture yourself frantically driving in a big city’s downtown, terribly late to a meeting and when you finally find an empty parking space you realize you don’t have a quarter to feed the meter. How much would you pay for a quarter at that very moment? Go back 15-20 years and imagine you’re in the airport and mom is an hour late to pick you up, but you don’t have a quarter for the payphone. How much is a quarter worth at that point?

“Do not scorn any man, and do not discount any thing; for there is no man who has not his hour, and no thing that has not its place” says the Talmudist. In a certain time and a certain place the non-valuable item can become invaluable.

Think of your phone’s charging cable. It’s not worth much. Your phone can be worth hundreds of dollars and the power in the outlet is awesome, but without the cheap wire connecting the two, you would quickly find yourself totally non-functional.

I know this first hand. Yesterday I was in NY City, spending a day fundraising for our Shul after dropping off out three high-schoolers in the East Coast. Suddenly I realized the connector on my charging cable was bent out of shape and my phone was no longer charging. Strangely, none of the stores I searched on Seventh Avenue or Broadway had only iPhone cables for sale and my frustration was rising with each battery percentage my android was losing. How will I keep up with my appointments and how will I have a phone for the flight home? After a little while, it occurred to me to pop into my good friends at Lifeworks Technology as their office was right  around the corner. "Surely they can spare one cable”, I thought to myself, ”they make them by the truckload”. It wasn’t long before I was ‘connected’ again and as my phone was finally charging up I realized that never before had I appreciated that cable so much.

Man is a very powerful machine and G-d is an endless source of energy and power and the connection between the two is absolutely vital. Like our phones, we have a charging cable connecting us and there are 613 spiritual ones that connect our soul to its source of power – Hashem, resembling the many thin copper wires that compose our charging cable . Each of those thin wires is called a Mitzvah; together they’re called Mitzvot – Commandments. When we fulfill just one, we have a 1-wire-thin charging cable; but the more we do the thicker our cable becomes and the faster our battery charges.

So, the next time you wrap Tefillin, eat kosher, observe Shabbos, lights the candles on Friday evening or put a coin the charity box, you are doing a lot more than a good deed, you’re ‘plugging in’ your soul.

Here’s to full batteries.

Gut Shabbos,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman

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