Menachem Bluming Muses: Why the chicken neck on the Seder Plate?

I look at the empty Seder plate with this lonely chicken neck left behind, and wonder, why is it there?

Here’s a thought: One of the most amazing characters in the story of the Exodus is Pharaoh. He witnessed with his own eyes the downfall of his country, he experienced firsthand the miracles of the Ten Plagues one after the other, he saw how every prediction Moses made came true, and yet he stubbornly refused to let the Israelites go. Only when every firstborn Egyptian died in the final plague did he relent and let them go.

Stubbornness is sometimes called having a stiff neck. The neck connects our head to our body, representing the passageway that translates what we see with our eyes and know with our mind into what we feel with our heart and do with our body. A stiff-necked person is unmoved by what they know to be true. They have blocked neck, and the message just doesn’t reach their heart. This was Pharaoh’s problem.

Indeed, the Hebrew word for neck is הערף -Haoreph. When you rearrange those Hebrew letters it spells Pharaoh פרעה. So the chicken neck that sits on the Seder Plate and doesn’t budge is a little reminder of Pharaoh and his stubbornness. After all the miracles and all the wonders, he is still there, same as ever, unchanged and unmoved.

When we sit at the Seder, we have a choice. We can be like Pharaoh, skeptical, cynical and unimpressed. Or we can take our honored place at the table of Jewish history, and marvel at the miracle that here we are, over three millennia after Pharaoh’s demise, still eating our Matzah and celebrating being Jewish.

Chicken necks get left behind. Don’t be one of those.

Mendel (Menachem) Bluming of Potomac Maryland and Rabbi Moss

Why Are Shabbat Laws So Limiting?!

Here’s a thought:

You are out for a romantic dinner, just the two of you. You make a reservation at a fancy restaurant, a quiet table for two in the corner. Gentle music is playing, lights are dimmed, and the ambiance is just perfect for a romantic evening.

You resolve not to talk about work, not to talk about the kids, rather to take the time to really connect and enjoy each other’s company. You laugh together, chit chat, and give one another complete focus and attention.

Then suddenly you say, “Oh, I just remembered something.” You take out your phone and call your business partner to remind him to send a report you are waiting for. It all took no more than fifteen seconds. You quickly put your phone away and smile at your wife.

But she’s not smiling. You just ruined the moment. You destroyed the atmosphere. Until now it was all about the two of you. As soon as you took out your phone, the ambiance was shattered. You brought the outside world into your intimate space.

You could try explaining that it was just a little phone call and is really no big deal. Good luck with that. If you think you can make a business call on a date night, you just don’t get what it means to create an intimate ambiance.

The Shabbat laws are all about creating an ambiance of rest, a moment of spiritual intimacy, when we appreciate G-d’s creation as it is without trying to change it. The state of the world when Shabbos comes in is the way it remains, and we do not interfere. If the light was off, it stays off. The flick of a switch, as insignificant as it may seem, would change the ambiance and ruin the moment.

Someone who has never fully kept Shabbat may find this hard to understand. But if you’ve tasted the profound sense of restfulness that Shabbos can bring, you know how even a slight interruption can make a difference.

We all need date nights and we all need Shabbos. And we need to protect the intimacy of these sacred moments

Rabbi Moss and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Bluming, Potomac, Maryland

Why Do People Become So Furious?

Haman in the Megilah of Purim had it all! His political position was second to the King! He had great wealth and a large family and a caring wife. He seems to have had good health and the people honored him to the point that they bowed when he came by!

Yet there was one man who irritated him to no end! Mordechai. That one man refused to bow to him, would not even bend when he came by. He could not tolerate this!! He became so enraged that this ultimately brought to his downfall.

In your world are you furiously irritated by something that causes you to overlook the tremendous blessing that fills your life?

Menachem Mendel Bluming has been a rabbi in Potomac, Maryland since 2003

Is Living Together Before Marriage Reasonable?

The argument goes, by living together you can know how someone behaves in various situations. Once you have spent a year or so under one roof, you have tested the relationship to see if it can withstand the varied pressures of life.

But wait. That isn’t true. You only know how things are for that year. You haven’t seen how things will be five years from now. A lot can happen in five years. Surely you need to spend five years together to see how that works before committing for a lifetime.

And then there is the concern about what may happen in ten years. People change, we grow older, sometimes wiser, sometimes not. So you should really live together for a decade before deciding to commit.

And what about children? They change the equation entirely. You need to have kids first to see how the relationship will be when you have kids. And then, a lot of relationships become strained once the kids move out. Maybe you should live together through empty-nesting and old age, and only then see if you are compatible and ready to commit.

This is upside down thinking. Committing when you know everything will be fine is not commitment. The very definition of commitment is that you will stick with it no matter what will be. And none of us know what will be.

If you base your decision to marry someone on the assumption that you know everything about them, what happens when you discover that in fact you don’t? Better recognize that life is full of surprises. Commitment is the force that keeps you together when those surprises come.

So when you meet someone, find out about their values, discuss their priorities, explore their character. Their habits may change, but their character and deep seated values won’t change much. And if you later discover that they sleep with the window open and you need it closed – people with good character who are committed to the relationship will be able to work that one out.

Rabbi Moss and Rabbi Menachem Bluming of Potomac Maryland. The above is not meant to cover all issues, including the Biblical prohibition, of living together before marriage, just to explore how reasonable the argument of its necessity is. There is a lot more on the topic that should be explored.

When Self Analysis Becomes Destructive

It is good to criticize yourself. It is not good to beat up on yourself. The former is necessary for your moral growth, and comes from your soul’s desire to reach higher. The latter is no more than a tactic of the devil inside you, trying to sabotage your life by bringing you down.

The two may seem similar, but in fact they are worlds apart. There are a few tell-tale signs to identify the true source of your thoughts:

Healthy introspection is a deliberate exercise that takes place at a scheduled time of your choosing. You control it, it doesn’t control you. If thoughts of self-criticism come to you spontaneously, unplanned, in the middle of doing something else, then they are just an unwanted interruption to the flow of life, and should be cut off immediately.

Furthermore, healthy self-analysis has a time limit. You can spend ten minutes on it, maybe fifteen. No more. If it goes on forever then it is coming from a place of self-absorption. Wallowing in self-improvement doesn’t improve anyone. If it is endless, it is not coming from a good place. Your inner devil crashes the party and doesn’t know when to leave. Your soul comes with an appointment.

Then, at the end of a good session of introspection, you feel upbeat and positive. You have identified what needs to be fixed and believe in your power to fix it. That is a sign of a healthy self-analysis. But unhealthy self-wallowing leaves you feeling flat and hopeless. There is a twisted pleasure in putting yourself down and making yourself out to be the worst human specimen in the world. After all, that’s quite an achievement. But it’s just not true. You’re not so bad and shouldn’t enjoy thinking you are. It’s just negative indulgence.

Finally, the surest sign of healthy self-analysis is what you do next. If you are spurred on to take action, if you are moved to improve, if you have the momentum to get up and do better, then your introspection came from the right place. But if it makes you feel useless and depressed, inert and lethargic, if you feel what’s the point of it all and why should I bother trying, then you know that’s your devil talking.

So to test the true source of your self-analysis, just ask: When does it happen? For how long? How does it make me feel? And what do I do next? The answers to those questions will tell you whether you are soaring with your soul, or dancing with your devil.

Rabbi Moss and Rabbi Mendel (Menachem) Bluming of Potomac, Maryland

Why Kosher?

You go to a doctor to guide you about which foods are healthy for the body. Which ones strengthen you and which weaken you even if they taste good and the effects are not felt immediately, the doctor knows that those sugary unhealthy foods are not building your wellness.

How do you know what the nutritional needs of your soul are? Do souls even have nutritional needs? Kosher is that diet. Designed for the Jewish soul by its Maker. It nurtures Jewish sensitivity and faith, happiness and connection.

So why kosher? It’s the diet tailor made for your soul by its maker! Enjoy!

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Bluming is a rabbi in Potomac, Maryland since 2000

Got Happiness?

It is a law in the Code of Jewish Law to be joyous during this month, Adar! How can I be commanded to be happy if I am not?!

It takes skill to not notice the many blessings in our lives and in our generation. Yes we have valid complaints but they dare not cloud out our happiness and basic gratitude for the great times that we live in.

Rabbi Mendel (Menachem) Bluming serves as a rabbi in Potomac, Maryland with his family

Comforting Mourners

What should you say to comfort a mourner?

The first law in the code of Jewish law is to just be silent when visiting… and only speak if they invite you to.

Your silence speaks volumes. It shares that you are present and that you are here for them and that you are not crowding them with your agendas or thoughts rather clearing yourself to receive whatever they are up to sharing, if they choose to.

That is true comfort.

Rabbi Mendel (Menachem) Bluming of Potomac, Maryland

Menachem Bluming Muses: What is accomplished by the constant stumbling in life?

Gifted souls enter this world and shine. All that surround them bathe in their light and their beauty. And when they are gone, their light is missed.

Challenged souls enter, stumble and fall. They pick themselves up and fall again. Eventually, they climb to a higher tier, where more stumbling blocks await them. Their accomplishments often go unnoticed—although their stumbling is obvious to all.

But by the time they leave, new paths have been forged, obstacles levelled, and life itself has gained a new clarity for all those yet to enter.

Both are pure souls, of the essence of the divine. But while the gifted shine their light from Above, the challenged meet the enemy on its own ground. Any real change in this world is only on their account.

Menachem Mendel Bluming, RTF and Chabad.org

Do You Get Annoyed a Lot?

There is a penetrating teaching by the master of souls, the Baal Shem Tov. He says that when you look at another person, you are really looking in the mirror. The things that annoy you most in others are the things that annoy you most about yourself. The reason you notice them in your fellow is because they are inside you, they are familiar, and they bother you, because they are yours.

If you didn’t suffer from the same issue you simply wouldn’t be able to recognize it in another person. You have to identify with something to be effected by it. If it pushes your buttons, it’s because they are your buttons.
So if you think everyone around you is so self-absorbed, if all you can see in others is selfishness…
You can change what you see around yourself. But you have to change yourself.

By Rabbi Mendel (Menachem) Bluming of Chabad Potomac, Maryland since 2000 and Rabbi Moss