Uncle Mottel

Thursday, 28 August, 2014 - 1:06 am

Beitar, Israel, Spring of 1998.

I had stopped off in Israel for a week, on the way back to Sydney, Australia, where I was studying for my Rabbinical Ordination.  I had driven down from Kfar Habad in my rental car to visit my great-uncle Rabbi Mottel Altein, Shlit”a.  A Torah Scholar and Chassidic Giant–Uncle Mottel was the ‘real deal’.

As I sat down in their living room, Uncle Mottel leaned back on his chair and started the conversation by asking me, “Yisroelik – nu, so what are you learning for your Semicha [Rabbinical Ordination]…?”

“Um…Siman [Code] 97-110 – the Laws of Milk and Meat…” , and I then started proudly listing the commentaries that we were expected to master for our Semicha exams.

Leaning forward and with a smile–Uncle Mottel challenged me to do more. 

“Yisrolikel – that is what everyone ELSE is learning. But what are YOU learning?!


The Jewish Month of Elul, the final month of the year, has arrived. Its crisp evenings and shorter days, herald a time of self-reflection and introspection. With the upcoming Jewish New Year, it’s time to get serious and reconnect to G-d.

But we ask ourselves: Perhaps I have already maximized my ‘growth potential’? We already did this exercise last year! Can I do any better than what I already am doing? Perhaps when G-d looks at me it is WYSIWYG?

For me, my Uncle Mottel erased that thought, and refused to allow me to settle for less than what I was capable of. “Yisrolikel – you can do more!”

We all can do more, and so long as we are breathing – there is still more mountain left to climb.

G-d sees greatness in us, whether we see it ourselves or not. At this special moment of the year, it is time look at ourselves from Hashem’s perspective—instead of our own.

It’s Elul, let’s do some spiritual growing.

Shabbat Shalom,

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