Rabbi's Message

Weekly Thought from Rabbi Enan Francis

We Made It

 We made it! The year that was impossible has come to an end!

Alas!  After 9 months, which is 1216 hours, or 73005 minutes...  and enough Covid drama to last a lifetime, we have arrived at the conclusion of the school year with a tremendous sense of accomplishment for our entire school community!

On a personal note, I found each day to be highly exciting and memorable. I would like to say thank you to all for a wonderful supportive year at TDS. While it was not easy for anyone we have all emerged stronger for it.

In reflection of the year gone by, I am happy and proud to have the honor and privilege of serving the wonderful TDS students, faculty, and community at large.

As we pull the ship into port I would like to thank:

  • The staff and faculty of TDS for their diligence and team spirit.

  • Morah Yaffa BarYam for her steadfast dedication to her students at TDS. Morah Yaffa you were with us each step of the way - Thank you!

  • Our Shluchos Mrs. Chanie Lazaroff, Mrs. Gitty Francis, and Mrs. Esti Zaklikowsi Together with Mrs. Goldstein all of whom enriched grades 4 - 8 girls with their daily davening classes. 

  • The parents for their support and willingness to come to the table and work out thorny issues of Chinuch and Covid  with our teachers and administration;

  • The kindergarten graduates; I salute their extraordinary learning and achievements, and welcome you to the place where the “big kids live,” upstairs; 

  • The eighth-grade graduates; I congratulate your achievements and growth and wish you hatzlacha in all future endeavors. We at TDS look forward to hearing great news about the successes in your lives.

What a Happy Time of Year!

 It was certainly a momentous week for the students of TDS and for this writer as well.

It all began with a dream and a hope that we could, at some point return to the life that we once knew in years past. All of us, administrators and medical board members wanted the same thing; we just did not know how to go about getting it done. It seemed like we were locked in and our best chance was a hopeful reset for next year. Still, we never stopped trying and we never gave up. And then suddenly our petitions, requests, and arguments were answered. Medical permission had been finally granted to de-mask ourselves and the clouds of covid were lifted from the children of TDS.

Everywhere you look one can see smiling children. Everyone is enthused with excitement to be in school. Free at last! When we ask the children “hey where's your mask?", they chuckle with delight and remind us that we don't need masks anymore. It is wonderful to see and even better to be a part of.

If there was ever an end-of-year pick me up, going maskless definitely did the trick and then some. A marvelous way to enter Shabbos and the holiday of Shavuos.

May we all continue to remain in good health and happiness.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!


 Knowing that nuance in Lashon Hakodesh  (biblical Hebrew) is intended to derive a deeper message, the question here is a clear giveaway for any TDS student: Why doesn't the Mishna use the more common word for test - Bechina - or in this case Bechinot, when describing the ten challenges of Avraham instead of using the word Nisayon? What does Nisayon mean? And doesn't the word Neis mean miracle?


In linguistics, it is best to observe the word in question as stated in its earliest form. In our case, the root of the word Nisayon -  Neis, is found in Tehillim Chapter 60,


"נָתַתָּה לִּירֵאֶיךָ נֵּס, לְהִתְנוֹסֵס         - “You gave those who fear you a banner to raise themselves”

While the word Neis does in fact mean test, still in this context the word neis also means sign or banner. To be clear a banner is a sign that is raised so all can see a pride of identity. It is also equally important to note that a neis is in fact a miracle.

Therefore as the word neis has a triple meaning of test, banner and miracle we can infer the lesson that as we are challenged so too we are elevated and spiritually exalted. 

 Just as with the tests of Avraham Avinu, we too are presented with obstacles, challenges, and darkness in our lives through which if we hold on and preserve, we can achieve the miracle of expomometal spiritual growth and connectivity with Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom!

Lag B'Omer And Covid Politics

 One of the reasons we celebrate Lag B'Omer is to commemorate the end of a pandemic that claimed the lives of thousands of Rabbi Akiva’s students. The Gemara in Yavamos states that the plague was brought because of the ill-mannered disrespect between students with differing opinions. 

Considering that Rabbi Akiva taught his students that loving your fellow as you love yourself is a fundamental principle of Judaism, it is entirely incomprehensible how such dedicated scholars could betray their teachers' teaching to such an extreme to cause a mysterious illness to take the lives of so many.

To be sure, Rabbi Akiva’s students were highly accomplished individuals, yet, through the intensity of their perspective of how to serve Hashem properly, there was no room for any synergy or seeing things from a different perspective. This lead to a great schism among the scholars of that era. As tensions mounted so did illness, and the rest of the story is a sad episode in the annals of our history.  

The lesson here is quite obvious but well worth thinking about. We are allowed to have a difference of opinion or an alternate perspective on an issue. There is nothing wrong with that at all. In fact, a polyphony of opinions can lead to an even greater outcome. But should it lead to negative feelings or ill-mannered disrespect we must assert that it does not come from a place of life and blessing and change course to ensure that we reap the blessings of life and fraternity for our families and our people.

Shabat Shalom!

Iyar Opportunities

 Indeed, the month of Iyar brings us back to the mundane life after Pesach, but still, it is a new type of life, in which we are gifted with much power and many opportunities to uplift our inner selves and the world around us.

Specifically speaking, Iyar is known as the  month of healing, as it is an acronym of the pasuk, "אני יי רופאך"-- "I am Hashem Who heals you."  Each day of this month is part of the counting of the omer, in which we ask Hashem to help us mend the fragmentation of our souls, our personalities, and lives to reach the harmony of inner peace, and completeness.

The spring season of Iyar is truly an opportunity for growth to increase the quality of our inner lives. 
May each of us be blessed to see our work in Iyar bear good fruits, speedily and completely!



Do You Remember Last Year's Zoom Assemblies?

As I think of the year gone by and the dedication of our faculty to our children I recall the famous idiom of Winston Churchill that we should “never let a good crisis go to waste!”.  It is fascinating to think how far we have come over the past year. It feels like it was just yesterday that our faculty and administration worked tirelessly to maintain not only academic continuity but also the critically needed daily structure for the lives of our families. As unsung frontline heroes, our faculty tended to the needs of our community while many in their own families became gravely ill or even succumbed to sickness Rachmana Letzlan. 

Indeed, those times, and our current losses and continuing compromises, will never be forgotten. Still, let us affirm that this crisis imbued our teachers and thereby our students with an unwavering spirit of resolve to surpass our given limitations, or if you prefer, our inner Egypts; and we have ultimately become stronger for it.

 I proudly admire the sacrifices of our teachers as they suffered in silence, yet believed in the healing power of prayers offered by their students as they continued to daven with their classes until Pesach and beyond, even though they did not have to do so. Or the struggle of teachers that despite not being prepared for this challenge jumped into the depths of technology to do whatever it took to salvage and support their students during this high tide of anxiety and illness. The very challenge of teaching in 2 domains, having students at home and in school was more than enough difficulty for anyone to handle but our teachers kept marching on.

It is certainly appropriate and even healthy to mourn the losses of the year both great and small. Still in a moment of thanksgiving as we usher in the Pesach Holiday let us seize the moment and reach out to our teachers and administrators and let them know that at the end of the day it was a job well done! 

Shabbat Shalom & A Chag Kashar V'sameach!


“Whenever Rivkah passed the yeshivah of Shem and Eiver, Yaakov wanted to jump out of her womb; and when she passed a place of idol worship, Eisav wanted to jump out” - Rashi

Comparatively speaking, we are taught in Masechet Niddah that when a child is in his mother’s womb a malach (angel) teaches them the entire Torah. Accordingly, it appears that Yaakov wanted to leave his angelic study partner in favor of the yeshivah of Shem and Eiver.
As such, we must therefore ask, why would anyone, especially Yaakov, give up the opportunity to learn with a Malach to attend the earthly yeshiva of Shem and Eiver?

While I certainly understand why Yaakov would want to attend TDS but at what cost? Giving up his chance to learn from a Malach? There's not much else that can top that kind of learning experience!

The famed chasidic master, R’ Bunim of Peshischa answered this riddle with the advice, presumably, every parent gives their children before they leave to yeshiva: “make sure you get a good Chavrusa! (a study partner)”. Every yeshiva Boy knows that one of the most important aspects for success in the yeshiva experience is making sure to have a good chavrusa. In our case,Yaakov, despite being in utero, clearly understood this social dynamic as well. 

As Yaakov was learning the “yeshivah” in utero alongside his twin brother, circumstantially, his “chavrusa” would, unfortunately, be Eisav, not a very good option. 

Being profoundly concerned about the impact of his company Yaakov was, therefore, willing to give up his angelic tutor to attend a yeshivah where he could be certain to be in company of other Yaakov’s, as he made the final preparations for his shlichus in life as the father of Bnei Yisroel.

Shabbat Shalom!

Mercy and Blessings

As Moshe saw Hashem's thirteen attributes of mercy, we, too, have merited to see divine mercy in our success at keeping school open and in-person whilst other communities have needed to close their school buildings. 

There are several points to keep in mind during the Sukkot holiday to keep health and safety at the forefront of our priorities.

Many from our community will be traveling to areas with COVID outbreaks.  Guests also will be visiting Houston from those areas.  It is crucial that all members of our community follow the precautionary guidelines agreed upon by the area shuls and Hatzalah of Houston:

  1. Anyone returning to Houston who has been exposed to COVID is to quarantine. Special caution should be taken by the families of returning students, as many schools have recently seen outbreaks.
  2. Visitors who are coming from a “hotspot” are asked to be extra vigilant while wearing a mask in public areas. 
  3. Houstonians who travel to “hotspots” in other cities are asked to wear masks while in public in those cities and minimize exposure as much as possible.
  4. Those who attend shul are asked to adhere to the guidelines put forth by the shuls regarding Simchas Torah celebrations.

The communities that are seeing the resurgence of COVID have had to close shuls, schools and other mosdos. If we as a community follow these guidelines and have continued Siyata Dishmaya, we will Bezras Hashem remain healthy and not have to delay the start of our schools.

The shul is putting up a large new tent in the Portal parking lot to promote social distance and safety for all during Sukkot.  Therefore, for student drop-off and pick-up on Isru Chag, Monday October 12, please enter at the Fondren gate and drive to the end of the driveway where you will be prompted to make a U turn. You will then be directed to the pick up area. to pick up your child from school. We ask that you drive slowly through the driveway to ensure everyone's safety. 

All walking parents may come through the door near the Lazaroff residence or the gate by the ramp near the front entrance.   

Thank you for your extra attention to these important matters during this busy time.  It is my hope that, as Sukkot arrives, we are not only cognizant of Hashem's presence around us, but also sense His blessings and mercy in specific ways in our own lives.

Shabbat Shalom.

Accounting for Our Blessings

As I speak to colleagues across the country, they always ask, "How's it going in school with COVID?"  I am grateful to be able to answer them, "No cases in school this year."  I am truly awe-filled that in the midst of a global pandemic, with Houston peaking as a recent hotspot, we can say that we have avoided cases of COVID in school.  Baruch Hashem!

As such I will share a few points which the experts feel are important for our protection.

When anyone enters the building, be it a student, a teacher, or a parent, she or he must wear a mask and have a fever check.  The check takes place at the student's designated entry, or the front office after 9 a.m.  These are things that everyone does every day, with no exceptions.

The school building is currently designated for students and staff only.  It pains us greatly to omit physical parental participation in the classroom, as we wholeheartedly believe in parent-teacher partnership.  However, for the greater good of the physical health of the entire community, we regretfully must have parents stay outside the building at all times.  Parents who are listed as members of the 8:00 minyan are permitted in the shul and bathroom only and must enter through the appropriate doors after temperature checks.

ECC parents walking their children to class must walk outside to the doors where their teachers are waiting for them. Please do not enter through the front door even if you have an access card. That means that EC1 and EC2 go to the apartments; EC3-K go to the rear door by the mikvaot; and grades 1-8 walk through the side door from the carpool area. 

A final note, just for this week, is that we must absolutely avoid parking even one car in the school parking lot from 6:45-7:45 a.m.  With the tent up for high holiday services, plus one or more cars, the garbage truck has been unable to pass through to pick up our trash, which is overflowing.  Please park on the street or in the parking lot across the street for early minyan.

May we all see the blessings of safety and health revealed to us through these and other acts of kindness to each other.  I wish you all a continued happy, healthy holiday season!

Shabbat Shalom.

Giving Germs to Cold Shoulder

 As many of you have unfortunately discovered, the cold and allergy symptoms which are so prevalent now can be similar to some COVID symptoms.  This causes confusion when deciding whether to bring students to school in the morning.

Please be assured that we are working on an authoritative guide to making these decisions, which we will share with you as soon as it is reviewed for medical accuracy.  For the next few days, until the guide is ready, we ask that all coughs, runny noses, upset stomachs, reduced senses of smell, headaches, wheezy breathing, and other symptoms which could be colds, allergies, or COVID, be directed to Nurse Toso.  

If Nurse Toso says that your child may attend school, she will inform us before you arrive.  If Nurse Toso feels that your child should not attend school, or that you need to speak with a doctor, we ask that you comply, so as to keep school open in-person as much as possible.

To curb the spread of colds in school, please ensure that you discard disposable masks after one use, and wash reusable masks regularly.  Studies are now showing that masks that are not washed regularly collect significant numbers of germs and bacteria. 

With holiday travel and guests, questions regarding quarantine may soon arise.  Please know that we are aware of the issue, and are preparing as much as possible to answer those questions.  Many of the answers will depend upon individual circumstances.  
Thank you once more for your efforts, which have been evident in so many instances, to keep school safe and in-person.  Your commitment keeps school going!

Shabbat Shalom.

We Have Returned

 (וְשַׁבְתָּ עַד ה' אֱלֹקֶיךָ . . . בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל נַפְשֶׁךָ: (דברים ל:ב
[Moses told the Jewish people,] “You will return to G‑d with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 30:2)

As I watch our classrooms transform into learning environments, and watch students and teachers coalesce into productive teams, I am profoundly grateful for the recovery we have all made in our hearts and minds after a difficult end to the previous year of learning.

But isn't this what Hashem predicts and promises us?  From our "falls," we will return with greater strength!  May this blessing be revealed openly in each of our lives, and may we all be blessed for a sweet new year!

Shabbat Shalom.

Together At Last!


After a summer spent in intense preparation, we are delighted to resume school in person in the TDS building!  In only one week, we have seen just how much it is possible to accomplish through Zoom teaching now that we we've had time to learn the technology.  We have seen the deep level of interactive learning that is possible in a socially-distant classroom.  And we have seen the delight that students and staff feel in working together, if not face to face, at least mask to mask.

Although we anticipate challenges this year, and even because of that, we have chosen this year to upgrade our Middle School curriculum.  Sixth, seventh, and eighth grade boys will add extra Gemara shiurim, and extra learning sessions three times a week with Rabbi Ceitlin.  Sixth, seventh, and eighth grade girls will delve into a deeper davening experience under the instruction of Morah Zisi Hoffman.

Please note that next week, the middle school boys' afterschool and Sunday learning sessions will begin.  The boys will enjoy engaging, incentivized mishmar learning from 3:50--4:30.

Seventh and eighth grade boys will have their sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Sixth grade boys will meet on Mondays and Thursdays.  The middle school boys' program on Sunday, from 8:00-9:30 a.m., includes davening in a minyan and learning and is intended help foster the participants' growth and development.  We hope that fathers of middle school boys will also join in the minyan.

We are grateful to be able initiate these enhancement programs, and pray that through these and other efforts, the Alm-ghty will increase both scholarship and prayer in our community.

Shabbat Shalom

Viva la Revolución!




1.     1.

a forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favor of a new system.


rebellion, revolt, insurrection, mutiny, uprising, riot, rioting, rising, insurgence, insurgency, coup, overthrow, seizure of power, regime change; More


Western Europe of the late 18th century swooned with romantic ideas of identity, independence, and freedom. The philosophical spirit of the times empowered the crushed among the lower ranks of society to advocate for justice and the equality of all members of the society. Servility and slavery were considered the evils of antiquated social and economic systems.

Revolution followed shortly thereafter. The American Revolution, leading to the French Revolution, leading to further revolutions of 1848.

These are some of the ideas that I heard discussed as I walked the halls during the secular studies.

The common feature of all these transitions is that they were awfully violent events. As the struggle for freedom became dire, those in power became desperate. They turned their muzzles on the finest of their own citizenry, sowing death and mayhem. This is revolution indeed. Lasting change was made, but the cost of freedom was paid.

As we read Parshas Hachodesh this week we prepare to celebrate and relive the revolution of our people. The Jewish revolution is a change of a fundamentally different order.

Our ancestors, a landless people without effective leadership, were trapped into forced labor, serving at the mercy of the Egyptians masters. No thinker of the time could ever imagine it remotely possible that this slave nation would win immortality and transform their work into a dwelling place for Hashem.

Liberating people from oppression is, and was, a spiritual goal of great importance. But when the Jews escaped their masters, their liberation was not yet complete. Owning their own lives and the products of their labor was not yet freedom for our people. 

Our ancestors were told that their freedom independence would be different and they wished for more. The Torah explains that the generation of the Exodus did not experience a mere freedom “from” bondage as many other nations have experienced throughout history. Instead, those leaving Egypt would experience a different kind of freedom: a freedom “to.”

The real freedom Hashem grants us at Sinai is the ability for our actions to matter. Not just matter to someone, but to matter to The One! Our freedom was a release from the depths of futility and irrelevance. A freedom to fulfill the destiny of the chosen people to bring goodness and inspiration to the world.

True Story

Many years ago I found myself seated for a Shabbos meal at the home of a wonderful family.  The environment was as warm and wonderful as the sumptuous chicken soup that only a loving mother can make.  The singing was soulful, and delightfully intertwined with inspiring words of Torah.

I sat in close proximity to the eldest son, a very clever boy who was more than happy to display his knowledge. He was clearly in sync with his family’s passion for Shabbos, and had many interesting things to say about the weekly parsha.

As the entrée was served to all the guests, our gracious host shared some insights of his own on the weekly Torah reading.  Suddenly, to the astonishment of all present, our host’s eldest son interrupted his father mid-sentence. He announced, with the pride and satisfaction of youthful unawareness, “What you are saying is not true.” He continued to explain that his father’s statement was not true because… and … and …

If there was ever a “mic drop” moment that was certainly it! Jaw agape, attempting to save face and correct his son, our host tossed a casual glance at the boy and began explain where his son had gone wrong. 

But the child would not relent.  “It’s not true, that’s wrong,” he declared in bold defiance.  It was clear and obvious to all of us (except perhaps the host, who was shocked by his son’s behavior) that the boy’s behavior was only embarrassing to himself and in no way a repudiation of the host’s knowledge.  (The child was actually incorrect.) 

Why did the boy act so disrespectfully?  What was driving him to correct his father, and why couldn’t he relent?

While I cannot presume to know the inner relationship and dialogue norms within the family, it appeared to me that in truth the child was not trying to embarrass his father. Rather, he was eager to impress him.  He wanted to display his learning and knowledge to give his father nachas and enjoyment.

Yet without empathy and self-awareness, this passion misguided him to breach the boundaries of acceptable behavior, leading to an unfortunate display of disrespect.

We see the same dynamics at work in this week’s parsha in the story of Nadav and Avihu. Their deep and noble desire for the ultimate closeness with Hashem overshadowed all of their learning, Moshe’s instructions, and even Hashem’s vision for the incense offering as He outlined in the Torah.  Following their passion single-mindedly led them to disregard the will of the very One whom they wanted most! 

Relationships that are sustaining must be built on both parties’ will. Passion, even passion for the highest things, carries with it the danger of tunnel vision. Seeing only our own desires might, chas veshalom, lead to breaking the  boundaries that our relationships require to be life-giving.  

What guards us against tunnel vision? Two keys are self-awareness and empathy. When we are self-aware, we know our desires and acknowledge that we, ourselves, want them. When we have empathy, we are able to feel what others want. Empathy also implies compassion towards others, and an interest in their wellbeing. Instilling empathy and self-awareness protects us from passion’s tunnel vision.

As parents and teachers, we must pass down those keys to ensure that our children’s offerings elicit a sweet life of goodness and happiness. Do we assist children to name their feelings and desires? Are we modeling how to invent solutions that work with everyone’s desires? Do we practice finding out what others want? Even letting children ask guests what they would like in their chicken soup reinforces the awareness that different people want different things. My wish for all of us is that we have children whose passion for life and Torah is unlocked with the keys of empathy and self-awareness.

Shabbat shalom.

Inner Work, Outer Achievements

What a week we have had at TDS!  Our students have given us such nachas with all of their successes.  First, we were gratified to see the progress students have made on their report cards.  While they are more routine than other awards, report cards are the most consistent indicator of our students’ learning and growth.

The Brachos Bee was the culmination of weeks of study by our student body.  Students competed in the Brachos Bee in their classrooms on Wednesday.  On Thursday, the classroom winners competed against each other in a school-wide Brachos Bee.  The proud winners were awarded a (thingy and a thingy and another thingy), but looking beyond the external rewards, we are most proud that all of the students committed so many brachos to memory.  Can you imagine how much kedusha our student body internalized by wrapping their minds around these mitzvos?

TDS students in all grades also distinguished themselves in the Student of the Month awards.  There are no “obligatory” Student of the Month awards, so every student who received an award can be proud that his or her performance or middos were truly outstanding this month.

TDS participants in Chidon also received plaques in the Rosh Chodesh assembly today.  We eagerly await the Chidon competition in New York, and we are very proud of the hard work put in by the TDS representatives who will compete.

Just as the High Priest wore holy garments to conduct his spiritual work, so too our own external circumstances can help us grow in holiness and character.  May our students’ achievements always spur them on to greater accomplishments and more mitzvos.  We can’t wait to see what you will do next!

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