Yes, this “Mendel’s Message” tries to tie a bunch of very disconnected things together. But the message (see below) is valuable either way.

Ukraine, of course, is very much on everyone’s mind. It’s in the news, its a global issue. But we also know people in deeply affected by this terrible war, we have extended family right now in last-minute efforts to leave the country, two of Raizy’s sister’s have sisters-in-law now heading towards the borders, from Kharkiv and from Odessa. And there’s a student here whose father left Kyiv as a 19-year-old and the news from his hometown is deeply unsettling and traumatizing so he went home to be with his family.

This takes us to the question about how Chili got its name. This is pertinent this week as we’re having a Chili Cookoff at Shabbos House for Shabbos Lunch, and they’re already steaming away (as they have to start cooking before Shabbat) with their rich aromas wafting through the whole house.

Chili the food is not named for the country Chile in South America, and Mexican purists insist that its not a Mexican food. In fact, (or at least a common legend), Chili dates back to Texas in the late 1800’s, when “Chili Queens” would sell bowls of flavored and spiced chopped meat as a street food, and to stretch and spice the meat they’d add various things, most commonly chili-peppers which grew abundantly around those areas. Hence – Chili!

But wait, does it make sense to name the dish on an accessory ingredient? After all, chili peppers are only a spice or a flavor, an add-on ingredient, they’re not the “meat” of this dish? This teaches us something. It shows how a flavor or spice can so influence something to be considered a primary.

It’s this way with Mitzvot. The Mitzvah itself is universal, uniform, standard, same for all. But each of us adds our own flavor, spice, personal twist to the Mitzvah. Our background and journey, our story, our thoughts and intentions all help make that Mitzvah our own, they imprint a personal stamp on the Mitzvah.

As it is with Ukraine or any other event of such distance and magnitude. The news is the news, but when you have a personal connection, a family or friend, or some other association, that brings it home, it makes it personal.

Tonight’s Hillel Shabbat Dinner has a Woodstock theme. Didn’t know this till I got here, but you could say that Woodstock also shares a similar idea. Back in the 1960’s, the young generation was pushing back against standards, uniformity, expectations. They going against the grain and were seeking personal and individual expression!

We have some prospective students here tonight looking at colleges. Here’s an important thought for this college, and virtually any other. Albany is Albany. It has its pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses, we can talk about all of that if you are interested. But there’s also YOU-Albany, what YOU put into it, how you make it your own, how you find your niche, your place, your opportunities here. And that transforms your UAlbany experience from a lot of big concrete buildings and long lists of majors and minors, to the college experience you make your own.

Like the Chilis in Chili.