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Tips for staying warm

The last few days in the New Orleans area we have been experiencing numbing cold that has brought the city to a veritable stand-still. We were frozen not just in a barometric sense but also in the colloquial application of the term – numbed into inaction. No work, no school, no driving, no going out and getting things done. We were frozen into a state of nothingness.

This experience can give us an appreciation for why coldness is a good description for a state of disconnect from Hashem and holiness. G-dliness is warmth and light, as the verse states (Deuteronomy 4:24), “for the L-rd your G-d is a consuming fire.” Coldness reflects the notion of apathy and indifference along with a lack of motivation to get anything done.

So how do we stay warm? How do we remain enthusiastic and committed to what Hashem wants of us? I would like to share a few tips for staying warm in the frosty environment.

·         There are two ways to warm oneself against the cold. The first is to wrap oneself in warm clothing. The second is to light a fire or turn on a source of heat. The key difference is that the first method only helps the individual, whereas the second can help others as well. This is true about spiritual frost. We can insulate ourselves against the apathy to G-dliness or we can light a fire that also warms others.

·         In the olden days the home had a furnace in the center room that would provide warmth to the whole house. Obviously the closer a room was to the furnace, the warmer it would be. In order to ensure that the outer rooms of the house would be warm, the furnace in the inner room had to be stoked to a very high temperature. If the furnace would only be warm, then the outer rooms would be cold; but if the furnace was fiery hot, then the outer rooms would at least be warm. The furnace and the inner room represents the period of education and youth. The outer rooms represent the period of adulthood, when our responsibilities distract us from our immersion in Torah and Mitzvot. If the furnace is steaming hot; if our time of youth and education is fiery and steaming, then some of that warmth will be retained in our later years.

·         We must see coldness as an opportunity for transformation to warmth. The Baal Shemtov loved light and brightness. One winter night, the Baal Shemtov’s disciples did not have enough candles to illuminate the Shul. The Baal Shemtov instructed them to go outside and gather a few icicles (eiz-lichtelach) that were hanging from the roof and kindle them instead. They did so and the icicles burned and gave off light. This story conveys the approach of Chassidus to challenges. They are only intended to stir us to find deeper strength within ourselves, allowing us not only to overcome but also to transform.

Please see below for a new program that we are introducing for children later next month called the Jewish Power Hour. In the meantime stay warm in every sense of the word.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Do Jews LOL?

Humor has played an important role in Jewish life. Books have been written on this topic. The association between humor and Jewish life has often been connected with the capacity to contend with the difficulties of exile. I would like to share two passages from the Talmud that give us an additional, perhaps more uplifting role for humor.

Rabbi Beroka (a Talmudic sage) often had encounters with Elijah the Prophet in the marketplace of Bei Lefet. Two brothers came to the marketplace. Elijah said to Rabbi Beroka: These two also have a share in the World-to-Come. Rabbi Beroka went over to the men and said to them: What is your occupation? They said to him: We are jesters, and we cheer up the depressed. (Taanit, 22a)

Before Rabba began teaching halacha to the Sages, he would say something humorous and the Sages would be cheered. Ultimately, he sat in trepidation and began teaching the halacha. (Shabbat, 30b)

What we see from these passages is that not only did humor play a role in Jewish life, but the role of humor is also sanctioned by G-d in the Torah. The jesters in the first passage are described as “men of the world to come” and the opening joke in the second passage enables the sages to focus on the lesson. In each case the humor facilitates a stronger devotion to serving Hashem. A person who is suffused with sadness will find it hard to experience the expansiveness of spirit necessary to truly have a relationship with Hashem. So the jesters brought cheer, thereby allowing their “clients” to rejuvenate their spiritual journeys. Similarly, the endorphins released by laughter at the humorous remark of the teacher, make the students that much more capable of absorbing the serious teachings subsequently being transmitted.

This is something that Tanya (Ch. 7) describes as harnessing a neutral activity to become a vehicle for holiness, thus itself becoming holy.

It is also in this spirit that we bring you Café Chabad – The Chosen Comedian. Robert Cait is a funny dude. He has wide acclaim in the world of comedy and voice over. His creds speak for themselves. But he has come to use his humor to also inspire. Originally from Toronto, Robert has been living in Los Angeles for many years. It was there that he met my uncle, Rabbi Joshua B. Gordon OBM, and their neshamas connected on a deep level. As his Yiddishkeit blossomed Robert broke into a new market – the Jewish circuit. He has performed at Synagogues, JCCs and Chabad Houses all over the English speaking world.

He will be here in New Orleans tomorrow night, Thursday, January 11 performing at Chabad Uptown at 7 PM. We look forward to seeing you there. More info: www.facebook.com/events/1562781920481954 or www.chabadneworleans.com/233821.

Happy LOL and Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Still Relevant 800 Years Later

This Sunday is the 20th of Tevet, the Yahrtzeit of the Rambam. Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, also known as Maimonides lived over 800 years ago. Yet somehow more than 8 centuries after his passing in 1204, he continues to be highly relevant in the world of Jewish law, Jewish and general philosophy, Talmudic commentary, medical ethics and medicine, and astronomy and related sciences. There aren’t many people in world history that have remained as relevant in so many areas of life and scholarship.

I do not profess to be an expert in analyzing greatness nor in conveying an appreciation for the greatness of Maimonides. Yet, I am comfortable stating, that for the Rambam, the lens through which he saw all else was the Torah. His greatness in all other areas are wonderful accomplishments, for which he has received much acclaim. However for the Jewish people his primary accomplishment is his ability to convey the truth of Torah in a clear and precise manner, making it accessible to anyone that understands the language in which it was written. He was the first codifier of Halacha, addressing the entire spectrum of Jewish life and law. He is a primary source in interpreting the Talmud. He is a pillar of Jewish thought, addressing matters of faith, philosophy and theology. He was also a caring leader of his people, who used his medical expertise, political connections and his gift of writing to bring comfort to so many of his brethren.

In our small corner of the universe (New Orleans), and at our microscopic moment in history (21st century), we gather each month to drink from the fountains of his wisdom and to be inspired the richness of his teachings. Join us on the first Sunday of each month at 8:45 AM for Breakfast with Maimonides. A group of seekers of Torah wisdom come together to bask in the radiance of the writings of the Rambam under the guidance of Rabbi Zelig Rivkin. There are bagels and lox and much food for the mind, heart and soul. As this Sunday is his Yahrtzeit, it would be a most auspicious time to explore the class. We look forward to seeing you there.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Make America Sane Again

In the early generations of the Chasidic movement, the opposition was very fierce. Sadly, much of the opposition was a result of insidious individuals fanning of the flames of divisiveness. It had reached such a frenzied state, that many were unwilling to even take an honest look for themselves to see whether the accusations were rooted in truth or falsehood.

The first scholarly work that Rabbi Schneur Zalman (the first Chabad Rebbe) published was an excerpt of his Code of Jewish Law, the Laws of Torah Study. It was published anonymously by his request. The story is related, that when the book was brought to Rabbi Eliyahu, the Gaon of Vilna, who was the Rabbinic leader of the opposition, he was thoroughly impressed and highly praised the scholarship. Once he found out who the author was, he changed his tune and refused to reconsider his opposition. This story indicates to us the climate of inflexibility that reigned in the Jewish world at the time. Change came about when certain individuals were willing to get “out of the box,” as well as by the necessity of working together against common adversaries.

I cite this only as a point of reference; as a means of learning from history. My intent is not to draw a comparison between individuals or ideologies. We live in a time where the climate in our society is so partisan, that one can rarely find an example of willingness to even hear the ideas of “the other side,” let alone actually work together for common good. Our political atmosphere is so poisonous, that one would not even consider an idea put forth by the other, simply because of the name or party associated with it. As social media has given everyone a platform, all we do is shrilly shout into the echo chamber, not stopping for long enough to even contemplate the possibility that there may be some valid points being made by the other.

I wish to share something I wrote in 2016 after the Orlando shooting. “Let’s take a page from the Talmud in how to deal with divergence of opinions on important issues. The Talmud is filled with Halachic disputes between sages. Perhaps the most famous disputants are Beit Hillel (school of Hillel) and Beit Shammai (school of Shammai). They argue about hundreds of cases. In the vast majority of cases the Halacha follows the opinion of Beit Hillel, as the majority of sages supported their opinion in those cases. In explaining this phenomenon, the Talmud declares that the reason why Halacha so often followed the opinion of Beit Hillel is because they were humble and they cite the view of Beit Shammai before citing their own view.

The question is, humility is very nice and being polite is also very nice, but what does that have to do with verifying truth and determining Halacha? One of the commentaries explains it in this manner. When Beit Hillel cite Beit Shammai’s opinion first it is because they truly wished to hear the opposing view and seriously consider it before offering their own. When one is seeking the truth one is truly open to hearing what the other person has to say and will seriously consider that opinion before either accepting or rejecting it.

Contrast this approach with what we have in our society today. We have sides that are entrenched, each so stuck with their agenda that they don’t pause for a moment to consider the possibility that the other side may have a legitimate contribution to the discussion. These agendas color the ability to seek truth wherever it may be found, as the saying goes, “don’t confuse me with the facts.” Or, I may add, “don’t confuse me with logical arguments.” It may actually be, that in our situation there is legitimacy to many of the arguments and the answer lies somewhere as a blend of the solutions. But if we don’t stop shouting for long enough to consider the view of another, we may never resolve these issues and more and more people will be victims of our inability and unwillingness to cooperate.”

Let us introduce sanity into the public discourse of 2018 by listening before dismissing an idea just because of by whom it is presented. Our society and our lives will be enriched as a result.

We welcome Rachel Sadres to New Orleans and to our Chabad Uptown community. Wishing you much success in all of your endeavors; may the new location bring mazel in all that you do.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Chanukah 2017 Recap

We are coming off of the high of a wonderful Chanukah holiday and I would like to share with you, our partners in the work of Chabad – directly or indirectly – a recap of Chanukah 2017 with Chabad of Louisiana.

Olive Press Sinai 1.jpgChabad’s Living Legacy Series presented the Olive Press Craft Workshop at Northshore Jewish Congregation, Temple Sinai, Woldenberg Village and Gates of Prayer. All in all over 100 children and adults enjoyed and were enriched by the presentations. The Living Legacy Series is underwritten by a grant from the Goldring and Woldenberg Foundations. We thank Alan Franco for facilitating this grant, enabling us to enhance the holiday for so many in our community.

Taste of Chanukah Whole Foods 2.jpgOn the Sunday before Chanukah, Chabad Uptown partnered with Whole Foods Market Arabella Station for a Taste of Chanukah. For 3 hours, hundreds of latkes were made and served in the breezeway along with Chanukah materials and literature. The smell of latkes frying was drawing people from all around the store and the parking lot. Over at the Veterans location it was the children who were making Latkes along with Rabbi Zalman and Libby Groner of Chabad Metairie.

Chanukah_5778-62.jpgThe first night of Chanukah heralded the lighting of the Menorah overlooking the Mississippi. Chanukah @ Riverwalk was held at the Riverwalk food-court and terrace due to construction at the Spanish Plaza. 400 attendees enjoyed a latke bar, children’s activities and face painting, a performance by George the juggler, music by Ooh Lala and an assortment of specialty Chanukah items including our signature Chanukah beads created by Mardi Gras Zone and the Naghi family. The lighting ceremony was addressed by MC Jill Halpern, Councilman Elect Joe Giarrusso, Laura Gurievsky (Riverwalk), Henry Miller (Federation), Morris Bart, Arnie Fielkow and Rabbi Zelig Rivkin. The Menorah was lit by Richard Cahn and the blessings were sung by Yehudah Lang. This year’s event was dedicated in memory of Dr. David Kaufmann, founding coordinator of Chanukah @ Riverwalk.

That same night, Chabad Tulane lit the Menorah at the LBC quad allowing students a quick break from studying for exams to warm themselves in the light of the Menorah.

Chanukah VA.jpgDuring the second day of Chanukah a Menorah lighting ceremony was held with Rabbi Mendel Ceitlin in the VA facility. On the third eve of Chanukah a Menorah lighting celebration was held at Lambeth House. Later that evening Chanukah on the Coast was Chanukah Coast.jpgheld at Edgewater Mall in Biloxi with Rabbi Akiva and Hannah Hall, attended by 75 including the Mayor of Biloxi, Andrew “FoFo” Gilich.

On the fourth night of Chanukah, Shabbat, Mobile Menorah Parade 1.jpgChabad Metairie held their Shabbat Chanukah Family Dinner. Saturday Night, the fifth night of Chanukah, heralded the Mobile Menorah Parade. The Krewe of Chanukah paraded through downtown, the French Quarter, the Marigny and back uptown, followed by a party hosted by the Kehaty and Schreiber families.

Chanukah BR.jpgChanukah @ the Capitol in Baton Rouge was held on the sixth night with Rabbi Peretz and Mushka Kazen, attended by 100 and included a gelt drop courtesy of the Baton Rouge Fire Dept.

On the seventh night of Chanukah the women of the Rosh Chodesh Society met for a Chanukah celebration at Chabad Metairie.

This is in addition to the many private and communal celebrations of Chanukah throughout our region. This “minor holiday” has really come a long way.

On the last day of Chanukah, as the sun was setting on the east coast, the wonderful news about the release of Sholom Rubashkin was heard, and he returned home that night. Whatever one knows or thinks about the case and its details, there is no arguing that his harsh 27 year sentence was completely over the top. The news was greeted by spontaneous joy and celebration around the world, as thousands took to the streets and synagogues to rejoice. It is heartwarming to see how much caring there is from one Jew to another. This type of unity and brotherhood will surely carry us over the threshold that separates exile from redemption, may it take place very soon.

Shabbat Shalom 
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

It's All Greek To Me

We are in the midst of a wonderful Chanukah holiday with celebrations galore. (See photos below of Chanukah @ Riverwalk – credit Gil Rubman.)

I would like to take a moment amid the celebrating to reflect on a puzzling element of the Chanukah story. The Hellenists (protagonists of Greek culture) sought to influence the Jewish people to assimilate to their way of life. For over 100 years they were successful to some degree, and many Jews in Israel began to adopt Greek ways. If Hellenist culture was so attractive to the Jews because of its intellectual draw, why were the Maccabees so resistant? One would think that a mind-centered culture such as Judaism would embrace the Hellenist way as a compliment to its own. And if the Hellenists were so cultured and intellectual why did they resort to using force in the face of that resistance? One would think that an enlightened culture such as Hellenism would rely entirely on persuasion as a means of influence rather than to employ force.

To answer these questions in a nutshell, let me point out the spelling of the word Greek in Hebrew, which is Yavan. Yavan has three Hebrew letters, Yud, Vav, Final Nun. This sequence is unique in that all three letters are identical in form except that they get successively longer. The yud is a half line, the vav is a whole line, and the final nun is a line and a half. In Kabbala, Yud represents wisdom. As the leg gets longer to form a vav, that represents the influence of wisdom on life. As the leg gets longer to form a final nun, that represents wisdom being corrupted and dragged down into the nether regions of life.

In Judaism, wisdom is intended to be a spring board to reach for higher – that which is beyond rationale. The core of the soul is beyond wisdom and enables the person to connect to the essence of G-d, Who is beyond intellectual grasp.

As its Hebrew name demonstrates, in Yavan – Greek culture, wisdom is a means of achieving self-gratification. True there is great philosophy, but it also served to justify the basest expressions of human nature.

So when the Jews identified that key difference between Jewish wisdom and Hellenist wisdom they started to resist. When the Greeks realized that Mr. Nice Guy was not going to work, they slipped down from yud to vav to final nun and acted like barbaric savages to enforce their “enlightened ways” upon the Jewish people. The Jews resisted. G-d came to the rescue. The Chanukah miracles took place. The rest, as they say, is history. Have some latkes and a very happy Chanukah!

By the way, history, as they say, has a way of repeating itself. Look out for the Chanukah story playing out again in our lives.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Resolving Inner Conflict

Resolving inner conflict is an important goal. As human beings we are pulled to the allure of a corporeal life of material pursuits and physical gratification. This is bolstered by repeated societal attempts to argue G-d and the Torah out of existence. On the other hand, we have a moral compass called the soul, which has been fortified by the values and teachings of our faith and upbringing. If survival of the fittest is the rule by which the game of life is played, then we need to take one approach to life. If meaningful and G-dly living is what it’s all about, that requires an entirely different approach to life. Even if we accept that Torah is the way to go, we are still confronting the other side of our personality and the world. How do we ensure the ascendancy of the spiritual over the material, of form over matter?

Although, in this case, the battlefield is our conscience, parallels can be drawn from external conflict. Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad, was imprisoned by the Czarist government in 1798 and was released on this day, the 19th of Kislev. He recalls that he received the news of his release as he was in middle reciting a verse in Psalm 55, “He redeemed my soul with peace from the battle that came close upon me, because of the many who were with me.”

This passage became a launching point from which seven generations of Chabad Rebbes addressed the issue of conflict resolution. I would like to briefly share a teaching by our Rebbe.

There can be two ways of resolving conflict – peaceably or through battle. The conflict can also take on two forms – close confrontation or from a distance. What this passage teaches us is that the ideal way to resolve is through peace and from up close.

Battling the urges of the body and the world could be achieved by arguing point by point why the soul’s way is better. Peaceable resolution could be achieved when the force of good is so powerful that an argument is unnecessary. These two approaches reflect the two dimensions of Torah, the rational and the mystical. The rational approach uses philosophical arguments to defend the supremacy of G-dly living. That may or may not be successful in winning the battle. The mystical dimension, especially when it is fused with an intellectual dynamic (like the teachings of Chassidus), fortify a person with so much positivity and spirituality that arguments are not needed. This is called peaceable resolution of the internal conflict.

There is a risk of escapism with this approach. One might think that since the soul and the Torah are so superior to mundane life, it would be best to abandon the world altogether and live in isolation. The passage addresses by instructing that the confrontation must be from up close. We need to engage the world so that we can influence it. Escapism may resolve our personal conflict, but it will do nothing for G-d’s plan to have this world revealed as a Divine dwelling.

Finally we need to recall that to really be successful, we have to have the “many with us,” i.e. a positive relationship with others. Through love and fellowship we can accomplish much more, utilizing the power of the crowd.

Chassidim wish each other a good yomtov on this special day, which spawned over two centuries of inspiration through the teachings of Chassidus. Have a good yomtov, a good Shabbos and a happy Chanukah!

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

At-risk youth in the Torah

The dilemma of how to deal with “at-risk-youth” is one that faces every society in the world. How should a family deal with a child who engages in edgy or risky behavior. What should a school or close-knit community do with such a youth? Varying solutions (or more accurately termed “reactive approaches”) have been proposed, but it is a major work-in-progress.

Does the Torah offer any insight into this? While driving to and from a distant prison visit yesterday, I was listening to a podcast by Rabbi YY Jacobson wherein he offered this teaching in the name of Rabbi Yaakov Kanievsky, a respected Torah sage of the previous generation.

Our forefather Yaakov declares that he crossed the Jordan River on his way to Charan with only his staff in hand. The obvious question is why did he not come with a display of wealth as did Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, when seeking a wife for Yitzchak? Eliezer had ten camels laden with goods, jewelry, and a document stating the extent of Yitzchak’s wealth. Why would Yitzchak allow Yaakov to go to Charan empty-handed? What kind of way is that to enable him to secure a marriage partner?

Our sages explain that on the journey Yaakov was robbed by his nephew, Elifaz. Eisav instructed his son Elifaz to kill Yaakov. When Elifaz confronted Yaakov, Yaakov convinced him to suffice with taking his possessions thereby leaving him penniless and worthless – as good as dead. Elifaz agreed. Yaakov survived, but he arrived in Charan with only his staff in hand.

Who was this Elifaz and why would he disregard his father’s command in exchange for monetary compensation? All references to Elifaz in the Torah and the commentaries describe him as a very immoral person from his early youth. He had an affair with his father’s wife. He committed adultery with multiple women, and he ends up living with a woman whom he fathered with another man’s wife, and she gives birth to a son named Amalek. He was not above murder for hire, and robbery was a way of life.

So knowing what we know about Elifaz, why would he spare Yaakov’s life? Rashi cites our sages explanation, “because Elifaz was raised in Yitzchak’s bosom” and his grandfather’s influence caused him to reconsider murdering Yaakov at that critical moment. So the grandfather Yitzchak, despite seeing what kind of rascal Elifaz was, continued to show him love. While that love was not sufficient to turn Elifaz’s life around, it did manage to secure the future of the Jewish nation by preventing the murder of Yaakov.

Had Yitzchak taken the conventional wisdom approach of “throwing the bum out of the house”, history as we know it may have looked entirely different with the possible absence of the Jewish nation.

Easier said than done? Most certainly. Does it address all the issues? Not entirely. Food for thought? Absolutely! Keep the conversation going!

Hope to see you all on Tuesday night at the evening of inspiration with Rabbi Manis Friedman entitled, If It’s All For The Good, Why Does It Feel So Bad?

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Together, even if not nearby

Last weekend I, along with thousands of my colleagues, attended the annual Kinus – conference of Shluchim. It was a very inspiring few days. One evening I attended a farbrengen (gathering) with some of my classmates. At the farbrengen, one of our friends brought in a sheaf of papers that sparked our interest. Apparently some of our mothers had been classmates as well, and while in Seminary in 1970 they were publishing a newspaper for the students of the school. The newspaper came out every other month and my mother was one of the editors. Each edition was submitted to the Rebbe before publication, and to their surprise, they were honored that the Rebbe often edited the articles, correcting them for accuracy and even language (English) and syntax.

The papers that my friend brought were copies of the articles from the Kislev edition with the Rebbe’s edits. I would like to share the edits on one of the stories which I believe is very instructive.  

The Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi) had a daughter Rebbetzin Freida. She was quite learned and very beloved by her father, so much so that he recited Chassidic discourses just for her. Her brother (R’ Dovber, the second Rebbe of Chabad) would give her questions to discuss with their father for which only she would get answers.

When she neared her passing she called in the elder Chassidim and told them that she wishes to be buried in very close proximity to her father in the cemetery of Haditch (Russia).

Here is where the significant edit was made. Originally the girls wrote that “the Chassidim were faced with a dilemma because in their tradition the men and women were not buried together.” The Rebbe crossed out the word “together” and added “in the same row.”

The story continues. On her deathbed, the chassidim heard her reciting the passage from the morning blessings, “"My G‑d, the soul which You have given within me is pure. You have created it, You have formed it, You have breathed it into me, and You preserve it within me..." When she reached the next words "You will eventually take it from me..." she lifted her ten fingers heavenward and cried out, "Father, wait, I'm coming!" With those final words, her soul departed from her body. They then realized that her worthy request should not be disregarded and she was buried to her father’s immediate right.  

My friends and I were discussing this and one of them pointed out the possible significance of the Rebbe’s edit. It is entirely conceivable to be together even when not on the “same row.” In other words, not always is the lack of close physical proximity an indication of separation. This reflects an axiom that the Rebbe cites in Hayom Yom, “Chassidim don’t take leave of each other because they are never truly apart.” This is an important lesson in life. We can and must remain “together” even if there is some sort of physical distance or perceived partition between us.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

A Tribute to Morris Lew

This week our community suffered the loss of a beloved pillar with the passing of our dear friend Morris Lew.

When describing the kindness of individuals we often hear the phrase “he would give you the shirt off his back.” When discussing Morris Lew’s big heart, this cliché would not be an exaggeration. Morris has literally given the last of something he had to another many times throughout his lifetime.

Morris and Malka (may she live and be well) Lew were one of the first couples that my parents met in the mid-70s when they established Chabad in New Orleans. Over the years the Lews became like family and a foundational part of Chabad’s growth in our region. Morris supported the work of Chabad with his financial resources, business connections, time and even his body. In 1988, when Chabad celebrated its Bar Mitzvah year in New Orleans, Morris and Malka were the chairpersons for that event. When Torah Academy, the school that his grandchildren later attended, moved into the old Lakeshore facility on West Esplanade Ave, Morris was on his hands and knees laying the floor so that the school year could start.

Morris and Malka were among the privileged few in our community to have met the Rebbe in person. On one occasion Morris had the opportunity to discuss an important business concern with the Rebbe and the Rebbe gave him advice and assurance regarding his concerns.

After moving uptown in the eary-90s, Morris became a fixture at Chabad House each Shabbos and later at the daily minyan. Something that I noted is, that he was generally early to Shul to give himself some quiet time to prepare for prayer and study. Morris loved Chabad House and our community and he had a lot visible Nachas when things were going well. He always dispensed compliments when a program was well attended or if he enjoyed a particular speaker. He often found innovative ways to be helpful to the Shul and community in an unassuming manner. He and Malka sponsored the annual Shmini Atzaret Hakafos Kiddush, even hosting it in their Sukkah a few times. He was like the Zeidy of the Chabad uptown community and everyone loved him for it.

Morris was a loyal friend and loving family man with a heart as big as the sky. He was not afraid of hard work and it was not beneath him. He was happy to share tips gleaned from his 80 plus years of life experience. I will miss our quick chats following Minyan where he always referred to me as Mendele, followed by an exchange of good wishes.

His most common pithy saying was “Don’t take any wooden nickels.” This then is my goodbye message to my good friend Morris, Mordechai ben Getzel. As you stand before the heavenly court, tell them about all the good that you did, the blessings you got from the Rebbe and the impact you had on our community. “Don’t take any wooden nickels.”

May Hashem comfort Malka, Eli and Perry and the entire family and may the memory of Morris’s meaningful life give them strength to confront the loss until the coming of Moshiach very speedily.

We gather at Chabad House this Shabbos for a Kiddush marking the end of Shiva. The community is invited to join us in honoring our beloved friend.

Good Shabbos
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Obsession with Education

Let’s face it. Jews are obsessed with education. Last night I was at a Federation event honoring Lauren Ungar, winner of the inaugural Steeg/Grinspoon Excellence in Education Award. Dr. Scott Cowen, former president of Tulane University highlighted the event with an impassioned address concerning education, both Jewish and general. Universities and institutes devoted to education are studded with the names of Jewish donors. Jews are very involved in the cause of education for all. (I would love to see a much stronger commitment to Jewish day school education – but that is for another day.)

What is the origin of this fierce obsession with education? I would argue that it starts in this week’s Parsha. G-d declares His love for Avraham primarily because of his commitment “to educating his children and his household that they should keep the way of the L-rd to perform righteousness and justice.” (Genesis 18:19) Of all of the monumental achievements of Avraham, the one that Hashem singles out with His love, is the commitment to education in the ways of Hashem.

Now we all know that education is not only confined to the classroom. There are many opportunities (and hence obligations) to educate a child in other settings. Teaching by example is the foremost method of educating. Children pick up on their parents’ priorities by seeing how they conduct themselves.

We certainly recognize that after the home, a school is ground zero for education. (If I may, I would like to put in a plug for the school that is close to my heart – Torah Academy – where my children receive a top quality educational experience.) Yet, utilizing other possible scenarios for education is vital to giving the children a well-rounded appreciation for the values that we seek to impart to them.

As Chabad has had a measure of success in the area of developing educational opportunities in diverse settings, I would like to share with you a sampling of what is just around the corner.

Shabbat Adventures: (Chabad Uptown Youth Series) Saturday, November 4 - 11 AM-12 PM. An exciting monthly Shabbat program.

Kids in the Kitchen: (Chabad Metairie youth series) Sunday, November 5 – 3:30–5 PM. Utilizing cooking to teach about Kosher.

Kids Mega Challah Bake: (Camp Gan Israel and PJ Library) Sunday, November 12 - 3-4:30 PM. Teaching Shabbat through making challah.

Mommy & Me: (Chabad Uptown toddler program) Sunday, December 3 - 10-11:30 AM. Teaching Chanukah through crafts and activities.

Olive Press Craft Workshop: (Chabad’s Living Legacy Series) Being presented at schools all across the region.

Latke Tasting and Children’s Activities @ Whole Foods: (Arabella Station and Veterans) Sunday, December 10 1-4 PM.

Each of these programs is a means of bringing Judaism to the children in a setting that is hands on and exciting. The goal is to make Judaism fun and meaningful for the child. Doing this gives us a much better chance of having a lasting Jewish impact on that child’s life. Get involved in these programs by bringing your child or by learning how you can otherwise support them and ensure that NOLA Jewish children are being given the best opportunity to become successful and committed Jews.

Contact me directly to learn how you can support these important ventures. I look forward to hearing from you.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Who is the most successful Jew?

If a poll was taken on who is the most Jewishly accomplished person in history, undoubtedly Moshe would get the most votes. After all he received the Torah at Sinai, performed wondrous miracles, created the template for Jewish leadership, was identified by G-d as the greatest prophet ever, and, by the way, he was exceedingly humble.

Which is why I am fascinated by a passage in the Midrash where G-d tells Moshe, and I loosely paraphrase, “Don’t even think of standing in Avraham’s place.” This implies that in a certain respect, Hashem valued Avraham’s achievements more than those of Moshe. We find this idea echoed in another Midrash, where Moshe is described as beloved and special because he was the seventh (generation from Avraham). The inference there is that his specialness stems from this that he builds upon the groundwork laid by those that came before him, most notably the first, Avraham.

What was so unique about Avraham and his method of serving Hashem? In his very first discourse, the Rebbe cites these aforementioned passages in the Midrash and explains them in the following manner. Avraham’s life was defined by devotion to Hashem. He was all about the cause. This was the case even at the risk of his own detriment and legacy (as is evident in the Akeidah narrative). He was not interested in personal development and achievement. Those were things that happened along the way. It was all about “what does Hashem want me to do now.” If self-sacrifice is necessary, so be it. If self-preservation is necessary, so be it. He moved when he was told to move and stayed when he was told to stay. It was simply not about him. It was about Hashem. While others may have risen to greater heights in personal achievement, Avraham set the bar for personal devotion.

The beauty of it is, that as our father, he bequeathed this capacity to each of us. To some degree, each of us is capable of experiencing that sort of devotion to Hashem at times in our life. Our goal is to make those times defining moments, allowing them to establish and guide the direction of our lives.

The other night Chabad of Louisiana partnered with Hadassah to gather 200 women of our community for a Mega Challah Bake. It was a truly inspiring evening filled with unity and Jewish feminine empowerment. We are happy to share the first round photos of this phenomenal event with more made available next week.

Heartfelt condolences to Linda Waknin and the entire Assoulin family on the untimely passing of her brother, Marco Assoulin.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Avoiding a Spiritual Scam

Recently someone I know had to reinstall a Microsoft product on their computer. After doing a search for the product website she clicked on a link that turned out to be a scam masquerading as Microsoft. The site prompted for her email and phone, which she provided (big mistake – but an easy one to make). When nothing happened she realized it was the wrong site and she went back and found the correct one. Hours later, she was working on the installation when she got a call from an individual claiming to be a Microsoft tech support rep. He asserted that there was something wrong with the computer and that he could fix it. When she questioned why he was calling her he got aggressive and tried to scare her into allowing him to do the “fix.” She said that she needed to think about it and she would call him back. He gave her a number. When she googled the number, it came up as a known scam company. The red flag of his aggressiveness allowed her to realize that there was something fishy about the offer.

The Baal Shemtov taught that we must derive a lesson in serving Hashem from everything that we encounter. There are times when we are faced with a choice in acting on a particular inclination but we are not sure from where it stems. How do we know which is the real thing and which is the scam?

The story is told of Reb Nochum of Chernobyl who lived in great poverty. Once, a chasid brought him a gift of 300 rubles. After all the visitors left, the aide entered the Rebbe's room to request some money to cover household debts. Rabbi Nochum opened the drawer and the gabbai was surprised to see only a few silver and copper coins. The gabbai, unable to contain himself, asked about the 300 rubles.

“After the wealthy chasid left, another man cried to me that he needed 300 rubles for his daughter's wedding. However, as soon as I decided to give the 300 rubles to this man, a different thought came to my mind, 'Why give so much money to one person, when it can be divided among many families, including my own?' After thinking it through, I concluded that the second idea, to divide the money, was not coming from my Yetzer tov, for then it would have entered my mind immediately. It was only when I decided to do the mitzvah that this thought came along. Therefore," Reb Nochum concluded, "I determined that its purpose was to trick me into inaction. So I fulfilled the advice of my good inclination and gave the entire 300 rubles to the needy chasid."

Sometimes the Yetzer Hara disguises itself in righteous garb. But you can discern it by the aggressiveness with which it spurs you to inaction by distracting you with pious arguments.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all those who were instrumental in making the holiday month at Chabad so special and successful. You are too numerous to name individually, but you know who you are and we appreciate everything you have done for our community.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a good second month of 5778.
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Meaningful Yom Kippur

As we prepare for the holiest day of the year, I would like to share the following perspective. There are two ways we can look at Yom Kippur and the High Holy Days in general.

One standpoint is marked by the overlay of a distinctive tinge of fear and urgency with notion that our future is being decided and this is our last chance to state our case before the Supernal Judge Who is determining what our year is going to hold in store for us. From this vantage point, Neilah (closing service) on Yom Kippur means the gates of heaven are closing and we must “daven our way” to a good year now or we lose the chance. None of the above is untrue and this take is entirely rooted in millennia of Jewish thought and writings.

The second approach is, that these days are an opening into an opportunity to create or significantly expand a deep and meaningful relationship with G-d that is unparalleled at any other time of the year. Looking at it this way, Neilah on Ym Kippur means that the gates of “heaven” are closing and we have the chance to have them close behind us, since we have achieved an intense oneness with Hashem. This is the Chassidic perspective.

These two are not mutually exclusive. Both are true and necessary. It is a question of emphasis. In my opinion, when one emphasizes the second way, Yom Kippur is that much more meaningful and even enjoyable. Fasting is not only an act of penance but rather a way of ridding oneself of material distractions for the day. This thread runs through the entire meaning of the day and season.

May we each find a way to make the most of this most important day so that it is indeed a highly meaningful one that brings us up close and personal with Hashem.

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

All rise for the Almighty Judge

Another week, another hurricane relief appeal. Our neighbors to the east, while somewhat dodging a bullet, have been severely impacted by the storm. With only a week to Rosh Hashanah many of the homes, businesses and Synagogues are still without power. As was the case in Houston, Chabad in Florida and the Caribbean Islands are at the forefront of the relief efforts. They are providing meals and other forms of material and financial assistance along with much needed moral and spiritual support. Please support the work of Chabad by contributing generously at www.chabadneworleans.com/hurricane. A committee of national Chabad leadership along with Rabbis on the ground are distributing the funds around the areas affected by Irma.

Rosh Hashanah is nearly here. Yom Hadin – Judgement Day. Being judged is something that most of us find very uncomfortable. Why do we resent being judged? Don’t we regularly self-assess or judge ourselves? Why then do we have such a hard time with others judging us?

Most likely what bothers us about being judged by others is, that we feel that they don’t truly know our circumstances to be able to take everything into account when rendering judgement. They don’t know what we struggle with. They don’t know what emotional or environmental challenges we may be facing at the time. They judge by what the eyes perceive.

What if we knew that the judge was an individual who had intimate knowledge of our struggles and challenges and who loved us unconditionally and wanted what is best for us? I would guess that most of us would welcome that judgement as an opportunity to get real constructive insight to self-betterment.

This is exactly what Rosh Hashanah is. Hashem, who loves us more than our parents and spouses are capable of, judges us using His true insight and understanding of our character and circumstances. As a result, we can achieve a sense of cleansing and fresh start following the High Holy Days. This is the reason why Rosh Hashanah is also a day of feasting as per scriptural instruction. We are celebrating the judgement that we know will be in our best interest.

Tonight at Chabad of Metairie, Marthe Cohen tells her story, Behind Enemy Lines, of being a spy during WWII against the Nazis. See below for rsvp details.

On Sunday morning Chabad Uptown is hosting our inaugural Mommy & Me for moms & toddlers. This month features a honey cake bake and circle time. See below for details.

Come by and visit our Kosher Awareness Day table at Whole Foods Arabella Station on Monday afternoon. There will be a special children’s activity table from 4-6. See below for details.

Our Jewish Art Calendar for 5778 has been mailed and you should be receiving it this week. If you have not received your copy by Rosh Hashanah please let us know or come by Chabad Uptown for a complimentary copy.

We will be sending out the full RH schedule early next week.

Shanah Tovah and Shabbat Shalom to all!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

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