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Hashem to the Rescue

There is a man that I know from his business travels to New Orleans, who shared the following story with me yesterday. He is a “Minyan fanatic,” meaning he never misses a single of the three daily prayers with a Minyan. He arranges all of his travel around Minyan schedules – morning, afternoon and evening. He will book convoluted flights or take a cab from a layover airport to Shul, just to catch a 15 minute Minyan for Mincha.

Recently he took a trip to Arizona with his wife and teenage daughter to visit the Grand Canyon. The nearest reliable Minyan is in Phoenix – over 3 hours away. After morning Minyan, he drove to Grand Canyon to meet his family who were already on a tour. He calculated enough time to leave the tour early to drive back to Phoenix for the Mincha/Maariv Minyan in the late afternoon. He gave himself and extra hour and a half in case there was some traffic etc.

During the drive he encountered road sign indicating that there was an accident up ahead that was causing a slowdown. GPS indicated that it would be a 15-30 minute delay. A few miles later traffic came to a complete stop. Knowing that he had an hour and half extra he was not overly concerned. As things began to take longer he started to get worried. People were getting out of their cars and hanging out in the Arizona heat.

At this point he had an hour left to Mincha and the drive would still be over an hour with no clearing point in sight. He took out a Tehillim, made a pledge to Tzedakah and prayed to Hashem to help him keep his dedication to praying with a Minyan. As he finished, he saw some flashing lights coming down the shoulder. A policeman was distributing water to all the people in the standstill traffic. He went out and asked the officer what was going on. The officer replied that there was an accident with casualties. He said, “I am a paramedic.” (He is a member of Hatzolah – volunteer EMS in New York.) The officers escorted his vehicle down the shoulder for three miles. As they pulled up to the accident scene, the last of the wounded was being loaded into an ambulance. The officer turned to him and said, “Thank you for your offer of help sir, but you are free to go.” He zipped onto the highway and drove very efficiently to Phoenix. He walked into the Shul as the Chazzan began “Ashrei” - the first passage of Mincha.

I share this story not only because it is interesting, but because I think there are some important lessons to be learned. First of all, we see the hand of Hashem that shows up at the least likely times. A person should never give up hope. A story like this strengthens the belief in Divine Providence.

I think that we can also be inspired by the man’s devotion and take it to heart. One of the Chassidic masters shared a teaching paraphrasing a verse from Eicha (Lamentations). The verse is, “Kol Rodphe-ha Hisigu-ha Bein Ha-Metzarim” – Her pursuers (the inhabitants of Jerusalem) caught up to her between the narrow straights.” He explained, “One who wishes to “catch up” with Hashem, should pursue this endeavor Bein Hametzarim (during the three week period leading up to Tisha B’Av).

We are in an auspicious time to rededicate ourselves to Hashem and His service. I would encourage you all to take some inspiration from this story and strengthen your own commitment to Shul attendance and participation in the Minyan. (We can certainly use the help!)

May these days of mourning be transformed through our rededication to days of rejoicing with coming of Moshiach!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Good for the far and near

I would like to share with you the gist of an annual phone conversation I have with a Jewish woman who lives in a very rural part of Louisiana. She is an older woman, who does not have access to a car and very limited access to the internet. The people around her know she is of Jewish persuasion and some of the respect her for it. However many of them are suspicious at best and at worst relentlessly try to “save her soul.”

Without a community and without access to communications technology, she has very little opportunity to interact with Jews or get first hand Jewish inspiration. She heard about Chabad and got on our mailing list. She calls once a year to thank us for the calendar and other literature that we mail to her. They are her lifeline to anything Jewish. In addition to the publications that we mail out each year (calendar, holiday guides, family magazines etc.), I have started to send her a few books and articles each year so that she would have more Jewish material to read.

Over the years people have indicated that perhaps it was time to move on from publications such as the calendar as everyone has a computer and a phone that gives them access to the info. When I hear that I think of the lady in the story above. If we stopped printing and mailing the calendar, she would lose her sole Jewish exposure, from which she draws her Jewish learning and inspiration.

In addition, despite the increased popularity of digitized information such as books, newspapers, prayerbooks, etc., as long as Jews keep Shabbat there will always be a need for the printed word, including our calendar. I am gratified when I walk into a house or business and I see the Jewish Art Calendar hanging and being used. I am happy to receive phone calls asking me about some of the information that is shared on the calendar pages each year.

Once again we are going to print with our annual Jewish Art Calendar. This is made possible by your support through ads and tributes. Use the calendar to reach over 2600 homes and businesses to whom the calendar is mailed. You can advertise a business, honor a loved one on a Yahrtzeit, birthday or anniversary, or send greetings to the community for the new-year. We need your support to make sure that people like the lady on the phone, and everyone else who enjoys and uses it, receive their calendar. Please see below for the ad rates and support the publication.

Want to also highlight an event coming up in just over a week. During this time of mourning for the destruction of our Holy Temples, it is customary to find valid reasons to temper the mourning with celebration. One of those is a Siyum – the conclusion of a volume of the Talmud. On Sunday night, July 23 at 8 PM, we will be holding a Siyum at Chabad Uptown. Max Chiz and I are getting set to conclude the Tractate Erachin and we invite the community to participate in our joy and the celebration of the Torah. Following the Siyum and evening services, refreshments will be served in honor of the occasion.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Confronting an internal KGB

90 years ago on this day, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe was released from Soviet imprisonment. This marked the first show-down in a battle that would end up lasting 70 years. At that time (1927) the GPU (forerunner of the KGB) and Communist party had a Jewish sector that was singularly devoted to eradicating Judaism from Russia. (Other religions were targeted as well. In fact, on the night of the Rebbe’s arrest, 10 other faith leaders were arrested, some were eliminated by a firing squad that very night, making his survival that much more extraordinary.)

Reading the diary of the Previous Rebbe, in which he gives a detailed account of the experience, one discovers that he made a determined resolution to defy the Soviets without submitting to their intimidation in the slightest. Even as a prisoner in the feared Spalerno prison, he refused to behave submissively in any way, shape or form. He addressed them with open disregard. They had never dealt with a person who didn’t melt with fear under their threats and tortures. In the end they were forced to blink first and he was released and eventually left Russia. But not before establishing a vast network of underground Jewish activities that were manned by his Chassidim (at great peril and loss of life). He continued to direct and fund those activities, even traveling to the USA in 1929 to raise awareness and much needed support for the Russian Jews. Thanks to those efforts and self-sacrifice, the embers of Jewish life managed to keep burning throughout the 70 years of Communism. With the fall of the Soviet Union, those embers burst into flames as Jewish life sprung up from the underground.

What can we take away from this story that can impact the way we live our lives of serving Hashem? Thank G-d we do not live in fear of religious persecution. On the contrary, we live in a country where our right to worship is protected under the very constitution of the land. We do not have a KGB threatening to arrest us for practicing and teaching Judaism. On the contrary, our government encourages faith based communities, wishing them to thrive and flourish.

Our issue is the internal KGB (Yetzer Hara). Our KGB uses similar tactics, such as persuasive attacks utilizing the intelligent sounding language of progressiveness to tell us that our values are primitive. Our KGB tries to get us to feel the need to be like everyone else and not stick out and be unique. Our KGB tells us that if we would only assimilate all of our problems will dissipate. These are all eerily familiar to declarations of Soviet utopian promises. It didn’t help us then and it will not help us now. Just as the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe stared them down and didn’t flinch, we need to take the same approach with fortitude and strength in our devotion to Torah and Judaism! The result will be a strong Jewish people dedicated to Hashem.

I take this opportunity to wish my mother a happy milestone birthday. May Hashem bless her with healthy long years filled with nachas and spiritual meaning and success in all she does, together with my father in good health!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

 

Follow the Money

In just over a week Chabad of Louisiana will be concluding our annual raffle campaign with a drawing on July 9 for $10,000.00 and additional prizes of a lovely piece of jewelry from BEJE (Betsy & Jeff Kaston) and jewelry & accessory sets from David’s Antiques Edry Family).

This raffle benefits the programs and activities offered by Chabad (Uptown). Other Chabad of Louisiana affiliates are financially independent (including, Chabad of Metairie, Chabad at Tulane, Chabad of Baton Rouge, Chabad of Southern Mississippi, and Camp Gan Israel).

Chabad is completely supported by the direct contributions to our organization. We do not receive financial support from the Worldwide Chabad Movement. All contributions to Chabad remain local and support Chabad’s programs and activities in this area.

I would like to share with you a sampling of what (our branch of) Chabad does so that you will have an understanding of what your investment achieves.

Real Relationships: Chabad does not have membership we have relationships. We are there for people in their happy times and their challenging times. Chabad Rabbis and their wives have counselled and have invested in the lives of NOLA Jews for over 40 years. On any given day we will connect with community members about a wide range of issues. It may be a bride one moment, and grief or end of life issues the next moment. For some it is spiritual advice for others it is guidance for financial trouble or relationship issues. Common among them all is that they turn to Chabad. 

Our Synagogue has the only daily morning Minyan, hosting regulars as well as visitors, and locals needing a minyan for Kaddish or a joyous occasion. Our publications, such as the Jewish art calendar, holidays guides and family magazines, are mailed to Jews all across the state and region, for some their only Jewish lifeline. Nearly 1,200 people receive our weekly email newsletter.

Adult Education: Chabad’s weekly study sessions, monthly classes, lectures and adult educational opportunities are open to and attract people from all across the spectrum of the NOLA Jewish community.

Prison Chaplaincy: Chabad Rabbis have been visiting this forgotten segment of our Jewish population for decades. Whether it is the Jews at the Federal Correctional Complex in Oakdale, LA, a lone Jewish woman at Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in St. Gabriel, LA or a Jew at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, LA or Dixon Correctional, they know that Chabad is there for them. We have served Jews in Parish Prisons as well.

Israeli Patient Services: Over the past 7 years, Ochsner has become a magnet for Israeli patients seeking major organ transplants. Currently there are 2 patients and their loved ones. Two families just left and there are more on the way. Chabad serves as their home away from home and surrogate family. We assist with their medical as well as social and religious needs. 

Seniors: Chabad Rabbis have relationships with the staff at several local Senior Living Centers. A Chabad Rabbi has been visiting Lambeth House for a program called Shmoozing with the Rabbi for over 12 years.

Young Professionals: Chabad has been offering programming (Shabbat, holiday, educational and social) for young Jewish professionals in our community. Chabad Rabbis and their families have also opened their homes and hearts to these young Jews just getting started on their independence and sometimes needing a warm home, caring smile and listening ear.

Living Legacy Workshop Series: Chabad offers five workshops to youth and adult groups that have been presented at every Synagogue and Jewish organization from Lake Charles to Biloxi. They include the Shofar Factory, Olive Press, Matzah Bakery, Torah Factory and Mezuzah Factory. To date several thousand children and adults have participated.

Holiday Programs: Many of you are familiar with Chabad's signature event, Chanukah @ Riverwalk. This year's event drew over 700 participants. Chabad also holds an annual Sukkot party for over 200. Several Purim events draw hundreds. Simchat Torah @ Chabad has a reputation that is well established. Folks come from all over just to be there. High Holidays, Passover, Shavuot and the list goes on. 

This is just a sampling. Please partner with us in serving our community by purchasing tickets. The cost of a ticket is $50, 3 for $100 or 6 for $150. For more info go to www.chabadneworleans.com/raffle .

We thank you for your partnership. Our Mitzvah is your Mitzvah!

Heartfelt condolences to Dr. Samuel & Gila Lehrer, Mordechai, Ruby and Nikki, upon the passing of their daughter/sister, Sandra. May Hashem comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.  

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Assimilation is Un-American

As we are approaching Tammuz 3, a day on which we reflect upon the Rebbe’s leadership, teachings and influence, and with July 4 just around the corner, I would like to share a teaching of the Rebbe regarding one of America’s mottos, “E Pluribus Unum.” (Some of this is taken from In G-d We Trust, a Handbook of Values for Americans based on the works of the Rebbe – www.chabadneworleans.com/2313137.)

The Latin phrase means, “out of many, one.” It was adopted as a motto on the Great Seal of the USA in 1782. This phrase is featured on US currency and was, for many years, the de facto motto of the USA. Its original intent was that “out of many” - 13 colonies, one nation comes forth. It has come to also mean that the USA is a nation that is home to people from a diverse range of origins – be they ethnic, racial, religious etc. A review of the early designs of the seal also show symbols of six nations from which most of the colonists originated. This indicates to us that this intent was there from the outset.

The founders did not seek to establish a homogeneous populace; freedom of personal expression was one of their guiding principles. Although they wanted to build a unified nation, they realized that differences do not necessarily lead to division. Rather than throw everyone into a melting pot, they sought to show how each individual can retain their unique traditions and yet, join together and forge a unified society. In short, they felt that the capacity for an individual to retain his or her unique flavor and develop his or her unique ability, is beneficial to the collective society.

The Rebbe compared this to the Mitzvah of Lulav and Etrog on Sukkot, where we bring together the four different species, representing diverse types of Jews. This Mitzvah teaches us that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

During the 1991 riots in Crown Heights, New York’s mayor, David Dinkins visited the Rebbe and asked for a blessing for peace between the two peoples, Jews and African-Americans. The Rebbe’s reply: “Don’t say two peoples. One people, under one government and under one Gā€‘d.”

A unity that permits no diversity is a limited concept. Unity is only surface-deep. By contrast, a unity that recognizes diversity can thrive. This “unity in diversity” implies a shared acceptance of an inner truth. Common principles and ideals have the power to bring together people with different abilities. Obviously in order to make this work each group needs to tolerate and appreciate the contributions of the other. Of course, when an issue arises that affects the nation as a whole, it is decided in a democratic fashion (or representative republic). A democracy requires sacrifices by both the majority and the minority. The minority must make the sacrifice of accepting the will of the majority, and the majority must learn to understand and cooperate with the minority.

Based on the above, the internal and external call for Jews (or others) to assimilate into the melting pot by giving up everything that made them (look and think) differently than those around them, is entirely un-American. Obviously each group must conform to laws of the USA and not seek to make one culture or religion dominant over any other. But to say that a yarmulke or a sari or a hijab should not be publically worn in our country, is antithetical to the motto “E Pluribus Unum.” The same holds true for any other religious practice, principal or symbol (as long as it does not persecute the rights of any other).

There are some dangerous sentiments coming from both fringes of our society, that seek to encroach on the right and the value, of religious or cultural expression and practice, which is perceived to be different from the way “America thinks or acts.”

I am proud to live in the USA, a country that was founded on principles that allow me to visibly live and worship as a Jew, without the feeling of being “less than,” or the need to fit in with everyone and everything around me. For that I say, G-d bless America!

Have a wonderful Shabbos
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Solution to the Jewish Problem

Let me begin with prayerful wishes for a complete and speedy recovery for Rep. Scalise and the three others who were wounded in yesterday’s incident. There is much talk about toning down the rhetoric, which is accused of leading crazy folks like the shooter to perpetrate these horrendous acts. While I’m all for toning down the rhetoric, and I believe words are powerful and have an impact, still those spewing the violent sentiments may or may not mean it literally, and they may or may not have had a direct impact on the people deranged enough to carry them out. However, what is very disturbing is the spiteful reaction on the part of some, who are at political odds with Rep. Scalise. Granted, the people in leadership positions rightfully came out and condemned any violence as a means of advancing political discourse. But I have been very uncomfortable with some of the gleeful and opportunistic expressions of spite on social media and elsewhere. It is not appropriate to engage in this approach. It is not becoming of anyone who wishes to be associated with the term “mensch” to act this way. Let us argue and engage in passionate political discourse for the betterment of our country and world. But one must not rejoice at the tragedy of people, with whom one may not agree, but are a legitimate part of the American way, and who are certainly not deserving of this attack. In short, this is not the way Jews or Americans should be conducting themselves. Mensch up and do the right thing!

Back to the world of ideas… Two articles were brought to my attention this week, each advancing the notion that the American Jewish establishment must do more to engage Jews and ensure Jewish continuity. So far so good. They then go on to argue that the focus needs to be on cultural Judaism but not on religious Judaism. So it should be about Israel, the Holocaust, Tikkun Olam and the like. (As if those are not fully intersected with Judaism the religion…) These are smart and successful people that are offering these opinions. The trouble is that this stuff has been tried to some degree or another and the data, after all said and done, just doesn’t support this as the long term solution to the problem of Jewish disengagement. The Pew research study of a few years ago should have already given them sufficient info to concede this point.

So what is the solution? Years ago I came across a letter that the Rebbe wrote to an individual who was developing programming for engaging Israeli youth. The Rebbe encouraged him to not suffice with cultural programming but rather to also inject a serious does of Yiddishkeit, so that the youth have a sense of something unique to them to associate with emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.  

We see this played out over and over again. Institutions such as Birthright struggle to maintain the enthusiasm of their alumni once they are further removed from the experience of the trip. However, when the trip is infused with Torah and Mitzvot and elements of religious Jewish observance, the impact is far more powerful, both in the moment and long term. Just touting the great achievements of Israel as a country and society (and there are some really great ones) is insufficient. When there is a soul connection that sparks the long term relationship.

The same is true with the other “cultural” Jewish angles that are being advanced in the articles. Each of them is significantly enhanced and made personal and unique when infused with elements of Torah and Mitzvot Judaism. This solution has withstood the test of millennia and has outlasted every other temporal alternative.

Hi-tech is great and medical and social advancements are wonderful. The beaches and cities are beautiful and the military might is powerful. But what speaks to the Neshama of a Jew is a relationship with Hashem through Torah and Mitzvot. That is the bottom line. So we can continue to throw millions of dollars at alternative solutions, and then continue to bemoan why Jews are less engaged. Or we can try the solution that works. Good old fashioned Yiddishkiet (no pun intended?). There is much more to be written on this topic but I think you get the point!

Wishing us all much success in engaging our people and Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

Synthesis in Judaism

Last Sunday our daughter Basy graduated from Torah Academy. At a meaningful ceremony, surrounded by family and friends, she and her fellow 8th graders received their diplomas decked out in caps and gowns. Congratulations to them and to the younger graduates of the Early Childhood Program. I would like to share with you a synopsis of the speech she delivered.  

 

This week’s Torah portion contains the passage, “So it was, whenever the ark set out, Moshe would say, “Arise, Hashem, may Your enemies be scattered...” In the Torah scroll, this passage is bracketed by two inverted nuns. The Talmud teaches, that this passage is actually its own book of the Torah. So, if you would count the books in this manner, there would be seven books; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers until this passage, the passage itself, from this passage until the end of Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

 

In the beginning of the Parsha, the golden menorah is referenced. The menorah has seven branches, but the entire menorah must be molded from a single piece of gold. This teaches us that while there can be different paths to serve Hashem - represented by the seven branches - they must all come from the same source, symbolized by the one piece of gold.

What is the connection between the seven books and the seven branches? Some people assume that there are “significant” verses of Torah, like the above mentioned passage or “I am the L-rd your G-d,” and there are “insignificant” passages of Torah, such as the family tree of Esav. However, just as the menorah, with its diverse branches, is formed from a solid piece of gold, so too, all the verses in the Torah are equal in significance. They are all part of the same Torah, Hashem’s Torah. It is all the infinite wisdom of Hashem.

This lesson must spill over into our lives as well. Often we compartmentalize by separating “Jewish aspects of life” from the “regular” part of life. In reality, however, everything in our lives is connected to Hashem! There is nothing in the life of a Jew that is devoid of Judaism.

This lesson is particularly evident at Torah academy, which isn’t just an academy where Torah is taught, it is a school where everything is permeated with Torah ideology. Some schools use terms like Judaic and secular. In Torah Academy, we don’t refer to secular studies, as secular can mean disconnected from G-dliness. Rather, we have general studies, which we learn on a high level. When learning Torah, we discover math, science and other interesting general ideas. When learning math, history, language arts or science, we discover connections to Torah and lessons that enhance our service of Hashem.  

Our mission is to reveal that the world has been G-dly all along, and that the mundane was never truly separate from Hashem. This will be fully realized with the coming of Moshiach, may it be speedily in our days.

I would like to welcome Rabbi Zalman and Libby Groner, newest Shluchim to Louisiana, who will be working on youth programming under the auspices of Chabad of Metairie. We wish them much success!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Dr. Kaufmann Memorial Photos & Videos - Jewish Census Takers

Last night we held a very meaningful gathering in memory of Dr. David Kaufmann. Over 100 people came together at Chabad House to honor his life and memory. Heartfelt words were shared by Chabad Shluchim, community members and Tulane alumni, as well as a video message from a member of the family. Hundreds of people were watching around the world as the event was being live streamed on Facebook and over 1,000 have viewed it since the event concluded. A beautiful slideshow of photos from Dr. Kaufmann’s life and work in the community was shown. A booklet of selected writings was printed as a memento of the evening. It was truly an outpouring of love and gratitude to David and his family.

Pictures of the event can be viewed at www.chabadneworleans.com/3548809.

The video and the slide show of the event can be accessed via www.chabadneworleans.com/233826.

In this week’s Torah portion we read about the census that was taken of the Jewish people in the Sinai desert. Generally when we think of census workers, we are thinking newly employed, semi-retired, or temps that are hired to do the tedious work of census taking. It is hardly a glamorous job and certainly not a very stimulating task. It means walking from door to door and asking the same questions over and over again, and dealing with the moods of the folks answering (or not answering) the doors on which they knocked.

Contrast that with the instructions Hashem gives for the census of the Jewish people. Hashem commands Mosher to conduct the census himself, and because the job is too big for one person, he instructs him to take Aharon the High Priest as an assistant. Just in case the job of counting over 600,000 households is too big for two people, Hashem assigns the princes of the twelve tribes as associate census takers. So essentially you have the top brass, the king, the high priest and the aristocracy of the Jewish nation doing the grunt work of census taking.

Why is this so? To Hashem, the Jewish people are so precious that counting them deserves to be performed only by the greatest of leaders. This idea is expressed in the following well-known story.

For years, on Sunday afternoons, the Rebbe would greet and bestow a blessing and dollar bill for Tzedakah upon anyone who came to see him. He would often stand for hours as thousands of people filed by, many of them seeking a blessing or advice about a personal matter. The Rebbe was once asked how he had the strength to stand all day, sometimes for seven or eight hours, to accommodate everyone. The Rebbe beamed and replied: “When you’re counting diamonds you don’t get tired.”

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Shavu-what? A Major Jewish Holiday

We all agree that our Jewish identity is important to us. We also accept that our identity as a people (nation, religion, ethnicity – however you wish to be defined) is significantly shaped by the Torah. Certainly our religious identity is based entirely on the Torah. It is safe to state, that even our cultural identity, value systems, moral structures etc. are heavily influenced (if not entirely defined) by the Torah. Based on the above, the most important moment in our history is the Revelation at Sinai, when the Torah was given to us.

Aside from the fact that, as mentioned, the body of teaching (Torah) that is most influential in defining every aspect of ourselves was given to us at that time, Revelation at Sinai was also the point that formalized and cemented our covenant with G-d. Essentially, Revelation as Sinai redefined and crystalized our unique relationship with Hashem.

Now we have a holiday that marks this monumental experience. It is known as Shavuot. While the Torah ascribes additional reasons for this holiday, undoubtedly its primary characterization is Z’man Matan Torah – the season of the giving of the Torah. One would think that such an important occasion would have a meteoric rise to the top of the holiday hierarchy in Jewish life. Yet, when polling a sampling of Jews, one will inevitably find that Shavuot finds itself way down the list of holidays that are celebrated. Pesach, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Chanukah, Purim, and even Sukkot will all most likely be listed before Shavuot in terms of relevance and observance. I am not here to analyze why this is so, nor am I here to lament that this is so. I am simply here today to encourage us all to reprioritize Shavuot for ourselves this year.

Decades ago, the Rebbe came out with a campaign to encourage every Jew, man, woman and child, to be present in the Synagogue on Shavuot for the reading of the Ten Commandments – the re-enacting and re-experiencing of the original Revelation at Sinai. Since then Chabad Houses all over the world have made a big push to get folks to come to hear the reading of the Torah that day. Ice cream parties and blintzes and cheesecake at the Kiddush are just some of the fringe benefits of participation.

The night before there are creative learning opportunities for all-night study. At Chabad Uptown we will be offering a mix of discussions, lectures, meditations and melodies. Here is a quick overview of the schedule for the night (Tuesday, May 30). There will be a Holiday Melody and Meditation session, followed by services and dinner, during which there will be a panel discussion, followed by a lecture, a lighting round lay led presentation, and concluding with a dialogue about the origin of the Torah. Chabad of Metairie will be having a similar program.

The next morning, (Wednesday, May 31,) Jews of all ages and stages are invited to participate in the reading of the Ten Commandments and dairy Kiddush that follows at both locations. We look forward to celebrating the most important moment in our history together with you and the rest of the community!

I want to take this opportunity to extend congratulations to Arnie Fielkow, who has just been appointed as the incoming CEO of the New Orleans Jewish Federation. Arnie is a true friend and a mensch in every way. We look forward to working together with him and everyone else at the JFED for the continued betterment of our New Orleans Jewish community!

On a somber note, I hope that you will join us on Wednesday evening (May 24 at 7 PM) for the Memorial Event for Dr. David Kaufmann. It will be a meaningful way to honor and commemorate an important figure in the community, who served in a leadership capacity for over 30 years.

Heartfelt condolences to Caron Bleich upon the passing of her mother, Mrs. Dorothy Joseph. 

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

#50Tefillin

In the weeks and days leading up to the Six Day War in 1967 the Jewish world was in a panic. Visions of a Holocaust repeat, G-d forbid, were at the forefront of many minds, just over 20 years after the end of that unspeakable era for our people. The Israeli government was preparing parks and open spaces as potential locations for burial grounds for the expected casualties. The lone voice of hope and encouragement was the Rebbe. He declared over and over that “the Guardian of Israel does not slumber” and that a miraculous victory was on hand. He also launched the Tefillin campaign as an antidote to the threat of war, explaining that the Talmud connects the Mitzvah of Tefillin with striking fear into the heart of the enemy. You can see more about this in the following video: http://www.chabadneworleans.com/800980 and read more about the Tefillin campaign here: http://www.chabadneworleans.com/514828.

Since that day 50 years ago, many millions of Jewish men over Bar Mitzvah have wrapped Tefillin because of the campaign, including many who made regular commitments to wrapping Tefillin as well as hundreds of thousands who acquired their own Tefillin to use them daily. The Tefillin campaign has become the symbol of Chabad’s style of Judaism on-the-spot for people on-the-go. Whether on the streets of New York, at the Kotel, Ben-Gurion Airport, Canal St. in New Orleans, or hundreds of other spots around the globe, there is the experience of being asked by a (usually) young Chabadnik, “Excuse me sir, would you like to put on Tefillin.” Every Chabad Yeshiva student spends his Friday afternoons visiting people to put on Tefillin with them.

We are approaching the 50th anniversary of the amazing miracles of the Six Day War (you can learn more about it in the current JLI course being offered by Chabad of Metairie). Just a few days before that is the 50th anniversary of the Tefillin campaign. In honor of this milestone I am launching a personal challenge to put on Tefillin with my Jewish brothers who do not (yet) regularly wrap Tefillin every day at least 50 times between now and Shavuot (Tuesday night, May 30). I am going to keep a running log on Facebook (@MendelRivkin) using the hashtag #50Tefillin (hopefully with some photos). If you are a Jewish male over 13 and you do not yet regularly wrap Tefillin every day, please let me know if you would like to participate in the #50Tefillin campaign.

We all know that the need protection is still there. Israel still faces many security threats and challenges as do Jews around the world. Let’s do our part by getting on board at the #50Tefillin Campaign. Besides it’s a Mitzvah and there is nothing more compelling than that! Looking forward to “wrapping with my brothas.” Hit me up and let’s get it going!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Airing Some Clean Laundry

One of the hallmarks of observant Jewish life is modesty, which includes keeping one’s personal business – low key. You won’t see much of observant Jewish relationships being broadcast on Facebook or other forms of social media. We try to keep these things understated. We don’t even air our clean laundry in public…

An interesting example of this can be found in the standard text used in Chabad wedding invitations, originally composed by the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe on the occasion of his daughter’s wedding to our Rebbe. The first Hebrew letter of each of the four paragraphs form the acrostic Ahava – the Hebrew word for love. However he was careful to make sure that printed version did not have those letters in bold. So the love is there, but it is subtle.

All that being said, allow me to share a special personal occasion in our family with you, while keeping it subtle. This week Malkie celebrated a milestone birthday. In an era, when many young people spend one or even two decades of adulthood trying to figure out what they want to do when they grow up, it is refreshing to see a person with a sense of direction, who has accomplished much and influenced many.

The sages declare that the ultimate good person is one who is pleasing to G-d and pleasing to their fellow man. I feel very fortunate to have such a person at my side. We have much to be thankful for in our lives. Hashem has blessed us with a wonderful family and community. None of that happens in a vacuum. On our wedding night, my grandfather (Zaidy Rivkin) advised me in Russian, “Marriage is not a pound of raisins.” Meaning, that life requires effort and with hard work and Hashem’s blessing one can achieve. I can say with certainty, that the vast majority of what we have, is thanks to her and I am merely along for the ride in a supporting role.

So I am sure that all of our friends will join me in wishing Malkie a year (and lifetime) of good health, nachas, prosperity and spiritual growth, along with continued success in her important work as one of the Rebbe’s emissaries to our community.  The rest of what I have to say will be kept between us…

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin  

Shine Those Stars

Thursday, August 25, 2005 was opening day for Torah Academy’s academic year. There were 60 students filling the classrooms and expectations for a great year were very high. Over a decade had passed since the school was established with just 18 children and things were looking up. Three days later the gulf south was assaulted by Hurricane Katrina, resulting in region-wide evacuation, wide-ranging devastation and the deaths of nearly 2,000. The school building at 5210 West Esplanade Ave took a significant hit. In the months that followed, the building was used as a temporary location for JEDCO and the SBA, as well as a logistics point for hurricane relief and construction workers.

In January of 2006, after a stop-gap renovation to make the facility usable, school reopened. However more than half of the student body did not return. Torah Academy went through many travails until, finally, the beautiful new facility was completed in the summer of 2014. Now the student body has grown once again to pre-storm numbers. A top-notch early childhood program, along with dedicated teachers and administration, are making Torah Academy a highly rated institution, at which the students enjoy a quality education. Torah Academy successfully integrates a well-rounded general education together with a superior Judaics immersion, enabling our children to grow up to be excellent citizens and committed Jews. Torah Academy graduates have been able to attend the high-schools, colleges and Yeshivas of their choice. Many have earned high level honors at the next stages of their education.

Torah Academy has become one of the gems of which the NOLA Jewish community should be very proud.

As the school continues to grow and develop both quantitatively and qualitatively, appreciation for the integral role that Torah Academy plays in our community will also grow. Hopefully this will translate into greater financial support as well. In the meantime every good school needs funds in order to survive and thrive. In what is becoming an annual event, the Torah Academy auction fundraiser, Shining Stars II is slated to take place on Sunday, May 7th - 6 PM at the school, honoring Barry & Alona Katz. To make a reservation, purchase a journal ad or auction tickets, please go to www.Torahauction.com or call 504.233.8018.

A memorial event – honoring the late Chabad of Louisiana Shliach, Dr. David Kaufmann will take place on Wednesday evening, May 24 at Chabad Uptown. Details of the program will be released in the coming weeks.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Lessons Learned on the Road

Some of you may remember our family’s adventures on road trips in years past. http://www.chabadneworleans.com/templates/blog/post.asp?aid=1203266&PostID=53863&p=1

Thank G-d we had no car trouble or other trip related mishaps this year. We had a wonderful smooth trip. Yet there is plenty to learn from a trip that goes well.

Just to share a few… For any major undertaking to be successful, the details are very important. We usually get caught up in what appears to be the big picture, that which gets all the attention. However the little things are integral to the big picture coming out right. On a road trip every little details contributes to the success and comfort of the endeavor. To give an example. On our way up we forgot to include tablecloths on our list. Big deal right? But when you pull up to a rest stop with a bunch of Kosher food and every table is caked in residue of non-Kosher food (not to mention the cleanliness aspect of it), all of a sudden that missed tablecloth seems like a big deal. There are dozens of others “minimal” things that are similar.

Another lesson (that kind of extends from the first) is not kicking tasks down the road (no pun intended). Sometimes, in the interest of expediency, we cut corners on getting things done and we assume that we can just as well perform those tasks later. For example, when packing a car for a long drive, as one gets closer to departure time it is tempting to throw that last few things in without regard for where they belong and how it will impact the accessibility of things needed during the trip. Then you need something when it is late and dark and you are exhausted, but because of your expedient packing method you suddenly find that the item you need is buried under “stuff.”

These lessons are very applicable in Jewish life. In this week’s Torah portion we have the tragic story of the death of the two sons of Aaron. Nadav and Avihu we highly spiritual and righteous but they only cared about the big picture. They ignored the details, the minutiae of the Temple law, the procedures of the Temple service and the protocols for proper spiritual conduct. The result was, that in the act of attempting to come as close to G-d as a human is capable of, they violated the laws, procedures, and protocols, which ultimately caused their demise.

There is no such thing as “big picture” Judaism that ignores the details of the laws. It is the details and the procedures that complete the big picture and allow us to soar higher and closer to G-d. Every mitzvah comes with its protocols and structure. When one ignores them, one may feel temporarily uninhibited by minutiae and procedure, but in the end one loses everything in the process. On the other hand following the details and the procedures is ironically liberating and rewarding.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Holiday of Fives

I hope that everyone has been enjoying a wonderful and meaningful Passover so far. We often regard Passover as a holiday of "fours." There are four cups of wine at the seder. There are the four sons, the four questions, the four expressions of redemption in the Exodus narrative. The number four is significant in Kabbala as it reflects many "fours" in the way the ancients categorized existence - including the four elements of air, fire, earth and water, as well as the four aspects of human, animal, botanical and inanimate (silent).

During our Seder this year we were discussing this idea with our children and one of my daughters pointed out that in actuality Passover is a holiday of "fives" rather than "fours." And she began to enumerate the fives by drawing on the mystical and chassidic interpretation of many of those "fours." In addition to the four cups of wine there is a fifth cup - the cup of Elijah. In addition to the four sons mentioned in the Haggadah there is the fifth one the Rebbe talked about, the son who, sadly does not intend to even come to the Seder table. In addition to the four questions, there is the fifth one mentioned by Maimonides that they used to ask in Temple times about why the meat on "this night" must be roasted. In addition to the four expressions of redemption that G-d declares to the children of Israel - "I will take you out, I will save you, I will liberate you, I will take you as a nation" - there is also the fifth expression, "I will bring you to the land that I have promised." She went on to point out it is also the Chabad custom to break the middle Matzah (used later for the afikoman) into five pieces. 

So what's the deal? What indeed is the difference between four and five and why is there this fifth element underlying the well known four? To appreciate the answer let us first touch on an English word that can shed some light on the matter - Quintessence. The dictionary tells us that this word means either the pure or most concentrated essence of a substance or the most prefect embodiment of something. But both of these definitions would be served with just the word "essence." Why the need to add the prefix "quint" meaning five or fifth? In ancient philosophy they used this term to refer to the fifth and highest element that permeates all of nature (see above regarding the four elements). In Kabbala the fifth dimension or element is also used as a reference to the highest and purest essence. Case in point: the Zohar describes the soul as having five names or levels - Nefesh, Ruach, Neshama, Chaya, and Yechida. The first three levels refer to the soul as we experience it. The fourth is the transcendant element of the soul, which hovers above the body and connects it to the ethrereal realms. The fifth - Yechida - is the essence or quintessence of the soul, which is one with its Source, the Infinite One. 

Now we can understand how the fours of Passover morph into fives. Each of the fours has a fifth element that is the essence of that category. Let us examine each of them in that light.

The fifth cup is the cup of Elijah. While the four cups refer primarily to the first redemption - the exodus from Egypt, Elijah's cup calls forth the future redemption, the ultimate, and indeed, the quintessence of all redemptions.

The fifth son is the one who does not intend to come to the Seder. Yet this son too posseses a Yechida soul element through which can and must awaken his essential connection to G-d and Judaism. This reveals that at the core every Jew is connected to Hashem.  

On a deeper level, the four questions refer to the "night" of exile. Each of them questions another aspect of our bitter and long displacement from our "Father's home." The fifth question is an allusion to the time when the Temple will be rebuilt after Moshiach comes, when once again we will be welcome back at our "Father's table."

The four expressions of redemption in the Exodus narrative speak of the redemption from Egypt but fall short of bringing them to promised land. The fifth expression speaks of the Jews being brought to the Promised land, again an allsuion to the final redemption. 

The five pieces of the Afikoman allude to the five levels of the soul, most prominently the quintessence - the Yechida.

This is the beauty of an education that is informed by the teachings of Chassidus. A child is capable of picking up the subtle nuance of the underlying qunitessence of Passover and indeed all of Judaism. May we each merit to access our personal quintessence, which will ultimately bring the universe and even the cosmos, to experience the complete and final redemption through Moshiach, the individual to whom Kabbala refers as the general Yechida of the universe. 

Speaking of Moshiach, the last day of Pesach was designated by our sages as the day on which the aura of Moshiach is prevelant. As such the Baal Shemtov instituted the special celebration of faith - meal of Moshiach during the closing moments of Pesach. Please join us at Chabad Uptown or Chabad Metairie for this celebration (details above).

At Chabad Uptown this celebration is dedicated by Rabbi Zelig & Bluma Rivkin and family in loving memory of Rabbi Sholom Gordon, whose Yahrtzeit is the last day of Pesach.  

Wishing you a wonderful and meaningful rest of Pesach!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Preaching by Example

Earlier this week, during a prison chaplaincy visit, a discussion ensued about various methods for people to teach and influence. One of the Jewish inmates was trying to persuade the others to adopt a principled stand with regards to the standard of Passover foods being furnished by the prison. He was employing an approach of pointing out what he felt was the right thing to do by highlighting how inappropriate or even hypocritical the lack of principle would be.

As I was observing the dialogue and upon having my opinion sought, I suggested a different method. I shared with them that my daughter, Chana was celebrating her Bas Mitzvah later in the week and used that as a springboard to present the alternative approach.

Let me break for a moment to wish Chana Mazel Tov. Her celebration was last night and it was absolutely beautiful. (I will share photos when they become available.) In her usual fashion, my wife, Malkie, produced an amazing presentation that included food, décor, singing, dancing and teaching from many angles. Chana represented herself very in an elegant manner and we are very proud of her.

Back to my point. At the Bas Mitzvah, we read a letter that the Rebbe sent Malkie upon the occasion of her Bas Mitzvah. This letter was read at each of our daughters’ Bas Mitzvahs. IN addition to blessing the Bas Mitzvah girl, the Rebbe also encourages her to influence her friends in a positive way and points out that first and foremost that influence comes by showing a personal example.

This is a simple yet profound lesson. The loudest preaching and the deepest lecture is not as effective as “walking the walk.”

When Reb Bunim of Peshischa, a 19th century Chassidic master, was a child, his father hosted a group of Torah scholars for a visit. They heard about the child’s prodigious Torah learning and they asked him to share a thought on the topic he was learning at the time, the Mitzvah of welcoming guests. He went into the other room, ostensibly to prepare his remarks. When he returned he asked them to join him the other room. Instead of a lecture, the boy had prepared a room of with a bed and wash basin for each of them. Actions speak louder than words.

I hope that my words were taken to heart and that peace will reign in the miniscule Jewish community of the Federal Prison that I visit. In any case this is true across the board. Passover is a time when a lot of people are more strict about their standards than they may be the rest of the year. We need to make sure that we influence not just by preaching but also by example.

Our monthly Lunch N Learn takes place this Monday, April 3 at 12 noon – NY Camera – 705 Canal St. Topic: Not Yo Mama’s Four Sons – A new take on the four sons of the Seder.

To sell your chametz online: www.chabadneworleans.com/271377.

To make Seder arrangements contact Chabad Metairie – 504-454-2910.

Wishing you a wonderful season of freedom and liberation!
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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