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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 Gā€‘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

 

Today the world trembles

This has been a busy storm season. The US is bracing itself for another major hurricane. Hurricane Harvey is just barely in the rearview mirror as Irma churns through the Caribbean with two more on her heels. Every time a major natural disaster strikes some “wise guy” gets up and pontificates about how the storm is a punishment for this, that or the other. We Katrina survivors recall well how all kinds of folks blamed it on this sin or that offense. Preachers of every stripe rushed to judgement of why G-d would be punishing New Orleans or the USA at this particular time…

Now I certainly believe that G-d runs the universe and that there are consequences for choices that we make. (I am not referring to the natural and scientific explanations for what is happening. I refer strictly to the realm of theology, which IMO is not a contradiction.) However, until one of those clergypersons shows me the memo from G-d or evidence that they are the recipients of prophetic vision, I would encourage them to stop with these foolish pronouncements that are so hurtful and insensitive to the victims of those storms or natural disasters. Does not Isaiah state, “My thoughts are not your thoughts?” How can a person have the chutzpah to speak in G-d’s name without being asked to do so?

In the spirit of the above sentiment, I would like suggest that it would still behoove us to take personal stock of our spiritual situation to see if there is room for improvement in our lives. I am not suggesting that we blame ourselves, but rather that we consider how we can better the situation and bring the world to a closer relationship with Hashem, thereby eliciting Hashem’s blessing for the world.

On Rosh Hashanah We recite this passage after the sounding of the shofar, “Hayom Harat Olam – today the world trembles, today of all of creation stands to be judged.” We believe that Hashem is a loving G-d Who only wants the best for us and all of His creation. Perhaps by improving our lives and gently influencing those around us to do the same, we can heighten our spiritual sensitivity and begin to appreciate all that Hashem does. And as the passage continues, we ask that Hashem should deal compassionately with the universe.

The Rebbe would often use the phrase “tov hanireh  v’hanigleh – open and revealed good” when bestowing a blessing upon people. We ask that there be no need to strain ourselves to figure out the hidden good in what Hashem does, as all blessings will come to us as open and revealed good.

May Hashem spare us of the wrath of these storms and all trouble and distress. May Hashem grant each and every one of us a good, sweet, healthy, prosperous and meaningful year of 5778.

Our condolences to Barbara Polikoff, upon the passing of her mother, Muriel. May you be comforted by the Omnipresent One among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Shabbat Shalom from Los Angeles
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

Elul Action for Houston

Actions speak louder than words! In the month of Elul we are enjoined to engage in sentiments and activities that bring us closer to Hashem and improve our character and spiritual development. One of the areas is Tzedakah. We all know that Tzedakah takes on many forms, financial, personal, emotional, time, intellectual and others.

We need to put our “money” (of all of the above forms) where our mouth is. I am going to leave the profound commentary (and there are some wonderful articles and posts out there) about hurricane relief to others. Let’s cut to the chase. Right now there is a great need for many forms of Tzedakah. It is being organized on many fronts. We had a very productive meeting coordinated by the Federation under the new leadership of Arnie Fielkow this week. Long term and short term strategies were discussed and are already being implemented in coordination with JFNA and Jewish organizations in town.

On the ground in Houston as we speak, Chabad of Texas has organized one of the most energized relief (and rescue) efforts I have ever witnessed. They have been mobilized from the get go organizing direct relief in many forms to those who have been hit by the storm. Meals, supplies, volunteers, financial aid, and every other type of support is being offered to those in the hard hit community.

All of these efforts need support, both financial and man-power & supplies. In the short term I encourage you to, first of all, read about it at www.chabadhouston.com/relief and contribute at www.chabadhouston.com/hurricane. Secondly, volunteers are needed to continue staffing those relief efforts. Chabad of Houston has reached out to us and asked us to mobilize volunteers for Labor Day weekend (Sunday and Monday). At www.chabadhouston.com/relief there is a section for volunteering. Chabad of Baton Rouge and Chabad at Tulane are organizing groups for Sunday as well. We have a few spots in a vehicle leaving Sunday for volunteering. Contact me to get on board.

JFNA in coordination with our local Federation is raising money for the short and long term relief efforts. We all remember how the money raised after Katrina sustained our Jewish community for several years. Our Federation will be coordinating volunteering and relief missions. To participate in the JFNA campaign and to learn about volunteering opportunities, www.jewishnola.com/harvey.

We must always remember our debt of gratitude to the Houston community for their support to us during and after Hurricane Katrina. It is our time to shine in return.

May the merit of the millions of acts of goodness and kindness bring our world over the threshold of redemption through Mashiach now.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A frost in Italy impacts Sukkot

In the book Hayom Yom, the Rebbe cites, “that during the Amidah, when reciting the blessing for crops and livelihood, one should have in mind wheat for matzah, the Etrog (and wine for kiddush).”

Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the first Chabad Rebbe writes, that when G-d was commanding Moses regarding the Mitzah of the Etrog, He dispatched an angel to bring an Etrog to show them what it was. The angel descended to a region in Italy known as Calabria or Magna Graecia, which is in the southern coastal part of the country and brought an Etrog from there. It is therefore the Chabad custom to use an Etrog from that region. They are known as Calabria Etrogim or Yanova Etrogim (because they were distributed to the rest of Europe out of Genoa (which is pronounced Yanova in the Jewish dialect).

During very tumultuous times such as the Napoleonic war era, WWI and WWII, Chabad Chasidim and especially the Rebbes, went to great pains to obtain an Etrog from that area. In 1940, while fleeing from the Nazis in France, the Rebbe smuggled himself over the French-Italian border at great risk to obtain an Etrog from Calabria.

Italian farming families in that region have over the last century developed the industry to the point that they are fully supported by a crop that has value for only one week a year! While industrial development and the tourist – resort industry has nearly eliminated the citron (Etrog) farming in the rest of Italy, in Calabria, there are families and farms who are clinging to their citron orchards to be able to provide this religious need to those that require it. They have established relationships with Rabbis who supervise the Etrog crop to ensure that it is free of grafting which would invalidate the Etrog for ritual use.

This past winter, a freak frost in Italy brought the temperature to below freezing for 4 days in Calabria. In just those four days, 80 percent of the Calabria Etrog crop was destroyed and rendered unfit for use on Sukkot. This has left the farmers and Etrog sellers with a major shortage. It will most likely impact both price and availability.

Here at Chabad in New Orleans, Rabbi Mendy Schechter has been the distributor of Etrogim for the past decade. He usually offers a choice of Etrogim from Israel and Calabria (Italy). This year the Calabria Etorg shortage will have an impact on availability and price. Over the next two weeks the market will be determined and we will be sending out an email about the orders. Should you have any questions in the meantime, please email him at mendy797@hotmail.com.

Etrog merchants have expressed their amazement at the 20 percent that miraculously survived the frost. G-d was surely looking out for those that are careful to perform the Mitzvah on Sukkot using Calabria Etrogim.

We welcome Berry & Chaya (Kaufmann) Silver and their family to our community. We wish them much luck in their transition to New Orleans and success in all of their endeavors.

We also wish to welcome again, Nachum Amosi, who is back in New Orleans from Israel. Hatzlacha Rabba.

Wishing each of you to be written and inscribed for a good and sweet year!
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

Kosher Humans

Dear Friends,

What makes a human being Kosher? Now, have no fear; I am not advocating cannibalism. I am talking about what makes us “palatable” as people to G-d and our fellow humans.

Every aspect of Torah law has multiple layers of application, ranging from the most straight-forward “how to” aspect to a deeper level of application in the psyche and character of the human being. In this week’s Torah portion we are given the identifying signs of what makes animals Kosher for Jewish consumption. Regarding land animals we are instructed to determine whether the animal has split hooves and chews its cud.

Chassidus explains that these are not random identifying signs that could have just as well been something else, such as a protrusion of the fourth right rib. Rather these signs are significant in and of themselves. To appreciate this let us examine how we would apply these ideas on the deeper – human character level.

Humans are also animals in the sense that we are (at least partially) earthly beings that engage with the physicality and materiality of the world. This is represented by the hoof or foot, which interfaces with the earth. In our engaging the world we recall that it is for a higher purpose – the purpose for which we were placed here by Hashem, namely to make this world a G-dly place. In doing so, we run the risk of getting caught up in the process and becoming subsumed into the materiality. Instead of transforming the world, we become transformed by the world. How do we ensure that this does not occur? By having a split hoof. The gap that runs from the front all the way through to the back of the hoof is the space through which G-dliness can enter, thereby elevating the foot and the whole body.

In interpersonal relations, the gap represents the humility that is our openness to the opinions of others. We may not agree but at least we are open to considering them.

What about chewing cud? That’s an easy one to explain. Rumination is good not just for grass or chewing gum, it is also valuable for decisions. It is always important to consider whether what I am about to decide is appropriate – whether it is what G-d wants of us. The same applies to words and messages that we convey. Our sages teach that the tongue is protected by two gateways, the teeth and the lips. Before opening each gateway it behooves us to consider whether we should be saying what we are about to say. If only technology had such protections. Before you delete a file the computer asks whether you are sure you want to delete it. Perhaps they should consider asking that question before every email is sent, before a Facebook update is posted, and before a sentiment is tweeted (or retweeted). Don’t we all know some folks who might benefit from that? How many friendships were destroyed, relationships wrecked or careers ruined by a careless send or post. Imagine if they would just chew their cud?

So let’s open the pantry of our mind and psyche and make sure that everything in there is Kosher!

On behalf of Chabad of Louisiana I would like to welcome Arnie Fielkow back to New Orleans as he assumes his new role, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans. We have enjoyed a wonderful friendship and working relationship with Arnie that began through his friendship with my late colleague, Dr. David Kaufmann. We wish Arnie much success and we look forward in working with him for the betterment of our New Orleans Jewish community.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

New Details Revealed in Testimony

If you thought that you would be getting a new scoop on Russian collusion or the S&WB water pumps, you are at the wrong news feed… I am going to address a far more current and relevant story – the breaking of the Tablets at Sinai.

In the book of Devarim we find Moshe recapping (and teaching lessons from) the narrative of the journey from Egypt, through the wilderness, to the banks of the Jordan River, overlooking Eretz Yisrael. One might mistakenly assume that we can zoom through it because it is just repetition. However, an astute reader will notice that there are details in the recap that are not obvious in the original narrative. For example, when Moshe reviews the story of the golden calf and the breaking of the tablets, he states, “I took hold of the two tablets, and I cast from upon my hands and broke them before your eyes.” Here he adds the detail of “taking hold of the tablets.”

Why would he have to “take hold” of the tablets when he’d been carrying them all down the mountain? This ties in to a fascinating textual analysis of why the Ten Commandments were presented in singular from rather than communal (plural). It was a way for Moshe to absolve the people of Israel from the sin of the golden calf. He could make the argument that all of these commandments were addressed only to him as an individual. Similarly, when the Tablets were given to Moshe, they were presented to him personally. (We see this from the text of the narrative about the second set of tablets.) Once he received them, Moshe resolved to share them with the people of Israel (as he did later on with the second set). However, once he realized that the commandments contained therein would implicate the people in the sin of the golden calf, he “seized them back for himself” so as to further remove them from guilt. His thinking was, “Let this all be on me. I will take one for the team” (as a good leader should).  Though he had no connection whatsoever to the sin of the people, we see that Moshe puts himself at risk over and over again to argue for Hashem’s forgiveness of that sin.

This is the degree to which our Ahavat Yisrael (love for our fellow Jew) must extend. To quote today’s Hayom Yom daily inspiration, “Ahavat Yisrael must consume a person to the core.”

I want to give a shout out to my children’s school, Torah Academy, on the opening day of this academic year. Started in the early 90s, Torah Academy took a big hit (literally and figuratively) during Katrina. Three years ago the brand new facility opened at the W. Esplanade location and now the enrollment has surpassed pre-Katrina numbers. We are excited for a great school year in every way! Thank you to all of those that are making this a reality. As we say in Hebrew, “Chazak, Chazak, V’nitchazek!”

This weekend Chabad Uptown is launching our Junior Shabbat Club under the direction of newly appointed youth leader, Mushka Rivkin. Junior Shabbat Club will be held each Shabbat morning from 11-12.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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