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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

Embracing Freedom

Passover is called the festival of liberation. Freedom is such a loaded concept. We throw the idea around and it represents so many different things. I think that we would seemingly agree, that having restrictions imposed upon someone would represent the absence of freedom. Yet, let’s think about what happened to the Jewish people when they left Egypt – the moment we call the liberation of our nation. We merely exchanged one set of restrictions for another, one master for another. We went from being obligated to Pharaoh, to being obligated to Hashem. The Torah actually declares “they are My “avadim” (slaves) for I took them out of Egypt.” So where is the big freedom?

So we need to analyze the question “is Torah an enslavement of the Jewish people?” Interestingly, our sages comment on the term used to describe the manner in which the words were inscribed on the tablets – charut (engraved) – saying that charut is related to cherut (Hebrew for freedom). Based on this, they declare that true freedom can only come from the study and observance of Torah.

At the risk of over-simplifying a complex idea, I would like to propose a two-tiered solution to this problem. The first is, that not only does absence of structure in life not guarantee freedom, it almost always assures chaos, which inevitably leads to misery. So taking them out of Egypt without providing a structure within which to live would not have given them freedom, but rather anarchy. So implementing a structure for their new lives was an absolute necessity for their continued liberated status. The same is true for all people in subsequent times.

Which leads us to the more important tier two. For a human being to welcome Hashem’s will into his life is highly empowering and therefore highly liberating. Through Torah and Mitzvot, a person enters into a relationship with Hashem. The person can sense the love that Hashem has for him, and the value that Hashem ascribes to his life choices. This leads a person to embrace these “rules” not as restrictions that infringe on his life, but rather as Divine direction for meaningful, G-dly living. There cannot be anything more liberating and free than a person who has such a relationship with G-d.

So this Pesach, when we think about freedom and liberty, let us remember what it is really all about and embrace the opportunity to implement more and more of this freedom giving structure called Torah and Mitzvot.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Purim Recap, Photos and Beyond

Last weekend we celebrated the most joyous holiday of Purim. I am excited to share with you that, between Purim shuttle, Purim parties and Megillah readings, thousands of New Orleans Jews were touched by Chabad’s Purim activities and celebrations. Here is a brief recap of how that came about.

Eighty five participants and several dozen volunteers enabled us to pack and deliver over 270 Purim Shuttle packages to home in the New Orleans area. Malkie and I would like to thank the following volunteers who assisted with this amazing project (forgive me if I leave someone out). Bina Lefkowitz, Beverly Serebro, Jill Halpern, Eti Buskela, Lauren Sturm & Jacob, Jennifer Feld, Sara Rivkin, Anna Gil, Alan Smason, Adam Stross, Alan Krilov, Judy Newman, Lou Furman, Jonathan Kaufman, Morris & Yitzi Lew, Toni Weiss, Alex Cazabat, Orit Naghi, Shane & Esther Schreiber, Mazal Avitan, Rabbi Yochanan Rivkin, Rabbi Yossi Chesney, Shloime Greenwald, Gershon Schreiber and Peter Seltzer. Photos below.

On Purim Eve (Saturday night) Purim parties were held at Uptown, Metairie, Tulane, Biloxi and Baton Rouge. At Chabad Uptown over 120 attended, including an appearance by Israeli NBA player Omri Casspi and his wife Shani. Following an interactive Megillah reading and Havdallah, a great Purim party featuring Uzzi Varshaver on the Piano, joined for time by Lauren Sturm and later by Daniel Gale on the violin. The music went for hours and a good time was had by all. Photos below.

The following day, Megillah readings took place at Chabad Uptown, Metairie, Tulane, Bilox and Baton Rouge as well as Lambeth House, David Antiques in the French Quarter and Moishe House, capped off by a final call reading at the Grand Purim Feast at Torah Academy.

This year’s Purim feast theme was Purim in the Big Apple. Torah Academy’s multi-purpose room was transformed into scenes of the New York street. A subway station, street vendors offering hot-dogs and pretzels, a NY deli and fish market, the Manhattan skyline and 770 Eastern Parkway completed the look. A Big Apple menu and awesome music by Panorama Jazz Band rounded out the evening. A host of creative New York themed costumes abounded, including a few NYPD cops who were arresting people for public intoxication. Photographer Gil Rubman captured the event on camera and his photos will be available next week, G-d willing. A big shout out to all of the volunteers and committee members for their hard work and efforts in pulling off a quality event. These outstanding themes and Purim parties are making it harder to top from year to year!

Purim is now in the rear-view mirror which means that Pesach is around the corner… for all of your Pesach needs remember that www.chabadneworleans.com/Passover is the place to go. We will have the Chametz sale form up next week, G-d willing. For your community Seder check in with Chabad Metairie – www.jewishlouisiana.com. Our monthly Lunch N Learn will take place on Tuesday, March 28 and will have a Pesach related topic – the Four Sons of the Seder.

Today was the funeral of Saul Barber. I met Saul in the summer of 1998 when I started serving as Rabbi of Anshe Sfard. He was the long-time Gabbai of the Shul. He was a soft-spoken person who did not like the controversy often associated with Shul politics. But he was staunchly principled when it came to Synagogue customs and practices. He inherited a prayer book from his predecessor, Henry Katz, in which all of the Shul customs were marked. When High Holidays came, he was like a general, directing the order of the service and ensuring that it was done the correct way. He proudly shared with me his memories of growing up in the old neighborhood near the Shul and how his mother wore a Sheitel. His presence will be missed and may his memory be for a blessing.

Good Shabbos
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Party for the Heaven of it!

Purim is no joke! As a matter of fact we take Purim very seriously. So, you may ask, why all the revelry that makes it look eerily similar to a certain festival that just ended two weeks ago? To quote my beloved late colleague, Dr. David Kaufmann, "while they party for the heck of it, we party for the heaven of it." 

The celebrating on Purim has the Halachic designation of "Kedushas Purim - the holiness of Purim," implying a certain sense of earnestness. Yet it is a time to go beyond the structures of everyday joy - "ad d'lo yada" as our sages instruct. 

Somehow we manage to straddle these two seemingly opposite extremes, maintaining Kedushah, while at the same time, celebrating over the top. If you want to see how this is done, you will have to come experience it for yourself. Join us at one of the many Purim events at Chabad and learn how to party for the heaven of it.

Happy Purim and Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

David Kaufmann OBM - A Loss for New Orleans

It is with a heavy heart and profound sadness that I share the news of the passing of community leader, my fellow (senior) Shliach, family friend and longtime neighbor, Dr. David Kaufmann.

Dr. Kaufmann was one of the first (if not the first) people to get involved with Chabad in 1975 when my parents arrived in New Orleans. While pursuing graduate studies at UNO and later Tulane, he also pursued his other passion, Jewish learning. David was a regular at our home and entertained us kids with songs and stories. He always had a pipe and a chess board handy. After marrying Nechama and starting their family; and completing his PHD in English at Tulane, David and Nechama joined the staff of Chabad as Shluchim to New Orleans. For years they directed Camp Gan Israel and then also became the directors of Chabad’s activities on Tulane’s campus. David also spearheaded the highly popular Chanukah @ Riverwalk program and continued to coordinate it until recent years.

His true love was learning, especially Chassidus and the teachings of the Rebbe, which he shared at every opportunity. David had a profound influence on many people as a Shliach, teaching and inspiring in his unique manner, and also as a professor of English and Jewish studies at Tulane. For years he led a Tanya study group with a diverse group in attendance. His classes on the Rebbe’s “sichos” (talks) were much anticipated. I will take the liberty of sharing that he developed a deep friendship with Mr. Bill Norman and they continued their weekly study sessions all through David’s illness until very recently, and even then David was talking about resuming as soon as he reclaimed his strength.

He was influential in the growth of Torah Academy serving in many capacities over the years, not the least of which was Chess Club instructor, once leading the club all the way through the tournaments, nearly to the top of the city rankings. David was an author of many books spanning several genres. He was also a translator and an editor. He was a pioneer in using the internet and email for Jewish outreach, through which he developed a relationship with the legendary online Jewish figure, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Kazen. For years, Dr. Kaufmann authored the lead section in the weekly L’chaim Newsletter published by Lubavitch Youth in New York.

All of the above aside, most central to David’s life was being a Chosid and Shliach of the Rebbe, and of course, his family. He deeply regarded the Mitzvah of honoring parents. His pride and joy were his wife, children and grandchildren.

This past summer, Dr. Kaufmann stood before us at Project Talmud, and bravely spoke about Faith in Times of Crisis. It was – at times – an emotional presentation that strongly impacted the listeners. We all had hoped that it would be strictly a rear-view mirror perspective. Alas, it was not meant to be and this morning our community suffered the loss of one of our best.

The funeral will be held tomorrow (Friday) at 10 AM in Houston at the Beth Jacob Cemetery, 2300 Almeda-Genoa Road. Shiva will follow in Houston through next Thursday morning.

Our hearts are broken for the loss but even more so for Nechama and their children, Saadya (Chaya Sarah), Rachel (Mendy) Traxler, Shmuel (Rivky), Chaya (Berry) Silver, Yosef (Chana), Chana (Yaakov) Hellinger, and Devorah Leah. May Hashem comfort you among the mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim and may we very soon experience the Geulah, the time when “death will cease forever and Hashem will wipe the tears off every face.”

We wish to extend condolences to Toni Weiss and Gary Remer upon passing of her father, Kurt Strauss. I remember him coming to Chabad on occasion with Toni to say Kaddish after his wife's passing and he always seemed like a person who made the most of life. He passed at the age of 95. May his memory be for a blessing to the whole family.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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