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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

Having your rugelach and eating them too

Over three millennia ago, a system of values was introduced to the world. This value system would change the way people considered issues such as the acknowledgement of a Higher Power, the significance of human life and dignity, social obligations of human to human, human to animal, and human to environment, societal constructs such as property rights, ethics of war, civil and business law and so much more. I speak, of course, about the Torah. The Torah – the Jewish bible has been the most influential force in history with regards to forming the structure of societies and the morals for humanity.

While we didn’t make this stuff up – Hashem did, we can certainly take pride in our involvement in the process of the Torah being received at Sinai, as well as being a force in bringing these ideas and values to all of humanity the world over. While much of the human race was involved in barbaric practices with little respect for human life and dignity, our ancestors were internalizing the vitalizing words of Torah, absorbing the moral preaching of the prophets, and debating the finer points of the dignified body of Oral (Talmudic) Law.

As such we often find Jewish people expressing their pride in what they would consider a Jewish value. When a Jewish value serves as the inspiration for an effort to improve the world, they bask in the glory of its origin. They speak of the Jewish values that served to stimulate so many accomplished Jews throughout the ages in a wide range of capacities.

Yet, somehow, when those same Torah values do not conform to the values du jour of contemporary society, all of a sudden they are ridiculed as backwater principles that belong to the dark ages. What happened to the great Torah that was responsible for all of the enlightened ideas of which we were so proud? Poof! Just like that it is categorized as superstitious and narrow minded? To paraphrase the popular adage, “you can’t have your rugelach and eat them too.”

1985 marked 850 years since the birth of Maimonides. There was much ado being made of the significant milestone, from a religious as well as an historical perspective. He was one of our greatest sages in the post-Talmudic era. He wrote on Halacha and philosophy, Talmudic commentary and medicine. In the Israeli Knesset, a day dedicated to honoring the Rambam was held. MK after MK got up to speak of the great rationalist and philosopher who contributed so much to contemporary thought. Toward the end of the day, a Torah observant MK got up to speak and began to propose legislation that addressed intermarriage. When some of the less observant MKs protested about the discriminatory nature of his proposed law, he proclaimed, “I was merely reading a passage from the book of the great rationalist whom we honored today, Maimonides.”   

The greatness of the Torah is that it is the infinite wisdom of Hashem. That greatness is a packaged deal. It would seem paradoxical to pick and choose what of the infinite wisdom of Hashem catches our finite fancies. All of the above is just my opinion. Let the discussion begin.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Prudish or Proper?

We live in a time in which communications are dominated by social media. This has advantages, such as the ability to get information that is productive, to the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of time. Imagine if Paul Revere had had access to Twitter; or if Moses could use Whatsapp instead of the trumpets to gather the people in the desert. It also enables people to stay in touch in real time despite great distances between them (or sometimes sitting on the next couch…). Every tool has both positive and negative applications.

In my opinion, one of the negative applications of social media is people using it to conduct their personal, even intimate, relationships in full view of the world. Granted, social media is not the sole culprit in this public display of most private matters. Entertainment media can shoulder its fair share of blame. Entire magazines and shows are dedicated to gossiping about who did what in public. This has now seeped into the “mainstream” culture of Western society.

It used to be that, at least on the outside, modesty was valued. Today “those kind” of folks are regarded as prudish rather than proper. In the 1980s, my uncle, Rabbi Manis Friedman wrote a book entitled, “Doesn’t anyone blush anymore?” I shudder to think what the 2017 version of this book what have to deal with. So what is Torah’s view on this?  

In this week’s Torah portion Moses is recounting the travels and battles of the 40 year desert sojourn. He tells of the instruction by Hashem to the nation of Israel to avoid armed conflict with the nations of Moab and Ammon. This is meant to be a reward to Lot, the ancestor of these two nations, for protecting Abraham and Sarah’s secret during their trip to Egypt. Though the lands of Moab and Ammon are part of the land promised to Abraham’s descendants, that heritage was delayed so that Lot’s descendants could enjoy the use of those lands for a time.

Yet there is a subtle difference in how those instructions are relayed regarding Moab vs. how they apply to Ammon. Regarding Moab it says, “Do not distress the Moabites, and do not provoke them to war.” About Ammon it says, “When you approach the children of Ammon, neither distress them, nor provoke them.” The Ammonites are not to be provoked at all, while the Moabites may not be provoked to war, allowing a little frightening, but no battle.

Rashi explains, that the Ammonites were given preferential treatment for the following reason. Both Moab and Ammon were the result of an illicit relationship between Lot and his daughters. When the babies are born, the older daughter names her son Moav - from my father. She unabashedly proclaims the illegitimate origin of her son. The younger daughter on the other hand, names her son Ben Ami - son of my people, thereby merely alluding to his origin, while maintaining a public sense of modesty. Because of that slight nod to modesty, her children are protected from any sort provocation during the Israelite journey to the Promised Land.

So we see how much Hashem values modesty. He is willing to give security to a wicked nation born of incest, just because of mere lip-service to modesty by their ancestress. How much more so would Hashem regard the modesty of His treasured people. Let us take heed and begin to implement this lesson into our lives. Prudish? I think not. Proper and G-dly is more like it!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Hashem to the Rescue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Good for the far and near

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Confronting an internal KGB

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

 

Follow the Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Assimilation is Un-American

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a wonderful Shabbos
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Solution to the Jewish Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Synthesis in Judaism

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Dr. Kaufmann Memorial Photos & Videos - Jewish Census Takers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Shavu-what? A Major Jewish Holiday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

#50Tefillin

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Airing Some Clean Laundry

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin  

Shine Those Stars

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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