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Avoiding a Spiritual Scam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Meaningful Yom Kippur

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

All rise for the Almighty Judge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shanah Tovah and Shabbat Shalom to all!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Today the world trembles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom from Los Angeles
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

Elul Action for Houston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A frost in Italy impacts Sukkot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kosher Humans

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

New Details Revealed in Testimony

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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

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