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ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Connecting Everything With Love

What is the ideal dynamic of a relationship with G-d? What is the most effective approach to motivating ourselves or someone else with respect to our Judaism? There was a time when fear was an accepted approach to keeping people on the straight and narrow path. This method may have even been somewhat effective, though it can be argued that fear alone has major limitations as a motivator.

I recently read an interview with an educator from a very religious institution, talking about guidance he got from the Rebbe in the 1960s. Today we cannot just lay out a list of “don’ts” or speak of negative consequences for failure to follow the religion. We must educate with love. We should focus on the beauty of Judaism and foster the student’s appreciation of it.

There is a passage in the Zohar where Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai offers various opinions in answering our opening question. He then concludes with his own take on the best method of conveying Judaism. “We connect everything with love.” He goes on to cite several passages from Tanach to prove this.

In fact, there is a narrative in this week’s Torah portion that expresses the same idea. Speaking of Avraham Hashem declares (Gen. 18:19), “For I have known him because he commands his sons and his household after him, that they should keep the way of the L-rd to perform righteousness and justice.” Rashi comments, “For I have known him: an expression of love.” He then goes on to elaborate. “…if one loves a person, he draws him near to himself and knows him and is familiar with him.”  

When we love Hashem, we want to become more familiar with Him and what He wants of us. When we know Hashem loves us, we become aware that fulfilling His will is in our benefit as well. With love as the foundation, everything about our connection with Hashem is more passionate and vibrant.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Three Generations of Service

King Solomon states in Kohelet 4:12, “A three-stranded cord will not quickly be broken.” The sages of the Talmud comment, “The Torah returns to its host.” This means that when three generations of a family are faithful to the study and practice of Torah, the Torah wishes to remain where it is welcome. We say in our daily prayers that the covenant of Hashem with one who studies and practices the Torah is that, “My spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your children, nor from the mouth of your children’s children.”

This week something unprecedented in the New Orleans Jewish community is developing. For years now there have been Rabbinic teams of two generations in our community. We are happy to share, that with the appointment of Rabbi Yossi and Mushka Cohen to the Chabad of Louisiana team, this brings a third generation into service to the Jewish community. They will be involved in a new effort of community engagement.

If you know someone in the community that is not currently engaged in Jewish activities or that may appreciate connecting to a young Rabbinic family, please share that with us. They are eager to hit the ground running to make sure that every Jew in New Orleans has the opportunity to connect to his or her Yiddishkeit!

The institution of Shlichus that the Rebbe and his father-in-law, the Previous Rebbe, launched in the 1940s, is now into its fourth generation. I am privileged to be the son and grandson of the pioneering generations of Shluchim. To witness my children continuing on this path, is something for which I am very grateful to Hashem. We are blessed that the Rebbe entrusts us with this remarkable responsibility and privilege of caring for each and every Jew.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Keeping Up With the Joneses and the Schwartzes

Sometime in the early 1950s my grandfather, Rabbi Sholom Gordon OBM, brought a group of Bar Mitzvah boys from his Hebrew School in Newark, NJ to the see the Rebbe. The Rebbe asked one of the boys if he was planning to continue his Jewish studies next school year. In typical American Jewish fashion of the time, the boy replied in the negative. The Rebbe asked why. He explained that none of the kids on his block were going after their Bar Mitzvahs either. The Rebbe asked him which topic in the Torah he enjoyed learning this year, to which he responded, the story of Noah and the Ark. The Rebbe pointed out, “If Noah had done what all the people of his block were doing, then there would have been nobody left for G-d to save. Only because he did what was right, despite it being unpopular, do we have human history as we know it.”

Then the Rebbe asked the next boy the same question. He too gave the same answer and reason. When the Rebbe asked which Torah topic he enjoyed, he mentioned the story of Avraham. The Rebbe pointed out the Avraham was called the Ivri (Hebrew), which means that he was on a side opposite of everyone else. While the whole world pursued foolish fantasies of idolatry, Avraham discovered and preached a faith in Hashem. “Imagine if Avraham had done what everyone else on his block were doing, then there would be no Jewish people. Only because he did what was right, despite it being unpopular, do we have a Jewish people and a Judaism today.”

Keeping up with Joneses, or even with the Schwartzes, is not always the path to pursue. We must have an inner moral compass, that empowers us to do what is right, despite it being unpopular. Obviously, we must be pleasant to those around us. There is no room for condescension or feelings of elitism. Just doing the right thing!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Don't Be Obsessed With Trash

How many of us here in the NOLA area have associated the sound of a garbage truck on the block with unmitigated joy and celebration? The debris left from Hurricane Ida, along with the disruption to trash pickup service, have made trash talk a rival to Covid and the weather as the most discussed topics. Now, garbage is a reality of life. We all produce it, and we all need it to be removed. However, it is not supposed to be the aspect of life that takes front and center of our consciousness. Garbage production and removal should be an area of life that just happens quietly. When it becomes a noisy focus, we know that something is not quite right.

This is true in our spiritual lives as well. As imperfect humans, we all produce some soul trash. As folks striving to heighten our relationship with G-d, we engage in trash removal. Sometimes that is a smelly job that leaves us feeling gross while we do it, but the cleanliness that follows is heavenly. As long as this process remains on the back burner of life, we are good. When garbage becomes an obsession, when we know that something is not quite right.

The primary focus of life, the topic of our spiritually targeted conversations, should be about positivity. We should be excited about light and holiness. We should be celebrating Mitzvahs and our opportunities to make the world a better place. Garbage should be relegated to the pails, the bins, the trucks that make their rounds in the predawn hours, the sewer system. These are all critical components of life, without which we are doomed to misery. But let’s keep them in their proper place, and not allow them to seep into the rest of life, leaving us wondering why life smells like New Orleans after a category 4 storm.

L’chaim to a sweet-smelling year of 5782, where garbage is back in its rightful place in the hierarchy of life!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Sukkah Sagas

On Sukkot we are commanded to dwell in the Sukkah. Our sages comment, that it should be dwelling in a manner similar to how we are in our permanent home. This year, for many in the New Orleans area, our Sukkahs resemble our homes more than ever before thanks to the leaky roofs due Hurricane Ida.

I want to share two stories that I read this week on this topic, one whimsical and the other a story of determination.

Reb Boruch Mordechai was a chosid of the Alter Rebbe and the Rabbi of the town of Babroisk. Apparently the townspeople of Babroisk adhered to the time-honored tradition of under-paying their Rabbi. As such, he was always struggling to make ends meet. When Sukkot came, he asked his landlord to build a Sukkah outside his dwelling. The landlord did so and demanded immediate payment, stating that otherwise it would not be “a dwelling similar to a permanent home.” The Rabbi replied, “on the contrary, if I paid upfront it would be entirely dissimilar to my regular dwelling for which I am always late on the rent.”

The second story was recorded by Rebbetzin Chana, the Rebbe’s mother, in her diary where she recounted the extreme conditions under which she and he illustrious husband R’ Levi Yitzchak, lived during their forced exile deep in Kazakhstan. They rented a room from a Tatar woman in the village of Chili. When Sukkot approached, they began to construct an anteroom to their part of the house to use as a Sukkah. Ostensibly, the claimed that it was to create a buffer against the cold wind that would blow directly into their room. The landlady insisted that they add a roof to give the structure stability. This of course would invalidate the room from being used as a Sukkah. They argued that they could not afford this at present, and that it would get done before the winter set in. Such was their determination to fulfill the Mitzvah under very trying circumstances.

With Hashem’s blessings, we do not face such difficulties. True many of us are dealing with the fallout from the Hurricane, the pandemic and other life’s challenges. It is important for us to remember that Sukkot and Simchat Torah are the festivals of rejoicing. The joy on this holiday and with the Mitzvahs associated with it, are a vehicle for Hashem’s open and revealed blessings for all good things.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Sukkot
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The Double Edged Sword of Yom Kippur

We are coming off a most meaningful Yom Kippur. People were excited to be back in Shul after an evacuation. I saw a potent energy this Yom Kippur at Chabad House. That being said, Yom Kippur can be a double-edged sword.

On one hand, a Jew can come away from Yom Kippur energized and uplifted, with a passion and drive to embrace the next Jewish experience. For this Jew, Sukkot cannot come soon enough. So many Mitzvahs and causes to celebrate. One can eat in the Sukkah, shake the Lulav and Etrog, and dance on Simchat Torah. For such a Jew, there is nothing as empowering as the momentum derived from a vibrant Yom Kippur. There is enough fuel in the Jewish tank to last for a long time. Yom Kippur whetted the appetite for Yiddishkeit and there is a feeling of wanting more and more. I am very excited for such a Jew, because their Yiddishkeit quotient will soar over the coming year.

On the other hand, one might come away from Yom Kippur feeling like a fully accomplished Jew with no need to consider Yiddishkeit until next year. Since we were given a clean slate, no further investment of effort is necessary. For such a Jew, there is an anti-climactic sentiment associated with the end of Yom Kippur. I am saddened by this attitude, because it represents a wasted opportunity to harness the power of Yom Kippur to take us to the next level.

I beg you, be in the first category rather than the second! Don’t let Yom Kippur be for naught. Yom Kippur is about developing our relationship with Hashem.  A relationship requires effort and investment. Every Mitzvah, every Jewish holiday celebration, every chance to pray or study Torah, constitutes an investment in the relationship. Hashem is pleading with us to be invested in this relationship that He so strongly desires. It is the best thing that can happen to us!

Wishing you a meaningful post-Yom Kippur rest of the Jewish year!
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

A Tribute to George Haas

Yesterday we learned of the sudden passing of George Haas. Our hearts go out to Elaine, his wife of 62 years, their children, and the entire family. What a time to go! With a clean slate the day after Rosh Hashanah.

I called George “my favorite Levi” (he was a Levite and delighted in being called to the Torah as one). He was a mensch par excellence and one of the proudest Jews I’ve ever met. He cared about Klal Yisrael with every fiber of his being. He possessed an encyclopedic knowledge about all kinds of things. He would often ask trick questions about Jewish traditions and calendar quirks. He would frequently make meaningful observations about things that I wrote or events that were occurring. His musical ken was second to none. We once had a performer tease the audience with a few notes from a song, asking if anyone could identify the composition. George piped up immediately with the correct answer, “the nutcracker.” With all of his positive qualities, he really did not like making a big deal out of himself. He had a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor, as well as many other types of humor.

If there was one thing that George was more passionate about than anything else, it would be Jewish continuity. He was rabidly devoted to this cause. I am sure his survival of the Holocaust and escape from Vienna in 1939 contributed to his obsession with Jewish continuity. He wanted to ensure that he would have proud Jewish children and proud Jewish grandchildren. He was ecstatic every time another grandchild was born. He saw each Jewish baby as the answer to Hitler. In fact, every baby that was born in the community was a cause for celebration on George’s part. I cannot count the number of posts and comments from George on Facebook when he saw an announcement of a new baby, or a family photo with a bunch of children. I was once invited to give the invocation at the Yom Hashoah event at the JCC. I spoke about the importance of filling the void left by the murder of 6 million. To quote, “As we gather to remember the lives of six million kedoshim – holy ones, we must commit ourselves to filling the void. My good friend, George Haas, native of Vienna who escaped just ahead of the war, sees each of his grandchildren as an answer to Hitler. Filling the void…”

George recently celebrated his 90th birthday. In typical George Haas fashion, he wanted to celebrate with his family and friends, with a Kiddush in Shul at Chabad Metairie. He sent me this email, “Dear Rabbi Mendel: I’ll be celebrating my 90th Yom Huledet at the Chabad Center on the Shabbos preceding Memorial Day. In order not to slight the uptown folks I would like to re-celebrate my Yom Huledet on Breshit in early fall with a special Open Kiddush.” A few weeks later the sponsorship for the grand Kiddush arrived. I can assure you George, that we will have a rocking Kiddush to celebrate your life, knowing that you will be with us in spirit. Farewell my friend. May your soul be bound with the Source of all life!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The Generator the Tipped the Scales

A simple wagon driver once saw a carriage filled with people careening down a hill out of control. He ran and jumped on the horse and slowed it down, ultimately bringing them a halt, thereby saving the lives of all the passengers, the driver, and the horses, as well as the carriage. After a nice long life, he passed on and came before the heavenly court. He was a good guy, but he had done some good and some of the opposite. His deeds were placed on the scale, and it was tipping to the wrong side. Suddenly an angel came dragging the lives of the family that he saved. It was still tipping the wrong way. The angel brought the horses, and then the carriage. It was still tipping in the wrong direction. Finally, the angel came dragging the mud that was stuck to the wheels and that tipped the scale for good, earning the wagon driver his ticket to heaven.

Usually, the week before Rosh Hashanah is spent on my own intense spiritual preparations for the upcoming Days of Awe. As a Rabbi, I have the additional obligation to inspire a congregation. With Ida blowing through town, leaving so many in such dire straits, this week was spent on an entirely different set of activities. Rather than study and meditate on the deeper meaning of Rosh Hashanah, we were hooking up generators and distributing fuel. Instead of preparing uplifting sermons, we were bringing cold water, ice, and food to folks around the region, along with a friendly face, a warm word and some cheer. Instead of considering our deeds on judgement day, we were connecting with people making sure they were safe, having them know that someone cares.

I am confident that when our deeds are placed on the scale this year, the generators, the fuel, the ice, the water, the smiles and caring words will bring the balance squarely on the positive side. Instead of long sermons we will hold up our sweaty clothes and sleep deprived eyes, and people will be uplifted. Instead of personal meditation, we will consider the value of helping another person and be inspired.

So many people were involved in this ongoing effort. In addition to some of the people who were already thanked on social media, I want to single out a few individuals that were amazing over these past few days. Leibel, Levi, Sholom, Zalman, Peter, Dotan, Gene, Lou, Nanette, Neil, Chaim, Yosef, Monica, Aaron, Mazal, Sam, Chaim Shlomo, and so many others who helped in so many different ways. We want to thank all the individuals and organizations, local, regional, and national, that continue to partner with us, empower us and enable us to help our fellow Louisianians who are suffering in the aftermath of the storm.

On behalf of our team from Chabad of Louisiana, Chabad of Metairie, Chabad of Baton Rouge, please go to www.chabadneworleans.com/ida to keep the love flowing!

See below for more Hurricane Relief resources and for photos.

Shabbat Shalom and see you in Shul on Rosh Hashanah!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

The Generator that Tipped the Scales

A simple wagon driver once saw a carriage filled with people careening down a hill out of control. He ran and jumped on the horse and slowed it down, ultimately bringing them a halt, thereby saving the lives of all the passengers, the driver, and the horses, as well as the carriage. After a nice long life, he passed on and came before the heavenly court. He was a good guy, but he had done some good and some of the opposite. His deeds were placed on the scale, and it was tipping to the wrong side. Suddenly an angel came dragging the lives of the family that he saved. It was still tipping the wrong way. The angel brought the horses, and then the carriage. It was still tipping in the wrong direction. Finally, the angel came dragging the mud that was stuck to the wheels and that tipped the scale for good, earning the wagon driver his ticket to heaven.

Usually, the week before Rosh Hashanah is spent on my own intense spiritual preparations for the upcoming Days of Awe. As a Rabbi, I have the additional obligation to inspire a congregation. With Ida blowing through town, leaving so many in such dire straits, this week was spent on an entirely different set of activities. Rather than study and meditate on the deeper meaning of Rosh Hashanah, we were hooking up generators and distributing fuel. Instead of preparing uplifting sermons, we were bringing cold water, ice, and food to folks around the region, along with a friendly face, a warm word and some cheer. Instead of considering our deeds on judgement day, we were connecting with people making sure they were safe, having them know that someone cares.

I am confident that when our deeds are placed on the scale this year, the generators, the fuel, the ice, the water, the smiles and caring words will bring the balance squarely on the positive side. Instead of long sermons we will hold up our sweaty clothes and sleep deprived eyes, and people will be uplifted. Instead of personal meditation, we will consider the value of helping another person and be inspired.

So many people were involved in this ongoing effort. In addition to some of the people who were already thanked on social media, I want to single out a few individuals that were amazing over these past few days. Leibel, Levi, Sholom, Zalman, Peter, Dotan, Gene, Lou, Nanette, Neil, Chaim, Yosef, Monica, Aaron, Mazal, Sam, Chaim Shlomo, and so many others who helped in so many different ways. We want to thank all the individuals and organizations, local, regional, and national, that continue to partner with us, empower us and enable us to help our fellow Louisianians who are suffering in the aftermath of the storm.

On behalf of our team from Chabad of Louisiana, Chabad of Metairie, Chabad of Baton Rouge, please go to www.chabadneworleans.com/ida to keep the love flowing!

See below for more Hurricane Relief resources and for photos.

Shabbat Shalom and see you in Shul on Rosh Hashanah!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

25th Anniversary Reflections

Yesterday Malkie and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. 25 years is considered a generation. We are very blessed to have merited to raise one generation and witness the start of a new generation of our family during this time.

There are two things that I reflected on in connection with our anniversary, that I would like to share. A wedding marks the beginning of the formation of a new unit, a husband and wife. They build a life together; and they share hopes and dreams of where they want their life to go. On an anniversary, one often contemplates how those shared hopes and dreams are coming along.

As we celebrated our anniversary, surrounded by our family, my thoughts kept returning to a quote from the book Hayom Yom – Nissan 9. “Jewish wealth is not houses and gold. The everlasting Jewish wealth is: Being Jews who keep Torah and Mitzvot, and bringing into the world children and grandchildren who keep Torah and Mitzvot.”

We have much to thankful for to Hashem for this immense wealth with which He has blessed us.

Obviously, a wedding anniversary is a very personal milestone. Yet, as Hillel teaches in Pirkei Avot, “If I am (only) for myself, what am I?” When a couple gets married and starts a life together, they must think about what value their life will contribute to Hashem’s world. In 25 years, how have I advanced the realization of Hashem’s purpose for creation? In 25 years, how has my home and family benefitted others? Can I honestly say that my marriage and family has made a difference, leaving an indelible mark on the world around us? These are the things we must reflect on. Hopefully the answers are positive ones. Furthermore, we look forward to being granted many more healthy and happy years together, during which we can continue and increase in those areas.

May Hashem bless each and every one of you to be inscribed and sealed for a healthy, prosperous, and meaningful year of 5782.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Friday the 13th - The Luckiest Day

This morning, on Friday the 13th, I was considering breaking a mirror, under a ladder, in the presence of a black cat. But then I decided that it was too much trouble and I had better things to do with my time.

I remember how incredulous I was when I discovered as a teenager, that most buildings in Manhattan do not have a 13th floor. I could not understand why a rational society would lend any credence to such foolishness. 

The horror genre built an entire industry around these superstitions. Their favorite day is Friday the 13th, because it brought them a billion-dollar windfall from the movie series and the business that it spawned.

So why don’t we Jews believe in this stuff? In this week’s Parsha we learn the following: “When you have come to the land the L-rd, your G-d, is giving you, you shall not learn to do like the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who passes his son or daughter through fire, a soothsayer, a diviner of [auspicious] times, one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, a pithom sorcerer, a yido'a sorcerer, or a necromancer... Be wholehearted with the L-rd, your G-d. For these nations, which you are to possess, hearken to diviners of [auspicious] times and soothsayers, but as for you, the L-rd, your G-d, has not given you [things] like these.”

Be simple with the L-rd, your G-d – Tamim ti’hiye – is not so simple. The commentators discuss whether Judaism rejects sorcery because it is false, or rather, because it is immoral. Either way we cut it, a Jew need not be concerned with those superstitions or divinations, because we are laser focused on Hashem. Since we believe Hashem runs the world and is intimately involved in every detail of what occurs, it matters little whether some diviner claims that something is lucky or unlucky. Hashem is in charge and if we do what we need to those matters will not have any connection to us whatsoever.

So today is the luckiest day in the world. Today is the day we can plug in to our relationship with Hashem through Torah and Mitzvot. In return Hashem blesses us all to be inscribed and sealed for a healthy, prosperous, and meaningful year of 5782.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Meet the Chaplain

This week I had the opportunity to sit down for a conversation with one of our community’s lesser known assets, LCMC Heath System Chaplain, Rabbi Levi Partouche, who just completed his first year in New Orleans. I share some highlights of our dialogue.

MR: Please tell us about yourself.
LP: I was born in Montpellier, France, where my parents are the Rebbe’s Shluchim for many years. My schooling took me to Paris, New Jersey, Florida, Israel and Brooklyn. After marrying my wife Sarah (nee Ross), we joined the team of Shluchim in Montpellier for 3 years before moving to Jacksonville, FL, so I could enroll in a CPE (Clinical Pastoral Counselling) course and residency. There our son Mendel was born. Upon completing the residency in summer of 2020, I began to apply for jobs in the field. LCMC had an opening and offered me a position. Other offers came as well, but New Orleans, with its Jewish communal infrastructure, seemed to be the best fit.

MR: What are your duties with LCMC?
LP: As a member of the chaplaincy team, I rotate between the LCMC facilities (UMC, Children’s, Touro, West Jeff and others). The primary role is providing pastoral care and counseling to all patients, regardless of religious affiliation, and their families. I help Jewish patients navigate through the confusion of “end of life” issues. I have served as the Rabbi present to recite final prayers before death. I have helped facilitate a greater availability of Kosher food upon request. I am on call at least two nights a week. One particularly memorable event was dealing with a family crisis when a young man was brought in after being shot accidentally by his father. During the initial COVID surges, the hospital staff, including chaplains, often served as the connection between isolated patients and their families, helping them with phone calls etc. I was privileged to engage with several Jewish COVID patients in a very powerful way. 

MR: Sounds like a very busy schedule. Yet, I believe you have also expanded your reach beyond your official duties.
LP: I am a member of Chabad on Call (an association of Chabad Medical Chaplains). My wife and I try to serve in a ministering role to healthcare professionals and their families. We give out challah. We have them over for Shabbat. We host monthly picnics in the park. We have Jewish holiday events. I have also gone to other facilities in a volunteer capacity. On a visit to the VA Medical Center, I discovered that there was no Kosher food available. I successfully worked with dietary to change that. During the recent construction of the New Orleans Eruv, I lobbied Children’s Hospital to allow the use of some of their structures for the Eruv. The change to incorporate Children’s Hospital within the Eruv is in the works. This will allow parents visiting their children at the hospital on Shabbat to bring water or a baby carriage on the walk.

MR: How is your family adjusting to life in New Orleans?
LP: My wife Sarah has roots in New Orleans. Her father is a Tulane and Chabad House alum. She teaches at Slater Torah Academy, where our son is enrolled for the coming school year. We live in the wonderful Chabad Uptown community. We have developed many nice friendships and look forward to continuing life in this greater New Orleans Jewish community.

MR: Thank you very much for your time and best of luck with all of your endeavors.

Lovable Sinners

This morning on the news, the meteorologist reported on a cold front that is arriving Monday, which will drop our temperature all the way down to the high eighties – low nineties. What a break!! The heat has been so bad, that weather is an actual legitimate conversation topic.

Yet, although one would hardly notice in our area, technically summer has turned the corner. The days are starting get shorter, and the nights longer. In fact, the Talmud says that the 15th of Av (last Shabbat) is the day that “the sun’s power begins to weaken” – meaning that the days get shorter and there is less sunlight. (Since ours is primarily a lunar calendar – the phenomenon is observable to a greater degree when the 15 of Av falls in mid-August, unlike this year when it was in late July.)

Since that is the case, in times of the Holy Temple, they would not use any wood that was cut after that date for the woodpile on the altar. In the Temple only the best supplies may be used. Wood that contains some moisture is more likely to become wormy. So only wood that was cut while the sunlight was most potent, was allowed to be used. At some point during the second Temple era, the community could not afford to keep the Temple supplied with enough wood that met the criteria. Individual families began to supply the wood from their own personal stockpiles. The day that they brought the wood to the Temple would be regarded as a family holiday.

There was one particular family whose shift to supply the wood began on the 20th of Av. What was unique about them, was that they were depleting their wood supply at a time when it could not be restocked until next spring. So their contribution to the Temple came with a significant sacrifice on their part.

If we consider this further, we realize that the altar was used minimally for the communal offerings, which benefitted the entire Jewish people. Primarily, the altar was used for individual offerings brought mostly for purposes of atonement. So here we have a family that is willing to deplete their own supply at significant cost, just to help some sinners find atonement. They might have said, “Sinners, bring your own wood. Why is your atonement my problem?” But this was not their attitude. In fact, not only did they supply the wood, they did so happily amid jubilant celebration.  

The lesson is obvious. Our love for each other should be so powerful that we are willing to help another person, even one who might be deemed less deserving, often at great cost to ourselves. Any we must do it with joy.  

Shabbat Shalom, and, may I be the first to wish you to be inscribed and sealed for happy, healthy, and sweet new year of 5782!

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Study With Childlike Wonder

Did you know that some of the most prominent codifiers of Jewish law present the Mitzvah of Torah study within the context of an obligation to teach children? In fact the verse they cite to present the Mitzvah of Torah study (from the Shema in this week’s Parsha) is: “And you teach them to your children and speak of them…”

What about the obligation of adults to study? Why doesn’t the Torah present that as a separate concept? Why is an adult’s requirement to learn Torah absorbed within the requirement to teach a child?

(My brother Rabbi Yochanan wrote an article addressing this from a slightly different angle. It can be read here: https://www.facebook.com/yochanan.rivkin/posts/10102774127797479.)

This past week, we wrapped up our JLI course, “The Scoop on Resurrection” with a lesson that focused on the notion that sometimes we have erase an existing mindset to reach unparalleled success. We read about a study done by Dr. George Land as an outgrowth of a project that he did for NASA – called the Creativity Test. He applied this test, which was used to identify that highest level creative geniuses, to children of varying ages, and later to random adults. The results were astounding. The proportion of people who scored at the “Genius Level”, were:

Amongst 5 year olds: 98%

Amongst 10 year olds: 30%

Amongst 15 year olds: 12%

Same test given to 280,000 adults (average age of 31): 2%.

So are all five year olds essentially creative geniuses who become numbskulls by the time they are 30?

The answer is that creativity is quashed by acquired pre-conceived notions, past assumptions, arcane and unquestioned systems, and cultural and societal norms. In other words, the very rules that we put in place (mostly valuable and productive) are exactly the cause for our drop in creativity. In short, we are getting in our own way. Our egos, our perceptions of our place in society, how we think others are viewing us, and the like, are preventing us from revolutionary intellectual development.

Young children are not yet encumbered by these issues. They haven’t yet been corrupted by all of the aforementioned issues that plague us adults. When a child studies Torah it is simply through the lens that this is G-d’s word and nothing else matters. By introducing the general Mitzvah of Torah study within the context of children’s education, the Torah is instructing us, that true success in Torah study is achieved when we approach the Torah with childlike wonder.

This helps us avoid distractions like, “How does this fit with societal norms? Doesn’t this clash with what I’ve studied in another discipline?” Then the power of connection with Hashem with which Torah affords us, can be experienced in an optimal manner.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

You Have a New Notification From G-d

A prominent feature of modern technology such as smart phones and computers, is notifications. One might be walking, driving, sleeping, working, reading, (or even praying) when all of a sudden there is the ping or short vibration of a notification on your smartphone.

It might be Facebook notifying you that your friends haven’t heard from you in while, and encouraging you to post something important, like your thoughts on the government’s handling of the pandemic or who will be the New Orleans Saints next starting quarterback. It might be YouTube notifying you that a new episode of a favorite series has been posted. It might be a text message from a family member or friend. It might be one of a thousand WhatsApp messages. It might be Zelle notifying you that money has been posted to your account. It might be your ID protection app informing you that they just prevented an attempted infiltration of your bank account. Speaking of bank accounts, it might be your online banking app telling you that your monthly statement is now available for download. It might be the weather app cautioning about an impending flash flood warning. Or maybe your Breaking News app telling you about the latest corruption scandal in Louisiana politics. You get the picture.  

Does it even happen that you are going about your merry (or not so merry) way when all of a sudden you feel an urge to do something G-dly? Maybe a niggling feeling to go to shul or lay tefillin. Perhaps an inclination to have Friday night dinner or attend a class. Maybe it is a yen to call your parents or spend some quality time with your spouse or children. It may be a pull to volunteer for a project that helps the needy.

Whence do these unanticipated urges originate? It’s not like I was thinking about those things in the preceding moments.

Surely, the fact that we possess a soul that is inherently connected to G-d would be a sufficient explanation for the presence of such desires and inclinations. But why now? Why not yesterday or tomorrow?

Chassidus explains, that this is a result of a notification from Hashem. Built into the operating system of our souls is that capacity for a notification system. It is not incessant, because that would detract from our freedom to choose. But on occasion there is a little ping or vibration from above that awakens those urges for improvement. The notifications are so slight that they barely register. Yet, it is just enough to get the process going. When we view the notification and initiate the course of change, this is called Teshuvah.

Next time you feel the ping or the vibration of your soul, click on it and follow the suggestions. It could be a game changer!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

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