Printed from ChabadNewOrleans.com

ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Our Glorious Future

This past Monday we marked the Yahrtzeit of the Rebbe’s father, R’ Levi Yitzchok Schneerson, who passed away in 1944 while exiled in Kazakhstan. He served as the Rabbi of Yekatrinaslav (Dnipro) in Ukraine for many decades, where he worked tirelessly in defense of Judaism and the Jewish people in the Soviet Union. He was arrested before Pesach in 1939 and eventually he was sentenced to 5 years of exile in Chi’li, a hamlet deep in Kazakhstan. After being banished to Chi’li, he was eventually joined by his wife, Rebbetzin Chana, who remained with him until his passing. She kept a journal, which was published and translated a few years ago.

Malkie and I are privileged to have children named for R’ Levi Yitzchok and Rebbetzin Chana, who we view as our “spiritual grandparents.” Reading her diary was very poignant for me, helping me gain further appreciation for their sacrifice. It also heightened our recognition of how special it is that even under such trying circumstances he was able to produce profound scholarly writings, most notably in the realm of Kabbala.

In one of her diary entries, Rebbetzin Chana describes Pesach of 1940, their first in Kazakhstan. The previous Pesach they had been separated as he was in prison. She talks about how difficult it was to find proper lodgings – when just two weeks before Pesach they were evicted for using too much water to clean their space. She depicts her 4 hour train journey to a “nearby” town that had a greater concentration of Jewish exiles, so that she could get Matzah and a new tin pail in which to cook. They managed to find a Jew to invite as a guest to their Seder. Finally she describes the actual Seder. The three of them were sitting together, while Kazakh peasants were scoffing at their “celebration” just outside the window. They had almost nothing on the table. Everything but the Matzah was makeshift. Yet the Rav led a spirited Seder replete with singing and lengthy discussion that lasted until 2 AM. He talked about our glorious past. Though the present was not so gratifying, he talked about our hope for a glorious future.

80 years later, while we are not facing as grim a situation as they experienced, people are worried about the present. There is the pandemic, the economy, anti-Semitism, the state of our country and the world. People are worried. As Jews we must know that, first of all Hashem is in control. So therefore we have nothing to worry about even in the present. Secondly, even as the present doesn’t appear to be rosy, we have our hope and assurance of a glorious future.

As we prepare for the upcoming Jewish New Year of 5781, we pray that Hashem blesses each of us and all of us together, with open and revealed good. A good and also sweet year, so good that we can actually taste the goodness. May this be the beginning of our glorious future.

Shana Tova and Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Have a Heart

In 1991, the legendary Jewish musician Moshe Yess collaborated on an animated Jewish Sci-fi film called Roburg. The quality of the animation was so-so, but the plot was interesting. It was about a CIA project to create an AI bot that they named Roburg. Why? Because there was a malfunction in the processor that caused the communications to switch to Hebrew sometimes. So they gave the robot a “Jewish” name, Roburg. At some point in the story, Roburg escapes from the lab in Arizona and hitches a ride to Brooklyn, where he convinces a Rabbi to teach him Torah. Upon learning about Tzedakah, he has a strong urge to help a little girl get the money she needs to have a life saving operation. When his handlers catch up with him, he agrees to go back to the lab on the condition that they allow him to keep studying Torah, and that the US government will pay for the girl’s operation. In the end his Rabbi says to him, “Roburg not only have you studied Torah but you have also shown that you have a heart.”

In truth AI cannot have a heart. Even the most sophisticated and advanced developments of AI can mimic emotions and pick up on inflections, but it cannot truly have a heart. On a side note, this week a Facebook algorithm banned a Chabad Rabbi in Manhattan from the social media platform, accusing him of COVID-19 misinformation. His sin? He wrote the following, “The cure for COVID-19 is to be found in this week’s Torah portion.” The algorithm having no heart, could not pick up on the nuanced difference between that statement and real misinformation. (Alright, maybe the supervisor could have done a better job programming the system.)

“Having a heart” requires being a real person. In fact, the Torah tells us over and over again how important having a heart is. In last week’s Parsha as well as in this week’s Parsha, the phrase “know with your heart” is repeatedly used. It is not sufficient to have an intellectual awareness of G-d. It is not enough to know in your mind that you need to be concerned about the needs of others. We must know with our hearts. The emotions cause us to be invested in that of which we were intellectually aware. This balance of mind and heart is the ultimate perfection of human achievement. In our relationship with Hashem and our commitment to the Torah, the intellect gives us the capacity for sustainability and the emotion gives us the capacity for being invested and passionate.

The importance of having a heart balanced with having a mind, is a recurring theme in many ethical and philosophical disciplines of Torah. So, “have a heart” and enjoy your Yiddishkeit.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

We are not anti-anti-Semites

I tuned in to the first two segments of the NCJW series on anti-Semitism, where were quite edifying. The first presenter, Dr. Gil Troy, said something that caught my attention. He was addressing the idea that Jews must not allow themselves to be defined or obsessed with those that hate us. He quoted someone (I cannot recall who) as saying, “We must be defined by Sinai rather than by Auschwitz.” I did not have the opportunity to ask the presenter how he applied this idea, but I will share mine. This was a very succinct way of summarizing an idea that I have argued for many times, including in this forum.

In fact, this week’s Torah portion tells us as much. Moshe instructs the Jewish people, “But beware and watch yourself very well, lest you forget the things that your eyes saw, and lest these things depart from your heart, all the days of your life, and you shall make them known to your children and to your children's children. The day you stood before the L-rd your G-d at Horeb…” This passage has been immortalized as one of the six remembrances that we recite each day. (For more on that www.chabadneworleans.com/2263399.)

What does it mean that we are meant to remember something? The Hebrew word Zachor is a present tense active verb. It implies constancy. Of course we need to remember Auschwitz. In fact remembering what Amalek did to us is one of the six remembrances. It is not a stretch to apply that to the Holocaust. Of course we need to be aware of anti-Semitism around us in the present forms (from all sides). But that should not be what defines us as Jews. Our mandate for what defines us as Jews was given at Sinai. It is a mandate to promote light and lovingkindness.

This mandate is invigorating.

It is to live and be a shining example of what it means to believe in one G-d, who is the source of all that is good and moral in this world. To demonstrate a certainty in a system of morals that is not relativistic.

It is to live and be a shining example of what it means to be an honest and trustworthy person, not because of what someone else might think of you, but because that’s who you are supposed to be.

It is to live and be a shining example of what it means to be (at least) equally as devoted to our spiritual development as we are to our material growth.

It is to live and be a shining example of what it means to truly care for others, just because they were created in G-d’s image.   

It is to live and be a shining example of how a lowly human can have a passionate relationship with an infinite G-d.

We are a force for positivity not just a response to negativity.

I end with an appeal to the hearts of the readers of these words. Yesterday, I lost a classmate and friend. R’ Shimon Potash, with whom I spent several years in Yeshiva, died suddenly leaving a wife and six children behind. His health history did not allow him to take the steps needed to financially protect his family in the event of this tragedy. My classmates and I are trying to raise some money to provide his family with a little bit of breathing space while they grieve over their heartrending loss. I invite the members of our community to join me in this mitzvah. Please let me know if you would like to get involved. This is a truly just cause. May the merit of our Tzedakah bring comfort to the family and blessing to all those who participated. May Hashem grant our world the healing and comfort we all need through the coming of Moshiach speedily.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Loving Rebuke

There are two general approaches to offering rebuke. One is where the person offering the rebuke is looking to hear his own voice or satisfy a need to “do something about a situation” regardless of the outcome. The second is where the person offering the rebuke cares so deeply about his fellow that he seeks to help him better himself. In terms of impact, there is not even a doubt that the efficacy of the second approach is far superior to the first, and that its results are significantly more enduring.  

In Chassidic lore it explains, that to rebuke, one must first “pare his fingernails” so as to ensure that there is no wound to the other in the process. This is also to remove any self-serving interest from the process, making it entirely about the welfare of the other. This comes along with making sure that the dignity of the other person is maintained throughout and that the words are delivered in a loving manner.

The model for this approach is Moshe in this week’s Torah portion. He begins his final message to the Jewish people by gently reminding them of the instances when they rebelled against Hashem during their 40 year desert sojourn. Rashi is quick to point out that Moshe rebukes them in a subtle manner by merely alluding to their transgressions, by means of location or a nuanced detail of the occurrence. The Rebbe takes it a step further and points out, that the manner in which Moshe chastises, serves to actually minimize the extent of the transgression rather than play it up for dramatic emphasis. In short, there is no fire and brimstone in his delivery.

Why? Rashi explains, “Mipnei Kvodan Shel Yisrael – so as to maintain the dignity and honor of the people of Israel.” In other words, Moshe’s choice of words convey his love and respect for the people to whom he speaks.

The Rebbe concludes by highlighting the connection to the time of year that we read this parsha – the Shabbat before Tisha B’av. We have often discussed, that love and unity is the means by which we reverse the cause of exile and destruction – namely, baseless hatred for one another. The antidote is love and respect. Even as we rebuke a person for a transgression it is done with love and care to maintain the dignity of the other.

Please join us for our virtual farbrengen Saturday night for an expanded discussion on this topic. May Hashem take note of our love for each other and reverse the exile – bringing us to redemption very soon.

We would like to welcome Rabbi Levi and Sarah Partouche to our community. Levi has accepted a position as a Chaplain in LCMC medical system. We wish them much success in all of their endeavors.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin  

Taking Care of Father

We know that the Torah is very precise. Even proximity of passages is meaningful and instructive. In this week’s Parsha we go from a highly dramatic passage to a seemingly ho-hum passage. Moshe, knowing that he is going to pass away soon, appeals to Hashem that a qualified succession plan be implemented. Hashem tells Moshe that Yehoshua (Joshua) will be the next Jewish leader, who will shepherd the people across the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Moshe enthusiastically embraces his successor and confers some of his own spiritual power upon him. We then transition to Moshe instructing the Jewish people about the daily and seasonal offerings. Seems to be somewhat anti-climactic.

Rashi comments on the juxtaposition of the passages and explains using the following parable. A princess on her deathbed encourages her husband to look out for their children after she dies. The husband then turns to his wife and begs her to urge the children to look after their father upon her passing. Similarly, Moshe, on his deathbed, pleads with Hashem to make sure that the children are taken care of by appointing Joshua. To which Hashem rejoins, please urge the children to remember me. In this context Moshe instructs the Jewish people to remember the daily and seasonal offerings – to which he refers as “the bread for Hashem.” As if to say, through bringing the offerings we are taking care of Hashem’s sustenance. The proof is, that Hashem declares that the bringing of the offerings give him the “nachas” – the pleasure of His wishes being obeyed.

We have not had a temple or an altar for nearly 2,000 years. How then have we been “taking care of” our Father for all this time? Our sages proclaim, “Prayer has replaced the offerings during the time of exile.”

This ought to light a fire under our prayers. Prayer is not just our opportunity to ask Hashem to fill our needs. It is also our way of showing Hashem our love for Him. Prayer is referred to in Talmudic and mystical teachings as “the service of the heart.” Certainly, in the big scheme of things, Hashem does not have “needs.” But Hashem has decided that our service is meaningful and valuable to Him. In this sense, Hashem yearns for and eagerly anticipates our prayer. He wants to be lovingly connected to each and every one of us. So kids, make sure you are taking care of your Father!!

This past Tuesday, we held our donor appreciation event on Zoom. Click here if you would like to see a video of the event - https://youtu.be/9_gF-wMaWvA.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

When Negative is a Positive

Covid-19 testing is all the rage right now. As one of the most important weapons in the arsenal of our battle against the virus, communities are stepping up their testing in a big way. (So much so that there is a (hopefully temporary) supply chain issue right now…)

So what happens? You go and they jab the long swab up your nose and then you wait for results. What is the desired result you want to hear? Negative! Imagine that “negative” is actually a positive. How could negative be a positive? Simple. The negation of a negative is a positive. But it is really a positive or just a neutral non-negative? I will leave the answer to that question to the theorists. I would like to focus on a parallel situation wherein the negative actually was a positive.

Forty years into their journey through the Sinai desert (wilderness), the people of Israel were finally approaching the borders of the Promised Land. They had defeated the two powerful kings, Sichon and Og, who were hired by the neighboring nations to serve as the last line of defense against the Israelites. Balak, the King of Moav, is freaking out. His nation is in panic. The Yiddish are coming! He goes and hires the most powerful sorcerer of all time, Bilaam, to pronounce curses against the people of Israel to ensure their defeat.

The Torah describes how time and time again, Bilaam’s attempts to curse the Jewish people are thwarted and what comes out of his mouth are some of the most profound blessings in the Torah. Couched in beautiful poetry, Bilaam, our hated enemy, eloquently depicts the greatness of our people, the depth of our relationship with Hashem, and our role in the destiny of the universe.

Here is a sampling of his words: “For from their beginning, I see them as mountain peaks, and I behold them as hills; it is a nation that will dwell alone, and will not be reckoned among the nations.” “He does not look at evil in Jacob, and has seen no perversity in Israel; the L-rd, his G-d, is with him, and he has the King's friendship.” “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel… He crouches and lies like a lion and like a lioness; who will dare rouse him? Those who bless you shall be blessed, and those who curse you shall be cursed.” “I see it, but not now; I behold it, but not soon. A star has gone forth from Jacob, and a staff will arise from Israel which will crush the princes of Moab and uproot all the sons of Seth. Edom shall be possessed, and Seir shall become the possession of his enemies, and Israel shall triumph.”

In the end the greatest negative, our antagonist Bilaam, became a positive through Hashem’s intervention. As Deuteronomy 23:6 states, “But the L-rd, your G-d, did not want to listen to Bilaam. So the L-rd, your G-d, transformed the curse into a blessing for you, because the L-rd, your G-d, loves you.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

LOVE IS CONTAGIOUS! Become a super-spreader

The Rebbe was once asked why his Chassidim have such an unusual degree of love and admiration for him. He replied with a smile, it is merely a reflection of the love I have for them, as scripture states, “like water reflects the face so is the heart of man to man.”

In a similar vein, in 1954, as a young “newly minted” Rebbe, he went to visit a prominent Jewish leader many years his senior for a Shiva call. The cream of religious Jewish leadership was present and the young Rebbe made a very favorable impression on them. On the way out the Rebbe was approached by one of the Rabbis who said to him, “Lubavitcher Rebbe, I am afraid I am becoming one of your chassidim.” The Rebbe looked at him with a disarming smile and said, “Why must it be with fear? Let it be out of love.”

Chabad is all about love. Love for Hashem. Love for each other. Love for the Torah. In fact the Russian town that was home to the Chabad movement for over 100 years, is called Lubavitch, which means city of love. The Rebbe’s mission statement when he assumed the leadership of Chabad in 1951, was about the need to integrate the love of Hashem, the Jewish people and the Torah.

In the passage Yedid Nefesh that we say each Friday afternoon as Shabbat begins, there is an expression, “Nafshi Cholaat Ahavetecha – my soul is lovesick for You (Hashem).” Why the usage of the term sick? Couldn’t we find other terms to convey the depth and power of the love? The other day I heard someone explain this in a humorous manner. Love is contagious. Love is infectious. In these past three months, we have all become experts in how infections are spread. We are all hyper-aware of contagions. Now there is talk of the super-spreaders of the virus. Let us take a page from that playbook.

LOVE IS CONTAGIOUS! Become a super-spreader of love. That is what being a Lubavitcher is all about. As the love case count goes up, the healthier our society becomes.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The Guiding Voice Yet Resounds

In early spring of 1992, an Israeli cabinet minister called one of the Rebbe’s close aides. The Rebbe has suffered a debilitating stroke weeks earlier, affecting his speech and causing partial paralysis. The Israeli official was calling to check on the Rebbe’s health. He was particularly keen on knowing about the Rebbe’s capacity to speak. What was driving the interest in the Rebbe’s speaking capacity? It turns out that the Israeli government was contemplating some moves in the area of negotiations with the PLO, to which the Rebbe was strongly opposed. They felt that if the Rebbe’s voice was silenced, they would be freer to move forward with their plans unhindered by the Rebbe’s opposition.  

This same notion was advanced by many around the world two years later after the Rebbe’s physical passing on the 3 of Tammuz, 1994. The felt that with the Rebbe’s voice silenced, Chabad would be incapable of continuing to operate and the Rebbe’s message would be muted.

They were gravely mistaken. 26 years later, the Rebbe’s voice of guidance, inspiration, moral authority and spiritual leadership resounds louder than ever. Through audio and video presentation of the Rebbe’s talks, along with hundreds of volumes of published teachings, the Rebbe’s voice of clarity and compassion touches the lives of millions. Via the agency of thousands of Shluchim families, along with his many chassidim and adherents, the Rebbe’s empowering and uplifting message is conveyed to every corner of our world.

The Rebbe’s message to our world is that we are on the threshold of a new era, the era of Redemption. It behooves each and every one of us to do what we can to prepare ourselves and those around us to usher in that era through the coming of Moshiach.

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

#GiveChabadNOLA - A Tribute to Joe & Bertha Nelkin

Three months ago, on March 23, Chabad of Louisiana was scheduled to launch an ambitious fundraising campaign, called “2020 Vision,” with the goal of raising $140,000 in 36 hours. This was going to be accomplished through the generosity of a group of supporters who committed to match each dollar raised with one of their own.

A day before that, on March 22, Governor Edwards issued the stay at home mandate in light of the COVID-919 pandemic. Of course, we suspended our campaign at that time. We are now turning to our supporters and friends as we prepare to relaunch the campaign next week. Taking the economic realities of our time into account, we have scaled back the campaign, with a goal of raising $100,000 in 36 hours. The campaign begins on Tuesday, June 16 at 9:00 am and ends on Wednesday, June 17 at 9:00 pm CDT. We are using the hashtag #GiveChabadNOLA.

Chabad has been operating in the community for 45 years. Thousands of lives have been positively impacted. Enable us to keep that powerful force for good going strong.

What can you do?

·         Contribute by going to www.chabadneworleans.com/giving. There is a pre-donate option. All contributions will be listed once the campaign goes live on Tuesday morning.

·         Encourage your friends and family to contribute by sending them to website www.chabadneworleans.com/giving. Call, text, or promote on social media. Use the hashtag #GiveChabadNOLA.

·         Volunteer to make calls. There will be a call center at Chabad, with social distancing. Or call from the comfort of your home. Reach out to Malkie if you would like to volunteer – malkie@chabadneworleans.com.

We need you to help our community achieve this important goal. Thank you in advance for your devotion and support.

We look forward to celebrating a successful campaign with y’all!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 A Tribute to Joseph & Bertha Nelkin

Yesterday, I had the somber privilege of participating via Zoom in the funeral of Mr. Joe Nelkin, who passed away at a ripe old age in Baltimore. Joe and Bertha Nelkin left New Orleans nearly 40 years, yet the impact they had on the community, and on so many individuals is still strongly felt. They were deeply involved and committed to a wide array of communal initiatives, including the Chevra Kadisha, a Jewish day school, Bikur Cholim, a Mikvah, and several congregations.   

Personally, some of the earliest memories of my life were in their house on Mouton Street in Lakeview. My parents took an apartment across the street from them. We were very blessed to have an adopted Bubby and Zeidy so close by. As the years went on, we moved to a different neighborhood, and eventually they moved to Baltimore, the feeling of mishpacha never wore off. When we saw them in New Orleans for a visit, perhaps for a simcha or a visit to the gravesites of their parents, I always delighted in hearing their stories and adventures, and hearing Mrs. Nelkin share memories of the early years. We felt that they had real nachas from the activities of the Chabad in New Orleans, much of which began in the merit of their involvement.

On Purim of 1976, Chabad House on Freret St. opened its doors. A month later, on the occasion of the Rebbe’s 74th birthday, my father, Rabbi Zelig Rivkin, traveled with Mr. Nelkin to participate in a large gathering (Farbrengen) in New York. During that Farbrengen, Mr. Nelkin and my father presented a ceremonial key of the new Chabad House to the Rebbe. He asked the Rebbe for a blessing regarding a personal family matter, which the Rebbe gave him. He and his wife reaped the benefits of that blessing, enjoying a beautiful family surrounded by their many grandchildren.

Several years ago, my parents and I had the pleasure of visiting with Joe and Bertha at their home in Baltimore. We slipped right back into the closeness and warmth of our friendship with them. Sadly, that would be the last time we’d see them in person. Since then our world has lost two of the most caring and devoted people that you will ever meet. May the memory of Joe and Bertha Nelkin for a blessing for their family, friends and all who were touched by their kindness.

Sensitivity to Human Life

Our country is still reeling from the tragic sniffing out of George Floyd’s life. There is no question that this was an example of police brutality. There is no question that African Americans are disproportionately the targets of police brutality. There are certainly major issues of systemic racism that need to be addressed in our society, on many levels. I do not believe that all members of the police force are racist; nor that they all “practice” brutality. I am not privy to enough information to be able to intelligently comment on the specifics of this case. However, as a Rabbi, my role is see how Judaism/Torah might be able to inform us as we seek solutions to these issues. I would like to share a Torah nugget that addresses one facet of this conversation.

Ethics of our Fathers cautions us to value the role of authority, “Pray for the integrity of the government; for were it not for the fear of its authority, a man would swallow his neighbor alive.” Members of law enforcement put themselves at risk for the protection of society. In doing so, they are regularly exposed to situations, where the need to defend one life, necessitates putting the welfare of another at risk. A possible result of this can be, a slowly developed cheapening of life, especially the life of one who is perceived as a criminal or a potential threat. This insensitivity can subconsciously seep into the psyche of a police officer. What solution does Torah offer for this problem? I will borrow from the Torah’s instructions to soldiers, who are faced with a similar dilemma.

Most of the Torah’s instructions regarding war can be found in the middle of Deuteronomy. In the middle of the passages that deal with war, the Torah interrupts to address the discovery of an unidentified corpse outside a city. The city elders and the priests need to come and perform a ceremony and declare “our hands did not spill this blood.” This passage conveys Hashem’s great pain over needless loss of life. Context is very important in the Torah. As such, the placement of this passage in the middle of the section on war is curious. To explain: The Jewish soldiers that went to war needed to somewhat suppress their sensitivity in order to fight and defend their people against enemies who wished to destroy them. Being involved in war and killing, soldiers can encounter a difficulty in maintaining their sensitivity to human life. Therefore the Torah inserts the passage about the tragedy of death, seemingly out of context, because it is just the lesson needed to cultivate the mindfulness regarding the value of a human life.

Members of law enforcement, must inculcate this lesson into their training and mindset. Precisely because they are faced with the potential need to defend life with the use of force, their sensitivity to the value of human life (all human life) must be maintained at a heightened state.

May Hashem bless our society with the healing that we need so that we can come to live together as one nation under G-d, with real liberty and true justice for all.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Three Conditions for Jewish Peoplehood

Next week we celebrate the festival of Shavuot, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Sinai. A number of revolutionary concepts were introduced with the giving of the Torah. One of them is Jewish peoplehood. (It really started to form at the time of the Exodus and became formalized at Sinai). Along with Jewish peoplehood came the condition of our Arvut - sense of responsibility – for one another. When G-d gave us the Torah and the Mitzvot contained therein, he declared us responsible for each other’s commitment. The phrase our sages use for this is “Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Lazeh” – all Jews are responsible for one another.

Now the word Areivim also has additional connotations that offer some insight to the nature of this responsibility. There can be a sense of responsibility where a person maintains a distance and condescends to “take care of” the other. There are many folks who advocate and support the care for others while adopting a “not in my backyard” approach. Areivim also means “mixed together” – in other words our sense of responsibility comes with a feeling of “we are in this together,” rather than “you are needy and I am here to throw you a few crumbs from afar.”

How indeed can we expect this attitude to be adopted and implemented? That’s where the third meaning of Areivim comes in. Areivim also means sweet. When we view each other as sweet and we act sweetly to each other, this is the recipe for successful Arvut – responsibility.

If another Jew is seen as sweet, then I am happy to “mix” with them, which, in turn, infuses the Arvut with a passion and enthusiasm that makes it effective!   

As Louisiana has entered “Phase 1 of reopening,” we are going to cautiously proceed with a slow and deliberate reopening of Chabad House. For right now only the minyan, following all of the appropriate protocols and regulations, will be reinstated. All other activities will still take place remotely.

Since there is a special tradition to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments on Shavuot (next Friday), we are developing a plan to use an outdoor space (weather permitting), thereby enabling more people to participate, while maintaining “social distancing” protocols. Details will be announced on Monday, G-d willing.

Let us hope that Hashem will bring a speedy healing to our world, allowing us to once again be a people and a community together. Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Leaving Sinai

There was once a little Jewish girl who was being raised in a home where Judaism was not a premium value. Every summer she would travel to the countryside to spend a few weeks with her grandmother. Grandma was much more traditional. She utilized the time of her granddaughter’s visit to impart her love for Judaism and G-d to the little girl. At the end of her visit, her parents drove up from the city to pick her up. As she was leaving she took a deep breath of the beautiful outdoor air and said “Goodbye nature, see you next summer.” Then she kissed her grandmother and said, “Goodbye Grandma, see you next summer.” Then she kissed the Mezuzah and said, “Goodbye G-d, see you next summer.”

Yesterday, the 20th of Iyar on the Jewish calendar, was the day the people of Israel departed from Mount Sinai. They had been there for nearly a full year. During that time they received the Torah, had the Golden Calf experience, obtained forgiveness and received the second set of Tablets, built and dedicated the Tabernacle, and celebrated the first anniversary of the Exodus. They were told that the sign to know that it was time to move, would be the lifting of the Cloud of Glory from above the Tabernacle.

One could view the departure from Sinai in two ways. One would be similar to the little girl and her grandmother. As long as we are at Sinai, under the influence of the Revelation experience, we remain connected and devoted to G-d and what He expects of us. But once we depart, we cannot maintain that elevated state of connection.

The second and more proper perspective is, that leaving Sinai is by the direction G-d (as symbolized by the lifting of the Cloud of Glory). The purpose is not to take us away from the Siniatic impact, but rather for us to take the experience of Revelation and apply it to regular everyday life. In a sense, the 20th of Iyar represents the first full day of our mission as Jews – to transform and elevate our world into a dwelling for the Divine.

When we are at the foot of Sinai, G-d’s presence looms large in everything that we do. When we travel away from Sinai, this becomes our challenge. Our mundane activities must be suffused with a devotion to Hashem. As Proverbs states, “In all your ways you shall know Him.” This theme is reflected in Pirkei Avot, “All your deeds should be for the sake of heaven.”

When the Cloud of Glory lifted, it led the way, showing the people of Israel in which direction they were to travel. Thankfully, Hashem has given us this same guidance in the form of Torah teachings and inspired Jewish leaders over the generations, who show us the way to maintain the intensity of our connection with Hashem.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Social Distancing from G-d

Today is Pesach Sheini – the second Passover, one of the more obscure holidays on the Jewish calendar. Pesach Sheini originated with a small group of people who were ritually impure at the first anniversary of the Exodus. Hashem responded to their plea for inclusion, by giving them a “make-up date” one month later. From the language that the Torah uses, there is an inspiring insight derived in Chassidus.

The quote from the book of Numbers (8:10) is, “any person who becomes impure (by contact with the) dead, or was on a distant journey, for you or for future generations, shall offer a Pesach offering in the second month…”

The key phrase is “for you.” The simple application is, that Hashem is speaking to those present, and then also to future generations. Chassidus interprets the phrase “for you” as relating to the reason for your impurity or distance. In other words, even if a person is deliberately impure, which conceptually means that they are apathetic to G-dliness and spirituality (symbolized by death), they are still welcome to a second chance. Similarly, even if a person is deliberately practicing “social distancing” with Hashem, Hashem wants them to know that they have an opportunity to get close.

The second chance that Pesach Sheini offers in an expression of Hashem’s boundless love for each and every one of us. Even if in our own minds we are unworthy, and therefore we distanced ourselves, Hashem desires our closeness. Indeed, in response to the cry of a small group of Jews, who were experiencing spiritual FOMO (fear of missing out) that Pesach, Hashem gave us a whole new Mitzvah and a new holiday.

So feel the love wash over you. It is a cleansing love. It is a liberating love. It is an empowering love. But don’t miss the opportunity – seize the moment and the second chance to shake off your own sense of inadequacy, and allow yourself to experience the welcome home embrace of our loving Father.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Omer Tips For Surviving Isolation

We are nearly six weeks into this period of isolation due to the COVID-19 situation. While talk of “opening up” is beginning, it will still be a while until that opening up is at full throttle, and even then there will still be a lot of “staying at home” compared to what was BC (before Coronavirus).

Staying at home together with your family members can either foster an enhanced closeness, or it can result in a lot of frustration and getting on each other’s nerves. (Those two are not mutually exclusive, and can even happen during the same day, or even the same hour…) I would like to share a lesson from the Omer period that we can apply to help us in this area of life as we now know it.

Rabbi Akiva had 24,000 students. They were the brightest scholars of the Jewish world after the fall of the second Temple. One year, between Pesach and Shavuot, all but five of them died in a plague. The Talmud relates, that the plague got to them because they did not demonstrate proper respect for each other. Now, one of the pillars of Rabbi Akiva’s Torah teaching was, “love your fellow as yourself – this is a fundamental principle of the Torah.” How could his own students have been so deaf to his message? Were they so hypocritical that they did not practice what their teacher constantly preached?

One of the explanations is, that it was actually their love for each other, inspired by Rabbi Akiva’s teaching, which led them to disrespect one another. Being different people, each student absorbed and applied Rabbi Akiva’s teaching in his own manner. Often their respective interpretations were at odds with each other. Each one could not stand to see his colleague, who he loved, understand and implement the lessons of Rabbi Akiva in a way that he thought erroneous.   

Our takeaway from this is that in a relationship we need both love and respect. Love alone can be suffocating. Respect affords the other person their sense of self. Respect alone can be cold and indifferent. Love provides the warmth and caring. When we have a balance of both, that makes for a happy place.

Isolated with our family and loved ones, we must remember to have both love and respect. When we do, there will be more happy days than frustrating ones.

May we merit very soon to experience the end of this pandemic and all that comes with it. Not to return to the old normal, but rather to a new normal – the normal of redemption through the coming of Moshiach!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The 9th Day of Passover

We were strong, we were strong, and we were strengthened. We did it. The Jewish people got through a Pesach under some of the strangest of circumstances. I am especially proud of those of you who managed even while alone for the first time on Pesach. These anti-bodies will strengthen us even more!

In many Haggadahs, after the declaration “Next Year in Jerusalem,” there is a passage to the effect of “this concludes the Passover Seder, may we merit to celebrate again in years to come.” However, in the Chabad edition of the Haggadah, this passage is omitted. Why? Because from the standpoint of Chassidic thought, the spirit of Passover must live on. The message of freedom and liberation must continue to resonate with us. The Passover Seder does not come to an end, it is actually a spring board for a new beginning.

This year more than ever we must tap into this idea. We need to draw inspiration and strength from our Coronavirus Passover experience to get us through the rest of this uncertainty.

So on this 9th day of Passover, I wish you continued inner freedom along with the fortitude to soldier on as we push on toward the goal of complete salvation and healing for all through the coming of Moshiach!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.