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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

A Tribute to my Bubby- Mrs. Dusia Rivkin

There is a verse in Lamentations “the crown of our head has fallen,” referring to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Today our family proclaims “the crown of our head has fallen” with the passing of my grandmother, Mrs. Dusia Rivkin, known to us as Bubby Rivkin. She was a true matriarch who presided over a family spanning five generations. She had hundreds of descendants, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren, each of whom she knew by name.

COVID-19 has taken the lives of thousands worldwide (she was not one of them). It has caused many more to be ill (may G-d grant them healing speedily). But there are other fallouts of this dreaded disease and the scourge of isolation that it brought along for the ride. Some of the most challenging, are the weddings that must be scaled back for safety. A bride who dreamt here whole life about her wedding day, must suffice with a minyan of people present while others dance and cheer from a distance. Another painful fallout of Coronavirus are the funerals. Today it felt like the twilight zone. We watched our beloved Bubby’s funeral on Zoom, as people in Hazmat suits escorted her to her place of honor in the Chabad cemetery adjacent to the Rebbe’s Ohel. My father and his brother had to watch from afar as their brother-in-law said Kaddish for their own mother. A woman, whose circle of family, friends and acquaintances numbered in the thousands, who deserved a royal send off to the world of truth, was accompanied by a handful of family members and friends healthy enough to attend, each spaced six feet apart from the other. This is G-d’s will and we accept it with love, but it was still painful to behold.

Bubby Rivkin was born into a prominent Chabad family, to Reb Mendel and Hinda Deitsch, in Russia, a decade into the Communist revolution. Her parents were extremely charitable and hospitable people. Their home was open to hundreds of hungry people who came to eat, in Charkov, and later in Uzbekistan to where they fled ahead of the Nazi onslaught. She absorbed the values of Yiddishkeit and Chassidus by osmosis just being around that household. As a teenager who was blessed with fair hair and blue eyes, she was often used a courier to transmit funds to keep the underground Yeshiva running in that part of Russia. Her groom was nearly snatched by the Russian secret police from under their chupah, if not for a friend “greasing the palm” of the agent who showed up at the wedding. When they finally left Russian and eventually made it to the United States, it was a difficult beginning like so many other immigrants.

With time they established themselves and built their family and life in the Crown Heights community of Brooklyn. My grandparents were very dedicated Chassidim, whose every move in life was undertaken with the Rebbe’s guidance and blessing. Those ideals around which their lives were centered, were imparted to their children and family. My grandparents were involved in many worthy endeavors at the Rebbe’s urging. The example that they showed, has inspired each and every one of us to emulate their devotion to the same cause.

My grandparents were the superglue of our family. They worked tirelessly to ensure that our family stayed close despite being all over the world. Their home was constantly filled with grandchildren, nieces and nephews, cousins and relatives, who found a welcoming environment to hang around.

I had a unique relationship with my grandparents because I lived in their home for many years, while attending school in New York. They were there for me as surrogate parents as I grew from a child to a teenager to an adult. They saw me off on my first (and only) foray into dating when I went to meet Malkie – driving my grandfather’s car. They made sure my suit was pressed and my shoes were polished… Each morning after our meetings, they would wake me up to find out how things were progressing. My grandfather refused to leave for work until he heard that all was well. Malkie and I lived next door to them after our marriage, and spent many Shabbos dinners at their home. When we moved to New Orleans, they remained super involved in every aspect of our lives. They were intimately involved in the lives of our children.

After my grandfather’s illness and passing twelve years ago my grandmother was left to preside over the family alone. Though she never truly got over his passing, she filled that role with grace and elegance. My children knew her as Bubby Bubby (to distinguish from the other Bubby Rivkin, my mother). She knew everything about their lives. Whenever I would speak to her on the phone or in person, she would complement the ones who were in NY for school.

My grandparents loved our New Orleans Chabad community. They supported and encouraged the work of Chabad here in any way they could. Many of the Chabad New Orleans folks came to regard her as their Bubby also, a role she embraced.

My last conversation with Bubby was on Purim morning. We chatted about Purim at Chabad in New Orleans and my family. I wish I had known that it would be the last time. Her health took a turn for the worse soon after. We saw each other on a family zoom conference when we gathered to pray for members of the family who were unwell.

She was a person who meant so much, to so many. She touched the lives of a wide range of people, who all remember her fondly for her kindness and insight. I still cannot believe that she is no longer with us physically. People like that are supposed to be in your life forever. I pray that our family will make her and my grandfather proud of the way we are continuing the life that they modeled for us. May Hashem send us the ultimate comfort with the coming of Moshiach speedily, when we will once again be reunited with all of our loved ones who have passed.

Freedom to be Free

“Festival of Our Freedom!” “Season of Our Liberation!” How can one experience freedom while being mandated to remain isolated at home? How can one have a liberating Passover experience while forced by Covid 19 to be separated from family and friends? How can we “rejoice on our festival” when facing the uncertainty of our global crisis?

Yet, looking at our history, we see that, whether it was a Russian Jew substituting four glasses of tea and three sugar cubes for wine and Matzah, a Jew is Auschwitz using a few scraps of potatoes and memories of home, or a Spanish Jew observing Pesach in the cellar, under the shadow of the Inquisition, all declared their state of liberation at the Seder.

Egypt is not just a place, it is also a state of mind. Indeed the enslavement in Egypt was spiritual as much as physical. The children of Israel were steeped in the Egyptian culture of idolatry and immorality. They were slaves to Egyptian society as much as to the Egyptian taskmasters. Liberation from Egypt was also freedom from the spiritual slavery.

When G-d liberated us from Egypt, He brought us to Sinai to receive the Torah, thereby imbuing us with an intrinsic sense of freedom stemming from our relationship with Him. From that moment onward, the Jewish people cannot be subject to true enslavement by another nation or circumstance. Our bodies can be sent into exile, but the soul can never be subjugated. As such, no matter what type of persecution or challenge we face, the freedom that dwells within the soul of the Jew cannot be taken away. It is this inherent freedom that is celebrated on Pesach irrespective of current external circumstances.

Feel free to be free this year. Feel free to be joyous. Feel free to not only observe Pesach, but to celebrate Pesach. It may be challenging, but we have what it takes. You might need to lean on me when you are feeling low, while I lean on you when I am feeling low. We need to be there for each other and have our finger on the pulse of those who are most vulnerable to feeling lonely and despondent during this time. Call, text, video chat (not on Shabbos or holidays, of course) and connect with other people that cannot see in person now.

Pesach requires preparation! I am sure you are all already deep into Pesach prep. Remember Kosher Cajun has what you need for the Passover Seder items, wine, catering. Go to www.Koshercajun.com or email mary@koshercajun.com to make an order. They can deliver or you can pick up. Casablanca can also help with you Passover catering this year. Contact Andy at www.casablancanola.com. Utilize the opportunities to make your Pesach prep easier and support our Kosher establishments.

Next week Chabad of Louisiana will be delivering hundreds of packs of Shmura Matzah to homes in our area. If you live in Orleans or Jefferson and would like to receive a box, please email me at mendel@chabadneworleans.com. Our deliveries will follow the proper guidelines and precautions that our current situation dictates. If you would like to volunteer to deliver, please email me as well. If you would like to help underwrite this project allowing over 300 families to receive Matzah, please go to www.chabadneworleans.com/donate or PayPal mendel@chabadneworleans.com.

Together we will get through this.

Wishing you all a wonderful Shabbos.
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Be Strong, Be Strong and We Will be Strengthened!

This week Synagogues around the world will not be reading from the Torah. The Parshah that we would read concludes the book of Shemot – Exodus. The custom is to proclaim at the end of the reading “Chazak, Chazak, V’nitchazek – be strong, be strong and we will be strengthened.” While we cannot proclaim this together, each of our homes must reverberate with the sound of that powerful message of strength.

This is also the Shabbat in which we would bless the upcoming month of Nissan in front of the Torah scroll. Since, by Divine design, we cannot gather in a Minyan, it behooves Hashem alone to bless the month on our behalf. Indeed, may this month of liberation and freedom herald liberation and freedom for each and every one of us from everything keeping us down, beginning with the disruptive coronavirus, and exile in general.

Under the current circumstances, it appears that everyone of us will be celebrating Pesach in our own homes. How ironic, that the Seder opens with the declaration “all who are hungry should come and eat,” and now we are forced into isolation and social distancing. In that vein, I strongly encourage each of you to start (if you haven’t already) making concrete Passover preparations to have your own Seder at home by yourself.

Kosher Cajun has assured me that they are adequately stocked to be able to supply our community’s many new Seders with the Seder needs. They will have the seder plate items, Passover products, and wine in abundance. You can also order catering from them for the Seder. Contact Joel or Mary at mary@koshercajun.com or see the menu online at koshercajun.com. Dvash Catering is also offering to help with you Passover catering – dvashcatering.com. Do not wait! Take action now to ensure that you will have a meaningful Pesach.

2000 homes in the New Orleans area will be receiving a Passover guide in the mail this week from Chabad. It includes a step by step how to for the Seder. You can also use online resources at www.chabadneworleans.com/Passover. We will be delivering Shmura Matzah to hundreds of homes in the area in the near future. But you must move now to get your Passover seder in place. It will be different and strange – but it must be done. The faster we accept this, the better prepared we will be. We can make this a very meaningful Pesach if we regulate our expectations, and adjust ourselves to the circumstances.

Chabad of Louisiana, all of our branches, are joining forces to be as helpful as possible as can be with getting you set for a stay-at-home Seder. Feel free to reach out to us – Uptown, Metairie, & Baton Rouge, if there is anything we can do to help.

In the meantime, join us for one of our virtual gatherings. Each morning at 8:30 for morning services on my Facebook page, Malkie’s nightly Torah and tea on Facebook, Chabad Metairie positivity moment and Torah class each day on Facebook, Chanie Nemes is having a book review on Zoom, we will be having more and more opportunities for community gathering with time. Also www.chabadneworleans.com/coronavirus has a lot of resources as well.

In the meantime Chazak, Chazak, V’Nitchazek!
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Maintaining Community From a Distance

 

and classes to advance your Jewish knowledge.

Several local Facebook live events have sprung up as a result of this situation. Malkie Rivkin has been doing a nightly gathering at 9 pm (CDT) and Chabad of Metairie has been doing a daily stream at 2 pm. More will be coming.

We also assembled select prayers as well as other resources, including a free quarantine Kaddish service, for those that cannot make it to synagogue.

Please visit our ever expanding section on our website at www.ChabadNewOrleans.com/coronavirus.

As always - and especially now - we at Chabad are available for you and your family in whatever way you need. Please don't hesitate to reach out!

May G-d grant our world healing real soon, and especially the ultimate healing — the coming of Moshiach!

Sincerely,
On behalf of Chabad of Louisiana
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

STILL Cradled in Hashem's Hands

 

es will continue so long as public health officials deem it safe. In event of change, we will keep you informed. When coming to Chabad, please help keep the community safe by taking the following measures as directed by the CDC. If you are not feeling well, please stay home and focus on regaining your good health. Even if you are only having slight symptoms, please err on the side of caution. Upon entering Chabad for a visit or for services, please wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. We request that our seniors, as well as those who have underlying medical issues, check with their physicians about attending services.

Two weeks ago in this forum there was an essay entitled, Cradled in Hashem’s Hands - https://www.chabadneworleans.com/templates/blog/post.asp?aid=1203266&PostID=96654&p=1. The chaos and panic has only increased in the last two weeks. The COVID 19 situation is fluid and is constantly evolving. People’s panicked reactions are inevitable in our society.

There is a passage in the Talmud Sotah that describes a state of chaos in the world that will take place at the end of exile. The conclusion there is “And upon what is there for us to rely? Only upon our Father in heaven.” Now more than ever must we remember that we are STILL cradled in Hashem’s hands.

I want to share a poem entitled Beyond, which my daughter Sara wrote two nights ago in relation to what is going on in the world.

Chaos, Confusion
A world in disarray nobody knows if they're coming or going
Nobody knows if the plans they made today will be going through tomorrow
Your mind is spinning you in circles
Confusion, Chaos

When you've told your family and friends and colleagues it’s not new-
They have heard it too.
Are hearing it.
Are living it.
Are telling it.
Their minds are spinning them in circles just like you.
Confusion, Chaos

A world where the price to live has shot up until the skies
Skies are closed to travelers, nobody cares if you have loved ones
Just stay away from me.
Separation, Quarantine

When you look to the left to the right for guidance, for knowledge
Everyone looking right and left until we stare each other in the face.
No one is immune

The virus doesn't care black or white, your occupation
Your religion, your country, there's no discrimination
If you are healthy or sick
The greatest expert in disease is as at risk as a beggar on the street.
And when you've come to the top in search for answers all you do is stare into a face just as unsure as your own.
And the walls crash down around you. No support. No answers. You might fall.
Confusing, Chaotic, Quarantine, Isolation.
You are on your own.

The world is more than 4 directions
There is to be found another dimension.
I don't control now, I never did, never will.
The plans that I planned, the places I've been, were You working through me
You work through me still
There is a break from the cycle of my mind that spins me around in circles.

When the world that I leaned on
Won’t hold up anymore
I won't fall - I have You.
To deny a higher power
Is to survive a life of isolation, quarantine with only your mind spinning you in circles.
But survival's not enough - I want to live

We ignored and filled space
We chased with nothing to chase
Walls are down, chaos reigns
The world that had no place for You is now empty, quarantined.
There is room for Your light, an answer

There is healing of soul.
I'm at peace for I know
If it’s not in my hands
I don't need to fight
I need not look left and right
But beyond.

Shabbat Shalom – May it be a Sabbath of Peace and Tranquility for all!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Indeed, America is NOT different!

My maternal grandmother, was born in the USA into a Chabad family. One of the highlights of her youth was the day her father took her out of school in the late winter of 1940. They headed to a pier in NYC where the USS Drottingholm docked after a 12 day journey from Europe. It was exactly this day, the 9th of Adar, 80 years ago. As they stood watching, they beheld a man being taken off the ship in a wheelchair. That man was their Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe. Though he was only 59 years old at the time, he had prematurely aged due to the unspeakable hardship and torture he endured years earlier under the Stalinist regime. Furthermore, he and his family survived the recent Nazi bombing of Warsaw and escaped war-torn Europe to the safe shores of the USA.

Thousands came to the pier to greet the Previous Rebbe, including state and municipal governmental delegations. The Rebbe was very gracious to all those who came to greet him; and very grateful to the government representatives through whose efforts he was saved. However, a certain uneasiness began to set in with him. Well-meaning members of the American Chabad leadership were advising the Rebbe to go low-key. Open a shul and a Beis Midrash, they advised, but go easy on the activism. After all, America is different. People have a different mindset. Priorities are not the same here. What was good in the old country, doesn’t necessarily fly in America.

At a farbrengen a few days later, the Rebbe cried and shared, that good friends are telling him to take it easy because America is different. But the Rebbe would have none of that. He was the man who stood toe to toe with the Soviets and stared them down. He single handedly maintained an underground network of tens of thousands of schools, shuls, mikvahs and Jewish communal institutions in the Soviet Union. He had been arrested and threatened with harsh labor in Siberia and even death. But he overcame it all. He was the man who founded and oversaw a network of Yeshivas in Poland, Lithuania and Latvia until the German invasion that almost cost him his life. Was he to be intimidated by the apathy of American Jewry? He declared loudly and definitively, “America is NOT different.”

From the confines of a wheelchair, despite severe health challenges, he launched the Chabad movement in the USA, with the same sense of devotion and urgency that drove him 20 years earlier in the USSR. Just before his passing 10 years later, he remarked, that the ice of America is starting to melt. When his son-in-law, our Rebbe, assumed his position, he continued and expanded those activities and the movement into the world-wide force that it is today. 80 years later we can say with certainty, “Indeed, America is NOT different.”

Have a good Shabbos and a very joyous Purim!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Cradled in Hashem's Hands

Everything around us seems to be in upheaval. There is the coronavirus pandemic, with hundreds, and even thousands of people infected each week. As a result, the economy and the markets are in chaos. People are anxious about their health. People are anxious about their finances. Furthermore, there is widespread apprehension about the political situation in our country. The impending elections are a source of stress for a lot of people all across the political spectrum. And if US politics is not enough to drive people mad, Israel is going to a third election in less than a year, with concerned parties in an absolute tizzy. In addition to the global issues, everybody is dealing with something in their own personal life. It may be in the area of health, finances, relationships, work, any or all of the above, or something else altogether.

Yet we Jews are expected to embrace the new month of Adar that started this week, with the attitude of “Mi’shenichnas Adar Marbim B’Simcha – when Adar enters, we increase in Joy.” How are we supposed to balance this paradoxical state of existence? How can we be joyful in the face of the upheaval and uneasiness about our personal issues and those affected society as a whole?

My great-uncle Reb Sholom Deitsch began undergoing heart trouble in his 40s. Every day he experienced symptoms similar to heart attack and his quality of life nose-dived very quickly. In a private audience with the Rebbe in 1969, after describing his medical situation, he exclaimed to the Rebbe that he feels as though his life is in total chaos and he could not function on any level. The Rebbe replied to him, “Reb Sholom, ir ligt doch bei dem Aibershter in di hent – you are being cradled in Hashem’s hands.” If you are in Hashem’s hands then you know you are in the best place possible. There is no need for feeling that your world is caving in on you in a fit of chaos. If you are in Hashem’s hands then you can be tranquil. My great-uncle passed away later that year from his heart condition. But the rest of his days were spent in relative tranquility with the Rebbe’s calming words in his mind.

Now let’s return to the Adar attitude. If we live on an island of tranquility in a world of chaos, then we can also not only accept the concept of joy, but we can even embrace it. In fact, what are sages are explain to us is that “how can we increase our “Adar-ness?” How do we mitigate the effect of the challenges that life has placed before us? Through Simcha – joy.

May we truly come to realize that we are cradled in Hashem’s hands thereby enabling us to live joyful and meaningful lives. Happy Adar!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Loving Kindness Is Actually My Religion

Everyone has those things that get under their skin. One of mine, is a car with covered with bumper stickers that demonstrates irreverence to organized religion, and then has a one that says “Loving Kindness is My Religion.” Now I know that that statement originates within a specific religious sentiment. But, when it appears in the context of someone showing off their “secular bonafides,” while rubbing the faces of all “believers” in the dirt, that ticks me off a bit! Now, I have a sense of humor and I can handle an occasional poke at things I consider sacred. However, I can’t stand the air of superiority being implied. As if to say, “While you Neanderthals, who believe that there is a G-d telling you how to live, practice prejudice based on your G-d’s ideas, we enlightened folk are the ones who know what loving kindness is and how to properly practice it every day.” The irony that they are not projecting loving kindness towards anyone in an organized religion that they don’t like… but that’s a story for a different day.

What they are conveniently forgetting is that Loving Kindness actually is my religion. Not in the “look I am being a loving, caring compassionate human” kind of way. But rather, in a very real structured, yet understated kind of way.

Consider these three texts from the Sages of the Talmud.

1.      What’s hateful to you, don’t do unto others. This is the entire Torah, the rest is commentary. (Hillel the Elder)

2.      “You shall love your fellow like yourself.” Lev 19:18 “This is a great principle of the Torah.” (Rabbi Akiva)

3.      The following verse contains an even greater principle: “This is the account of the descendants of Adam [when G-d created Adam, in the likeness of G-d He created him]. (Ben Azzai)

What could be more compelling than seeing every human as created in the Divine Image as a motivator for respecting the dignity of each person and treating them with loving kindness? In a Darwinian model, the drive to survive or even thrive, could very well supersede the humanistic calling for acting kindly towards another. So next time you see one of those bumper stickers with the word fiction made out of religious symbols, and the claim of the dude’s karma running over your dogma, inevitably there will be the sanctimonious declaration of how loving kindness is his religion. Hopefully you won’t be stalled on the side of the road, because most likely that car will not stop to help you…

On the other hand, did you hear the story of the guy with a kippa standing on the side of the interstate with a blowout? A Jewish guy pulled over to help him. After they got the tire off and changed, a brief conversation revealed that the guy did not know the first thing about Judaism. When the Jewish guy asked him why he was wearing a yarmulke, he replied, “My daddy told me to always keep one of those Jew caps in the glove compartment. If you break down, put it on and a Jew will stop to help you…”

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Make Yourself at Home

This weekend in New York, thousands of Chabad Shluchos (the wife partner of the husband and wife team who serve as the Rebbe’s emissaries around the world) are gathered for their annual conference. One of this year’s themes is Love: The Thread that Binds. This concept focuses on love, as the thread that mutually binds the Rebbe and his Shluchim, and how they in turn connect with that love to every Jew. Malkie was asked to address one element of the theme last night. I would like to share an excerpt of her talk with you.

“A few weeks ago we hosted a young lady, who was visiting New Orleans with her mother. Following an enjoyable Friday night at our home, they came to Chabad House on Shabbos day. I was busy preparing the Kiddush with some other women and girls. My husband walked into the kitchen to carry out the huge, hot, cholent pot. Mid “salad mixing” and “cholent carrying”, the mom approached us and said,

“Rabbi Mendel and Malkie, I feel so welcome here at your Chabad House, as I did last night at your home! I have been to many Chabad Houses all over. So, tell me, is there a course that the Rabbi and his wife have to take before going to establish a Chabad House? You know… a course on how to be warm, and welcoming, uplifting, and engaging, to EVERY person they meet? Because I see this trend in every Chabad House that I go to...every Chabad Rabbi and his wife are so warm and welcoming!”

My husband, eyes on the huge hot cholent pot and his task at hand, answered, matter of fact, “No, there is no such course!” Realizing that I wanted to elaborate, I put down the salad forks, and said, “Although we are not required to take any such course, we are privileged to learn from the Rebbe who teaches us that we must always strive to remain positive and welcoming when encountering another Jew. My husband and I were fortunate to grow up in the Rebbe’s physical presence and we witnessed this lesson, time and time again, first hand from the Rebbe. Learning the Rebbe’s teachings is what gives this positive and uplifting outlook to each Shliach and Shlucha that you have met ...and those that you have not yet met!”

I mentioned something that I often tell people who come into our Chabad House. A person might comment, “I feel so welcome here!” I reply, “As you know, this building is called Chabad House. Not exactly the name of a Shul or Community Center that you might be accustomed to. But the Rebbe’s vision is that each Chabad House is simply called, as you see on our sign outside - Chabad House. Your house is the place where you feel ‘at home’. Your house is a place where you feel comfortable. Your house is a place where you feel secure and welcomed. This is the vision of a Chabad House. A home for every Jewish person where they feel comfortable, anywhere in the world. A home, and a place for their heart!”

It is our hope that every person that encounters Chabad or engages with Chabad in any way in our community, will have that same experience.

After Purim, Chabad of Louisiana will be running our first ever matching campaign, with a goal to raise $140,000. If you have had a positive experience with Chabad over the 45 years since our establishment in New Orleans, please consider being a generous participant. Details will be released within the coming weeks.

Now you must excuse me while I return to my Shabbos cookingJ

Good luck to Chabad @ Tulane with the Shabbat 1000 program tonight. By far the largest Shabbat dinner in our region!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Rebbe of the Hippies?

It was Erev Yom Kippur 1979. Outside of 770 Eastern Parkway (Chabad HQ in Brooklyn) there was a long line of people waiting to receive a piece of honey cake and a blessing for a sweet year from the Rebbe. Joining the line was a fellow who affiliated with the Satmar group. The Satmar Rebbe had passed away that summer, and he wanted a blessing from a Tzaddik to start the new year. As he waited his turn to have his moment with the Rebbe, he glanced around to see who else was there. He noticed that the person just before him the line looked like a hippie. He started thinking to himself, “If the Lubavitcher Rebbe is this guy’s Rebbe, then how could he be my Rebbe. We occupy entirely different worlds.” He was contemplating leaving and going home. But he decided to stay to receive the blessing. When he approached the Rebbe, he received the cake and blessing and started to walk away. The Rebbe called him back and asked, “Do you have the writings of the Yismach Moshe? (Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum of Uhel, Hungary was an early Chassidic master and the forerunner of the Satmar dynasty.) He replied that he does. The Rebbe continued, “Certainly you recall the story he relates in the introduction to his commentary on Psalms?”

Let me break to tell the story. The Baal Shem Tov had a disciple named R’ Michel of Zolotchov. When his father, R’ Yitzchak of Dorovitch, passed away, the heavenly court instructed Rashi’s soul to go and welcome him to Gan Eden. When Rashi encountered R’ Yitzchak he asked why he merited to have such a welcoming committee? R’ Yitzchak said that it was in honor of his son’s accomplishments. Rashi asked, “What is your son’s greatness?” He replied, “He is a great Torah scholar and is intensely involved in the service of the heart in prayer.” Rashi replied, “There are many like that who don’t merit this greeting. There must be something else.” R’ Yitzchak replied citing a verse in Malachi, “He turned many from sin.” Rashi was satisfied.

The Rebbe continued addressing this Satmar chasid saying, “If it was good enough for Rashi, it should be good enough for you.” In other words, the Rebbe sensed his discomfort with the presence of the hippy and put him at ease with the story, thereby also giving the man insight to the Rebbe’s approach to how we view a fellow Jew, no matter what their external appearance might be.

Coming off of the celebration of 70 years of the Rebbe’s leadership this week, Chabad of Louisiana will be hosting a special event next Monday night. The screening of the film – The Time in Between – a documentary about three individuals who were involved in the hippie/counter-culture movement of the 60s and 70s, and how they got involved with the Rebbe and Chabad. Please join us at Chabad of Metairie at 7:15 pm on Monday, Feb 10. See below for more details.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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