ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Humble vs. Worthless

One of themes of Passover is the is the symbolic difference between Matzah and Chametz. The rising or leavening of Chametz signifies arrogance, whereas the unleavened state of Matzah represents humility. This is a fundamental idea in Jewish spirituality. Arrogance is the root of much, if not all, of what goes wrong with humanity. Recognizing this truth, and seeking to remedy it, is the beginning of getting things right.

According to Jewish law, Matzah can only be made from these five grains; wheat, barley, oats, rye, and spelt. The common denominator between them is that they have the potential to rise. It would seem that if humility was such an integral component of Judaism, it would make more sense to make the Matzah from a grain that cannot rise, such as rice or the like. Why make Matzah from one of the five, leaving yourself vulnerable to the potential of arrogance, when you can avoid it altogether by using a different grain?

The explanation is that there is a difference between humility and a lowly self-concept. A grain that cannot rise at all, would represent a lowly self-concept. A person with a lowly self-concept cannot accomplish anything. One needs to have an accurate sense of one’s worth, coupled with the humility that it is all a gift from G-d, to be utilized in the proper manner.

The Baal Shem Tov argues that false humility (a lowly self-concept) is a catalyst for sin. Such a person reckons that they are worthless anyway, so why would they invest effort into doing the right thing and being a good person. Inevitably this leads a person down the slippery slope of harmful behavior.

So, we need the Matzah to keep our arrogance in check. But humility does not mean viewing yourself as a doormat upon which all can trod. It means finding that healthy balance and appropriate self-concept.

Speaking of Matzah, if you know of a Jewish household in New Orleans that would appreciate a package of Shmurah Matzah for the Seder, please let us know. We are in process of delivering packages of Matzah around town. If you would like to get involved in this effort, by volunteering or supporting, please get in touch. It is our hope that the thousands of Jewish households receive Shmurah Matzah for the Seder this year.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Did You Get Your Booster This Week

Did you get your booster this week? A new one was released on Tuesday.

I refer not to vaccines or the like. I am talking about something different altogether.

According to the purveyors of the inner dimension of Torah, there is an energy associated with each of the Jewish holidays, from which we draw for the entire year. For example, Pesach releases an energy of freedom, from which we draw freedom for the rest of the year. Chanukah provide us with power to illuminate our surroundings for the entire year.

Sukkot/Simchat Torah are called the season of our rejoicing, from which we are meant to draw joy for the entire year. So why is it that we have a holiday of Purim halfway into the year, which is about joy? The Rebbe explains that Purim is the booster shot, giving us an extra dose of joy to get us through the remaining months.

It appears that joy is a quality that is not so easy to attain, and even harder to sustain. So, while the energies associated with the other holidays can last a full year, joy needs a booster shot.

I sincerely hope that even got a good dose that will carry us forward in a joyous manner for the whole year. Photos of the earlier part of Purim can be seen below. More photos will be added in the coming week.

On a different note, Chabad of Louisiana is embarking on a mission to have packages of Shmura Matzah delivered to an unprecedented number of Jewish households in the state. Our affiliates, Chabad of Metairie and Chabad of Baton Rouge will be covering their respective environs. Chabad of Louisiana intends to cover all of Orleans Parish, the Northshore, and cities in the northern part of the state.

If you know of a Jewish household in any of those areas that would appreciate a package of Shmura Matzah for the Seder, please let us know. If you would like to get involved in this effort, by volunteering or supporting, please get in touch. It is our hope that the thousands of Jewish households receive Shmurah Matzah for the Seder this year.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The Revolution that Began in a Wheelchair

My maternal grandmother (Mrs. Miriam Gordon) was fond of recalling to us the most memorable day of her youth. It was a late winter day in 1940 when her father pulled out of high-school for a very special event. They went to the piers in the New York Harbor to be part of the throngs of thousands that came to greet the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, to the USA. The Rebbe finally appeared on the gangway of the SS Drottningholm that sailed out of Sweden. Though he was not even 60 at the time, he was being pushed in a wheelchair. He had suffered torture and beating at the hands of Stalin’s minions in the Soviet Union; and just recently endured the German Luftwaffe bombardment of Warsaw in the fall of 1939. He was physically broken and in bad health.

Many people suggested that he consider utilizing his arrival in America as an opportunity to relax and quietly nurse himself to better health, without getting too involved in the activism to which he was accustomed. From his wheelchair he resolutely declared that “America is Not Different.” He dismissed the suggestions that he take a step back from activism. The man who unflinchingly faced the Soviets and survived the Nazis, was not fazed by American Jewish apathy. He was not going to go out with a whimper.

The Previous Rebbe gathered young men and women and inspired them to devote themselves to the spiritual and material welfare of their American Jewish brethren. He sent young married couples (like my grandparents) to jumpstart Jewish education and Jewish life in communities and cities throughout the country. He dispatched single Yeshiva students to become teachers and traveling Rabbis. When the war ended, those efforts expanded to other locations around the world.

For ten years he fought like a lion to bring authentic Judaism to new frontiers. When he passed away in 1950, his successor, our Rebbe, continued those efforts, exponentially growing them to unimaginable heights. Today Chabad has a global presence and reach. But it all began with a revolution from a wheelchair 83 years ago.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


It's All About "Luces"

One my favorite aspects of being a Rabbi is the opportunity to study with people. One weekly study session is an essay of the Rebbe on the Torah portion.

This week we learned an essay on the fashioning of the Menorah. There is a disagreement among the commentators whether the command for the Menorah to be chiseled out of one solid piece of gold also includes the lamps at the top of the Menorah. Maimonides rules that the lamps are included in this instruction. Rashi does not mention the lamps when addressing this command. From this we infer that Rashi disagrees with Maimonides, and allows for the lamps to be made separately, and then mounted on the Menorah when they are ready for kindling.

The Rebbe makes the observation that it must be something so obvious to Rashi that he doesn’t even see the need to comment. He explains that the Torah gives all the detailed instructions on the fashioning of the Menorah, including the command to chisel it from one piece of gold. Only then does the Torah tell us about how the lamps and other accessories should be made. This is sufficiently obvious enough for Rashi to infer that lamps are included in the accessories, and are therefore regarded as separate from the Menorah.

In a later Parsha, Moses repeats all the instructions regarding the Sanctuary to the Jewish people. He includes the instruction about the Menorah by saying, “the menorah for lighting, and its implements, and its lamps, and the oil for lighting.” Rashi comments on the word “Lamps” and gives a nearly identical interpretation of lamps (cups for oil and wicks) except that he adds the Old French term for lamps, “Luces.” Why would he add the Old French term to the comment in the repeat version, if it wasn’t needed in his original comment?

The Rebbe explains that since a big deal was made about the Menorah, the lamps might be perceived as a mere accessory. Rashi wishes us to recognize the ultimate purpose of the Menorah. For this reason, he adds the Old French term, “Luces.” Luce means light. This enables us to recall that while the structure of the Menorah is fascinating, it is all about illumination.

Most of the Rebbe’s essays end with a practical lesson. This one does not. My study partner asked me, “So what is the lesson?” I replied by paraphrasing the Rebbe, “it must be something so obvious that it need not be explicitly stated.” What indeed might the lesson be?

A Menorah without lamps is pointless. We must remember that purpose of all that we do is “Luces,” to bring Divine illumination to the world. We can get caught up in the structure and the details of what are doing and forget that is all about “Luces.”

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Big-Tent Judaism

Did you know that 1,500 (mostly) Jewish Tulane students celebrated Shabbat last week under one “big-tent?”

We hear the phrase big-tent used to describe a phenomenon in which an attempt is made to bring a broader spectrum of people into an experience, an ideology, or a group.  

Sometimes the tent is made big through a shift of ideals to make it more appealing to folks that may have felt excluded previously. However, the tent can also be widened through raising awareness that what folks may have though was exclusive of them, is actually something that they can very much embrace and be a part of.

3,300 years ago, G-d planted this concept into the Torah. Just before Moses passes away, and the people enter the promised land, G-d gave the Mitzvah of Hakhel.

“At the end of [every] seven years, at an appointed time… When all Israel comes to appear before the L-rd, your G-d, in the place He will choose, you shall read this Torah before all Israel, in their ears. Assemble the people: the men, the women, and the children… in order that they hear, and in order that they learn and revere the L-rd, your G-d, and they will observe to do all the words of this Torah.”

By having the people, men, women, and children, gather and hear words that are uplifting and inspiring, this can broaden the number of people that feel included in the tent of Judaism.

This is the mandate of Chabad in general. Especially this year, which is the calendar year in which that Hakhel assembly would take place if we had a Temple, the mandate becomes that much more compelling.  

Last Friday night, Chabad at Tulane assembled 1,500 students to celebrate their Jewish identity. (See a video taken just before Shabbat began of students singing Oseh Shalom together. “Assemble the people … in order that they hear, and in order that they learn and revere the L-rd, your G-d.”

Later that weekend, on Sunday night, a gathering of 4,000 Shluchos (Chabad Women Emissaries) was held. At the event, Israeli media personality Sivan Rahav-Meir declared that was in one of the most influential rooms of the Jewish world. 4,000 communal leaders, each serving as a powerful influence in their respective communities around the globe. They had representatives from six continents (all but Antarctica) lead a roll call of Chabad Shluchos from each country in their continent of origin. Each of these women serves the role of “you shall read this Torah before all Israel.”


This is Big-Tent Judaism reimagined. The Torah doesn’t change. Tradition is the same. But the tent gets bigger and bigger.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Healing Attitude

We are in the midst of a three week stretch where the weekly Torah portion references healing. Last week’s Parsha had the verse, “I am the L-rd, your healer.” This week’s Parsha contains the idea that all were healed at Sinai in anticipation of the great Revelation. Next week’s Parsha gives us the Torah’s endorsement of the doctor’s role in healing people.

So it would be an appropriate time to express prayerful wishes for those among us, family, friends, and anyone out there, who are in need of G-d’s blessings for healing. Amen!

My son-in-law, Ari Rosenblum, who is dealing with a significant health challenge, penned some thoughts which he posted a few weeks ago, about a take-away from his experience that he wishes to share with others. I hope you find his words as meaningful as I did.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Five weeks ago, I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma.

The big C. Not what I ever expected as a healthy 24-year-old. My emotions ran the gamut from shock to denial to nervous and overwhelmed. I suddenly had to think, and probably won't stop thinking for a while. Am I my body? Does this diagnosis define me? I'm going to look different; I'm going to feel different. Will I be different? That depends.

I started my first round of chemo with a fierce determination to beat this disease. I'm not just going to get better. I'm going to get better than ever. I’m going to grow, spiritually and emotionally. I’m going to deepen my relationships with my wife and my family. I’m going to build “meme therappy” and take it to the next level. I’m going to develop my relationship with G-D. And I’m going to pause before judging others.

Walking down the street this past week, I said hello to acquaintances as usual, and it hit me. Nobody has any clue what I'm going through right now. Just as I am unaware of what is going on in their lives. Who else is going through this? How many are dealing with something similar? How many have challenges, struggles, doubts, and worries? It's easy to make judgments or assumptions about people based on their appearance or known circumstances, but the truth is that everyone has their own battles to fight. Let's strive to be more compassionate towards each other and support each other through whatever challenges we may be facing.

So, as I continue on my journey towards recovery, I am filled with gratitude for the love and support of my family, friends, and healthcare team. I am determined to stay positive and make the most of each day, and I encourage others to do the same.

The Lymphoma is here temporarily, and the physical growth that it caused will subside. But I hope that the growth that takes place in my mind and heart will stay with me and create long term meaningful impact.

So, will I be different? I sure hope so.

The Power of 11

I don’t know about lucky numbers, but there are significant numbers in Jewish tradition. When you delve into Kabbala, the significance of numbers plays an even greater role. There is something about the number 11 that figures very prominently in the Rebbe’s life. The first full day of the Rebbe’s formal role as leader of the Chabad movement was the 11th day of the 11th month (Shevat) in the year 5711. According to Jewish mysticism, the 12 months are associated with the 12 tribes as they are listed in the narrative of the inauguration of the Sanctuary. That inauguration took place during the first twelve days of Nissan. The tribe corresponding to the month of Shevat is the tribe of Asher. Asher’s tribal prince brought his inaugural offering on the 11th of Nissan (aligning with the 11th month of Shevat). By no coincidence, that day is also the Rebbe’s birthday.

So there is something about the number 11 that is intensely associated with the Rebbe. What else in Judaism is associated with the number 11? The Ketoret - incense in the Sanctuary had 11 ingredients. Why is this so? The mystics explain that most things in the realm of holiness find fulfillment in the number 10. There are 10 sefirot (Divine Attributes) with which Hashem created the cosmos. These are reflected in the 10 soul powers within each of us. Each of the 10 is comprised of (to use the Kabbalistic metaphor) a fusion of energy and a vessel or conductor to contain or channel the energy. Every positive force that Hashem created, has a counter-balanced force of negativity. This is so in order that there be freedom of choice between two options. As such, there are also 10 spiritual forces of negativity. There is one cardinal difference. Because of the inherent arrogance associated with negative forces, the fusion of energy and vessel does not take place. They remain distinct from one another. As such, the Zohar describes the forces of negativity as “the 11 crowns of impurity.” There is the energy, and then there are the 10 vessels to channel the energy.

This is why there are 11 ingredients in the incense. The Ketoret represents such a powerful force of holiness, that is has the power to mitigate the forces of negativity. It therefore had 11 ingredients, corresponding to the aforementioned “11 crowns of impurity.” From where does the Ketoret derive this power? The Zohar proclaims about G-d, “You are He whose Unity is infinite, but You are not in the calculation (of 10). But You are He who brought forth ten sefirot.” So we see that in Holiness there is also an 11th dimension. It is the Essence of G-d, which transcends the Sefirot. Ketoret channels the power of the Divine Essence, which mitigates anything that seeks to undermine G-d’s absolute unity.

This 11th dimension will be openly revealed to the universe in the era of Redemption. This then is the connection between the Rebbe and the number 11. From the get-go, the Rebbe’s declared goal was to usher in the Redemption. To echo the language the Rebbe used in his opening address, 72 years ago this week, “the task of our generation is to bring about the revelation of the Divine Essence for all to experience.”

May we indeed witness the fulfillment of this goal very soon.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

When In Rome, Do As G-d Does!

Following the failed Bar Kochba revolt in the second century, there was a period of intense persecution of the Jewish people at the hands of the Romans. One of the great sages at the time was Rabbi Masia ben Charash. He elected to move to Rome and establish a yeshiva there, which attracted a very large number of students from all over the world, including the holy land.

Rashi cites a popular teaching that Rabbi Masia would share often as a commentary on the Exodus narrative. When the time came for G-d to fulfill his promise to Avraham of Redemption for his descendants from Egypt, the children of Israel had no merits by which to be redeemed. As Ezekiel states, “but you were naked and bare.” In response, G-d gave them two mitzvot, the blood of the Passover offering and the blood of the circumcision. In the merit of these two mitzvot they were redeemed.

Why was this such an important teaching to share “often” to these students of Torah in Rome? Why would a Rabbi move to Rome altogether and establish a Yeshiva there? He was trying to convey a powerful lesson from which we can take inspiration until this day.

One might think that G-d only desires the deeds of the those who are living righteous lives in a righteous environment. On the other hand, a Jew who wandered off to “Rome” is a lost cause. So, the Rabbi emphasized that when G-d saw his children naked and bare of merits, He gave them Mitzvot with which to cover themselves. To stay in a holy environment and be a good Jew is insufficient. One must go to Rome and do as G-d does. Find a Jew who is “naked and bare” and clothe him with good deeds.

The Rebbe shared this interpretation and added that his father-in-law, the Previous Rebbe, once commented on the verse in Isaiah, “If you see your fellow bare, you shall cover him,” if you see a fellow Jew who is spiritually bare, cover him with Tefillin, cover him with Tzitzit.

As we mark the Yahrtzeit of the Previous Rebbe next Wednesday, along with the day that our Rebbe assumed the leadership of Chabad, we reflect on just how much they embodied this approach. The Rebbe sent thousands of couples to “Romes” all over the world to ensure that no Jew would be “naked and bare” of merits in anticipation of our imminent Redemption. The Rebbe echoed Rabbi Masia and declared, “No Jew will be left behind.” When Mashiach comes very soon, Jews in every nook and cranny of the globe will have been touched by this effort to lovingly reach each of them.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Neutralizing Our Inner Pharaoh

Pharaoh is regarded as one of the most wicked biblical figures. Aside from the enslavement and insidious persecution of the Hebrews, there is a deep-seated element of corruption in his character.

Let’s take a step back into history. Joseph is the viceroy or Egypt. He presents Jacob to Pharaoh. Jacob offers Pharaoh a blessing from G-d, that the Nile River should rise at his approach and overflow onto the land. The Nile was the source of Egyptian livelihood. All irrigation of crops came from the Nile. This blessing was a game changer for Egypt. It is G-d’s benevolence bestowed upon Pharaoh and the Egyptian people at the behest of Jacob.

Fast forward to the time of Moses. Pharaoh has since declared himself a G-d. His deification stems from the overflowing of the Nile at his approach. As the Haftarah relates, Pharaoh proclaims, "My river is my own, and I made myself."

What Chutzpah! To take a blessing from G-d through Jacob and claim it as your own. This is Pharaoh. The ultimate presumptuous ingrate.

Yet are we that different? We all know that it is “the blessing of the L-rd that brings wealth.” Still, we strut around proclaiming how our successes are due to our own cleverness and might. We take the blessing from Hashem in our lives and essentially give voice to the notion that, "My river is my own, and I made myself." As the saying goes, “I am a self-made man and I worship my creator.” We conveniently forget that “It is G-d that gives you strength to make wealth.”

Even when it comes to good things like Torah study or giving Tzedakah. We are more motivated by how others perceive us than by what is right. We attain a bit of scholarship and insist on the respect of others. We give Tzedakah so that others can view us as philanthropic.

There is a little Pharaoh in each of us that requires neutralization. That ego driven presumptuousness. The lack of gratitude to our Source of blessing. The sense of personal accomplishment and self-congratulatory smugness.  

The good news is that there is also a little Moses in each of us. A Moses that stands up to Pharaoh and says, “Let My people go so that they may serve me.” A Moses who calls Pharaoh's bluff at the river, demonstrating that he is just a regular dude fully dependent on G-d’s benevolence.

The story has a happy ending. Our inner Moses leads us to freedom from our inner Pharaoh on the path to the promised land of a meaningful relationship with Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

An Interview with Simone Levine

I recently interviewed Ms. Simone Levine, who is running for Criminal Court Judge, Section A, on March 25. As many of you know, one of my capacities as a Rabbi is prison chaplaincy. I was intrigued to hear more about Simone’s ideas surrounding criminal justice. What I found particularly interesting was her refreshing approach to dealing with criminal cases. If I understood it correctly, Simone’s judicial philosophy pivots on this idea: “It is not enough to assess the crime when rendering judgement, we must also assess the defendant.” (More on that in the interview.)

As Rabbis we were always taught that when a person comes with a Halachic question, the Rabbi must answer the person as much as the question. I believe this is similar to what she is espousing with regards to criminal justice.

I will preface my questions with MR, and Simone’s replies with SL. It goes without saying, that this should not be seen as a political endorsement. I am simply sharing a discussion that is of interest to the Jewish community. Each of you should consider the issues and vote your conscience.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

MR: Tell me a little about yourself.
SL: I moved to New Orleans 12 years ago to marry and start a family. I have two sons. I am a member of Shir Chadash and Touro. I am an attorney with experience in New York in both defense and prosecution. Locally, I worked at the Office of the Independent Police Monitor. Following that I was a director at Court Watch NOLA. We tried to advance the idea that courtrooms were the purview of the citizenry. For folks to know what is happening in their courtrooms, we had monitors in the Criminal, Municipal, and Magistrate courts. We issued reports to the public. We developed a relationship with media and clergy. We would break down issues in a way that would help courtrooms implement best practices. Then I moved to the District Attorney’s office, with a focus on violent crimes prosecution. I have brought my kids to court during school vacation. They have experienced my dedication to public safety and criminal justice reform. As an Assistant District Attorney, I have devoted myself to the balance of fairness and justice, an approach I wish to bring to the Criminal District Court.

MR: Tell me about the position you are running for and what motivated you to do this?
SL: I feel the community needs someone who will be fair, protect public safety, and look at all sides of the situation. An attorney’s relationship with the judge should not dictate the type of justice a person receives. Many judges are good, but we need someone who isn’t swayed by clout or political machines. One need not to know someone to get a fair shake. I am also a crime victim. Crime victims can also receive or fail to receive fair justice based on who they know. Additionally, often defendants are former victims with leftover trauma in their system. I feel strongly that we need to take all of that into account when judging a case. For many of the victims they are unable to receive the help they need. They either hurt themselves or someone else. I worked on the effort to get money into the trauma recovery center at University Medical Center, enabling people to receive mental health care after being victimized by a crime. This disrupts the circular system of victims becoming perpetrators.

MR: Is there a Jewish principle or value that moves you to pursue this line of work?
SL: Tikkun Olam, of course. Also, I have a piece of art in my office at the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office, with the passage of “Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof – Justice, justice you shall pursue.” Working in the DA’s office is a rare opportunity to have your goal be “the pursuit of justice” and finding truth. The task is not to get a conviction but to find truth.

MR: How do we balance the need to implement serious changes in the criminal justice system, especially sentencing reform, with the need to have an effective system to deal with crime?
SL: Corruption plays a role. When attorneys can obtain a different justice because of who they know, that is not a fair system. So, a fair system is the first step. Who the lawyer is should play no role in the judge’s decision. Having a strong unbiased system will change the attitude of the community. Balancing between who needs jail and who needs rehabilitation is the next step. It should be about the person, the specific case, the risk level, not only about the sentencing range for the crime category. We need to consider the age of the person. For example, retaliatory violence is more often perpetuated by younger persons. With an older person, the risk of recidivism drops considerably. We must think both short term and long term. We must consider the safety of community and the individual. A judge must be unbiased and neutral.

MR: Do you think that a judge’s ability to be tough on crime when needed is hampered when the judge is not of African American ethnicity?
SL: I have a strong history with the black community, many African American members of my community encouraged me to run. I have a strong background because of my professional history working toward fairness in criminal court and safety in the community. While at the Office of the Independent Police Monitor one of the things that I did was monitor the interviews of the police officers who had engaged in use of force incidents against civilians. We ensured that nothing would be swept under the rug by the department in these investigations. I also monitored NOPD disciplinary cases. By doing this we offered another set of eyes providing protection against departmental retaliation for whistleblowing and discrimination. It was another avenue to ensure fairness.

MR: What make you unique in this race that people should consider casting their vote for you? SL: I have done the work. I have been in the community. I have had courage in encountering obstacles to reform and making a healthier and stronger system. I bring that courage and clear sightedness to this election and the bench. I think that to get real reform, making sure the community is heard is part of the job. It takes a lot of work, which I am willing to do. I have never done a job “part time.” I strongly believe that we can have a system that is both safe and fair. A system where victims too, have a voice in the process, and each case is seen as unique.  

MR: You asked for help in getting the Jewish community to vote in this election. What motivating message do you have to achieve the goal?
SL: Jewish people have had a history of working with the African American community that has allowed the Jewish Community to see the importance of an unbiased judge that prioritizes public safety and ensures fair and unbiased justice. Jewish people have been targeted, giving us the empathy to understand that unfair process and disparate impact occurs at all levels of the system.

Do What Daddy Did

The legendary 18th century Eastern European Jewish jester, Hershel Ostropolyer was very poor. He once came to an inn and asked for some food. The proprietress sized him up and determined that he couldn’t afford to pay, so she refused to serve him. He said to her, “If you don’t give me food, I will have no choice but to do what my father did.” Alarmed by the prospect of what this maniac of a father might have done, the lady brought him a bowl of soup. After finishing the soup, he asked if there was any other food. The same story repeated itself and she ends up bringing him, chicken, potato knishes, vegetables, and compote. As he wipes his mouth after polishing off the last of the fruit while thanking her for the meal, she hesitatingly asks him, “So what did your father do when he wasn’t given all those things?” He replied with a twinkle in his eye, “Why, he would go to sleep hungry, of course.”

A few weeks ago, my brother, Rabbi Yochanan Rivkin, shared an idea. Jacob was away from his parents for 22 years, thereby losing the opportunity to fulfill the Mitzvah of honoring parents. As a result, his own son, Joseph, was separated from him for 22 years. However, if we do the math, Jacob was actually away from his parents for 36 years. In addition to the 22 years, he also spent 14 years studying in the academy of Shem and Ever. (For more on that academy, see Why were those years not included in the reckoning of the time Jacob was separated from his parents? The answer is, when a Jew studies Torah, he is honoring his parents and their heritage. Even if they are not physically in the same place, they are connected to the same ideal. Therefore those 14 years were not regarded as separation.

The following weekend, the American Association of Hematology met in New Orleans. One of the attendees, a young doctor, stayed with us for Shabbat. Manny (name changed to protect privacy) had recently become more committed to Jewish observance. He is a 3rd generation hematologist. His father is, and his grandfather was, very prominent in the field. But when it comes to Jewish observance, he is the first in several generations to make a serious commitment. While his parents are supportive of his journey, they have trouble relating to some of his newly embraced principles and priorities. This has been a struggle for him.

After dinner, we chatted about his journey and some of the challenges that he is facing. I shared the abovementioned idea about Torah study being a connection to our ancestors. He was very moved and shared with me a dream that he had a few days earlier. In his dream, he saw his late grandfather, who was, as mentioned, a prominent doctor, albeit less involved in Jewish observance. He vividly dreamt that his grandfather called to him and saying, “come Manny, let us go to the Beit Midrash to study Torah together.”

Ultimately, whether in this world or the next, every Jew comes to recognize the value and centrality of Torah learning to a Jew. Torah connects us to Hashem, to each other, and to the generations that came before us.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Epic Chanukah 2022 Recap

Chanukah 2022 was epic. I reflect back to my childhood in New Orleans when there were barely a handful of events on Chanukah. Jewish organizations, and even Synagogues, would schedule board meetings on Chanukah nights. Fast forward to this year when there was hardly a night of Chanukah on which there were not multiple events in the community. I believe that the Rebbe’s idea of Chanukah as a public and significant holiday has seeped into the rest of the Jewish world. The strong push for public displays of Chanukah celebration has brought the holiday to the forefront of Jewish communal and individual consciousness.

Here is quick recap of the Chabad Chanukah events around the state. Photos of the events can be viewed on the websites and social media pages of Chabad of Louisiana (, Chabad Metairie (, and Chabad Baton Rouge ( 

Leading up to Chanukah there was a Latke cooking event at Whole Foods in Metairie as a partnership between Chabad Metairie and PJ Library. The was an Olive Press workshop at Chabad Uptown for families as a partnership between Chabad of Louisiana and JNOLA. There was a Latke tasting event at the uptown Winn Dixie in partnership with Chabad of Louisiana.

Through Chabad’s efforts, Menorahs were on display at Louis Armstrong International Airport, Lakeside Mall, Ochsner Medical Center (main campus), and the VA, among others. There was a Chanukah billboard overlooking Veterans Memorial Blvd. Multiple Senior homes had Chanukah events, including Lambeth House, Sunrise, Woldenberg Village, and Laketown.

Chanukah @ Riverwalk was held on the first night of Chanukah, Sunday, Dec 18. Hundreds of locals and tourists filled the Spanish Plaza to watch the lighting of largest Menorah in the state of Louisiana.
Photos by Gil Rubman:
TV Coverage: Menorah Lighting: Rabbi Zelig Rivkin speech:
Proud to be Jewish ceremony:

That same night a Menorah was lit on the steps of the Louisiana State Capitol by Chabad of Baton Rouge with a beautiful crowd in attendance.

The Chanukah Israeli event at Chabad Metairie took place on Monday night. –

That same night a public Menorah lighting was held in Lafayette for the first time by Chabad of Baton Rouge.

On Tuesday a public Menorah lighting was held in Lake Charles for the first time by Chabad of Baton Rouge. -

That same night a Chocolate Chanukah Workshop was help at Chabad of Louisiana. -

On Wednesday Chabad Metairie hosted Family Game Night. – 5752528.  

On Friday Slater Torah Academy and PJ Library hosted Latkes on Roller Skates.

On Saturday night, Chabad of Louisiana’s Mobile Menorah Parade rolled through the CBD, French Quarter and Marigny, stopping off to meet the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars on Frenchman St. for a quick Chanukah celebration and menorah lighting with Rabbi Yochanan Rivkin. -

The most important thing is that thousands of Jews have been moved by these events to personally celebrate Chanukah and make this holiday a part of their lives.

We are not doing an official end-of-the-year appeal. But anytime is a good time to support the important work that Chabad does in our community –

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Rabbinic tip from the Rebbe to My Father-in-law

In the mid-1970s my father-in-law, Rabbi Abraham Stone, was encouraged by the Rebbe to become a Rabbi at a Young Israel Synagogue in New York. Before Chanukah 1976, he sent the Rebbe a copy of the weekly bulletin he had started to publish. The Rebbe replied with an interesting note thanking him for sharing the material, and then added, “It would have been worthwhile to emphasize that Chanukah is unique in that on every single day of the holiday, Hallel (prayers of praise and thanksgiving) is recited in its entirety, something that only happens on 13 additional days of the year. Perhaps it can be incorporated into your Chanukah sermons.”

I would like to unpack this note a little and explain what the Rebbe was addressing.

First some background on Hallel. The recitation of Hallel is a Mitzvah that was instituted by the prophets. According to Halacha, it is recited on Sukkot (nine days outside of Israel), Shavuot (two days outside of Israel), and on the first two days of Pesach (outside of Israel). A truncated version of Hallel is recited on Rosh Chodesh and on the last six days of Pesach. The reason for the difference between Sukkot and Pesach is that on Sukkot the offerings in the temple varied from day to day, whereas on Pesach it was the same each day. Since there was nothing new being added, after the first day (two days outside of Israel) we revert to the truncated version of Hallel.

After the Chanukah miracle, the eight days of Chanukah were added to the list of Hallel days. The Rebbe seems to be pointing out that although the holiday of Chanukah is Rabbinic in origin, full Hallel is recited each day. This is in contradistinction to Biblical holiday, Pesach when it reverts to the truncated version after day one. What changes on each day of Chanukah that would merit the recitation of full Hallel? The number of candles on the Menorah. The notion that each day there is a new candle that was not there before, is so powerful and compelling that it carries with it the obligation of reciting full Hallel.

This demonstrates to us how special each additional day of Chanukah is. It should also serve as a reminder of how important it is to pay attention to the lessons and depth of meaning within each of the days/candles of Chanukah.

This note that my father-in-law got from the Rebbe was recently shared on a family chat. Since the Rebbe encouraged him to write and speak about this idea, I felt that this encouragement extended to his family as well. As email and blogs have largely replaced the Synagogue bulletins, I share this here with you.

Please see below for a link to dozens of beautiful photos of Chanukah @ Riverwalk by the incredible Gil Rubman. They can also be viewed at You will also find photos of additional Chanukah events.

Wishing you a joyous, bright, and warm! rest of Chanukah!
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

We Are Surrounded By Good People

A member of our community had their Talis and Tefillin bag stolen from their vehicle one night this week. In addition to the religious and sentimental value of one’s Talis and Tefillin, their loss comes at a significant financial cost. According to the Chabad custom, we use two pairs of Tefillin, following the ruling of Rashi as well as that of Rabbenu Tam. Each pair is handwritten and assembled with extreme attention to detail. Replacement value for what was in that bag could top $4,000. Needless to say, it was a devastating occurrence.

Two days later, the phone rang at Chabad House. I was on the other line, so I did not take the call. A minute later same caller tried back again. I told the person with whom I was conversing that someone is trying very hard to get a hold of us. I answered the call and a woman identified herself as someone who lived in the neighborhood. She said, “I was walking near my house, and I found a bag with a prayer shawl, some boxes with straps and Hebrew lettering.” Why she decided to call Chabad House, I do not know. But I immediately understood that she was referring to the missing Talis and Tefillin bag. Her location was just a block or two from where the theft occurred. Apparently, the thief decided that these items were of “no value” so he dumped them on the street. If he only knew...

I thanked her profusely and within an hour I was at her door to retrieve the bag. She was very glad to be able to restore what she understood to be important religious articles to the owner. I explained to her their value, and she was ecstatic to play a role in seeing them returned. I thanked her for being such a wonderful neighbor and wished her well.

When I left her home, I did a quick check to see if everything was there. To my chagrin, one of the pairs of Tefillin was missing. After consulting with the owner of the Tefillin, I decided to do a little reconnaissance of the area. I walked to spot of the theft and then proceeded toward the home of the woman who called. I was looking on the ground and, in the bushes, nearby to see if the other pair of Tefillin would turn up. I passed her house, and about half a block further, I saw a Ziplock bag with the other Tefillin inside taped to an electric pole.

There was a short message scrawled in marker on the outside of the bag. The finder was either Jewish or was at least aware of what Tefillin were. He wrote that he hoped the person who dropped them would find them. The tefillin bag had been opened and the Tefillin themselves had been scattered on the ground. The finder thoughtfully bagged them and left them where someone who was looking, could find them.

Thanks to the kindness and thoughtfulness of two neighbors, the Talis and Tefillin have been restored to their owner. We do not know who the second person was, but may G-d bless them both for their kindness. To paraphrase the jingle, “and like a good neighbor they were really there” to be thoughtful and kind to a neighbor. This is a heartwarming reminder of the inherent goodness in most people. At a time when there is so much negativity out there, it feels great to know that we are surrounded by good people.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Can a Sheep Identify as an Ox?

Sheep play an outsized role in the life of our forefather, Yaakov. First, he works as a shepherd for 20 years. Then his pay comes in the form of speckled, spotted, and ringed sheep. The Torah tells us that his abundant sheep made him a very wealthy man. Then he uses his sheep to barter for a more diversified portfolio of assets, such as oxen, donkeys, servants, and maids. However, despite his wealth being wrapped up in a sheep-centered income base, when representing his assets to his brother, Esav, he tells him, “I have oxen, donkeys, sheep, servants, and maids.” All of a sudden, the sheep are demoted to third place in his portfolio.

Why the initial obsession with sheep, and why the switch in his conversation with Esav?

Everything Yaakov did, reflected his spiritual state. The nature of a sheep is to be docile and demure. In the service of G-d, this represents humility. In our relationship with G-d, humility is the key component to success. When you recognize that you are small and insignificant, that opens you up to the greatest infusion of Divine energy. With and through that infusion of humility fueled Divine energy, you can diversify your spiritual portfolio to incorporate other forms of service that develop your personal strengths in many aspects of life. These diverse aspects are represented by the assets that Yaakov acquired by bartering his sheep. The gateway to this successful diversification always remains the attribute of humility.

When confronting Esav, who might confuse humility with weakness, Yaakov assumes a personality affectation of an aggressive ox combined with an obstinate donkey. Lest he forget his truth, and allow the assumed personality to slide into permanence, the docile sheep are right there at number three to help keep him real.

There are times in life, when we must slip into a role that is out of character. To achieve a purpose, we may find ourselves acting in a way that is more aggressive that we would care to be. How do we ensure that this does not become our new identity? How can we guarantee that we are employing this anomaly solely for a just cause? What will assure us that when the task is accomplished, we can remove the garments of the ox? This can be done centering ourselves around our true sheep-like nature of humility before Hashem. This enables us to keep things real!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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