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ChabadNewOrleans Blog

We Need Less Tolerance

This world needs a little less tolerance. No, that is not a typo and I have not gone over to the “other side.” Let me explain. Tolerance has become a buzz word and a major focal point in the shift toward progress in the area of combatting racial and other forms of discrimination.

But let’s think about the usage of the term. Here is how the dictionary defines tolerance: The ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with. The second definition is: the capacity to endure continued subjection to something. So it seems that tolerance is a (somewhat) painful or challenging state of existence. We tolerate pain, we tolerate adverse conditions, and we tolerate people that are “other” to us.

Essentially tolerance is saying to the other that “really, I can’t stand you, but I have trained myself to not allow my distaste for you to cause me to run away and stay far from you.”

What we need is less tolerance and more love. We need to stop seeing people as “other” and start embracing them as “same.” This doesn’t mean that we embrace or even tolerate all that they think or do. It means that we look deeper into the essence of who they are beyond what they do or think. That they are Hashem’s children, Hashem’s handiwork, formed in Hashem’s image, and each one has a spark of Hashem within them.

What we need is less tolerance and more love.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Thankful for... Sleep

However it evolved and whatever the accurate story is… this day has been established as the American holiday to give thanks. We are bombarded with statements by everyone under the sun telling us that they are thankful for this and that. Companies for their customers. Employers for their employees. People for their friends and family. Societies for their freedoms and good fortune. All that is nice and good. But we need to establish to whom this thanks is meant to be offered.

Clearly the origins of the thanksgiving concept, as well as the formalized application the holiday, all point to a thanksgiving directed to the Creator, in gratitude for His blessings and salvation. Abraham Lincoln, when declaring Thanksgiving as an official American holiday fixed in the calendar, explicitly stated as much.

While having a day designated to express thanks to the Creator is a wonderful thing, as Jews we know that every day needs to be thanksgiving. The day of a Jewish person begins with an expression of thanks and ends with an expression of thanks. The first words that are supposed to be uttered immediately upon awakening are “Modeh Ani” – the words of gratitude to Hashem for restoring our soul and life to us once again. The final prayer we say praises Hashem for guarding over us as we sleep and the act of entrusting our soul to Hashem for refreshing.

One of the things that I reflect on in the realm of thanksgiving to Hashem, is the special value of sleep. After a day of work, stress, excitement, disappointment, worry, anticipation, joy, anxiousness and a host of other feelings and experiences, once can lay down to sleep and wake up refreshed the next morning with a new perspective and a sense of being able to deal with life anew. Often the new day following a night’s sleep brings with it a renewed sense of optimism and energy. The issues haven’t changed, but my perspective has – all thanks to the gift of sleep.

One of the commentaries to the prayer Modeh Ani is the contrast between Hashem and the natural world. If I entrust a beat up object to a friend for safekeeping, it will be returned to me in the same state. When we entrust a tired and battered soul to Hashem at the end of the day, He returns it to us renewed and refreshed.

Thank you Hashem for all that You have given us in every area of life!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

You've Come a Long Way Baby

Back in the 60s the cigarette company Virginia Slims coined the phrase “You’ve come a long way, baby.” They intended it in reference to equality in the quality of cigarettes geared toward women. While the only equality that it brought was equal exposure to lung cancer inducing carcinogens, the phrase has come to represent advances in the empowerment of women in our society.

This week the New Orleans Jewish community can declare a collective “You’ve come a long way, baby” to NOLA Jewish women. On Wednesday night 250 women from every walk of Jewish life gathered in the Gates of Prayer social hall for the 2nd Mega Challah Bake, an event brought to the community as a collaborative project between Chabad of Louisiana and Hadassah of New Orleans. This project began when Chabad approached Hadassah in 2017 about doing this. They enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to bring this special event to NOLA Jewish women. This year, under the leadership of Malkie Rivkin, Chaya Ceitlin and Chanie Nemes of Chabad, and Charisse Sands and Betty Moore of Hadassah, history was made in New Orleans. These five women, along with dozens of volunteers and many individual and corporate sponsors, put the word UNITY into COMMUNITY. Nearly every Synagogue sisterhood and community agency was represented. There was a feeling of true Achva – sisterhood – sitting together with 250 sisters in one room for a singular purpose – experiencing Jewish womanhood. The buzz around town and on social media is an indication of how impactful the event really was.

A Tree of Life honoring various Jewish women along with the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue and Chabad of Poway attacks, was a beautiful feature. There are pictures in the photo section below. (The official event photos will be released next week and we will happily bring them to you.)

The rest of the community has some catching up to do. The women are showing us the way to true achdus – unity. We talk a lot about unity and collaborative efforts in the NOLA Jewish community, and much progress has been made on that front. But we can learn a boat load about togetherness from the women of Chabad and Hadassah and the 250 ladies that participated in the event.

Wishing a restful Shabbat to all those that invested so much effort and hard work into the success of the program!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

The Power of Empowerment

In a class last week we were discussing the contrast between Avraham and the great people that preceded him. The Torah singles Avraham out for praise for above individuals such as Adam, Chanoch, Noach, and Shem. I asked the participants why they thought this was so. One person offered the following idea. The earlier great people had knowledge of Hashem because Hashem communicated with them. Avraham was the first to discover Hashem on his own. Now this is a logical and compelling conclusion. Yet, I pointed out, the Torah tells us nothing about Avraham’s early life of discovering Hashem and sharing that discovery with thousands around him. All we know about Avraham’s early life is who his father was, who he married and that he left his birthplace to a land called Charan. Any other information we have about Avraham’s accomplishments until he was past 70 is from the Oral tradition and a few hints in later verses of the Written Torah.

We meet Avraham in the Torah when Hashem commands him at the age of 75 to leave Charan and move to Canaan. That is the opening of this week’s Parsha. This implies that there is a marked distinction between the life of Avraham until that command and the life of Avraham following that command.

The Rebbe points out that this teaches us that the true power that a Jew has to impact the universe and bring change to the world is when the Jew is empowered by the command of Hashem. We can achieve much through our own efforts, as is evidenced by the first 75 years of Avraham’s life. But he power of real and lasting transformation comes when we are empowered by Hashem’s command.

This is the underlying reason why Mitzvahs are such a vital part of Jewish life. Mitzvahs are plugged into the “Divine juice.” This, in turn, endows us with the same infinite energy flow, with which we can infuse the world with divinity.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Taking Ownership

Yesterday, during a prison chaplaincy visit to FCC Oakdale, I met with a gentleman whom I have known for over a year now. Prior to his incarceration there were many years of disconnect from Judaism. He has been working hard on rekindling his relationship with Hashem. He has been laying tefillin daily, praying from the Siddur multiple times a day, and increased his commitment to Kosher and Shabbat observance to the best of his ability under the circumstances. During our conversation we were talking about the recent holidays; he pointed on his Jewish calendar to Simchat Torah and asked me what that was about. I explained that it was the day we complete the reading of the Torah and when we begin anew. He expressed to me that he wants to start learning the Torah, but he is overwhelmed by the vastness of the (written) Torah and doesn’t know where to begin. It seems he had been just reading randomly and did not get a sense of the structure of it.

I taught him the idea of the weekly Torah portion and that one should study 1/7th of the Parsha each day. In this way there is a structured manner to studying the Parsha each week and the entire Torah each year. He was so excited with the prospect of tackling this new project that his glee was palpable. He thumped his Chumash and declared “I am going to own this thing.” And then he exclaimed with joy, “Next year, Simchat Torah is going to be my celebration.” We wrapped up our conversation, I gave him a hug, and left the prison to begin my 4 hour drive back to New Orleans.

It got me thinking about the idea of taking ownership of the Torah. We already have ownership of the Torah, as the verse in the last Parsha announces “The Torah that Moshe commanded us is an inheritance for the congregation of Yaakov.” But what about our Torah study? Have we taken ownership of that? How many of us are as excited as my friend in Oakdale about studying Torah? Do we look at a volume of the Torah, Talmud, Code of Jewish Law or Chassidus and say “I am going to own this thing?”

Psalm 1:2 states, “But his desire is in the Torah of the L-rd, and in His Torah he contemplates day and night. Why does it begin by referring to the Torah of Hashem and then the Torah is called His Torah? The simple understanding is that His refers to Hashem, but in a deeper sense, “his” could be referring to the person studying who has “taken ownership” and made the Torah his own. This is done by elevating our qualitative and quantitative devotion to the study of Torah. May we merit to be excited over our taking ownership of our Torah study all the days of our lives.

Due to an illness, the weekend with Rabbi Leibel Groner has been deferred to a later time TBA.  

The first session of our inaugural JLI course entitled Worrier to Warrior is being held this Tuesday evening, November 6 at 7 PM – Chabad Uptown. The class is free and open to the public and dinner will be served. You will have an option to register for the entire course if you wish to continue. More info at www.chabandneworleans.com/jli. We look forward to seeing you there. Please let us know that you are coming. The course is being offered on Tuesdays (beginning the 12th) at Chabad Metairie with the same options. For more info www.jewishlouisiana.com/jli.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Are you a physician or mental health professional?

Are you a physician or mental health professional? If so, please continue reading.

Are you not a physician or mental health professional? If so, please continue reading.

The JLI course entitled Worrier to Warrior launches early in November. The six week course is designed to address negative emotions such as feelings of inadequacy and worrying, while seeking to introduce joy and positivity back into ones life. The course has drawn much interest locally and nationally.

We are pleased to share with you that JLI is partnering with the CE office at Albert Einstein Medical College to provide continuing education credits for the upcoming course, Worrier to Warrior. Einstein is an accredited medical school, accredited by the APA, The American Psychological Association and the AMA’s Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education.

Doctors, Psychologists, and Social Workers in Louisiana will be able to earn up to 15 CE credits. Nine credits for attendance, and additional credits for studying the supplemental reading. Take advantage of this opportunity to further your Jewish education while gaining CE credits.

If you are not in the medical/mental health field, take advantage of the life transforming wisdom that this course has to offer.   

We are excited that Chabad Uptown is one of the new affiliates of JLI. We will be offering this fall’s 6 part course beginning Wednesday, November 6. I am enthusiastic about teaching my first JLI course. For information on registering for the Uptown course please go to www.chabadneworleans.com/jli.

Chabad Metairie has been a JLI affiliate for years. The course will be offered in Metairie beginning Tuesday, November 12 by veteran instructor, Rabbi Mendel Ceitlin. For info on registering for the Metairie course please go to www.jewishlouisiana.com/jli.

The first class at each location will be open to public at no charge, and refreshments will be served. Come taste and see that it is good.

The cost for attending the class is $70 per person with a 10% couples or bring a friend discount. The cost also includes the student textbook. Register now and your student textbook will be waiting for you in November.

On behalf of all the Shluchim at Chabad of Louisiana I want to thank all of those who were involved in our holiday programs this month. We are grateful to all of our supporters, volunteers, and participants. Hundreds passed through the doors of our institutions over the holidays. Thousands of meals were served. There were many hours of prayer, study, celebration and inspiration. There were many days of preparation for each of the holidays. All of this could not have been achieved without the dedication of our staff and volunteers, and the generosity of our supporters. So we say Yasher Koach – may we merit to do so again next year, and for years to come, in good health and with great joy. May Hashem bless each and every one for all they have done for His children.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Love Me Some Me

Earlier this week I got an email from someone, that mentioned how we are transitioning from the busy intensity of the high holidays into the relaxed mode of Sukkot and Simchat Torah. My first thought was, “Relaxed mode? Ha!” Sukkot is a wonderfully busy time of hosting as many Jews as possible in the Sukkah, and then tracking down as many Jews as possible with the Lulav and Etrog. As for Simchat Torah, from my standpoint, this is the most important and intense part of the holiday month. In fact, if I am asked to suggest the one day a year a person should attend Shul (at Chabad), I would recommend Simchat Torah. Why? Let me give you some context.

The mystics see the holiday season as phases in the relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people. Elul is the courtship. Rosh Hashanah is the proposal, with the sounding of the Shofar being our “I do.” Yom Kippur is the Chupah, with Neilah being the Yichud (time that the bride and groom are secluded after the Chupah). Sukkot is the wedding reception and Sheva Brachot. During this time we celebrate with our well-wishers – the nations of the world. (Sukkot in the Beit Hamikdash was a time when offerings were brought on behalf of the 70 root nations of humanity.)

After the courtship, the wedding, the reception, and the celebration with others, the bride and groom then go home to celebrate with each other alone. They begin to explore the oneness and connection that they have with each other. They discover that they are two halves of the same soul. The love for each other is essentially the love of self (in an “unselfish manner”).

This, my friends, is what Simchat Torah is all about. It is our private time to celebrate with Hashem. It is the intensity of the joy that two halves of a single whole experience when they become one. It is the time to “Love me some me,” but in the polar opposite manner than the conventional application of that phrase. To quote the Zohar, “Israel and her King are one and alone.”

Please don’t let this amazing moment slip away without tapping into the special energy of Simchat Torah. Join us for Hakafot on Monday night and/or Tuesday morning. Come “love me some me” as you lose your ego in the arms of your other half, Hashem.  

Please check out our photos below of last night’s amazing Sukkah-Fest.

Shabbat Shalom
Chag Sameach
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Reset the Game Clock

There are situations in a football game when the officials overturn a call (except in New Orleans…). Usually following that, the head official calls for the game clock to be reset by a few seconds, thereby giving another opportunity to make a play. But the real fresh opportunity to make plays are when the game clock reads Q1 15:00, signaling the start of the game.

Right now our game clock reads Q1 15:00. On Yom Kippur the slate is wiped clean and we have the amazing opportunity to start over fresh and new. The beauty of it is, that the first encounter after Yom Kippur is Sukkot preparations, followed by the holiday of Sukkot, followed by Simchat Torah. We have opportunities to score big time in our Judaism over the next two weeks.

Yom Kippur reveals our connection with Hashem. Sukkot is our chance to act on that, applying our connection in a practical sense. There are so many Mitzvahs coming our way. We can eat in a Sukkah, shake the Lulav and Etrog, rejoice in the festival, celebrate our heritage, share a Sukkot experience with others, and, of course, the regular day to day Mitzvahs.

We must make the most of this wonderful time in the Jewish calendar and the fresh start that has been handed to us. Looking forward to celebrating Sukkot with you. Join us in our Sukkah for a meal. Come by and shake the Lulav and Etrog at Chabad. Attend the Sukkah-Fest celebration on the 17th. Celebrate your Judaism with limitless joy on Simchat Torah at Chabad.

Don’t let the moment slip away without cashing in on the gift that Hashem has given each and every one of us. The game clock is reset. This is your time to shine!!

Wishing you a very joyous Sukkot and Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Start Worrying. Details to Follow

“Start worrying. Details to follow.” Text of a Jewish telegram.

Are you a worrier? My mother told me that when she was younger and there was a “crisis” in her childhood home, her brother would assign tasks to all the members of the family to address the issue. “Bluma,” he would say to her, “Your job is to worry.”

It seems that worrying is a Jewish (and universal, for that matter) trait. This trait is the subject of many Jewish jokes. However, in real life it is no joking matter. Worrying can be debilitating. It can sap all of our energy, preventing us from moving forward and achieving our goals. If can be a major obstacle in our meaningful service of Hashem. Myriads of self-help books have been written on the topic, with varying degrees of success.

What does Judaism have to say about worrying? Does Chassidus have any solutions for this disquieting characteristic? The Alter Rebbe in Tanya devotes a series of chapters addressing the idea of negative feelings such as worry and melancholy. Next month a new JLI (Jewish Learning Institute) course will be launched entitled “Worrier to Warrior.” It is based primarily on those teachings.

We are proud to announce that Chabad Uptown is a new affiliate of JLI. We will be offering this fall’s 6 part course beginning Wednesday, November 6. For information on registering for the Uptown course please go to www.chabadneworleans.com/jli. Chabad Metairie has been a JLI affiliate for years. The course will be offered in Metairie beginning Tuesday, November 12. For info on registering for the Metairie course please go to www.jewishlouisiana.com/jli.

The first class at each location will be open to public at no charge and refreshments will be served. Come taste and see that it is good.

We are pleased to share with you that JLI is partnering with the CE office at Albert Einstein Medical College to provide continuing education credits for the upcoming course, Worrier to Warrior. Einstein is an accredited medical school, accredited by the APA, The American Psychological Association and the AMA’s Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education.

Doctors, Psychologists, Social Workers in Louisiana will be able to earn up to 15 CE credits. Nine credits for attendance, and additional credits for studying the supplemental reading. Take advantage of this opportunity to further your Jewish education while gaining CE credits.

If you are not in the medical/mental health field, take advantage of the life transforming wisdom that this course has to offer. We look forward to seeing you there in November.

May you be sealed for a good and sweet year in all areas of life.
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

A New Year Overflowing With Blessings

In this week’s Torah portion Moses declares: And it will be, when all these things come upon you the blessing and the curse which I have set before you that you will consider in your heart… and you will return to the L-rd, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul, and you will listen to His voice according to all that I am commanding you this day you and your children.” (Deut. 30:1-2)

The gist of the message here is that when we are complacent in our relationship with Hashem, extenuating circumstances are then employed to get us back on track. The Rebbe points out that the conventional wisdom is that those circumstances usually appear in the form of challenges (curses). However the word blessings is also snuck into the verse. This teaches that Hashem can also use a showering of blessings to get our attention focused on our connection with Him.

Here are two brief lessons that I take from this teaching. Our interpersonal relationships can and should mirror our relationship with Hashem. Sometimes (in a marriage, for example,) the relationship is faltering because of lack of focus or complacency. The conventional approach to dealing with this, is to respond in kind (curses or challenges). The lesson here is, that showering blessings and being loving that can also serve to shake the other person out of complacency and into focus. One can argue, that this is an even more effective approach than the first.

The second, is a wish to each and every one of us is, that Hashem should shower us with blessings beyond our capacity to anticipate how great those blessings can be. This will serve to snap us out of our complacency and refocus on this most important relationship with our G-d.

Wishing us all the blessings for the New Year in every aspect of our lives. May it be good in an open and revealed manner as per the infinite capacity of generosity of which Hashem is capable.

If you are still looking for a place to experience the High Holidays, we are saving a seat for you at any of our Chabad locations – New Orleans, Metairie, Biloxi or Baton Rouge. We have prayer books with English translation. All of the services are accompanied by commentary, stories and inspiration. The atmosphere is heimish – warm and homelike. Come on by.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Shofar at the WWII Museum

Earlier this week I was invited by my friend Morris Kahn to give an invocation at an award ceremony being held at the WWII Museum. The organization of which he is a board member, under the leadership of Bill McNutt, is lobbying for the US to hold a state funeral for the last Medal of Freedom recipient from among the WWII veterans. You can see more about the project at worldwar2salute.org. The award was recognizing Congressman Steve Scalise for his efforts on their behalf.

I figured that since it was the month of Elul, I would include some references to Rosh Hashanah and bring a Shofar along to sound at the ceremony. There happened to be several Jewish people in the room, including one of the WWII veterans being honored on stage. After a poignant introduction by Morris Kahn I shared the following remarks.

“Honorable Congressman, Honored Veterans, Honored assembly, Ladies and gentlemen.

“Proclaim liberty throughout the land for all of its inhabitants.” This verse from Leviticus 25 was chosen to be inscribed on the Liberty Bell. Liberty… Freedom… It is under the banner of these ideas that the valiant members of our armed forces have fought for centuries. In the 20th century, 16,000,000 fought and hundreds of thousands of our brave men and women gave their lives to defend freedom against totalitarianism, the great generation of WWII.

In two weeks from today the Jewish people will be observing Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and sound the Shofar–ram’s horn. The motifs of Rosh Hashanah include a day of renewal, a day of judgement, a day of Divine Coronation, and also a day of remembrance. We ask that the Al-mighty remember us in mercy.

Just as we ask of the Al-mighty to remember, we too must be diligent in keeping sacred and strong, the memories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our United States of America. We must never forget those who died so that we could live as free people in this glorious land. We must honor the lives of those who served as the guardians of liberty for each and every one of us.

We pray for the safety of the members of the armed forces, and we pray for the souls of those who lost their lives in the service. May their souls be bound in the bond of life with Al-mighty G-d. To paraphrase the words of Jonathan to David in the book of Samuel, "Go in peace! May the L-rd be between us and you forever.”

I will now sound the Shofar as a clarion call to remember and to usher in a sweet new year for all. May G-d bless this assembly. May G-d bless our armed forces. May G-d bless the United States of America.” The Shofar is sounded.

After the ceremony was over I went over to pay respects to an elderly member of the audience, the wife of the Jewish WWII vet who was on stage. She told me, “Rabbi that was such a wonderful presentation and sounding of the shofar. I felt so proud to be Jewish at that moment.” Needless to say, hearing that I enabled someone to experience pride in the Jewishness absolutely made my day. 

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Why Do People Love Their Children?

Why do people love their children? Do we love our kids because they bring us fulfillment? Do we love them because they represent our achievement as parents and as people? Do we love them because they turned out just the way we imagined they would? Do we love them because they are cute and good looking, smart and successful? Do we love them because they do things for us? What if they weren’t any of those things??? Would we still love them? Would we take delight and pleasure in being with them?

Why does Hashem love us? Does He love us because we bring Him fulfillment as a creator or as a G-d? Does He love us because we turned out the way He envisioned for us? Does He love us because we are successful Jews and accomplished human beings? Does He love us because we do what He wants us to? What about when we aren’t those things? Does He still love us then? Does He take delight and pleasure in being with us?

In an Elul teaching, the Rebbe addresses this issue in a profound manner. It is based on the famous parable of the King in the Field (for an overview see www.chabadneworleans.com/974169). In the parable the King comes to field and anyone who wishes can have access. He greets each person that comes “with a pleasant countenance and a smiling face.” The Rebbe breaks down the two elements of pleasant countenance and a smiling face in the following way. Each of these is an expression of joy and delight. They represent the delight that Hashem has in His relationship with us.

The first is the delight that Hashem takes in our accomplishments. When we serve Him by studying Torah, doing Mitzvot, praying, and infusing meaning into our everyday lives, this gives Hashem much pleasure and delight, causing Him to greet us with a pleasant countenance.

The second, the Rebbe explains, is the delight and pleasure Hashem takes in our relationship, just because we are. Not resulting from anything we do or how we appear, just that we are His children. Our connection with Hashem is rooted so deeply in Hashem’s essence, that irrespective of how we act and what we do, He takes joy and delight in our very existence.

This knowledge of how much we mean to Hashem, should inspire us to enthusiastically want to reciprocate that love by being the best that we can, thereby also bringing Hashem delight in the other manner as well.

This analogy is really important for us to apply to our parent/children relationships on both levels. Parents love their children irrespective of what they do and how they appear. That love should also bring the children to want to make their parents delight not just in who they are, but also how they live.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Worthy Milestone

What are the average American youths looking forward to for their 21st birthday? Buying their first drink. Buying their first legal drink … Starting their senior year in college. Completing military service. Making more money to buy stuff that they want, like a nicer car or a better Wii or X-Box. Then there are the less common type of folks, who are focused and have already launched successful businesses, made a lot of money, have charitable interests, and so forth. But by and large, many young people are not all that driven at that age.  

In his book Hayom Yom, the Rebbe cites this passage as the daily wisdom for Nissan 9: “Jewish wealth is not houses and gold. The everlasting Jewish wealth is: Being Jews who keep Torah and Mitzvot, and bringing into the world children and grandchildren who keep Torah and Mitzvot.”

I am proud to share, that next week, on his 21st birthday, my nephew, Schneur Schapiro, will be making a Siyum HaShas – conclusion of the entire Talmud.

Just to put this in context. The Talmud consists of 20 volumes, containing 60 tractates and over 2,700 folios (double sided pages). That’s 5,400 pages of studying in Aramaic and Hebrew. Those that follow the daily cycle (Daf Yomi), require nearly 7.5 years to finish. For a young man, who started as a teenager, to be so driven and focused, is truly unique. This project required him to devote years of time to studying outside of school hours, while others may have been relaxing or pursuing other interests.

This is a milestone worth celebrating. I wish my sister and brother-in-law, Rabbi Mendy and Fruma Schapiro, along with the entire family, continued Yiddishe nachas and Jewish wealth as per the quote in Hayom Yom. May Hashem bless them with good health and the means to enjoy the nachas with which they have been gifted.

I would like to welcome Warren and Daniella Cohen to the community along with their daughter Maayan. Warren is a Tulane grad (08) and was the Tulane Chabad student board president when the Rohr Family Chabad Student Center was dedicated in 2007. We wish them much success in their endeavors here in NOLA!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Burden or Privilege?

Over the past several weeks I have had several discussions with people about the question of whether Jewish obligations are a burden or a privilege. If, to paraphrase Pirkei Avot, against our will we are formed, born, live, die and give an accounting before G-d, then why should we not see it as a burden from which we cannot even opt out?

A Jew once came to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the foremost Halachic authority in post-war USA, and asked why so many Jewish immigrants to the US had such a hard time keeping their children connected to Jewish observance. He replied, that many of them struggled. Often a father came home every Friday, and he was just fired from his job for keeping Shabbos. If his reaction was “es is shver tzu zein a yid – it is difficult to be a Jew” then the children absorb the message that Yiddishkeit is a burden, of which they want no part. But if a parent, despite all of the challenges, declares “es is gut tzu zein a yid – it is good to be a Jew” then that attitude would be conveyed to the children.

To use an analogy. Two men were carrying equally heavy sacks on the road into town. One was sighing and kvetching the whole way. The second was whooping with joy and couldn’t contain his excitement. The first man had a sack filled with rocks. The second’s sack was filled with diamonds. The same weight, different attitude.

If we see serving Hashem – our Jewish obligations - as a burden, then sure, we’d want to opt out as soon as possible, or at the very least, decreasing the burden with minimal devotion. If, however, we view our Jewish obligations as the greatest privilege, then our sack, albeit heavy, is filled with diamonds. The more the better. Instead of saying I wish I could opt out, we consider how much was invested in us by Hashem to enable our success.

It’s all about perspective…

As Elul comes marching in, let me wish each and every one of you to be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet year of health, prosperity and spiritual meaning.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

It's All About Control

Both this parsha and last, reference the mitzvah of Tefillin. There are actually two mitzvahs, the arm Tefillin (shel yad) and the head Tefillin (shel rosh). When the Torah instructs us regarding Tefillin, it is framed in a curious manner. To quote (Deut, 6:8): “And you shall bind them for a sign upon your arm, and they shall be for totafot between your eyes.” With respect to the arm Tefillin there is an active command (you shall bind). For the head Tefillin, there is a passive command (they shall be). This difference is also reflected in the blessing that is recited over each one respectively. For the arm Tefillin the blessing ends with “commanded us to put on Tefillin” (active). While the blessing for the head Tefillin ends with “commanded us concerning the mitzvah of Tefillin” (passive).

The commentators derive from this, that the Mitzvah for the arm Tefillin is the momentary act of putting them on (binding). Whereas for the head Tefillin the Mitzvah is fulfilled for the entire duration of time that they are upon us. Why the difference?

One of the meanings of the Mitzvah of Tefillin, is to empower us to gain mastery over our thoughts and desires. For this reason we place the Tefillin near the heart (desires), and on the head (thoughts). Tanya explains at length, that few people are able to achieve full control over the nature of the desires that come to them. That being said, everyone, he argues, is capable of being in full control of their thoughts, speech and actions. To clarify: Most people cannot dictate what sort of desires arise in their heart. However, when an inappropriate desire does come to a person, they can choose to redirect their thought process to something else that is appropriate.

Yet despite our limitations, we are encouraged to try to master even the direction of our desires. So each morning we bind the tefillin on our arms, thereby fortifying ourselves in the moment to work toward that goal. There the Mitzvah ends. The Tefillin on our heads are to empower us to control our thoughts. This is an ongoing and constant obligation. As such, the Mitzvah is also ongoing for the duration of the time that the Tefillin are upon us.

This is called mindful living. Every moment of a person’s life is meant to be directed in a positive and G-dly manner. These special Mitzvahs help us to strengthen ourselves to achieve mindful living.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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