ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Roger Goodell is Good for the Jews

They say that 13 is the age when a young Jewish boy realizes that he is more likely to own a professional sports team than play for one. In fact, nearly one third of owners of the five major pro sports league teams in the US are Jewish or of Jewish parentage, including over 25% of NFL owners. So, if Roger Goodell is good for the NFL owners, he is good for the Jews. But more specifically, I refer back to an article that I wrote 7 years ago entitled, “Fire Roger Goodell.” At that time the NFL flexed a Saints game from noon to the later time slot, which collided with the scheduled time for Chanukah @ Riverwalk. You can read it here:

Ever since then I have been anxious each time there is a game scheduled on the same day as Chanukah @ Riverwalk. This year, the first night of Chanukah is on Sunday, Dec. 18. When planning the event, we looked at the schedule and noticed that the NFL had the Dec. 18 game start time designated as TBD. We have been anxiously awaiting the schedule to be determined so that we could set the time of the program. This week the NFL announced that the game is being moved to Saturday, Dec 17. This is good for the Jews. Now we have been able to schedule Chanukah @ Riverwalk 2022 without any concern of the conflict with the Saints game. We hope you will all join us at the Riverwalk Spanish Plaza on Sunday, Dec. 18 from 4-6 pm for this year’s special celebration. (See below for information on a gathering to benefit victims of the war in Ukraine, that will take place before the event at 3 pm.)

On a different note, while I was in New York last Friday for the annual Kinus (conference of) HaShluchim, I got a message from my friend Lior, who met my son Sholom in Tel Aviv that day at the Tefillin stand on Dizengoff Square. While they were chatting, another man walks by and Lior says to him, “Do you know who this young man is? He is the son of Rabbi Mendel Rivkin in New Orleans.” The man’s name is DSC01964.jpgYehuda Peretz. He was here in 2011 for aSholom and Yehuda Peretz.jpg liver transplant. Sholom looks at him in disbelief. 11 years ago he was at death’s door, and now he looks robust and healthy, thank G-d. He said to Yehuda, “Were you in the hospital on Purim? Do you remember a delegation from Chabad coming to read the Megillah and play music?” Yehuda remembered. Sholom continued, “I was the little boy who accompanied my father to your room that day.” They took a photo together and it was a beautiful full circle that demonstrates the power of connection through Ahavat Yisrael – love for one’s fellow.

May we experience many miracles from Hashem that allow us to offer constant Thanksgiving for His blessings.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Remove Your Blinders

There is an old proverb, “Do not judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.” Some attribute it to the Native American culture, where they substituted moccasins for shoes. The origin of this concept is a Jewish saying in Pirkei Avot, 2:4, “Do not judge your fellow until you have reached his place.”

What this piece of wisdom teaches us is that we all have our biases and circumstances. These are not identical to another person’s set of biases and circumstances. If we attempt to assess a situation based solely on our perspective, we will usually be off mark in truly understanding experience of the other person. If this is true of individuals, it is certainly true of groups. Groups tend to view the experience of other groups through the lens of their own history and cultural experience. This almost always results in one group not “getting” what makes the other group tick.

I want to wade into a situation that has spun off from the Kanye West story. The Jewish experience and the black experience have historical similarities in that both peoples have suffered persecution at the hands of other groups. However, the discrimination and persecution has not been identical. While we are both targeted for our “otherness,” the nature of the persecution and the method of the discrimination has been unique for each group. Certainly, there are plenty of people who hate us both. But that does not mean that our experience is the same.

I watched as a conservative black commentator twisted herself into a pretzel to stand by Kanye, while not endorsing his antisemitic tirades. In the process she came across as minimizing the egregiousness of his words. She ended with the usual “some of my best friends are Jewish.” I, for one, sincerely believe that she is not antisemitic at all. She simply did not make the effort to understand the Jewish experience of antisemitism. She sees all hatefulness towards another through the lens of discrimination against black people. She failed by judging the situation without “reaching our place.” We Jews are often equally guilty of doing the same in reverse.

In fact, Jews even do this to each other. The antisemitism experienced by someone who is a visibly “observant” Jew might be different than that of a person whose appearance is more “secular.” The antisemitism experienced by a person in an academic or professional setting might be different than that of a person who moves mostly in Jewish circles. We get stuck wearing our own blinders when assessing a situation, not allowing ourselves to see it for what it is, thereby diminishing our capacity for real empathy.

The Torah cautions us against this because it is human nature to be this way. We must strive to refine our sensibilities and remove the blinders that do not allow us to see through the eyes of another.  

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Addition By Subtraction

When G-d gives Avraham the instruction to circumcise himself, He tells him, “I am the Al-mighty G-d; walk before Me and be perfect.” This implies that through the act of circumcision Avraham perfects himself. This constitutes addition by means of subtraction. That is some fuzzy math. Yet, our sages intimate, by the act of circumcision a male can achieve truly being “in the Divine image.” (Females are considered to be in the “Divine Image” without the need for circumcision.) How a physical form can constitute the “Divine Image” is challenging enough to understand. Throw the perfection reached by circumcision into the equation, and now we are thoroughly confused.

Obviously, when we speak of the “Divine Image” we are not referring to a literal physical form. Judaism rejects any concretization of G-d. As the poet declares in Yigdal, “He has no body, nor the image of a body.” Therefore, the notion of Tzelem Elokim (Divine Image), must refer to something conceptual and/or metaphoric. How we interpret that is for another discussion. But with respect to the association with circumcision, I would like to offer the following insight.

The Zohar uses the anthropomorphic analogy of the human male body to describe nine of the ten Divine Attributes, known as the “Sefirot.” One of those ten Sefirot is called Yesod. Yesod is the connection point between the Divine Masculine Energy and the Divine Feminine Energy (known as Malchut). Here is how the Zohar frames it. “Yesod is the body's extremity, the sign of the Holy Covenant.” From this we derive that since the anthropomorphic analogy of the body is presented as an extremity that has the sign of the covenant on it, in order to be in the “Divine Image” one must be circumcised.

Why did Hashem leave this to us instead of creating us already circumcised? Clearly, He wanted us to have a role in achieving this state of perfection. This is similar to the role we play in the rest of creation, where we take the raw materials created by G-d and turn them into usable goods.

From here we see how vital this tradition is to the Jewish people. Sadly, there is a subset of folks who wish to stem the trend of devotion to the Covenant of Abraham. The short-sightedness of their action and the detriment it brings to their children and to the Jewish people as a whole can hardly be understated.

Maimonides relates that while there is a threefold covenant for all Mitzvot, there are thirteen mentions of the covenant when it comes to the Mitzvah of circumcision. This gives us some understanding into just how integral circumcision is to Judaism.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Riding the Floodwaters to Success

Nearly every ancient culture has a “flood story.” In the story the deity wishes to destroy the world/humanity and one person/group is allowed to survive, often in a boat/ark. When we read the Torah’s account of the deluge in Noah’s time, it is similar to the others. The waters are referred to as a Mabul, which means flood or deluge. However, in Isaiah’s prophecy where he references the story (which we read for the Haftarah), the waters are called Mei Noach – the waters of Noah. Why would we name the waters after the one guy who wasn’t destroyed?

The Chassidic masters point out, that this informs us that the waters were not just about destruction, but also about cleansing. This is alluded to by the 40 days of rain, corresponding to the 40 seah (liquid measures) of water required for a Mikvah. The waters of Noah, bring cleansing and healing to the world, enabling it to start over anew. Furthermore, the waters were effective in bringing Noah and the people in the ark to greater heights. The verse states, (Genesis 7:17) “Now the Flood was forty days upon the earth, and the waters increased, and they lifted the ark, and it rose off the earth.”

Our sages explain that the floodwaters represent our material concerns, which threaten to drown away our love and connection to Hashem. The Baal Shem Tov teaches that the ark symbolizes the words of Torah and prayer (etymologically related to the Hebrew word for ark - Tevah). So, the way to survive the onslaught of our material concerns (the need to be involved in making a living) is to take haven in the ark – prayer and Torah study. Once we are secure in the ark, not only do the floodwaters not have the power to drown our connection to Hashem, they can actually serve as a means of elevating us by compelling us to dig deeper within ourselves to maintain that connection.

This is generally true of most challenges in life. If we find the means to survive the challenge, we actually discover that the challenge helps us thrive and grow even greater than we could have previously imagined.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


Now What?

We made it through the month of holidays! We not only survived, we actually thrived! It was an exhilarating marathon of somber and joyous moments. The serious moments such as the sounding of the Shofar Rosh Hashanah or proclaiming the Shema at the end of Yom Kippur. The joyous moments such as entering the Sukkah to beautiful weather on the first night of Sukkot or dancing the night away on Simchat Torah. We had the opportunity to be reflective, introspective, nostalgic, hopeful, confident, yearning, fulfilled, thrilled, celebratory, and exhausted. Now what? It is almost six months until the next Biblical holiday and two months to Chanukah. How are we going to maintain the inspiration of the holiday month?

I have two solutions to offer. Both are needed and they feed off each other.

The first is that we must view the holiday month as a shopping spree. We filled our basket with all the above-mentioned experiences. Despite the disagreement of some in this reading audience, shopping is not an end unto itself. There is a point where one leaves the mall, walks to the car, and drives home with a full trunk of merchandise. Once we arrive at home, we unpack the bags and begin to enjoy the acquisitions. So too with the holiday inspiration. Now is the time to start unpacking and utilizing all that we have experienced over the past month.

The second solution is to turn our focus to freshly started Torah cycle. It is no coincidence that we start the Torah over following the inspiration of the holidays. We are enthusiastic about Judaism. We are excited about our connection to Hashem. We want to learn more about how to nurture that connection. Enter the Torah. With renewed passion we can dive deeply into the weekly Torah portions and glean ongoing inspiration. We can look for new angles that we hadn’t previously uncovered. We can discover new layers of Torah interpretation that capture our interest and keep us zoned in. The first Chabad Rebbe called this exercise, “Living with the Times.” Each week we read the news of the week. It is fresh and relevant. It leaves us hungry for more and more.

Wishing you a wonderful year of exploration and inspiration!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Don't Be The Absent-Minded Professor

When I was in elementary school, they showed us a film entitled, The Absent-Minded Professor. One of the elements of the plot that stuck in my mind was Professor Brainard so caught up in his invention of “Flubber” that he missed his own wedding. I recall there being a note taped to his bulletin board with the wedding date and time and a reminder to be there. Despite all the precautions, his distraction related to the invention of “Flubber” caused him to miss the wedding.

Don’t be Professor Brainard! Don’t miss your own wedding celebration.

The Jewish mystics teach that the season of holidays can be viewed through the analogy of a relationship between and man and a woman. Elul is the time of courtship between Hashem and the Jewish people. Rosh Hashanah is the proposal. The sounding of the Shofar is our acceptance of Hashem’s proposal of marriage. Yom Kippur is the solemn Chupah ceremony. Sukkot is the wedding feast and Simchat Torah is the wedding celebration and dancing.

We took the High Holidays seriously. We heard the Shofar. We attended Shul on Yom Kippur and felt the intimate connection with Hashem. Now it is time for the wedding celebration. Let’s not foolishly miss our own wedding celebration like Professor Brainard just because we are distracted by things that are “important.” Simchat Torah night (Monday, October 17) is an extremely crucial time to be in Shul for the first dance celebrating your marriage.

Come and celebrate. Come and dance. Come and enjoy. Revel in the company and attention of your new Spouse. See you there.

Don’t be the Absent-Minded Professor! Don’t miss your own wedding celebration.

Shabbat Shalom! Happy Sukkot! Happy Simchat Torah!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Praying for Tickets

I hope everyone had a meaningful Yom Kippur. This is the really the most wonderful time of the year. We float from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, to Sukkot, to Simchat Torah. Each holiday gives us a boost in another area of our Jewish experience and our relationship with Hashem.

I recently had an occasion to supervise morning prayers for the 3-4 grades at Slater Torah Academy. These kids are great. They are proficient in their reading and very enthusiastic about “davening.” They sing most of the prayers out loud together. They are still 8 or 9 years old, so as an incentive to keep them focused on the prayers, the teacher walks around and gives raffle tickets to the children that are participating nicely. Being kids, some of them begin to daydream or lose focus. When they see the teacher approaching with the tickets, their enthusiasm returns.  

As I observed this, my initial thought was a sad one. Why do they need tickets to do what they know is important. But then I reflected further and realized that we adults are not much better. We also pray with more enthusiasm when there is a “prize” on the line. While it may not be a raffle ticket, are we not more focused when a loved one is sick, or we have a pressing financial issue? Don’t we pray with more intensity during the High Holidays knowing that our futures are being determined? But that thought was not very comforting. It just means that we adults are as capricious as kids in our commitment to Hashem.

But then I recalled a beautiful Chasidic interpretation of a Talmudic teaching. “One should always engage in the service of Hashem even if not for the “sake of heaven,” for as a result of serving with ulterior motives, we can come to serve altruistically.” The Hebrew term connoting “as a result of” is “Mitoch.” An alternative application of “Mitoch” is “within.” In that sense the Talmud is telling us that deep within our service for “raffle tickets” lies our latent commitment to altruistic service of Hashem.

This is a liberating and empowering idea. Even when we find ourselves doing things out of personal ulterior motives, this does not negate the value of what we have done. Certainly, we must seek to bring the altruism from a latent state to a revealed state. But until that happens, our service is not worthless in Hashem’s eyes, not should it be from our own perspective.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom and Happy Sukkot
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

OMG / Ian Hurricane Relief

Much of our focus during the High Holidays is on our relationship with G-d. We ask for our needs. We confess our sins. We proclaim G-d’s sovereignty. We ask G-d to remember us for good. We consider the extent of our commitment to fulfilling G-d’s precepts. We approach G-d as children to a father, and as subjects to a king. We spend a lot of time praising G-d and the wonderous works of creation.

Despite all of this focus on G-d, for many of us G-d remains an abstract concept. How much do we actually know about G-d? We might wonder, if G-d is so powerful, why does He need our incessant praise? How many of us have a real relationship with G-d? Do we really communicate with a Being, or do we mouth prayers to an abstract presence that floats in and out of our consciousness?

If any of these questions or issues resonate with you, I would strongly encourage you to consider our upcoming 6-week course called: My G-d – Defining the Divine. The course begins at Chabad Uptown on Wednesday, November 2. It will also be offered in Metairie within a similar timeframe.

Our founding assumption is that G-d is. But that is all; everything else is on the table for prodding and dissecting. We will be addressing 25 questions about G-d. From “does G-d have feelings,” to “how did G-d come to be,” to the very meta “can we question G-d?”   

For more information or to register for the course, Feel free to try the first class with no commitment, on Wednesday, Nov 2 at 7:00 pm.

For information on the Metairie class with Rabbi Mendel Ceitlin,

The best way to connect to G-d, is through a Mitzvah. Over the last few days, we have been following the horrific destruction wrought on Southwest Florida by Hurricane Ian. My cousins run the Chabad in Venice, Florida, which is at the center of the chaos. They and their Chabad colleagues in the area, are on the frontlines of the relief efforts. To support those efforts, please generously contribute at May G-d protect us all from harm.

Shabbat Shalom and G’mar Chatima Tova
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


In Anger, Remember the Love

This week at morning minyan we were joined by Rabbi Rafi Zarum, who was in town for a speaking engagement. Since he is saying Kaddish for his late father, he led the morning service. There are some differences in the prayers between our Siddur and the one that he generally uses. Upon completing the service using our Siddur, he pointed out with interest, some of the differences, including one that appears at the end of Tachanun (prayers of penitence). The passage in Nusach Ashkenaz reads as follows, “In anger, remember compassion.” The passage in Nusach Sfard reads as follows, “In anger, remember compassion. In anger, remember the Akedah. In anger remember the Uprightness (of Jacob).”  

The passage in the Chabad Siddur adds one more phrase, “In anger, remember compassion. In anger, remember the Akedah. In anger, remember the uprightness (of Jacob). In anger, remember the love.”  

Of course, there are multiple layers of interpretation of each of these phrases. But the straightforward reading of the last one is, that we ask G-d to remember His love for us and our love for Him, when we are doing things that can “anger” Him. As we prepare for the High Holidays, let us reflect on this when it comes to our relationship with Hashem.

To paraphrase the Zohar, “Just as it is above, so must it be below.” We must seek to implement this approach into our personal lives as well. We each have relationships. There are people that we love and who love us. At times our loved ones can annoy us or even anger us. When that happens, it is crucial that we keep this principle on the forefront of our perspectives, “In anger, remember the love.”  

If, in the moment of anger, we remember the love, this can let the air out of our exasperation, thereby significantly and swiftly diminishing our anger. This approach can have far-reaching ramifications. There is so much hurt that is caused between loving spouses, parents-children, siblings, and friends, because in the moment of anger we are just angry. But if we “remember the love” and that diminishes our anger, the other party (spouse, child, sibling, friend) will sense that difference and be uplifted to feel that love. They may even be motivated to change the way they are acting, which is the cause of the anger to begin with.

May you be inscribed and sealed for a healthy, sweet, prosperous, and meaningful new year of 5783.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

In My Humble Opinion

It used to be that people would preface their opinion on a matter with the phrase, “in my opinion” or, if we were lucky, “in my humble opinion.” There were the abbreviations “IMO” or “IMHO.” At least then, people qualified their pronouncements with the notion that this is simply the opinion of one individual. I might think you are foolish for not accepting my opinion, but at least I recognize that other opinions potentially exist.

I have noticed a trend in the last few years, especially when people are posting on social media. People have gotten into the habit of simply making pronouncements as absolute truth, as if they are literally the fountain of all wisdom in the universe.

This is true of political statements, philosophical pronouncements, religious assertions, and things more mundane like assessments of restaurants or commercial products. Folks seem to be so full of themselves, and so confident in their perspective, that they do not entertain the possibility of an alternative view.

The prophet declares, “The wicked shall give up his way, and the man of iniquity his thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:7) The Chassidic masters offer this interpretation. The Hebrew term “Aven” (iniquity) has the same letters as “On,” meaning strength. Just as it is imperative that the "wicked leave his path," for without teshuva it is impossible to approach the Sacred, so must the "man of strength," one with unshakeable confidence in his reasoning, "leave his thoughts." He is not to insist, "I say so. This is what I think;" every "I", ego, is a source of evil, a cause of divisiveness.

Just before my 17th birthday, I underwent a process to be accepted into Yeshiva Gedolah (university level Talmudic Seminary). The process consisted of two tests, written and oral. I did well on the written test, which was meant to assess our general knowledge of Talmud and Chassidic thought. The oral test was structured so that each pair of students was given one page of the Talmud to prepare in advance, after which the dean would examine them in his office. I am ashamed to admit, that my study partner and I (who are still very good friends) did not utilize the preparation time seriously enough. We entered the dean’s office without having properly prepared for the exam. During the exam, seeing that we were inadequately prepared, the Rabbi asked me about a seeming conflict between Rashi’s commentary and the text of the Talmud itself. After glancing at the text of Rashi for a few seconds, I declared, somewhat flustered, “It seems that Rashi doesn’t make sense.” The Rabbi looked up at me sharply and then gently gave me one of the most profound lessons of my life, “Rashi makes sense. You don’t sufficiently understand the text.”

Having the humility to recognize our place, whilst maintaining cognizance of our strengths and abilities, is a healthy balanced way to live life. So next time you are about to share your profundity with the world, please preface it with “in my humble opinion.”

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

G-d Works With NOLA Advanced Biomed to Save a Life

Did you know that New Orleans is home to one of only two Bio-Med labs in the country that offers highly advanced testing for a rare blood disease? Neither did I. It’s good to hear that we are at the top of some good lists! This week I heard a most amazing story of Divine Providence, which I would like to share with you.

Of course, we do not understand the ways of Hashem. Ideally, none of us should have to deal with an extreme medical challenge. However, for reasons that are, hitherto, unfathomable to us, sometimes people are destined to face a challenging situation. With the proper perspective, one can find immeasurable Divine Kindness within those challenges.

A couple was taking their teenage son on vacation for a few days. He wanted to come to New Orleans. It was not their first choice, but it was what he wanted. So off they went to NOLA. During the trip the mother started to feel sick. Upon arriving things were getting worse. So, the next day she went to the ER. After running labs, it seemed that she had a rare auto-immune blood disease. The trouble is that there are several types of this condition that appear similar, and only certain labs in the country have the capacity to do the sensitive testing to determine the difference. The treatment for one type can be fatal for the other. Thankfully a doctor at the hospital had significant expertise in recognizing the potential for the rarer type (4 in 1,000,000), and he held off treatment until the results of the testing came back.

New Orleans is home to one of two Bio-Med labs in the country that offers highly advanced testing for this rare blood disease. Had they gone on vacation elsewhere, they may have had to wait several days for results. That delay could have proved fatal, G-d forbid. Instead, results were back within hours and effective treatment began in a timely manner. By Divine Providence, their son insisted on a New Orleans vacation, thereby saving his mother’s life.

Malkie and I went to visit her, expecting to see someone who was in bad shape. Instead, we found a patient who was alert, upbeat, and very thankful for the miracles that she experienced. She was also very complimentary of the wonderful care she received here in New Orleans.

May Hashem bless her with a speedy continued recovery and many years of healthy long life together with her wonderful family.

May we be spared such challenges. But when faced with one, may we have the wisdom and faith to know that Hashem is looking out for us.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

So Stereotypical

I was speaking to my son Sholom in Israel, and he shared with me the following experience. One of his responsibilities at the Yeshiva in Tel Aviv at which he is interning, is manning the Tefillin stand near Dizengoff Square, which is just steps from the Yeshiva. This afternoon he was standing there and politely offering passersby the opportunity to lay Tefillin before Shabbat starts. One fellow replied belligerently, “How would you like it if I came to your neighborhood in Meah Shearim and set up a stand offering something secular?” Sholom interjected saying, “where do you think I live?” He continued, “My apartment is a few blocks from here in Tel Aviv. In fact, I come from New Orleans in the US and I have never even been to Meah Shearim.” The man embarrassedly mumbled an apology for stereotyping all religious looking Jews as living in Meah Shearim. Sholom smilingly encouraged him to put on Tefillin. Though he refused this time, I suspect this experience may change his outlook in the future.

A few weeks ago, Sholom was standing at the Tefillin stand with an Israeli student, when they were accosted with the usual “You religious Jews are all parasites. You don’t serve in the army. You don’t have jobs.” The Israeli standing with Sholom burst out laughing. Sholom asked him why he was laughing. He replied, “The irony is that I served in an elite paratrooper unit in the IDF. Furthermore, the reason I am only in Yeshiva part-time is because I have a business that I am running during the rest of the day.”

These are typical cases of “don’t confuse me with the facts.” Sadly, many people stereotype and generalize about people that they perceive as “other” to them. We like to place people in little boxes that we create for them. It is an insult to people’s individuality. It also absolves us from the responsibility and effort of getting to them as distinct individuals. It so much easier to just say, “All ______ folks are the same.” This is the lazy way out.

In recent years, Aviv Geffen, an icon of the “Israeli left” and Avraham Fried, a Chassidic music superstar, engaged in a rapport that brought deeper understanding of each other. They performed a duet called Batzoret – which is about unity between people during trying times (societal drought). (You can watch it here – all Hebrew -

One of the things that came out of the rapport, was Aviv Geffen acknowledging that he engaged in stereotyping about “religious Jews” in Israel. He apologized and declared at a concert, “I spoke from ignorance and I did not understand the other. I’ve matured and I want to ask your genuine forgiveness from my heart.”

A beautiful (all Hebrew) interview with the two singers about their mutual metamorphosis can be seen here -

This is the type of rapprochement that we need to bring our world to a better place, a place that is ripe for Redemption!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Countdown to 5783

Believe it or not, Elul begins this weekend. Which means… that Rosh Hashanah and 5783 are just one month away. Hard to believe that a year has gone by since last year’s Rosh Hashanah spent in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. (Especially since so many are still fighting with their insurance companies for proper compensation…) Yet, in one month we will be standing before Hashem on Judgement Day, listening to the sound of the Shofar, while praying for our blessings for the year to come.

There is much to reflect on during this month. So many themes and inspiring concepts to contemplate. I would like to share a sampling of articles that have been shared on this forum over the last ten years. I hope that you will each find one or two that resonate with you.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and wonderful month of Elul.

Shabbat Shalom

Why Do People Love Their Children?

And like a good neighbor...

I am to my beloved and that's it!

The Multiple Images of Elul

Search and Rescue

Are we Dwellers or Visitors

Welcome Home


Let My People Laugh

According to a 1978 Time Magazine article, an estimated 80% of comedians were Jewish. What is it about being Jewish that stimulates the funny bone?

There are many theories. Entire books have been written on the topic. Some see humor as a way of coping with persecution. Others connect it with the wittiness stemming from being steeped in intellectual pursuits. However we understand this phenomenon, there is no doubt that it is both real and deep rooted.

Humor is a gentle way to lighten a tense situation. This is true in the moment, as well as on a broader scale. One writer said, “Oppressed people tend to be witty.” Jews used humor to deal with whichever nation happened to be oppressing them at any given time. Common folk within the Jewish community used humor to deal with a leader’s heavy hand in communal affairs.

In Eastern European Shtetels, a badchan (jester) was often hired at weddings of prominent families in society. He would employ the use of witty verse to poke subtle fun at the important people. This is a practice that continues in some circles until this day.

The Talmud speaks of Elijah the Prophet pointing out people who were given the appellation “men of the world to come.” In explanation he said, that they were folks who used humor to bring joy to the downtrodden.

Jewish mysticism argues that everything one does or experiences, should be oriented toward the service of Hashem. What G-dly purpose could we discover in a good belly laugh? The Talmudic sage Rava, would begin each lecture in the academy with a “milsa d’bedichasa” – a humorous remark. This would cause the Rabbis to laugh and relax, making them more open to absorbing the complexities of the Torah topic upon which Rava was expounding.

Modern science backs this up. “Laughter is the best medicine.” Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being, in addition to many specific benefits.

So, join us this Monday night for a good laugh, as we are entertained by British Jewish comedian, Ashley Blaker at Chabad (Uptown). It’s a Mitzvah!

For tickets and info:  

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Loving With All Your Very

In the Shema there is a passage (from this week’s Parsha) that states, “You shall Love Hashem your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.”

The obvious question is why the need for three sets of instructions to love G-d? There must be something in “soul” that is not covered by “heart,” and likewise with the third one.

Tangentially, the word for heart, is actually written in a way that implies two hearts. From this our sages derive that we must train both our “hearts” – our drives – the mission-oriented drive as well as the self-oriented drive, to love G-d. We do this by bringing our self-oriented drive to recognize that loving G-d is really good for me.

What about soul? This means that if we are faced with the choice between rejecting G-d or losing our lives, we must be willing to give up our very lives for G-d. Sadly, our history as a people has millions of Kedoshim - people who sanctified the name of G-d through their deaths.

So, the elephant in the room is, what can top giving your life for G-d? What could “loving with all your might” possibly add to the love demonstrated by literal self-sacrifice?

The Hebrew for might in the passage is Meod. The literal translation of Meod is very (much). When we say “with all your might” that means with everything you’ve got. Now, while giving up life itself for G-d is a very lofty level of devotion, at the same time, it is a split-second decision and implementation. Living for G-d, on the other hand, requires a stick-to-itiveness that could be even more challenging. It means maintaining a level of intensity that goes on and on, day to day, week to week, and year to year.

Loving with all your “very” is where the rubber meets the road on the path toward ultimate redemption.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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