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Keep Soaring

We spent the 25 hours of Yom Kippur climbing up the ladder of spirituality and succeeded in reaching great heights. Now what? What happens to a Jew after the climax of Neilah at the end of the Holy Day? The simple answer is “keep soaring.” Take that inspiration and apply it directly to Sukkot and Simchat Torah, which are just around the corner.

If you are wondering what Hashem thinks of our capacity to do this; I will share a brief insight into His mindset. The Torah, when describing the Mitzvah of Lulav and Etrog, states, “And you shall take for yourselves on the first day” and then goes on to define the four species of plants that we use. The Talmud asks, “First day of what?” The simple answer is, “The first day of Sukkot.” But the Talmud offers a deeper interpretation. It is the first day of the new (post Yom Kippur) accounting of sins that a person may commit. Asks the Talmud. “What about the four days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot? To which the Talmud responds, “There is no time to sin. Everyone is busy getting the Sukkah ready and dealing with the Lulav and Etrog.”

So from G-d’s perspective we have the ability to remain so focused on applying the high of Yom Kippur that we are too busy to sin. That is the degree of confidence that Hashem has in us. Let’s live up to that and keep soaring!

Wishing you happy Sukkot prep and a wonderful and joyous holiday!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Happy Yom Kippur

Years ago, as a child walking home from Chabad House on Yom Kippur eve, we passed by the (then mostly non-Jewish) Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity on Broadway and Oak and observed that they strung a massive banner from their roof declaring Happy Yom Kippur. We were amused by their ignorance of the seriousness of Yom Kippur. They were likely happy about the nominal nod Tulane gives it high percentage Jewish student body by giving off from class on Yom Kippur.

As I began to study Chassidus I reflected that they may have been on to something. While Yom Kippur is most certainly a serious day, it is also a day to celebrate in happiness. Yom Kippur is the day that we can access a closeness to Hashem that is unparalleled on any other day of the year. It is a day on which Hashem declares Himself to be close to us along with his desirousness of our reciprocal closeness. This is certainly something worthy of the most heightened joy.

So, Happy Yom Kippur to a Father Who is welcoming His children home after they have been away. (Having just picked up my daughters from the airport for a visit, I can appreciate that sentiment.) Happy Yom Kippur to children who are returning to the unconditionally loving embrace of their Supernal Father. Happy Yom Kippur to all of those utilizing the opportunity to scope out all of the negativity, dirt and static from their lives, thereby freeing themselves to fully engage in the loving closeness that can to be accessed on this unique day.

Fruits of Tzedakah / Proud to be from Louisiana

Last night we had the pleasure of participating in the dedication of the newly named Slater Torah Academy, honoring Mrs. Rosina Slater, who recently gave a major gift to Torah Academy. It was heartwarming to see the nonagenarian surrounded by dozens of children who are the direct beneficiaries of her generosity.

Mrs. Slater and her late husband Joseph were not blessed with children of their own. But through this act of kindness she has gained many spiritual children. At the event, Rabbi Chesney shared a story of the Baal Shem Tov, who discovered a town full of children with similar names, all named after a childless couple from a century before, who endowed Jewish education in their town, thereby ensuring that all children would be afforded schooling.

I have known Mrs. Slater for many years. She used to come to Chabad House for holidays and then I saw her frequently while she was a resident at Lambeth House. She would often express herself to me that she wants to do something for the community. With this generous gift she has created a legacy that will have lasting impact.

Many people choose to do their contributing as a bequest from their estate. I am all for that and encourage people to consider remembering Chabad as well as Torah Academy in their wills. (Please contact us to discuss this further.) The downside of a bequest is that a person does not have the benefit of enjoying the fruits of their bequest during their lifetime. Certainly the Neshama gets a lot of pleasure and a boost from that Mitzvah. But the beauty of this gift is, that Rosina has the pleasure of seeing the direct benefit to these children with her own eyes.

This Rosh Hashanah she came to Chabad House and one Torah Academy child after the next came to greet her and wish her a Shana Tova. Yesterday at the event the elementary school children sang a song especially composed by Mrs. Nechama Kaufmann for her. This is the fulfillment of the verse, “Your world (to come) you will see in your lifetime.” To behold the effect on one’s generosity is a special privilege. We wish Mrs. Slater much Nachas from her family, all of the Torah Academy children. The Jewish future of New Orleans is considerably brighter for it.

Two things happened this week that made me proud to be from Louisiana. First, the immediate solidarity expressed by the entire New Orleans region in reaction to the hate graffiti vandalism that befell the Northshore Jewish Congregation’s facility. The reaction was swift and unequivocal. We received, as did all the other congregations, a letter of support from the Archbishop. Many leaders and lay people expressed their support and acted on that expression. There will be an event this Sunday, September 16 at 4:00 pm at NJC - 1403 N. Causeway Blvd in Mandeville.

The second is the amazing support being shown by the Louisiana community to the people in the path of Hurricane Florence. Hundreds of volunteers from the Cajun Navy headed out to the Carolinas with trucks, boats and catering facilities. Entergy sent hundreds of professional personnel to help with the relief and disaster assistance. During this season of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Louisiana certainly deserves a big check mark on the heavenly charts.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Putting the High into the Holidays

There is an expression that we use to describe extreme happiness - "drunk with happiness." Similarly we can use the expression "high on inspiration". 

That "may be" one of the definitions of the phrase High Holidays. A time when we get so inspired that we feel like we are soaring. 

At Chabad we aim to provide that sort of experience for the holidays. Our services combine soulful melodies, relevant and contemporary messages, meaningful rituals and the warmth of community. Good food never hurts either. Please join us at one of the five Chabad of Louisiana locations this year.

In the meantime, on behalf the Shluchim and Shluchos of Chabad of Louisiana, I wish you and your loved ones that you be blessed by G-d with a happy, healthy, prosperous and meaningful year, filled with only open and revealed good for all.

Penitence Party

Tomorrow night we begin to recite Selichot – prayers of penitence. For many this marks the formal “kick-off” of high-holiday season. Often the Shul is already decked out in white instead of the year round colors. We pray with the somber tunes of the high-holidays. The liturgy is of a serious nature evoking feelings of repentance. Tears are shed for the regrets of the past and lost opportunities of the outgoing year, along with the earnest resolve to do better in the year to come. Our custom is to recite the Selichot on Saturday night at 1 AM (technically Sunday). In most places, (around Tulane being a notable exception,) it is quiet; and the only sound being Jewish people somberly hurrying to Shul for Selichot. You see little boys rubbing their eyes in tiredness from being woken up to go to Shul in middle of the night. The prayer books are open, the Chazzan is wrapped in a Talis as he declares in a loud voice the opening words of the service in the special tune. All of this serves to set the tone for the seriousness of the moment.

Yet, what many are not aware of, is that just a short while before Selichot begins, it is the Chabad custom to have a lively farbrengen, during which l’chaim is recited along with singing and words of inspiration. The farbrengen can get so lively that to quote “It is related that in Lubavitch, the Chassidim would farbreng on the nights of Selichot and they would come to the Selichot tottering from the farbrengen’s after-effects.”

So what’s the deal? Is Selichot a somber moment or a light one? How do we balance the lively farbrengen with the tears of regret? How do we justify this kind of seemingly irreverent behavior?

I will attempt to explain briefly. First of all, the two sentiments are not in conflict. It is possible to be both lively and joyous, while at the same recognizing the somber momentousness of the occasion. It is a matter of perspective. If we see Selichot solely as a time for self-improvement so that Hashem will bless us with a new year, then we will take ourselves and our needs very seriously, precluding the possibility of celebration and liveliness leading up to it.

If, however, we see Selichot as the beginning of the period of rededication to what Hashem “needs” us for, then a farbrengen, which elevates us above our self-centered focus, is the best preparation. So what about our needs? If we just worry about what we are needed for, who is going to make sure that we get the blessings that the cow gives milk, the chickens lay eggs, and the crops are plentiful?

According to the Torah, a master must take care of his servant’s needs and an employer must pay his worker so that he takes care of his family’s needs. If we are devoted to Hashem’s “needs” and desires, then Hashem will keep the other end of the bargain and take care of our needs and desires.

As we prepare for Selichot, let us raise a shot glass of L’chaim and sing joyously as we focus our devotion to what we are needed for and consequently Hashem will bless each and every one of us with a year of goodness and sweetness filled with health, prosperity and meaningful growth. May this be the year that we finally take the leap across the finish line into Redemption.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


The Last Brigade

This week in 1899, in a small town called Lubavitch, a Yeshiva was established by the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Ber (Rebbe Rashab). The Yeshiva would later be named Tomchei Temimim. It was unique and distinct from every other Yeshiva that existed until that point, in that it called for integrating the study of Chassidic thought into the general curriculum. For many generations Chassidus had been studied by thousands. But it had never been made a formal part of a Yeshiva curriculum. Doing so would formalize its place in the very mission statement of the Yeshiva.

What was the goal of this unique institution? The founder clarified that in a lengthy address to the students on Simchat Torah two year later. He cited a verse in Psalms 89: “Your enemies have disgraced, O L-rd, that they have disgraced the footsteps of Your anointed.” The Rebbe Rashab explained that as we get closer to the time of Redemption there were two frontiers left to conquer, represented by the two types of disgrace referenced in the Psalm, the enemies of G-d, and those who disgrace the footsteps of the anointed (Moshiach).

This talk was an allusion to the challenge that was just around the corner, the godlessness of the Communist revolution. In truth the winds of secularism were blowing quite strongly across the Jewish world of Eastern Europe. Western European Jewry had almost entirely been transformed by secular modernity and it was starting to seep over the borders into Poland, Lithuania, Russian and Hungary. But the Bolsheviks and their Yevsektzia (Jewish sector) would take this fight up a notch or three. A group of well-fortified young Jews were going to be needed to confront this formidable challenge and ensure the survival of Torah Judaism. This was the first frontier that the Rebbe Rashab declared for which his army of Yeshiva students would battle.

Indeed, when nearly all other religious Jews either succumbed or fled, the lone group of defenders of the Torah and Hashem, were the young graduates of Tomchei Temimim. Under the leadership of the Rebbe Rashab’s successors, they would establish and maintain the network of underground Jewish institutions for 70 years.

This confrontation took on a different face when the battlefield moved to the free world. The strong desire of American Jews to fit in and assimilate, was as fierce a foe as the vicious stances of communism. But it was the same group of students and their next generation that took on the apathy and ignorance of the Jews of western civilization. They were inspired by the Rebbe to establish Chabad Houses in communities across the globe to uplift and illuminate the Jewish world.

The other challenge of living in freedom, was the lack of a sense of need for the time of Redemption. This is the second frontier. Chassidus shows how even a person who is living an inspired Jewish life, the glaring void of exile still looms large. While it may not come on the form of persecution or even assimilation, it is a gaping hole that can be filled on by G-dly revelation that is associated with Redemption.

119 years into the experiment, much progress has been made. The Rebbe Rashab’s prescience of challenges to come have been realized and confronted head-on. As we stand at the threshold of victory we are indeed grateful for his foresight and bold action that has brought us to where we are.

Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


Envious Angels on S. Carrollton

Last week I was driving down S. Carrollton Ave. Passing Belfast St., I saw a member of our community, Berry Silver, who is a realtor, showing someone a house in the neighborhood. His Yarmulke was perched on his head and his Tzitzis were flapping in the summer breeze. As I was thinking how nice it is to see such a sight in New Orleans, I recalled an encounter with the Rebbe that I heard about 25 years ago. Rabbi Pinchos Woolstone, a senior colleague, formerly of Sydney, Australia, shared this story with me in 1993. I spent that year in Sydney as a Rabbinic intern sent by the Rebbe along with a group of 15 friends.

Rabbi Woolstone reminisced about his teenage years, when he first got involved with Jewish observance through a Chabad Rabbi in Sydney. At one point, in response to a communication, the Rebbe remarked to him (I paraphrase in translation), “When a young man walks through Bondi Junction proudly displaying a Yarmulke and Tzitzis, the ministering angels on high envy the great Nachas this brings to Hashem.”

Bondi Junction is an area near the Yeshiva and the famous Bondi Beach. At that time it had a major train station and shopping area through which thousands of people passed every day. It has since developed into an entire neighborhood. Wearing visibly Jewish gear in Bondi Junction was a major statement about ones pride in his Jewish identity.

Baruch Hashem we have people in New Orleans proudly displaying their Jewish identity, thereby keeping the angels busy with their envy of the Nachas this brings to Hashem. We have come a long way since my days growing up in New Orleans. I remember walking through the halls of the JCC at the age of 10 and a kid stopping me to ask if that is how a Jew looks. I was wondering if he noticed the J in JCC on the outside of the building… We have come a long way indeed.

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, I wish each of you, that Hashem inscribe and seal you for a sweet, healthy, prosperous and meaningful year of 5779.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


A New Day At TA / The Elul Snooze

What began as a big step toward a secure NOLA Jewish future in last spring, has now evolved into a giant leap. Just a few months after a successful launch to the “Burn The Mortgage Campaign” with a goal of $3.5 million, Torah Academy was presented with a significant naming gift, and will henceforth be known as “Joseph and Rosina Slater Torah Academy.” This gift by longtime member of the New Orleans Jewish community, Rosina Slater, brings the campaign to 80% percent of the goal. A naming dedication ceremony will be held within the month, with details to be released in the near future. For further dedication opportunities see

This coming Shabbat is the beginning of the month of Elul on the Jewish calendar. Elul represents a shift in focus as we look toward the Days of Awe – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe recalled the Elul atmosphere of his childhood town of Lubavitch. “On the Shabbat before Elul, though it was a clear, sunny day, there was a change in the air; one already smelled the Elul-scent, a Teshuvah-wind was blowing.”

One of the activities that helps us become Elul focused, is the daily sounding of the Shofar. Maimonides shares an interesting take on the purpose for sounding the Shofar. “Even though the sounding of the shofar on Rosh HaShanah is a scriptural decree, it contains an allusion. It is as if (the shofar's call) is saying: Wake up you sleepy ones from your sleep and you who slumber, arise. Inspect your deeds, repent, remember your Creator. Those who forget the truth in the vanities of time and throughout the entire year, devote their energies to vanity and emptiness which will not benefit or save: Look to your souls. Improve your ways and your deeds and let every one of you abandon his evil path and thoughts.”

In contemporary terms, the Shofar is the ring of our alarm clock or smartphone notification ringtone. What happens when the alarm clock rings in the morning? Either you wake up or you press snooze. If you press snooze, it rings again 9 minutes later. Rinse, lather, repeat. It’s possible (and for many people, probable) that you can continue pressing snooze every 9 minutes for a long time. (Trust me, I know from personal experience.)

The same is true for Elul and the shofar. We can hear the blast of the Shofar and press snooze on our convictions to improve and get closer to Hashem. In fact we can go through the whole month of Elul pressing snooze with the intention of “waking up” in 9 minutes, only to find that the month has slipped away and we are face to face with Rosh Hashanah without the slightest shift in a positive direction. So don’t snooze through Elul. Wake up and get the early bird special on Teshuvah, while it is hot and fresh.

May we all be inscribed and sealed for a happy, healthy, prosperous and meaningful new year of 5779.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


Complex Carbohydrates

One of the core philosophical principles of Chassidic thought is the Baal Shem Tov’s notion that the universe requires constant and ongoing creation in order to exist. Since the universe is “creatio ex-nihilo” (something from nothing), which is an “unnatural” state of being, ongoing creation is an imperative. He takes it a step further in that each act of creation is anew, meaning that it is as if the world is being brought into being for the first time. There is nothing compelling the existence of the universe, but for the continuous new infusion of creative force from the Creator. As such, there need not necessarily be a continuity between the world as it existed a moment ago to the world as it exists in the current moment. It is just the kindness of the creator that allows the new creation of the universe every moment to come along with history, thereby giving our lives within that continuum a sense of retention. A symptom of that perceived continuity is that the universe does not recognize itself as being constantly created. Rather it sees itself as having existed for as long as its “history” remembers.

There are phenomena in the universe that serve to remind of the true nature of its existence. One such example is the Manna that fell for the Jews in the wilderness. The parsha describes the Manna as imposing hunger and affliction. What was so afflictive about having your meals delivered to your doorstep fresh and delicious for free?

There are two elements within the Manna that were very strange. The first is that it had to come each day anew. Every morning fresh Manna fell and was collected. So much so, that when they didn’t consume it entirely, by the next morning, yesterday’s Manna was completely rotten and inedible. Part of the Manna experience was that it had to be experienced anew each day. The second element is, that while each portion of Manna looked the same, the taste could be whatever a person imagined (with a few exceptions). These elements were simultaneously the cause of the affliction as well as wondrous reminders of faith in the Creator.

A person who is eating his last morsel of food without having a plan for the next meal, cannot truly be sated. The worry about from where the next crust of bread will come, leaves him feeling empty even while the current meal is filling. With the Manna, each day required an act of faith to finish off the food without having the food in the pantry for tomorrow.

Furthermore, the sense of sight is a central component of the gastronomic experience. The inability to see what you are eating leaves you somewhat unsatisfied. With the Manna, the inability to see what you were tasting, even though it had the potential for a broad range of flavors, left you somewhat wanting.

Both of these elements are indicative of the Manna being of an ethereal nature. The falling of the Manna each day anew is a hint of the world’s true existence – the dependency on ongoing renewal of creation. The capacity for diverse flavors despite the Manna’s plain appearance, is reflective of it not being limited to the finite properties of physical existence. An entity that is recreated every moment is not limited to tasting the way it did a day ago or even a minute ago.

When we recite grace after meals – Birkat Hamazon, we use the very text that Moses composed for recitation after a meal of Manna. We are meant to contemplate, that although our food appears more predictable, it is inherently the same blessing from above as the Manna. It should help us recall our absolute ongoing dependency on Hashem for every aspect of life down to the very existence of life and the universe itself.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


Dancing over Destruction

We are very excited to announce, that in commemoration of the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, Chabad of Louisiana will be hosting Eva Schloss, the sister of Anne Frank, for a Holocaust memorial lecture on Tuesday, November 6. She is from a generation that is fading and their stories must be told so that the world will know and remember. If you would like to be involved in the event planning or sponsorship please let me or one of my colleagues, Rabbi Zelig Rivkin, Rabbi Nemes, and Rabbi Ceitlin, know. The time and venue will be determined in the coming days. Tickets will be available once the details are set.

This past Sunday we marked the 9th of Av, anniversary of the destruction of the Holy Temple. There is a fascinating passage in Lurianic Kabbala where the question is asked: Why do we diminish our mourning on Tisha B’av in the afternoon and recite passages of comfort in the Mincha prayer? The Talmud indicates that the main destruction of the Temple actually occurred in the afternoon! So the mourning should seemingly intensify in the afternoon rather than lessen.

He cites a Talmudic commentary explaining a curious verse in Psalm 79. “A song by Asaph. O G-d, nations have entered Your inheritance, they defiled Your Holy Sanctuary; they turned Jerusalem into heaps of rubble.” Asks the Talmud, “A song by Asaph? It should be a lamentation by Asaph! They should cry rather than sing! The sages explain, that with the burning of the Temple, the Jewish people realized that the wrath of G-d was being poured onto the “wood and stones” of the Temple structure rather than over the nation of Israel itself. They therefore took comfort from and “rejoiced” over the complete destruction of the Temple and the song was composed to express their gratitude to Hashem for that. (The Arizal offers an alternative explanation that is not mutually exclusive to the above commentary. He proposes that since the potential Moshiach was born immediately in the wake of the destruction, therefore Tisha B’av afternoon we focus on the comfort of the future redemption.)

The Rebbe cites this teaching and points out that from this we can derive that, the notion of Tisha B’av afternoon being a time of comfort, actually started that very first Tisha B’av, not a year or years later. As the Jewish people watched the flames devouring the building, they rejoiced in the knowledge that Am Yisrael Chai, the Jewish nation lives and will live forever. Buildings may come and go, but the people will survive and thrive.

Talk about optimism and a positive attitude… This may be the origin of the Jewish perspective on survival. Certainly this shapes our own approach to Tisha B’av. This idea is emphasized even more in the days following the fast day, where the focus is only on the hope for the future! May our fervent hopes and wishes for redemption and comfort be realized in totality very soon!

Congratulations to Camp Gan Israel on another wonderful summer! Much appreciation to Rabbi Peretz and Mushka Kazen and their amazing staff for giving our children an awesome experience!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Jaguar Attack and Halacha

Living in New Orleans in the mid-70s, I remember the Audubon Zoo as a frightful nightmare. The animals were housed in old-fashioned cages and a visit to the zoo was hardly fun. All that changed toward the end of the 70s when major changes were implemented and the zoo evolved over time into one of the premier zoos worldwide. With those improvements we loved visiting the zoo, as do my children until this day. My mother’s Audubon Institute membership card is responsible for many exciting days for her grandchildren from around the country.

I am not going to get into the morality of zoos and whether animals should be housed in captivity or not; as I do not know enough about the subject to offer intelligent commentary.

This week’s incident with Valerio, the Jaguar that escaped and went on a mauling rampage resulting in the death of nine animals, got me thinking about a related Halachic connection. Six of the animals were killed right away and the other three died within days as a result of their injuries.

One of the conditions that can render an animal non-Kosher (unfit for consumption) is called Trefah. This means that the animal suffers from a condition that threatens it health and life. There are many different causes and types of circumstances that can designate an animal as Trefah. One of them is called Derusah – mauling by a wild animal. Halacha discusses the criteria of Derusah depending on the species of the aggressor. A lion and similar sized cat has the capacity to maul even a large animal such as a bull thereby threatening its Kosher status. One of the areas of discussion is whether the animal can survive after the mauling for an extended period of time. There are different Halachic methods used to make the determination.

Initially after the jaguar incident, some of the animals that had been mauled were projected to survive. Within two days all three of them died, including the fox that was in stable condition. This really drove home to me the Halacha on full display about the impact that mauling has on the long term viability of the animals that survive. Just another example of seeing the world through the lenses of Torah.

On a different note… This Shabbat is Tisha B’av and so the fast is delayed to Sunday. Usually the meal that we eat before the fast is eaten in a mournful state; bread and eggs dipped in ashes, while sitting on a low stool all by oneself. However because on Shabbat no public display of mourning is allowed, the meal before the fast can include even meat and wine. When Tisha B’av falls out this way, we get a taste of Redemption when the fast will be abolished and transformed into a celebration. May we indeed experience that transformation this year so Tisha B’av will be celebrated as the Festival of Redemption!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Friendship in Action

Rabbi Bunim of Pshischa, one of the early Chasidic masters, developed a reputation as a prodigy at a very young age. Scholars who came to visit his father vied for the privilege to discuss Torah topics with him. Once a group of scholars were visiting and his father asked him to prepare a scholarly presentation on the Mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim, welcoming guests. Young Bunim went to the next room, ostensibly to prepare his Dvar Torah. A while later he returned. Curiously he asked his father and the guests to join him in the next room. When they entered they saw a room with beds prepared for gusts to spend the night. Instead of talking, he demonstrated the Mitzvah through action.

During these three weeks of commemoration for the destruction of the Temple, there is an emphasis on Ahavat Yisrael and Achdut Yisrael – love and unity among the Jewish people. This is to mitigate the baseless hatred and divisiveness that was a primary cause for the destruction. There are a lot of teachings that explain the value of love, unity and friendship. Enough to fill three weeks’ worth of Dvar Torahs and beyond. And then there are those who demonstrate with actions!

I experienced this type of friendship recently. Although he may get upset at me for publicly acknowledging it, I am ready to take the heat so that others learn from his example.

Yesterday, Yochanan and I were on a reconnaissance mission for the New Orleans Eruv project. We were surveying certain trouble spots that were identified as areas that need to be addressed. We were driving between Orpheum and Airline Dr. at the Parish line on Cecil St. We got out to survey that corner and then needed to head back toward Orpheum. We spotted a dirt road that could get us there without having to go all the way around Airline and back. In an ill-advised move we took the road. About halfway through, the car got stuck in the gravel mixed with mud. We tried to get it out but we just dug ourselves deeper into the rut. I told Yochanan to call AAA and then headed back to Airline to flag down a truck to give us a push out. It was hot and sunny. The first truck I stopped – the driver said he was on company GPS and couldn’t go off of his designated route. The second truck was a JP public works truck. The driver said he drove there all of the time but he didn’t want to risk anything because of liability and permission. He offered to call the Fire Dept… Finally an hour later the tow truck came from AAA. After driving halfway toward our car the driver decided that he didn’t want to risk getting his truck stuck so he left and said that he asked dispatch to get us a different kind of vehicle.

We were at wits end. Nearly two hours in the heat; tired, thirsty and sunburned. At that point Yochanan called our friend Adam Stross. As soon as he heard he jumped into his truck and was on the way. He tried pushing the car out but it didn’t work. He went and bought a chain, hooked it up to car and yanked it out.

We are still waiting to the second AAA truck…

Some people talk about friendship while others just do it!

Thanks buddy! We appreciate your friendship!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Speak Up

While the vast majority of the Mitzvot are initiated by G-d via His command through Moshe, there are several Mitzvot that were conveyed in response to human initiative. A notable example is in this week’s Parsha with respect to the Mitzvah of inheritance.

The land is being divided amongst the tribes and families. Five sisters approach Moshe with a claim. They are the daughters of Tzelafchad, Machla, Noa, Chagla, Milka and Tirtza. Their claim was that in the absence of male children, their father’s portion would be lost unless they were awarded his portion as rightful heirs. Moshe had a momentary memory lapse on the law of inheritance and he brought their claim to Hashem. In response, the Mitzvah containing the laws of inheritance was conveyed and they were awarded the portion of land.

Why is it that of all of the Mitzvot of the Torah, Moshe would forget this one? Our sages explain (cited by Rashi in our Parsha) that the five sisters merited to have the Mitzvah conveyed through their initiative because of the great love that they expressed for the land of Israel. They were from the tribe of Menashe son of Yosef. Their ancestor Yosef had already demonstrated a love for the land by ensuring that his coffin would be brought there for burial when the Jews left Egypt. Indeed his burial place in Shechem is known until this day. Apparently this trait was passed down in the family. The five sisters absorbed this attachment to Eretz Yisrael and it surfaced in our story. Contrast this with the disdain expressed for the land by the men of the previous generation during the saga of the spies. Parenthetically, this is one of the areas of Jewish life and history where the women outshone the men with their devotion and faith.

What would have happened had they not spoken up? Would we never have been given this set of laws? Highly unlikely. In fact the Midrash comments on the verse where G-d affirms the claim of Tzelafchad’s daughters, “This is the way this passage is inscribed before Me on high.” As if to say, the passage was ready to be conveyed as a Mitzvah and they merited to be the means by which is was done. Yet, unlike other times, the Mitzvah did in fact come through their initiative. This teaches us that Hashem values initiative. There are times that He would rather things develop from below. Certainly the initiative must be within the context of Hashem’s will as conveyed through Moshe. We can’t just make up our own rules and principles. If the plan had been nixed by Hashem through Moshe then they would know that they were mistaken. But it wasn’t nixed and they had been justified. The result is they merited to be associated with this Mitzvah for the rest of history.

If one has an idea, an observation, a suggestion or something similar, speak up. One never knows if their initiative can change the course of history. This is also the answer to those who criticize the Rebbe’s approach to incessantly praying for and demanding the Redemption through Moshiach. They say that it is up to Hashem anyway so why bother? Imagine if the daughters of Tzelafchad would have just resigned themselves and not spoken up? On the contrary, Hashem appreciates and values initiative. In this case we take the initiative to press the issue until we experience the Redemption!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Alone but not Aloof

A Jew living in Berlin is the 1930s would go each morning to a café and order coffee and a copy of Der Sturmer (Nazi propaganda newspaper). His friends asked him how he could bring himself to read that vile publication. He replied, “When I read the Jewish papers, I learn of all of the negative things befalling our people. Der Stumer tells me how we are on top of the world, we control the banks, the media, the arts etc.”

In this Parsha, one of our greatest enemies, Bilaam, proclaims some of the most eloquent praises of the Jewish people. One of them “a people that dwells alone, and will not be reckoned among the nations.” This refers to the “otherness” of the Jewish people. (For more on this, see earlier post entitled Embracing Our Otherness -

I would like to suggest that there is also a personal application of this idea for each of us. There is a tension that is generated when we attempt to integrate our studies, faith and practice with our mundane human activities. On one hand we come to appreciate the beauty of G-dliness and spirituality. This can lead us to spurn the pursuit of material or physical experiences. We may endeavor to “float” slightly above the mundane so that we are not caught up in the earthliness of day to day life. On the other hand, we are enjoined by G-d to make this world G-dly – a dwelling for the Divine. This can only be achieved by engaging the very earthliness we are attempting to escape.

I recently heard a talk given by a colleague, in which he referenced an enigmatic Kabbalistic passage that was quoted by the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, who was citing a talk by his father, the Rebbe Rashab. The author of the passage is R’ Shamshon Ostropolier, a mystic who was murdered during the Chelminicki massacres of 1648. He writes (paraphrasing from Hebrew) “It is good to have isolation while among people and solitude within your fellow men.” The Rebbe Rashab declared that this passage contained the underlying current of all of Chassidus.

Is he advocating for the isolation and solitude of escapism? First of all that does not fit with Chabad philosophy of engaging the world to transform it into a dwelling for Hashem. Secondly, his isolation is “among people” and his solitude is “within your fellow men.” Those qualifications do not suggest escapism or the life of a hermit. So what is the meaning; and how does it reflect the very core of Chabad doctrines?

He is teaching us how to resolve the aforementioned tension. He is giving us the secret to surviving the paradox of being a Jew who loves G-d and cleaves to Him, while living very much in 2018 and making the most of what modern advancements have to offer. We must be “among people” and “within our fellow men” while at the same time be isolated and in solitude. We speak the language of the 21st century while our hearts and souls are connected to an ancient source. We are present and in the moment, but we remember that it is for a purpose. We engage, but only in order to sublimate and transform. Bearing this in mind, we never allow the worldliness or earthliness to define or control us. On the contrary, we define it.

This then is the application of the passage from Bilaam, a people that dwells alone and is not reckoned among the nations. We live “among the nations” and are very much a part of this world. But we remain alone. We remember that we have a real self that propels us to hover above while simultaneously “remaining within.” When we live this way, we are assured to be successful in our mission of making this world a dwelling for the Divine!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin




A Life of Happiness and Good Fortune

Malkie and I are very touched by all of the blessings and good wishes extended to us on the occasion of our daughter, Mushka’s recent marriage to Yossi Cohen. Marrying off a child is an intense experience, especially the first one. Thank G-d the wedding was wonderful and, again we are grateful for those who graced us with their blessings both in person and from afar.

There are certain standard forms of blessing that the Rebbe wrote to people in honor of a wedding. One of those is the Hebrew phrase “Chaim Me’usharim Bakol.” Chaim means life. Bakol means in all. Me’usharim is hard to translate. It is the plural form of Me’ushar, which is the verb form of a combination of happiness and good fortune. So the blessing could be rendered as “A life of happiness and good fortune in all.”

On the morning of the wedding Malkie and I took Mushka to visit the Rebbe’s Ohel. As we stood there praying for our daughter’s future, I contemplated the meaning of this blessing, Chaim Me’usharim Bakol. At first glance it seems a bit cliché. We wish a young couple happiness. But happiness is subjective. What if they are too immature to know what true happiness is? Or what is they are so mature that they are happy with very little? That is why we add good fortune to the mix. This is more objective. On the other hand, good fortune does not guarantee happiness. One has to also come to appreciate what good fortune is as it comes from the Source of all Blessing. So the Rebbe combines the two together. And he then adds Bakol, in all. If a person has happiness and good fortune in all, health, prosperity, a peaceful marriage, healthy children, spiritual fulfillment and a purposeful life, this is indeed an all-encompassing worthy blessing.  

As they stand at the very beginning of their lives together, we wish our daughter and son-in-law, to quote the Rebbe, Chaim Me’usharim Bakol, a life of happiness and good fortune in all and the wisdom to appreciate it! They began their marriage surrounded by the love of family and friends, the spirituality of our sacred marriage customs, and the holiness of a chupah in the shadow of 770, the place from which the Rebbe taught, inspired and blessed so many. May this serve as a beautiful and solid foundation upon which they build their lives.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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