ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Lactose Tolerance - Got Milk?

I recently read an article in a popular Jewish publication featuring a proponent of a vegan approach to Shavuot, while playing down the popular custom of eating dairy foods, a practice that is anathematic to vegans. One of the arguments offered was that if we get back to basics, Shavuot is depicted in the Bible as a “wheat harvest festival,” while the focus on dairy is a newer-fangled custom.

There is no question that the Torah associates the festival of Shavuot with the wheat harvest, and in fact, mandates that an offering be brought in the Temple from the new crop of wheat. However, Shavuot is undoubtably also connected to the anniversary of Revelation at Sinai, and is referenced in the prayers of the day as Zman Matan Torateinu – the season of the giving of our Torah.

Now the practice of eating dairy on Shavuot is certainly not a Mitzvah. The wheat offering most certainly was a Mitzvah. Yet, chronologically, the practice of eating dairy on Shavuot actually precedes the wheat offering, because it was done by the Jewish people standing at Sinai, while the wheat offering did not take place for at least another year, if not 40 years. See for more on the custom of eating dairy.

So, while I definitely respect the right of vegans to not eat dairy, even on Shavuot, I would be hesitant to downplay it as an insignificant custom. Indeed, the “big deal” we make about eating dairy on Shavuot highlights the preciousness of mere customs and the valuable role they play in our connection to Hashem.

Another custom is learning all night on Shavuot eve. And yet another, very important, custom is to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments on Shavuot day. Please join us at Chabad (all locations) for these uplifting celebrations. For more information, see below or

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The Crown of a Good Name

Many people spend a lifetime crafting an image and creating a legacy for themselves, by which they wish to be remembered. A lot of thought goes into every “positive” thing that they do. The timing, the optics, and opportunity for maximum exposure are all considered.

And then there are those who just go about their day and leave a lasting impact on those around them.

Ethics of Our Fathers (4:13) states: Rabbi Shimon says: There are three crowns—the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of sovereignty—but the crown of good name surmounts them all.

The “crown of a good name” does not need a lot of explanation. You know it when you encounter it. A person who possesses it is the type to leave you with a positive feeling following an interaction with them.

This week our family mourns the loss of a young relative, my 40-year-old cousin, Eli Baitelman, of Los Angeles. Eli served as a Chabad Rabbi for many years and then transitioned over to the business world to become a contractor. While he may have switched hats, he didn’t switch crowns. The “crown of a good name” followed him wherever he went. He was the same source of kindness and blessing to whomever he encountered.

He would share an encouraging word. He would speak to Jewish customers or business associates about holidays and Jewish practices. He put on Tefillin with Jewish subs, clients, and site inspectors. Needy families were the beneficiaries of his generous approach to business.

At his funeral, in addition to family, friends, and community members, a large contingent of his loyal employees participated, openly demonstrating their emotions over the passing of their “boss.” He gave them opportunities to support their families and treated them with kindness and respect.

“The crown of a good name surmounts them all.”

But there is a grieving family trying to come to terms with this tremendous loss. His young wife, seven children; his mother, siblings, and extended family. We do not know why Hashem would take a person at this young age, but we do know that we must step up and help where we can. A fund was set up to assist his family as they navigate this overwhelming challenge. Please join me in generously contributing at

May Hashem bring them strength and comfort in these difficult times. Even better, may Hashem put an end to the suffering by ushering in the era of Redemption when, “those who dwell in the dust will arise and sing” and be reunited with their loved ones once again.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Floating Skull on Lake Pontchartrain

In 1985 a skull fragment was discovered near the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. At the time they were only able to determine that it belonged to a female 25-35 years old. As technology improved, further testing was done, and a greater profile was developed. Just last week it was reported that cold case investigators used carbon 14 testing and determined that the skull fragment was from a person who lived around 1500 BCE. Testing even revealed some of her lifestyle and eating habits.

As I came across this news story, I thought about a similar story reported in the Talmud (Avot Chapter 2). The great sage Hillel was walking alongside a body of water and saw a skull floating atop the water. Pondering what he saw, he declared, “You were drowned because you drowned others. And ultimately, those who drowned you will also drown.”

Maimonides explains that Hillel was teaching us the principal of “measure for measure.” He then adds that if this is true in a negative sense, how much more so does G-d reward someone for a positive matter. Rambam’s grandson suggests in the name of “the ancient ones” that the skull belonged to Pharaoh, who ruled Egypt at the time of the Exodus. (Interestingly this would place the skull that Hillel saw to have lived around the same time period (give or take a century or two) as the skull fragment discovered on the Northshore in 1985.)

The Arizal cites this interpretation and gives a radical insight. The second half of Hillel’s statement, “And ultimately, those who drowned you will also drown” is addressed not to Pharaoh, but to the Jewish people. It is Hillel’s way of comforting the Jews through the terrible millennia of persecution, that no matter how insurmountable a circumstance we might be facing, Hashem has the last word. Indeed, we look back at all of those who sought to “drown us” and they themselves have been relegated to the history books, while Am Yisrael Chai.

The Rebbe adds an even more radical insight. Hillel was known to be a humble and kind man. Why would he rebuke a skull, even that of Pharaoh, over a thousand years after his demise? Hillel said to himself, “Why would Hashem show me this sight?” By using Pharaoh to bring a meaningful message to the Jewish people, Hillel granted Pharaoh’s wandering soul a measure of peace as well.

As Paul Harvey would sign off… “And now you know, the rest of the story.”

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

When Nothing = Everything

Who doesn’t want to have the Shechinah – Divine Presence in their lives? The question is how do we accomplish this? One of the answers is offered by Rabbi Chanina in Ethics of our Fathers (3:2): “Two who sit and exchange words of Torah, the Divine Presence rests amongst them.” Seems pretty simple. Sit with someone else and speak some words of Torah and we are good to go. Not so fast. A close examination of the precise language tells a different story. Furthermore, the scriptural proof that he cites from Malachai 3:16, “Then the G‑d-fearing conversed with one another, and G‑d listened and heard,” offers some further insight into the prerequisites for welcoming the Shechinah into our midst.

It seems that being G-d fearing an integral part of the equation. “Two who sit” implies that they are sitting at an equal level to each other. “Exchange words of Torah” and “Conversed with one another” further imply a symbiotic relationship where each is a contributor. This tells us that that if one feels superior to the other, the Shechinah does not rest amongst them. How do we ensure that we remain cognizant of this at all times when learning Torah?

For this we turn to the previous clause in the same passage of Ethics of our Fathers. “Rabbi Chanina, deputy to the kohanim, would say: Pray for the integrity of the government; for were it not for the fear of its authority, a man would swallow his neighbor alive.”

While a literal application of this teaching is certainly a good idea, the Rebbe takes a deeper dive into the meaning of these words of wisdom. The word for government in this passage is Malchut (sovereignty). This alludes to the Sovereignty of the A-lmighty. Fear of its authority is the sense of awe that one must have for G-d. Swallowing the life of the neighbor equates to condescendingly not allowing another person to have an individual identity, because of their unworthiness in your eyes.  

When we are aware of the Sovereignty of Hashem, this arouses our awe and reverence for Him, thereby evoking a strong sense of humility before Hashem’s greatness. That humility prevents us from feeling superior to another. Because this is something that is not easy to maintain, we are instructed to pray for this, helping us to internalize the message in an ongoing manner.

Once we operate in this mindset, then the next passage is a perfect segue, two people sit together and exchange words of Torah, who view themselves as equals due to their mutual humility before G-d, merit to have the Shechinah dwell amongst them. It matters little that their knowledge or level of learning may not be the same. They both live with the sense of reverence of Hashem, which causes them to operate in a humility mindset. This is the key to success in bringing the Shechinah in our midst.

In the end, the sense of being nothing brings a person everything.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Lessons Learned on the Road - 2023 Edition

Longtime readers of this column recall that over the years I have shared adventures of our family’s road trips and the lessons we learned from them. For some examples, see, and,

For those of you wondering, our annual trek to New York for Pesach went smoothly without incident, thank G-d. However even when things go well, being in a confined space with your family for 30 hours, affords one the ability to learn a thing or two about life. 

On our way up to New York before the holiday, we were driving for a few hours when our one-year-old son Shneur began to wail. Malkie made him a bottle and passed it back to be given to him. For a moment or two he was quiet, but then he started fussing again. Clearly there was something dissatisfying about the bottle. So she asked that the bottle be passed back up to the front seat so she can examine it and see what was wrong. As soon as it was taken from him, his cries reached ear-splitting decibels. Malkie identified the issue. There is a mechanism in the bottle that prevents dripping which was not installed properly, and it was preventing the liquid from coming through to his mouth. She fixed it and passed it back, and all was well and quiet. 

All of this was taking place as I am driving. Being slightly detached from the goings on gave me the ability to consider what happened and make an observation. If only Shneur had the sense to realize that his mother took the bottle away so as to make it better for him, instead of crying he would have been enthusiastically grateful. The problem is that at the age of one, he lacks that discernment. I shared my thoughts with Malkie, and almost simultaneously, we looked at each other and both said, “aren’t we all like that at times.” We both knew that this would be the substance of an upcoming “weekly email.” 

We are all like Shneur in the story at times in our lives. Hashem bestows blessings upon us. Sometimes it seems like the blessings are out of reach and inaccessible. We “cry” and are unhappy about the state of our lives. Then when the blessings are reinstated and become accessible again, we look back and realize that Hashem gave us something far superior than what we thought we had previously. Had we possessed the patience, maturity, and foresight, rather than crying and kvetching, we would have been enthusiastically grateful for the wonderful gift that Hashem was improving for us. 

The expression used in the Talmud is “Gam Zu L’Tovah - This too is for the best.” The Rebbe explains that the message is that the apparent obstacle not only leads to a good outcome, but is itself making things even better in a way that we cannot yet perceive. With the correct attitude we have the ability to not only accept, but embrace what Hashem is doing as being directly for our benefit. 

May all of Hashem’s blessings to each of us be in an open and revealed manner that require neither a magnifying glass nor a degree in philosophy to recognize.

Shabbat Shalom
Mendel Rivkin

Give Me Liberty - Give Me Life

Pesach is all about liberation. The first time it was from Egyptian bondage. Subsequently, it is also liberation from a slavery mindset or personal limitations. We often enslave ourselves to societal pressure or a self-created paradigm in which we are stuck. Pesach is the time to focus on breaking out of those “Metzarim” or boundaries that are keeping us down and preventing our true growth.

Last week the New Orleans Home and Garden show was held at the Morial Convention Center. We had a guest with us for Shabbat, a young Israeli fellow, who was a vendor at the show. He fashions knives and other kitchen tools. He shared with us a moving story of what happens when you break free of your self-created limitations.

He comes from a family that is traditional but not observant. When he moved to the US to expand his business, he started to attend a Synagogue. The Rabbi organized a trip to the New York area and encouraged him to go. During the trip the group visited a Yeshiva for Hebrew speakers in New York. At the end of the trip the Rabbi asked each of the participants to make a Jewish commitment. My guest said that he wasn’t sure what kind of commitment he was ready for. The Rabbi said, “why don’t you commit to study in Yeshiva for a week?” To which he responded, “I will commit to two weeks in Yeshiva.”

When they returned home, the Rabbi asked him when he was planning to keep his commitment. He replied that he wasn’t sure yet. The Rabbi said, you need to strike while the iron is hot, and suggested a time that was very near. He replied, I cannot go at that time, I already committed to exhibiting at a show in another city. The Rabbi pressed him a little and encouraged him to take the leap. After a brief deliberation, he decided to cancel his appearance at the show and go to Yeshiva. This came at a business cost because he had already put down a deposit for the exhibition and it was not refundable at that point. He would also lose the potential income from new orders that would be gained at the show. But he was prepared to accept the loss and keep his commitment to Hashem.

Four hours later he received a message from Williams Sonoma, one of the largest players in his industry. He had been trying for half a year to get them to carry his products, but he could never get anyone to give him a real answer. That day he was contacted and was given the largest order he had ever received. The profit on that order was more than he would make for months on end from all other orders.

As soon as he experienced his own “exodus from Egypt,” his opportunities expanded in unprecedented ways.

May we all experience our personal liberation from that which is keeping us down, from within and from without.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Pesach
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Humble vs. Worthless

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Did You Get Your Booster This Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The Revolution that Began in a Wheelchair

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


It's All About "Luces"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Big-Tent Judaism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Healing Attitude

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Five weeks ago, I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Power of 11

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

When In Rome, Do As G-d Does!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Neutralizing Our Inner Pharaoh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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