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Why Do People Love Their Children?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Worthy Milestone

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Burden or Privilege?

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

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

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

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

It’s all about perspective…

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

It's All About Control

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The Grammar of Love

I would like to take this opportunity to extend good wishes to my father, Rabbi Zelig Rivkin, upon his upcoming 70th birthday. Our sages associate this age with a passage in Psalms 92. So our wish paraphrases the words of King David, “May you, together with our mother, flourish like a palm, grow as a cedar, and develop with age while remaining fresh and well sated (materially and spiritually).”

If you would like to make a donation to Chabad of Louisiana in honor of Rabbi Rivkin’s birthday, please go to

This Parsha contains the Shema, during which we are commanded to love Hashem our G-d. The Hebrew term for love is Ahavah. Our tradition offers several deeper perspectives into the root of the word Ahavah.

The first is that it comes from the word Hav – meaning to give. The alef functions as a prefix with the root being hav. To love is to give. When you love someone, you give to them without expectations. Love is not about getting; it is about giving. If we love Hashem, then we must think about what we are giving to Hashem. The Torah tells us, that we give by following Hashem’s instructions, including those enumerated in that very same passage.

Another approach is that the root is Avah – meaning to desire. The hei functions as a letter that emphasizes the degree of desire. The sound made by a hei (similar to an H) is the sound of breath coming from deep within the heart to the outside. In this instance, to love is to desire a connection with the other. In the case of Hashem, it is to desire to have a connection with Hashem instilled within the heart. This is achieved by a person deeply contemplating that the G-d of Creation, my G-d, is the Infinite G-d of Transcendence. When that notion becomes ingrained within a person’s psyche and consciousness, it entirely transforms the way that person goes through life.  

May we merit to achieve Ahavah in both ways, thereby enjoying a profound relationship with Hashem and a meaningful life.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The Ultimate Pleasure

Pleasure is a vital component of the human condition. We experience it on many levels and in many forms. In fact, the capacity for pleasure may be one of the most dominant faculties of the human being. It is a powerful motivator, and a compass in decision making process.

Let’s talk about various sources of pleasure in the life of a person. At the lowest level it would be pleasure that originates from a physical experience, such as the pleasure of tasty food and the like. A deeper level of pleasure might be experienced through music that moves a person deeply. Taking it to the next level, there is the pleasure associated with emotions, perhaps from doing something kind for another or expressing love to another. Maybe it comes from reading or seeing an emotionally moving narrative.

The most uniquely human pleasure is the pleasure of the intellect. When one hears or reads something that is intellectually stimulating this can be a source of deep pleasurable experience. When one make an intellectual discovery, whether a solution to a complex problem or a new dimension in a field of interest, this can rock the person’s world in a pleasure sense.

Within the pleasure of intellect, there is the pleasure of Torah learning. What makes Torah even more special, is that it also causes pleasure for the soul. King David in Psalm 119 writes 176 verses of praise for the Torah and Mitzvot. Each one expresses a dimension of our relationship with Torah and Hashem. Verse 97 he declares, “O how I love Your ">Torah! All day it is my discussion.” For a Jew, the greatest pleasure of all should be in the study of Torah.

I heard that once after the Rebbe finished sitting Shiva (during which one is halachicly restricted in the area of Torah study), he came back to his room and opened a volume of the Talmud to begin studying immediately. One of the members of the Rebbe’s secretariat said that he was inhaling the Torah like a person coming up for air after being underwater.

In addition to the intellectual pleasure and fulfillment, there is also the soul connection that one forges with Hashem through learning Torah.

In this vein, Chabad is happy to offer you a pleasurable experience at Project Talmud Summer 2019. It is being held tonight (Thursday, August 8) from 7-9 pm at the Btesh Family Chabad House (Uptown). Two guest lecturers will be sharing inspiring and uplifting talks. The first topic is, “The Heavenly City – The History and Sanctity of Jerusalem. The second topic is, G-d’s Toolbox – Discovering the Energy of the Universe in the Alef-Bet.

We look forward to seeing you there tonight.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Evidence of Russian Collusion

They have discovered evidence of Russian collusion! Relax; take a deep breath. I am not talking about 2016. I am referring to a recently discovered audio clip of a phone call between New York and Moscow in 1986.

First some background. As we all know, following the Communist revolution, the Soviets clamped down considerably on religious practice and education. For seven decades Judaism was kept alive in the Soviet Union by a network of underground activities overseen by Chabad chassidim. There were several opportunities for Jews to leave the USSR. but the vast majority remained trapped behind the Iron Curtain. The Rebbe remained in constant contact with the Jews of the USSR by means of coded letters and smuggled communications by visitors. Some visitors were even brave enough to film movies of the Jews in Russia and their messages for the Rebbe. (See the film Embers for more on this –

One of the individuals who traveled to Russia frequently was Rabbi Berel Levy – the founder of the OK Kosher agency. As a Kosher supervisor he had access to the Soviet Union for business purposes. Shortly before Purim in 1986, he was directed by the Rebbe to place a phone call to Reb Getche Vilensky, a top figure in the Chabad Russian underground.

Rabbi Levy, using two operators, reaches Reb Getche by phone and tells him that the Zeide (grandfather – the Rebbe’s code name) wants to know why Kalman Meilach (Tamarin – another active Chabad chasid) was refusing to take insulin. The phone call lasted about 7 minutes, most of which was Rabbi Levy making sure that the message was understood. In the course of the conversation Rabbi Levy emphasized that the Zeide wants to know from Kalman Meilach himself why he is not taking the insulin. He asked him to tell a certain person who was going to be visiting Russia soon thereafter, and that she would get the message to the Zeide.

I cannot even fathom how much that phone call cost. Yet the Rebbe was so concerned about this single yid stuck in the USSR that he went to great lengths to find out what was going on. Several weeks later two bochurim (one was the brother of Mrs. Nemes) were traveling to Russia to arrange Pesach activities, and they were instructed to get a letter in writing from Kalman Meilach on why he refused to take the insulin. It turns out Kalman Meilach was worried about the insulin containing porcine products. This in itself is amazing. He was willing to risk his health over this issue. (It turns out that there is no halachic issue with it; but he was not certain in Russia.)

May we merit to have a fraction of the Rebbe’s Ahavas Yisrael and Kalman Meilach’s yir’as shamayim.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Sliver of Jewish Art History

Some of you may have noticed the recent addition of a lovely piece of artwork at Chabad House. It is a large painting by the late Chassidic artist Zalman Kleinman that was given to Chabad House by my grandmother, Mrs. Dusia Rivkin, may she live and be well.

Today there are a number of Chassidic artists who are well known. Following WWII, there were two Chassidim who ventured into the world of painting. The older one was Hendel (Chenoch) Lieberman, and Zalman Kleinman, who was a generation younger than him.  

My grandmother has an appreciation of art. Over the years she commissioned several paintings by these two artists. Hendel Lieberman was her first cousin and was very close to the family. Last week, in a conversation with me about this Kiddush Levana by Zalman Kleinman, she shared some interesting history into some of the artwork that she had.

In anticipation of my grandfather’s 70th birthday, she called Zalman Kleinman with the idea of painting a large scale Kiddush Levana scene. (Kiddush Levana is the monthly blessing that is recited under the moonlight as it nearly completes its waxing.) At first he was hesitant; but after stating a few stipulations he agreed to undertake the work. When it was finally complete, it was a true masterpiece. I was living with grandparents at the time, and the new painting transformed the living room. Following the completion of Kiddush Levana piece, Kleinman went on the do several more of that scene modeled after my grandmother’s original idea.

Moving back in history to the late 50s, Hendel Lieberman was a middle-aged, struggling artist who had lost his wife and children to the Nazis. The Rebbe uplifted him and encouraged him to rediscover himself through his artistic talent. (For more on that see My grandparents too were struggling to provide for their family on the shores of the USA to which they had arrived in 1947. But to support their cousin Hendel, they bought a few of his works. (I still remember the painting of a rooster staring down at me from the top of the stairs of their third floor.) For my grandfather’s 40th birthday, my grandmother decided that she wanted Hendel to create a painting of the Rebbe for their house. Hendel was very reluctant. As a chasid he was concerned that he wouldn’t get it right and it would be disrespectful to the Rebbe. My grandmother described a concept to him to which he latched on. It was a full length picture of the Rebbe walking while holding his siddur, with light emanating from all around him. Following that commission, several others wanted similar works and it became a concept that people found intriguing.

What I found moving was, that my grandmother does not regard herself as a deep thinking chasid, yet this concept of wherever the Rebbe walks light emanates from him, was something that resonated with her clearly and she was able to translate that into an art concept.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


No Elitist Leadership

What is the leadership role of a Rabbi? To please the board… To give a good sermon… To pay attention to the top donors… To teach and inspire the greatest minds of the community…

When G-d tells Moses about his successor as the Rebbe (leader) of the nation of Israel, he frames Joshua as one “who can relate to the spirit of each and every individual.”

Of course he must appeal to the intellectual bent of the scholars. Certainly he must continue to inspire the committed members of the community. He absolutely has to know how to navigate the board and the big donors. But if he forgets about the little guy, the guy who sits in the middle seat of the third to last row of the Shul, then a successor to Moses he is not!

True Rabbinic leadership is reflected in the ability to truly care and engage every person on their level. To the intellectuals it means scholarship. To someone else it is inspiration. To a third it means showing interest in their business affairs. Men, women, and children of all ages, must all feel that the Rabbi understands them and is tuned in to their needs and spiritual interests.

This concept also filters down to all individuals as they prioritize their lives. When we think about the aspects of ourselves to which we pay the most attention in our quest for self-betterment, this same dilemma can arise. We may be tempted to expand our knowledge base and push our minds to the limit of their capacities. We may be tempted to develop our sense empathy or other elements of our emotional character. Along the way, the nitty gritty details of our day to day actions and choices, may fall by the wayside. We become like the Rabbi who only wants to lead the scholars or the wealthy folks. The “little guys” in our lives are the seemingly insignificant opportunities that come our way for choosing what Hashem wants over what might feel good in the fleeting moment.

While scholarship and character development are important, the true test of a person’s growth and devotion to Hashem is at the level of action. A complete person is one who can focus on growing in all areas, while at the same time connecting the dots at the bottom line.  

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Snake on a Pole

We hope and pray that everyone will get through the upcoming storm without harm. There will likely be significant rain in New Orleans on Saturday. Services will be held as usual. We do encourage people to use common sense when determining the extent of their attendance.

In this week’s Parsha we read about the plague of snakes with which the Jewish people were punished. Upon the people regretting their evil ways, Moshe prayed to Hashem to remove the snakes and this is what happened. “The L-rd said to Moses, "Make yourself a serpent and put it on a pole, and let whoever is bitten look at it and live. Moses made a copper snake and put it on a pole, and whenever a snake bit a man, he would gaze upon the copper snake and live.”

Incidentally, there is good reason to accept that this story is the origin of the snake on a pole serving as the symbol of healing.

The sages of the Talmud comment, “It is not the snake that healed. But rather, when the people gazed at the snake above, they turned their hearts in devotion to G-d.

If this is so, why bother with the snake altogether. Just tell people to turn their hearts to G-d. Furthermore, later in history this copper snake was used in idolatrous ways.

Chassidus explains, that the snake reminds us of the evil within ourselves and the universe. It is the symbol of the force that seeks to turn us away from the will of Hashem. By placing the snake on a pole and raising it high, this serves as a reminder to us that evil (Satan, Yetzer Hara) is actually only a force that G-d employs to give us free will. In reality the Yetzer Hara itself does not want us to listen to the temptations it places before us. When we recall this by looking at the snake raised on the pole, this inspires us to double down on our prayers and efforts of devotion to Hashem and the fulfillment of His will. This infuses us with the strength that we can and must overcome the internal and external pull to defy the will of Hashem. With the help of Hashem coupled with hard work we can succeed.

Shabbat Shalom and stay safe!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

25 Years of Alive and Stronger

25 years is a long time. It’s long enough for a “generation” to be born and grow up. This Shabbos marks 25 years since the Rebbe’s physical passing on the 3rd of Tammuz in 1994. As I reflect on this, I realize that I was born less than 25 years after the passing of the Previous Rebbe (1950). I do not relate to the Previous Rebbe as a person who is of “my times.” Yet as I look around the world of Chabad today, I see thousands of young men and women, boys and girls for whom the Rebbe is a major presence in their lives. They live as Jews with his inspiration. Their striving in life is to fulfill his directives by devoting their lives to bringing people closer to Hashem. They are willing to pick themselves up and set up shop in some small town or remote country as the Rebbe’s Shluchim (emissaries). This is all despite the fact that they never met the Rebbe or heard him speak in person. Notwithstanding this, they relate to the Rebbe as a person who is real and thriving and whose influence on them is ongoing and transformative.

The Rebbe once expressed himself about his father-in-law, the Previous Rebbe, that although he had passed away 35 years before, over those 35 years he became more alive and stronger with each passing year. We can say with certainty that over the last 25 years the Rebbe has become more alive and stronger. The fascination of the Jewish and secular world with the Rebbe also grows. In recent weeks and days four new books were published about the Rebbe and his teachings. With titles like Social Wisdom, Positivity Bias, Dear Rebbe and One by One, they cover an interesting range of topics that the Rebbe addressed and the broad range of people with whom the Rebbe interacted.

As I watch my own children grow and develop into Chassidim of a Rebbe they never met, I realize that he is more real for them than almost any character that dominates the daily news of our society. The Rebbe’s influence on them has provided them with meaningful and hyper-focused lives. It has molded them into people who think about others even at a very young age. They have a worldview that is shaped by the Rebbe’s wide-ranging insights into every conceivable issue. Finally, they are active participants in the drive to bring our world to a state of Redemption. I am grateful to Hashem for gifting our generation with the Rebbe.

We eagerly yearn for the time when the void in our hearts and lives will be filled and we will be reunited with the Rebbe. But for the brief moment until that time comes, we plow forward to continue bringing the Rebbe’s message of hope and empowerment to the world.

Shabbat Shalom from New York
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The Value of a Farbrengen

Anyone slightly familiar with the world of Chassidim has encountered the word Farbrengen. Farbrengen literally means a gathering – a coming together of multiple individuals. A gathering could take place for many reasons. A progrom is a gathering of people for a very negative purpose. A protest or demonstration is a gathering for a purpose whose value depends on which side of the issue one is. A sporting event is a gathering of people for a purpose that is useful bot not very lofty. A conference or trade exhibition is a valuable gathering of people for the purpose of advancing the particular field or industry. There are many more examples. What makes a Farbrengen special and why is the Farbrengen so central to Chassidic life?

The Farbrengen seeks to achieve two major goals and along the way also achieves some secondary goals. The first major goal is brotherhood and friendship. In Hayom Yom (a book of aphorisms for daily inspiration) the Rebbe cites the idea that the founding of the Chassidic movement was about love; the mutual love between the Rebbe and Chassidim and the love between the Chassidim themselves. When people gather in love to break bread and say L’chaim, this brings them closer. When you add to that, the dimension of caring for each other that arises from a Farbrengen, you increase the closeness significantly. At the Farbrengen the participants wish each other well. They may offer blessings to their fellow participants in areas of need in their lives. There is usually the signing of melodies that fosters a commonality of purpose as well. If the niggun is a joyous one the people feed off of each other’s joy. If the niggun is an introspective one, the introspection is heightened by being with others who are similarly engaged.

The second major goal is inspiration and growth in the service of Hashem. At a Farbrengen someone or multiple persons share a thought, an idea or a concept, maybe a story or a parable, all for the purpose of uplifting and elevating the participants in their devotion to Hashem through the study of Torah and fulfillment of Mitzvot. Often the speaker will inspire the listeners to seek a greater sense of refinement of character or a broader openness to caring for others. These two major goals feed off of each other, and are dependent on each other. When one senses the love of another, one is receptive to their encouragement for self-betterment. A fringe benefit of a Farbrengen is Simcha – joy. The camaraderie, the singing and the general feeling of elevation results in a deepened sense of happiness for all who partake.

Please join Chabad of Louisiana on Sunday night (June 30) at 7 pm for a Farbrengen to be held at Chabad Metairie. This Farbrengen is open to the entire community as we prepare for Gimmel Tammuz next Shabbat, marking 25 years since the Rebbe’s physical passing. Though the void is painful, the Rebbe’s leadership and inspiration continues to grow and develop as is evident by the growth of Chabad worldwide. A special video presentation entitled Hidden Treasures will be shown. We look forward to “Farbrenging” with you.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Message to the Edry Family / Practical Mitzvah

This week our community suffered yet another loss with the passing of David Edry. After a brief illness he succumbed on Wednesday evening, returning his soul to his maker. David was a quiet man but always with a wry witticism on the tip of his tongue. He loved his family and was happiest in the nest basking in the warmth of his wife, children and grandchildren, while surrounded by friends. His passing leaves another hole in the Chabad community in general and the Israeli community in particular, who are already reeling from the recent passing of David’s dear friend, Kotel Sadrusi. We express our heartfelt message of comfort and strength to Etty, Sharona, Itay and Gilli along with Luria and Sali. We are here for you in the tough times and G-d willing in the good times.

The sages teach that when a member of a group passes away, the entire group needs to be spurred to examine the areas of their Judaism that could use improvement. It behooves us as a community experiencing a series of tragedies to do the same. Each person as an individual and the community as a whole, must engage in some introspection to see how we can shape things up. Next Sunday (June 30) there will be an inspirational gathering (Farbrengen) at Chabad of Metairie in preparation for Gimmel Tammuz (see below). Let us utilize that opportunity to do some soul searching.

On a practical note, there is a mitzvah opportunity I would like to share with you. A 60 year old Jewish man who I visited in prison several years ago (before he was transferred) is being released to New Orleans in 10 days, after a decade of incarceration. He is being put onto the streets without a single shred of resources or stitch of clothing beyond what he will be wearing. I am trying to help him land on his feet. During his time in prison he has become much more Jewishly aware and observant. He wants live near a Shul so he can daven and keep Shabbos.

I am looking for partners that are willing to help out. We need help in three areas.

1. Gift cards: I want to give him a little bit of breathing space so that he can get into a shelter, purchase some clothing and food until he gets himself settled with a job and place to live. Please contact me about providing either store gift cards or prepaid debit cards to ease his transition.

2. Work: If anyone knows of an employment opportunity that would consider a former inmate please let me know.

3. Housing: If anyone knows of an inexpensive housing option within walking distance of a Shul please let me know.

In the merit of our community’s generosity may Hashem bless each of us with good health, prosperity, and a meaningful life to enjoy it. May this Mitzvah of Tzedakah be the channel for G-d’s blessing to put a stop to the rash of tragedies in our community.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Shavuwhat: 1979 - Shavuwhoa: 2019

When I was growing up in New Orleans in the late 1970s, Shavuot was not exactly the most popular date on the Jewish calendar. In fact even the more established traditional congregations struggled to get a minyan, especially if it was on a weekday. Chabad House at that time was attended mostly by Tulane students. Since Shavuot was during summer break, it was tough to gather a minyan for the holiday. In 1979, if my memory serves me right, we left town altogether for Shavuot and spent the holiday with the Rebbe in New York.

Things started to shift when the Rebbe made a strong push to have everyone attend Shul to hear the Ten Commandments, even very young children and infants. As a result an effort was made to gather people and have a minyan so that the Torah could be heard.

Fast forward 40 years to 2019. This year, thank G-d, Shavuot was celebrated with a bang in all four Chabad locations, Uptown, Metairie, Biloxi and Baton Rouge. Each with a minyan and Torah reading along with a host of programs and events bursting with people.

At Chabad Uptown we started the holiday with the dinner and all night learning. Over 60 people participated. There were programs for adults and children. The discussions included Jewish perspectives on the following topics: Astrophysics, prayer, meditation and mysticism, environmental consciousness, emergency response, DNA and Jewish peoplehood, the ethical dilemma of foreclosures, history, individuality, morality, Kabbala, love and unity, anti-Semitism as well as a number of smaller breakout group discussions. At Chabad of Metairie a similar program drew strong attendance. In Biloxi for the first time the community gathered for late night Torah study with robust and eager participation.

The next morning over 100 gathered to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments. Over 30 children stood on the podium in front of the Shul and lead the congregation in a robust declaration of the Shema and other Torah passages. The adults proudly looked on as the children, our guarantors, filed out of the Shul to receive their treats after the Torah reading. Our future is indeed bright. Chabad of Metairie, Biloxi and Baton Rouge all had record crowds clamoring to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments and grab some cheesecake or a blintz, some quiche and other dairy delights.

We have come a long way my friends. Now we must seize the momentum as we grow our Jewish communities “yiddle by yiddle.”

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Milk vs. Honey

There is a well-known Jewish custom to partake of dairy foods on Shavuot. (Think cheesecake, blintzes, quiches and ice cream… and my Ashkenazi lactose-intolerant innards are already doing summersaults…) A number of reasons are offered as to the root of this custom. One is the verse in Song of Songs (4:11), “Milk and honey under your tongue,” which is interpreted as referring to the Torah.

It occurred to me that these two foods represent two very distinct qualities of the Torah. On one hand we have milk, a substance that is best consumed while fresh. Indeed, milk that is not fresh does not taste good and is eventually unhealthy for consumption.

We say in the Shema, “And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart.” Our sages comment on the words “this day,” that we must view the Torah as having been given to us today. In other words the Torah must always be fresh. There is a never a day-old Torah. There is only the Torah of today. This is reflected in the blessing recited before an Aliyah where we refer to G-d as “Notain HaTorah” the giver (present tense) of Torah. We must always see Torah as fresh and relevant. It should always be current and exciting for us to study the Torah and practice its teachings.

On the other hand we have honey, a substance that if stored properly can last for a very long time, even centuries long. The experts claim that honey need not have an expiration date. This represents another quality of Torah; that it is intended to be applicable at all times. There is no “best if used by” date on the Torah. In 5779 (2019) it is as applicable and pertinent as in 2448, which was 3,331 years ago.

While these two qualities seem to be opposites, in fact they complement each other. One for whom the Torah is always fresh, will also see the Torah as eternally applicable. One for whom the Torah has no expiration date, will always seek to discover fresh relevance in the Torah.

When the fresh milk of Torah paired with the long-lasting honey of Torah are “under our tongues” this is the ultimate experience of the holiday of Shavuot, when we relive the giving and the receiving of this priceless gift from Hashem.

May your milk always be fresh and your honey enduring! And by the way, the Torah has no recommended calorie limit either… so “taste and you will see that Hashem is good.”

Happy Shavuot and may we merit to receive the Torah with joy and inner meaning.

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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