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ChabadNewOrleans Blog

The Shtreimel and the Kibbutz

A Jew who hailed from Galicia (a region in Poland) once came to the Rebbe. He was very taken with the Rebbe’s scholarship, charisma, and spiritual stature. He declared to the Rebbe boisterously, “Lubavitcher Rebbe, with your holiness and leadership qualities, you could have tens of thousands of Chassidim who are adherents of other Chasidic sects. They will all come streaming to you as their Rebbe. But you will need to start wearing a Shtreimel (fur hat). We Jews from Poland and Hungary could not conceive of a Rebbe without a Shtreimel.”

The Rebbe smiled and replied. “These Jews that you speak of already have a Rebbe. How many Kibbutzniks will become my Chassidim if I start wearing a Shtreimel?” In other words, the Rebbe pointed out to him, that a Shtreimel is not going to help attract Jews without a spiritual direction in life. As for the others, they already have a direction and leadership, albeit of a different nature.

Yet, in a brief comment on this week’s Parsha, the Rebbe offers an insight into the role of Moses and relates it to his father-in-law, the Previous Rebbe.

We know that for the 40 years in the wilderness, the Jews experienced three constant miracles. The Manna came to them in Moshe’s merit. The water flowed from the rock in Miriam’s merit. The Clouds of Glory protected them in Aaron’s merit. When Miriam and Aaron pass away in this week’s Parsha, there is a brief interruption of the water and the clouds, but in the end, to quote the Talmud, “They all returned in Moshe’s merit.”

The Rebbe explains, that while Moshe’s primary thing is Torah, (represented by the Manna – food for the soul), when needed he can even provide water and clouds (which represent other spiritual needs). Speaking as a chasid of the Previous Rebbe he said, “A chasid should always know, that his Rebbe can be a conduit for all of Hashem’s blessings.”

Indeed, while the Rebbe never wore the Shtreimel, countless Jews who were associated with other religious Jewish ideologies and disciplines, came to embrace the Rebbe as their Rebbe.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Become a Miracle Worker

In the 1960s a Hillel director brought a group of Jewish students for a meeting with the Rebbe. They took the opportunity to ask many questions about Chassidus, Chabad theology, and the role of a Rebbe. They were fixated on the miracle working aspect of a Rebbe. The Rebbe patiently answered their questions, explaining each issue to their satisfaction. As they were getting ready to leave, the Rebbe said, “Would you like me to perform a miracle right now in front of you?” They were very excited to see what would unfold. He continued, “If each of us in this room undertakes to improve something in our Yiddishkeit and begins to implement it, this will be the most wondrous of miracles.”

While there are many mind-boggling miracle stories of the Rebbe, this one conveys more of what defines the Rebbe’s approach to life than any other. Miracles are nice. But everyday transformation is even more powerful. It’s one thing to suspend the laws of nature and ride the transcendent wave through life. It’s another thing entirely to change life within itself. Let’s make the regular every day a miracle by infusing it with divine energy. We can witness such miracles as the splitting of the sea and the ten plagues, and be left unchanged. On the other hand, hard work and elevating the daily grind, brings about true change.

This week a Facebook group called Humans of Judaism posted this story: https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=365045314988934&set=a.265020441658089.

In it a fellow named Rich Lee shares that he had an encounter with a couple he identifies as Levi and Mirel (they are my cousins). Levi “randomly” asked Rich if he would like to put on Tefillin and he agreed. While saying the Shema, Rich had a moment of connection with his recently deceased son. The miracle is the Levi reached out. The miracle is that Rich agreed. The miracle is that thousands of viewers will be uplifted and perhaps inspired to do something Jewish by the story. These are the Rebbe’s miracles.

This Sunday, the third of Tammuz, as we reflect on the Rebbe’s continued leadership, we must resolve to channel that energy and continue making miracles. These everyday miracles are what will bring our world past the ultimate finish line with the coming of Mashiach very soon.

Please join us Monday evening at 6 pm, for a special global event that we will be showing on the large screen at Chabad House. Unfazed: Lessons of Resilience and Self-Empowerment from the Rebbe. If you wish to watch it from home it can be accessed at www.chabadneworleans.com/unfazed.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Chassidic American Values

On Monday, June 23, 1941 the US Congress voted to expand the holiday of July 4th as a paid holiday for all federal employees, extending the scope of the federal holiday declared previously in 1870. On that same day, the SS Serpa Pinto docked at Staten Island, NY carrying, among many, two very important passengers, the Rebbe and Rebbetzin, then daughter and son-in-law of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe. It coincided with the Hebrew date of Sivan 28 eighty years ago. Immediately upon the Rebbe’s arrival, his father-in-law placed him at the helm of three central Chabad institutions that had just been established. These three institutions became the foundation for what Chabad would accomplish over the next 80 years.

The Rebbe usually spoke of this day in the context of the role these newly established institutions played in transforming the American Jewish scene. In fact, in 1991, in connection with the 50th anniversary of his arrival in the USA, the Rebbe received a congratulatory letter from then President George H.W. Bush. The Rebbe replied to the president (the full letter can be viewed at www.chabadneworleans.com/3720323) and wrote the following:

“I welcome especially your remarks, my dear President, as a tribute to the Lubavitch Movement which I am privileged to head. That it has grown and flourished in this country is a testimony to the conducive climate and responsive human nature that combine to ensure that all positive efforts are abundantly fruitful.

By Divine Providence your kind letter was dated on the morrow of the anniversary of the Nation's birthday. It is well to remember that the founders of this Nation considered Independence Day as "a day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to Gd Al-mighty." By Divine Providence also my arrival in the United States in 1941 coincided with the declaration by Congress that year, making July 4th a legal public holiday.”

The Rebbe saw the ideals and culture of the USA as a favorable environment for the success and development of the Chabad movement. The spirit and fundamental values upon which the USA was founded are fertile ground the teachings and inspiration of Chabad. Indeed, Chabad enjoyed phenomenal growth in and from the USA.

As we reflect on this special anniversary next week, we should commit ourselves to furthering the activities that the Rebbe began 80 years ago, thereby bringing our world to complete and final Redemption through Mashiach.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Do You See Lamps?

Malkie and I had the pleasure of getting a sneak preview tour of the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience (MSJE) ahead of their soft opening this week. Curator Anna Tucker showed us around; and we had the honor of chatting with Board Chair Jay Tanenbaum and director Kenneth Hoffman. We were very impressed with the exhibits and the attention to detail at every level of the museum. We are certain that MSJE will become an important destination for visitors and locals alike, as they trek through downtown New Orleans. We wish them Mazal tov for the opening and much success moving forward.

In 1907 the fifth Chabad Rebbe was asked, “What is a Chasid?” He replied, “A Chasid is a lamplighter.”

In the olden days, the lamplighter walked the streets carrying a flame at the end of a pole, going from lamp to lamp to set them alight. So the Rebbe was saying that is Chasid is one who seeks to kindle the lights of others.

After some back and forth the man declared to the Rebbe, “But Rebbe, I do not see the lamps!” To which the Rebbe replied, “That is because you are not a lamplighter.”

This is reflected in an exchange between G-d and Aaron the High Priest in this week’s Parshah. On the opening verse, “When you light the lamps (of the Menorah),” Rashi comments, “When Aaron saw the dedication [offerings] of the tribal princes, he felt distressed over not joining them in this dedication... So G-d said to him, “By your life, yours is greater than theirs, for you will light and prepare the lamps.”

The Rebbe explains that when G-d says “by your life” He is providing the “recipe” for success as a lamplighter. Of course this is a reference to the literal Menorah that stood in the Sanctuary. But the Menorah also alludes to the “Candle of G-d which is the soul of man.” How do we successfully become lamplighters, helping our fellow Jews to kindle their lamps-souls? “By your life” tells us that you must be prepared to invest your life and much effort into this endeavor. When you turn this into a life’s endeavor, you will begin to see your fellow Jew as a lamp – a candle of G-d.

Each of us can be a mini-High Priest. We must first work to earn the role of a lamplighter, we will then the lamps and set ourselves to the task of illuminating the world with much light.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

They Are All My Brothers And Sisters

All eyes are on Israel. Many are pained about the loss of life and destruction of property within Israel. Our hearts go out to the people whose lives have been turned upside down by this endless chain of conflict. Many are pained by the need for Israel to defend herself thereby resulting in loss of life and destruction of property in Gaza. Especially painful is the loss to civilian life as a result of the militants hiding among civilians and even children.

From my view, one of the tragic fallouts of this conflict is the gaping fissure that this creates between Jews. There are those who are ardent supporters of Israel. There are those who are vocal critics of Israel. There are those who are ambivalent about or apathetic to the issue altogether. When the violence flares up and heated words are hurled, the gap widens and we become entirely disparate from each other. The dialogue inevitably devolves into uncivil exchanges or worse, leaving people on all sides of the issue disenfranchised and cut off from each other.

The greatest victory we can give our enemies (whoever they may be) is a splintered Jewish people. When we are fractured, we are vulnerable to the worst attacks. We must learn to disagree, even about fundamental principles, without breaking away from each other.

Most of you know that I am steadfastly supportive of Israel’s obligation to defend its citizens against attack. I cringe at what I perceive as moral equivocation when analyzing this situation. That being said, when someone professes an alternative view, one that I disagree with vehemently, that does not prevent me from being willing to embrace them with open arms. These are my brothers. We are all children of Hashem. We share a Jewish neshama. If we can have a civil discussion about the issue, wonderful. If not, then I would rather find other things that bring us together to share with them.

Brothers and sisters, let us not allow our disagreements on this issue, as central as it is to us, to turn against each other, thereby opening ourselves up to the most insidious attacks against our very sense of Jewish self. Our enemies (and they are numerous and from all sides) delight in seeing us fractured. Let us remember that we are children of One Father, we have so much to share and give each other.

May Hashem bless our world with the ultimate awareness of His truth, which will in turn eliminate all conflict. May Hashem bless us with true peace with the coming of Mashiach.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Why is Jerusalem not Mentioned in the Torah?

Yesterday our family marked the 100th birthday of my late maternal grandfather, R’ Sholom Ber Gordon OBM. As we are spread all around the world, we utilized Zoom to meet so that we could reminisce and draw inspiration from his life and our memories of him.

One of my cousins shared that he spent a week with my grandfather toward the end of his life to help with his rabbinic duties in Shul and as a hospital chaplain. (We took turns doing this after he was weakened by his final illness.) After morning services he instructed my cousin to share a dvar Torah. My cousin shared the Rebbe’s explanation on why the Torah identifies Jerusalem not by name, but rather as “the place that I have caused My name dwell.” (Although Yerushalayim is mentioned 669 times in Tanach (823 if you include references to Zion), the Torah (Pentateuch) does not mention either of them.) The Rebbe explains that since a Jew can and will have to access G-d in many places around the world as a result of exile, any place of prayer and Torah learning, constitutes “the place that I have caused My name to dwell.”  

My grandfather, hearing this Dvar Torah, piped up immediately with a related passage in the Talmud. When one of the sages came from Babylonia to Israel, he was asked by the sages of Israel if the Jews of Babylonia lived long lives. They explained that since the verse in the Shema says, “So that your days will be numerous upon the land which I have promised to your fathers,” they wondered whether it was possible to have “long life” without living “upon the land which I have promised?” They eventually concluded, that since the Babylonian Jews attend the Synagogue to pray, it is as if they are “upon the land which I have promised.”

This is a very empowering message. No matter where we are and in what situation we find ourselves, it is within our capacity to create a miniature Jerusalem in our lives. A place of prayer or Torah study is in fact “the place that I have caused My name to dwell.” We can transform any space and any moment into a sacred one by with what we choose to fill it.

This does not replace the need and the yearning to be in the literal Jerusalem, which will be rebuilt speedily through the coming of Mashiach. But in the final moments of exile, this fills our here and now with value and meaning.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Shabbat Encroachment

The term encroachment generally conveys a negative connotation. We understand it to be something like the creep of a negative force. However, technically it can be applied in a neutral sense as well, as in gradually advancing beyond the usual limits of a particular setting. I would like to offer three applications of Shabbat encroachment.

Our sages teach us that we should allow Shabbat to encroach upon the weekday by starting a little early and ending a little late. At the very minimum we go from just before sundown on Friday to nightfall on Saturday, with some adding even more time. Since Shabbat is a time of withdrawal from the mundane and increased holiness, encroaching upon the weekday results in an increase of holiness and G-dliness in our week and a decreasing of the mundane.

In a conceptual sense, Shabbat is more than just a day in time, it is also a mindset or paradigm. In fact, one could argue that the time and energy spent on prayer, study and service of G-d is the Shabbat in everyday life. So while generally we devote a little time in the morning and evening to prayer and study, Shabbat encroachment would be “stealing” from that time and adding in the activities of holiness. On a deeper level, Shabbat encroachment would be diverting not just time, but prioritization and focus. I might be going about my daily business, but my mind and heart are on my Divine service.

Finally we have Shabbat encroachment in the big picture of history. The Zohar says that there are six millennia and the seventh (Shabbat) is the era of Redemption. However since Shabbat is supposed to “steal” a little weekday time, the era of Redemption should kick in on the “Friday afternoon” of history. We are now in the year 5781. It is late on Friday afternoon. According to the law of the Torah, the Shabbat of Redemption should be kicking in any moment now.

Let’s make sure we are not caught unaware. Just like on Friday afternoon, we change clothes, prepare special foods, and transform our homes for Shabbat, we should now be laser focused on preparing our lives for the imminent Shabbat that is about to be ushered in through the coming of Moshiach.

Shabbat Shalom (in every sense)
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Hold On For Dear Life

In Jewish law there is a concept called bitul – where an overwhelming quantity of a substance can cancel the status of a smaller substance that is lost in the mix. For example, if a drop of milk falls into a pot of chicken soup, as long as there is 60 times as much soup as the drop of milk, the soup is still kosher.

The Torah instructs that the fruit of a tree for the first three years is prohibited for consumption. This fruit is called Orlah. What happens if there is a tree (still within the three years) that gets “lost” in an orchard among hundreds of older trees? One may not harvest the fruit of any of them since the prohibited fruit is on one of them and the tree is connected to its roots in the ground. However, if the fruit was already harvested and the orlah fruit was in the mix, the status of the forbidden fruit can be cancelled if there is more than 200 times the permitted fruit as the orlah fruit.

The Rebbe takes this seemingly obscure Halacha and finds a powerful application for each of us. As Jews, we make up a fraction of a percent of the world’s population. It is said that the number of Jews in the world today is less than a statistical error on a Chinese census. So we might think that the law of bitul applies. We should just allow ourselves and our heritage to be absorbed into the vastness of humanity and be cancelled out. Perhaps we feel overwhelmed by the sheer challenge of retaining our unique identity and are ready to give up.

The above Halacha instructs, that as long as we remain connected to our life-source, our tree, our roots, nothing can cancel us. When we Jews demonstrate a vibrant attachment to Hashem and His Torah, there is no force powerful enough to overwhelm us. This is the secret of our survival over these two millennia, despite being homeless and the most persecuted people in world history.

Zalman Shazar was the third president of the State of Israel. He was born to a Chabad family in Russia. His original name was Shneur Zalman Rubashov, named for the Alter Rebbe, founder of the Chabad movement. When he became active in the Zionist movement he adopted a more contemporary family name, Shazar – based on the acronym of his full name.  

When he was leaving Russia for Israel, he went to spend Shabbos with his grandfather, a Chabad Chasid. As they were parting, his Zeide said to him. You must always remember your roots. You are named for the Alter Rebbe. His famous Niggun of four stanzas (a song that relates the journey of the soul through music) shall be your anchor in life. Whenever you are contemplating a decision, sit down and recall the niggun, and you will sense whether it is the correct decision to make.

Indeed the niggun and the roots that came with it, remained with him. He had great respect for and a wonderful partnership with the Rebbe in many endeavors. In fact, later in life, as Israel’s president he re-embraced his religious heritage. (For more on his relationship with the Rebbe – www.chabadneworleans.com/1115565.)

As Proverb 3:17 reminds us, “It is a Tree of Life for all who hold fast to it.” Hold on for dear life and we will not only survive, but thrive!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Change We Can Believe In

Think about everything that you would like to see changed in our world.

Think about a world where there is no illness or suffering.

Think about a world where there is no hunger or poverty.

Think about a world where there is no discrimination or exploitation.

Think about a world where there is no war or hatred.

Think about a world where there is an abundance of resources for all.

Think about a world where good-heartedness is the norm.

Think about a world where there are limitless possibilities for meaning and growth.

Think about a world where all of existence pulsates with a singular striving – to be one with the Creator.

Think about a world where the Creator is no longer concealed within the artistic drapes of His handiwork.

You have been thinking about the world of Redemption through the coming of Moshiach.

What we described is what our sages call Tikkun Olam – perfecting the universe under the Sovereignty of the Al-mighty.

How do we get there? What can we do to advance the process and bring our world to that state? For this we must become informed. We must explore what our sacred sources reveal about that time and the path that leads us to it. Then we must begin to live in that mode. All of what we described is within the reach of each of us, in our little corner of the universe. We start with ourselves and our immediate surroundings; and then a groundswell of transformation occurs, propelling our world into Redemption. This is the change we can believe in!

Join us in exploring this further and become a part of the solution. The new Jewish Learning Institute course entitled: This CAN Never Happen, launches later this month. For the uptown course information and schedule – www.chabadneworleans.com/jli. I look forward to having a motivated group of folks who will engage in a spirited conversation about these important ideas. For the Metairie course info and schedule – www.jewishlouisiana.com/jli.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Redemption With a Sense of Urgency

In 1943 a young man was riding the subway in Brooklyn when he overheard the following conversation between two Jews. They were on the line that rides along Eastern Parkway. When they stopped at the Kingston Ave station (in front of 770 Eastern Parkway – Chabad HQ), one asked the other, “Do you know who lives here, the Lubavitchers!” “Who are the Lubavitchers?” “The folks who really believe in the coming of Moshiach.” This anecdote took place shortly after the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe launched a campaign in response to WWII under the slogan (loosely translated from the Hebrew original) “Imminent Repentance Brings Imminent Redemption.”

Less than a decade later, upon assuming the leadership of Chabad, the Rebbe made the push for redemption the focus of his mandate. Over the next 40 years, every campaign and initiative was anchored to the goal of hastening the coming of Moshiach. On this night thirty years ago, the Rebbe gave a talk in which he expressed his deep-seated pain at the fact that all of the efforts had not yet born the fruit of Redemption. He asked all of us to shoulder this responsibility with him and do all that we could to complete the process. From then on the sense of urgency has increased even more.

There is a quote that is cited as a preface to Hayom Yom, “Every person must ask, ‘What have I done today to hasten the Redemption through the coming of Moshiach?’”

But what actually is Redemption? Many are uncomfortable talking about things like Moshiach. There is an association with other religions that may even make it feel un-Jewish. In order for us to have the sense of urgency to orient our lives in this way and be receptive to these ideas, we must become informed. We have to familiarize ourselves with the sources and concepts. We have to educate ourselves on the centrality of Redemption to Judaism. We must make it personal and relevant to us as 21st century occupants of this universe.

This Saturday night a marathon of Moshiach learning and inspiration begins at 8:30 our time. It can be accessed at www.tutaltz.com. I encourage you to participate and learn more.

In a similar vein, the JLI Course “This CAN Never Happen” begins at the end of the month, being taught both Uptown as well as Metairie. For the uptown course (on Zoom and in person) www.chabadneworleans.com/jli. For the Metairie course www.jewishlouisiana.com/jli.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Passover Family Memories

One of the beautiful elements of Passover is the connection to family. We all have a memory of a Seder with parents or grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Many families have certain traditions, customs, stories or memories that they incorporate into their Pesach observances. These are passed from generation to generation and serve to keep families connected to each other as well as to Judaism.

I would like to share an anecdote from our family that I reflect on each year around this time. One of the observances of Passover is selling the chametz. This usually done by authorizing a Rabbi to represent you in a sale of the chametz to someone who is not Jewish. The chametz is then reacquired after Passover is concluded. The Chabad custom is that this sale be treated with all the seriousness of the real sale that it is. For some added gravitas, a guarantor, called an Arev Kablan, is used to ensure that the sale will go through. The Rebbe would sell his chametz to a Rabbi using an Arev Kablan. In 1991 my grandfather, R’ Mordechai Rivkin, was designated by the Rebbe to serve as the Arev Kablan for the sale of the Chametz. For the occasion he purchased a new handkerchief to use for the transaction (as per Jewish custom that commitments are made by the raising of a handkerchief). Incidentally, this handkerchief has been used in our family at engagements and weddings for the bride and groom to make their commitments to each other.

At the end of the procedure, the Rebbe began to share a few words of inspiration with the handful of people present to witness the sale (the Rabbi, my grandfather and two or three of the Rebbe’s close aides). Upon concluding his words, the Rebbe turned to my grandfather and said, “You are a Kohen. You should merit and prepare to give the priestly blessing in the third Beis Hamikdash (holy temple) with the coming of Moshiach very soon.”

This story was shared under the chuppah at our daughter Sara’s wedding earlier this month. It is a story that I think of often, especially around Passover and other holidays when the priestly blessing is recited. It was a privilege for me to offer the priestly blessing alongside my grandfather for many years. It is a privilege for me and my sons to carry on this sacred task bequeathed to us through his lineage.

May this blessing that the Rebbe gave my grandfather 30 years ago, be fulfilled with immediate the coming of Moshiach, giving us the great honor of conferring the priestly blessing on all of Israel in the third Temple.  

Have a meaningful, Kosher and joyous Pesach!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

No Empty Seats at the Seder

In the 1970s, there was a call to American Jewry to set an empty seat at the Seder table, symbolizing our identification with the plight of Russian Jews stuck behind the Iron Curtain.

The Rebbe responded to that call with a call of his own. Instead of setting an empty seat for Russian Jews at the Seder table, find a Jew who would otherwise not attend the Seder and fill that seat. This, the Rebbe declared, would be a more effective means of identification with Russian Jews. Since all Jews are interconnected, a Jew who fulfills a mitzvah on one side of the world, can uplift and support a Jew in another part of the world who is forbidden to fulfill that same Mitzvah.

This was a continuing echo of a concept that the Rebbe introduced in the 1950s, called the fifth son. We are all aware of the four sons at the Seder, the wise, wicked, simple, and the one who does not know to ask. The Rebbe said that in the USA we have a fifth son, the one who does not know enough or care enough to even show up at the Seder. It is our task to ensure that this lost Jewish child attends a Seder.

Last year nearly everyone had an unusual Seder. There were many empty seats. There were many missing children and lonely parents. There were many families and groups of friends who were kept apart by the pandemic. As the population gets vaccinated and things begin to open up, let us make sure that everyone is remembered. Nobody should be allowed to fall through the cracks. There should not be an empty seat at the Seder.

This year we need to take extra care that there not be people who are alone because they have nowhere to be. No empty seats at the Seder!!

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and happy Passover prep!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Wedding Bells - Past and Present

This week Malkie and I were privileged to marry off our daughter Sara to a wonderful young man, Ari Rosenblum, in a beautiful wedding that was set in the grounds of the Destrahan Plantation. It was a very special experience for us as parents to see our child so happy and energetically looking forward with eager anticipation to a life together with her new husband, filled with Hashem’s blessings of good health, prosperity, a lovely family, success in their endeavors, and devotion to Hashem’s plan for making this world a better place.

We are truly grateful to Hashem for His infinite kindness and the beneficent blessings with which He continues to shower us. We were delighted to be surrounded by our parents, our family, the extended Rosenblum family, and our NOLA Jewish community, as we celebrated this special occasion. For many, the outdoor setting afforded them the first opportunity to be “among people” since the onset of the pandemic one year ago.

We have the merit of being part of the team of the Rebbe’s Shluchim to New Orleans. Making a Kosher and Jewish wedding in New Orleans during these Covid times has proven to be challenging. We enjoyed the help and support of many who enabled us to pull this off. For this we are very appreciative.

By Divine Providence, Sara and Ari’s wedding week will conclude as our family marks the Yahrtzeits (13th and 1st) of my paternal grandparents, Reb Mordechai and Dusia Rivkin. Sara was fortunate to know them both and was especially close to Bubby. Celebrating the wedding and thinking about the challenges we faced to pull it off, gave me the opportunity to reflect on the exceedingly more difficult circumstances of their wedding in Tashkent, USSR in 1945.

My grandfather was involved in a business that was deemed illegal by the Soviet government. (In other words, they actually turned a profit.) He and his partners used much of the money they made to support the network of clandestine Jewish institutions in the USSR established by the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe. The secret police found out and they were wanted men. My grandfather went into hiding during his engagement to my grandmother. When they deemed it safe, the finally scheduled the wedding. But alas, an agent of the secret police strolled into the wedding venue holding a photo of Zeidy, with the intent of identifying and arresting him at his own wedding. Thank G-d, a close friend gave the agent a very significant sum of money in exchange for the photo and his agreement to disappear from the scene.

They eventually escaped from the USSR and came to these shores, where they presided over a beautiful family spanning many generations. It is my hope that Sara and Ari understand and appreciate that they are links in this special chain. Their path was paved by the love, devotion and sacrifice of their ancestors. May Hashem grant that they continue to be worthy links in the chain as they bring Nachas to the generations that came before them and to us all.

Thank you to all of you who participated in our Simcha in person or by extending your heartwarming wishes of Mazel Tov to our family.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

A Coin of Limitless Value

Have you ever seen the Mitzvah mobiles engaging people on the streets of New York, or been stopped at the Kotel and asked to lay Tefillin, or asked to shake the Lulav and Etrog somewhere around town? Perhaps you questioned the idea of asking someone to do a Mitzvah on the spot. What value does laying Tefillin, or hearing the Shofar, or shaking the Lulav have, if I am just doing it to get this persistent dude off of my back? Can there be a significance attached to doing a Mitzvah out of habit or without any intent?

The Midrash tells us that there were three things that Moses heard from G-d that shocked him. The command to build a Sanctuary. How could a meager structure house the glory of the Divine Presence? The command to being offerings. How could a measly handful of animals serve as a gift to honor G-d? The command to give the Half-Shekel (in this week’s Torah portion), as an atonement for the soul following the sin of the Golden Calf. To each situation G-d replied, that He asks of us only what we as mere mortals are capable of.

The Sanctuary was built using the generous contributions of the children of Israel. The heart that they invested in their contributions rendered the structure fit to house the glory of G-d. The offerings are brought of the owners’ volition. The emotional investment in the offering and its accompanying service makes it a fit gift to G-d that can atone for transgression.

But the half-shekel is a paltry coin, and Halacha dictates that it may be taken by the Beit Din even by seizure if a family did not contribute willingly. How could a minimal offering, which potentially lacks any investment of heart, atone for the soul following the most egregious sin?

G-d replied by plucking a coin of fire measuring a half-shekel from beneath His Throne of Glory. “This is what you shall give,” G-d declared. The coin of fire from the Throne of Glory represents that essential point of connection between the soul of the Jew (hewn from the Throne of Glory) and G-d. The fact that coin measured a half-shekel indicates that this fiery connection can be contained even within the finite limitations of the human condition.

So when one does a Mitzvah without consciously associating it with a relationship with G-d, that connection is still inherently present. Therefore the Mitzvah is not only significant, but it has infinite value, a value that can only come from a connection to G-d. Even on a day that you are not feeling it, you should be aware that everything you do is valued by G-d and maintains that point of connection with G-d.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Seeing Beyond the Mask

One of the customs associated with Purim is the practice of wearing a mask or costume. For more on this custom see www.chabadneworleans.com/search/keyword_cdo/kid/8935. Whatever the explanation is for masking, clearly it is about appearing like something you are really not. When you walk into Shul or down the street of a Jewish neighborhood on Purim, you might see a clown, who is really a serious scholar. You might see a soldier, who is the least likely to be in a fight. You might see a gangster, who is really a teacher of young children.

The takeaway from this is that we must remember that it’s all just a veneer. Beneath the surface, when you strip away the mask, the person is really something else entirely.

The Rebbe points out, that “real life” is actually the same. When we encounter someone who is arrogant, disdainful, acerbic, or ungracious, we must remember that this is only a veneer that is created by the Yetzer Hara. The reality is that the person is a pure, nice and holy Neshama – a spark of Hashem. The mask is in place due to life circumstances, a tough break, or the unceasing attempts of the Yetzer Hara at persuasion.

Let us recall to always see beyond the mask (or two in this pandemic…) and connect to people based on who they really are.

Please join us for one of our Purim events or multiple Megillah readings listed below.

Happy Purim
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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