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Self-Serving or G-d-Serving

Rebbetzin Rivkah was the wife of the fourth Chabad Rebbe. She was also the granddaughter, daughter-in-law, mother, and grandmother of 5 generations of Chabad Rebbes. She was a witness to, and a participant in, nearly a century of glorious Chabad history.

At the age of 18 she was diagnosed with a serious illness. Her doctor ordered her to be careful about eating first thing in the morning. She was hesitant to eat before reciting her morning prayers, so she resolved to awaken even earlier, pray and then eat. Needless to say, the lack of sleep compounded with the eating after prayers, did not do her health any favors. When her father-in-law, the third Rebbe, heard about this he said to her: "A Jew must be healthy and strong. The Torah says about mitzvot, 'Live in them,' meaning bring vitality into the mitzvot. To be able to infuse mitzvot with vitality, one must be strong and joyful." Then he concluded: "You should not be without food. Better to eat for the sake of davening rather than to daven for the sake of eating;" he then blessed her with long life.

In 1959 the Rebbe shared this story and then analyzed the concept of eating to daven rather than davening to eat. He explained that eating and davening represent the two dimensions of a Jewish person’s life. Davening is symbolic of activity that is G-d-centric. Eating is representative of all other activity. There are three ways a person can approach the tension between these two dimensions.

1.      To compartmentalize. When I daven, learn and do mitzvot, I am all in on the G-dly and the holy. But when I eat, work and go about life, G-d and the Torah are not taken into account. This would be the Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde approach. Not recommended!

2.      To recognize that there is a symbiotic relationship between the two dimensions. Since G-d is the source of all blessing, I must daven if I want to eat. In this approach, my primary focus is the “eating” (physical and material life). But in order to withdraw from my account with the “Big ATM in the Sky” I must make deposits in the form of “davening.”

3.      To recognize that there is a symbiotic relationship between the two dimensions. But in this approach, there is nothing separate about the two. Rather I acknowledge that life is about serving Hashem and every experience that I have (even the seemingly mundane ones) is to that end. So I eat in order to daven. I strive to incorporate the concept of “know Hashem in all your ways.” There is nothing in the life of a Jew that is divorced from serving Hashem.

This third approach is the one advocated in the story. If you daven so that you can eat, then your life is about “eating” and davening is merely a facilitator. If you eat in order to daven, then your life is about “davening” and eating is merely a facilitator. The second approach is self-serving. The third is G-d-serving. The true service for a Jew, is when all of life’s activities are utilized in the service of G-d, either directly or indirectly.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

The Rebbe's Gifts to Us

This coming Wednesday we mark the anniversary of the beginning of the Rebbe’s leadership in 1950. When the Rebbe assumed the helm of the Chabad movement upon his father-in-law’s passing, the Jewish world and the Chabad movement were just starting to recover from the decimation of the Holocaust. Chabad was a small group, with most of the Chassidim located in New York, Israel or in various displaced person camps around Western Europe. Nearly 70 years later the Chabad movement is one the largest and most active Jewish organized groups, with a presence in 120 countries and every state in the USA. The explosive growth of Chabad and its organizational development can be traced exclusively to the Rebbe’s inspired leadership.

I would like to share a partial list of some of the Rebbe’s contributions to Jewish life that have shaped the growth of Chabad and its influence on Jewish life and the world at large.

  • Shlichus: He instilled within his followers the responsibility for the material and spiritual welfare of every Jew, and the willingness to go anywhere to fulfill that responsibility.
  • Transformative Torah: His revolutionary insights to all areas of Torah have shaped our way of looking at many different things in the universe. Over 1,000 volumes of his teachings have been published in 10 plus languages.
  • Embracing Technology: The Rebbe was way ahead of the game in terms of the use of technological developments. That has also resulted in Chabad occupying a unique leading Jewish presence on the internet to spread Judaism and morality.
  • Strong and unambiguous moral leadership on many issues, including geopolitics, ethics, and Jewish peoplehood.
  • Loving the individual: The Rebbe saw, and taught us to see, every person as a storehouse filled with treasures. When you were in his presence you felt as though he was there only for you. He changed how we perceived the wounded, special needs children, the hippie generation, the youth rebellion, widows and orphans, the wealthy, the aged, and so much more.
  • The role of women: His Shlichus model empowered women as co-equal partners with their husbands in the creation and maintenance of thousands of communities across the globe.
  • The power of children: The Rebbe spent an unprecedented amount of time with children. His children’s organization, Tzivos Hashem, launched in 1980 along with the Children’s Torah scroll project, has impacted millions of children.
  • Fusion of material and spiritual: Each person and every profession or talent in the universe could be integrated into ones relationship with Hashem and furthering His cause for creation.
  • A vision for the future: All of the above contributions were infused with an urgency of bringing the world as a whole and every person, space and experience individually, to the time of Redemption. It was his declared mission statement from day one; and it permeated every talk, teaching, initiative and project.

As we reflect on these and many other of the Rebbe’s gifts to our generation, we must rededicate ourselves to living up to these ideals and ushering that special future era of Redemption for the whole world.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Dark Shades and Perfect Doves

Sunglasses serve to protect our eyes from the sun’s harmful UV rays. They also make it more comfortable for us to be out when the sun is bright. However, they simultaneously obscure our vision and skew the perspective of what we are seeing. The darker the shades, the less true to reality our picture becomes, and the more difficult it is for us to truly see what is before us.

There is a verse in Song of Songs (6:8-9): “There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and innumerable maidens. My dove, My perfect one, is but one…” The Midrash explains: “The sixty queens are the sixty tractates of the Mishna. The eighty concubines are the passages of the Braita (statements by the Tana’im – Mishnaic sages – that are not included in the Mishna, but were recorded in a later generation). The innumerable maidens are the Halachic statements by the Amora’im (sages of the Gemera – Talmud).

Chassidus explains: The reason why their number keeps increasing is because the vision of the truth is more and more obscured as the generations descend. The relationship with the King (through Torah) is more diluted, and shared with a greater numbers of contenders. The earliest sages (Tana’im) lived during or just after the Second Temple era. The G-dly revelation associated with the Temple was still very potent. Thus their path to truth was short and relatively easy. As such, their statements are clear and concise declarations of the Torah’s truths. There is not a lot of discussion or dialogue necessary. Their vision of Torah is through a clear glass.

A generation passed and exile intensified. The Braita teachings are more complex with greater detail. It was as though their vision of Torah was via the shade of sunglasses. Their path to the truth was longer and littered with obstacles, lacking the clarity of the earlier Mishna teachings.

Fast forward to the next era. Now the Jews are in a diaspora. In fact, the Talmud was primarily recorded in Babylon. The teachings include lengthy discussion and challenges. Only after much give and take are conclusions reached. The vision of Torah can be compared to a fully tinted glass that allows for very poor vision. Their path to the truth was almost a perilous one.

As the generations descend, the density of the obscuring force increases; and the light shining through decreases, leading to a more difficult path to truth. But with supreme effort, the sages inevitably tread through the path and arrive at the truth by the glimmer of light that shines through to them.

So what is left for us? We are certainly not queens. Nor are we concubines or even maidens. Our Torah learning is like the light coming through a thick curtain, barely providing illumination for our way. What is left for us is “My dove, My perfect one, is but one.” The dove is a reference to the love that we demonstrate to Hashem through prayer and mitzvot. While our Torah may be imperfect, we are empowered to fulfill G-d’s purpose for creation – making this world a dwelling for Him. The greater the challenge, the darker the path, the more valuable and meaningful the achievement. So valuable, that Hashem calls us “My perfect one,” thereby emphasizing our uniqueness, “is but one.”

So when we are assaulted with feelings of spiritual inadequacy in comparison to earlier generations, remember that you have the power to build a dwelling for the Divine. Hence Hashem sees you as “My dove, My perfect one.”

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

A Shvache Agnostic

This past week I was inspired by several things associated with the loss our community experienced with the passing of Joseph Konopny. When you know a person for over 25 years you come to take some things for granted. Reflecting on them after he passed away last Shabbat morning and on into the funeral on Sunday, I arrived at a fascinating realization.

Joseph was a person who often professed an agnosticism toward religion. Yet somehow he was in Shul at least once a week for years, and celebrated Shabbat almost every Friday night of the last quarter century. He owned a pair of Tefillin. He could make Kiddush. He was at Chabad for every holiday, faithfully making sure to hear the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah, be at a Seder on Pesach, say L’chaim on Purim and Simchas Torah, and hear the 10 commandments read on Shavuot. He studied Torah regularly and rigorously. When the time came to make final arrangements for himself, his instructions were clear that my father’s directives were to be the ones followed. In Yiddish we would say “a shvache agnostic” – or not much of an agnostic. Standing at the funeral, as the final clods of earth were shoveled onto the casket by members of the community, I realized that it is a mistake to underestimate the power of a Yiddishe Neshama. Who would have believed that the “skeptic” would get, not just a halachic burial, but a “Mehadrin.”

The other thing that inspired me was how the community rallied together to see him off with dignity. It wasn’t always easy to get along with Joseph and he had high standards regarding the company that he kept. But when a fellow Jew, a member of the community, passed away with nobody to mourn him, we became his family. As Rabbi Nemes so eloquently declared during the funeral service, we are all his family. Friends and associates shared memories on our Chabad WhatsApp group. We were worried about having a minyan at the funeral, but a nice crowd turned out to escort Joseph on his journey to the next world. May the memory of Yosef ben Avrohom be for a blessing and may Hashem bless our community to be able to come together only for Simchas.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Appreciating Your Investment

In three weeks Chabad of Louisiana will be concluding our annual raffle campaign with a drawing on January 7 for $10,000.00. Additional prizes include a lovely piece of jewelry from BEJE (Betsy & Jeff Kaston), a giclee fine print of an original Anna Gil painting entitled Samech, and a black agate crystal necklace by Artist Anna Gil.

This raffle benefits the programs and activities offered by Chabad Uptown. Other Chabad of Louisiana affiliates are financially independent (including, Chabad of Metairie, Chabad at Tulane, Chabad of Baton Rouge and Chabad of Southern Mississippi.).

Chabad is supported entirely by the direct contributions to our organization. We do not receive financial support from the Worldwide Chabad Movement. All contributions to Chabad remain local and support Chabad’s programs and activities in this area.

I would like to share with you a sampling of what (our branch of) Chabad does so that you will have an understanding of what your investment achieves.

Real Relationships: Chabad does not have membership we have relationships. We are there for people in their happy times and their challenging times. Chabad Rabbis and their wives have counseled and have invested in the lives of NOLA Jews for 43 years. On any given day we will connect with community members on a wide range of issues. It may be a bride one moment, and grief or end of life issues the next moment. For some it is spiritual advice, while others seek guidance for financial trouble or relationship issues. Common among them all is that they turn to Chabad. A central component of those relationships is Shabbat dinner. Over the year, hundreds of members of the NOLA Jewish community (as well as many visitors) attend Shabbat dinner at the private homes of the Rabbis and their families.

Our Synagogue has the only daily morning Minyan, hosting regulars as well as visitors and locals needing a minyan for Kaddish or a joyous occasion. Just in the past year, the morning minyan has hosted baby namings, a bris, a Bar Mitzvah, a Chatan (groom) Shivas and Yahrtzeits. Our publications, such as the Jewish art calendar, holidays guides and family magazines, are mailed to thousands of Jews all across the state and region, for some their only Jewish lifeline. Nearly 1,200 people receive our weekly email newsletter.

Adult Education: Chabad’s weekly study sessions, monthly classes, lectures and adult educational opportunities are open to and attract people from all across the spectrum of the NOLA Jewish community. Just recently Chabad presented a lecture by Holocaust survivor, Eva Schloss, attracting 600 in attendance at the JCC.

Prison Chaplaincy: Chabad Rabbis have been visiting this forgotten segment of our Jewish population for decades. Whether it is the Jews at the Federal Correctional Complex in Oakdale, LA, a lone Jewish woman at Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in St. Gabriel, LA or a Jew at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, LA or Dixon Correctional, they know that Chabad is there for them. We have served Jews in Parish Prisons as well. Chabad has earned the accolades of other Jewish and civic organization for our Prison chaplaincy efforts.

Israeli Patient Services: Over the past 8 years, Ochsner has become a magnet for Israeli patients seeking major organ transplants. Currently there are 2 patients who are here with their caregivers. Chabad serves as their home away from home and surrogate family. We assist with their medical as well as social and religious needs. 

Seniors: Chabad Rabbis have relationships with the staff at several local Senior Living Centers. A Chabad Rabbi has been visiting Lambeth House for a program called Shmoozing with the Rabbi for over 12 years. Chabad Uptown also has a relationship with Woldenberg Village and Poydras Home. Our other Chabad locations serve the senior centers in their areas.

Living Legacy Workshop Series: Chabad offers five workshops to youth and adult groups that have been presented at every Synagogue and Jewish organization from Lake Charles to Biloxi. They include the Shofar Factory, Olive Press, Matzah Bakery, Torah Factory and Mezuzah Factory. To date several thousand children and adults have participated. Just this past month we presented the Olive Press to over 120 participants at Temple Sinai, Gates of Prayer, Woldenberg Village, Chabad of Southern Mississippi and Bnei Israel of Baton Rouge.

Holiday Programs: Many of you are familiar with Chabad's signature event, Chanukah @ Riverwalk. This year's event drew over 600 participants. Chabad also holds an annual Sukkot party for over 200. Several Purim events draw hundreds. Simchat Torah @ Chabad has a reputation that is well established. Folks come from all over just to be there. High Holidays, Passover, Shavuot and the list goes on. 

This is just a sampling. Please partner with us in serving our community by purchasing tickets. The cost of a ticket is $50, 3 for $100 or 6 for $150, 20 for $360 and 50 for $770. For more info go to www.chabadneworleans.com/raffle .

We thank you for your partnership. Our Mitzvah is your Mitzvah!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Chanukah Recap, Photos, Videos

Before I give you a recap of Chanukah 2018 with Chabad of Louisiana, I would to share a reflection. One of the themes of Chanukah (and a reason it has such broad popular appeal) is Pirsumei Nissa – the obligation to publicize the miracle. This is why we have the public celebrations and Menorah lightings. In the blessings before the lighting we use the phrase “bayamim haheim, bizman hazeh” – in those days at this time. A Chasidic application of the words at this time is that we are referring not only to this time of the year but also to this time in history, namely our current days.

A miracle that is happening bizman hazeh – in this time, is the fact that so many Jews are uplifted and inspired upon beholding the Chanukah lights. Driving around with the Menorah on the roof of my car, I saw hundreds of people brighten up and even take photos when seeing the Menorah. I was personally told this Chanukah by several people, how meaningful it is for them to see the Chanukah candles and how it fills with them with a sense of purposeful Jewishness. Watching people during the lighting ceremony at the Riverwalk and seeing how it moves them is also a special experience.

Olive Press Craft Workshop: The Olive Press was presented at Temple Sinai, Chabad of Southern Mississippi, Gates of Prayer, Woldenberg Village and Temple Bnei Israel (Baton Rouge). Over 100 children and adults participated.

Sunday, Dec 2:

Chanukah @ Riverwalk – With the blessing of good weather from above, over 500 turned out this year’s event, which was back at the Spanish Plaza overlooking the Mississippi River. Activities and amenities included the Latke Bar, Kosher Cajun, Children’s Dreidel Activity House, Face painting, Info Booth, George the Juggler, and music by Ooh Lala. The ceremony was featured greetings by David Sinkman (MC), Councilman Joe Giarrusso, Frank Quinn (Riverwalk), Henry Miller (Federation), Dr. Sue Fielkow, and Rabbi Zelig Rivkin. A special intro to the lighting was presented by Rabbi Mendel Rivkin along with seven others who spoke in six languages about the power of light. A link to the video can be seen at www.chabadneworleans.com/4231503. The Menorah was lit by Dr. Eitan Lang with Berry Silver singing the blessings.

Chanukah at the Capitol Chabad of Baton Rouge held another successful Menorah lighting at the Louisiana State Capitol with over 120 in attendance. Special features included the Firetruck Gelt Drop. Later in the week a Top Chef Latke Cookoff was held as well.

Monday, Dec 3:

Menorah Lighting Tulane Quad – Students took a break from studying to attend the Menorah lighting in front the LBC. Throughout the week many lightings were held all around campus with hundreds of students participating.

Israeli Chanukah Party Chabad Metairie hosted a well-attended party for Israelis with Menorah Lighting, BBQ, music and fun for all ages.

Menorah at Lakeside – The electric Menorah was lit at Lakeside Shopping center throughout Chanukah under the auspices of Chabad Metairie.

Tuesday, Dec 4: Party for Young Professionals – An informal party at the home of Rabbi Mendel & Malkie Rivkin. Menorah lighting, dreidel trivia game, dinner and drinks.

Wednesday, Dec 5: Chanukah @ Lambeth House – A Chanukah party and Menorah lighting was held at Lambeth House.

Thursday, Dec 6:

Chanukah @ VA – A meaningful Menorah lighting ceremony was conducted by Rabbi Mendel Ceitlin at the VA hospital.

Menorah Workshop @ Home Depot – Menorah building workshop by Chabad Metairie.

Visit to Oakdale Federal Prison Complex

Saturday, Dec 8: Mobile Menorah Parade – A parade of 15 vehicles and a decorated party bus rolled through the streets of NOLA bringing Chanukah music and spirit to those walking through, Uptown, Downtown, French Quarter and the Marigny.

Sunday, Dec 9: Chanukah in Biloxi – A Menorah lighting and Chanukah celebration was held at Edgewater Mall featuring talks by Rabbi Akiva Hall and the Mayor of Biloxi.

Videos of the Riverwalk ceremony and TV interviews can be seen at www.chabadneworleans.com/4231503.

Photos of the Chabad Uptown programs can be seen at www.chabadneworleans.com/3915959.

Photos of the Chabad Metairie programs can be seen at www.jewishlouisiana.com/1084794.

Photos and videos of the Chabad Baton Rouge programs can be seen at www.facebook.com/ChabadBatonRouge.  

Photos of Chabad of Southern Mississippi programs can be seen at www.facebook.com/chabadsouthernmississippi.

Photos of Tulane Chabad programs can be seen at www.facebook.com/chabadtulane.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Today we are all Ultra-Orthodox

I generally dislike using the arbitrary labels that are applied to describe Jews. I have little use for terms such as Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Modern-Orthodox, Ultra-Orthodox, Reconformodox… need I go on? In fact when people ask me if I am Ultra-Orthodox I often reply, “No, I am industrial strength Orthodox.”

Now I understand that the labels are used to differentiate between ideologies… but people, not so much. However, in the spirit of the colloquial usage of those terms, I present the following.

The Talmud, when discussing the method for observing the Mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah lights, offers the following. “The Sages taught…: The basic mitzvah of Chanukah is a candle for each home, every day. The mehadrin, (those who are meticulous in the performance of mitzvot,) kindle a daily light for each member of the household. The mehadrin min hamehadrin, (those who are even more meticulous,) adjust the number of lights daily. Beit Shammai say: On the first day one kindles eight lights and, from there on, gradually decreases the number of lights. And Beit Hillel say: On the first day one kindles one light, and from there on, gradually increases the number of lights.”

Now if we took a survey among the millions of Jews who observe Chanukah, we would hard pressed to identify even one who follows the basic, or even the meticulous, method of lighting the candles. On Chanukah all Jews become “industrial strength-Orthodox” performing the Mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah lights in the mehadrin-min-hamehadrin (highest possible) way.

This could the subject of a fascinating anthropological study of Jewish holiday observance… but I would like to offer the Chassidic explanation for this phenomenon. The core of the story is the Hellenist attempt to get the Jews to dilute the devotion to their religion. Study and practice, but don’t go overboard. Stick with the logical part and discard the rest. When persuasion didn’t work they resorted to violence. When attacking the Temple, they specifically targeted the pure oil, as it represented everything they didn’t appreciate about Judaism – a supra-rational devotion to G-d and His commandments. That is why the miracle revolved around the pure oil. The Maccabees demonstrated an “industrial strength” devotion to G-d by insisting on kindling only pure oil and G-d reciprocated with a miracle in kind.

So it all makes sense. When we celebrate Chanukah, the miracle of oil and the dedication of the Maccabees, of course we go all out and do it the most ideal way. That’s what they did; and that’s what G-d did in return.

Wishing you all a bright and joyous Chanukah. Look forward to seeing you all at the Riverwalk on Sunday at 4 pm.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Boldly Go Where No Rabbi Has Gone

Do you remember the internet before Google and Youtube? Does Alta Vista ring a bell? How about AOL, Netscape, or Webcrawler? Before the World Wide Web became publicly accessible in the early 90s, there was FidoNet, essentially a network of what was then termed BBS (bulletin board systems).

In 1988, Rabbi YY Kazen bucked all Chasidic stereotypes and informally started, what would later become known as, Chabad in Cyberspace or Chabad.org. He used those BBS networks to interact with thousands of Jewish techies and geeks who were similarly using the BBS to communicate with each other. He would field questions, he digitized articles & books and post them, sharing them as part of a Virtual Jewish Library. Over the next 10 years, until his untimely passing in 1998, he managed to form the core of the most successful Jewish presence on the Internet. In the 20 years since his passing Chabad.org has become the absolute industry leader of Jewish websites, receiving billions of hits on its network.

Why would a Rabbi get involved in this? What inspired him “to boldly go where no Rabbi has gone before?” Weren’t Chassidic Jews scared of technology? In connection with his 20th Yahrtzeit, his son, Rabbi Peretz Kazen of Chabad of Baton Rouge, will tell his father’s story and demonstrate the results of that vision from 1988.

On Monday night, the eve 19th of Kislev, join us for Judaism: The Final Frontier. A festive dinner will be served and musician Daniel Gale will offer a harmonious overture of Chassidic melodies. The event is sponsored by an anonymous sponsor as well as the Rivkin and Horowitz families in memory of their mothers, Mrs. Miriam Gordon and Mrs. Ruth Cohen, whose yahrtzeits are on Kislev 20. Let us know that you will be there for this special event – rsvp@chabadneworleans.com or www.facebook.com/events/190689508476576.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Happy Birthday Chabad of Louisiana

Yesterday’s Hebrew date, Kislev 7 was the “birthday” of Chabad of Louisiana. On that day in 1975 my parents, Rabbi Zelig & Bluma Rivkin, arrived, with 2 year old me and my one year old brother Yochanan in tow. Their goal was to be the Rebbe’s ambassadors to the city and region, in strengthening Judaism and Jewish commitment in any way possible.

How does a young family just show up in a place to which they have no familial association or any connection at all, and expect to be successful in establishing a Chabad presence that would have an impact on the community?

My parents were privileged to have several private audiences (called Yechidus) with the Rebbe in the years leading up to their move to New Orleans. During those meetings the Rebbe gave them guidance and direction with respect to their own lives as well as their responsibility to others. Among the things that my father shared with me was that the Rebbe assured them that “if you will make it bright and warm for others, then Hashem will bless you with brightness and warmth in your own lives.” This is the type of empowering blessings and guidance with which the Rebbe dispatched his Shluchim to locations all around the world.

At the last Yechidus meeting prior to their departure for New Orleans, my parents took the two of us along. Over the course of that brief encounter the Rebbe blessed my parents with success and gave them each some money for Tzedaka to take along on the trip. While I don’t recall this happening, my mother shared with us that the Rebbe then gave us two boys a dollar as well, declaring “these are my Shluchim to New Orleans.”

Interestingly, while my parents would go on to have several more children after moving to New Orleans, the only two that settled in New Orleans as adults are the two of us. (My sister Mushka came back to Louisiana, but in Baton Rouge.) Looking back that seemingly casual statement of the Rebbe turned out to be quite prescient.

So happy birthday Chabad of Louisiana. We have come a long way since that day in 1975. We have partnered with this amazing community to achieve a lot together. There is still more work to do and we are eager to continue until the coming of Moshiach very soon.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Powerful Prayers

The last seven days were very intense. Last weekend I was with 4,000 of my colleagues in NY for the annual Shluchim conference. Upon returning to New Orleans we quickly prepared for the amazing evening we had with Eva Schloss and and audience of 600 hundred strong on Tuesday night at the JCC. I would like to share a poignant experience from my time in NY.

One of the highlights of the Shluchim conference (aka Kinus) is presenting ourselves as a group at the Rebbe’s Ohel. We pray to Hashem, reading Psalms together. A letter of petition for blessing from the Rebbe is written on behalf of us all collectively and every Shliach signs it. It is then read publicly for of us to hear and placed near the Ohel as is traditional.

The letter is very comprehensive and addresses requests for blessings in any conceivable area of our lives both communal and individual. The 4,000 Shluchim live in every corner of the world and are truly responsible for the welfare of each Jew and the Jewish people as a whole wherever they may be.

This year the letter included a special mention of the assault against Jews in Pittsburgh along with a blessing for the safety of the Jewish people worldwide. As those words were being addressed to the Rebbe, with thousands of Rabbis from around the world listening raptly, I felt a potent sense of togetherness with all of the Jews who are in need of Hashem’s protection. There is power in this blessing from the Rebbe and there is power in this group who presented the petition for this blessing. May Hashem indeed hear our prayers for the safety of our people everywhere and for the safety of good people all over the world.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Showing Solidarity

This past week has been an intense one for the Jewish community and for American community as a whole. Our thoughts have been swirling in all kinds of directions. Certainly, foremost among them is the grief and sorrow for the people who were most directly impacted by the horrific attack in Pittsburgh, resulting in the tragic murder of 11 precious souls and the wounding of six others. There are the thoughts about what the ramifications are of this event on the place of Jews in American society. There are the immediate and long term security considerations. Thoughts about the role of politics and rhetoric in this murderous attack. Thoughts about how a tragedy can pull us together as a Jewish nation. And much more.

There have been some poignant moments. Certainly the solidarity expressed at the vigils and memorial gatherings by so many people from so many backgrounds and faiths. The sincere and meaningful offer from folks like the Cajun Navy to “have our backs” so that we can worship in safety. The random but heartwarming expressions of support from people like the man who stopped me in Walgreens yesterday to tell me the he and his family are praying for my people.

Another angle has been the amazing groundswell of energy to have good deeds overpower the evil that was perpetrated. Campaigns such as #Mitzvah4Pittsburgh have yielded wonderful commitments from people to infuse the world with goodness through the Mitzvahs which they have undertaken. For more on that see www.chabadneworleans.com/pittsburgh.

Chabad of Louisiana is launching an initiative – a Pittsburgh Solidarity Shabbat – #ShowupforShabbat that will be held next week, Saturday, November 10 at both Chabad Uptown and Chabad Metairie. The idea is to encourage our fellow Jews to show up in Shul as an expression of solidarity along with the determined declaration that we will not be kept from our Synagogues by threats and fear. We hope to fill the Synagogues with people with the same sense of urgency that is felt on Yom Kippur at Neilah.

May Hashem protect us and shield us under the canopy of peace so that we never again need to deal with anything the likes of this horrific tragedy. May we truly experience the sense of Am Yisrael Chai for all times.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Mind Your Own Business?

When we reflect on the wickedness of Sodom, we usually think about extreme moral depravity and cruelty. We think about the manner in which they institutionalized corruption and abuse; the disregard for basic human dignity and their decadent attitude toward hedonistic indulgence.

Where does this start? How did they come to be such an immoral society? What measures can we take to protect ourselves from going down those same pathways?

Let us examine an interesting passage from the Talmud that sheds some light on this. Ethics of our Fathers (5:10) states: “There are four types of people: One who says, "What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine" is a boor. One who says "What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours" — this is a median characteristic; others say that this is the character of Sodom. One who says, "What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours" is a chassid (pious person). And one who says "What is mine is mine, and what is yours is mine" is wicked.”

So the attitude of what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours is defined as the character of Sodom (according the second opinion). One might think, what’s the big deal? You have yours and I have mine. It is about minding your own business. To each their own. Why is this the character of Sodom?

It is a natural human tendency to protect one’s self and property. We are instinctually inclined to self-preservation. However we also intellectually recognize the need for sharing and caring for others. Life is about getting ourselves to the point where what we understand overpowers our self-centered instinct. A moral and healthy human society is one where folks care and look out for each other.

Sodomite society created a philosophy out of selfishness. The weltanschauung of Sodom declared “what’s mine is mine and what’s your is yours.” Once that is your outlook on life, there is no limit to how low your society can sink.

In a sense, the Western societal rule of “mind your own business” is a subtle expression of the same Sodom-like sentiment. Judaism tells us that someone else’s welfare is my business. Obviously this is not a license for being a nosy yenta with no respect for human privacy and dignity. But we should not become so self-absorbed that we do not notice the needs of others and we are not moved to help them.

This is true in a material/physical sense; but also in a spiritual/religious sense. If we have the opportunity to encourage someone in their growth as a Jew, we should not “mind our own business.” Our sense of love and caring for another should lead us to proactively reach out to them and share something inspiring or invite them to participate in a Jewish experience.

So stop minding your own business. Shout from the rooftops about how wonderful Mitzvot are. Declare your passion for Torah and Judaism by sharing them with others! If you need to appeal to your self-preservation side, doing this feels really good and meaningful once you get past the initial discomfort with not “minding your own business.”

On a different note, the Eva Schloss lecture next month is at 90% capacity. We are getting ready to move to standing room only and consider an overflow area. Get your tickets now before it is too late. www.jewishlouisiana.com/evaschloss.  

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Individualism vs. Collectivism

As Torah narratives go, we are in the exciting part of the cycle. After getting through with the preliminaries of creation and the flood, we are finally all in on the inspired and inspiring life of Avraham. A recurring theme is the promise of a great nation of descendants coupled with the gifting of the land (of Israel).

A closer peek gives us two distinct forms in which the blessing of plentiful offspring is offered. 1. Your children will be as numerous as the sand near the sea. 2. Your descendants will be as plentiful as the starts in the sky. Aside from diversity of linguistic expression, what is gained by the two metaphors of the sand and the stars?

One of the Chassidic masters explained that each of these represents a different angle with respect to the tension between collectivism and individualism. Sand is valuable primarily when it is bunched together with more sand. The sand can form a beach, mud, glass, computer chips etc. A single granule of sand is hardly useful. This brings out the value of the collective. When we are united, pooling our efforts and resources, we are invincible.

Contrast that with the stars. Each one is a powerful source of light and energy on its own. Indeed two stars coming together can be a destructive force. This brings out the value of individuality.

Which approach is correct? Does Judaism favor the collective or the individual? The answer lies somewhere in the middle. Judaism calls for a balance between collectivism and individuality. There are times when a tip in one direction or another is called for, but a healthy balance is the proper approach.

Here is proof from a Halachic phenomenon with a philosophical and mystical twist. A Torah scroll contains 304,805 letters, each handwritten in black ink on parchment. If a single letter is missing or deformed, the entire scroll is unfit for use. Additionally, each of the letters must be ringed by “white space.” Should a letter touch its fellow even slightly, thereby violating the "white space" between them, again, the entire scroll is disqualified from use.

Every Jew is a letter in G‑d's scroll. The people of Israel comprise a single, interdependent entity; the lack or deformity of a single Jewish soul, G‑d forbid, would spell a lack or deformity in us all. Yet equally important is the inviolable "white space" which distinguishes each of us as a unique individual. True, the letters spell a single integral message. But this message is comprised of hundreds of thousands of voices, each articulating it in its own manner. To detract from the individuality of one is to detract from the integrity of the collective whole.

This is one of the messages of the stars and sand.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Eva Schloss Coming to NOLA

We are nearly 80 years removed from the onset of the Holocaust. This coming November marks 80 years since that horrific assault on the Jewish people in Germany and Austria known as Kristallnacht. In the years that followed the Nazis tried to implement their "final solution" by eradicating the Jewish people. Six million murdered later along with countless others whose lives were unimaginably impacted for generations, we have what's known as the Holocaust.

How many people alive today can actually give eye-witness accounts of the atrocities? The generation of survivors, even those who survived as children, is fading before our very eyes. As they go, the audacious attempts at Holocaust denial grow greater and more bold. 

We need to people to hear the story from the mouths of the last living survivors so that those stories can be retold by those of us who hear them firsthand. 

This November, in connection with the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, Chabad of Louisiana is bringing Eva Schloss to New Orleans. She was a neighbor and later a step-sister to Anne Frank. Her family escaped Austria and arrived in Holland, where the moved near the Frank family. Eva is currently on tour in the US from England, where she lives. New Orleans is her last stop before she heads home on the newly scheduled direct flight from MSY to London.

Please seize the opportunity to hear this legend tell her story. The event is endorsed by the New Orleans Holocaust Memorial Committee and will be hosted at the New Orleans JCC. The lecture is a joint project of Chabad New Orleans, Chabad Metairie and Chabad Baton Rouge. 

For registration - www.jewishlouisiana.com/evaschloss. Seats are filling up quickly and space is limited. At the event Eva's Story - Mrs. Schloss's book will also be sold, including a limited number of signed copies. Advance book sales are also available on the website. 

Looking forward to a meaningful event on Nov 6 at 7 pm.

Have a wonderful Shabbos
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Welcome back from the Mall

The shopping experience has two components (not that I would know much about it…). There is the thrill of buying the merchandise; and then there is the enjoyment of using it. The transition between those two components is when you come home and unpack your purchases.

The Previous Rebbe utilizes the analogy of a shopping trip to explain what this past month of Tishrei is all about. We pick up merchandise from the various vendors, Rosh Hashanah, 10 days of Teshuvah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. Each vendor provides us with items that will be put to good use throughout the year in our growth and developments as Jews. We have a carful of devotion, reflection, love and awe, joy, oneness, enthusiasm and much more. Now that the holidays are over, we must start to utilize the goods and apply them in our lives.

This process begins with unpacking and putting things in place to be used when we need them. That is what this Shabbat is all about. It is the transition between the holidays and regular time. We can reflect on all that we experienced this month and then start to insert those experiences into everyday life.

So welcome back from the Tishrei Mall. I hope you enjoyed the shopping trip. Now unpack and start enjoying your merchandise as well.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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