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Purim is also about anti-Semitism

Purim is also about anti-Semitism. (See www.chabadneworleans.com/blog for last week’s post entitled “Purim is not about anti-Semitism.) Not only that, but even after the Haman threat was eliminated, serious vigilance against the potential flare up of further anti-Semitism was needed. Where is this indicated?

The very last verse of the book of Esther states: “For Mordechai the Jew was viceroy to King Achashverosh, and great among the Jews and accepted by most of his brethren; seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all their offspring.” There is a glaring awkwardness in this verse. Why was Mordechai accepted by most of his brethren and not all? What could the detractors possibly find wrong with him? He just saved the entire Jewish people from a “final solution” attempt to “to annihilate, murder and destroy all the Jews, young and old, children and women, on one day.”

The answer is in the earlier part of the verse, “Mordechai the Jew was viceroy to the king.” Some of his colleagues in the Sanhedrin felt that once the decree was averted, Mordechai should have resigned from governmental affairs to exclusively apply himself to Torah. In fact, in a listing of leading sages of the Sanhedrin in the book of Nechemiah, Mordechai is slightly demoted from his place on an earlier list in the book of Ezra.

So why indeed did Mordechai elect to remain an active leading member of the king’s court? In the opening verse of the Megillah it states: “And it came to pass in the days of Achashverosh, the same Achashverosh who ruled… one hundred and twenty-seven provinces.” Why does the verse repeat the name of the king? It could have just said, “In the days of Achashverosh who ruled…” Our sages explain, that the verse is pointing out to us that Achashverosh was also a Jew hater. He was threatened by the prophecy of Jeremiah that G-d would bring the Jews back to Israel after 70 years of exile. The party described in the opening chapter of the story is a celebration of his perception that those 70 years passed and the Jews would be his subjects forever. Indeed later on the story, when Haman offers the king 10,000 silver talents in exchange for permission to destroy the Jews, Achashverosh responds, “The money is yours to keep, and the nation is yours to do with as you please.” Why? Because he was an anti-Semite just like Haman was. Maybe for a more pragmatic reason; but he hated the Jews all the same.

Mordechai reasoned, that a fickle king such as Achashverosh, who displays such narcissistic tendencies, can easily swing right back to his old Jew hating ways if he felt threatened by them. So Mordechai deemed it necessary to remain as viceroy, in order to address any threats that may arise.  

Jews must always be vigilant and take measures to protect ourselves, whilst remaining hyper-cognizant of the fact (as mentioned in last week’s post) that the true source of our protection and well-being, both physical and spiritual, is our connection to Hashem. To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, we must “pray softly and carry a big stick.”  

Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameach
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Purim is not about anti-Semitism

Purim is not a holiday about anti-Semitism. Of course Haman was most definitely an anti-Semite. (In fact, he got his career in Jew hatred started as an entry-level government official who was advocating against Persian support for the Jewish people’s right to a homeland in Israel.) Furthermore, he most certainly tried to persecute and destroy the Jewish nation. Finally, his plans were thwarted by the powerful Jewish lobby in the palace (the queen), resulting in his downfall and execution. Following the Jewish victory against Haman’s minions, Mordechai and the sages of Israel established the festival of Purim. So how can we say that Purim is not about anti-Semitism?

Because the story told above is only the mask - the outer layer. Upon closer examination, we discover an entirely different subplot that is far more instructive of how we are to live as Jews.

When Haman issues his decree, Mordechai reacts by wearing sack-cloth and ashes and declaring that Jews must gather in prayer, fasting and Teshuvah. What happened to working the phones and leaning on his connections in the king’s court? What happened to raising money for an effort to get the decree annulled by the king?

When Esther is prevailed upon to go to the king, she prepares by fasting for three days. For a king who spent 4 ½ years looking for the most beautiful woman in the Persian empire to marry, it would not seem to be wisest idea to approach him after a three day fast. Even a very attractive woman doesn’t look great without eating or drinking for 72 hours. It would seem more logical for Esther to spend three days at the spa and shopping for new clothes with which to impress the king.

So what’s the deal? Mordechai and Esther understood that Haman’s decree is merely a symptom of a deeper issue. Namely, the Jewish people falling out of favor with Hashem. This was because of the self-degradation stemming from the Jews wanting so desperately to be accepted by Persian society, that they went to the king’s feast celebrating their own subjugation. They were so thrilled just to be invited to the ball, that they tossed their Yiddishkeit; eating the non-Kosher food, engaging in promiscuity, and fully embracing the pagan Persian culture.

Accordingly, Mordechai’s primary focus was getting the Jews good with Hashem again through prayer and repentance. Once that got squared away, they then employed natural channels to get the decree annulled and the enemy eliminated. Consequently, Purim is a celebration of our reunification with Hashem as His treasured and devoted nation. Haman’s anti-Semitism was just a side-bar.

The takeaway is that every threat to our people must be dealt with using all means available to us. But we must first remember that our primary task is to strengthen our connection to Hashem. Only then can our efforts to neutralize the threats be effective.

Shabbat Shalom and happy Purim prep!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Who's Helping Whom?

Who’s giving to whom? The Midrash (Lev. Rabba) states, “More than what the philanthropist does for the poor person, the poor person does for the philanthropist.” The conventional way of understanding this is that the poor person gives the rich person the opportunity to do a Mitzvah. And not just any mitzvah, but the Mitzvah of Tzedakah, which has many special merits as enumerated by our sages all over the Talmud and Midrash.

This week I heard a story that gives a whole new meaning to this concept. We had a visitor at Minyan one morning this week, who shared with me something that happened to him. Several years ago his teenage daughter went into renal failure and she needed a kidney. It was determined that he was a match, and he became a kidney donor for his daughter. With Hashem’s help all went well, and they both recovered nicely.

Fast forward one year. This man is a member of Hatzalah, the volunteer ambulance corps. He was rushing to a call one day, and as he went through an intersection on a red, a bus plowed into the driver's side of his vehicle. He took a rough hit on his side and was badly injured. When Hatzalah rushed him to the emergency room, the doctors were freaking out about the prospect of major damage to his kidney, with the possibility of kidney rupture. He and the Hatzalah members who brought him in were laughing. He explained to the doctors that a year ago he had given that kidney to his daughter and therefore there was no kidney there to worry about.

So while he thought he was helping his daughter by giving her a kidney and saving her life, in fact she relieved him of his kidney thereby saving him from major medical issues.

We don’t always understand Hashem’s ways. But we do know that in the end end end, doing what Hashem’s wants of us is also for our own benefit.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Jewish Constancy

One of the marks of devotion is constancy. In Hebrew, the word for constant is Tamid. We were commanded to have a constant fire burning on the altar in the Temple. This was called the Aish Tamid – constant fire. As a reflection of that, many Synagogues have a Ner Tamid – constant flame (or bulb) – burning in front of the Ark. There are six mitzvot that are referred to as Tamid due to their being incumbent upon us constantly. (E.g. The belief in G-d.) There was an offering in the Temple called Tamid that was brought consistently each morning and again each afternoon. It was “Tamid” in the sense that even on Shabbat, holidays, and Yom Kippur, the first and last offering of the day was the Tamid.

Now that we have established the credentials of Tamid, I would like to direct your attention to the Shulchan Aruch – code of Jewish law. The author, Rabbi Yosef Caro, wrote with a Sephardic bent to his Halachic renderings. So an Ashkenazic authority, Rabbi Moshe Isserlish, known as Rema, wrote glosses that were included in the text of the Shulchan Aruch. He opens his glosses to the very first passage of Jewish law, dealing with waking up in the morning, by quoting a verse. Psalms 16:8 states: Shivisi Hashem L’negdi Tamid – I have placed the L-rd before me constantly. He then goes on to explain why this is a fundamental principle of Jewish conduct. When a person has Hashem before them constantly, this reinforces the devotion to Hashem and the Mitzvot of the Torah.

Shulchan Aruch is divided into four major sections. The first deals with the daily and calendar life of a Jew. It covers the daily schedule of prayer, meals, and general conduct. It goes onto the laws of Sabbath, and then festivals. The last set of laws is the section dealing with Purim. The conclusion addresses a leap year when there are two Adars. The Rema ends as follows. “There are those who say that one is obligated to increase in joy and feasting on the 14th of Adar I however this is not the practice. Nonetheless one should increase slightly their joy and feasting in order to fulfill the words of those who are stringent, (Proverbs 15:15) “V’tov Lev Mishteh Tamid” - “A cheerful heart celebrates constantly.”

So the bookends of the laws of life are two “Tamids”. One must constantly be in a state of awareness of Hashem’s presence (being G-d-fearing) and must constantly be in a state of joy. The commentators explain that these are a reflection of the two daily Tamid offerings that came at the outset and conclusion of each day’s service.

One might think that the two “Tamids” are at odds. Yet, Chassidus explains that these two attitudes of constancy are interdependent. Yir’as Shamayim (being G-d-fearing) must be tempered by joy in order for it to be effective in a person’s life. Indeed the Psalmist (100:2) encourages us to “Serve the L-rd with joy.” Joy, on the other hand, must be molded by Yir’as Shamyim in for it to be properly directed. Together the Tamids provide for us a perfectly synthesized approach to life.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Sweet or Savory?

Savory or Sweet? This is not just a question for people ordering a waffle. This is a real serious existential question. Which of the two is preferable? You might answer that it depends on your taste. Some prefer sweet over savory, and some prefer savory over sweet. That may very well be true; but it is a bit of a cop out.

Come on now… if you think about it honestly, how many people need to be trained to appreciate candy or ice cream. Show me a kid that doesn’t like sweet, and I will show you a kid who has brain freeze from too much ice cream. For that matter, show me an adult that doesn’t like some version of sweet, be it candy, chocolate, ice cream or cake. And now let’s think about savory honestly. Not everyone is born with a penchant for the piquant. Often it is an acquired taste for the palate that enjoys the tangy or tart flavors of savory cuisine.

So I pose the question again. Savory or Sweet? Shouldn’t the obvious conclusion be sweet? Or should it? Perhaps, once one develops the appreciation for the savory, there is no going back to sweet as the favorite?

At this point you may be wondering if you haven’t by accident made a wrong turn on the internet to a foodie blog…

On the verse in Genesis (27:4) where Isaac instructs his son, “Make for me delicacies, such as I like,” the Zohar comments, this is the voice of the Shechinah instructing the Jewish people to bring G-d nachas – pleasure through their service. In Tanya (Ch. 27) the Alter Rebbe explains, that there are two types of service represented by the use of the plural - delicacies. There is the service of a Tzadik, who is occupied solely with that sweetness of life, having conquered and eliminated the evil inclination within. This is a sweet and luscious delicacy for G-d.

Then there is the service of the regular Jew who struggles with the bitterness – the desire and inclination to do that which against G-d’s will. But when such a Jew manages to confront and subdue that evil thought or desire, this is akin to working the spicy and tangy flavors into a savory delicacy for G-d.

G-d certainly delights in the life of a Tzadik and the sweet pleasure this brings Him. One can argue, that the savory dish created by the toil of the “regular Jew” in subduing the natural desire for worldliness, and exchanging it with the service of G-d, is a pleasure in which G-d delights maybe just a bit more.

So I pose the question again. Savory or Sweet? Let’s leave that to G-d to decide. Or maybe we can just have a little bit of both.

Wishing you a sweet and savory Shabbos!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Facetiming with G-d

Song of Songs, 8:1 says “O, that you were like my brother.” Our sages explain that this verse laments the loss of the close relationship we enjoyed with Hashem when our Sanctuary (Temple) was extant. This love was symbolized by the Keruvim, which had the likeness of two people lovingly facing each other. As our Parsha states, “the cherubim shall have their wings spread upwards… with their faces toward one another…” This represents the closeness and love that Hashem projected to us, as well as the closeness and love that we projected to Hashem. But alas the sanctuary was destroyed and the Keruvim are no longer visible; so how do we access that feeling of love from and to Hashem?

The Talmud teaches, “ever since the Temple was destroyed G-d can be accessed in the “four cubits of Halacha.” Meaning, that Torah study is the way that one can capture an element of that loving, face to face relationship with Hashem. As Tanya (Ch. 5) explains, “Through Torah study a person can grasp and envelop the Divine Wisdom, whilst simultaneously being enveloped and grasped within It. This is a wonderful union, like which there is none other, and which has no parallel anywhere in the material world, whereby complete oneness and unity, from every side and angle, could be attained.” One can completely hug and envelop Hashem while being hugged and enveloped by Hashem at the same time. To put it in contemporary terms, Torah study is like Facetiming with G-d.

One of the reasons that G-d’s love is expressed through Torah and vice-versa, is because Torah empowers us and gives us the means by which to introduce and reveal G-dliness and a G-dly purpose into our world, which appears to be so disparate from G-dliness. This is G-d’s purpose for all of creation. So He is heavily invested in its achievement, as should we be.

So the next time you are lamenting your inability to experience a closeness to Hashem the way they had it in the olden days… know that it is within your reach. Crack open a volume of Chumash, Talmud, Halacha, Midrash, or Chassidus and start Facetiming with G-d. Put some feeling into the experience, and you may just begin to feel the love.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Getting Comfortable with Israel Advocacy

When I was growing up it was a near given that a Jew, especially one who was engaged at any level in the community or in Judaism, would be an advocate for Israel. It didn’t mean that one agreed with every position held by the Israeli government or the Israeli society, but at least one regarded Israel advocacy as a basic fundamental of Jewish identity. The right of Jewish people to be in the land of Israel and to defend themselves against those that did not accept that right, was the normative position for the average Jew. One could even argue, that associating this assertion of the Jewish right to Israel with a Biblical, or at least historical, legacy, was also not foreign to the average Jew.

That given has eroded considerably during my adulthood. Jews began to assign primary importance to other causes and the urgency of Israel advocacy faded. World attitudes have shifted and that may have caused Jews who identify with “progressive causes” to develop a bit of discomfort with Israel advocacy. This has become even more acute in very recent years with the rise of intersectionality, where leaders of other advocacy movements have rendered Israel support as antithetical to their worldview. A most glaring example of this is the Women’s March and the shunning of pro-Israel supporters of the March’s cause. One Women’s March leader went as far as to declare that one cannot be a supporter of women’s rights and a supporter of Israel; that the two causes are mutually exclusive.

Without getting into debates on the merit of the above sentiment, or about the merit of each individual cause, it behooves us to analyze the results. This shift has contributed to the phenomenon of some (mostly) young, socially conscious Jews carefully examining their willingness to be advocates for Israel. For others, it has pushed them entirely outside of the spectrum of Israel advocacy at all (and beyond). We have seen the fallout of this firsthand here in New Orleans during last year’s city council “BDS law” drama.

Yet, Israel is of vital Jewish interest. Nearly half of the world’s Jews live in Israel. It is safe to say that Israel has the greatest concentration of Jews in one area since Babylonia in Talmudic times. If for no other reason, Israel’s security is the last line of defense for the safety of close to seven million of our brothers and sisters. As such, it is essential for the Jewish community to engage those Jews who are ambivalent or disenfranchised about Israel and to provide a forum for developing a sense of comfort in advocating for Israel’s right to exist and thrive as a country where half the Jews of the world reside.

I don’t have the answer or the solution to how to do this, but we must keep trying to find effective methods. I would like to invite you all to an event this evening where one young man presents his personal journey on this path. Leibel Mangel, will present his story “From Auschwitz to the IDF” at Chabad Uptown at 7 pm. See below for more details. His is a fresh perspective that may give us all something to think about. Hope to see you there.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Shabbos in the hospital

This past Friday night Malkie gave birth to a baby boy. His Bris will take place this Shabbos, G-d willing (see below for schedule details). This was our third child to be born on Shabbos (the other two were born during the day on Saturday). Being in a hospital to have a baby on Shabbos is both unique and strange.

We arrived an hour before Shabbos started; and as the sun was setting, Malkie lit her candles and then got into the bed to “have the baby.” That baby was born in a calm and serene environment, perfectly conducive to the Sabbath that had been ushered in just before he arrived. The medical team actually commented on how calm and serene the experience was. One nurse even chose to stay past her shift just to be a part of it.

Nothing in a hospital is Shabbos friendly. You can barely walk through a door without relying some kind of electronic gadgetry. They want you to sign a hundred forms. To get anything done by a nurse “just press the button to call us.” The bed goes up and down with a button. There are lights everywhere. To turn them off and on “just press the button.” You get the picture.

Now when it comes to health emergencies one is allowed to violate Shabbos. But for convenience or comfort one may not. That is very confusing to the hospital staff. We tried our best to explain to them that our Sabbath precludes us from turning on the lights or using the call button unless it is an emergency. But this is not part of their mindset so it is hard for them to remember. Plus for someone not in the know, it is difficult to wrap your head around the inconsistency between necessity and convenience. So “consent to treat” forms may be signed but acknowledgement of information forms must wait until tomorrow night… Plus the rules of the game changed an hour into our stay, when Shabbos actually started. So it was strange for the staff and for us to have to keep explaining it.

On the other hand, having a baby on Shabbos means no phone calls, texts, social media posts or visits the entire day. While parents of a new baby certainly welcome and appreciate the support and love of friends and family, that time of tranquility to be quiet and alone with the baby and recover is a lagniappe benefit of Shabbos.

Finally, Shabbos in the hospital puts you on an island surrounded by technology. Everything beeps, chirps, squawks and lights up around you while you are in quiet commune with your Creator, bonding with the new addition to your family.

A Shabbos male birth means a Shabbos Bris. This is another unique Jewish experience where the Bris supersedes some aspects of Shabbos. We look forward to joining with family and friends this Shabbos for the Bris of our son.

Wishing you a tranquil Shabbos!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

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

 

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