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ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Lovable Sinners

This morning on the news, the meteorologist reported on a cold front that is arriving Monday, which will drop our temperature all the way down to the high eighties – low nineties. What a break!! The heat has been so bad, that weather is an actual legitimate conversation topic.

Yet, although one would hardly notice in our area, technically summer has turned the corner. The days are starting get shorter, and the nights longer. In fact, the Talmud says that the 15th of Av (last Shabbat) is the day that “the sun’s power begins to weaken” – meaning that the days get shorter and there is less sunlight. (Since ours is primarily a lunar calendar – the phenomenon is observable to a greater degree when the 15 of Av falls in mid-August, unlike this year when it was in late July.)

Since that is the case, in times of the Holy Temple, they would not use any wood that was cut after that date for the woodpile on the altar. In the Temple only the best supplies may be used. Wood that contains some moisture is more likely to become wormy. So only wood that was cut while the sunlight was most potent, was allowed to be used. At some point during the second Temple era, the community could not afford to keep the Temple supplied with enough wood that met the criteria. Individual families began to supply the wood from their own personal stockpiles. The day that they brought the wood to the Temple would be regarded as a family holiday.

There was one particular family whose shift to supply the wood began on the 20th of Av. What was unique about them, was that they were depleting their wood supply at a time when it could not be restocked until next spring. So their contribution to the Temple came with a significant sacrifice on their part.

If we consider this further, we realize that the altar was used minimally for the communal offerings, which benefitted the entire Jewish people. Primarily, the altar was used for individual offerings brought mostly for purposes of atonement. So here we have a family that is willing to deplete their own supply at significant cost, just to help some sinners find atonement. They might have said, “Sinners, bring your own wood. Why is your atonement my problem?” But this was not their attitude. In fact, not only did they supply the wood, they did so happily amid jubilant celebration.  

The lesson is obvious. Our love for each other should be so powerful that we are willing to help another person, even one who might be deemed less deserving, often at great cost to ourselves. Any we must do it with joy.  

Shabbat Shalom, and, may I be the first to wish you to be inscribed and sealed for happy, healthy, and sweet new year of 5782!

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Study With Childlike Wonder

Did you know that some of the most prominent codifiers of Jewish law present the Mitzvah of Torah study within the context of an obligation to teach children? In fact the verse they cite to present the Mitzvah of Torah study (from the Shema in this week’s Parsha) is: “And you teach them to your children and speak of them…”

What about the obligation of adults to study? Why doesn’t the Torah present that as a separate concept? Why is an adult’s requirement to learn Torah absorbed within the requirement to teach a child?

(My brother Rabbi Yochanan wrote an article addressing this from a slightly different angle. It can be read here: https://www.facebook.com/yochanan.rivkin/posts/10102774127797479.)

This past week, we wrapped up our JLI course, “The Scoop on Resurrection” with a lesson that focused on the notion that sometimes we have erase an existing mindset to reach unparalleled success. We read about a study done by Dr. George Land as an outgrowth of a project that he did for NASA – called the Creativity Test. He applied this test, which was used to identify that highest level creative geniuses, to children of varying ages, and later to random adults. The results were astounding. The proportion of people who scored at the “Genius Level”, were:

Amongst 5 year olds: 98%

Amongst 10 year olds: 30%

Amongst 15 year olds: 12%

Same test given to 280,000 adults (average age of 31): 2%.

So are all five year olds essentially creative geniuses who become numbskulls by the time they are 30?

The answer is that creativity is quashed by acquired pre-conceived notions, past assumptions, arcane and unquestioned systems, and cultural and societal norms. In other words, the very rules that we put in place (mostly valuable and productive) are exactly the cause for our drop in creativity. In short, we are getting in our own way. Our egos, our perceptions of our place in society, how we think others are viewing us, and the like, are preventing us from revolutionary intellectual development.

Young children are not yet encumbered by these issues. They haven’t yet been corrupted by all of the aforementioned issues that plague us adults. When a child studies Torah it is simply through the lens that this is G-d’s word and nothing else matters. By introducing the general Mitzvah of Torah study within the context of children’s education, the Torah is instructing us, that true success in Torah study is achieved when we approach the Torah with childlike wonder.

This helps us avoid distractions like, “How does this fit with societal norms? Doesn’t this clash with what I’ve studied in another discipline?” Then the power of connection with Hashem with which Torah affords us, can be experienced in an optimal manner.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

You Have a New Notification From G-d

A prominent feature of modern technology such as smart phones and computers, is notifications. One might be walking, driving, sleeping, working, reading, (or even praying) when all of a sudden there is the ping or short vibration of a notification on your smartphone.

It might be Facebook notifying you that your friends haven’t heard from you in while, and encouraging you to post something important, like your thoughts on the government’s handling of the pandemic or who will be the New Orleans Saints next starting quarterback. It might be YouTube notifying you that a new episode of a favorite series has been posted. It might be a text message from a family member or friend. It might be one of a thousand WhatsApp messages. It might be Zelle notifying you that money has been posted to your account. It might be your ID protection app informing you that they just prevented an attempted infiltration of your bank account. Speaking of bank accounts, it might be your online banking app telling you that your monthly statement is now available for download. It might be the weather app cautioning about an impending flash flood warning. Or maybe your Breaking News app telling you about the latest corruption scandal in Louisiana politics. You get the picture.  

Does it even happen that you are going about your merry (or not so merry) way when all of a sudden you feel an urge to do something G-dly? Maybe a niggling feeling to go to shul or lay tefillin. Perhaps an inclination to have Friday night dinner or attend a class. Maybe it is a yen to call your parents or spend some quality time with your spouse or children. It may be a pull to volunteer for a project that helps the needy.

Whence do these unanticipated urges originate? It’s not like I was thinking about those things in the preceding moments.

Surely, the fact that we possess a soul that is inherently connected to G-d would be a sufficient explanation for the presence of such desires and inclinations. But why now? Why not yesterday or tomorrow?

Chassidus explains, that this is a result of a notification from Hashem. Built into the operating system of our souls is that capacity for a notification system. It is not incessant, because that would detract from our freedom to choose. But on occasion there is a little ping or vibration from above that awakens those urges for improvement. The notifications are so slight that they barely register. Yet, it is just enough to get the process going. When we view the notification and initiate the course of change, this is called Teshuvah.

Next time you feel the ping or the vibration of your soul, click on it and follow the suggestions. It could be a game changer!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

Mutual Admiration Society

In this week’s Parsha we find something puzzling. Hashem commands Moshe to instruct the people of Israel to avenge the people of Israel by waging war against the Midianite nation.

(This is in response to the insidious plot suggested by Bilaam at the end of Parshat Balak, that the Midianites send their women to seduce the men of Israel, inducing the Jewish men to be immoral with them and worship their deity. The implementation of this plan brought a plague upon the people of Israel, resulting in 24,000 Israelite casualties. When Bilaam heard about the plague, he came running back to Midian to collect his payment for the plan that killed so many Jews. To his misfortune, his ill-timed return to Midian coincided with the war against the Midianites. The Torah relates about the slaying of Bilaam and the five chieftains of Midian.)

When Moshe transmits Hashem’s command to do battle against Midian to the people of Israel, he frames is at “avenging the L-rd against Midian.” So which is it; avenging the honor of Israel or avenging the honor of the L-rd?”

The explanation offered by the Rebbe in the name of his father, R’ Levi Yitzchok, is as follows. There were two aspects to the insidious plot suggested by Bilaam and carried out by the Midianites. One was an attempted assault against the people of Israel – to get rid of as many Jews as possible. The second was the method; inciting the Jews to immorality and idolatry, which is an affront to their G-d. As Bilaam characterized it “The G-d of these people despises promiscuity.” This is the most effective way to destroy them from within.

The war against Midian was a response to both of these aspects, the assault against Israel and the affront to G-d. Because of Hashem’s love and admiration for the people of Israel, He frames the battle as avenging the honor of Israel. Moshe, on the other hand, expresses his love and admiration for Hashem, by framing the battle as avenging the honor of the L-rd.  

In a relationship of love, one is always looking out for the benefit and honor of the other. May we emulate this approach to life in our personal relationships, our interactions with our fellow Jews, and our relationship with Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Exercising Those Joints

The parents out there know, that inevitably there is going to be some time spent at the ER with your kids. By the grace of G-d, we have not had a ton of ER visits in our family over the years (excluding COVID tests). Last week one my daughters injured her finger while playing ball. We took her to the ER. The took some x-rays and, a bunch of hours later, they determined that she had a slight fracture. They put her finger into a splint, and left us with instructions to follow up with Orthopedics.

Yesterday, we had the follow up appointment and, thank G-d, the finger is healing very nicely. They taped it up leaving the knuckle exposed, and told her that she needs to move the finger often to keep the joint from stiffening up. With Hashem’s help she will all better soon.

Thinking about what the NP told her about making sure to bend the finger every so often to keep it from stiffening, I thought about how this was a valuable lesson in our service of Hashem.

We get into a groove in our Jewish practice. Things become automatic – almost by rote. How do we ensure that the “joint” of our connection to Hashem and Judaism doesn’t become stiff and ineffective? We have to keep exercising it. What is the way we can keep our joints moving and well exercised? The answer is Torah study and paying attention to our prayers.

When we get emotionally involved in prayer, this keeps us invested in our relationship with Hashem, moving it beyond the automated by making things fresh and exciting. When we study Torah, the material that we absorb, maintains our enthusiasm and invigorates our practice of Judaism.

So take the doctor’s advice and make sure that your Jewish joints are not getting too stiff.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

In Defense of Jewish Pride

An immigrant Jewish salesman from the 1950s related this incident to his children. “I was traveling by bus from town to town through the south. Suddenly a couple of rednecks got on the bus and started to speak disparagingly about Jews. Their words became increasingly malevolent. I felt very afraid and threatened.” His son asked, “What did you do Papa? How did you handle the situation?” The salesman replied, “I just sat in the corner and pretended I wasn’t Jewish.”

Throughout the ages, Jews have been faced with an existential question. Is it better to blend in and lay low about our Jewishness? Will that save us from persecution and/or gain us acceptance to the societies in which we live? Or, is it advisable to be open and proud of who we are and what we stand for?

Many opted for the first path. Family names were changed. Westernized first names were taken. Visibly Jewish garb such as yarmulkas were left at home or removed altogether. Jewish practices and observances were marginalized, especially when they conflicted with participation in society. How can we keep Kosher if that will keep us out of restaurants and important social functions? How can we keep Shabbos if that will prevent us from participating in valuable events? And so on and so forth. Did it help? History tells us that just when we think we have succeeded in convincing society that we are a part of them, they provide us with an ugly reminder that they still consider us to be an “other.” It may take some time, but in the end that is what happens.

On the other hand, when Jews are steadfast and openly proud of who they are and principled about their values and practices, they ultimately engender respect even from those that resent them. It may take some time, but in the end that is what happens.

In this week’s Parsha, Bilaam, one of history’s greatest anti-Semites, tries everything he can to portray the people of Israel in negative light. In the end, he could not help but speak admiringly, albeit begrudgingly, of their fine qualities and principled devotion to their identity. He examined them with a proverbial magnifying glass to try to find flaws. The more deeply he looked, the greater his respect grew for them.

When Jews take pride in who they are, and demonstrate devotion to their values and principles, that gains them the respect and ultimately, the admiration of those around them.

My friends, every day is Jewish pride day. Every week is Jewish pride week. Every month is Jewish pride month. Every year is Jewish pride year. Hold your head high, keep your spine straight, and be a proud member of our people!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

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

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