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The Gift of Longer Nights

The Talmud observes that the 15th of Av marks the turning point of summer (the term used is "a diminishing of the strength of the sun"), as the days begin to get shorter and the nights longer. (While we in New Orleans don't notice this "diminishing of the sun's strength" for yet a few more months, our calendars will attest to the fact that the days have indeed begun to get shorter.)

The sages of the Talmud regard the longer nights as a gift - the gift of extended Torah study time. "Night was created for nothing else but study." The solitude and silence of night is conducive for mental concentration. Therefore the lengthening of night must result in additional study of Torah. 

In a practical sense, the day is spent going about our affairs. We work, we care for family, we attend school. Nighttime waking hours however, can be devoted to matters of the spirit and the study of Torah.

Imagine if we all took this suggestion of our sages seriously, and each one of us added time to our Torah study. Our community would be thousands of hours richer in Torah study. We would increase our "knowledge power" manifold, and consequently, our appreciation for Judaism and its teachings and life path would blossom in a wonderful manner. Let's do it!

We wish a hearty Mazel Tov to Penny and Dan Pershell upon the Bar Mitzvah of their son Josh this weekend. May they enjoy continued Nachas from him. 

Is It Time To Move On?

Tuesday is Tisha B'Av, the day of great mourning for the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash-Temple in Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago.

Napoleon Bonaparte once walked by a Synagogue on the 9th of Av and heard the sounds of crying and mourning. Upon being told that the Jews were crying for the destruction of their Temple he remarked, "a nation that still mourns a destruction that occured over 1,500 years earlier, will never be eradicated."

Yet many people ask, "isn't it time to move on?" Now that 2,000 years have passed and we have unprecented freedom to worship as we wish. We have our own country again with an army to protect us. We have accomplished so much both in Israel and the Diaspora. Jews excell in so many arenas of life. We are sophisticated and educated. Do we really need to be crying over an event that took place 2,000 years ago?

I would reply that this questions stems from a basic misunderstanding of our mourning for the destruction of the Temple on Tisha B'Av. Napoleon missed a fundemental element of the picture as do those who suggest the need to "move on."

The Sages of the Talmud declare, "A person in whose days the Temple is not rebuilt, must view it as if in his days the Temple was destroyed." In other words we are not mourning for a destruction that occured 2,000 years ago, but rather one that takes place in our time. As long as we are still without a Beit Hamikdash, the void left by its destruction must be felt keenly as if it actually just occured.

I once heard the Rebbe cite this passage of the Talmud in a very passionate way, concluding with real pain and tears, "this morning, Wednesday in the week of Parshat Pinchas, the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed. How can we sit calmly by when we are "witness" to this destruction? We must "turn the world upside down" to see to it that this destruction is undone."

So one can reply, "I don't feel the urgency because I am perfectly satisfied in my Judaism and spirituality without the Beit Hamikdash." To this I would say that such a statement can only be born of ingnorance regarding the value of the Beit Hamikdash. This is itself one of the greatest signs of exile.

There is a story about a person who came to a secret gathering of Jews in the Soviet Union. The gathering was held in a dark cellar. When he entered he was told by his friends "it's dark but you will get used to it soon." He replied, "that is the trouble. We get accustomed to darkness and it becomes normal and acceptable."

Exile and lack of a Beit Hamikdash is not a normal state for the Jewish people, or the world for that matter. If one does not recognize this, it is because he has grown accustomed to the abnormality of darkness.  

How do we avoid this? By educating ourselves about what the Temple means to us. To start the process go to www.chabadneworleans.com/threeweeks. Learn about it. Start to feel it and make a real part of your life. In doing so, we will not only feel the loss but we will get involved in the process of reversing it. May we be blessed by G-d with the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash speedily so we can feel the special closeness with Him that we have been missing for nearly 2,000 years.

We extend heartfelt condolences to the Egenberg family upon the loss of Mr. Norman Egenberg, the patriarch of the family. I spent some very enjoable time with Norm over the years and he will be missed. 

Keeping it Fresh

Please take a moment and read the article below in the news section about the new women's Mikvah that recently opened in New Orleans. For additional photos of the Mikvah by Alexander Barkoff click here.

Please also take a moment to check out the link below in the feature section about the period of mourning for the Beit Hamikdash in which we currently find ourselves.

A few weeks ago I attended my cousin's wedding. I am blessed by G-d to be part of a large extended family and have attended many cousins' weddings over the years. Sitting at the wedding reception and trying to keep my one year son occupied, I began to think about how each wedding seems to be more or less the same. The venue, the menu, the band, the company, and the dancing all seem to feel like deja vu. As such, how do we ensure that it does not become a "ho-hum" experience. And then it hit me - for the bride and groom this is no deja vu. For them the wedding is an unprecendented moment which they have eagerly anticipated and dreamt about their whole life. Celebrating their unique joy, is what makes each wedding special.

As I thought about it, I realized that we can derive a major lesson in our relationship with Hashem from this notion. In the Shema we say, "And you shall love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart, soul and might. And these words which I command you today shall be upon your heart." Our sages comment on the word "today," that it instructs us that each and every day must be approached as if these words, the Torah, were just spoken to us. In other words, the Torah and Mitzvot need to be kept fresh and new each day.

Just like at the wedding, for the individual bride and groom this is not deja vu but the most significant moment in life, so too each day's Torah study and Mitzvah observance must be like a treasure that was just discovered.

How can we keep it fresh? By finding new inspiration on a regular basis. The Torah is vast. There is enough in the Torah to keep us inspired for an entire lifetime and more. It is up to us to tap into the deep resources of the Torah, which will serve to keep things fresh. This is especially true of the deeper dimension of Torah - the teachings of Chassidism. Today, more than ever, Torah teachings are accessible to us in ways that could not have been imagined in previous eras. Internet articles, translated books, and online video and audio classes, not to mention good old fashioned learning with a Rabbi, are just some of the ways that we can utilize the treasures that we have. Let's do what we can to keep things fresh.

Proud to be an American - Making Sense on the Dollar

America was established based on the truths that G-d imprinted into the fabric of existence. The Founding Fathers drafted important documents communicating these fundamental ideals. They understood the need for a succinct message, so they made a summary of these principles. Printed on every coin and one dollar bill are two messages: "In G-d We Trust" - a reminder that our society is built on a foundation of spiritual truth, and E Pluribus Unum ("Out of the Many, One") - a promise that none will impose his views on another.

Why on money? Firstly, because money is everywhere. Furthermore, money provides the means to fulfill our needs. Yet, money and materialism are the most serious threats to our society! It is the desire to take and not to give, that is the danger in any society. So our founding fathers put this fundamental lesson precisely where this selfish desire can so easily be manifest.

Let us consider these two phrases. They used the expression "In G-d We Trust," not "In G-d We Believe." Belief does not necessarily affect one's conduct. The Talmud talks of a thief who prays for success before a break-in. If he believes in G-d, how can he steal? Since his faith is above intellect, it leaves room for a dichotomy. Like the thief, a person's beliefs can be separate from his mind and conduct. Many people speak of believing in G-d, or having G-d in their hearts. The challenge of faith is not only to believe, but to have the belief influence our daily thinking and conduct. This is what trust in G-d means.

Saying "In G-d We Trust" invites Him to become an active partner in our lives. This is what the founding fathers meant when they imprinted this motto on our currency.

Trust in G-d is a fundamental necessity. It is impossible to build a moral society without trust in G-d and reliance on His principles.

Recent history provides the clearest proof for this statement. In the early 20th century, the leader of civilization, science and culture, philosophy and ethics, was Germany. Yet, the most hideous atrocities were perpetrated in the name of humanity's advancement. They lacked the acknowledgement of a G-d-given, objective standard of truth. Without such a standard, we - as a society and as individuals - can set our own values capriciously, and then justify them to ourselves and to others.

Which leads to the second principle, “E Pluribus Unum.” Our founding fathers came to these shores fleeing religious persecution. To ensure that the oppressed would not become oppressors, they installed the safeguards of freedom and tolerance.

They did not seek to establish a homogeneous populace; freedom of personal expression was one of their guiding principles. Although they wanted a unified nation, they realized that differences should not lead to division, and that oneness can be multifaceted. They sought to show how McCarthy, Pulaski, and Cohen can retain their unique traditions and yet, join together to forge a unified society, which would not only survive the differences, but benefit from the diversity.

When our founding fathers chose the maxim: "Out of the Many, One," they did not want the oneness to obscure the plurality. Instead, with freedom and tolerance enshrined as the foundation of its system of values, America evolved into a society that teaches every individual to flourish, accentuating every group's contribution to the cultural mosaic. As this society encompassed a greater variety of people, it gained strength and vibrancy, until it became the leading culture in the world.

How is it possible for different entities to function as an integrated whole? Taken to its extreme, a society composed of distinct groups could lead to anarchy. Even with moderation, there is likely to be strife as every sub-unit tries to protect itself and further its own vested interests.

These difficulties are resolved by awareness and democracy. The very awareness of the positive nature of difference, breeds tolerance and prevents bigotry and persecution. In addition, it must be understood that there no need for one person's success to come at the expense of another. True, there have been periods of intense competition and shameful times when one group took unfair advantage of another. Still, Americans have accepted the premise that by working hard, they can carve out a slice of the pie large enough to provide for themselves and their families, without taking from someone else.

The second cornerstone of unity in American society is democracy - abiding by the will of the majority. Unlike in sports competition, there should not be a real loser. The nature of democracy is a synergistic social contract. If the majority imposes its will on the minority without respect for their rights and principles, then the "winners" will have lost. Though they enjoy the fruits of victory, they will cease to enjoy cooperation and harmony, and these are the real blessings in any society. A democracy requires sacrifices by both. The minority must make the sacrifice of accepting the will of the majority, and the majority must learn to understand and cooperate with the minority. Democracy should be the active unifying force within our society. It breeds positive change, leading to a cross-fertilization of ideas that transcends party lines.

Most importantly, in a democratic society, harmony between the different groups is  achieved by focusing on authentic principles, which transcend all private interest. G-d has imprinted principles of truth and justice into the fabric of our existence, and these should serve as the basis of our social contract.

This is the interrelation of the two axioms chosen by our Founding Fathers. "In G-d We Trust" is thus stamped on the front of all our currency, for this is the primary lesson. Our shared trust in G-d leads to E Pluribus Unum, generating the potential to weld the different elements of our society into a comprehensive whole. For an honest commitment to G-d enables a person to overcome the natural tendency toward self-interest and to consider the welfare of others.

We extend our condolences to the Rozensweig-Lupin family upon the loss of Mr. Harold Rozensweig. May G-d comfort you amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

I wish my parents, Rabbi Zelig and Bluma Rivkin, a mazel tov upon the birth of a granddaughter to my sister Fruma and Mendy Schapiro. 

Shabbat Shalom and have a wonderful July 4th.

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