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Normalizing Darkness

Dear Friends,

The news cycle of the last few weeks has seemed to produce some real shocking stories. Yesterday’s terrible murder of the Kabbalist, Rabbi Elazar Abuchatzeira at (allegedly) the hands of a Jew, comes on the heels of the chilling murder of little Leiby Kletzky at (allegedly) the hands of a Jew. Isaiah’s prophecy “your destroyers will come from within” appears to be in full throttle mode.

Much has been written and much more will be written about the great losses that we are suffering. A pure young child, who was a model son and student. A great Rabbi, scion of the holy family of Baba Sali. I do not dare claim to be able to address their greatness or the depths of the grief and suffering resulting from these tragedies. I would like to comment on an angle to which we may not pay much attention. When horrific calamities occur in succession we sometimes become numb and desensitized to them. We begin to see these things as a normal part of life. This is something that we must not allow to happen.

During the era of Stalin in Soviet Russia, Chassidim would gather secretly to study and farbreng (meet to inspire and encourage each other). Often these meeting would be held in a dark cellar. Once a Chasid came to the cellar and exclaimed that it was so dark that he was unable to see. His friend commented to him “soon your eyes will get used to the dark and you will be able to see.” The Chasid replied, “That is precisely the problem. Our eyes “get used to the dark” and we make peace with it until the state of darkness becomes normal.”

We must never get used to the tragedies to the point that we normalize darkness. We should not and dare not hear about another horrible occurrence and then just go about our regular routine. We must storm the heavens and declare Ad Mosai! How much longer can we endure these horrible experiences? We must examine our own deeds and strengthen ourselves morally and spiritually, which in turn makes the world a more moral and spiritual place.

During these three weeks of mourning for our collective tragedies as a people, we must see to it that just as the first prophecy is being realized, so may we see the fulfillment of Zachariah’s prophecy, that the days or mourning will be transformed to gladness, joy and days of celebration.

We extend our condolences to Jen Sachs and her family upon the passing of her grandmother, Grandma Bettye.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Love For Israel

 

In 1978 my uncle, Rabbi Yosef Rivkin, was sent by the Rebbe to Israel along with a group of colleagues. Some were married; others were single. Their assignment? To settle in Israel and study and eventually to find work that would enhance Judaism. He married an Israeli woman and after several years they settled in Karmiel in the north where they run the Chabad institutions. My uncle and his friends were the third such group to be dispatched to Israel in the 70s. They were preceded by many others and subsequently hundreds of Chabad couples serve in various religious functions throughout the land.

This past week, a special Knesset session was held to honor the work of Chabad. In the days leading up to the session, an individual, whom I will not name, tried in the most insidious way, to undermine the session to honor Chabad. He distributed a pamphlet to the members of Knesset trying to prove that Chabad was anti-Zionist and therefore unworthy of being honored in the Knesset. Apparently he did not the lesson as a child that if you want to be elevated you do so not by pushing others down but by lifting yourself up.

Without getting into the nuances and the subtleties of the various ideologies – ranging from Secular Zionism to Religious Zionism to Charedi Objections to Zionist Ideology pre-1948 to current day Neturei Karta objectors, one thing is clear: Chabad is a very active part of Israeli society today. An IDF soldier knows that no matter where he or she is stationed Chabad will be there for them on Chanukah, Purim or for any Jewish need. An Israeli tourist to the far-east knows that Chabad is there for Shabbat, a Seder or just a place to speak Hebrew and feel at home. There is hardly a city or even village in Israel that does not have a Chabad presence. Recent footage of interviews with high ranking Israelis government and military officials reveals that every single Prime Minster and most IDF commanders had extensive correspondence and conversation with the Rebbe. The members of the Israeli govt. recognize Chabad’s invaluable contributions to Israel and its people.

Not a single Knesset member paid the slightest attention to this troublemaker’s attempt to change their view. The truth speaks for itself. Chabad, inspired by the Rebbe’s example is motivated by a love for Israel and the Jewish people. A complete nation – uncompromised by attempts to dilute its integrity. Living in a complete land – uncompromised by attempts to dilute its integrity. Inspired by a complete Torah – uncompromised by attempts to dilute its integrity.

My uncle and his colleagues do not need the recognition that was given to them, but it was appropriate that their important work was honored.

The Value of Torah Scholarship

Dear Friends,

The Jewish people are often referred to as “the people of the book.” This is not solely because our story is told in “the book,” but also because we have placed a very high value on the studying “the book.”

For over 3,300 years the study of Torah has been an integral aspect of Jewish identity. We have maintained academies, producing the highest levels of scholarship, even under the most difficult circumstances, in Babylonia, Eastern and Western Europe and the Middle Eastern lands. Today, when we are not being persecuted, Torah study remains a high ideal for Jewish people throughout the world.

There are many positive qualities to the study of Torah. I will give a sampling. Of course we need to learn in order to know how to live as Jews. Furthermore, Torah is called “your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations.” Simply put, the study of Torah sharpens the mind and increases knowledge about everything in the world. Torah scholars develop their minds giving them the ability to analyze and provide insight. It should also refine the character – making a scholar into a mensch in his interactions with others.

Kabbala teaches that when one studies Torah, which is the wisdom of G-d, the highest level of connection to G-d can be achieved. In addition, being G-d’s wisdom, Torah study gives us the ability, albeit on a micro scale, to think in G-d’s terms. When approaching a situation from the perspective of Torah one can get a sense of G-d’s take on the matter.

These and many other reasons are why Jews have always placed an emphasis on utilizing time for the study of Torah and why Torah scholars command such respect in the Jewish tradition.

While this is true of all Jews, there is one group that is unique in their relationship to Torah. They are the Yeshiva students. They can live up to the ideal of Torasam Umnasam – Torah being their sole occupation. They do not yet have the cares and responsibilities that come with a family and the need to earn a livelihood. They can, if they choose to, be completely immersed in Torah learning, which can be extremely fulfilling intellectually and spiritually. This is why over the years Yeshiva students were a treasured group to be cared for and respected, and of whom expectations of refinement and mensch-hood were very high.

This is why we are very excited about Project Talmud next month. We will have two young Torah scholars – senior Yeshiva students – visiting our community. They want to share their enthusiasm for Torah study with all of us. They wish to impart, at least for the moment, the joy of learning like only a Yeshiva student can. Yosef Rivkin and Levi Gerlitzki will be spending the week of August 14-21 in New Orleans. The will offer classes every morning after minyan at Chabad Uptown. They will offer classes every evening at Chabad Metairie before and after Minyan. They will offer more intensive Torah study sessions during the day for those off work or school. They will also be available for Lunch and Learn sessions at places of work as well individual Chavrusa sessions. We will also be scheduling some more extensive programming on the two Sundays. Please be in touch with me to learn more or to schedule a study session.

We are excited to announce that we are partnering with GCP Labs in Gulfport, MS to offer a day of Torah learning there on Wednesday, August 17, culminating with a reception and lecture that evening. If you are a Gulf-Coast resident and are interested in this project please let me know.

We look forward to an exciting week of adventures in Torah study.

Have a wonderful Shabbos
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Defining Alive

Dear Friends,

This Tuesday, Tammuz 3 marks 17 years long and difficult years since we were last able to see our Rebbe. Back in 1994 many of the so called experts predicted that without the Rebbe, Chabad would disintegrate and eventually disappear. Yet, despite all of the doomsday projections, quite the opposite has been the case. Chabad has expanded in an unprecedented manner. The explosion of growth is apparent in many facets – in terms of institutions, influence, numbers of participants, and visibility and presence in every part of the world. Hundreds if not thousands of young men and women who never met the Rebbe, are living lives inspired by his teaching and in dedication to his call of bringing Torah and Judaism to every corner of the earth. Through the medium of technology, the Rebbe’s message is being absorbed by the millions who read, listen and watch that message on the internet on a regular basis.

How do we explain this phenomenon? Where did the experts go wrong? The Talmud, when explaining the curious absence of the term death in the Torah’s account of our forefather, Yaakov’s passing, provides the following insight. “Our father Yaakov did not die. One asks, “Did they not eulogize, embalm and bury him?” Still since his children are alive, he too is alive.” The simple meaning of this passage is, that when a righteous person’s descendants live their lives by his teaching and example, he lives on in this world through them. While this is true about anyone, it is even more so regarding a Tzadik, whose life on earth was all about devotion to serving Hashem. (This is of course in addition to the belief that a soul lives on forever in the world of the spirit. Here we refer to living in this world.)

I would like to offer an alternative explanation that I heard from the Rebbe with regards to his predecessor and father-in-law’s passing in 1950. The conventional way of reading this statement of the Talmud is “Still since his children are alive, he too is alive.” However, thinking about this idea in a deeper way we realize that there is another way to read and understand it. If his children are alive – meaning that they live the life inspired by his teaching and example – then one must conclude that at some level, he too is alive. For otherwise, it would be impossible for them to continue living in this manner.

To bring this full circle, while the void of these past 17 years is potent and painful, there is no question that the Rebbe’s leadership of Chabad continues. His presence is very real and strongly felt by those that live their lives inspired by his guidance and direction. This then, is the secret of Chabad’s survival and growth.

To mark this occasion there will be a Farbrengen, an evening of inspiration, on Tuesday, July 5 @ 8:00 PM at Chabad of Metairie. If you are unable to attend, JLTV will be showing a one hour special on the Rebbe at 9 PM, which can be viewed on Directv channel 366.

Yesterday was the 70th anniversary of the day that the Rebbe and his wife arrived on the US after escaping Nazi Europe. Upon his arrival the Rebbe was placed at the helm of the newly established organizations that oversaw Chabad’s activities. Our friends at Chabad.org have put together a fascinating package of articles, videos and documents of that era. www.chabadneworleans.com/1558704.

Mazel Tov to Moshe Lew and his family upon his Bar Mitzvah this week.

Mazel Tov to Batel Sharon and Mike Lieberman upon their wedding next week.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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