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A Dayenu Introspective

One of the more joyous moments of the Seder is singing Dayenu, during which we express our profound gratitude for 15 acts of kindness that G-d showed us in association with the Exodus.

They are: He has brought us out of Egypt, and carried out judgments against them, and against their idols, and smote their first-born, and gave us their wealth, and split the sea for us, and took us through it on dry land, and drowned our oppressors in it, and supplied our needs in the desert for forty years, and fed us the manna, and gave us the Shabbat, and brought us before Mount Sinai, and gave us the Torah, and brought us into the land of Israel and built for us the Holy Temple.

The Maharal (R’ Yehuda Lowe of Prague) in his commentary to the Haggadah points out that the 15 clauses of Dayenu can be categorized into three themes. The first five, that are directly connected to the Exodus, are about our becoming a nation, Am Yisrael.

The second five are about the miracles that G-d performed for us during our 40 years journey through the wilderness. They demonstrate that we are not a people subject to the laws of nature, rather we are a miraculous nation.

The third set of five are about the spiritual gifts that G-d gave us, allowing us to have a relationship with Him. These convey that our nation, which is supernatural, has a purpose.

To sum it up it would be 1. That we are. 2. How we are. 3. Why we are.

The Passover Seder is not merely about historical reminiscence. Rather, we are meant to internalize the meaning of all that we recall and apply them in our contemporary lives.

As we sing Dayenu this year, let us recall that we are a nation, Am Yisrael. We are one people, and we need to be united with each other in harmony. We are a miraculous people. We have survived 3,500 years of repeated attempts at annihilation. (Can anyone spell genocide?) We are here to tell the story, while our oppressors have been relegated to the ash-heap of history. We will survive this current attempt as well because “Am Yisrael Chai.” We must also remember that our peoplehood, and our miraculous survival and thriving, must be infused with purpose. Those gifts which were given by G-d to our ancestors, the Shabbat, Revelation, the Torah, the Land of Israel, and the worship of the Holy Temple, are what make our lives meaningful and purposeful. By remaining loyal to these unique gifts, we can serve as a source of light and inspiration to the whole world.

For this we are eternally grateful, and we declare, Dayenu!

To sell your chametz, please go to www.chabadneworleans.com/chametz.

For general Passover information, including Seder how to and recipes, www.chabadneworleans.com/passover.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Cheer For Our Young Experts

Is there something in which you have expertise? Is there a subject or an intellectual discipline that you have completed? I want to share with you about an expertise being developed by 10 children in our community.

First some background. 40 years ago, the Rebbe launched an initiative encouraging people to engage in daily study of the Halachic works of Maimonides. The advanced track would encompass the Rambam’s 14 volume Mishna Torah – code of Jewish law. The beginners track would encompass the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvot – Explanation of the 613 Mitzvot in the Torah. The beginner’s track was encouraged even for school aged children.

Ever since then, tens of thousands of Jewish children around the world have followed the daily study program of Sefer HaMitzvot, which is completed each year. Some years ago, Tzivos Hashem, the organization the Rebbe founded for Jewish children, established a Chidon – competition for children in Sefer HaMitzvot. The book was divided into 5 sections. Children in grades 4-8 were allowed to enter the competition, with one of the five sections assigned to each of the five grades. A child that completes all five years of the competition will have mastered all 613 Mitzvot as taught by the Rambam. Tests are administered and prizes are awarded based on achievement. There is an annual gathering and celebration that includes a Mitzvot game show for the top achievers each year. Eighth graders are given the lagniappe option of being tested on all 613 Mitzvot as a whole, in addition to section 5 that is for their grade.

Our New Orleans Jewish community was well represented this year. 10 Slater Torah Academy students successfully competed in this year’s Chidon and just wrapped up their trip to New York for the celebration. Two elementary school girls and eight boys are well on their way to becoming experts in the 613 Mitzvot. Our community should take pride in their monumental accomplishments. We wish them Mazal Tov. May they serve as an inspiration to the adults in our community to commit ourselves to a greater degree of Torah study, especially the Halachic works of Maimonides. For more information on the daily study go to www.chabadneworleans.com/rambam.

We welcome new team members to Chabad of Louisiana. Rabbi Yisroel and Chaya (nee Rivkin) Slonim have moved to town to join the staff of Chabad Tulane Grads/Alumni and Young Professionals. They will work under the direction of her parents, Rabbi Yochanan and Sarah Rivkin. We wish them much success in all of their endeavors.

Over the next two weeks Chabad of Louisiana will venture to distribute a Shmura Matzah package to every Jewish home in Orleans Parish. If you know of someone that may not be on our list who would appreciate a Matzah package, please let us know. Chabad of Metairie will be distributing packages in Jefferson Parish. We will also be branching out to surrounding parishes, including the Northshore. If you would like to support this project, please go to www.chabadneworleans.com/donate. If you would like to volunteer with delivery, please let us know. Thank you in advance!

We acknowledge the passing of legendary former senator Joe Lieberman. A tribute can be read at www.chabadneworleans.com/6382074.

For this year’s Sale of Chametz form, www.chabadneworleans.com/chametz.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

They Are Not Entitled to Their Own Facts

There is a quote attributed to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” This week I read two op-eds about Purim and the war in Gaza. Each of them, in my opinion, is guilty of the entitlement to their own facts. 

One op-ed expresses a discomfort with the extent of “unjustified” killing at the end of the story resulting in the deaths of 75,800 citizens of the Persian Empire. Esther appeals to the king to avoid calls for a cease-fire, resulting in the killing of the last 300 people in Shushan on the second day of fighting. The author then goes on about how this applies to the war in Gaza.

(I can just imagine the 21st century style media reports of that event. “The Aggagite health ministry reports 75,800 deaths, mostly women and children. This is a disproportionate response, when on the Jewish side not a single death is reported.”) 

The second op-ed expresses a discomfort with the enactment of a jubilant celebration following the killing of said enemies. The author then goes on to invoke one the most oft misappropriated Midrashic teachings, that when the Egyptians were drowning in the Red Sea, G-d rebuked the angels for singing praise for their destruction saying, “My handiwork is drowning in the sea, and you are singing praise?” This Midrash, says the author, is a Rabbinic criticism of Moses and the people of Israel for rejoicing over their enemies’ destruction. While this op-ed is more nuanced in opining that the Jews of the Persian empire practiced self-restraint, it is still critical of the celebration that followed. The author then goes on to compare it to the war in Gaza.

The comparison of the three instances (Egypt, Persia, Hamas) is apt in that they demonstrate the degree of senseless hatred toward the Jewish people, resulting in fruitless attempts to destroy us.

The Egyptians had just been decimated by the 10 plagues. Yet, they somehow thought it was a good idea to chase the Israelites. What were they thinking? Did they really believe that the G-d Who wrought the plagues upon them would be caught napping at the Red Sea? Yet their hatred for the Israelites overpowered their common sense.

The Persian loyalists to Haman, should have known that they were destined for destruction after seeing what happened to their leader, Haman, and how the king gave the Jews permission to defend themselves. Yet they persisted in taking up arms against the Jews on the day designated by Haman months earlier, because their hatred for the Jews overpowered their common sense.

Hamas knew that they were waking a sleeping giant with the October 7 attack. Yet their hatred for the Jews outweighs their concern for their own people, as is evidenced by their endemic use of civilian shields.

In reality, the Purim story is an excellent lesson on how to deal with those who wish to harm us. The 75,800 casualties were Haman loyalists who were determined to attack the Jews come what may and were killed in an act of self-defense. Had they not been eliminated; they would keep coming back to attack over and over again. Considering that the Persian Empire had 127 provinces, spanning from India to Africa, 75,800 casualties is a small number. It represented only those combatants who took up arms against the Jews. Even those last 300 in Shushan were of that ilk, which is why they needed to be eliminated. Copy and paste to Gaza.

With respect to the Midrashic criticism of singing praise over the destruction of the enemy applying to Moses and the Jewish people, nothing could be further from the truth. The Song of the Sea that the Israelites sang that day, serves as a central part of our daily prayers, and is read in the Torah every year on the anniversary of the event, the seventh of Passover. The Israelites, and for the matter the Jews of Persia, were not celebrating the downfall of their enemies, but rather the elimination of the threat against them through G-d’s salvation. Copy and paste to Gaza.

We hold ourselves to a higher standard, as we should. But that should not be allowed to evolve into “alternative facts” influencing the critical decision making process.

May G-d bless and protect us all and put an end to this threat against our people, thereby eliminating the potential of any further unnecessary civilian deaths. May He Who makes peace on high, bring peace to us and to all Israel, and let us say Amen.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Is It Appropriate To Rejoice This Purim?

This year Purim presents a major dilemma; are we allowed to rejoice and be happy considering the circumstances in Israel? How can we celebrate knowing that hostages are being held in Gaza? How can we be happy when thousands of our brothers and sisters are putting their lives on the line in combat to defend Jewish life? How can we rejoice while 100,000 thousand Israeli households are in a state of evacuation?

On the other hand, can we afford not to rejoice and celebrate? Can the world stand for a reduction in positivity that is produced by our Purim joy? In fact, one could argue that we must rejoice twice as much to make up for those hostages, combat soldiers, and evacuees that may not be able to celebrate this year in the way they are accustomed.

Perhaps we could distinguish between frivolity and joy driven by holiness and substance. My senior colleague, Dr. David Kaufmann OBM would encourage college students to come to Chabad for holidays so they could “party for the heaven of it” rather than for the “...of it.”

How indeed do we party for the heaven of it? One of the Chassidic life hacks for this issue is called a Farbrengen. A farbrengen consists of a joyous camaraderie infused with caring and inspiration. It is a coming together of souls to share in each other’s joy and striving for a better life. Loving and uplifting words are imparted in an atmosphere of brotherhood, accompanied by melodies that can lift the feet or cause the heart to soar.

A central feature of a Chassidic Purim is a Farbrengen. This year more than ever, we need to lean in and access these opportunities for elevated rejoicing. Purim 2024 with Chabad will offer ample opportunities for Farbrengens. Beginning with Saturday night after the Megillah reading. Continuing with a Sunday morning breakfast Farbrengen. Finally, Purim in the Circus at Slater Torah Academy will round out this very important Purim celebration.

I encourage you to join one or all of these events and party for the heaven of it this Purim. We look forward to celebrating with you!

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A 2,400 Year Old Response to October 7

On October 7 an enemy of the Jewish people set out to “to annihilate, murder and destroy all the Jews, young and old, children and women, on one day.” They took the lives of over 1,200 of our people that day. They have stated in no uncertain terms, that their intent is “that every day should be October 7 for the Jews” until they are all gone.

How do we respond to this unabashed declaration of intent to make the world “judenrein” (to quote another historical “friend of our people”)?

As “people of the book” we look to the Torah for the answers to life’s questions. After all, Torah means instruction, and Torah is called the Torah of life, light, and truth.

Let us examine an earlier similar instance in our history. The book of Esther relates that 2,400 years ago a sworn enemy of the Jewish people named Haman attempted to implement a “final solution” against us. What was his thinking? What made the Jews vulnerable to his hateful intent at annihilation?

Here is how Haman presented his request to King Achashverosh of Persia. “There is one nation dispersed and divided among the nations throughout the provinces of your kingdom, whose laws are unlike those of any other nation and who do not obey the laws of the King. It is not in the King's interest to tolerate them.”

On one hand they are “one nation,” a singular people who reflect the Oneness of the Al-mighty. On the other hand, they are divided, they lack unity. In addition, “they do not obey the laws of the King (Hashem).” Haman observed how many Jews gleefully participated in the King’s feast, gorging themselves with non-Kosher food and wine, just happy to gain acceptance in Persian society. He figured this would make them susceptible to his schemes.

What was the Jewish response to Haman? One would think that they would immediately mobilize the “powerful Jewish lobby” flinging “Benjamins” all over the place to thwart the evil decree. Instead, we find an entirely different set of priorities determining the Jewish response. Only after these priorities were addressed did the Jewish people access their “protektzia” in the form of Queen Esther.

These priorities were expressed in four ways.

The first was by Mordechai. “But Mordechai would not kneel or bow.” Mordechai demonstrated that a Jew does not give in to the arbitrary immoral demands of an enemy. He stood strong for his beliefs and principles.

The second was by Queen Esther. “Go and gather all the Jews who are in Shushan and fast for my sake, do not eat and do not drink for three days, night and day. My maids and I shall also fast in the same way. Then I shall go to the king, though it is unlawful, and if I perish, I perish.” If you are trying to utilize your beauty to convince the king about something, a three day fast is not the smartest beauty hack. Yet, Esther knew that the key to salvation is a spiritual one, and only then will the “powerful Jewish lobby” be successful.

The third was the by Jewish people. Although a decree of annihilation hung over them for nearly a year, not a single Jew in the Persian empire considered disassociating themselves from the Jewish people to save their own skin. They stood with a fortitude of self-sacrifice for the sake of their Jewish identities.

The fourth was by the Jewish children. The Midrash teaches that Mordechai gathered twenty-two thousand Jewish children, prayed with them and taught them Torah. Suddenly, Haman arrived and threatened to harm the children. The children declared, “We shall stay with Mordechai, no matter what!”

There is nothing new in 2024. Rinse, lather, repeat.
Principled stand.
Spiritual strengthening.
Devotion and Self-Sacrifice.
Jewish Education.
The only difference is that we hope for a salvation this time that is permanent with the coming of Mashiach and the final Redemption.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Take Care of Number One!

One of the most challenging ethical dilemmas that we face is: What do we do when helping others comes at the expense of our own spiritual benefit? How do we prioritize our own wellbeing vs. our obligation to help others?

The Zohar relates a curious anecdote, that upon deeper analysis, provides us with the solution to this dilemma.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was expounding on the secrets of Kabbalah when he noticed Rabbi Yosi, a member of his inner circle of mystics, distracted and tuned out. Rabbi Shimon sensed that Rabbi Yosi was “pondering worldly affairs” and made the following observation. “(Since you have turned your mind away from contemplating Torah to thinking about worldly affairs,) your visage is incomplete and there is a letter missing from your name.” Rabbi Yosi refocused and turned back to the mystical secrets, upon which Rabbi Shimon commented, “(Now that you are back to the mysteries of the Torah) your visage is whole and your name is complete.”

What worldly affairs could a sage such as Rabbi Yosi possibly be pondering? He wasn’t playing the stock market or worrying about the price of oil. The Rebbe explains that he was thinking about a communal matter for which he was responsible. Although helping others is a worthy cause, nevertheless, his Torah study was being neglected and was lacking. To the extent that his spiritual countenance (his visage) was diminished.

The question is, how could “his visage become whole and his name complete,” when he missed out on the time of his study due to his communal commitment? Even if we accept the capacity to improve moving forward, there is still something missing from the past. About this the Rebbe suggests, that when one puts one’s own spiritual benefit aside for the sake of helping others, Hashem blesses his own spiritual endeavors to multiply exponentially. So, while in the moment it is a “diminishment,” as soon as you refocus, you will be made retroactively whole through Hashem’s blessings.

The Rebbe asked a man who was embarking on a charitable enterprise, “Why did G-d create the heart on the left side of the body?” In Kabbalah, the right side represents chesed - kindness, so the heart would be more suitably situated on the right side. The Rebbe replied, “since a person should always be thinking about how they can help another person, the heart is to the right of the person one is facing, rather than on one’s own right.  

Indeed, Hayom Yom quotes an early Chassidic adage, “Love a fellow-Jew and G‑d will love you; do a kindness for a fellow-Jew and G‑d will do a kindness for you; befriend a fellow-Jew and G‑d will befriend you.

So, take care of number one, and Hashem will take care of you!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Knotty Issue

This past Monday, Malkie and I had the privilege of participating in the Bris of our grandson, Mordechai, born to Mushka and Yossi Cohen. A family Simcha is always wonderful. This was particularly meaningful for me as this baby was named for my grandfather, Reb Mordechai Rivkin, OBM who passed away nearly 16 years ago. Having left home to attend school in New York at the age of 11, I spent a lot of time in my grandparents’ home. I became exceedingly close to my grandparents, who were almost like surrogate parents to me when I was living far from home. I lived in close proximity to them for 14 years, and during that time I spent countless hours in the company of, and in conversation with my grandfather. I can say without hesitation that he was one of the greatest influences on my life and he played a significant role in molding me into the person that I am. We proudly named our son after him 15 years ago. To now have a grandson who bears his name is very moving.

There is an old common practice of tying a knot to remember something. What are the origins of this practice? Does it have any value?

There is a fascinating passage in the Zohar on this week’s Parsha that mentions two sages who would tie knots to remember their studies. The connection to the Parsha is that following the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe prays to G-d for favor and when it is granted, he asks G-d that He show him (Moshe) His glory. To which G-d replies “you shall see My back, but My face you will not see.” Upon this Rashi cites a passage from the Talmud, “G-d showed Moshe the “knot of His head Tefillin.” Obviously, this is all anthropomorphic. G-d does not have any form. Face, back, neck, and knot of the Tefillin are all metaphors for varying Divine manifestations. Yet the metaphor is employed because there is something to be garnered from that connection.

What’s up with the knot? A knot is a connecting point that, when formed, actually serves to bring the two ends closer. When we speak of the connection between Hashem and the Jewish people, a knot features prominently in two Mitzvahs, Tefillin (which is knotted on the bicep and at the nape of the neck – see above), and Tzitzit, the fringes that hang off the corners of a Talit or Talit Katan. (Last week someone asked me to explain the “cat-o-nine-tails” sticking out of my pants pocket.) Each of the four corners has a series of five knots and eight strings.

The common denominator is that each of these Mitzvahs is connected to remembrance. Concerning the Tefillin is states in Exodus (13:9), “They shall be a remembrance between your eyes.” Regarding the Tzitzit is states in Numbers (15:39), “This shall be fringes for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the L-rd.”

When Moshe was trying to invoke G-d’s mercy following the Golden Calf it was expressed by way of a knot, which repairs a breach and brings the two ends closer. The Mitzvahs that are connected to knots, serve to remind us of our commitment and closeness to Hashem. By remembering and acting upon our special connection, we will merit the Redemption through Mashiach speedily.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel RIvkin

Manpower or G-d-power?

This message comes to you from the quaint New England town of Suffield, CT, a town now filled with the sounds of Torah learning since the establishment of a Chabad Yeshiva in Suffield last year. My son Murdechai is a student here. This weekend I have the pleasure of spending Shabbat at the Yeshiva along with other fathers and relatives of the boys.

Earlier this week we had the privilege of hosting IDF Lt. Col (res) Yaron Buskila at Chabad of Louisiana. As one who was on the ground in and around Gaza on October 7, his account was both mesmerizing and shocking. There were moments of horror and moments of heroism. His message was From Crisis to Victory. After describing the extreme circumstances in the aftermath of the terror attack, he then began to lay out the hope for victory. He expressed how uplifted he was when he saw the endless convoy of vehicles carrying soldiers who took the initiative and headed towards the crisis in the 48 hours following the attack. He articulated how the country had become united in purpose. He articulated how valuable the outpouring of support from Jews worldwide is for those fighting on the ground. He shared how, in contrast to the hate graffiti that was scribbled on the walls of the Jewish homes in the villages around Gaza, he and the soldiers under his command taped messages of hope for peace written by Israeli children to the walls of Gazan homes. He took some tough questions and was not afraid to address some of the difficult issues.

I would like to share one message that he conveyed through a personal anecdote. While still on active duty, he was a commander for a special ops unit that dealt with terror threats in Judea and Samaria. They received word of shots being fired at a town. The unit advanced to the town and, based on the intelligence that they had, they proceeded towards the edge of town near a factory on the outskirts of the town from which they presumed the shots were fired. They advanced and started shooting, only to discover that the terrorists were behind them. He was shot and wounded. After a harrowing attempt to crawl on his elbows towards the home from where the shots were fired, he arrived to find that a mother and daughter were killed in the attack. The husband was crying and blurted out “you were not in time.” Yaron was taken by helicopter to the hospital to undergo surgery. He was very down by the botched operation and decided that he was going to get out of the military.

When he regained consciousness following the operation, he opened his eyes to find a Chabad Rabbi sitting near his bed with a guitar playing a song with lyrics from the Torah, “You shall remember the L-rd your G-d, for it is He Who has given you the strength to achieve success.”  This was a Eureka moment for him. He realized that all this time he was relying on his own strength and talent for success. But it is Hashem upon whom we must rely. He resolved to return, energized by this new conviction, which has been his guiding light ever since.

This is a powerful message that pertains to each of us in our lives. When we remember from where our strength is derived, we go with the power of Hashem to achieve success in all good things.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Don't Allow Our Enemies to Define Us!

One of the most identifiable Jewish symbols is a Menorah. Many Jewish institutions incorporate a Menorah into their emblem or seal, including the State of Israel. The origin of the Menorah as a Jewish symbol goes back to the one that was used in the Temple/Tabernacle, which is described in detail in this week’s Parsha. It was made of solid gold with very ornate designs chiseled into the gold.

One of the questions debated is the shape of the Menorah’s branches. Most images that we see depict the Menorah with six rounded branches coming out of the center branch. However, Rashi in his commentary to the Torah states that the branches emerged diagonally from the center. There is also a diagram drawn by the Rambam that depicts the Menorah as having diagonal branches emerging from the center. The Rambam’s son, Rabbi Avraham attests that this was his father’s hand drawn diagram, and that his father was deliberate regarding the shape of the Menorah’s branches.    

There is one major medieval commentator, Ma’aseh Choshev, who argues that according to Kabbalah it would seem that round is a more appropriate shape for the Menorah. He has an alternative way of understanding Rashi’s words. He also did not see the Rambam’s diagram, because he writes that since the Rambam did not comment on the shape, we do not know what his opinion is on the matter. (The manuscript with the diagram was discovered at a much later point. It was on display at the Yeshiva University’s Maimonides exhibit in 2022.) There is also room to understand the Ibn Ezra as opining that the branches were curved. But Rashi and the Rambam maintain that it was diagonal.

So then the question is how did round become the default shape of the Menorah for so long? This can likely be traced to the Arch of Titus. Titus was the Roman general (later Ceasar) who destroyed the second Temple around the year 70 CE. To celebrate his victory the Romans erected an arch on which the embossed images of Roman soldiers carrying away the Temple implements, including the Menorah. The Menorah in that depiction is round. The are several proofs that the Menorah on the arch is “the artist’s renderings” rather than a faithful depiction of reality. The Menorah is missing its three legs. There are images of dragons at the base of the Menorah, certainly not a Jewish symbol. Titus and his father Vespasian also minted commemorative coins with the phrase Judea Capta (Judea has been vanquished) on them. From time to time, the Romans would force the Jewish populace in Rome to walk under the arch as a means of humiliation.

In hindsight we can argue that the rounded Menorah is a symbol of Jewish exile, Judea Capta. It is ironic that Israel, which seeks to pull Jews away from the diaspora, the “galut mentality,” adopted a symbol of Jewish vanquishment and humiliation.

This is one of the reasons that the Rebbe encouraged the use of the “Rambam Menorah” as an emblem or symbol of Jewish institutions. Why should we allow our enemies to define us? Why should we celebrate Judea Capta and be reminded of that constantly?

This mindset of allowing our enemies to define us, has crept into the attitude of Jews towards Israel today. How many times can you hear Apartheid State without starting to wonder whether there is truth to that? How many times can you be told about Nazi-like treatment of Palestinians without starting to be uncomfortable in your own skin. We need to forget about what the “world thinks” and define ourselves. The UN, the EU, the Quartet, and the rest of our enemies do not get to define us. We must be proud of the role Hashem has for us and our place in the Holy Land. Judea will not be Capta! Instead, it is Am Yisrael Chai!

Please join us on Monday night to hear IDF Lt Col. Yaron Buskila share an eyewitness account of October 7 in a talk entitled, “From Crisis to Victory.” To register, www.chabadneworleans.com/victory.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Joy is a Powerful Driver

The first of the four sections of the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch) is called Orach Chayim (the Path of Life). It deals with the daily life of a Jew and then proceeds to go through the calendar cycle, with all the special days contained therein.

The very first law authored by the Rama (the Ashkenazi authority who wrote glosses on the Code) begins with a quote from Psalms 16, “I place G‑d before me constantly.” This teaches that from the moment we awaken, the awareness that we are constantly in the presence of the Divine influences how we go about our day.

The last set of laws deals with the month of Adar I (in a Jewish leap year). He instructs us that on Purim Katan (the 14th of Adar I), though it is not the actual day of Purim (which is held in Adar II), nevertheless we should mark the day with a slight increase in celebration. He then concludes with a quote from Proverbs 15, “One who is glad of heart, celebrates constantly.”

The common denominator is the term “constantly” in both verses. Constant awareness of being in Hashem’s presence and constant joy. In Hebrew the word is Tamid. The same term is used to describe the daily offerings in the Temple that we brought on the altar, the first offering each morning and the last offering each afternoon. The two “Tamids” are the bookends of a day in the life of a Jew. Similarly, in Orach Chayim (the Path of Life) the two “Tamids” are the bookends of Jewish life, Reverence for G-d and joy.

The first one makes sense. Constant awareness of being in Hashem’s presence is the driver for all that we are supposed to be about. But joy? Why is joy so integral to Jewish life? Judaism does not view joy (only) as a response to positive circumstances. Rather, Judaism views joy as a generator of positive circumstances. Joy and a positive attitude help shape and mold positive outcomes.

The Talmud states, “When Adar enters, we increase in joy.” This year we have two Adars. That is double the joy. Twice the power to influence and shape positive outcomes. May our collective joy shape the positive outcome for our world, bringing us the blessing of peace and security for our brethren in Israel and the joy of Redemption for the whole world.

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov! Be Happy!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The Formula For Getting Young Jews to Support Israel

So many are dismayed by the increase of young people who are, at best, indifferent or, at worst, outright hostile towards Israel, especially since October 7. While most Jews, of all ages, are feeling a heightened connection and support, there is a minority, a significant minority, that is orienting the other way.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time bemoaning how this came about. But I would like to consider some ideas on how we can get ahead of it moving forward.

We must teach our young people to love Jews. The prospect of millions of my loved ones in direct harm’s way should be a great motivator on the need to support Israel right now. For too long our children have been made to feel uncomfortable with feeling greater affinity for their Jewish brothers and sisters. Of course, all people are created in the Divine Image, and deserve to be treated with dignity and caring. But Jews are our family. There is nothing wrong or immoral with feeling closer to mishpacha! How do we generate that feeling of mishpacha?

We must teach our young people to love Judaism. When we think about the shared values, destiny, and connection with Hashem that Judaism offers as a heritage to every Jew, that increases our connection with each other. For too long our children have been given a watered down, inauthentic version of our precious Judaism. They have been robbed of the depth, the profundity, the soulfulness, the transformative nature, and the eternality of the guidance and direction that Torah and Judaism affords every one of us as our unequivocal heritage. The richest wisdom the world has ever known has been relegated into being some sort of cheerleader for the social justice de jour. How do we impart love of Judaism?    

By creating opportunities for them to feel pride in an authentic Jewish experience. I would like to highlight something taking place tonight in our own community. Chabad at Tulane will be hosting a Shabbat dinner on the center quad of the Tulane campus (LBC Quad) for 1500 students. There will be no empty chairs at this Shabbat dinner. Each one will be filled by a Jewish young lady or man feeling a surge of Jewish pride. Those filled seats will be highly effective in raising awareness about the hostages in Gaza. Hundres of boys will be laying Tefillin just before the sun goes down and Shabbat starts. Hundreds of girls will kindle Shabbat candles illuminating the world with their spiritual light. Those boys and girls singing Am Yisrael Chai at the top of their lungs, while getting ready to hear Kiddush, will come away with an authentic Jewish pride experience that can be life-changing.

We are racing against the clock. We cannot afford to lose another generation of young people. Everyone must get involved and support these efforts to create the proud Jews of the future.
Israel is not just a strip of land. It is really about Jews and Judaism. The sooner we recognize that the more successful we will be.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Action Plan Highlights
See our page  
https://onemitzvah.org/israel/chabad-louisiana
Add your Mitzvah today!

· Tefillin: Please visit Chabad Uptown or Chabad Metairie and lay Tefillin or reach out to have someone come by with Tefillin. If you have Tefillin, put them on daily and offer to share them with other Jewish males over Bar Mitzvah.

· Shabbat Candles: Ladies and girls, you have the power of light in your hands. Light Shabbat candles before sunset on Friday (this week at 5:20 pm).

· Mezuzah: Put a Mezuzah on the door of your home or check the existing ones to make sure they are valid. Reach out to us if you need a Mezuzah or help checking the ones you have up.

· Tzedakah:  www.chabad.org/helpisrael is a great resource to get funds directly to the organizations on the ground in Israel helping with the war effort. There are many other reputable organizations raising funds as well, see www.jewishnola.com for the Jewish Federation’s initiatives. The main thing is to offer our support.

· Pray: Chabad Rabbis in Israel have asked that recite the following Psalms for the safety and security our people in Israel - Psalms 20, 22, 69, 122, and 150. At Chabad (both locations) we recite them twice daily during the morning and evening minyan.

· Letter in the Scroll: Get your child a letter in the Children’s Torah Scroll –  www.chabadneworleans.com/332998 . The Unity Torah for people of all ages –  www.chabadneworleans.com/409282.

· Study Torah: Join a Torah class or study on your own. Check out the recently begun course Advice For Life – www.chabadneworleans.com/jli.

· Take a tour of a Mikvah and explore the secret to Jewish family purity and harmony. For more info,  www.chabadneworleans.com/mikvah

 

Add Some Fruit To Your Diet

At one time, it was thought that a person needed to eat basics to survive; and that adding things like fruit to one’s diet was a luxury for people that could afford it. At some point it became clear that there were significant health benefits from adding fruit into one’s diet. Fruit (and vegetables) have nutrients, vitamins, minerals that are not just an added benefit for good health, but in some ways, integral to maintaining good health. They have many additional qualities that are foundational to good health.

This week we celebrated Tu B’Shevat, the New Year for Trees. Why are humans celebrating the trees’ New Year? Do they celebrate our New Year? There is a lot we can derive from this holiday and the fruitful lessons it provides.

When it comes to observance of Judaism, the study of Torah, performance of Mitzvot, and our connection to Hashem, there is the basics, the bread, meat, and potatoes. We can technically go through our days checking all the right boxes and keeping everything by the book. But it can be without any pleasure or enthusiasm. We can be mechanical and joyless as we go through the motions of Jewish observance. Tu B’Shevat teaches us that we should not consider it an optional luxury to mix some fruit into our diet. We must add flavor and color to our Judaism. A mitzvah must be performed with joy and passion. Torah must be studied with enthusiasm and pleasure.

In addition, there are specific messages that can be derived from the “fruits of the land of Israel,” that are not just an added benefit or luxury but are integral to maintaining a healthy state in our connection to Hashem. Here are a few samples.

From grapes we learn how vital it is to inject joy into our Judaism. From figs (and the fig-leaf in the Garden of Eden) we learn the power of forgiveness and transformation. From pomegranates we learn how to value each person regardless of their external appearance. From olives we learn how challenges lead to growth. From dates we learn the importance of investing effort in the future. For a more detailed version of these lessons, www.chabadneworleans.com/2776.

A fruit tree is about producing fruit. Deuteronomy (20:19) states, “For man is a tree of the field.” As we go about our lives, we must be cognizant and mindful of the fruit we are bearing, the impact we have on the world around us. Are we producing fruit that is beneficial to humanity and Hashem’s goal for creation?

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom and a fruit producing adventure filled with flavor, color, and effervescence.

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Why Do We Need a Rebbe?

This Shabbat is the 10th of Shevat, the day that the Rebbe assumed the leadership of Chabad following the passing of his father-in-law and predecessor in 1950. There are many who acknowledge the Rebbe’s monumental influence on post-Holocaust Judaism and the Jewish nation. There are many who recognize the Rebbe’s vast contribution to Torah learning and literature. There are many who laud the Rebbe’s guidance and leadership qualities on both the individual and collective levels. There are many who are awed by the Rebbe’s saintliness and the “miracle stories.”

Yet some of these many people are uncomfortable with the notion of a Rebbe altogether. Why do we need a Tzadik at the center of our Jewish life? Why do we ask a Rebbe to pray on our behalf or to give us blessings? Why do we have to devote ourselves to the direction and guidance of another person? Doesn’t every Jew have a direct connection with Hashem? Why the need for, what appears to be, an “intermediary?” Yet Moses declares in Deuteronomy (5:5), “I stand between the L-rd and you.”     

The answer to this question has multiple dynamics. I would like to focus on one of them. There is no question that each of us has a direct connection with Hashem. This connection is experienced through prayer, mitzvot, Torah study, and what we call “service of G-d.” Furthermore, this connection is intrinsic to our very existence, because our souls are, as Tanya states, “a literal part of Hashem above.”

If we were just souls, there would be no further issues. The problem is that we have bodies. And, even worse, we have what Tanya calls an animal or natural soul, that is driven by self-orientation. Most of us spend a lifetime contending with this self-oriented side of being. Even when we manage to overcome that self-orientation just a bit, it comes back and bites us when we least expect it. This “self” is the biggest obstacle to constant “Dveykut” – connection to Hashem. Even as we pray, study, and do Mitzvot, our “self” gets in the way of truly experiencing this “Dveykut.”

A Rebbe, a Moses, is a person who is at the state where the sense of self is no longer in the way. As much as is humanly possible, he is completely transparent, allowing for the soul – “the literal part of Hashem above” – to be the dominant force in his existence. A Rebbe is our Neshama in Ultra HD. The Devykut of a Rebbe to Hashem is constant and unimpeded by the sense of self.

Now the Jewish people have a collective soul. By connecting to a Rebbe, this enables us to tap into our own individual Neshamas and experience a deeper Dveykut to Hashem at a “higher resolution.” So, Moses is not an intermediary in the sense that he stands between the people and Hashem to maintain distance. Rather he serves as a conduit for the people to experience their closeness in a more real way than they would without his facilitation.

I have just scratched the surface of a topic that deserves much more time and space to address, but I hope that it has whet your appetite to delve deeper.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Mindless Ritual or Meaningful Act

Traversing through my Uptown neighborhood this week, I encountered the annual sight of dozens of young ladies traipsing in and out of houses on Broadway. These Tulane students returned to New Orleans a full week ahead of class to engage in Sorority Rush. To an outsider such as myself, it seemed that the traditions associated with this activity are bizarre. Girls lining up and then walking in circular lines, removing their jackets and purses outside despite the cold weather, high fiving each other while walking in opposite rows, and a bunch of other things that I cannot explain. I am sure that each practice has an explanation and history, but to me they seemed like mindless rituals.

Conversing about this with someone in our community, we mused that for many who observe us performing our “traditions” and “rituals,” they seem equally bizarre and mindless. This was a sad thought for me. Because I know that each of our practices is laden with layers of meaning and explanation. Every detail of a Mitzvah or even a Jewish custom is substantiated with precise intentionality. Yet, for too many they are meaningless; to quote Tevya, “I don’t know why, but it’s a tradition.”

So, I would like to utilize this forum to share some of the detailed meanings behind the oft-practiced Jewish tradition of Kiddush on Friday night.

The Torah declares, “Remember the Sabbath Day to Sanctify It.” How do we fulfill this obligation? By mentioning the Sabbath in blessing as it enters (and when it ends). Our sages instituted that this blessing be recited over a cup of wine. This ritual is called Kiddush. The idea behind it is to connect the remembrance of Sabbath and the themes of faith associated therein, with a physical act of reciting words and drinking wine. This is an expression of the recurring notion conveyed through all action-based Mitzvahs, that our feelings are influenced by our actions.

Why over wine? Firstly, wine brings joy, a lovely association with a Mitzvah that should be done with gladness of heart. Beyond that, there is an opinion that the fruit of the tree of knowledge was a cluster of grapes. Adam and Eve partook of that fruit on Friday afternoon just before sunset, bringing darkness and suffering to the world and to mankind. By using that very same substance, at the same time, to usher in a day devoted to G-d and spirituality, we reverse the effects of that sin and bring redemption to the world and to humanity.

We take a cup that can hold a minimum of approximately 3.4 ounces and fill it with wine. Why this amount? The one reciting the Kiddush must drink more than half of the cup. For the average person just over 50% of 3.4 oz is a mouthful of wine, enough to be a significantly enjoyable consumption.

While reading the words of Kiddush (that are themselves layered with meaning), we hold the cup of blessing in the upturned palm of our hand to symbolize being a recipient of that blessing. We raise the cup at least a hand-breadth above the table to demonstrate that we are investing mindful effort in raising the cup. During the Kiddush we glance at both the candles and the wine. The sin of Adam and Eve darkened the light of their eyes (spiritual perception). We thus direct our eyes to the candles and wine to reverse the impact of the sin. 

The Kiddush is recited in the presence of the Challah (albeit covered) to connect the Mitzvah of remembering the Sabbath to the Mitzvah of honoring and delighting in the Sabbath, through a delicious repast. Even the number of words in the Kiddush (72) is significant, as is the acronym formed by the first four words (Tetragrammaton). Not a single detail is meaningless or without explanation.

You have now had a tiny taste of the meaning behind the traditions and rituals of Kiddush. 612 to go! Get busy and learn.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Who's Who at Chabad of Louisiana?

Chabad of Louisiana was established in 1975 with the arrival of my parents, Rabbi Zelig and Bluma Rivkin, who were sent by the Rebbe as his emissaries to New Orleans. Since then, Chabad of Louisiana has expanded and developed into a broad network of institutions and initiatives that are staffed by 14 Shluchim families. Some may be confused by the web of multiple folks named Mendel, Yossi, Mushka, and Rivka, along with the other Shluchim on the Chabad of Louisiana team. I would like to make it easier by presenting a “Who’s Who” at Chabad and help clarify the roles and a sampling of the responsibilities of each of them in the community. This list will by no means be an exhaustive one, as each of the Shluchim families and individuals is involved in many initiatives and activities, all intended to improve Jewish life in the community. First and foremost, each of them serves as a representative of the Rebbe and his ideals. One of the most powerful impacts of Chabad Shluchim is forging relationships with individuals in the community. 

Please note that each of the affiliates of Chabad of Louisiana is financially independent.    

Chabad of Louisiana
Rabbi Zelig and Bluma Rivkin - Founders and directors of Chabad of Louisiana. Rabbi Zelig Rivkin was tasked by the Rebbe as the regional director for Chabad in the state of Louisiana and Southern Mississippi. Mrs. Bluma Rivkin is also the coordinator of Mikvah Chaya Mushka and teaches at Slater Torah Academy.

Dr. David (OBM) and Nechama Kaufmann – Past coordinators of Chabad at Tulane and Camp Gan Israel, founding coordinator of Chanukah @ Riverwalk, Nshei Chabad Candlelighting project. Mrs. Kaufmann also teaches at Slater Torah Academy.

Rabbi Mendel and Malkie Rivkin – Program Directors at Chabad of Louisiana. JLI, Living Legacy Series, Prison Chaplaincy. Mrs. Malkie Rivkin also serves as the Judaic Elementary principal at Slater Torah Academy.

Rabbi Yossi and Mushka (nee Rivkin – daughter of Mendel and Malkie) Cohen – Community Engagement Directors at Chabad of Louisiana. JKids, Jewish Women’s Circle, Holiday Distribution Projects. Mrs. Cohen also teaches at Slater Torah Academy.

Chabad of Metairie
Rabbi Yossie and Chanie Nemes – Directors of Chabad of Metairie. Rabbi Nemes also oversees the Louisiana Kashrut Committee. Mrs. Nemes also runs the Rosh Chodesh Society and teaches at Slater Torah Academy.

Rabbi Mendel and Chaya Mushka (nee Nemes) Ceitlin – Program Directors – Chabad of Metairie. JLI, Hospital Chaplaincy, Mohel. Mrs. Ceiltin also teaches at Slater Torah Academy.

Rabbi Zalman and Libby (nee Nemes) Groner – Youth Directors – Chabad of Metairie. CTeen, Camp Gan Israel, Friendship Circle. Mrs. Groner also teaches at Slater Torah Academy.

Rabbi Mendy and Chavie Schechter – Prison Chaplaincy, Law Enforcement Chaplaincy and Liaison, Chevra Kaddisha, and Kosher Supervision.

Chabad at Tulane
Rabbi Yochanan and Sarah Rivkin – Directors – Chabad at Tulane. Coordinators of Chabad Tulane Grad and Alumni Program. Rabbi Yochanan Rivkin is the Rabbi at Anshe Sfard, and serves on the Board of Directors, Slater Torah Academy.

Rabbi Leibel and Mushka Lipskier – Directors of Chabad Tulane Undergraduate Program.

Rabbi Mendel (son of Yochanan and Sarah) and Rivka Rivkin – Directors of Student Engagement at Chabad Tulane Undergraduate Program.

Slater Torah Academy
Rabbi Yossi and Rivkie Chesney – Rabbi Chesney is the Executive Director of Slater Torah Academy. Mrs. Chesney is the director of Jewish Preschool of the Arts at Slater Torah Academy.

Chabad of Baton Rouge
Rabbi Peretz and Mushka (nee Rivkin – daughter of Zelig and Bluma) Kazen – Directors of Chabad of Baton Rouge and LSU.

Chabad of Southern Mississippi
Rabbi Akiva and Hannah Hall – Directors of Chabad of Southern MS and Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel – Gulfport.

Our partners: None of these institutions and initiatives would be possible without our many partners who empower us and believe in our cause.

I hope that this has been helpful to further acquaint our community with the Chabad of Louisiana team. We are privileged to serve this community and look forward to engaging with each and every one of you as the opportunity arises.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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