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Attention to detail - A Passover must

Of all of the Jewish holidays, Pesach is the most complicated, with many details that require our attention. In addition to the cleaning and preparation there are also a wide variety of Pesach customs and traditions that vary from family to family, from group to group. For some it is what they will be eating on Passover while for others it is what they will NOT be eating over the eight day holiday. There are varying ritual customs that are performed at the Seder in different homes. The common denominator is that all of these dos and don’ts are very detailed and require an investment of effort.

The question is, “Why is this holiday different than all of other holidays?” One of the angles of the significance of Pesach is that it is the day that Ezekiel describes as the birth of the Jewish nation. Sticking with the birth theme we can gain an appreciation for the need for attention to every minute detail. The process of childbirth is fantastic, yet every moment and detail is critical to the health and wellbeing of the child to be born. The slightest mishap can have far-reaching consequences. A momentary deprivation of oxygen can impair the child’s function for life. Therefore we anticipate and account for each detailed step of the process to best of our ability so as ensure a smooth and healthy birth.  

The same can be said for Pesach. Since it is the “birth” of our people we must be careful with every detail. Nobody would ever look down at parents for taking precautions with their child’s birth. Similarly paying close attention to the Pesach details is laudable and recommended.

One of the ways to make Pesach more meaningful is to become informed on the significance of the various traditions. There is no better venue than www.chabadneworleans.com/passover to achieve this goal. The Chabad.org network receives billions of hits each year and Passover generates some the highest traffic. You can access anything from how-to wizards, stories, recipes, study, multi-media to children’s activities and entertainment.

To sell your chametz go to www.chabadneworleans.com/271377. Time is running out so do not delay. Chabad Center of Metairie is hosting a Community Seder. For more information or to register, go to www.jewishlouisiana.com.

Mazel tov to Warren Cohen upon being honored at Chabad of Brooklyn Heights’ recent dinner.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Toulouse: The call of a strong woman

Dear Friends,

The Jewish world is still stunned by the events in Toulouse this week. Once again there is a fresh widow and orphan and parents mourning over the murder of their children. What kind of individual with a human heart in his body could do something like this? Which twisted mind could possibly find a way to rationalize and justify this barbarism? Yet this is reoccurring chillingly often. In a sad and ironic twist, little three year old Gavriel Sandler was born after the Mumbai terror attack and he was named for Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg (the Chabad Rabbi in Mumbai).

Though we live in a time when Jews have never been freer to openly live and worship as Jews, it seems that every-time we look up another Jew was murdered in cold blood. From where do we draw the strength and how can we attempt to comfort those whose loved ones were lost? As we struggle to come to grips with yet another incident, a small voice is heard with a powerful message for all of us. This is the voice of Mrs. Eva Sandler, whose husband and sons were among the victims. She has released a statement calling for an increase of light to combat this dark storm. Her words can be read at www.chabadneworleans.com/180898. 

Such strength comes from the depths of our souls and the mighty roots from which we grow. Jews in the most terrible circumstances forged ahead supported by the truth of Torah and Mitzvot and our connection with Hashem. When the darkness seems to be overpowering the world around us we must combat it with the light of that truth.

Now as we prepare for the festival of freedom – Passover, let us hope that the world will finally be free of this craziness because it will be flooded with the truth – that Hashem is one and His name is one – with the complete and final redemption. On that day Hashem will wipe the tears of mourning and pain from all faces. Amen.

Dr. Charles Wasserman was one of my earliest pediatricians in New Orleans, as a member of the Rothschild Pediatric Group. His son Michael later joined the group and is now my children’s physician. We are privileged to have Dr. Mike Wasserman as a real Rofeh Yedid – a doctor who truly cares about our children. This week Dr. Charles Wasserman passed away. I am joined by my family in extending our condolences to Mike and the whole family upon their loss.

Mazel Tov to my parents, Rabbi Zelig and Bluma Rivkin, upon their 40th wedding anniversary; many more happy and healthy years together.

Mazel Tov to Lou and Nanette Furman upon the birth of a grandson, Solomon Furman.

Mazel Tov to Johnny Lake upon being honored by the Jewish Federation for his important work in the community.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

My Heifer just ran over your Karma and Dogma

At the recent LimmudFest 2012 (which was a great success – kudos and credit to Gail, Lynn, Marisa and the entire crew for all of the hard work and effort in creating a great event), I had a conversation with an individual following my presentation on the Kabbalistic doctrines of Divine Unity. During our conversation the word dogma was thrown out as a disdainful concept; as if it was something backwards or primitive and non-Jewish. It brought to mind the bumper sticker “my Karma ran over your Dogma.” As I thought about it more I realized that replacing dogma with karma was a lateral move – because actually karma is just the dogma of another religion. Then it dawned on me that this week’s additional Torah reading Parshat Parah provides the true insight to the whole picture.

The subject of Parah is the Red Heifer – the perfectly red cow, whose ashes, when mixed with water, cedar wood, hyssop and a scarlet thread, purify a person who came into contact with a corpse. This concept is called a Chok – a statute for which no reason or logic is provided. In Judaism there are many Chukim – but none is inexplicable as the Red Heifer. To begin with, the notion of impurity is not logical. When you top it off with the Red Heifer procedure for purification it is even less logical. When you read that the Kohen who prepares the mixture himself becomes impure, that puts you over the top. (At least you are in good company - even King Solomon, the wisest of all men, declared that this was beyond him.)

So the question is why we need Mitzvot that don’t have rational explanations. Why can’t we just have a perfectly rational religion that would fit the sensibilities of the 21st century mindset? Wouldn’t it feel better if we Jews would be able to smugly think of our religion as the one that is “dogma free?” Yet this Mitzvah of the Red Heifer is referred to as THE Mitzvah of the Torah. To briefly explain. Since we humans are finite beings, it is impossible for us to have a real connection to an infinite G-d on our terms. Therefore any relationship that is founded solely on human logic will not achieve a connection with G-d. Only when there is the realization that “I must obey G-d whether I understand or not” can we begin to approach this connection. Only when the relationship is not defined solely by the limited human capacity for rationalization can we truly say that we are connected to Hashem.

Don’t get me wrong, reason and understanding are very central to Judaism and Torah & Mitzvot, but they cannot be the foundation. We try to understand as much as we possibly can. But then we must acknowledge that there is something beyond our intellect that we accept with faith and obedience. Upon this solid foundation, the beautiful edifice that is Judaism can stand eternally.  

To sum it up: The red heifer just flattened a karma and ran over a dogma.

Purim 2012 was awesome. Hundreds of people attended Chabad’s multiple programs. Over 240 Purim Shuttle packages were delivered. A good time was had by all. Please take a moment to review the pictures at www.chabadneworleans.com/1798607. I want to thank all of the volunteers who were involved in Purim Night, the packers and deliverers of Purim Shuttle, and those involved in putting together the amazing Purim in the Wild West. I also want to thank all of the participants in the Purim Shuttle 2012 Fundraiser. This year we raised over 10% more than last year. We appreciate your support.

Take a deep breath, because Pesach is just 3 week away…

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Purim Rambam Siyum and more

Malkie and I were delighted by the friendship of so many people in the community that came to celebrate our son’s Upshernish with us this past Sunday. It is truly a joy to be surrounded by so many good people. On Monday we brought him to “cheder” – initiated him into his formal Jewish education, by bringing him to school wrapped in a talis where he read the Aleph-bet and verses from the Torah after licking honey off of them.

In 1984 the Rebbe instituted the practice of daily Rambam study. Today marks the conclusion of the 30th cycle of daily Rambam study. This morning we had a mini-Siyum (conclusion celebration) at Chabad House. On Sunday night there will be a Global Siyum HaRambam Celebration featuring renowned teachers and lecturers including Rabbi Manis Friedman and Rabbi Joshua Gordon. To participate go to www.chanadneworleans.com/siyum at 7 PM on Sunday night for a live broadcast. It promises to be a very enlightening event. Join us also on Sunday morning for our monthly Breakfast with Maimonides at 8:45 AM.

Purim is nearly upon us. Preparations for the Purim in the Wild Wild West are reaching frenzied proportions. The event, which features Sam Glaser in concert, will be held this Thursday, March 8 @ 5:30 PM at Chabad Metairie. For info or to register go to www.jewishlouisiana.com/1771645.

In other Purim news, Chabad Uptown, Chabad Metairie and Chabad Student Center will all be holding Megillah readings and Purim events throughout the night and day of Purim. Chabad Uptown’s Megillah Reading & Purim Bash kicks off at 6:30 PM on Wednesday. After the Megillah reading a party highlighted by a hi-tech interactive SMS based game will take place. Similar events will be held at the other centers as well. Here is a full Megillah reading schedule.

Wednesday, March 7
Chabad Uptown: 6:30 PM
Chabad Metairie: 6:30 PM
Chabad Student Center: 7:15 PM
Chabad Metairie 9:15 PM
Thursday, March 8
Chabad Uptown: 7:30 AM
Chabad Metairie: 8:00 AM
Chabad Student Center: 12:30 PM
Downtown @ NY Camera: 12:30 PM
Lambeth House: 3:00 PM
Chabad Metairie: 5:00 PM
Chabad Student Center: 5 PM

We wish a hearty Mazel Tov to Rabbi Yossie and Chanie Nemes upon their daughter Bracha’s engagement to Avremi Slaveticki.

Mazel Tov to Barry and Alyona Katz upon Simon’s Upshernish this Sunday.

Congratulations to Chabad @ Tulane for pulling off Shabbat 1000 – taking place tonight at the Riley Center on Tulane’s campus. For more info www.tulanechabad.org/487882.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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