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In Praise of Isaac

Dear Friends,

Firstly it is our hope that everyone came through Hurricane Isaac safely. We are old and experienced when it comes to storms and the damage that results but it is still tough to deal with. Hopefully Hashem will give us each the strength to overcome these challenges.

At this point most of uptown (and many other areas) still do not have power. Yet we managed to maintain the minyan throughout the storm missing only Wednesday morning minyan while the storm was at its peak. It appears that we will be moving Shabbat services to Rabbi Zelig and Bluma Rivkin’s home – 919 Broadway, where a generator keeps some of the electricity going. Feel free to join us for services tonight at 7 and tomorrow at 10.

During the days of the storm many people referenced the name that was assigned to it – Isaac – and the obvious connection to Patriarch Isaac. Humor and a healthy dose of irreverence always help us get through tough times - and I certainly laughed along with most of the comments. There were some that I feel crossed the line of appropriate – casting aspersions on Isaac’s relevance and impact on Jewish life and thought (without any humor – I may add).

There are many central things that Isaac brings to Judaism. First and foremost the idea of circumcision at eight days old, a fundamental concept representing our essential bond with G-d. The idea of self-sacrifice – by an adult at the Akeidah (Isaac was 37 years old) is also a deep lesson. Of all three fathers, Isaac is the one who is instructed not to leave the Holy Land because of his specialness. Finally the Talmud declares that when Moshiach comes we will call out to Isaac (of all three) saying, “for you are our father.” For it is Isaac who teaches us how to live in this world while maintaining a life out of the “world to come.”

May the merit of our father Isaac protect us from the fallout and damage wrought by the storm that bears his name.

Mazel Tov to Akiva (Wyatt) Hall on his Aufruf (aliyah on the Shabbat before a wedding) this Shabbat!

Shabbat Shalom and think cool thoughts!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Riding the Waves of Divine Providence

Each day, after morning Minyan we read aloud a short meditation from Hayom Yom, a book authored by the Rebbe with a thought for every day. Tuesday’s meditation read as follows, “Whoever has faith in individual Divine Providence knows that "Man's steps are established by G-d," that this particular soul must purify and improve something specific in a particular place. For centuries, or even since the world's creation, that which needs purification or improvement waits for this soul to come and purify or improve it. The soul too, has been waiting - ever since it came into being - for its time to descend, so that it can discharge the tasks of purification and improvement assigned to it.”

In simple terms, everything that happens and every place that we find ourselves is connected to our purpose in life.

When I read this it reminded me of a story that my grandfather, Rabbi Sholom Gordon, told me. While riding a train he missed his stop. He had to ride to the end of the line and get off to wait for a train going the opposite way. While he was waiting he recalled this idea in Hayom Yom, and began to study a passage from the book of Tanya by memory. He explained that missing his stop and ending up in the other station was for a purpose. He decided to do something meaningful to bring a spiritual elevation and refinement to that place, thereby justifying his being there.

A few hours after morning Minyan, I was in Ochsner Hospital accompanying Rabbi Amram and Miriam Gozlan, a new Israeli couple that are awaiting a liver transplant. After their appointment while walking them back to their room, we were talking and I mentioned the Hayom Yom, saying that there was certainly a spiritual purpose for them being in New Orleans in addition to the obvious – the phenomenal success of Ochsner’s transplant team. I have no doubt that during the Gozlans stay here those interacting with them will feel a sense of spiritual elevation as a result of that interaction.

The next day, while driving to my regular visit to the Federal Prison in Oakdale, LA, I encountered some unusual traffic resulting from the I-10 being shut down in Baton Rouge. I found myself wandering through roads and towns that I had never seen. Once again, the Hayom Yom came back to me and I figured I’d better make the most of it and try to do something good, so I pulled over and prayed Mincha in Gonzales – figuring it may have been a while since the last time someone did that there.

So ride the waves of Divine Providence and enjoy the adventures that are presented to you!

Mazel Tov to Jennifer & Neil Schneider on the birth of their daughter, Malkah Aliza.

Mazel Tov to Belinda and Rotem Dahan on the Bat Mitzvah of their daughter Mia.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Are we Dwellers or Visitors

This Shabbat we welcome the month of Elul, the time of preparation for the upcoming year. Throughout the month we recite Psalm 27 twice daily. In that psalm King David declares, “One thing I ask of the L-rd, that I seek - that I may dwell in the house of the L-rd all the days of my life, to see the pleasantness of the L-rd and to visit His Temple.” The obvious question is, if David asks to dwell in the house of Hashem then why does he also want to visit? The answer is that there are two ways of relating to our being with Hashem. Once is termed dwelling – indicating a sense of permanence and familiarity, the second is termed visiting indicating a sense of impermanence and novelty. So King David is requesting that his dwelling with Hashem should maintain a sense of novelty and specialness; that it never be taken for granted. So too, we recite this psalm in the hope that our enthusiasm for serving Hashem always retain the novelty of a visit rather than the familiarity of a dwelling.

My friend Chaim shared a story that brings out this point. He was visiting Israel a few years ago and made a habit of praying with the sunrise Minyan at the Kotel each day. He ended up praying next an elderly Sefardic gentleman and every day they exchanged greetings and a story or inspirational thought. On the last day of his visit, Chaim told his friend that he was leaving and the old man said to him, “how could you leave this place? It is so special.” Chaim replied by sharing the above thought about visiting and dwelling. He thought the old man would smile and say goodbye like on the other days. Instead he became misty-eyed and serious and he told Chaim that he was going to share something that he never told anyone before. “I have been praying at the Kotel every single day since it was liberated in 1967. When I came that first day it was packed with soldiers and people from all over. The emotions were very strong. I wondered how I could retain the special feeling of novelty that I experienced that first day. It was then that I resolved to never touch or kiss the wall. In this way there would always be something for which I yearn but do not satisfy, thereby ensuring that I will not take these visits for granted.”

As we approach Rosh Hashanah and we think about how to enhance our Jewish experience, let us bear in mind that the excitement in doing a mitzvah or studying Torah is also very important. In short, we must be dwellers, but act like visitors.

Mazel Tov to Rabbi David and Mindy Polsky on the birth of their daughter, Tovah Rachel.

Mazel Tov to David and Dinah Voskovsky on the birth of their daughter, Henya Shayna.

Heartfelt condolences to Mrs. Grace Walther and her family on the passing of her beloved husband, Mr. Greg Walther.

Hope to see you on Sunday morning at Project Talmud’s closing session, Abraham’s Genes.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The Rebbe and Israel's Prime Ministers

Last Sunday, Malkie and I had the pleasure of visiting our son Sholom at Camp Gan Israel in Parksville, NY, where he is spending his first summer at an overnight camp. I want to take this opportunity to thank the JEF and the Goldring Foundation for their role in helping New Orleans Jewish kids go to camp. Years ago the Lubavitcher Rebbe lauded the value of the overnight camp experience for Jewish children – due to the notion of a 24/7 immersion in a Jewish environment and the impact that has on a child. Although our children are being raised in a strong Jewish environment in our home, we still noticed and appreciate how special this month in camp is for our children.

This coming Sunday Project Talmud Summer 2012 kicks off with a Beit Midrash program at Chabad uptown from 9-11 AM. I would like to highlight the Sunday night program – a premier viewing of the newly released film Faithful and Fortified Vol. III. This is the third in the series that documents the unique relationship the Rebbe had with Israel’s political, military and intelligence leaders over the years. This third film highlights the Rebbe’s interactions with Israel’s Prime Ministers with a focus on Yitzchak Rabin, Menachem Begin, Yitzchak Shamir, Ariel Sharon and Binyamin Netanyahu. In addition to actual footage of their visits and first person interviews with the Prime Ministers themselves, the story is also being told by their aides, especially Yehuda Avner, an advisor and confidante to four Israeli Prime Ministers.

A buffet dinner will be served and the large screen viewing will begin at Chabad uptown at 8 PM. Anyone with an interest in Israel and her defense will find this to be a fascinating watch. The event is free and open to the public. For a full Project Talmud schedule, see below.

Mazel Tov to Andrea and Kevin Merlin upon the birth of their daughter Adina Shoshana.

The worldwide Chabad community mourns the passing of Mr. Sami Rohr, patriarch of the Rohr family, who have been at the philanthropic forefront of Chabad’s global activities, including the Rohr Family Chabad Student Center at Tulane University. Our heartfelt condolences to his son, George Rohr and the rest of the family. His legacy of commitment to Jewish continuity lives on.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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