ChabadNewOrleans Blog

The Power of Shabbat

Kabbala teaches that our purpose in this world is called the “Avodah of Birurim” – the work of refinement. This stems from the Kabbalistic notion of “the Shattering of the Vessels” where fragments or sparks of spiritual energy “fell” into the physical world and were absorbed into everything around this universe. When we utilize an object in the service of G-d, we refine it and extract or elevate those sparks to holiness. For example, when a person eats Kosher food so that they can have energy to pray, study, do Mitzvot or serve G-d in any way, the sparks that were dormant in the food are refined and elevated to holiness. Since the food also contains elements that conceal the sparks of holiness, care must be given not become enslaved to those “waste” elements by focusing solely on the physical benefits of the food. This is reflected in the physical results of eating as well. There are certain good elements of the food that are refined in the digestive system and used to give the body energy and strengthen the systems of the body. The rest becomes waste that needs to be expelled.  

However there is a time when the “Avodah of Birurim” with food is suspended. That is on the day of Shabbat. Kabbala reveals that on Shabbat an other-worldly spiritual energy is dominant – a G-dliness that flows through the four letters of the Tetragrammaton – the ineffable name of G-d. As such the concealment that is present throughout the week is peeled away on Shabbat, allowing for a greater revelation of the truth of G-dliness. So eating on Shabbat takes on a whole different nature. The eating itself is a G-dly activity (provided a person eats like a mensch and doesn’t see this as a license to be a glutton). This is why we have special traditions and customs associated with the Shabbat meal. Each holy custom and tradition is another element of the G-dly experience that is Shabbat. This is also reflected in Halacha. On Shabbat extracting waste from food – Borer – is prohibited. In a conceptual sense the “Avodah of Birurim” would be against the spirit of Shabbat - where extraction of waste from food is forbidden.

As we prepare to celebrate Shabbat let us remember how empowering Shabbat is and make the most of it.

Mazel Tov to my sister Mushka upon her upcoming marriage to Peretz Kazen next week. Mazel Tov to the entire family. We look forward to a wonderful week of celebration in New Orleans.

Our 2013 Raffle kicked off this week, with the drawing for $10,000 and other prizes being held on December 10. To view the prizes and to purchase tickets go to

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Abraham's Legacy - Spiritual Selflessness

Our father Abraham opened his plea before G-d to save the evil city of Sodom by declaring, “I am but dust and ashes.” Our sages comment, that in the merit of his humbling statement two Mitzvot were given to his descendants, the ashes of the Red Heifer (which were mixed with water and herbs and used to purify one who had come into contact with a corpse) and the dust of the Sotah (which was mixed with water and drunk to determine whether infidelity had occurred in a marriage).

Other than the association with dust and ashes these mitzvot don’t seem to have much of a connection with Avraham’s greatness or humility. So why where they designated as the reward? The Rebbe provides a beautiful and insightful explanation. Avraham’s whole life was dedicated to helping others, often at the expense of his own material and spiritual wellbeing. A classic example is when, in the opening verses of this Parsha, he leaves G-d, Who had come to visit him after his Bris, in order to attend to guests (who we later find out are angels). Another person in his place may have concluded that having a G-dly revelation supersedes caring for the guests. At least they can be made to wait a few minutes until his visit with G-d came to an end. But Avraham’s life was devoted to helping others and this trumped all other considerations.

The two Mitzvot that were designated as the reward embody this ideal. In a most ironic twist, every Kohen involved in the preparation of the Red Heifer was rendered impure. So a Kohen had to sacrifice his own purity to facilitate the process of making someone else pure. In a similar vein the water of the Sotah was mixed with dust, following which, a parchment with a passage from the Torah was placed in the water until all the ink, including that of G-d’s name, was diluted. Why did Hashem allow His name to be erased? In order to promote peace between husband and wife. Once again, a spiritual sacrifice for the good of another.

The lesson is clear. A descendant of Avraham must be ready to put one’s own material or even spiritual wellbeing aside for the benefit of another. Now go take on the day!

Mazel Tov to Hannah and Akiva Hall upon the birth of their daughter Leah. Congratulations to the grandparents, Ron Hall, Mr. and Mrs. Alan Black, and Mary and Ron Hall Sr. It is a great Simcha for the entire Chabad New Orleans community.

Our sympathies are with Raquel and Saul Hakim upon the passing of her mother, Ana Kay.

Our sympathies are with Jim Gillis upon the passing of his mother, Donna Gillis.

Question of the week for discussion at the Kiddush: What time of the year did the angels’ visit to Avraham occur? How do we know?

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Thank you Alan Franco

Last month the baton at the Jewish Federation passed from the hand of Alan Franco to his successor as president, Morton Katz. I ran into Alan at the JEF dinner this week and jokingly asked how his vacation is going. He quipped back, “yeah right, in this world or the next?” On behalf of Chabad of Louisiana, I would like to thank Alan for his ongoing leadership. There are many individuals in leadership positions in this community but in my opinion Alan Franco is unique.

There are three qualities that demonstrate his distinct ability. The first is vision. Alan has the ability to envision a better future and the strength to implement the changes needed to achieve that vision.  The second is his willingness to make efficient use of resources even at the expense of convention. The third quality is broadmindedness. Alan is open to learning about different opportunities and to get behind things that were not previously on “the radar.”

We wish him well as he continues to fill an important role as a community leader. We look forward to working with Alan for the betterment of our New Orleans Jewish community for many years to come.

Our condolences to Oscar Tolmas and the Tolmas family upon the passing of Mrs. Marjorie Tolmas.

Mazal Tov to Rabbi Yochanan and Sarah Rivkin upon the birth and bris of their son Sholom Dovber.

Mazal Tov to Itai and Chana (Marie Bruno) Waitzman upon their recent marriage in Israel. We look forward to wishing you well in person very soon.

We extend a warm welcome to Rabbi Michoel and Leah Kerendian, who have moved to New Orleans, where Rabbi Kerendian assumes his new position as director of Torah Academy.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

It takes a village

The holidays are over and we should take a moment to reflect before diving into our regular scheduled obligations and launch new initiatives. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many people whose efforts, individual and collective, contributed to a wonderful season of Jewish holidays for Chabad Uptown. The expression “it takes a village” certainly applies. I am sure Chabad Metairie and every other congregation feels the same about those who participated in their offerings.

This was our first High Holidays in our newly renovated facility. Thank G-d it was spacious and comfortable and many members of the community took advantage and participated.

First and foremost I want to thank each and every individual that participated in any of our holiday services, events or activities. J_daism is certainly not the same without U. For that matter, neither is Comm_nity.

I want to thank my fellow Shluchim at Chabad uptown, Rabbi Zelig and Bluma Rivkin, Dr. David and Nechama Kaufmann and my wife Malkie and families for investing the effort required at every step in making the Chabad experience the wonderful one that it is.

I also want to thank all of our donors and specifically the sponsors of our holidays programs and events: Toby and Nadiv Kehaty, Dotan Bonen, Nechama and David Kaufmann, Michele and Adam Stross, Sharon and Myron Katz, Tere Vives, Tsipora and Zvi Aviner, Jon Powell, Stuart Haas, Malka and Morris Lew, Rivkah and Uzzi Kehaty, Esther and Gershon Schreiber, Elaine and George Haas, Chaya Sara and Saadya Kaufmann.

A special thank you to all who pledged to Chabad for the holiday Aliyas. Mazel tov to Morris Brum and Avi Fine on being honored with Chasan Torah and Chasan Bereishis.

There were many people that helped out in numerous ways. I am going to risk omitting some of you and for that I ask your forgiveness in advance. Our appreciation is extended to:
Sion Daneshrad for polishing out Torah crown and repairing the washing cups. Adam Stross for assisting with the Shofar Factory. Jakob Rosenzweig for hosting the pre-Rosh Hashanah Kabbala for young professionals. Sholom Rivkin for setting up the high holiday prayer books. Eli Lew and Max Chiz for manning the bima. Saadya Kaufmann for being the Chazan. Saul and Raquel Hakim for bringing flowers to the Shul. Jen Sachs for the welcome plant at the front door. Adam Stross and crew for the Lambeth House Shofar visit. Raquel Hakim, Natalia Promoslovsky, Nanette Katz for assisting in Break-the-fast setup. Demaris Kurall and Ms. Veronica for assisting with every holiday event. Mushka and Sara Rivkin for the children’s program. Ms. Brittany for the babysitting. Kotel Sadrusi for all of his help and for the pre-Neilah chant. Peter Feirman, Moshe Shargian, Rotem Dahan, Yosef Kaufmann, Yosef Rivkin and Uzzi Kehaty for S’chach service.  

Jimmy Glickman and New Orleans Music Exchange for the guitar and sound system for Sukkah-Fest. Tomer Monfred for his Sukkah-Fest performance. Kathy Weil, Mendel Kehaty, Chaya Schreiber and all of the other volunteers at Sukkah-Fest. Joel Brown for his contribution to Sukkah-Fest. Peter Seltzer for help with the Sukkah. Tova and Zalman Borowski for delivering the Hoshaanos. Lou and Nanette Furman for doing the mammoth shopping job for Simchat Torah. Saadya Kaufmann, Dmitry Shuster, Kotel Sadrusi, Gene Gekker, Jon Powell for providing extra special Simchat Torah Refreshments.

Our final thank you is to all of you who came to dance and celebrate in many ways on Simchat Torah.


May we draw on the blessings and inspiration of the Holiday month to live meaningful lives for the rest of the year.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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