ChabadNewOrleans Blog

We report, You decide

Malkie and I are very touched by the warm and kind wishes expressed to us following the birth of our son Eliyahu. We look forward to being able to reciprocate to you on many happy occasions.

This week’s Torah portion contains the tragic story of the Meraglim – spies. These men were dispatched to the Promised Land with instructions to scout the nature of the land, the people, the fruit, and the strength of their armies and cities. They returned with a negative report that addressed all those questions, which landed them in hot water and resulted in the people of Israel being stuck in the desert for 40 years. The obvious question is, why were they punished for telling the truth? They saw giants and cities with mighty armies. The fruit was unusually large and scary looking. All they did was tell it like it is. For that they were blacklisted forever? If the intent was just to have them rubberstamp G-d’s plan then why bother to send them at all?

They say that when you testify in court you are never to offer more than the answer to what is asked. For example, if the attorney asks “do you have the time” the answer is “yes” not “yes 10:30.” In the case of the spies, they overstepped their role and made a cardinal mistake. When Moses sent them to scout, all he wanted was a report on an answer to the questions. Their job was not to draw any conclusions based on the report. It was meant to be “we report, You (G-d) decide.” Erroneously they decided to add to the report by concluding “they are too strong for us (Him). The decision to conquer the land had already been made by G-d. They were supposed to offer clues as to the best way to implement that decision. The addition of drawing their own conclusion was not welcome.

There is a lesson to be learned here. Often we are faced with challenges to doing the right thing. Our job needs to be figuring out the best way to overcome those challenges. Concluding that the challenges make doing the right thing impossible is “above our pay grade.” At the end of the day we must remember that “doing the right thing” has Hashem on its side. Therefore even giant overwhelming challenges do not render anything out of reach.

On behalf of Chabad of Louisiana I extend deepest condolences to the Haspel/Stone/Berenson families on the passing of Mrs. Byrde Haspel. She lived a full long life and leaves a legacy of good to her family and community.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Spiritual Take on Natural Childbirth

I am definitely not going to insert myself into the discussion about the merits of the various methods of childbirth. Certainly it is a woman’s right to choose whether she wants an epidural, water birth, midwife, or any other conceivable method of achieving one of the most amazing human feats – giving birth to a child.

This week I discovered a new definition of natural childbirth. While Malkie and I were in the hospital for the birth of our baby boy, I was reciting the customary chapters of Tehillim in prayer that all should go well for mother and baby. The recitation of these particular Psalms during childbirth, are part of the directives given by the 3rd Chabad Rebbe to his sons. As I was reading, I observed that most of the Psalms deal with healing and salvation. I was curious to find Psalm 104 on the list.

Psalm 104 is King David marveling at G-d’s handiwork known to us as nature. How does it fit into the list of the prayers for healing and salvation? As I thought more about it – it hit me. A woman giving birth to a child is a great – perhaps the greatest - wonder of nature. Think of all of the things that need to happen in order for all to go well and imagine that baby just emerging in the way that it does – truly a miracle that we call nature. We can really echo King David’s statement “how wondrous are Your works O G-d.”

Another wonder of nature is the intelligence G-d instilled within humanity to develop the medical knowledge and technology to make the process more safe. For me an epidural is no less natural than a water birth or one without pain management. They are both the products of the human mind created by Hashem.

As I read Psalm 104 and the ones that followed against the background of the doctors and nurses “doing their thing” to help the baby’s passage into the world, I was moved by this profound discovery that was tucked into a simple list of Psalms (that I had already recited many times earlier without realizing).

Malkie and I are very grateful to Hashem for the kindness He continues to bestow upon us in the form of these miracles hidden in nature.

shane graduation 2.jpgShane (Yeshaya Leib) Schreiber is a recent graduate of UNO. Since the graduation was on Shabbat – precluding him from being there, Dr. John Williams the dean of UNO agreed to hold a private graduation ceremony just for him on Monday. This is what we call a Kiddush Hashem – a young man whose principles take priority over all and he is respected for that. We are proud to have him as a member of our community. Mazal Tov and best of luck in your new life as a member of the 99%.  

We have all been following the aftermath of the horrific tornado in Oklahoma. Chabad of OKC has taken a leading role in the relief efforts. To see and support their work go to One of our own community members, Brooke Weiss is taking a leading role in bringing help from New Orleans. Brooke shared with me that she feels a strong desire to help after having been a beneficiary of help post-Katrina. She is urging New Orleanians to contribute via the website or donate gift cards, clothing and supplies, which she and her daughters will be driving up to OKC within the next few weeks. Brooke can be reached at [email protected].

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Personal Contract with G-d

Imagine you were getting ready to sign an important contract, one that would set you up for life. You would make sure to be well prepared and then when the day comes you would dress well and be at the meeting on time eagerly anticipating the exciting moment. Well this is how we regard the upcoming holiday of Shavuot – the time we were given the Torah and entered into a lifelong contract with Hashem.

Some years ago the Rebbe requested that we start encouraging all Jewish men, women and children to be present in the Synagogue on the first day of Shavuot when we read the Ten Commandments and re-experience the giving of the Torah. This was a reflection of what happened at Sinai, where every single Jew (present and future) was there to experience the Revelation and hear as G-d spoke those words.

Why indeed was it so important that every Jew “be there” then and that every Jew “be there” each year on Shavuot? One of the explanations is, the opening words of the Ten Commandments are “Anochi Hashem Elokecha – I am the L-rd your G-d.” Unlike English, the Hebrew tongue has different words for “you” depending on whether it is singular or plural. In this case the singular usage of you is employed indicating that G-d was addressing each person individually rather than the Jewish people collectively. Hashem says to each and every one of us “I am your personal G-d.” He wants to have a direct and personal relationship with each and every one of us. For this reason we all had to be there so that Hashem could address Himself to us individually.

This is why it is important for each of us to be in Shul for the reading of the Ten Commandments because this is the time when we refresh our individual personal relationship with G-d. BE THERE!

I would like to give you (yes you individually) a personal invitation to attend Chabad Uptown or Chabad Metairie for this important occasion. This Wednesday, May 15 is the day. Every Jewish man, woman and child should be present. At Chabad (both locations) services begin at 10 AM and the Torah is read at 11. Following services there will be an Ice Cream Party and Dairy Kiddush Lunch as is customary for the holiday.

On Tuesday night, May 14 we stay up all night learning. Once again both Chabad locations will be having classes and programs that evening until the wee hours of the morning. Please join us for a night of Torah study.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


Rabbinic Leadership vs. Rabbinic Scholarship

It is a Jewish custom to study Pirkei Avot - Ethics of our Fathers after Pesach. One of my favorite interpretations of a Mishnah in Avot highlights the difference between Rabbinic leadership vs. Rabbinic scholarship.

In Chapter 2:9 we learn about the five disciples of Rabban Yochanan the son of Zakkai, Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrkenos, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya, Rabbi Yossei the Kohen, Rabbi Shimon ben Netanel, and Rabbi Elazar ben Arach. Their teacher would recount their praises: Rabbi Eliezer is a cemented cistern that loses not a drop; Rabbi Yehoshua - fortunate is she who gave birth to him; Rabbi Yossei - a chassid (pious one); Rabbi Shimon fears sin; Rabbi Elazar is as an ever-increasing wellspring. The Mishna continues, “[Rabbi Yochanan] used to say: If all the sages of Israel were to be in one cup of a balance-scale, and Eliezer ben Hurkenus were in the other, he would outweigh them all. Abba Shaul said in his name: If all the sages of Israel were to be in one cup of a balance-scale, Eliezer ben Hyrkenos included, and Elazar ben Arach were in the other, he would outweigh them all.”

How these two seemingly contradictory statements could both be true is the subject of an analysis given by the Rebbe on this Mishnah. Rabbi Eliezer, the cemented cistern, excelled in his retention of the Torah and tradition taught to him by his teachers. Rabbi Elazar excelled in his creativity in generating new teachings. Each of these qualities is valuable and necessary. When Rabbi Yochanan speaks as a Jewish leader he highlights Rabbi Eliezer – because to be a leader one must possess the humility and loyalty to the tradition, a quality personified by Rabbi Eliezer.  Abba Shaul, on the other hand, quotes Rabbi Yochanan as a scholar – and with regard to scholarship the quality of creativity is more valuable. Thus Rabbi Elazar is highlighted for he is the “ever increasing wellspring.”

These two qualities are not mutually exclusive and there were Jewish leaders who embodied both of them. However, there were times when the leading Rabbi or sage was not necessarily the greatest scholar but he was the greatest leader because of his humility and loyalty to the teachings and traditions of his teachers. There is room and need for incisive and creative scholarship but it does not automatically render a person a leader unless they possess the traits needed to fill that role.

In these turbulent times, our leaders and those who aspire to Jewish leadership would do well to remember this important lesson of the criteria needed to be leader.

Please stay tuned for details regarding Shavuot programs in the coming week.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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