ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Defining Peace

In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas is awarded the covenant of peace from G-d for his zealotry at the end of last week’s Parsha. It is quite curious that the covenant of peace would be the reward for bloodshed. Accepting that there are times that bloodshed is called for by G-d is one thing. But one would think that a more appropriate covenant than that of peace would be offered as a reward.

On the other hand, perhaps our difficulty in understanding this stems from the way society has programmed us to define the terms like peace and social justice.

Commenting on the verse in Psalms, “G-d blessed His nation with peace,” the Talmud declares that the blessing of peace is the Torah, which was given to make peace in the world. Indeed if we believe that G-d is our Creator, then certainly the user’s manual that He provides contains all we need to know about how life should be lived. Following that logic, defiance of Torah values brings instability and the opposite of peace to the world.

Now let us return to Pinchas. The subject of his zealous act, Zimri, sought to introduce a destabilizing element, which would threaten the just and peaceful society that Moses was building upon G-d’s instructions through the Torah. The result of Pinchas’s action was the restoration of peace and justice and as such he was rewarded with a covenant of peace. Without question his actions were only correct because that is what G-d instructed under those circumstances. It is by no means a license for vigilante (in)justice. Taking the law into our own hands when it is against the will of G-d in the Torah, would represent a further destabilization and the opposite of peace.

Yet in world where the lines between right and wrong – just and unjust – peace and chaos – have become so blurred, it behooves us to take a moment and consider how we are determining which causes are just and which ones are bringing chaos to our society. I humbly suggest that we follow the old adage, “when all else fails, read the directions.” The Torah gives us some pretty good ideas about what is and what is not good for us as individuals, as a people, and indeed as a global society.

Our Jewish Art Calendar is going to print this summer. We rely on our advertising for support to ensure that this valuable resource continues to serve nearly 3,000 households in Louisiana. Please contact us if you would like to advertise in this year’s calendar. For a list of rates click here.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


Until the last drop of blood

The year was 1923. The place was Leningrad. Ten men gathered for a secret meeting. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, presided over the gathering. Together they forged a pact – promising to do everything in their power - until the last drop of blood - to ensure the survival of Judaism in the face of the communist onslaught.

Most of those men, along with hundreds of others inspired by them, indeed gave their last drop of blood for the cause. A few survived to tell the tales of courage and fortitude – of the establishment of a secret network of underground Jewish institutions. Schools, mikvahs, ritual slaughter and circumcision, all illegal and punishable by death or years in Siberian gulags.  When one man was arrested, sent to Siberia or killed, G-d forbid, another man was immediately dispatched to take his place.

At the center of this network was the individual responsible for providing the material and spiritual support – the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe. He was intimately involved in every decision that was made, every institution that was founded, and every person that was sent. He would later share how painful it was when each person was arrested, exiled to Siberia or worse.

Eventually the Soviets caught up with this Lubavitch network and in the summer of 1927 they arrested the Previous Rebbe and sentenced him to death. Through great miracles he was released from prison just under a month later – on the 12th of Tammuz (today’s Hebrew date) and was subsequently banished from the USSR. From outside Russia he continued to direct and support his Chassidim and their activities. Who knows what would have been, G-d forbid, had the Soviets carried out their intentions against him.

70 years later, with the fall of the USSR, it became apparent just how effective this network remained throughout the years to keep the embers of Judaism glowing in the face of immense adversity. For more on this see Embers – a video documentary at

The Previous Rebbe managed to somehow inspire a generation of followers to exercise Mesirus Nefesh – actual self-sacrifice for Judaism. When a person is in the state of mesirus nefesh the level of their intensity is so high that it elevates every element of their being. They become entirely consumed with dedication to Hashem and Judaism.

The Rebbe once commented, that the real challenge is to maintain this level of intensity once the threat of danger has passed. He pointed out that many of these individuals who were ready to go through fire and water for Judaism in Russia were more passive once they moved to the relative serenity of the US or Israel. Thus, he declared, the call of our times is to find that level of intensity without the physical threat. Can the threat of assimilation be motivating enough to be ready to invest the same intensity and dedication shown by the last generation in the USSR?

This is the modern message of the 12th of Tammuz. To have the same heightened level of intensity for Judaism during times of tranquility that our grandfathers had during the times of persecution.

Mazel Tov to our dear Parisian friend David Gies upon his upcoming marriage to Karine Lenczner. May they be blessed with happiness and a wonderful life together.

Mazel Tov to my parents, Rabbi Zelig and Bluma Rivkin upon the engagement of my brother Yosef to Binie Harlig. May there continue to be only happy occasions in the family and the entire community.

Wishing you a good Shabbos!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


Caring for all of G-d's children

This week communities all around the world spent time reflecting on the Rebbe and his inspiration and leadership. One of my colleagues shared this moving story that demonstrates the Rebbe’s caring for all of G-d’s children.

A Chabad couple in Miami Beach visited a therapist with one of their children. The therapist, an African-American woman, had a picture of the Rebbe prominently displayed on her wall. When they finish the session they inquired about the picture.

She related to them that she was from Crown Heights in Brooklyn. After her marriage to a prominent attorney, they lived across the street from the Rebbe’s home. The Rebbe would often wave his hand in greeting but they did not interact much more than that. Upon her husband’s sudden passing, the funeral procession began just as the Rebbe was leaving his house. The Rebbe respectfully waited as the procession passed. A few weeks later the Rebbe saw her and crossed the street to express his condolences. He inquired how she was doing, to which she replied that it was still very fresh and painful. He then asked her permission to give some advice?

The Rebbe advised her to sell her house and move to a new place like Miami Beach where she could reconnect with her faith, and start anew. A few months later she decided to take the Rebbe's advice. On the first Sunday at her new congregation in Miami, the pastor introduced her to a recently widowed doctor, whom she eventually married.

“So,” she says to this couple, “the picture on the wall is of the Rebbe - but also my matchmaker."

Mazel tov to my parents Rabbi Zelig and Bluma Rivkin upon the engagement of their daughter Mushka to Peretz Kazen. Thank G-d it is shaping up to be a busy season for Simchas. Many more for the entire community!

Condolences to the Burk family upon the passing of their husband, father and grandfather, Maurice Burk. May Hashem comfort them among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

The Jewish Art Calendar advertising campaign is underway. Please refer to the previous email or contact me directly for details or more info.

Shabbat Shalom and a safe summer to all.
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Leadership that inspires faith

In this week’s Torah portion, after the Korach rebellion was put down, a plague broke out killing thousands of Jews who complained about the way the rebellion was handled. Moses instructed his brother Aaron to take a pan of incense and stand between the dead and the living in order to stop the plague. When Aaron arrives he encounters the Angel of Death, who challenges Aaron’s right to stop him from carrying out his mission of death. Rashi records their dialogue. Aaron replied, “Moses commanded me to prevent you.” The angel challenged, “I am the agent of G-d whereas you are the agent of Moses.” Aaron replied, “Moses says nothing of his own accord, only at the command of the Almighty. If you don’t believe me, behold G-d and Moses are at the door of the Tabernacle, come with me to inquire.”

Every year when we read this section of the Torah my inspiration from this story is rekindled. Two elements of the passage touch me very deeply. The first is the leadership of Moses that inspires such deep faith in his followers to the extent that they recognize that “Moses only speaks at the command of the Almighty.” The second is the degree of Aaron’s commitment to Moses and his willingness to challenge an Angel of G-d knowing that Moses “has his back” and that being the agent of Moses is being the agent of G-d.

The Zohar teaches that there is a “Moses” in each generation. I have been privileged to be inspired by such a Moses – a leader who inspires a faith in his followers similar to one described by Rashi in the story. Thousands of people are motivated by the Rebbe’s teachings and example, which have instilled within them a fiery dedication to the cause of Torah and Mitzvot, and the call to transform the world into a G-dly place despite many challenges and obstacles. While aspiring to reach the level of Aaron’s commitment is a lofty goal, it places one on the path of striving to achieve and investing the effort needed to climb higher and higher.

By Divine Providence, the Torah potion is read each year around the 3rd of Tammuz, the day that Rebbe’s physical presence was taken from us in 1994. It is a day that we strengthen our dedication to the Rebbe’s call and reflect on the Rebbe’s continued powerful influence on so many until this day. Reading Rashi’s description of Aaron’s reply to the angel helps us stay focused on the merit we have to be around and a part of such greatness.      

To mark the 3rd of Tammuz we will be having two events on Tuesday, June 11. A Lunch N Learn Downtown NOLA at 12 PM and a Farbrengen – Evening of Inspiration at 7:30 at Chabad of Metairie (see below for more details).

G-d willing very soon we will see the greatest challenge to all that is holy – the golus (exile) – melt away in the face of our cumulative efforts and dedication to the cause of Redemption through the coming of Moshiach.

Mazel Tov to Dr. David and Nechama Kaufmann upon the engagement of their daughter Chaya to Berry Silver. May our community continue to share only Simchas and good occasions.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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