ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Do your job!

Each morning as we prepare for prayer we recite a passage from the Torah known as the Akeidah. It is a moving passage that contains numerous lessons and guidance for the daily life of a Jew. Today I read a story about the Akeidah that really moved me and so I am sharing it with you.

The great commentator Rashi was once conversing with one of his grandsons. The boy asked the following question. “In the passage of the Akeidah the phrase “and they walked together” appears three times. The first time is when Abraham and Isaac depart from the two servants upon reaching the land of Moriah. You explained the term “together” to mean that even though Abraham knew why they were going and Isaac didn’t, they walked with the same joy and devotion. The second time is after Abraham reveals to Isaac the purpose of their journey and you explain that still Isaac gladly went and walked “together” with his father as one to fulfill G-d’s request. The third time is after the Akeidah is over when they return to the two servants and the donkey and then they all walk together to Beersheba. How come you did not explain this one grandfather?”

Rashi replied with a twinkle in his eye, “This one I left for you to explain. What do you think about it?” The boy answered, “After successfully passing the test of the Akeidah both Abraham and Isaac could have rightfully felt superior in having reached the pinnacle of dedication to G-d. Yet they return to the servants and the donkey, who certainly had no knowledge of or appreciation for what just took place, and they all walked “together.” There were no airs about them. It was just “another day at the office” of carrying out the will of Hashem.”

It is one thing to go with joy knowing that this is the end of the line. That takes fortitude and greatness. It is something else entirely when you have just accomplished unprecedented greatness and you are able walk away feeling – happy to be of service, what else needs to be done. There is a sense of “Do your job” because that is what is expected.

To use a football analogy, there are some players who after scoring a winning touchdown they dance or spike the ball and then there are the ones who flip the ball to the referee and line up for the extra point as if nothing happened.

This is a lofty level of dedication but it behooves each of us to at least aspire to get there sometimes, where we can accomplish something that was tough to do and then walk away feeling no airs or superiority.

Mazel Tov to Jennifer and Neil Schneider upon the Upshernish of their son Josh.

Mazel Tov to the Kaufmann family upon the upcoming marriage of Chaya Mushka to Berry Silver.

Mazel Tov to my parents Rabbi Zelig and Bluma Rivkin upon the birth of a granddaughter Miriam to Rabbi Eli and Tzippy Rivkin of Northridge, CA.

Shabbat Shalom and may you be inscribed and sealed for a happy, healthy and meaningful new year of 5774 (just around the corner in less than six weeks).

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Talk the Talk and Walk the Walk

The passage of the Shema appears in this week’s Torah portion. Shema is the dramatic declaration of G-d’s unity. We proclaim the Shema twice daily as well as at the height of our devotion on Shabbat when the Torah is taken from the ark, and at the climax of Yom Kippur before sounding the Shofar.

The commentators question a word choice in the Shema. If our intent is to declare G-d’s absolute unity then the term Yachid (singular or lone) would be better than Echad (one). Echad implies the possibility of there being a “two” or second, whereas Yachid leaves no room for mistake - G-d is the only one. Why does the Torah use the term Echad and not Yachid?

One of the answers is that Echad empowers us to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. To explain, the word Echad is made up of three Hebrew letters, Alef, Chet, Daled. Alef has the numerical value of the number one. Chet equals eight and Daled equals four. One represents G-d. Eight represents the heavens and earth (Midrash and Kabbala talk about seven heavens). Four represents the directions on the compass. What Echad is teaching us is that the Chet and the Daled (all of spiritual and physical existence) is really a part of the Alef – the one G-d.

If we used the term Yachid, then when a person is faced with the dilemma, where the world around him seems to challenge G-d’s absolute unity he may not have the fortitude to maintain his faith. Whereas the term Echad tells him, “the world that you see, which appears to contradict G-d’s unity, is really just a part of His divine reality. The proof is in the letters of Echad. The Chet and the Daled (spiritual and physical existence) are all just a part of the Aleph.”

As long as a Jew is in Shul, at the Shabbat table, or involved in Torah, Yachid is compelling enough for there is nothing else but G-d to consider. However as soon as the Jew steps out into the “real world” where he is confronted with “alternatives” the Echad reminds him that everything is merely a part of the Aleph. In this way we can not only talk the talk of Shema but we can also walk the walk. We look at the diversity of creation, the plurality of existence, and we know with determination that it is all a part of the Aleph. There is nothing but Hashem.

A person armed with this idea is empowered to confront and overcome any challenge that appears to be in the way of true dedication and faith in Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


Happy Tisha B'av

Tisha B’av is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. It is a day that we fast in commemoration of the greatest tragedies in our history, the destruction of our two Holy Temples. It is also a day in history on which many other tragedies occurred. The fifth Chabad Rebbe once expressed our relationship to fasting on Tisha B’av in this manner, “On Yom Kippur (because of its holiness) who is able to eat? On Tisha B’av (because of its sadness) who wants to eat?” In other words, the awareness of the tragedy of Tisha B’av should render a Jew unwilling to even think about food on this day. Indeed we fast and abstain from other pleasures while sitting low and lamenting the tragedies of our exile.

In light of the above, there is something very curious that requires clarification. How could it be that on a day like Tisha B’av we omit the recitation of Tachanun (prayers of penitence), a practice generally reserved for holidays and happy occasions? Furthermore we actually find that Tisha B’av is referred to as a Mo’ed (festival) in scripture. How does this fit with the tragic nature of the day?

In the answer to this question lies one of secrets of Jewish survival. The Talmud relates that at the time of the Temple’s destruction by the Romans, a Jew was plowing his field in another part of Israel. An Arab walked by just as the cow began lowing loudly. The Arab (who was Elijah in disguise) declared, “the Jewish Temple was destroyed.” Soon after the cow started lowing loudly again and the Arab declared, “the redeemer of Israel was born.” This is just one of the many texts in our tradition that expresses the optimism inherent in our nation’s outlook. While deep in the throes of the agony of destruction, the first hope for redemption is flickers.

This is not, as some have suggested, a false hope that is provided as a means of surviving the tough times. From the standpoint of Kabbala the potential for redemption actually grows out of the destruction itself. It is likened to razing an old house so that a better one can be built in its place or turning the soil of a field with a plow so that new crops can be planted.

This is why there is an undercurrent of hope and even joy on Tisha B’av. For it is the potential for a new beginning. We will be exploring this idea further at our Lunch N Learn entitled “Transformation” on July 22 at NY Camera. Of course there is another solution to this problem. The Rambam writes that when Moshiach comes all of the sad days will be converted to happy ones. May these days of mourning and sadness be converted to days of festive rejoicing very soon!

Our condolences are extended to Yiftach Admon and his mother Ziva upon the passing of Mr. Yosef Admon. Yosef was a man of great life experience who was deeply involved in Israel’s struggle for independence. May they be comforted by Hashem among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Mazel Tov to Chaim Shmuel and Shifra Stitzer, formerly of Biloxi and now stationed at Barksdale Air Force base in Shreveport, upon the birth of their daughter Esther Bracha.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


Proud to be an American

Yesterday we celebrated July 4th, the day that the United States of America delcared its independence, thereby establishing a place of religious freedom. Millions of people have come to these shores in search of these freedoms. One of the highlights in the life of an immigrant is becoming a US citizen. Usually this process takes place in a courthouse or government facility. In 1949 a special law was passed to allow the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, to become a citizen in his home. A group of Federal judges came to 770 Eastern Parkway to facilitate the procedure. A video of the event was filmed - can be viewed at 

The previous Rebbe dressed in special clothing generally reserved for Shabbos and holidays. Wearing his fur hat (spodik) and silk coat, the previous Rebbe took the oath of citizenship and sigen the documents that would render him a citizen of this blessed country. His son-in-law the Rebbe often talked about how special it was to be in the US, a country he referred to as a Malchus shel chesed - a sovereign nation of kindness. Why was this such an important experience for the Rebbe, which he regarded as a holiday?

I would venture to say there was a twofold reason. Firstly, as a person who had experienced the worst of persecution against the Jews in Soviet Russia and then in Nazi occupied Poland, the ability to live in security as a Jew in the US was extremely precious to him. He saw people being shot and killed or sent off to Siberia for teaching Aleph-Beis or giving a child a bris. He saw Jews crammed into a shelter in Warsaw as the bombs were being dropped on the city. He lost his daughter and son-in-law to the killing machines in Treblinka. Thousands of his chassidim were murdered in cold blood by the Nazis, not to mention the other millions of Jews about whom he cared for each of them as a father. Such a person could truly appreciate the value of the freedom offered by the US.

In addition, the previous Rebbe viewed America as the next frontier of the battle against assimilation. In his mind the general needed to be on the front lines to conduct the battle. Being a citizen afforded him a symbolic and practical advantage in the fight to preserve Yiddishkeit. Having stood up to Stalin and survived Hitler he was ready for the final battle - and this citizenship was an important step toward victory.

We must be grateful to live in a place that allows us the freedom to worship our G-d as we please without fear of persecution. Where we can light our Menorahs for all to see with pride in our heritage without worrying about what others will think or even worse do. Where a Jew can walk the halls of power proudly dressed in "Jewish garb" and be respected for it. For all of this I declare, I am proud to be an American and I offer a prayer to G-d asking Him to bless and protect this wonderful land of freedom until that great day when the entire world will come to acknowledge G-d while living in peace and harmony with liberty and justice for all. 

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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