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G-d's Disappearing Act

The Levy twins, Mike and Danny, were the worst behaved kids in Hebrew School. One day, after they were sent to the Rabbi’s office for the hundredth time, he decided to put the “fear of G-d into them.” He calls Mike in and in a booming voice asks, “Where is G-d?” Mike just stared at him in a fearful manner. After a few moments of silence the Rabbis says, “Go call Danny and tell him to come in.” Mike runs outside and says to Danny, “Oh boy, now we are really in trouble. G-d is missing and they think we stole Him.”

Purim is just two weeks away. In the book of Esther G-d pulls an actual disappearing act. His name is not mentioned once during the entire story. For a book of scripture that is almost scandalous. The commentators explain, that the miracle of Purim was orchestrated by the hidden Hand of Hashem in a way that is had a naturally developing feel to it. A Jewish queen, the Rabbi saved the king’s life years before, Haman’s ego getting too big for the king’s taste. Each of these phenomena can be written off as natural or coincidental. One has to look beyond the surface to behold the hidden Hand of G-d directing the play.

Chassidic teachings take this to the next level. The reason why Hashem’s name is absent from the Megillah is because the G-dliness manifest in the Purim miracle is one that transcends the level of a name, even the name of Hashem. Names are very important and are often indicative of the nature of that which bears the name. However, after all said and done, a name is only needed when relating to something outside of self. A name is needed so that another person can call me or address a matter relating to me. For myself I don’t need a name. To myself I am just me.

We find this in the opening word of the Ten Commandments. Anochi – I am the L-rd your G-d. G-d relates to the Jewish people with His very essence – Anochi. The miracle of Purim came from such a lofty place that no name of Hashem could be applied to describe it. Hence the absence of any name of G-d from the book of Esther. Yet this “disappearing act” actually represents a greater and deeper presence of Hashem than any other book of Tanach. This is why Purim is such a unique holiday with such unique customs. Our relationship with Hashem on Purim is deeper than any other time of the year. Let us make sure that we make the most of it!

I want to take a moment to talk about our brethren in Ukraine. One of my colleagues from Kharkov sent us an update and things are very tough there right now. Due to the tense and volatile situation in the Ukraine the past few weeks, the Ukrainian Jewish population is living in a state of real fear. The Jewish communities there are in urgent need of independently hired security, armed guards, as well as humanitarian aid. Today more than ever they need our generous support. Your tax free donation can be made here: www.fjc.ru/ukraine. May G-d protect the people of Ukraine and throughout the world, and may we soon enter the era of global peace and harmony, when "One nation shall not lift a sword against another, and art of warfare will no longer be taught.”

Our heartfelt sympathies are with Lou and Nanette Furman upon the passing of his mother, Mrs. Esther Furman. Esther was just a few months short of her 100th birthday, a moment for which she planning at the time of her passing. I had the pleasure of meeting her once on a visit to New Orleans for the high-holidays. The Torah describes Avraham before his passing as being old and getting along in days. The Zohar interprets this as “every day was full and purposeful.” Mrs. Furman definitely lived up to this. She made the most of her years and days and left a wonderful legacy for her family.

Our condolences to Harry and Tova Borowski upon the passing of his grandmother.

Mazel tov to my parents, Rabbi Zelig and Bluma Rivkin upon the birth of a grandson to Devorah Leah and Meir Chaim Posner.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Sharing Some Nachas

A Jewish man finally wins the US presidential election. At the inauguration ceremony his mother is seated next to the Vice President. During the swearing-in she turns to the Vice President and says “you see that man with his hand on the bible? His brother is a doctor.”

Nachas is a Yiddish (originally from Hebrew) word used to describe the joy and pleasure parents (or teachers, family etc.) derive from the positive growth and development of their child. Jews wish each other “Yiddishe Nachas” wherein the joy and pleasure is derived from the positive growth and development of their child not only as a mensch, but also as a committed Jew. Chassidim wish each other “Chassidishe Nachas” wherein the joy and pleasure is derived from the positive growth and development of their child not only as a mensch and a committed Jew, but also as one who follows in the ways and customs practiced in the home and community.

There is a cute explanation as to why we wish Yiddishe Nachas to the parents of a Jewish child. In the Torah’s list of the tribal leaders descended from Esav (Esau) there a man named Nachas. So the idea is that Esav can also have Nachas, but what we want for our children is Yiddishe Nachas.

“Esav’s Nachas” comes from worldly accomplishment, academic achievement, or material success. No matter how Jewish the accent is, “My son the doctor” is still Esav’s Nachas.” Yiddishe Nachas is seeing your child’s Jewishness thrive. When a child delights in Torah study or Mitzvah performance, that is Yiddishe Nachas. When a child enjoys going to shul as much or more than to the game, that is Yiddishe Nachas. When a child demonstrates a commitment to a life of Judaism in the face of everything in this world that is competing for his or her attention, that is Yiddishe Nachas.

A milestone in Jewish life is an opportunity to reflect on Yiddishe Nachas. Malkie and I are very grateful to Hashem for the Nachas that we derive from our children. As our son, Sholom approaches his Bar Mitzvah this gratitude becomes very sharply focused and intensified. Since training is a vital element in the development of a child, it is the custom of many Jewish communities that a boy begins to train or practice laying Tefillin two months before his Bar Mitzvah. In Chabad custom this is accompanied by a L’chaim and small celebration during which the boy recites a portion of the Chassidic discourse about Tefillin, which he will recite at his Bar Mitzvah in its entirety.

For Sholom this moment is fast approaching. His Tefillin are on their way from the Sofer (scribe). This week we went downtown to Meyer the Hatter and bought Sholom his first black hat, which will soon become a permanent part of his attire. We would love to share this milestone with our community. We will be celebrating this pre-Bar Mitzvah milestone on Sunday, March 2 at the Sunday morning Minyan, which begins at 8 AM. Following the Minyan, during the monthly Breakfast with Maimonides, we will drink a L’chaim as Sholom shares a part of the Ma’amer, (above-mentioned Chassidic discourse). Please let us know if you will be joining us. While we are at it, save the date for the Bar Mitzvah, which will be on Sunday evening May 4.

Wishing you Yiddishe Nachas from your families and a very good Shabbos.
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The Joy of Torah

There are many things that can bring a person joy. One of them is achievement. When that achievement is in the area of Torah study, that joy becomes a holy joy. In Jewish law a celebration associated with achievement in Torah study, called a Siyum, has the ability to diminish Halachicly based sadness. For example, during the nine days of mourning for the destruction of the Temple, a Siyum can introduce Halachicly sanctioned joy that can reduce the restrictive mourning practices during that period. Similarly a first born son, who is mandated to fast on the day before Pesach, is absolved of that obligation by participating in a Siyum celebration that includes food. How much more so when we are in the month of Adar, a joyous month in and of itself. An Adar Siyum is icing on the cake.

Some time ago Jared Sichel and I began a regular study session in Talmud. At the time he was finishing up his studies at Tulane. When he moved away we continued our sessions using Google Video. This week we have arrived at our first destination, the conclusion of the volume of the Talmud that we have been studying, Tractate Makkot. We will be marking the Siyum celebration this Sunday morning @ 9 AM at a breakfast following morning services. Jared will be joining us by Google Video. Please join us at Chabad House for this special celebration. The celebration will also honor the memory of Orit Naghi’s grandmother on the occasion of her first Yahrtzeit. Let us know that you are coming – mendel@chabadneworleans.com.

Last night the committee met to determine the theme for this year’s Grand Purim Feast. Following great themes such as last year’s Rockin’ Moroccan, or Purim in the Wild West, or the 2010 Who Dat Purim, it was decided to take this year’s Purim on a distant journey. Ladies and gentlemen… the theme for the 2014 Grand Purim Feast is…. Purim in the Far East. We are eagerly anticipating the creative costumes, décor and menu that will certainly have overtones of Chinese, Japanese, Korean and other Far Eastern cultures. The Purim in the Far East Celebration takes place on  Sunday afternoon, March 16 @ Chabad Metairie. More details will be released in the coming weeks.

Monday is President’s Day. As such morning Minyan will begin at 8 AM instead of 7 AM.

Have a good Shabbos
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Bearing Good Tidings

Two years ago, I used this forum to tell you about a woman named Rachel at Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, whom I had been visiting as a prison chaplain. (You can see the post at www.chabadneworleans.com/templates/blog/post.asp?AID=1203266&PostID=29057&p=1.) In response several amazing individuals expressed interest in getting involved in helping her. I have not obtained their permission so I will not publicize their names. In the end three women developed an actual friendship with her and began visiting or writing to her regularly. They became her friends and a shoulder to cry on. Others lent much needed financial support to our efforts to help her get Kosher food.  

A year later I followed up on that post with this www.chabadneworleans.com/templates/blog/post.asp?AID=1203266&PostID=36572&p=1. This inspired several others to get involved in this effort as well. Rachel’s difficult saga continued. Finally with Hashem’s help, through the assistance of the Aleph Institute (a Chabad prisoner’s advocacy and support organization) Rachel got the legal help needed to bring her nightmare to an end. These last months in prison may have been the most difficult. She was transferred to another, even more isolated facility in the northwest corner of the state, far away from her friends and support system.

Since so many expressed empathy and support for Rachel during her difficult period of incarceration, I am very happy to report to you that yesterday she was finally released and she is now on the way home to her family. I want to take this opportunity to thank all those who were involved in supporting her and our efforts to lighten her burden. It has been very special for me to witness the caring of this circle of people. The expression of true joy and celebration upon hearing of her release and seeing her here before her departure was heartwarming. May we never need to be recipients of such kindness and may our hearts always be open to those that need our help.

It is with great sadness that we mourn the recent passing of Dr. Harvey Rifkin. Harvey was a regular at several of our weekly classes for over a decade. He was also a family friend, who loved hearing about the children and their development. He was both thoughtful and intelligent. He came to study with an open mind and was a person who was actually open to change. I saw his perspective change with regard to many of the ideas that we studied throughout the years. After his retirement two years ago to his country home in St. Francisville, Harvey was not able to attend as often. He still came into town several times a month and we always enjoyed his participation. On his last few visits he had already begun to suffer from the illness that would ultimately claim his life. Our heartfelt condolences to his family. Farewell my friend Harvey. We will truly miss you!

Please view the photos below of this past Sunday’s joint program between Hadassah and Mikva Chaya Mushka. Over 35 women came together at Chabad House to explore physical and spiritual wellbeing. Lunch was sponsored by Kosher Cajun in memory of Natalie Brown.

Next Thursday night, February 13 at 7:30 PM, there will be a meeting at Chabad Metairie to discuss the Grand Purim Fest 2014 (Sunday, March 16). Please join us in helping plan and implement this spectacular event that is enjoyed by over 200 attendees each year. Please let us know that you are on board!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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