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A Multi-Sensory Pesach

While many people view their Jewish involvement as being “for their kids” all year long, Passover is a time when the Torah actually instructs us that the children be the focus of the celebration. “Ki yishalcha bincha, v’higadeta l’bincha” - “When your child will ask, you shall tell him.” The Haggadah is framed as the answer a father gives to his child regarding the story and the lessons of the Exodus. So much so that there are things we do at the Seder just to pique the curiosity of the children.

The Pesach Seder is a model of successful pedagogical practice. The Seder has been implementing the “multiple intelligences” approach long before the theory was proposed. We sing. We question. We talk. We use visuals. We interact. We introspect. We eat. We drink. We touch. We hide. We seek. We move fluidly from the past to the present to the future all in one discussion. It is participatory and everyone is encouraged to be involved. Passover is very much a hands-on holiday.

A story is told about Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev that highlights the multi-sensory aspect of the Seder. There is a point in the Haggadah where we are instructed point to or lift the Matzah and proclaim “this Matzah that we eat…” and then we go on to relate the history of the Matzah. When Rabbi Levi Yitzchak lifted the Matzah and proclaimed “this Matzah” he entered into a state of spiritual ecstasy. His excited flailing caused the table to tip and the wine spilled all over the tablecloth and his white Seder robe. When they brought him a fresh robe to wear, he was still “under the influence” of his previous experience. As he sat back down at the table he took a deep breath saying “ahhhhhhhh, this Matzah” as if the smell and taste of the Maztah was the most pleasurable thing he had ever encountered.

While we may not be at that level, we can still make the Seder a very powerful and moving experience for ourselves, our children and all those the celebrate with us.

This is one of the motivations behind the Model Matzah Bakery. A child (or adult) who bakes his or her own Matzah and goes through the steps of the process will view the Matzah and the Seder in a new light. The holiday comes alive for them and is much more meaningful. We have a number of schools bringing groups and there are two open sessions on Sunday, April 6. The first is open to the public at 12:30 PM. The second is for Young Jewish Professionals at 2 PM. We thank the JCC (Uptown) for hosting us each year. Our appreciation is extended to Alan Franco and the Goldring and Woldenberg Foundations for underwriting our Living Legacy Series of which the Model Matzah Bakery is a part.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and happy Pesach prep!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

From Purim to Pesach! Recap & Photos

We are coming off an action packed Purim that had many fun events and activities. In an ironic and humorous twist, G-d arranged that as soon as we wake up the morning after Purim, we move full steam ahead into Pesach mode. In fact there is an Halachic ramification to this. When determining which of the two leap year Adars would be the main one, in which Purim was celebrated, our sages designated the second because it is closer to Pesach. This is in the spirit of celebrating one salvation in close proximity to another. It sounds nice on paper, but putting the most “chametzy” holiday (Purim) right before the holiday in which chametz is forbidden (Pesach) is a nice challenge.

I would like to recap some of the Purim highlights.

·         Purim Shuttle: 260 Purim Packages for the Chabad Purim Shuttle Fundraiser were packed and delivered by a team of dedicated volunteers. Photos @ www.chabadneworleans.com/2457415.

·         Purim Night – Megillah Reading & Purim Bash: Both Chabad House and Chabad Center hosted large crowds for the Megillah Reading. Over 100 people came to Chabad House to hear the Megillah/Havdalah ceremony and to celebrate to the music of Daniel Gale and his Cajun/Zydeco ensemble out of Lafayette. A power-point featuring members of the community as the Purim story characters was playing during the reading. Photos @ www.chabadneworleans.com/2457415. Chabad Metairie had a well-received Masquerade where people were encouraged to dress like another member of the community.

·         Purim Day: In addition to the Megillah readings in Shul, there were several other events. A Megillah reading at Lambeth House together with some Purim music and cheer. Photos @ www.chabadneworleans.com/2457415. Chabad had a booth at the Adloyadah. There was Megillah reading at David’s Antiques in the French Quarter.

·         Purim in the Far East: Chabad Metairie was transformed with a Far East theme. A pagoda palace for Achashverosh and Haman leading Mordechai on a rickshaw are just a few of the ideas. An out-of-this-world Far East menu, the music of the Kol Dodi band and a children’s program kept the crowd of over 200 happy for hours. Photos @ www.chabadneworleans.com/2457415.

Please see our upcoming events schedule for a host of Passover related programs getting underway next week.

Mazel tov to Uzzi and Rivka Kehaty upon the birth of a grandson to Talor and Avi Fine.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Happy day of atonement!

Purim a day of atonement? You might think I have already been helping myself to some Purim liquid refreshments as a sneak preview. But the truth is that our sages interpret the phrase Yom HaKippurim (the long name for Yom Kippur) to mean “like Purim.” In Hebrew the letter chaf as a prefix means “similar to.” The Chassidic masters expound on this idea by teaching that the atonement and closeness to Hashem that is achieved on Yom Kippur through seriousness and Teshuvah, can be achieved on Purim through joy and celebration.

Purim is a serious holiday. Not just a day to act silly and drink. It is a time to experience a powerful and intimate closeness to Hashem. The joy and celebration facilitate this closeness. Actually, when given the choice, I’ll take this way over the fasting anytime. Enjoy Purim! The festival that tops the top day on the Jewish calendar.

One of the important practices of Purim is Matanot L’evyonim – giving charity to the poor. According to Halacha we should be giving Tzedakah to at least two poor people or institutions that help the poor. This year I would like to encourage you to help our brethren in the Ukraine. They are living in great fear and uncertainty. Jobs and lives are on hold. Chabad soup kitchens in Ukraine have seen a very dramatic increase in people needing their services. Security needs have skyrocketed and local funds have dried up entirely. Please go to www.chabadneworleans.com/ukraine to contribute to the campaign.

Chabad locally also helps needy individuals in many discreet ways. To contribute to the Purim Tzedakah campaign go to www.chabadneworleans.com/donate.

Mazel tov to Mali and Yonatan Hodorov upon the birth of their daughter Maya.

We look forward to celebrating with you this Purim. See below for a full Purim Schedule.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Vashti: Exploited or Exploiter?

In recent years there has been an attempt on the part of some to reinvent Vashti as a brave heroine who stood up and said no to being exploited by men. Here is the passage from the first chapter of Esther that this is based upon. “Queen Vashti, too, made a feast for the women in the royal palace of King Achashverosh. On the seventh day, when the king's heart was merry with wine, he ordered …the seven chamberlains to bring Queen Vashti before the king wearing the royal crown, to show her beauty to the nations and ministers, for she was indeed beautiful. But Queen Vashti refused to appear by the king's order brought by the chamberlains…”

The Talmud (Megillah 12:b) explains that the king’s intent was to have Vashti come wearing only her crown but nothing else. Vashti refused and for this she is now being praised as a woman who refused to allow herself to be exploited by men. Unfortunately for those representing her in this positive light, this is nothing but revisionist history and a weak attempt at that. Let us examine who this Vashti was and what her ideals were vis-à-vis exploitation of women.

Vashti was the granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar, who also inherited his hatred for the Jews. She was vain and arrogant and cared a lot about how men viewed her. She was also immoral and wanted to foist her immoral ideals upon others. From where do we get this picture of Vashti? The very same page of the Talmud relates that Vashti’s feast for the women was held in the palace in full view of the men with the express intent of enticing the men to immorality. The Talmud further states that Vashti’s refusal to appear in her “birthday suit and crown” was not due to her sudden found morality but rather because a hideous rash broke out on her skin. Finally, the Talmud concludes, Vashti’s downfall occurred on the seventh day when she refused to appear sans clothing. This was measure for measure because she used to force her Jewish slave girls to work around her home while naked on the Sabbath (seventh) day. In her arrogance she mistakenly thought that by insulting king’s less than royal upbringing she would humble him into submission. The result was Vashti’s execution, which ultimately led to Esther’s ascendancy as Queen.

So is this a woman worthy of being heralded as the first woman to “say no?” I should think not. This would be like an animal advocacy group praising the Nazis for their “pioneering role” in the area of animal-rights. Human rights… maybe not so much. But they loved their pets. While there may actually be something to that, when it comes to Vashti she was a first rate exploiter who also welcomed the opportunity to be objectified by men until she was struck with that mysterious rash.

Instead we should go back to heralding Esther for her bravery in standing up to the two most powerful men in the universe to save her people. Now that is a woman worthy of praise.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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