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Becoming a student of the Torah

In a conversation with one of the great Chassidic masters, a man was proudly listing the Torah that he studied. The Rabbi replied, “Dos is altz di Torah vos du host gelerent, ober vos hot di Torah dir gelerent? – This is all the Torah that you learned, but what did you learn from the Torah?” Torah is more than just an intellectual discipline, it is an infinite reservoir of Hashem’s directions for life, indeed Torah is a manifestation of Divine wisdom Itself. Every word and even letter has limitless lessons to teach us about every facet of life ranging from individual interpersonal relationships to matters that have global and even cosmic impact.  

A Chassidic Melamed (school-teacher) in the old country once observed a student refusing to share his writing ink with a friend who forgot his at home. Soon afterwards the class was reviewing their Torah lessons. The teacher called on that student to translate the verse of the Torah that they were studying. The boy read and translated the first word, Bereishis – In the beginning. The teacher interrupted him and said, “No, Bereishis means that when your friend asks you for ink you share with him willingly.” The boy read and translated the next word, Barah – created. The teacher interrupted him and said, “No, Barah means that when your friend asks you for ink you share with him willingly.” The teacher proceeded to do so for the entire verse until he sensed that the message was conveyed. “This is all the Torah that you learned, but what did you learn from the Torah?”

A student of the Torah is not just one who absorbs the intellectual material but one who absorbs the Kedushah – the holiness that is Torah. One who absorbs this Kedushah must come away a changed, more refined person. One who absorbs this Kedushah must have a changed perspective on his purpose in life, a greater sense of urgency in carrying out the Divine will. One who absorbs this Kedushah must come away as a person who serves as a shining example to others as to what a student of Torah looks like.

When Hashem gave us the Torah He opened with the word Anochi, an acronym for the phrase, “Ana Nafshi Kesavis Yehavis” - loosely translated as “I wrote Myself into the Torah.” When we study Torah we are interfacing with G-d Himself. This interaction must leave an impact. This is the Kedushah – the holiness of Torah.

To paraphrase the blessing that the Previous Rebbe traditionally gave before Shavuot, a blessing that was echoed by the Rebbe thousands of times, May we joyously and meaningfully internalize the experience of receiving of the Torah from Hashem.

Please join Chabad for the one or several of the special Shavuot events, most notably the reading of the Ten Commandments on Wednesday morning, June 4 @ 11 at either Chabad location followed by a deluxe dairy Kiddush lunch.

Chabad Uptown will have a late reading at 7:15 PM followed by dinner for young Jewish professionals. Please let us know if you would like to participate. Chabad Metairie will have a late reading at 6:30 PM followed by dairy refreshments.

Mazel Tov to Sandy and Sarah Cohen upon their recent marriage. We wish them a life a happiness together.

Mazel Tov to Charlie and Sandra Brum upon the engagement of their son Yaakov to Chaya Mushka Volkov. We are all very excited for you!

Mazel Tov to Hashem and the Jewish people upon their upcoming wedding anniversary. These 3,326 years have gone by so quickly. Many happy returns!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Sinai and the Antitrust Issue

The Torah was given nearly 3,326 years ago on Mt. Sinai, a mountain in the middle of a barren desert. One may ask why Hashem did not choose a more comfortable venue for this great Revelation. You would think that with His good connections and credit he could have booked all 3 million Jews into a beautiful resort in the Riviera or Dubai. He could have had a stadium built in Midtown Manhattan for the big event. He could have had His event planners develop a cruise ship large enough for the occasion. How about somewhere in Israel? Of all the places to give the Torah, the desert is the least desirable option that comes to mind. So why indeed did the Omnipotent G-d “settle” for such a lowly venue?

The selection of the desert venue teaches us that nobody has a monopoly on the Torah. No one type of person can claim to have greater ownership over the Torah more than another. It is not a “city” Torah any more than a “country” Torah. There is no corporate, academic, political or social affiliation needed. In fact the Torah belongs to every Jew equally from Moses to a newborn baby. Rich, poor, educated, simple, adult, child, Northern, Southern, Eastern, Western, Sefardi, Ashkenazi etc., etc. – every Jew without exception has an unequivocal right to the Torah.

So now that you know that the Torah is yours, what are you waiting for? Claim your rightful treasure and start making the most of it! On Shavuot we celebrate the giving of the Torah. Join Chabad at either location for the Shavuot events. There will be all-night learning on Tuesday, June 3. The reading of the Ten Commandments and Dairy Kiddush Lunch on June 4. Stay tuned for exact times and other details. Monopoly is a good board game, but when it comes to Torah it belongs to us all!

As a preparation for Shavuot, there will be a Kabbala & Dinner for Young Jewish Professionals thisThursday, May 29 @ 7:30 PM – Chabad Uptown. This month’s topic: Celebrity Boxing: Moses vs. The Angles. For more info: www.facebook.com/1437253919858876.

Mazal Tov to Mitio Rothstein (formerly of New Orleans) and Jesse Katz upon their marriage past Sunday in Israel. We wish them a wonderful and meaningful life together in good health, happiness and prosperity.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Oil

This week we observed a holiday called Pesach Sheini – the second Passover. Pesach Sheini is the opportunity for people to take advantage of a second chance to bring the Pesach offering. It is also one of the 613 Mitzvahs in the Torah, and unlike the others this one was the initiative of the people rather than Hashem.

There were a few individuals who were ineligible to bring the Pesach offering the first year after the Exodus. They were “tameh” impure because of their involvement in caring for a deceased person. Ritual impurity stemming from association with a corpse renders one unfit to bring an offering to G-d until one undergoes the ritual purification process of the Parah Adumah – the Red Heifer. So while the entire Jewish nation was celebrating the first anniversary of the Exodus with their Paschal lambs, this group sat on the side feeling left out.

What did they do? Instead of feeling bad for themselves they approached Moshe with a demand, “Why should we be left out?” Moshe, being the compassionate and concerned leader that he was, brought their demand before Hashem. Hashem in turn gave us a new Mitzvah – the Mitzvah of second chances called Pesach Sheini.

Imagine if they would have just said, “It is what it is” or “you win some and you lose some?” They would have never gotten a second chance and the Torah would only have 612 Mitzvahs.

Fast forward 3320 years. It has now been nearly 2,000 years since we last had a Beit Hamikdash in which we can worship G-d the way the Torah instructs us. Millions of Jews are missing thousands of opportunities a year to do Mitzvot properly and this is going on for almost 2,000 years already. Do we not have the right to demand from Hashem saying “Why should we be left out?” Imagine if we collectively presented our plea before Hashem declaring resolutely with absolute sincerity, “How much longer will we have to wait?” “We want Moshiach now.” “Build us the Beit Hamikdash so that we can fulfill Your will properly.” Just as Hashem responded to the demands of the few people by giving them Pesach Sheini, certainly He will respond to the demand of millions and bring us very soon to the complete and final Redemption through Moshiach.

Mazel tov David and Dina Voskovsky and family upon the bris of their son Levi Yitzchak.

We mourn the loss of Richard Light. Heartfelt condolences to his mother Esther Light and the Light family.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Near Death Experience sparks religious awakening

What do you think it would be like to have a Near Death Experience? NDEs are trending with the recent release of the movie Heaven is for Real. A View from Above is a book written by Rachel Noam, detailing her religious awakening following a NDE. You can read more about it at www.chabadneworleans.com/3157. Rachel has been traveling to share her story with audiences around the world.

Rachel and her husband Haim will be in New Orleans next weekend. She will be telling her inspiring story at the Btesh Family Chabad House after services at the Kiddush on Shabbat, May 17. This event is being held in memory of recently deceased Dr. Gary Goldbard. Dr. Goldbard was a big fan on the book A View from Above. The event will be open to the public and all are welcome. Kiddush sponsorships are available. Rachel Noam is a riveting speaker with a fascinating story. Come to Chabad Uptown next week to hear this amazing story.

This past Sunday night we celebrated the Bar Mitzvah of our son Sholom. We are honored by the good wishes showered upon our family from so many people in the community and from all over. One of the highlights of the Bar Mitzvah for me was presenting Sholom with a Tanya that belonged to my grandparents, Rabbi Sholom and Miriam Gordon, which one of them had received from the Rebbe in 1991. Seeing Sholom’s excitement to receive the Tanya was very touching to Malkie and me. Please see the photo gallery below for a selection of photos of the Bar Mitzvah.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Reflections on a Bar Mitzvah

As our family prepares to celebrate the Bar Mitzvah of our son Sholom this weekend, I stole a few minutes away from the preparations to reflect on Bar Mitzvahs in general and my Bar Mitzvah in particular.

The phrase Bar Mitzvah is a curious one. The use of the word Bar (son in Aramaic) is most likely because  Aramaic was the “vernacular” for the Jewish people at the time that the phrase was formalized. These days the term makes one wonder whether some of these parties are more Bar than Mitzvah…

The other odd thing about the phrase Bar Mitzvah, is the singular use of the word Mitzvah rather than the plural – Mitzvot.

Malkie shared with me what her grandfather, Rabbi Eliyahu Machlis OBM, said at her brother’s Bar Mitzvah. A Bar Mitzvah boy should learn from this that as he approaches his new responsibility for Mitzvah observance, he should view each Mitzvah as the only one rather than one of many Mitzvot. Each individual Mitzvah should be precious and unique to him.

Some of my own Bar Mitzvah memories include the special opportunity I had to receive a blessing from the Rebbe together with other Bar Mitzvahs boys my age. After the blessing we each had a chance to hand the Rebbe a letter request for blessing and he gave us each a dollar for Tzedakah. I also remember the Aliyah I got in 770, the Rebbe’s Shul. It was on a weekday morning and after receiving the Kohen Aliya I remained close to the Bima while the Rebbe was called for the last Aliya. This gave me a chance to observe from up close.

My Bar Mitzvah reception was held at the uptown JCC. I remember sitting up on a podium with my father and two grandfathers. Being the only guy my age up there was a little lonely… I remember feeling a wonderful sense of being surrounded by family warmth with my immediate family, all of my grandparents and many uncles, aunts and cousins present. I cannot say that I recall growing up all of a sudden. But I am certain that it was the beginning of that process (that may still be in progress:-).

Raising a child to this stage of life requires effort and we do not take our jobs lightly. We are very proud of Sholom and we look forward to have continued Nachas from him as he goes through life.

We are excited to be celebrating with family and friends. Thank you to all of you that have conveyed good wishes. We look forward to returning those good wishes to you at your Simchas.

Our condolences to Lupin family upon the passing of Dr. Ralph Lupin. Dr. Lupin was prominent member of the Jewish community who was involved in and supported many important causes.

Have a good Shabbos!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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