ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Decision 5775

A few weeks ago, a blogpost entitled The Images of Elul (, mentioned the idea that during the month of Elul G-d is on the campaign trail for another year as Sovereign of the Universe. I would like to share how the Torah presents this concept, with a twist, in the format of news headlines.

Decision 5775 – a collection of headlines on G-d’s campaign for another year as Melech Ha’olam.

“A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage” – finally a candidate Who can deliver on His campaign promises. – Leviticus, 26:3-5 – Where the Torah promises that if we do what Hashem wants of us, He will take care of our needs.

G-d’s Campaign Speech: “Give Me your vote so that We can achieve Our goals together.” Talmud Rosh Hashanah 16a – citing G-d as declaring “Recite the passages of Kingship before Me so that I may rule over you.”

G-d eschews the big endorsements. Looking for the little guy’s vote. - Chassidic discourse for Rosh Hashanah – Though G-d has the support of the souls of the righteous, it is the individual Jew whose commitment He seeks in completing the goals of creation.

G-d taking His campaign to the heartland to gain the support of farmers and laborers. – Maamer Ani L’dodi – The parable of the king in the field greeting even the simple folk with a smile and pleasant manner.

Certainly this represents only one side of the story. The other side is that we need to show that we are deserving of this Worthy Candidate. Election Day is one week away. On Rosh Hashanah it is going to be decided. Make you go to the polls and vote. We vote by hearing the sound of the Shofar. Doing so we remind G-d of the close relationship He had with our forefathers Abraham and Isaac. We remind G-d of Sinai - when we “took Him in” when no other nation wanted any part of His Torah. We remind ourselves of the necessity to “wake up” and improve our ways. We sound the Shofar as the coronation trumpets in honor of our King. Finally the Shofar is the voice of our soul – who yearns to be close again to Hashem.

Mazel Tov to Tulane alum, Amatzia Argentar upon his engagement to Chaya Shurpin.

Wishing you a happy, healthy, prosperous and meaningful new year of 5775.

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Chai = Life

There was a time in Jewish history when a majority of European Jews felt religiously disenfranchised. Discriminatory laws and difficult circumstances made it very tough to put bread on the table. Most were unable to afford a proper education for their children and many were just barely literate enough to read the prayerbook without even understanding what they were reciting. The Cossack uprising of the mid-17th century wiped out a third of the Jewish population of Eastern Europe (some argue as many as a half a million - proportionately equal to the Holocaust). This left thousands of Jewish orphans wandering throughout Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania. This was followed by the tragic Shabbetai Tzvi false-Messiah debacle, which led to a spiritual and emotional decimation of the Jewish people and their hopes for a brighter future. In short the Jews were overwhelmingly depleted in every possible way.

The scholarly elite chose to isolate themselves and remain aloof and often indifferent to the pain and disenfranchisement of the masses. Jews were religiously observant – but were just going through the motions. They simply did not know better nor did they have the energy or the capability to access the knowledge and inspiration to make their Judaism more meaningful.

Another fallout of the Sabbatean tragedy and his abuse of Kabbala was the relegation of Kabbala to near non-use. As a result even the scholars were left with the discussions of Talmud and Halacha, but the spiritual teachings of our faith were often neglected and rejected. Their worship and relationship with Hashem suffered as a result as well.

It was onto this scene that Baal Shemtov (Israel ben Eliezer - 1698-1760) arrived. The movement that he founded and the teachings that he spread were meant to breathe a new vitality into both segments of Jewish society. The simple folk were given to see how Hashem values their sincerity and dedication. Using simple messages that conveyed deep ideas, the Baal Shemtov taught about the soul, the value of joy, the importance of love for one another, the beauty within every Mitzvah and Jewish practice, and the personal relationship that every Jew can have with Hashem. He also began to reveal new depths in the understanding of Torah thus enriching the Judaism of the scholars as well.

These innovations were not without opposition, especially from the scholarly elite, who saw their monopoly over meaningful Jewish life erode. All of a sudden simple unlettered folk were empowered to have a vibrant Jewish life. As time went on and the movement grew, the opposition became more muted. A few decades later, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad, took the Baal Shemtov’s cause to the next level. Until then the Judaism of the simple Jews was elevated and enlivened because they realized that they could serve G-d regardless of their ignorance. Rabbi Schenur Zalman turned the teachings of the Baal Shemtov into an intellectual discipline – a program for life that could transform the person from the mind down and not just from the heart up. This injected even greater vitality into the lives of both the simple and more learned of our people.

In short the Baal Shemtov and Rabbi Schenur Zalman revived the Jewish people from a state of comatose to rich, vibrant, alive and full of vitality.

By Divine Providence these two great men share a birthday. They were both born on the 18th of Elul (this Shabbat). As we know eighteen is Chai – life. It is no accident that the ones who brought life to our nation would be born on the day of life – Chai. This Shabbat we reflect on the gratitude we have to them and their teachings and the life it has given us. It is also a day to inject further Chai – life and vitality into our Judaism and relationship with Hashem.

May we be inscribed in the book of life – not just life on auto pilot, but a vibrant life of serving Hashem with joy and vitality free of any obstacles and troubles. May Hashem bless us with a happy, healthy, prosperous and meaningful new year.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Spiritual Acrophobia (Fear of Heights)

Every single aspect of the Torah, every verse, every law, every story, every word and even letter, can be understood at multiple levels and methods of application. One the four major methods of Torah application is called Remez – allegory. The principle of Remez is finding an application for the verse, law etc. in an arena that is seemingly unrelated. The real challenge with Remez is to find not only a general application in the seemingly unrelated arena but also to find application for the specifics.

I would like to share a Remez application from this week’s Torah portion that can teach us an important life lesson, with a lagniappe lesson from a specific detail.

The Torah instructs us “When you build a new house, you shall make a guard rail for your roof, so that you shall not cause blood [to be spilled] in your house, lest the one who falls should fall from it [the roof].” The Sifri (a Halachic Midrashic work) teaches, that this Mitzvah also applies to the building of a Sanctuary (Beit Hamikdash). The actual Temple was required to have a guardrail for its roof. (See for more on this requirement.)

The Kabbalistic work, Shelah, explains that the Remez in this verse/law is as follows. The roof of one’s home represents pride (the sense of being elevated over others). The Torah commands us to curb our pride “lest the one who falls should fall.” Arrogance is the root of all evil. One who is arrogant can already be termed “one who falls.” When one places no “guardrail” around the roof of arrogance, the Torah guarantees that there will be a “fall” from it.  

Now this is obvious when it comes to arrogance stemming from material achievements. What about pride in spiritual growth? Is not self-confidence an important element in spiritual development? Does it not give us the strength we need to confront obstacles? To this Torah says that even the Sanctuary roof needs a guardrail. While having a roof to help us rise higher and higher is a positive thing, it should never lead a person to feel a sense of personal superiority. The evil of conceit is not exclusive to the material. "Righteous conceit" places one at equal risk of downfall.  

Just a little stroll down Remez lane…

May you and your loved ones be inscribed and sealed for a happy, healthy, prosperous and meaningful new year of 5775!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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