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Never Enough

My great-grandfather, Reb Yochanan Gordon, came to the US in the 1930s. At the time it was quite difficult for a Shabbos observant Jew to keep a job. They would often get told on Friday, “If you don’t come in tomorrow, don’t bother coming in on Monday.” So he got involved in managing an Interest Free Loan Fund called Gemach Shomer Shabbos. The purpose of the fund was to help these Sabbath observant families make it through the rough times. Once a year he would submit a report of the fund’s activities to the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, who would give him blessings and encouragement. After the Previous Rebbe’s passing (on this day - Shevat 10) in 1950 he began submitting the reports to the Rebbe. When he walked out of the Rebbe’s room after submitting the first report he good-naturedly commented to the Chassidim “this Rebbe is going to make us work hard.” The Rebbe’s reaction to the report beyond the blessings and encouragement was “Why is there money in the bank? It could have been used to help more people.”

This approach defined the Rebbe’s attitude to achievements and success. He was always quoting the Talmudic statement, “One who has 100 now wants 200. One who has 200 now wants 400.” The Rebbe’s encouragements and compliments were always accompanied by a cautioning against being satisfied with status quo. This was true in his interactions with anyone in any walk of life. While the Chassidim certainly hears this from the Rebbe most often, others who sought the Rebbe’s blessing and advice were also encouraged in a similar manner.

In this video clip – www.chabadneworleans.com/1023080 - the Rebbe is informed by the board members of the UJA-Federation of NY that they have allocated $250,000.00 to Chabad schools. He replies with a smile, “You expect me to be satisfied by this?” To which they reply, “If you were satisfied we would be worried.” Then the Rebbe responds with an even broader smile, “You have nothing to be worried about.”

Bottom line – there is always more that can be done and we need to buckle down and do it!

Mazel Tov to Joel Brown and the whole family upon the marriage of Ruth and Shaya. Only Simchas and good occasions always!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Mouthpiece for Moses

Twenty three years ago on this day, the third of Shevat, 5752 (1992), the Rebbe uncharacteristically shared something about his predecessor. In the context of the 10th of Shevat being the Yahrtzeit of his father-in-law, the Previous Rebbe, he related an anecdote from the Previous Rebbe’s life. Several years before his passing in 1950, the Previous Rebbe was afflicted with an illness that severely impacted his speech and communication. His doctor, who was not a religious man, commented that it was inexplicable that G-d would allow this to happen since the Previous Rebbe was a man who influenced tens of thousands with his spoken and written word.

The Rebbe contrasted this story with the story of Moses and his speech impediment. G-d tells Moses that “Aaron will be your mouthpiece.” This was a solution to Moses’s claim that he could not be the one to lead the Jews because of his obstructed communicative capabilities.

The Rebbe then observed, that the Previous Rebbe was given no such solution. He did not have an “Aaron will be your mouthpiece.” Therefore, the Rebbe suggested, it was incumbent upon us, the Chassidim, to be the “Aaron” and to communicate the message and teachings of the Previous Rebbe. The Rebbe concluded the talk with a blessing to all for good physical health until the time of the imminent redemption.

This talk left the Chassidim confused and wondering what sparked this discussion 42 years after the Previous Rebbe’s passing. We Yeshiva students immediately made a commitment to follow through on the assignment by memorizing one of the Rebbe’s Chassidic discourses. A letter was sent to the Rebbe a few days later with a list of students that had kept the commitment. The Rebbe replied with a handwritten note to us that said (translated from Hebrew): Paraphrasing Psalms 84:8 – “And they should go from strength to strength, until (they appear) before G-d in Zion. I will mention them (for blessing) at the resting place (of the Previous Rebbe).”

We were very touched by the Rebbe’s personal attention to our efforts to fulfill his directive. This spurred us on to expand those efforts.

Seven weeks later the Rebbe suffered a stroke, which severely impacted his speech and communication. We then realized that while the Rebbe was telling us a story about his father-in-law, he was actually alluding to a situation that would become relevant to us in the near future. In effect the Rebbe was assigning to us the mission of serving as his “Aaron will be your mouthpiece.”

This task of communicating the Rebbe’s message was taken very seriously by our group of Yeshiva students. We have indeed gone from strength to strength as per the Rebbe’s blessing. Over the last 23 years members of our group became the Rebbe’s Shluchim (emissaries) all over the world. We have representatives of this group throughout the US, and in many countries on every continent of the world (except Antarctica). It is a privilege to be a part of it and serve, at least in a tiny measure, as one of the Rebbe’s “Aaron will be your mouthpiece.” We look forward to conclusion of that handwritten note, the day when we will merit to “appear before G-d in Zion” with the coming of Moshiach, immediately if not sooner.

Mazel Tov to Rabbi Yossie and Chanie Nemes upon the birth of a granddaughter Chaya Mushka, to Bracha and Avremi Slaveticki.

Mazel Tov to Uzzi and Rivkah Kehaty upon the engagement of their son Mendel to Freida Davidoff.

Wishing you a good Shabbos!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The Rebbe on Race Relations

In late August of 1991 the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn was the scene of a riot, described by Brandeis historian and author Edward Shapiro as "the most serious anti-Semitic incident in American history." (For the full story of event, google Crown Heights Riot 1991.) An automobile (driven by a Jew) accident resulted in the tragic death of a young black child and in the ensuing riots a visiting Jewish student was murdered by a lynch-mob shouting “Kill the Jew.” Subsequently a non-Jewish man with a beard was mistaken for a Chasidic Jew and was also killed while stopped at a red light in Crown Heights. Let’s just say it was time when there was not much judging people by the content of the character, but there was a lot of judging people by the color of the skin.

Al Sharpton and other rabble rousers, who never miss an opportunity to foment trouble under the guise of combatting racism, lost no time inciting the crowd and after all said and done, in addition to the 3 deaths, 152 police officers and 38 civilians were injured, 27 vehicles were destroyed, seven stores were looted or burned, and 225 cases of robbery and burglary were committed. At least 129 arrests were made during the riots. Property damage was estimated at one million dollars.

While I was not present at the time of the riot (I was a counselor at a summer camp in upstate New York that summer), I returned to Crown Heights a week or so after the events and witnessed the simmering tensions that lasted for a while.

I am only sharing this with you because I want to bring to your awareness the different perspective of the Rebbe in response to the event. Every Sunday the Rebbe stood for hours distributing dollars for Tzedakah along with a blessing, to all who came. On August 25, the first Sunday after the incident, then NYC Mayor David Dinkins visited the Rebbe during the dollars distribution. During the brief exchange Mayor Dinkins talked about good people coming together (to which the Rebbe added “from both sides”) to do what is needed to protect everyone. The Rebbe responded by pointing out that we really need to forget about two sides. We need to see it as one side. We are one people united by living in one city. You can view this exchange at www.chabadneworleans.com/1599198.

The Rebbe was actually echoing a conversation he had with Mayor Dinkins two years earlier shortly after he was elected. During that exchange the Rebbe advised that best way to bring everyone together was to stop seeing people as being on different teams, the black, the white, the Hispanic etc., Brooklyn, Manhattan etc. Rather, we should see it all the nationalities living in New York side-by-side in peace and harmony. He advised the mayor to emphasize New Yorkers’ similarities rather than their differences. “We were all created by the same G-d for the same purpose of bringing goodness around us. Every one of them should support their neighbor, especially in matters of charity.” He cited the melting pot idea where everything comes together as one. This exchange can be viewed at www.chabadneworleans.com/604940.

This was not a pollyannish approach to race relations or violent crime. Certainly the Rebbe understood and appreciated the need for security and law enforcement. He was addressing the root of the issue. Indeed color or race was entirely irrelevant in the discussion. In the Rebbe’s eyes every person was created by G-d for a purpose and the Rebbe saw his role as to encourage everyone along the path of fulfilling that purpose.

I will conclude with a story that I shared in the past. A few days before Pesach, some years ago, I arrived in New York late at night. I decided to pay a visit to Rebbe's Ohel immediately upon my arrival as that day was the Rebbe's birthday (Nissan 11). By the time I got there it was nearly midnight. As I made my way to the Ohel lost in my own thoughts, I looked up and I saw an African American couple, holding a young child, coming out of the Rebbe's Ohel. I noticed that the man wore a necklace that clearly identified him as a Christian. I nodded to them in greeting and in a soft voice the man said to me "today is the Rebbe's birthday; we came to pay our respects." Needless to say I was overwhelmed with awe in my renewed realization of how broad the Rebbe's reach was.

Mazel Tov to Talor and Avi Fine and the Fine and Kehaty family upon the Upshernish of Moshe Tzvi.

Stay tuned for an announcement next week about an exciting local twist to our 2015 Raffle for 100K. In the meantime go to www.chabadneworleans.com/raffle to view the prizes and purchase tickets. The drawing will be in early February.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Are You Happy at Work?

The Declaration of Independence of the USA refers to our inalienable rights to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Indeed happiness is an integral ingredient for a healthy, functioning and productive life. The question is, where is this “happiness” to be pursued? Do we need to be happy or find fulfillment in every area of life? Can there be areas of life that simply serve as a means to fulfillment in other, more important things? Would it be considered ok if my happiness in those areas of life stemmed from the fact that they enable me to pursue other passions that give me happiness?

I recently had a conversation with a young man who is a successful professional. He works hard and earns well. He wistfully expressed that he would love to be more “happy” with what he is doing. His mother just retired from a job after many happy years where she was able to help people. This got him thinking about the kind of meaningful fulfillment he sought from his work.

I shared with him my opinion that one need not necessarily find fulfillment or happiness in one’s occupation. A job can be viewed as a way to fund and support one true passions in life where fulfillment can be sought and achieved. I suggested that he find another way to achieve fulfillment. Maybe involvement in a communal organization or personal volunteering in the work of chesed. In that model his job enables him with the means to find happiness elsewhere.

The Torah uses the expression that a job is the “work of the hands” as opposed to the head. What about a person whose job involves the mind and all the hands do is type at a computer? Obviously the Torah is not advocating that we engage solely in manual labor and eschew work that involves the mind. What the Torah is telling us is that “the hands being involved in work” means that work is a secondary aspect of life. It is a means to an end. For a Jew that end is serving Hashem through the study of Torah and fulfillment of Mitzvot. That is where the “head” should be invested. A Chassidic Rebbe once approached a merchant who was lost in thought over the state of his rubber boots company. He said to him, “I have heard of keeping feet in galoshes, but I never heard of a head being kept in galoshes.”

Certainly we must do our jobs with integrity giving our all to ensure that we do the best job we can. But life is not about our jobs. It is about serving Hashem. When we are asked “What are you?” Instead of stating our professions (doctor, lawyer, accountant), the answer should be about where our passions lie. For a Jew, hopefully, that passion is Torah, Mitzvot and passing those values on to our children and others.

Getting back to happiness. Interestingly there is no Torah stated obligation be happy in every area of life. Rather the Torah teaches, “Serve Hashem with joy” (Psalms 100:2). So we need to be happy and fulfilled in our Jewishness. If, in turn, our relationship with Hashem is what defines our lives, then indeed we have achieved the “pursuit of happiness.”

Mazal Tov to Moshe and Ilanit Shargian upon the birth of their daughter, Alamah Rivkah.

Our condolences to Rabbi Akiva and Hannah Hall and the Black family upon the passing of Hannah’s grandmother, Bernice Black.

Mazal Tov to Gittel Nemes and her family upon the occasion of her Bas Mitzvah.

The new JLI course, The Art of Parenting is being offered in Metairie starting later this month. For more information or to register, www.myjli.com.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Living it up in Egypt

Our forefather Yaakov spent that final 17 years of his life in Egypt. Ironically those were the most tranquil years of his life. For the first time he wasn’t being hounded by his brother Eisav or his father-in-law Lavan, he wasn’t bothered by the animosity of his neighbors near Shechem or the absence of his son Yosef. He was surrounded by his children and grandchildren who were all following in his ways. They were living in the Egyptian version of the Riviera – the land of Goshen. All in all, life was good. In his commentary to the opening word of the Parsha, Vayechi, the Baal Haturim interprets the word Vayechi (lit. “And he lived”) with the connotation of enjoying life. Colloquially we would say he was “living it up” in Egypt.

When the third Chabad Rebbe, known by the name of his work, the Tzemach Tzedek, was a little boy, his Cheder teacher taught this passage based on the Baal Haturim’s explanation. The child, who was an orphan being raised by his grandfather, Rabbi Schneur Zalman (the first Chabad Rebbe), came home from school with a question. “How could it be that our father Yaakov could have the best years of his life in Egypt? First of all it was away from the holiness of Eretz Yisrael. Furthermore, Egypt was the most immoral land in the world at the time. So how could Yaakov “live it up” in a place like that? His grandfather replied, “In the previous Parsha we learn that Yaakov sent Yehudah to set up a Yeshiva for Torah study in the land of Goshen. When there is the study of Torah, a Jew can “live it up” even in a place like Egypt.” In other words, the study of Torah can render life meaningful and holy even when the environment that surrounds the person is a challenging one.

We live in a place that can give ancient Egypt a run for its money in terms of debauchery. In New Orleans the seasons are not really defined by weather changes or the leaves falling. The seasons have names like Carnival and Jazz Fest. One can go from one fest to another with a go cup in hand. So how can a Jew “live it up” Jewishly in a place like this? The answer is Torah study. When one takes advantage of the Torah learning opportunities (such as the monthly Breakfast with Maimonides coming up this Sunday morning), this allows our Judaism to be sustainable and even flourish despite the spiritually challenging environment.

So “live it up” folks! Come by and fortify yourselves with some Torah. You may even find that Torah learning can be more enjoyable than the other stuff… As the old lullaby goes, “Torah iz di beste sechorah – Torah is the best merchandise.” Indeed, it is a treasure waiting to be discovered.

Mazel Tov to Dafna Black (youth director at Chabad Metairie) upon her engagement to Yitz Epstein.

Chabad of Louisiana’s Raffle 2015 is up and running. This year’s pot is ten times larger than last year – to the tune of $100,000.00. There are also a number of secondary prizes. Check it out at www.chabadneworleans.com/raffle. The drawing is in early February. Tickets are limited. So get on board right away and help support the important work that Chabad does in our community.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

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