ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Are we raising calves or people?

In the summer of 1927, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, was arrested in Leningrad for “counterrevolutionary activities.” Despite the threat of a death sentence, by the miracles of Hashem and through the agency of worldwide political pressure, he was released on his 47th birthday, the 12 of Tammuz. This day is celebrated as an important breakthrough in the fight against Soviet oppression of Jews and the showdown of good vs. evil.

What many do not know is that this was actually the seventh time that he was arrested for his crimes of looking out for the interests of Jews and Judaism. His first experience with Russian justice was at the tender age of 11. The story can be read at

In brief, his father would give him money for memorizing passages of the mishna. He used that money for a free loan fund to help poor Jews on market day. One day he observed a Russian policeman attacking a Jew that he was helping. The policeman beat the Jew while falsely accusing him of stealing a calf. In defense of the Jew the young Yosef Yitzchak pushed the policeman. The policeman had him arrested and thrown into a dark jail cell. While he was there he utilized the time to review the mishna that he had memorized, thereby calming himself from his initial fear. Suddenly, he heard noises coming from the other side of the cell. He struck a match and discovered a bound calf moaning and grunting. It was the calf that the Jew was accused of stealing. A short while later he was freed and he managed to expose the policeman as the thief who tried to frame the Jew. His father, the fifth Chabad Rebbe, declared, “You did well to protect the dignity of an honest Jew. And if for that you suffered for a few hours, so what? Now it has also been demonstrated to you, how good it is that you are fluent in mishnayot by heart. Were it not for this knowledge, in what way were you any better than the calf? But because you knew the mishnayot… the hours of imprisonment passed with words of Torah and prayer, in which lies the advantage of man over beast.”

The last point was one emphasized by the Rebbe when retelling the story. He explained that there is a valuable lesson here regarding the importance of proper education. There were two individuals in the jail cell. Both desired to be free, but each for a different reason, and each one dealt with the situation accordingly. The calf sought to be free so that it could eat and roam and trample and satisfy its every desire. When it could not do those things it grunted and moaned. As if to say, “why am I being restricted in my quest for self-indulgence?”

The child, who was raised by worthy parents to value what was important in life, desired freedom so that he could properly live his life in a meaningful way in the service of Hashem. When that freedom was inhibited, he still strove to make the most of his circumstances by reviewing his studies by heart, thereby injecting some meaning even into an imprisonment.

As we raise our children we have to consider what kind training we are giving them. Are we teaching them to be calves, where every one of their whims and desires must be indulged immediately if not sooner? Are they being raised to believe that anything or anyone that stands in the way of those indulgences should trampled, pushed or kicked? Do they think that when they don’t get what they want they should grunt and moan until it is given to them?

Or are we teaching them to be people? The spirit of a human strives upwards toward greater refinement and spirituality. Are they learning that a higher striving can transform any circumstance into an opportunity for growth? Are they learning to respect authority? Do they understand that G-d is all-seeing and all-knowing and they are always in His presence?

Each child becomes a part of society. As the moral fiber of the world seems to be crumbling around us this task assumes a greater sense of urgency. When the news consists mostly of murder, cheating and immorality, our obligation to influence the future is that much more vital.

Ultimately goodness will prevail. Let us be a part of it!

Mazel Tov to Hannah Binkowitz and her family upon her Bat Mitzvah this weekend.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The Rebbe's Approach - getting to the root of the matter

While addressing symptoms is often necessary, getting to the root of the issue is generally the best way to deal with a situation. I believe this is why the Rebbe always referenced redemption and the coming of Moshiach in connection with anything that was being discussed.

From the Rebbe’s perspective, all ills in the world resulted from one root problem – a concealment of G-d’s presence in the world. This is a by-product of creation in general - in order for there to be a functioning world in which people operate under the system of free will – there must be a concealment of the Divine reality or else people could never choose evil. However, the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash and the subsequent exile of the Jewish people, along with the state of exile for the whole world, have magnified this concealment many times over.

Kabbala teaches and Chassidus emphasizes to an even greater degree, that it is our task to reverse this state of exile and concealment, by increasing the G-dliness in the world through Torah, Mitzvot and acts of goodness.

Therefore (in addition to other reasons) it is entirely appropriate to suggest religious or spiritual solutions even when talking about a very specific physical or material problem. Increasing Torah and Mitzvot always goes hand in hand with strengthening security or assessing a business plan or finding a medical solution.

So when there is a natural disaster or an act of terror or senseless hate-filled murder (such as the one witnessed this week in Charleston), the specifics require attention; but the ultimate solution can be found by attending to the root cause – revealing G-dliness in the world through the Torah of peace and its Mitzvot, which are beacons of peaceful light to the world.

Aside from dealing with the root cause, this approach is also empowering to all. For each one of us can and must play a role in bringing the world to a state of Redemption. While we may not, as individuals, have answers to the symptoms, we can certainly contribute to reversing the root cause.

This Shabbat, the third of Tammuz, people the world over will be reflecting on the Rebbe’s message and profound influence on the Jewish and general world. Let us take this lesson to heart and look at things through the Rebbe’s lens to get to the core of the matter. Let every one of us intensify our efforts to move the world along to the time of Redemption – when all of the symptoms will disappear and the world will be one in serving G-d and discovering His presence. Amen.

Jewish Educational Media (JEM) recently discovered and restored a cable televised talk by the Rebbe from the summer of 1981. Please join us on Sunday evening – 7 PM at Chabad House (uptown) for a screening of this newly released DVD. The film is over 3 hours long but it is divided into sections and can be watched all or in parts. Come by for as long as you can. Refreshments will be served.

Mazel Tov to Tulane alum Mr. and Mrs. Aharon Ross upon the engagement of their son Mendy to Tirtza Phillips.

Mazel Tov to Chaim Schreiber upon his graduation from Touro College. Best of luck in future endeavors.

Mazel Tov to Idan and Lina Washafsky upon the birth of their daughter Mia.

Mazel Tov to our daughter Mushka upon her graduation from Beth Rivkah High School. Best of luck in Israel next year.

Mazel Tov to our daughter Basy upon her Bas Mitzvah. We look forward to the celebration next month.

Have a good Shabbos
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Truth Detector

There is a custom that one recites a chapter of Psalms each day corresponding to one’s age. At birth it is chapter one, after the first birthday it is chapter two and so on. So the chapter number is always one ahead of the most recent birthday.

I recently marked my 42nd birthday and started reciting Psalm 43. On my birthday my father told me that when he turned 42 his father-in-law, my grandfather, Rabbi Sholom Gordon OBM, remarked that there is a special passage in that chapter. Verse 3 states: “Send Your light and Your truth, they will guide me; they will bring me to Your holy mountain and to Your sanctuaries.” He then related the following story.

“When I was a boy in Russia, our melamed (school teacher) taught us a passage from the Talmud, tractate Bava Metzia, “If two persons have deposited (funds with one person) one person deposited one hundred zuz and the other two hundred, and each of them claims that the two hundred are his, the depository must pay to each of them one hundred, and the remaining hundred should be deposited until Elijah will come.” Simply put, when Moshiach comes, Eliyahu Hanavi will resolve the doubt by telling us to whom the money belongs.

I asked the melamed, “How could we rely on Eliyahu’s testimony to determine for us who is telling the truth? Doesn’t the Torah require two witnesses to establish fact? The melamed smiled and replied, “Yingele (my boy), do you think Eliyahu Hanavi will give testimony in a legal sense? Psalms 43:3 teaches, “Send Your light and Your truth.” Your light refers to Moshiach and Your truth refers to Eliyahu Hanavi. When Moshiach comes and Eliyahu Hanavi is with him, the truth of Hashem will be revealed in the world. When that happens the liar himself will come forward to admit that he was lying and the money will be restored to the true owner.”

“So,” my grandfather concluded, “This is the special passage in Psalm 43. We ask Hashem to send Moshiach along with Elijah the prophet and they will bring Hashem’s truth and light to world.”

May it happen speedily!

Mazel Tov to Adam and Michele Stross for the upshernish of their son Shaya.

Mazel Tov to Hal and Lauren Ungar upon the birth of their daughter Miriam. Mazel Tov the grandparents, Stanley and Roselle Ungar.

Mazel Tov to Ron and Noa Deri upon the birth of their daughter.

Mazel Tov to Hila and Daniel Savoie upon the birth of their daughter.

Mazel Tov to the Kehaty family upon the marriage of Mendel and Freida. It was wonderful to be part of a well-apportioned delegation of current and former “Whodats” at the wedding. We look forward to continuing the celebration this Shabbat in NOLA.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Unclogging the Exile One Drain at a Time

Each morning after Minyan we read a short inspirational thought about the Redemption through Moshiach. This past Sunday the thought centered on the idea that every person possesses a spark of Moshiach within their soul. The task of each person is to reveal their individual spark, which will collectively bring about the coming of Moshiach.

So the idea is to start by working on your own spark and that will have an impact on the cosmic level ultimately bringing Redemption to the world.

Later that day it was pouring and the streets were flooding pretty heavily. When there was a lull in the rain I spotted my neighbor Mike working at the drain on our block. I went over to chat and offer to help. Then Adil, another neighbor, joined us. Once the drain cover was off and some of the muck clogging the drain was removed, the water started flowing in a hurry and within a short time the flooding was gone. We did the same for the second drain on the block and our street had no standing water. Not only that, but this reduced the flooding on nearby streets as well.

As I thought about it I realized that while we often attribute the street flooding to the inadequacy of the pumping system (and there is certainly some truth to that), if every street drain would be unclogged the flooding would be dramatically reduced. So whose job is it? The government’s role – perhaps. But if each block would have one or two people take an interest in their situation, even if is not their “job,” their quality of life would be improved. As we speak there is still water standing on one or two streets in our area. It has not rained since early in the week. If someone on those blocks would just take five minutes to unclog the drains it could save cars, homes, and make life more convenient for all those that pass through.

And that’s when it hit me. This is a perfect metaphor for what we read that morning about Moshiach. When we think of the world’s problems as being global in nature they seem to be beyond our reach to solve. But if we started by unclogging our drains, and others followed that example, the cosmic flooding would begin to recede. By revealing the spark of Moshiach within ourselves, thereby conquering our personal exile, this leads to the general dissolution of exile and the coming of Moshiach.

Speaking of flooding, ten years after our community was so generously assisted by the people of Houston, they are now contending with the aftermath of horrible flooding. I reached out to my colleagues in Houston and promised that we would encourage our people to support their relief efforts. Please go to and contribute from your heart to help those that helped us.

Mazal Tov to Uzzi and Rivkah Kehaty upon the upcoming marriage of Mendel to Freida Davidoff.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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