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Closing the Door Like a Mensch

In the last year of his life, my maternal grandfather, Rabbi Sholom Gordon, was weakened by a dreaded illness. Nevertheless he refused to cut back on his obligations as a Synagogue Rabbi and hospital chaplain. With a son or grandson in tow, he would shlep himself to Shul for classes and services and from room to room at the two hospitals that he served. When challenged why he did not consider slowing down, he replied with the following analysis.

A fool can be identified in different ways. Sometimes the way a person opens the door you can tell that he is a fool. There can be a person who opens the door like a mensch but then when he opens his mouth you he gives himself away as a fool. Then you have the person who comes in like a mensch and speaks like a mensch but when he leaves he slams the door like a fool.

My grandfather concluded, “I do not want to close the door on life like a fool, by neglecting what is the most valuable.”

In this Parsha, Moshe begs Hashem to allow him into Israel. Hashem instructs him to cease his pleading. Was Hashem so hard-hearted and was Moshe so unworthy that the request was refused? The Rebbe explains that certainly Moshe’s request for entry to the land as a private person would have been granted. However, were he to go into Israel at the point, his entire generation that died in the desert would have been lost forever. So when his request to go as their leader was denied, he opted to remain back and pass away in the desert so that when he comes back at the end of times, his generation will come back with him.

Throughout his lifetime Moshe displayed intense dedication to the Jewish people, even at the risk of personal loss, over and over again. Now at the end of his life Moshe came through once more for his people, choosing leadership over personal gain, thereby closing the door like the devoted shepherd that he always was.

This week we celebrated the Bas Mitzvah of our daughter Basy. Malkie and I are very touched by the good wishes and blessings of all of the women that attended and celebrated with us. I will give a full report along with photos next week, G-d willing.

This past week the renewed Camp Gan Israel of New Orleans wrapped up a very successful inaugural year. For photos, videos and more go to www.cgineworleans.com.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Roving Rabbis Make a Splash in Shreveport

In the summer of 1992 I traveled with two friends, Perry Lew and Mendy Schapiro, to Shreveport as part of a program called Merkos Shlichus, in which Rabbinical students visited smaller Jewish communities all over the world each summer. You can read more about that here: http://www.chabadneworleans.com/templates/blog/post.asp?aid=1203266&PostID=23953&p=1.

At the time we connected with a wonderful young couple, Sue and Harry Muslow, who hosted us during our stay and helped us meet many members of the Shreveport Jewish community. They subsequently left Shreveport and eventually made Aliyah. We stayed in touch with them over the years. Fast forward to 2015. The Muslow’s oldest daughter, Sarida, who was a toddler at the time of our visit, has moved back to Shreveport. Over the past few months we have been in touch regarding various ways that Chabad of Louisiana can help enhance Jewish life in Shreveport. Sarida and her boyfriend Connor Brown have been very active in creating Jewish programs for young adults in the community.

Last week two Rabbinic interns, Zushe Rivkin and Mendy Wilschanski – who are part of the Roving Rabbis project (the modern incarnation of Merkos Shlichus) – spent a week in Shreveport. With Sarida facilitating, along with help from Connor, Chaim and Shifra Stitzer and Avi and Mimi Amsalem, a beautiful week of Jewish enrichment took place. Gatherings each night. A lovely Shabbat, complete with services, meals and a lot of singing and inspiration. Home and business visits. Teffilin and Shabbat candles. Young people experiencing Shabbat in a way that they had not previously. The “Shreveport six” and the two Yeshiva boys made a real splash. They met with Synagogue and community leadership, made friendships and even a future Torah learning partnership. Some photos can be viewed below or at http://www.chabadneworleans.com/2845424.

A great Yasher koach to Sarida and the rest of the crew for an amazing job. Thank you to Zushe and Mendy for their efforts. A friendship of 23 years continues to bear wonderful fruit. We look forward to much more in the years to come. We wish Dr. Harry and Sue Muslow and Dr. Ike and Berte Muslow much nachas (Jewish pride and joy) from Sarida and the great things she is doing for the young Jews of Shreveport.

Condolences to the family of Mrs. Miriam Greenwald, who passed away this week. Before her final illness Mrs. Greenwald was a regular at the monthly Shmoozing with the Rabbi program at Lambeth House. We also got to know her son Joe on his visits from Vermont. May Hashem comfort the family among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Wishing you a Tisha B’av that is transformed into joy with the coming of Moshiach!
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Is there hypocrisy in Judaism

It happens on occasion that when I ask someone to do a Mitzvah, such as laying Tefillin or shaking the Lulav and Etrog, the reply is “I don’t want to do something in which I do not believe.” They are telling me that they would regard it as hypocritical to do the Mitzvah since they do not believe that it has any value.

In fact recently I was told by a Jewish inmate who has refused me for years, that while he would be open to putting on Tefillin in gratitude to me for coming out to visit, he did not feel it was right since he didn’t believe in it.

So is there such a thing as hypocrisy in Judaism? I am not asking if there are hypocrites that are Jewish. I am specifically referring to whether it can be hypocritical to do a Mitzvah if one does not believe in it.

Let’s see how two great Jewish thinkers address this question. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi and Moses Maimonides both disagree with the notion that this is even a consideration.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman writes “that Jew neither wants to nor is capable of being separated from Hashem.” Therefore, he argues, the inner core of every Jew wishes to remain at one with G-d. Now since G-d gave us the Torah and Mitzvot as a means to remain connected to Him, we must conclude that the natural and true desire of a Jew is to do the Mitzvah.

Maimonides addressed this from a legalistic standpoint. There are certain Jewish obligation that must be dispensed willingly. The Rambam argues that the Jewish court is allowed to use not so gentle persuasion to bring the person to declare “I want to do it” so that the Mitzvah is carried our willingly. “How can this be so?” he asks. His conclusion is “deep down the true desire of a Jew is to do what Hashem wants. It is only that the Yetzer hara (evil inclination) is clouding the person’s vision of what they really want. So when the person declares “I want to do it” they are speaking the truth.

Another Jewish philosophical work, Sefer Hachinuch, teaches that the heart follows the actions. Meaning that when we do something over and over we can begin to feel it as well. This is the basis for so many action based Mitzvahs.

Just this morning I had a conversation with someone who shared with me that, while he questioned whether laying Tefillin would have any meaning for him, once he did the Mitzvah and started committing to it on a regular basis, it brought about a lot of positive changes for him. He has since purchased his own set and Tefillin has become an immovable part of his daily routine.

So I would conclude that there is no such thing as hypocrisy when it comes to doing a Mitzvah. As Nike puts it, “just do it” and eventually things will fall into place. Furthermore, resisting the Mitzvah is actually being unfaithful to your true self. That may very well be hypocrisy…

Mazel Tov to Dr. David and Nechama Kaufmann upon their daughter Chanah’s engagement to Yaakov Hellinger.

Mazel Tov to Emily and Jon Lissauer upon the Bris of their son, Lev Ari.

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The Silent Pen

As the regular readers may know, that while primarily used for Torah thoughts and life lessons, I occasionally use this forum to share thoughts on societal issues, current events and the like. I have at times indulged in some ranting about one issue or another. Sometimes that exercise has resulted in some veiled or even overt criticism of individuals or groups who were, in my view, deserving of such.

Through the encouragement of a few friends I have become more conscious of the need for sensitivity in the manner in which an issue is presented. Further contemplation and research have revealed that there are times when more can be gained by not utilizing the opportunity to have these important issues addressed in this forum – before you - the august readership of these weekly musings.

We live in an era where sensationalist journalism is all the rage. Controversy drives ratings (or clicks). Calling someone out and firing up the base while riling up the opponent seems to be the way to go. Yet our own tradition teaches that taking the high road is nearly always the better path. As our sages put it, “own who wrestles with a dirty person will himself become dirty.” They further state, “just as it is a Mitzvah to speak up when one will be heard (listened to), so too is it a Mitzvah to remain silent when ones words will fall on deaf ears.”

So while there is much that requires attention and there are controversies that need to be addressed, I resist the urge to jump in on them. Instead my pen (or keyboard) will remain silent on those issues and instead I will leave you with a short Torah thought on dedication.

In this week’s Parsha, as Moshe prepares for his passing, he asks Hashem to appoint one of his sons to succeed him as leader – Rebbe of the Jewish people. Hashem denies his request and makes it very clear that his successor will not be his son but rather his closest disciple, Joshua. He further instructs him to give Joshua “semicha” – to ordain him as the next leader by placing his hand on Joshua’s head in front of the Jewish nation. The narrative concludes with Moshe placing both of his hands upon the head of Joshua thereby appointing him as the next Jewish leader.

Rashi points out that here we see Moshe’s generosity. Hashem instructed him to put his hand on Joshua’s head and Moshe generously places both hands – indicating a greater degree of spiritual power being imparted.

A lesser man might not be very gracious about this semicha upon finding out that the man supplanted his own son for whom he had ambitions. But not Moshe. His main concern was that the Jewish people are cared for. When Hashem demonstrates Joshua’s worthiness of the role, Moshe goes all out in imparting all that he can to ensure Joshua’s success as the new leader.

The lesson is clear. Dedication to the cause should be strong enough to help us overcome our petty or even noble wishes so that we do what needs to get done.

Mazel Tov to Emily Nykaza and Jon Lissauer upon the birth of their son. We look forward to celebrating with you this weekend.

Mazel Tov to Etai and Chanah Weizman upon the birth of their son.

Our heartfelt condolences to Jen Sachs and the Sachs family upon the passing of Ray Sachs. We admire your devotion to your father and how meaningful and special you made the last weeks of his life. May Hashem comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Good Shabbos

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Tabled, Terminated, Transformed

The 17th of Tammuz is a fast day commemorating the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem by the Roman army ultimately resulting in the destruction of the Holy Temple three weeks later on the 9th of Av. However, in a year like this one, when the calendar configuration results in this date coinciding with Shabbat, the fast day is deferred until Sunday, the 18th of Tammuz. (In my family this is a welcome change as the 17th is my mother’s birthday so we actually get a chance to celebrate.)

The Talmud relates a Halachic debate between the sages and Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi regarding fast days that are deferred. Rabbi Yehudah argues that once the fast is tabled because of Shabbat it should be terminated entirely (for that year). While the sages do not accept his opinion as Halacha, and indeed there is still an obligation to fast the next day (Sunday), there is still an application for Rabbi Yehudah’s argument.

The prophet Zachariah (8:19) informs that in the era of redemption the fast days will be converted to holidays. Why is this so? Because even now there are two elements to the fast days. They are days of fasting and denying ourselves so that we become more focused on the spiritual. At the same time Isaiah (58:5) calls them “days of goodwill before G-d.” In fact the fasting is merely a way for us to access “the day of goodwill” because of our state of spiritual decline in the time of exile. Were this not the case, the fasting would be unnecessary.

To take it a step further, the inner dimension of a fast day shows us how exile all together is really just a phase in the quest for redemption. Indeed when Moshiach comes we will be able to look back at our exile experience and see exactly how every aspect of it paved the way for redemption.

Now Shabbat is referred to as “a taste of the time to come” – a state of quasi-redemption. We are elevated above the mundane and not as bound to our material state as during the week. So on Shabbat we can experience the “day of goodwill” without needing the fasting. Not only do we avoid fasting, we also do not display any sadness. So we partake strictly of the “positive” element of the fast day. In a sense a fast day falling on Shabbat is also a taste of the time to come, when those days will be transformed into holidays.

This is where Rabbi Yehudah’s take is so meaningful. When the date of the fast coincides with Shabbat, and all we have is the positive and even joyful aspect of the fast day and exile, we then turn to G-d and say, since the fast day was tabled, let it be terminated, indeed even transformed into a day of joy.

G-d willing this is the year in which it takes place!

Shabbat Shalom and happy July 4th!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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