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Trial Victory Party

Yesterday we were victorious in a major lawsuit and I am inviting each of you to join us for the victory party next week, complete with a parade and everything. The trial lasted 10 days and verdict was unanimous in our favor. You still don’t know what I am talking about?

I refer to the trial known as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when we are all on trial before the Ultimate Judge. The Midrash relates that one of the reasons for the Mitzvah of shaking the Lulav on Sukkot is that they serve as props in the victory parade following the victory on Yom Kippur against our accusers. Forget coconuts or shoes, this parade features the Etrog – a fruit that can easily cost $50-100.

Indeed the festival of Sukkot is (among other things) a time to celebrate the victory and vindication on Yom Kippur. The climax of this celebration is Simchat Torah – the purest form of Simcha – joy in Judaism.

Actually if one observes or marks the Days of Awe but neglects to participate in the victory party of Sukkot and Simchat Torah they are missing the point. It may be likened to a bride checking out after the Chuppah and skipping the wedding reception.

So let’s keep our Jewish antennae up for a while longer. This time we celebrate our Jewishness not through seriousness but through joy.

In addition to the important Mitzvot of Lulav and Etrog and eating in the Sukkah, which are relevant the entire week of Sukkot, I also wish to highlight two celebrations. The first is Sukkah-Fest 2015 – being held next Thursday afternoon, October 1 5:30-7:30 PM at 919 Broadway. The Second is Simchat Torah Hakafot on Monday night, October 5 7:30 PM at both Chabad locations. Look forward to seeing you there!

Have a joyous Sukkot and Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Days of Awe or Days of Love?

This time period is often called the Days of Awe. There is a focus on the serious and somber side of things. Awe may be associated with Judgement Day. It may be associated with a feeling of smallness before Hashem’s Majesty. Certainly awe implies standing at a distance from the object of one’s awe.

As we were going through the Annulment of Vows ceremony on the morning before Rosh Hashanah, 16 people stated their request for annulment and each was granted such by the panel of judges (the rest of the minyan), who concluded with a quote from the Torah, Deut., 23:6, “for the L-rd your G-d loves you.” Reciting this passage 16 times caused me to consider that there seems to be another side to this whole Days of Awe thing.

To take this a step further. Did you ever wonder why so many Jews are drawn to a Synagogue over the High Holidays while many are simultaneously expressing uncertainty whether they actually believe in G-d?

This conundrum can be answered with the following concept introduced by the Chassidic masters. It is called “kiruv ha’maor el hanitzutz” – closeness of the source to the spark. In simple terms this means that during the days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Hashem – “the Source” draws near to us – “the spark.” The natural reaction to that phenomenon is that the spark is pulled toward the source that is drawing near to it. So without realizing why, Jews are seeking a closeness with Hashem in reaction to the expression of love that is Hashem’s closeness to us. They do this by coming to Shul or finding some other way to express the Jewishness during this time.

So while these maybe Days of Awe, with all of the pomp and formality that awe implies, they are some pretty awesome (colloquial) Days of Love as well. We can actually enjoy both experiences and the full complement of a charged emotional relationship with Hashem. All we need to do is tap into it! For, at the end of the day, “the L-rd your G-d loves you!”

Wishing you a meaningful Yom Kippur and a Gmar Chatima Tova!
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Get Listed in G-d's Book of Life

With Rosh Hashanah literally around the bend, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your loved ones a Shana Tova Umetuka (good and sweet year) from all of us at Chabad of Louisiana. We hope that 5776 is a year of health, happiness, prosperity, and meaningful growth for all of us and most importantly a year of peace and redemption for the world.

Why do we add sweet to the good year wishes? Someone shared an explanation for this with me the other day. If we just say good – well everything that G-d does is good. When we add sweet we are wishing that it should the kind of good that we can appreciate and clearly perceive as sweet.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev once made the following observation. We talk of being inscribed in the book of life or, G-d forbid, the opposite. Since the judgement takes place on Rosh Hashanah when certain types of activities, including writing, are prohibited, how could Hashem inscribe us in any book? Rabbi Levi Yitzchak explained, since for the purpose of saving a life one may engage in those prohibited activities we must conclude that, by His own rules, Hashem has no choice but to inscribe us in the book of life – a life-saving cause indeed!

Of course the ideal situation would be that we actually earn our listing in the book of life and everything good. We have two more days to make it happen. Get cracking!

Breaking news on the Sukkah-Fest front! After last year’s “soggy and rained out, but awesome anyway” party, we are bringing back the Panorama Jazz Band for an encore! This time we are praying for a nice sunny and cool October afternoon. Mark your calendars – Thursday, October 1 at 5:30 PM – Sukkah-Fest 2015.

If you are still looking for a place for High Holidays services we encourage to try Chabad. At both locations (uptown and Metairie) all are welcome and the services are user friendly accompanied by commentary and explanations throughout. We are saving you a seat. No tickets needed.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova Umetuka!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Spiritual ATM Fees

Rosh Hashanah is just 10 days away. We begin reciting Selichot (penitential prayers) this Saturday night. During Rosh Hashanah we pray for our needs for the coming year. In doing so we express our faith that the blessings of health, livelihood and happiness come from G-d. Yet, we need to see Hashem as more than just the “big ATM in the sky.”

One the Chassidic masters got up to address his followers during Rosh Hashanah services and related the following parable.

A store owner returned to his business after leaving it under the supervision of an employee while he went to attend to some errands. He enters the store and sees total chaos and destruction. Merchandise is scattered everywhere. Furniture is broken. The cash register is open and empty. Customers are walking out with goods for which they did not pay. He looks around to find the employee who was entrusted with the management of the store. He finally notices his worker sitting lazily behind the counter with his feet up, cocktail in one hand and a cigar in the other. As soon as the manager sees his boss he gets up and instead of apologizing or at least explaining the situation, he demands a raise in his salary.

The lesson is obvious. Certainly Hashem is committed to taking care of us and providing for our needs. Therefore we are correct in praying and asking that those needs be met. But let us not be like the brazen manager who was blatantly negligent is his work and yet has the chutzpah to demand more. Rather let’s buckle down and do our jobs and our “Employer” will show His appreciation for our dedication to His business of making this world a good and G-dly place.

For additional layers of meaning of Rosh Hashanah, please join us for Lunch N Learn next Thursday at noon downtown at NY Camera. The topic is “What is Rosh Hashanah?”

If you are in the market for a Synagogue for the High Holidays, we would be honored if you considered Chabad. Our services, while conducted in Hebrew, are warm and user friendly with a lot of singing and a running commentary throughout the service. We do not charge for seats and anyone is welcome to attend. We are saving a seat for you!

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova.
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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