ChabadNewOrleans Blog

G-d Loves Education

IMG-20161114-WA0002.jpgThis week we celebrated an important ritual ceremony with our three year old son, Eliyahu. He, along with three classmates, Yitzchak Nemes, Meir Naghi and Tommy Warshawski, had a “Hachnasa L’cheder” – a formal initiation into Jewish education. The ceremony consists of the children experiencing the sweetness of Torah learning by licking honey off of a page ofIMG-20161114-WA0004.jpg Torah from which they read the letters of the Alef Bet and recited Torah passages. There are several other customs for this ceremony which the children enjoyed together with their schoolmates.

The idea behind this ceremony is obvious. We want our children to know and feel that learning Torah is the sweetest thing. That learning and living Torah is a positive thing that will make their lives better and more meaningful. Though they are only 3 years old, the impression this leaves can last a lifetime. As Jews, we have always valued the importance of education. Were we to forget momentarily, our enemies would quickly remind us. The Greeks, Romans, Spaniards, Russians and others over the millennia moved swiftly to outlaw Jewish education. Their motive? “If there are no kids, there will be no goats.”

On the positive side, G-d declares His love for Avraham primarily because of his commitment “to educating his children and his household that they should keep the way of the L-rd to perform righteousness and justice.” (Genesis 18:19) Of all of the monumental achievements of Avraham, the one that Hashem singles out with His love, is the commitment to education in the ways of Hashem.

We are honored to be continuing a 4000 year long commitment to Jewish education. Here is New Orleans we are privileged that our children have a top rate institution at which they enjoy the highest quality education. The staff and teachers at Torah Academy are truly devoted to the continuity of this 4000 year tradition of educating our people’s future in the ways of Hashem. Along the way, the children receive a well-rounded general education, enabling them to grow up to be excellent citizens and committed Jews. If you would like to support Torah Academy’s efforts in honor of Eliyahu and his friends, or just because you care about the future of our people, please go to and make a contribution. Our children and our nation will forever be thankful.

In other news, check this article about the Le Marais visit to NOLA. As always see below for photos of the event.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Avraham, a sauna and influencing others

In this week’s Parshah (Genesis 14:12), our father Avraham is referred to as Ha’ivri (the Hebrew). Rashi cites the sages’ interpretation for the term Ivri (literally “of the other side”) as a reference to Avraham coming from the other side of the river Euphrates. Other commentators add that the term Ivri – from the other side – could also be a reference to the notion that Avraham stood apart “on the other side” from the entire world with regards to his values and beliefs (in the one true G-d). Yet we find that when Avraham departs Charan toward Canaan he takes his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, and “the souls which they had acquired in Charan” along with him. These “souls,” Rashi tells us, are the people whom Avraham and Sarah had influenced to embrace Monotheism. Thousands of these “idolaters turned monotheists” followed Avraham and his family to Canaan.

So how does a man, who is “on the other side,” different than everyone else, influence people to accept his way of thinking? The answer given by our sages is that he did it with love and kindness. Avraham and Sarah had an “open home.” Their tent had four openings so that people could enter from any direction. Once they were in, travelers were given some food and drink, a place to stay, a listening ear and a smile. After being treated so generously and with such warmth, people were open to hearing what Avraham had to say about the issues that mattered to him, namely that folks should embrace the one true G-d and reject the foolish idolatry. The result is that a man who was thrown into a furnace for rejecting the popular beliefs of his time, was able to positively influence many thousands to accept his way of thinking.

My grandfather, Rabbi Sholom Gordon, was hired as a young Rabbi in Newark, NJ in the 1940s. He turned to his Rebbe, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe for guidance on how to influence his congregants without alienating them with a reproachful manner. The Rebbe reminded him of the Russian saunas. One enters, and as one climbs up the steps the heat increases. As the body temperature rises, an attendant uses a broom-like object to slap (like a massage) the person. Now imagine, said the Rebbe, if the attendant would meet you on the street and start hitting you with the broom. You would get angry and want to retaliate. Yet in the sauna you asked for more. Why? Because when a person is uplifted and warmed they are more open to reproach and influence. This became my grandfather’s modus operandi. First you uplift and warm a person then you can even influence them to change their mindset and way of life.

Many feel like Hebrews. It’s me against the whole misguided world. If you want to change people, remember Avraham’s way. Remember the lesson of the sauna. Shouting at people (literally or on social media) doesn’t usually accomplish much. Loving and warmth, over a plate of food and a cup of something, is much more effective. Try it sometime!

Speaking of a plate of food, we had a great event here last week with Mark Hennessey and Jose Mierelles of Le Marais. Please see the pictures below or Thank you to Warren Cohen for facilitating the event.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom – peaceful Sabbath!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Inconvenience yourself, but pamper others

The story of Noah contains many lessons. Here is one teaching from the Rebbe that is out of the box and incisive.

Rashi, commenting on Genesis 7:23 states, and only Noah… survived: (Ach) means “only” Noah (and those with him in the ark). This is its simple meaning, but the Midrash states: “He was groaning and spitting blood because of the burden [of caring for] the cattle and the beasts, and some say that he delayed feeding the lion, and it struck him.”

Noah’s dedication to the animals’ needs aboard the ark demonstrates the extent to which one must be willing to go to fulfill his divine mission in this world. Particularly, Noah’s devotion to providing his passengers with physical sustenance serves as a metaphor for those who have been tasked with providing others with spiritual sustenance.

Noah was a spiritual person, the most righteous in his time, yet he fully dedicated himself to the exhausting job of feeding the animals, unabated even by the detriment this caused to his physical health. Emulating Noah, we, too, must commit ourselves to carrying out our mission to bring the Torah’s message of G-dliness and holiness to the world under any circumstances, even if it comes at the expense of our physical comfort. At the same time, however, we must not impose this “willingness for discomfort” on others. As Rashi concludes, “Some say that he delayed feeding the lion, and it struck him…” This teaches us that while we must readily sacrifice our own comfort for the success of our vital and lofty mission, the next person’s needs, or even their conveniences, are not ours to sacrifice or delay.

One of the great Chassidic masters was in a conversation with a wealthy man who described his ascetic eating habits. The Rabbi instructed him to desist his menu of bread and water and to put all of the mouth-watering delicacies back on his table. When the chassidim asked their Rebbe for an explanation he said, “if the rich man suffices with bread and water he will think that poor can subsist on air, but it he eats fish, meat and wine, at least the poor will be given a loaf of bread.”

Speaking of pampering other people… Tonight’s menu for A Taste of Kosher Le Marais is: First dish - Poke (Hawaiian marinated fish) with green bamboo rice, macadamia nuts & hot sauce. Second dish: Sweet corn chowder with cilantro and lime. Third dish: Beef bourguignon with pearled onions. Something for every palate! Vegetarians, the first two dishes are meatless. Make your reservation now Also, important parking info! Tulane has recently revised their parking policies. They now allow the public to park in some restricted areas without a permit after 5:30 pm. So all of the Tulane parking areas around Chabad are available for tonight's event!

We look forward to seeing you there!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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