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Other People's Lives - Chanukah Edition

Certainly, first and foremost Chanukah is a Jewish holiday with a uniquely Jewish message along with a mission and directive to the Jewish people. Yet, our sages clearly instruct that Chanukah has a message that is universal and therefore the notion of Pirsumei Nissa (Aramaic for publicizing the miracle) applies not only to fellow Jews but also to all people. Hence the Rebbe’s encouragement of the effort to light Menorahs in public places and get public officials and dignitaries involved. True this enhances Jewish observance of Chanukah but it also serves the Pirsumei Nissa agenda of publicizing the message of Chanukah even to those that are not Jewish.

This is why Chanukah is a holiday that is “made for social media.” Every Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat post or Tweet about someone’s observance of Chanukah furthers the agenda of Pirsumei Nissa. Chabad’s #sharethelights campaign has brought it together in a broad manner and there are thousands posting that are not even using the hashtag.

This is one of the times where watching OPL (other people’s lives) on social media is meaningful. I have really been enjoying seeing the posts and the pride that my fellow Jews take in their Chanukah observance and celebration.

So what is the message of Chanukah that is universally applicable? For a ninety second soundbite I invite you to watch my appearance on Fox8 on the morning of Chanukah @ Riverwalk. http://www.fox8live.com/clip/12990586/john-snell-talks-with-rabbi-mendel-rivkin-about-the-chanukah-at-riverwalk-event?autostart=true

In the meantime, Chanukah @ Riverwalk was a great success this year with record attendance, great weather and a wonderful program. Warm words were shared by Rivkie Chesney, State Senator JP Morell, Eddie Soll, Frank Quinn, Morris Bart and Rabbi Zelig Rivkin. The Menorah was lit by Gene Gekker and the blessings were recited by Gershon Schreiber. There was a latke bar, Kosher Cajun food booth, Facepainting by Irina, a Dreidel House featuring brick4kidz and a craft, music and a laser show by Ooh La La – Shawn and Eric. Photos below or at www.chabadneworleans.com/3544176. See also a photo gallery by Michael DeMocker at www.nola.com/holidays/index.ssf/2016/12/grand_menorah_lighting_at_the.html#incart_gallery.

Chabad of Baton Rouge (chabadbr.com) held a Menorah lighting at the Capital with Commissioner Jay Dardenne, while Chabad of Southern Mississippi (jewishmississippi.com) had a Menorah lighting at Edgewater Mall with the mayor of Biloxi in attendance. There was a celebration at Chabad Metairie (jewishlouisiana.com) for Israelis and a family Chanukah party the next night. A Menorah was lit at Lambeth House and another at the VA hospital as well as Lakeside Shopping Center.

The final hurrah is the Krewe of Chanukah AKA the Mobile Menorah Parade rolling Saturday night on the eighth night of Chanukah.

Enjoy the rest of the holiday and Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Chanukah a Minor Holiday? Bah Humbug!

Many of the “wise Jewish pundits” relegate Chanukah to being just a minor holiday. They argue that it does not have the work proscription like the Biblical festivals or Shabbat, the rituals associated with it are minimal, and the clincher… it only became big because of its proximity to the holiday celebrated by the general population in Western lands.

Let’s examine some of the aspects of Chanukah and its observances to see what the real picture is. Chanukah is observed by kindling the lights of the Menorah after the sun sets, in the doorway of the home facing the outside, on the left side of the door. Contrast that with the kindling of the Menorah in the Temple, which was done before sunset, inside the building and on the south side of the room.

The light of the candles represents the Torah, the light of holiness and G-dliness. The light of Hashem was brought to the world by kindling the Menorah in the Temple, from where the light spread. Symbolically, the idea of lighting the Menorah inside, during the day and to the south indicated that the light of the Menorah was not potent enough to confront opposing forces on their turf.

Night is dark, representing a concealment of G-dly revelation. The outside (public sphere) represents a place that does not recognize itself as being under Divine Sovereignty (unlike a private domain). In Kabbala, the left side represents a withdrawal of Divine Revelation, leaving a vacuum with the potential for the development of evil. So the Temple Menorah’s light was not powerful enough to contend with the forces of “the other side.” The Chanukah lights, by contrast, must be lit after sundown – thereby confronting the darkness. The Chanukah lights must be placed in the doorway facing the outside - thereby confronting the perceived independence of the public domain from Divine Sovereignty. The Chanukah lights are situated on the left side of the doorway (opposite the Mezuzah) – thereby confronting the potential for evil on its own turf.

So why is Chanukah not a work proscribed holiday? Why, for the very same reason. Chanukah brings the holiness of G-dly revelation into the mundane, the weekday, the workday. No other holiday or observance in Judaism combines all of these elements of illuminating the world in this manner. So now you tell me. Is Chanukah a minor holiday that we celebrate just to give Jewish kids something to feel good about at this time of the year? Or is it the most powerful force that is contained within Judaism?

As the darkness of the world increases, the need for Chanukah to take a front seat in the Jewish world grows. Indeed, in just the last 40 years, thanks to the Rebbe’s intiative, Chanukah observance has exploded bringing much needed light at a time when the world truly needs it.

This year, do Chanukah proudly. Celebrate openly and share your Chanukah experiences with others even via social media. As a matter of fact, Chabad is bringing back the #sharethelights campaign. Please include that hashtag in all of your Chanukah posts.

Looking forward to seeing you all at Chanukah @ Riverwalk next Tuesday. In the meantime have a Shabbat Shalom and a very happy and bright Chanukah!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

The Chasid in the Hat - Dr. Seuss Meets the Baal Shemtov

One of the cornerstones of the Baal Shemtov’s philosophy was the importance of realizing that every encounter in life is meant to serve as a lesson that shapes our relationship with Hashem. There is no such thing as happenstance; rather every experience is a teachable (learnable) moment.

Case in point. In 1977 during Hakafot on Shmini Atzeret, the Rebbe suffered a heart attack. The next day while the doctor was doing labs the Rebbe had a discussion with the doctor about the syringe. That night the Rebbe shared this teaching with the Chassidim. A hypodermic needle draws blood for the purpose of diagnosis and treatment. However, it is not the needle which draws the blood. Rather it is the vacuum in the syringe. An empty vessel can draw in with greater intensity than one which is full. So too can the person who is aware of his own inadequacy be more strongly motivated to study and to do positive things. Similarly, when one finds oneself in a situation where an absence is deeply felt, one need not be despondent. We can rather use the emptiness itself as an impetus for even greater achievement.

This teaching of the Baal Shemtov is one that Chassidism seeks to inculcate into the mindset and outlook of a Jew. This coming Sunday night we are hosting an evening of inspiration entitled Living with Faith, a lecture and farbrengen with Rabbi Mendel Rubin. Rabbi Rubin comes from a family that embodies the Baal Shemtov’s approach to life. He was always a creative thinker (we were classmates in Yeshiva), a talent he inherited from his father, Rabbi Yisroel Rubin. During the talk on Sunday we will get a glimpse into this creativity as Rabbi Rubin introduces his theme (3 words spawning 3 movements) using 3 children’s books authored by Dr. Seuss. For Seuss enthusiasts, the three books are: The Lorax, The Kings Stilts and McElligot's Pool.

Please join us for this meaningful event and bring an open mind and an open heart.

We extend heartfelt condolences to Stephen and Mery Blitz and the entire Blitz family over the untimely passing of Michael Aaron Blitz. May Hashem comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem and may you only know of happiness from here onwards.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Deck the Souls with...

In 1901 the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch, authored a letter to his Chasidim describing the 19th of Kislev as the Rosh Hashanah of Chasidus, the day on which the light and vitality of our souls were given to us by G-d. (The 19th of Kislev is the anniversary of Chabad’s founder, Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s liberation from Czarist prison in 1798. That event was a turning point in propelling the revolutionary impact that Chasidism would have on Jewish life.)

Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, the leading sage of Lithuanian Jewry at the time, was shown the letter by an individual who attempted to use it to poke fun at Chasidim. He argued, “The Talmud states that there are four Rosh Hashanahs and the Lubavitcher Rebbe is adding a fifth.” Rabbi Chaim Ozer replied, “They are increasing while we are diminishing.”

What does it mean when a day is declared to be “Rosh Hashanah?” Chasidus explains, that on Rosh Hashanah a new stream of Divine Energy comes to world in relation to the pertinent area of existence covered by that Rosh Hashanah (trees on Tu B’shvat etc.). A Rosh Hashanah for Chasidus means that the new stream of Divine Energy comes in relation to the Neshamah. Hence the description “the day on which the light and vitality of our souls were given to us.”

The purpose of Chasidus is to infuse Torah, Mitzvos and G-dly living with a vibrancy that enriches the entire experience. Light and vitality are both forces that do not add anything quantitatively to an equation, but significantly enhance the quality. A corpse possesses all of the same limbs and organs as those of a live person, but with the addition of life (vitality) the limbs and organs can function and accomplish. Similarly a dark space has all the qualities that an illuminated space possesses. However in the dark those qualities cannot be utilized since they cannot be accessed. With the infusion of light, that which is already in place can be harnessed in a productive manner.

Now this Rosh Hashanah infused with light and vitality is coming in 11 days. How do we optimally capitalize on these special gifts? To help us do so, we are having an evening of inspiration entitled Living with Faith. Our speaker, Rabbi Mendel Rubin, is a creative thinker and popular teacher to people on a quest for meaningful Jewish fulfillment. He is a classmate of mine, whom I remember as an inspiring person even as a teenager. Please join us on Sunday, December 18 at 6:30 PM at the Btesh Family Chabad House for a farbrengen, a gathering in which our hearts and souls come together to communicate with one another.

I look forward to greeting you with a joyous “Happy New Year.” Now this is a New Year worth celebrating. The one a few weeks later, on the other hand...

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Giant in Ahavat Yisrael

This past weekend, I, along with thousands of my fellow Shluchim, had the privilege to participate in the annual Kinus – conference. A weekend of recharging, uplifting and togetherness. The highlight, of course, is standing together as one before the Rebbe at the Ohel, asking the Rebbe to pray for our success and bless us with everything good. There is also the banquet – a wonderful evening filled with meaning and inspiration. On a personal level my friends and classmates gathered together to remember and celebrate the life of a friend who we recently lost. One month ago, one of my dear friends, Mendel Brikman, passed away following a years’ long battle with a devastating illness. I knew Mendel for many years, but we really became close when we spent a year together in Sydney as Shluchim (Rabbinic interns – emissaries of the Rebbe). Mendel was my study partner, but more importantly my friend. That cemented our friendship for life. He was one of the boys but there was something special about him that we didn’t really pay attention to properly until now that he has passed. I would like to share with you some of what I wrote to his wife and children along with two stories that I heard last weekend.

Mendel had an amazing knack for making people feel comfortable, easing them into settings that may have seemed foreign to them. His was a natural charisma, but the kind that did not suppress everyone else's presence. Rather his leadership ability was the kind that brought out the talents in others. Real glue that can keep a group together, despite personality differences and different outlooks on life.

Mendel was a chameleon in the best possible way. His cleverness and "street smarts" (also known as common sense) allowed him to slip into any circumstance and rise to the occasion. It also gave him a "klugshaft" (wisdom) through which he brought down to earth perspectives on a variety of situations. Mendel related to people in a way that made them feel better about themselves following their interaction with him. The quality that rises above all, and, I think, shaped all of his other qualities, was that he had a geshmak (pleasure), a real geshmak, in doing a favor for another. Simply pure ahavat yisrael that came to him naturally.

I used to love stopping in to Sterling (his electronics store in NY) upon my visits just to say hello and chat with Mendel. One came away feeling uplifted after such a conversation. After Hurricane Katrina we were chatting and he was very empathetic about our challenges. As we parted he unassumingly slipped a significant sum of money into my hand to help us with the recovery.

When his illness struck, his positive approach to life's challenges put me to shame. When one spoke to him, knowing all that he was going through and yet he was so upbeat and filled with bitachon (trust and faith) and positivity, one felt foolish to be agonizing over the small problems compared to the way Mendel dealt with the big ones. During our (NOT OFTEN ENOUGH - a major regret of mine) phone calls or visits he oozed bitachon no matter what. Over the past years I thought about Mendel almost every day as I recited Tehillim. On many holidays during the priestly blessing he was on my mind...

There are no words that one can say other than AD MOSAI. We need Moshiach to come to that Hashem can remove death from the earth and wipe the tears off of the faces of those crying for their beloved spouse, parent, child, sibling and friend.

Two stories: When we were flying to Australia in 1993, our trip took us through Osaka, Japan and then on to Sydney. During the last leg of the trip, one of our group, Yossi, wasn’t feeling well. He was seated next to Mendel Brikman. When Mendel got up for a moment Yossi stretched out into the next seat to be more comfortable for a few minutes until Mendel would return. Six hours later Yossi woke up feeling much better. He looked around and realized that Mendel elected to let him sleep and spent six hours wandering around or perched on an armrest just so that Yossi would be more comfortable. Mendel made it completely natural and dismissed any attempt at thanking him.

During the last weeks of his life Mendel spent much time in the ICU on a breathing machine. One night, a friend, Chaim, came to spell Mendel’s wife in the hospital so she could go get some rest at home. Chaim was sitting in the hospital room chair and dozed off. Mendel struggled mightily with breathing. Every breath and every word spoken came with great effort. In middle of the night Mendel woke up and signaled for the nurse. Chaim also woke up and tried to see what was needed. He overheard Mendel asking the nurse, with extreme effort in each word, to bring his friend a pillow so that his sleep in the chair would be more comfortable. Even as he lay fighting for his life, the comfort of another was paramount to him.

Many more stories have been told. May Mendel’s life example serve as an inspiration to us to increase our own love and caring for another, and in that merit, this long bitter exile can finally be moved to the history books, where it belongs, with the coming of Moshiach speedily.

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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