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Positive Thinking

There is the old question of the glass half full vs. the glass half empty and which approach is better. Are optimists just Pollyannaish and pessimists are the realists or are pessimists just jaded by life experience while optimism is our natural state?

I would argue that if we take a look at children we will conclude that our default setting is being optimistic. Unless they are upset by something in the moment, children are general optimistic and cheerful about the future. Case in point. In New Orleans we have a Synagogue Softball League. The Chabad team is not exactly the Yankees of the league. In fact, last week, we just won our first game in several years. The one thing we have going for us week after week, year in year out, is our fan base/cheering squad. The children come out to every game and cheer their hearts out. We could be losing by ten runs but they are still cheering us on.

On a more serious note, the medical world has long acknowledged the value that positive thinking and an optimistic outlook have on even a serious medical situation. David, one of the Israeli patients currently awaiting a liver transplant at Ochsner, is always in an upbeat mood and has a smile on his face whenever I see him. I commented on this to him to which he replied that he knows how much positivity contributes to his getting through this current ordeal.

Taking it one step further, Chassidism teaches that positive thinking, not only helps get us through a difficult situation, it can actually impact the outcome. To quote the Tzemach Tzedek (third Chabad Rebbe) “tracht gut vet zein gut – thing good and it will be good.” My uncle, Rabbi Josh Gordon, of blessed memory, lived by this mantra based on inspiration he once received from the Rebbe in this regard. He shared that he saw the “tracht gut vet zein gut” approach have a concrete impact in alleviating many of the obstacles he faced in his life.

Now, as a jaded pessimist, I can say that this easier said (or written) than done. However, when I find the inner strength to inject positive thinking into a challenging situation, it is helpful on all of the aforementioned levels. So let’s all try to do more of “tracht gut vet zein gut” and reap the many benefits of positive thinking. The greatest obstacle in the life of a Jew is Galus – exile. With “tracht gut vet zein gut” we can power ourselves over the goal-line into redemption!

Happy Lag B’omer and Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Share the Wealth

The Torah is the ultimate document of goodness given to us by the Source of all Good, Hashem. The wisdom and moral teachings of the Torah help us to combat the self-centeredness that can be natural to the human being. For example, in this week’s Torah portion the laws and practices of the holidays are enumerated. Somewhere in between the laws of Shavuot and Rosh Hashanah the Torah inserts a reminder about the Mitzvot associated with a farmer leaving crops in his field for the poor to gather. Similarly, in Deuteronomy, when speaking of the holiday celebrations and feasts we are cautioned to remember the widows, the orphans, the poor and others who may be needy or lonely.

Holidays are times when we are to “rejoice before the L-rd” with eating, drinking and family gatherings. If it is difficult to be poor, lonely or needy on any given day, how much more so at holiday time, when everyone else is rejoicing in the blessings with which they have been blessed by G-d. The Torah is teaching us that our celebration would be incomplete, indeed cruel, if we forgot those that were less fortunate than ourselves.

Teachings such as these have inspired the legendary Jewish charitableness that serves as a beacon of justice and light to a world that is sometimes quite narcissistic.  

Along comes the Rebbe and inserts an additional wrinkle to this idea of tzedakah and chesed. He explains that just as we must be sensitive to those have less than us in a material sense, including them in our holiday celebrations and caring for their needs at all times, so too must we be sensitive to the spiritual needs of others. There may be a Jew who did not benefit from the type of education or upbringing that inspired you to live an enriched spiritual life. Maybe you studied something or were motivated by a teacher or mentor to live as an inspired Jew, whereas the other fellow did not. Find that Jew and include him in your holiday celebration or enrich his life on any occasion that you can.

So on Rosh Hashanah, go out after services with your shofar to find people that weren’t in Shul for whatever reason. On Sukkot take your Lulav and Etorg and give others that opportunity to do the Mitzvah. On Chanukah bring the light of the Menorah to a Jew that may not have it on his own. On Purim bring your Megillah to Jews in a hospital, retirement home, army base, business or home and read it for them. On Pesach make sure every seat at your Seder is filled with folks who may not otherwise attend and celebrate. On Shavuot, make sure that every Jewish person, even small children and infants are in the Synagogue to hear the reenactment of the giving of the Torah. The same approach is applied to every Mitzvah and Jewish experience.

To quote the book Hayom Yom by the Rebbe, “The Alter Rebbe received the following teaching from the tzadik Reb Mordechai, who had heard it from the Baal Shem Tov: A soul may descend to this world and live seventy or eighty years, in order to do a material favor for a Jew, and certainly a spiritual one.” This, my friends, is what life is all about!

Congratulations to Torah Academy for a successful Shining Stars Auction event. Great job by Rabbi Yossi and Rivkie Chesney and the amazing crew of volunteers, donors, supporters and participants. Hope to have some photos next week. The future of Jewish New Orleans has been brightened thanks to your efforts! 

Shabbat Shalom 
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Keeping the Holy in the Holy Land

One of the founders of the State of Israel once quipped about how wonderful Israel is because there are even Jewish thieves and prostitutes. Every year lists come out about all of the great things about Israel and some of those accomplishments echo the same moral qualities.

Throughout the Torah Israel is referred to as “The Land;” the land that I have promised to your fathers, the land that I am giving you and so forth. In Hebrew “the land” is rendered as “Ha’aretz” (remind you of something?). When the letter Hei is placed before a word it means “the,” indicating the well-known one. So Ha’aretz means the land – “and you know which one I am talking about.”

The word Aretz (land) is etymologically related to two other words in Hebrew that share two of its root letters, Reish and Tzadik; Ratzon (will) and Ratz (run). Indeed the Talmud declares, “Why is Israel called Ha’aretz (the land)? Because its people run (ratz) to fulfill the will (ratzon) of its Creator.

So we see that Israel is defined as Ha’aretz (The Land) by virtue of its inhabitants (the people of Israel) being committed to fulfilling the Will of Hashem. So Hashem endowed Israel the land with so many special qualities so as to facilitate the people of Israel’s devotion to Hashem’s Will. The air is holy and special. The soil is holy and special. The produce is holy and special. All so that Jews could be even more dedicated to fulfilling the Will of their Creator.

So if we want to highlight Israel’s greatness, we’d be better off talking about the spiritual transformation that Jews have brought about in the land. The Torah study, the devotion to Mitzvot, Ahavat Yisrael, and Chesed. This is what we have to be proud of. Certainly the achievements in the areas of technology, medicine and defense are all laudable, but they are merely a means to an end – to become Ha’aretz, a land whose people run to fulfill the will of the Creator.

Very soon the era of Redemption will be ushered in. Then we will all be able to appreciate and experience the true greatness of Israel with an infinite list of accomplishments that fit the definition of Ha’aretz – The Land that Hashem designated as the eternal homeland of the Jewish people and spiritual capital of the world.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Road Trip Adventures - Chapter 4

Some of you may remember our family’s adventures on road trips in years past. http://www.chabadneworleans.com/templates/blog/post.asp?aid=1203266&PostID=53863&p=1
Last year our adventure resulted in us getting a new car, which prompted many to “lament” that there would be no adventures to report this year.

Thank G-d we had no car trouble or other trip related mishaps this year. Indeed, thank G-d we had no car trouble or other trip related mishaps this year.

When everything goes well and smooth we need to thank G-d just as when we are facing a trouble and He pulls us through. Did you hear about the guy who was on a plane that had no trouble and he made a big public acknowledgment of G-d’s kindness to him? No? Because, often we take those things for granted. When nothing goes wrong and there is no need for an amazing, zero hour salvation, we sometimes forget that this too deserves a thank you to Hashem.

When one is healthy, financially solvent, has a happy marriage, nachas from children, part of a good community, lives in security and so forth, for all this, Baruch Hashem. We shouldn’t need the crisis and deliverance to remember that all comes from Hashem.

Our morning blessings take us through a series of normal life experiences for which we thank G-d. We can see, stand, walk, clothe ourselves, experience normal bodily function, and live as good Jews – all this is a blessing for which we thank Hashem. Sometimes we zip through them and don’t pay attention to the words or the blessings that we are acknowledging. My buddy and personal trainer, Jonathan Kaufman is really into the blessing of Asher Yatzar, thanking Hashem for the healthy workings of the body. I am inspired by the attention he pays to each word and aspect of the blessing.

So the lesson from this year’s road trip is to be conscious of the necessity to thank Hashem for the ordinary just like the extra-ordinary, for the natural just like the miraculous and to live in a heightened state of awareness of how everything comes from Hashem!

My children attend an amazing school called Torah Academy. Torah Academy excels on so many different levels to provide a high quality Jewish education for them and all of the 50 plus children who attend the school. The building is a beautiful, modern facility. The staff is dedicated and genuinely warm. The atmosphere is one of friendship and Jewish pride. The academics are tops in both general and Judaic subjects. The only thing missing is enough money to keep the school thriving. Please help support this vital institution in our NOLA Jewish community by attending or supporting Shining Stars, the auction to benefit the education of NOLA Jewish children. Please visit www.torahauction.com and get your tickets to the event or participate in the auction online. Our children are our future; your investment will pay eternal dividends.

The fund set up to help Beth Israel’s Rabbi Gabe and Abby Greenberg following the fire that destroyed their home continues to accept donations at www.gofundme.com/2g63ppys. Please support them in their time of need.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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