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Keeping it Fresh

This week’s Torah portion addresses the lighting of the Menorah by Aaron the High Priest. After giving a full description of how it should be done, the Torah concludes that Aaron did exactly as he was instructed. Rashi comments, “This teaches us (in praise of Aaron) that he did not alter or change the process in any way.” The obvious question is why praise someone of Aaron’s caliber for following the instructions properly? This is what he “supposed to be” doing.

The Chassidic insight into this gives us an important lesson for life in serving Hashem. The Hebrew word for change (verb) is Shinah. The same root letters also have the connotation of repeat, something repetitive or routine. So the praise of Aaron is that although he performed the service of lighting the Menorah daily for nearly 40 years, it was never routine or repetitive. He always approached the task with the same reverence and enthusiasm as though it was his first time.

Our takeaway is that we need to ensure that our service of Hashem is likewise kept fresh and that we don’t fall into the trap of repetitiveness or seeing it as routine. Isiah references the statement from G-d decrying the performance of Mitzvot by rote, without passion. But how indeed to we keep things fresh? The fact is that we do these acts over and over each day and the risk of becoming routine is very real and even reasonably expected.

One of the solutions to discover new dimensions in Torah study that provides for fresh motivation and inspiration for the enthusiastic performance of a Mitzvah. If we learned a new meaning or a deeper layer of that particular Mitzvah it would be new and exciting for us again. So we need to constantly expand our Torah learning capacity and explore new horizons, thereby piquing our interest over and over.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

A Talmudic Approach To Orlando

When the news broke about the shooting in Orlando we were celebrating the holiday of Shavuot. Without access to technology we only got some slow drips of information. When I looked at my phone after the holiday ended on Monday night, I was struck by the loudest cacophony possible to experience from soundless text posted by folks on social media.

You had the group that insisted that we need to see this solely as an act of radical Islamic terror. You had the group that insisted that we need to see this solely as a result of the accessibility of guns in this country. You had the group that insisted that this be seen solely as an act of hate against the LGBTQ community. And so on and so on with everyone shouting their opinions as if anyone actually convinced someone else to change their mind based on a post or tweet…

In the meantime 49 people were murdered and many more injured in the biggest mass shooting in America. If our goal is to effectively address the situation and get a real dialogue going on the issues, then shouting (by typing) at each other on social media or regular media isn’t going to accomplish much.

Let’s take a page from the Talmud in how to deal with divergence of opinions on important issues. The Talmud is filled with Halachic disputes between sages. Perhaps the most famous disputants are Beit Hillel (school of Hillel) and Beit Shammai (school of Shammai). They argue about hundreds of cases. In the vast majority of cases the Halacha follows the opinion of Beit Hillel, as the majority of sages supported their opinion in those cases. In explaining this phenomenon, the Talmud declares that the reason why Halacha so often followed the opinion of Beit Hillel is because they were humble and they cite the view of Beit Shammai before citing their own view.

The question is, humility is very nice and being polite is also very nice, but what does that have to do with verifying truth and determining Halacha?

One of the commentaries explains it in this manner. When Beit Hillel cite Beit Shammai’s opinion first it is because they truly wished to hear the opposing view and seriously consider it before offering their own. When one is seeking the truth one is truly open to hearing what the other person has to say and will seriously consider that opinion before either accepting or rejecting it.

Contrast this approach with what we have in our society today. We have sides that are entrenched, each so stuck with their agenda that they don’t pause for a moment to consider the possibility that the other side may have a legitimate contribution to the discussion. These agendas color the ability to seek truth wherever it may be found, as the saying goes, “don’t confuse me with the facts.” Or, I may add, “don’t confuse me with logical arguments.”

It may actually be, that in our situation there is legitimacy to many of the arguments and the answer lies somewhere as a blend of the solutions. But if we don’t stop shouting for long enough to consider the view of another, we may never resolve these issues and more and more people will be victims of our inability and unwillingness to cooperate.

Malkie and I are grateful to all those that participated in our son’s Upshernish in person or through good wishes. For a selection of photos of the event - www.chabadneworleans.com/3359184. To see the video that we showed at the event – www.chabadneworleans.com/3360118.

Heartfelt condolences to Mrs. Malka Lew upon the passing of her sister, Jody Rau. May Hashem comfort you and her children, Billy & Leslie Rau and the family in your loss among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

The Greatest Moment in History

Another terrorist attack with the same predictable reactions in Gaza and around the world. The usual media outlets misrepresent the terror. The usual suspects express their outrage at the attack and at the reactions while other usual suspects play the blame game and determine that Israel is responsible. In the meantime Jewish blood has been spilled and we have become desensitized to it to some degree. We must be forceful in our assertions that there is no excuse or place for this kind of behavior. People that are involved in terror activities against our people must be dealt with accordingly so that it is understood that Jewish blood is not cheap. Furthermore we must cry out to Hashem to put this exile out of its misery so that no people will have to experience this ever again.

On a more cheerful note… If you were asked to identify the most important and momentous event in world history, what would you say?

I would argue that the single event that had the greatest impact on the trajectory of the world and humanity, is the event we are commemorating this weekend – revelation at Sinai and the giving of the Torah. I believe this is true on a number of levels. To name a few…

Firstly the Torah and its principles have shaped many societies since then. On the flipside the morality and conscience represented by the Torah is also one of the most resented aspects in history – one that has been the fodder for much persecution of our people.

In addition that moment at Sinai gave the Jewish people their eternality – a notion at which people continue to marvel until this very day.

Perhaps the most profound reason is that revelation at Sinai empowered human beings with divine force and the ability to reach for the infinite. When G-d spoke to the people of Israel and gave them the Mitzvot, He was providing them with the means of bridging the gap between finite and infinite. A Mitzvah gives the Jew the potential to connect with G-d and transform the world.

This process has been ongoing for 3,328 years. We are getting ready to complete this process and move over the threshold of Redemption. This Shavuot, as we re-experience that historic occasion, let us hope that we can very soon move to phase two, the era of redemption for all of existence.

Hope to see you all in Shul for the reading of the Ten Commandments!! Children who will be at Chabad Uptown will be enjoying the new collection of books and bookshelf dedicated by Mendel & Freida Kehaty in loving memory of Nadiv Kehaty.

Our heartfelt condolences to the Berman family over the untimely passing of Saul Berman.

To paraphrase the Rebbe’s customary Shavuot greeting – May we experience the receiving of the Torah in a joyous, meaningful and transformative manner.

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

"Gorilla" Warfare

This week’s newsfeed has provided much to discuss. So much so, that the stuff that was on tap for this week’s message has been delayed to next week.

By now you have all seen the tragic story about the gorilla Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo and the toddler Isaiah who managed to get into the enclosure and fall into the gorilla moat. Within the small window of decision time the zoo determined that the only way to protect the safety of the child was to take the life of the gorilla. Since then the online universe has exploded with analysis and opinions by anyone and everyone with a phone or computer. Some are lauding the zoo for the decision but questioning the safety protocols that allowed a child to get in. Some are lambasting the zoo for the taking the life of the gorilla (a member of an endangered species) and sparing the “brat” who caused all of the trouble. Some are calling for the head of the parents (mother mostly) for not watching their three year old every second of the day. And there are many more layers of expert opinions being shared on social media.

Let me just preface my thoughts with this qualification. There is no question that Judaism/the Torah calls for the protection of animals and nature and a respect for all of G-d’s creation. A perusal of any comprehensive book on Halacha will reveal discussions about the prohibition against cruelty to animals and the obligation to be judicious with the world’s resources.

That being said, there is not even a shadow of a doubt that from the vantage point of Torah/Judaism human life takes precedence over all of those other considerations. For a good read on this story please see this post by one of my colleagues - www.facebook.com/RabbiVigler/posts/10153645213972584.

While I was gratified to read that so many people shared this (what I thought to be obvious) notion of truth, I was disturbed by how many knee jerk reactions there were against the decision made by the zoo to save the child at the expense of the gorilla’s life. Hundreds of thousands of people have posted, tweeted and opined that the life of the animal (specially an endangered species) should have been considered for precedence.

This is part of a disturbing trend that I have noticed. Some years ago a university professor ran an experiment where he asked a group of college girls this question. “If you were at the beach with your dog, and the tide pulled the dog into the water along with a human stranger, whose life would you save first?” The majority of the girls responded that they would save the dog… I hope that this stems from the hypothetical nature of the scenario. Whereas if the situation was real they would come to their senses.

In the gorilla war too, I hope that if they were not armchair quarterbacking – but rather on the spot, they would make the correct decision. Still it is very troubling that so many can be so misguided on this issue.

(On a side point, hyper-blaming the parents is also completely over the top. I am guessing most of those folks are not current parents of toddlers… People with little children know how quickly a child can be out of sight, leashes and all. A little compassion for the traumatic experience of that mom would be in order…)

Thank G-d we have the Torah that serves, among other things, as our moral compass. The Torah is unequivocal that human life is more precious and valuable than any other resource including other living beings. As we say in our daily prayers, “Blessed is G-d, Who separated us from those who err and gave us the Torah of truth.”

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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