ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Spin Doctor or Purveyor of Truth

This period in the Jewish calendar is called the three weeks – running from Tammuz 17 – Av 9, the two fast days associated with the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. It is a time with Halachicly mandated mourning practices that get more intense as we near the 9th of Av, the anniversary of the destruction.

If we take a peek into Chassidic insight into this time period we will see a strong attempt to put a positive spin on the events that we commemorate as well as the way we observe the laws and customs associated with them. A classic example is the interpretation on the Talmud’s statement that “when the month of Av enters we diminish in joy,” which Chassidism explains to mean that we diminish the “Av effect” through joy. Another example is the practice of finding permissible “excuses” to celebrate thereby mitigating the effect of the mourning. So during the nine days an effort is made to participate in a Siyum – the completion of a volume of the Talmud, which calls for celebration. Indeed, the third Chabad Rebbe wrote an entire work explaining the book of Lamentations – Eicha – from a positive, Redemption oriented perspective.

So it is just spin or Pollyannaish behavior or is there some grounding in reality? To do real justice to the answer of this question would require more space than this forum permits. That being said, there are several extremely powerful early Talmudic sources for this approach. What it comes down to is understanding that there are varying levels of reality. Most of us see only the very superficial level of existence – that which the physical eye perceives. Those that are gifted with the nuanced vision of spiritual realities recognize that often what we see on the outside is flipside of true reality. Indeed if we were able to perceive the underlying truth of a situation we would react entirely differently.

So what the Chassidic masters are doing is they are sharing with us their perception of true reality with the tools that enable us to access that reality at least in a slight manner. They are also giving us the tools to bring the world to a state in which the underlying reality becomes synonymous with the perceived reality – namely the state of Redemption!

Our job is to take the tools and use them to bring that goal to full realization, at which time these three weeks will become the greatest period celebration, in recognition of the fact that the destruction and exile were actually the catalysts and even the first stages of Redemption! May we merit this experience this year Amen!

This is the final weekend of our raffle campaign. The drawing is Monday, August 1. Please help reach the goal of this campaign by purchasing tickets at It is a win, win, win.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Embracing our "Otherness"

In 1972, Israel’s Ambassador to the US was Yitzhak Rabin, who would later serve twice as Prime Minister. In honor of the Rebbe’s 70th birthday in March, Rabin was directed to travel to New York to represent Israel’s president Zalman Shazar in paying respects to the Rebbe.

During the course of their conversation the Rebbe asked Rabin if he ever felt alone as the representative of the Jewish state in Washington. The Rebbe then introduced an idea from this week’s Torah portion, where the evil prophet Bilaam describes the Jewish people as “Am l’vadad yishkon - a nation that dwells alone.”

The discussion came around to the question of what is the cause of this “aloneness” – is it by choice or by force? Are we “other” or different because we are or because that’s how we are seen by the world around us.

For the full story see To hear PM Rabin tell it in his own words Told by Rabin’s aide Dr. Yehuda Avner

The conclusion was that it is a combination of both. We must live up to the “otherness” that G-d designated for us at Sinai by being dedicated to the ideals and values of Torah. As a result we are seen as “other” by the world around us. Sometimes that otherness generates respect, such as in Thomas Chahill’s the Gift of the Jews or Paul Johnson’s History of the Jews, and sometimes it generates resentment that can even devolve into anti-Semitism.

As Jews we must be cognizant of the responsibility that this “otherness” places before us and of which we are so often reminded of in one of the two aforementioned ways by society around us. We cannot run away from it and escape that responsibility. Indeed every time in our nation’s history that Jews sought to escape their “otherness” by assimilating, they were in for a rude awakening by people eager to remind them that they were “other.” Instead let us embrace our “otherness” and harness it to continue accomplishing great things for ourselves as individuals, for the Jewish people as a nation, and for the world as a whole.

When we do this we ultimately merit the fulfillment of the Bilaam’s later prophecy, “A star has gone forth from Jacob, and a staff will arise from Israel” alluding to the future redemption through Moshiach. May this take place very soon.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Fringe Benefits

Ethics of our Fathers instructs us to serve Hashem without the intent of receiving a reward. Furthermore our sages teach that the reward for a Mitzvah is the Mitzvah itself. (Chassidism explains that the connection forged with Hashem through the Mitzvah is the ultimate benefit one can obtain.) That being said, there are many fringe benefits to doing Mitzvahs. Sometimes they are immediately apparent, sometimes it may take a long time to recognize, and sometimes we may never become aware of the manifestation of those benefits.

Last week I had an experience, in which I became immediately aware of a fringe benefit of a Mitzvah. In addition it was some serious Divine Providence that saved me significant aggravation.

As many of you know, Chabad is involved with supporting the Israeli patients that come to Ochsner for organ transplants. Last week I was helping a family member of one the patients currently awaiting a liver transplant, with a banking issue. This assistance required me to present my photo ID to the bank clerk. Even though they know me very well, for a transaction of this nature a valid photo ID is needed. When she looked at the ID she observed that it had expired three weeks earlier. (Apparently the DMV stopped sending notices to people about license renewal.) In the absence of a valid ID they would not be able to proceed with the transaction. I quickly made my way to one of the new outsourced DMV offices in our neighborhood and within 10 minutes I renewed my license. I returned to the bank and concluded the transaction to everyone’s satisfaction.

Normally I would just see this a not so major nuisance… However I was scheduled to fly to New York that afternoon to be with the Rebbe and thousands of Chassidim for the 3rd of Tammuz. An expired ID would have had me turned away by TSA at the security checkpoint. So the Mitzvah of helping another person, which resulted in my having to renew my expired license, actually served as the cause for alleviating the problem that I would not have discovered until it was too late. By Divine Providence we decided to go to the bank that day instead of waiting until I returned from my trip like we originally considered. As I presented my newly minted license to the TSA officer I could not help but marvel at the wondrous ways of Hashem that I was privileged to witness is a small way.

Our 5777 calendar campaign is wrapping up next week. Please help us publish this important resource by placing an ad or a greeting in the calendar. Contact [email protected] and let us know that we can count on you!

Please see below, in the news feed, the latest on the Jewish community’s reaction to the tragic events in Nice.

May we only share good news!

We look forward to seeing you on Sunday night at the “With Love From Israel” event.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The Central Nervous System of the World

This weekend is the third of Tammuz, the day on which the Rebbe’s physical presence was taken from us in 1994. I have the privilege of being in New York this weekend and took the opportunity to spend several hours at the Rebbe’s Ohel last night studying and praying on behalf of my family and our community.

Much has been written over the years about the role of a Rebbe and why he has had so much influence over a very diverse and broad spectrum of the Jewish people and indeed the world.

I would like to share one element that taps into a concept in Jewish mysticism. Kabbala speaks of the Jewish people as a Komah Achas Sheleimah - a singular organism or body, with each individual serving a unique function within this greater entity. In the human body the brain serves two capacities – the nerve center that transmits messages to all parts of the body and also feels or senses what is going on with every part of the body. The brain instructs and guides each unique body part regarding its role and it is also where the pain and pleasure of every aspect of the body is sensed.

The word Rebbe is an acronym for Rosh Bnei Yisrael – head (brain) of the Jewish people. One of the roles of a Rebbe is to have intimate knowledge of the role of each and every Jew, thereby providing the guidance and inspiration to fulfil that role. The Rebbe also senses the triumphs and tribulations of every Jew (member of the greater singular organism). As such he can also serve as an address for alleviating the pain and heightening the pleasure that every Jew experiences as a member of the Jewish people. This is why so many people turned and continue to turn to the Rebbe for blessings, advice, solace, guidance, inspiration, insight and encouragement.

Last night into this morning I watched as thousands of people streamed to the Ohel for a moment of connection. People of every type and stripe. Jews and non-Jews alike. They all sense that their nerve center is with the Rebbe and they seek to strengthen that point of attachment. If you haven’t already, take a moment and explore to learn more and discover what resonates with you. Please join one us at Chabad Uptown or Chabad Metairie for a Kiddush farbrengen tomorrow after services as a way of connecting together.

Wishing you a meaningful Shabbat
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Understanding Your Investment

Chabad of Louisiana is launching a month long raffle campaign today with a drawing on August 1 for $10,000.00 and additional prizes of lovely jewelry from David’s Antiques. This raffle benefits the programs and activities offered by Chabad (Uptown). Other Chabad of Louisiana affiliates are financially independent (including, Chabad of Metairie, Chabad at Tulane, Chabad of Baton Rouge, Chabad of Southern Mississippi, and Camp Gan Israel).

Chabad is completely supported by the direct contributions to our organization. We do not receive financial support from the Worldwide Chabad Movement. All contributions to Chabad remain local and support Chabad’s programs and activities in this area.

I would like to share with you a sampling of what (our branch of) Chabad does so that you will have an understanding of what your investment achieves.

Real Relationships: Chabad does not have membership we have relationships. We are there for people in their happy times and their challenging times. Chabad Rabbis and their wives have counselled and have invested in the lives of NOLA Jews for over 40 years. Our Synagogue has the only daily morning Minyan, hosting regulars as well as visitors and locals needing a minyan for Kaddish or a joyous occasion. Our publications, such as the Jewish art calendar, are mailed to Jews all across the state and region, for some their only Jewish lifeline.

Adult Education: Chabad’s weekly study sessions, monthly classes, lectures and adult educational opportunities are open to and attract people from all across the spectrum of the NOLA Jewish community.

Prison Chaplaincy: Chabad Rabbis have been visiting this forgotten segment of our Jewish population for decades. Whether it is the Jews at the Federal Correctional Complex in Oakdale, LA, a lone Jewish woman at Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in St. Gabriel, LA or a Jew at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, LA, they know that Chabad is there for them. We have served Jews in Parish Prisons as well.

Israeli Patient Services: Over the past 6 years, Ochsner has become a magnet for Israeli patients seeking major organ transplants. Currently there are 5 patients and their loved ones with a sixth on the way next week. Chabad serves as their home away from home and surrogate family. We assist with their medical as well as social and religious needs. We are not currently receiving any support for these activities from any other local Jewish organizations.

Seniors: Chabad Rabbis have relationships with the staff at several local Senior Living Centers. A Chabad Rabbi has been visiting Lambeth House for a program called Shmoozing with the Rabbi for over ten years.

Young Professionals: Chabad has been offering programing (Shabbat, holiday, educational and social) for young Jewish professionals in our community. Chabad Rabbis and their families have also opened their homes and hearts to these young Jews just getting started on their independence and sometimes needing a warm home, caring smile and listening ear.

Living Legacy Workshop Series: Chabad offers five workshops to youth and adult groups that have been presented at every Synagogue and Jewish organization from Lake Charles to Biloxi. They include the Shofar Factory, Olive Press, Matzah Bakery, Torah Factory and Mezuzah Factory. To date several thousand children and adults have participated.

This is just a sampling. Please partner with us in serving our community by purchasing tickets. The cost of a ticket is $50, 3 for $100 or 6 for $150. For more info go to .

We thank you for your partnership. Our Mitzvah is your Mitzvah!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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