ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Denial Really is a River in Egypt

When we read the Exodus story, the Nile River seems to play an important part. The first of the ten plagues was turning the water of the Nile to blood. Moses regularly confronts Pharaoh while he is bathing in the Nile. The Jewish baby boys were ordered thrown into the Nile. Moses was saved by Princess Batya from the Nile. We can even go back to Jacob blessing Pharaoh in his days “that the Nile River should rise toward him.”

Why was the Nile so central to the story? Because the Nile was central to Egyptian life and society. Egypt even worshipped the Nile to some degree. The Nile served a vital function to the Egyptian economy and agriculture. Egypt gets little to no rain. Irrigation was achieved by the seasonal flooding of the Nile and the creation of tributaries off of the Nile to irrigate other areas. When Jacob blesses Pharaoh it is that the Nile should rise toward him, thereby bringing abundant irrigation and sustenance. So the Egyptians saw the Nile as the source of livelihood and therefore revered it on the level of a deity.

When Pharaoh wishes to drown Jewish babies (in whom he perceives a potential threat for rebellion) they are thrown into the Nile, the great protector and source of livelihood. In the Haftara, we find Pharaoh declaring, “The Nile is mine and I made it.” He denies the True Source of all blessings associated with the Nile. Thus, when G-d, through Moses and Aaron, begins to smite the Egyptians, He begins with the Nile.

Now what does this have to do with us thousands of years later and thousands of miles from the Nile? Mitzrayim (Egypt) is not just a place but a state of consciousness. It represents the limitations and boundaries that are upon a person from within and without, all for the purpose of weakening or eliminating one’s relationship with Hashem.

What would the Nile represent in this picture? The urgency of being hyper-focused on a livelihood without acknowledging from where those blessings originate. For example, people, whose concern for their child’s secular education and subsequent ability to earn a living, causes them to compromise on or eliminate entirely their child’s Torah education, have effectively thrown that child into “the Nile.” A person whose concern with making a living causes him to compromise on keeping Shabbat or on maintaining honesty in business dealings, is in a subtle sense “worshipping the Nile.” If one truly believed that the source of all blessings is Hashem, then one could not conclude that going against Hashem’s will would increase those blessings.

So redemption begins with confronting Pharaoh in the Nile and is then followed by smiting the Nile. We have free ourselves of the Nile mindset; the Mitzrayim state of consciousness, thereby liberating ourselves to acknowledge and accept that Hashem is indeed the source of all blessing. We are then free to worship Him without inhibitions. So Shabbat is not an obstacle to earning a living but rather a vehicle to earning a living. Honesty becomes the means by which business success is achieved. Starting and ending the day with a Minyan and some Torah study is the great facilitator for a livelihood blessed by Hashem. This, my friends, really is liberated living. Let the resistance begin!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


Teaching Judaism Using Multiple Intelligences

Way back when, there was only one standard method of teaching: transmitting information in writing or through speech. During the second half of the 20th century a flurry of alternative educational methods were introduced: multiple intelligences, learning modalities and so forth. There are some for whom a visual method is ideal. For some it is music. For some it is kinesthetic, etc. There are some matters that are better taught using multiple methods. These theories revolutionized education, to the benefit of the recipients.

Truth be told, Judaism has long known this, and these methods were incorporated into our oldest “teachable moment,” the Passover Seder. We use auditory, visual, music, kinesthetic and other methods to relate the Passover story to our children and families. But it really didn’t catch on as much in other settings for thousands of years.

In the 1980s, Chabad Rabbis started to develop programs that incorporated hands-on experiences into the teaching of holidays and traditions. Programs such as the Model Matzah Bakery and the Shofar Factory became effective tools in bringing holidays and traditions to life for the children (and adults).

We can get up and speak about Passover. To kids it sounds like this: “Next week we’re celebrating Passover. Our ancestors the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt… blah blah… Moses brought the ten plagues (kid thinks, “cool”), blood, frogs… blah blah… so therefore we eat this Matzah every year to remember. (Kid thinks, “Wait, why do we eat Matzah? I must have missed that part.”) But when we do a hands-on program, utilizing multiple intelligences and various learning modalities, that catches their attention. The feeling of the dough in their hands, the excitement of sifting, mixing, kneading and shaping, and the smell of the Matzah in the oven, all contribute to an inspired learning experience that they will not soon forget.

The same is true of the Shofar Factory, the Torah Factory, the Olive Press and the Mezuzah Factory. They all capture the attention and the imagination of the participants and leave them with a richer appreciation of the particular holiday or tradition.

A recent addition to this approach is the Kids Mega Challah Bake. Our region’s first one is scheduled for Sunday, January 29 and is presented by Camp Gan Israel in partnership with PJ Library. The program will make Shabbat more real for the children. Instead of just hearing about why we celebrate Shabbat, eat Challah or the other traditions, they will experience it with their own hands. These opportunities must not be missed. They can have life-long impact on our children. Check it out at

Chabad of Montana has launched a project to combat the anti-Semitism that has raised its ugly head in Whitefish by spreading light. The goal is to gift a Chumash to each of the 1500 Jewish households in Montana, on behalf of Chabad, from Jewish and gentile supporters from around the nation. To show your support go to

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


Just a Drop of Ink

I was checking the Mezuzahs at a business owned by members of the community this week. We discovered an issue with one of the scrolls. The form of a single letter was misshapen; there appeared to be a drop of ink that had either run or dripped into the space of the letter rendering it invalid.

We got to talking about the impact that just a drop of ink can have. I recalled the passage in the Talmud where the sage warns the scribe how careful he must be with the letters. “With one drop of ink one can destroy the world.” Seems a little hyperbolic?

The letters Daled and Reish are almost identical in form. The only difference is a slight protrusion of ink off of the back of the top line of the daled. It is as if a little yud sticks out of the back of the daled, whereas the reish does not have that. What is a yud? A drop of ink. Now picture a scribe writing the words of the Shema. The last word of the line is Echad, ending in a daled. Imagine if a fly touched down on the parchment at the exact spot and erased the ink of the little yud (drop) on the back of the daled. We would then be left with a reish, rendering the word as Acher (other) rather than Echad (one). We have now transformed the meaning of the verse from a pivotal declaration of Divine Unity, to a command to worship a foreign deity.

Let’s explore this a little further and see what this all represents in our personal character development. The words Daled and Reish have similar meanings – poor and destitute. Kabbala explains that the difference between the two is the drop of ink protruding from the back of the daled. That drop of ink, the yud, represents humility (the yud being the smallest letter of the Alef-bet). Let’s view the poverty here as spiritual poverty (poverty of knowledge, of character, of spiritual sensitivity or of holiness). If so, the difference between the poor Daled and the destitute Reish is humility. The daled (with the yud protrusion) is humble and is therefore open to influence and change. The reish (minus the yud) lacks humility and is therefore resistant to influence and change. A full cup cannot accept any more liquid whereas an empty one can.

Now we can begin to appreciate the power of just a drop of ink in the literal sense as it relates to Mezuzahs, Tefillin and Torah scrolls, as well in the figurative sense as it relates to personal growth. I encourage all of us to have our ink inspected on both levels. (Chabad is happy to help with any and all of the above.)

Have a wonderful Shabbos!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


Cuddling with G-d

We wouldn’t know from such things down here in NOLA, but winter is (can be) a time when the nights are long and the temperature is frigid. When it is cold out there, the close presence of another person is that much more appreciated. Indeed, the Talmud, commenting on the Purim story, tells us that G-d orchestrated Esther’s audition with Achashverosh to take place during the coldest time of the year (Tevet – our current month), so as to further enhance the value of her visit with the king.

All physical phenomena are reflected in (or a reflection of) the realm of the spirit. Darkness and coldness reflect a diminishment of the sensation of the Divine presence. G-dliness is warmth and light, as the verse states (Deuteronomy 4:24), “for the L-rd your G-d is a consuming fire.” As such, when it is cold and dark even the slightest degree of warmth and light is esteemed more than a greater measure when it is not so cold and dark.

Chassidus teaches that a Mitzvah performed during the dark and cold period of exile is more valued by Hashem than all of the passionate service of G-d in Temple times. When the light of G-d and the Torah blazed, it was not great accomplishment to be devoted. But when that light is subdued and suppressed, then even a less inspired performance of a Mitzvah is akin to cuddling with G-d on a long and cold winter evening.

So when it is cold out there (or because your AC and fans are running), utilize the opportunity to make your Mitzvahs count even more. Cuddling with G-d is a great feeling!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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