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At-risk youth in the Torah

The dilemma of how to deal with “at-risk-youth” is one that faces every society in the world. How should a family deal with a child who engages in edgy or risky behavior. What should a school or close-knit community do with such a youth? Varying solutions (or more accurately termed “reactive approaches”) have been proposed, but it is a major work-in-progress.

Does the Torah offer any insight into this? While driving to and from a distant prison visit yesterday, I was listening to a podcast by Rabbi YY Jacobson wherein he offered this teaching in the name of Rabbi Yaakov Kanievsky, a respected Torah sage of the previous generation.

Our forefather Yaakov declares that he crossed the Jordan River on his way to Charan with only his staff in hand. The obvious question is why did he not come with a display of wealth as did Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, when seeking a wife for Yitzchak? Eliezer had ten camels laden with goods, jewelry, and a document stating the extent of Yitzchak’s wealth. Why would Yitzchak allow Yaakov to go to Charan empty-handed? What kind of way is that to enable him to secure a marriage partner?

Our sages explain that on the journey Yaakov was robbed by his nephew, Elifaz. Eisav instructed his son Elifaz to kill Yaakov. When Elifaz confronted Yaakov, Yaakov convinced him to suffice with taking his possessions thereby leaving him penniless and worthless – as good as dead. Elifaz agreed. Yaakov survived, but he arrived in Charan with only his staff in hand.

Who was this Elifaz and why would he disregard his father’s command in exchange for monetary compensation? All references to Elifaz in the Torah and the commentaries describe him as a very immoral person from his early youth. He had an affair with his father’s wife. He committed adultery with multiple women, and he ends up living with a woman whom he fathered with another man’s wife, and she gives birth to a son named Amalek. He was not above murder for hire, and robbery was a way of life.

So knowing what we know about Elifaz, why would he spare Yaakov’s life? Rashi cites our sages explanation, “because Elifaz was raised in Yitzchak’s bosom” and his grandfather’s influence caused him to reconsider murdering Yaakov at that critical moment. So the grandfather Yitzchak, despite seeing what kind of rascal Elifaz was, continued to show him love. While that love was not sufficient to turn Elifaz’s life around, it did manage to secure the future of the Jewish nation by preventing the murder of Yaakov.

Had Yitzchak taken the conventional wisdom approach of “throwing the bum out of the house”, history as we know it may have looked entirely different with the possible absence of the Jewish nation.

Easier said than done? Most certainly. Does it address all the issues? Not entirely. Food for thought? Absolutely! Keep the conversation going!

Hope to see you all on Tuesday night at the evening of inspiration with Rabbi Manis Friedman entitled, If It’s All For The Good, Why Does It Feel So Bad?

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Together, even if not nearby

Last weekend I, along with thousands of my colleagues, attended the annual Kinus – conference of Shluchim. It was a very inspiring few days. One evening I attended a farbrengen (gathering) with some of my classmates. At the farbrengen, one of our friends brought in a sheaf of papers that sparked our interest. Apparently some of our mothers had been classmates as well, and while in Seminary in 1970 they were publishing a newspaper for the students of the school. The newspaper came out every other month and my mother was one of the editors. Each edition was submitted to the Rebbe before publication, and to their surprise, they were honored that the Rebbe often edited the articles, correcting them for accuracy and even language (English) and syntax.

The papers that my friend brought were copies of the articles from the Kislev edition with the Rebbe’s edits. I would like to share the edits on one of the stories which I believe is very instructive.  

The Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi) had a daughter Rebbetzin Freida. She was quite learned and very beloved by her father, so much so that he recited Chassidic discourses just for her. Her brother (R’ Dovber, the second Rebbe of Chabad) would give her questions to discuss with their father for which only she would get answers.

When she neared her passing she called in the elder Chassidim and told them that she wishes to be buried in very close proximity to her father in the cemetery of Haditch (Russia).

Here is where the significant edit was made. Originally the girls wrote that “the Chassidim were faced with a dilemma because in their tradition the men and women were not buried together.” The Rebbe crossed out the word “together” and added “in the same row.”

The story continues. On her deathbed, the chassidim heard her reciting the passage from the morning blessings, “"My G‑d, the soul which You have given within me is pure. You have created it, You have formed it, You have breathed it into me, and You preserve it within me..." When she reached the next words "You will eventually take it from me..." she lifted her ten fingers heavenward and cried out, "Father, wait, I'm coming!" With those final words, her soul departed from her body. They then realized that her worthy request should not be disregarded and she was buried to her father’s immediate right.  

My friends and I were discussing this and one of them pointed out the possible significance of the Rebbe’s edit. It is entirely conceivable to be together even when not on the “same row.” In other words, not always is the lack of close physical proximity an indication of separation. This reflects an axiom that the Rebbe cites in Hayom Yom, “Chassidim don’t take leave of each other because they are never truly apart.” This is an important lesson in life. We can and must remain “together” even if there is some sort of physical distance or perceived partition between us.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

A Tribute to Morris Lew

This week our community suffered the loss of a beloved pillar with the passing of our dear friend Morris Lew.

When describing the kindness of individuals we often hear the phrase “he would give you the shirt off his back.” When discussing Morris Lew’s big heart, this cliché would not be an exaggeration. Morris has literally given the last of something he had to another many times throughout his lifetime.

Morris and Malka (may she live and be well) Lew were one of the first couples that my parents met in the mid-70s when they established Chabad in New Orleans. Over the years the Lews became like family and a foundational part of Chabad’s growth in our region. Morris supported the work of Chabad with his financial resources, business connections, time and even his body. In 1988, when Chabad celebrated its Bar Mitzvah year in New Orleans, Morris and Malka were the chairpersons for that event. When Torah Academy, the school that his grandchildren later attended, moved into the old Lakeshore facility on West Esplanade Ave, Morris was on his hands and knees laying the floor so that the school year could start.

Morris and Malka were among the privileged few in our community to have met the Rebbe in person. On one occasion Morris had the opportunity to discuss an important business concern with the Rebbe and the Rebbe gave him advice and assurance regarding his concerns.

After moving uptown in the eary-90s, Morris became a fixture at Chabad House each Shabbos and later at the daily minyan. Something that I noted is, that he was generally early to Shul to give himself some quiet time to prepare for prayer and study. Morris loved Chabad House and our community and he had a lot visible Nachas when things were going well. He always dispensed compliments when a program was well attended or if he enjoyed a particular speaker. He often found innovative ways to be helpful to the Shul and community in an unassuming manner. He and Malka sponsored the annual Shmini Atzaret Hakafos Kiddush, even hosting it in their Sukkah a few times. He was like the Zeidy of the Chabad uptown community and everyone loved him for it.

Morris was a loyal friend and loving family man with a heart as big as the sky. He was not afraid of hard work and it was not beneath him. He was happy to share tips gleaned from his 80 plus years of life experience. I will miss our quick chats following Minyan where he always referred to me as Mendele, followed by an exchange of good wishes.

His most common pithy saying was “Don’t take any wooden nickels.” This then is my goodbye message to my good friend Morris, Mordechai ben Getzel. As you stand before the heavenly court, tell them about all the good that you did, the blessings you got from the Rebbe and the impact you had on our community. “Don’t take any wooden nickels.”

May Hashem comfort Malka, Eli and Perry and the entire family and may the memory of Morris’s meaningful life give them strength to confront the loss until the coming of Moshiach very speedily.

We gather at Chabad House this Shabbos for a Kiddush marking the end of Shiva. The community is invited to join us in honoring our beloved friend.

Good Shabbos
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Obsession with Education

Let’s face it. Jews are obsessed with education. Last night I was at a Federation event honoring Lauren Ungar, winner of the inaugural Steeg/Grinspoon Excellence in Education Award. Dr. Scott Cowen, former president of Tulane University highlighted the event with an impassioned address concerning education, both Jewish and general. Universities and institutes devoted to education are studded with the names of Jewish donors. Jews are very involved in the cause of education for all. (I would love to see a much stronger commitment to Jewish day school education – but that is for another day.)

What is the origin of this fierce obsession with education? I would argue that it starts in this week’s Parsha. G-d declares His love for Avraham primarily because of his commitment “to educating his children and his household that they should keep the way of the L-rd to perform righteousness and justice.” (Genesis 18:19) Of all of the monumental achievements of Avraham, the one that Hashem singles out with His love, is the commitment to education in the ways of Hashem.

Now we all know that education is not only confined to the classroom. There are many opportunities (and hence obligations) to educate a child in other settings. Teaching by example is the foremost method of educating. Children pick up on their parents’ priorities by seeing how they conduct themselves.

We certainly recognize that after the home, a school is ground zero for education. (If I may, I would like to put in a plug for the school that is close to my heart – Torah Academy – where my children receive a top quality educational experience.) Yet, utilizing other possible scenarios for education is vital to giving the children a well-rounded appreciation for the values that we seek to impart to them.

As Chabad has had a measure of success in the area of developing educational opportunities in diverse settings, I would like to share with you a sampling of what is just around the corner.

Shabbat Adventures: (Chabad Uptown Youth Series) Saturday, November 4 - 11 AM-12 PM. An exciting monthly Shabbat program.

Kids in the Kitchen: (Chabad Metairie youth series) Sunday, November 5 – 3:30–5 PM. Utilizing cooking to teach about Kosher.

Kids Mega Challah Bake: (Camp Gan Israel and PJ Library) Sunday, November 12 - 3-4:30 PM. Teaching Shabbat through making challah.

Mommy & Me: (Chabad Uptown toddler program) Sunday, December 3 - 10-11:30 AM. Teaching Chanukah through crafts and activities.

Olive Press Craft Workshop: (Chabad’s Living Legacy Series) Being presented at schools all across the region.

Latke Tasting and Children’s Activities @ Whole Foods: (Arabella Station and Veterans) Sunday, December 10 1-4 PM.

Each of these programs is a means of bringing Judaism to the children in a setting that is hands on and exciting. The goal is to make Judaism fun and meaningful for the child. Doing this gives us a much better chance of having a lasting Jewish impact on that child’s life. Get involved in these programs by bringing your child or by learning how you can otherwise support them and ensure that NOLA Jewish children are being given the best opportunity to become successful and committed Jews.

Contact me directly to learn how you can support these important ventures. I look forward to hearing from you.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

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