ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Shine Those Stars

Thursday, August 25, 2005 was opening day for Torah Academy’s academic year. There were 60 students filling the classrooms and expectations for a great year were very high. Over a decade had passed since the school was established with just 18 children and things were looking up. Three days later the gulf south was assaulted by Hurricane Katrina, resulting in region-wide evacuation, wide-ranging devastation and the deaths of nearly 2,000. The school building at 5210 West Esplanade Ave took a significant hit. In the months that followed, the building was used as a temporary location for JEDCO and the SBA, as well as a logistics point for hurricane relief and construction workers.

In January of 2006, after a stop-gap renovation to make the facility usable, school reopened. However more than half of the student body did not return. Torah Academy went through many travails until, finally, the beautiful new facility was completed in the summer of 2014. Now the student body has grown once again to pre-storm numbers. A top-notch early childhood program, along with dedicated teachers and administration, are making Torah Academy a highly rated institution, at which the students enjoy a quality education. Torah Academy successfully integrates a well-rounded general education together with a superior Judaics immersion, enabling our children to grow up to be excellent citizens and committed Jews. Torah Academy graduates have been able to attend the high-schools, colleges and Yeshivas of their choice. Many have earned high level honors at the next stages of their education.

Torah Academy has become one of the gems of which the NOLA Jewish community should be very proud.

As the school continues to grow and develop both quantitatively and qualitatively, appreciation for the integral role that Torah Academy plays in our community will also grow. Hopefully this will translate into greater financial support as well. In the meantime every good school needs funds in order to survive and thrive. In what is becoming an annual event, the Torah Academy auction fundraiser, Shining Stars II is slated to take place on Sunday, May 7th - 6 PM at the school, honoring Barry & Alona Katz. To make a reservation, purchase a journal ad or auction tickets, please go to or call 504.233.8018.

A memorial event – honoring the late Chabad of Louisiana Shliach, Dr. David Kaufmann will take place on Wednesday evening, May 24 at Chabad Uptown. Details of the program will be released in the coming weeks.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Lessons Learned on the Road

Some of you may remember our family’s adventures on road trips in years past.

Thank G-d we had no car trouble or other trip related mishaps this year. We had a wonderful smooth trip. Yet there is plenty to learn from a trip that goes well.

Just to share a few… For any major undertaking to be successful, the details are very important. We usually get caught up in what appears to be the big picture, that which gets all the attention. However the little things are integral to the big picture coming out right. On a road trip every little details contributes to the success and comfort of the endeavor. To give an example. On our way up we forgot to include tablecloths on our list. Big deal right? But when you pull up to a rest stop with a bunch of Kosher food and every table is caked in residue of non-Kosher food (not to mention the cleanliness aspect of it), all of a sudden that missed tablecloth seems like a big deal. There are dozens of others “minimal” things that are similar.

Another lesson (that kind of extends from the first) is not kicking tasks down the road (no pun intended). Sometimes, in the interest of expediency, we cut corners on getting things done and we assume that we can just as well perform those tasks later. For example, when packing a car for a long drive, as one gets closer to departure time it is tempting to throw that last few things in without regard for where they belong and how it will impact the accessibility of things needed during the trip. Then you need something when it is late and dark and you are exhausted, but because of your expedient packing method you suddenly find that the item you need is buried under “stuff.”

These lessons are very applicable in Jewish life. In this week’s Torah portion we have the tragic story of the death of the two sons of Aaron. Nadav and Avihu we highly spiritual and righteous but they only cared about the big picture. They ignored the details, the minutiae of the Temple law, the procedures of the Temple service and the protocols for proper spiritual conduct. The result was, that in the act of attempting to come as close to G-d as a human is capable of, they violated the laws, procedures, and protocols, which ultimately caused their demise.

There is no such thing as “big picture” Judaism that ignores the details of the laws. It is the details and the procedures that complete the big picture and allow us to soar higher and closer to G-d. Every mitzvah comes with its protocols and structure. When one ignores them, one may feel temporarily uninhibited by minutiae and procedure, but in the end one loses everything in the process. On the other hand following the details and the procedures is ironically liberating and rewarding.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Holiday of Fives

I hope that everyone has been enjoying a wonderful and meaningful Passover so far. We often regard Passover as a holiday of "fours." There are four cups of wine at the seder. There are the four sons, the four questions, the four expressions of redemption in the Exodus narrative. The number four is significant in Kabbala as it reflects many "fours" in the way the ancients categorized existence - including the four elements of air, fire, earth and water, as well as the four aspects of human, animal, botanical and inanimate (silent).

During our Seder this year we were discussing this idea with our children and one of my daughters pointed out that in actuality Passover is a holiday of "fives" rather than "fours." And she began to enumerate the fives by drawing on the mystical and chassidic interpretation of many of those "fours." In addition to the four cups of wine there is a fifth cup - the cup of Elijah. In addition to the four sons mentioned in the Haggadah there is the fifth one the Rebbe talked about, the son who, sadly does not intend to even come to the Seder table. In addition to the four questions, there is the fifth one mentioned by Maimonides that they used to ask in Temple times about why the meat on "this night" must be roasted. In addition to the four expressions of redemption that G-d declares to the children of Israel - "I will take you out, I will save you, I will liberate you, I will take you as a nation" - there is also the fifth expression, "I will bring you to the land that I have promised." She went on to point out it is also the Chabad custom to break the middle Matzah (used later for the afikoman) into five pieces. 

So what's the deal? What indeed is the difference between four and five and why is there this fifth element underlying the well known four? To appreciate the answer let us first touch on an English word that can shed some light on the matter - Quintessence. The dictionary tells us that this word means either the pure or most concentrated essence of a substance or the most prefect embodiment of something. But both of these definitions would be served with just the word "essence." Why the need to add the prefix "quint" meaning five or fifth? In ancient philosophy they used this term to refer to the fifth and highest element that permeates all of nature (see above regarding the four elements). In Kabbala the fifth dimension or element is also used as a reference to the highest and purest essence. Case in point: the Zohar describes the soul as having five names or levels - Nefesh, Ruach, Neshama, Chaya, and Yechida. The first three levels refer to the soul as we experience it. The fourth is the transcendant element of the soul, which hovers above the body and connects it to the ethrereal realms. The fifth - Yechida - is the essence or quintessence of the soul, which is one with its Source, the Infinite One. 

Now we can understand how the fours of Passover morph into fives. Each of the fours has a fifth element that is the essence of that category. Let us examine each of them in that light.

The fifth cup is the cup of Elijah. While the four cups refer primarily to the first redemption - the exodus from Egypt, Elijah's cup calls forth the future redemption, the ultimate, and indeed, the quintessence of all redemptions.

The fifth son is the one who does not intend to come to the Seder. Yet this son too posseses a Yechida soul element through which can and must awaken his essential connection to G-d and Judaism. This reveals that at the core every Jew is connected to Hashem.  

On a deeper level, the four questions refer to the "night" of exile. Each of them questions another aspect of our bitter and long displacement from our "Father's home." The fifth question is an allusion to the time when the Temple will be rebuilt after Moshiach comes, when once again we will be welcome back at our "Father's table."

The four expressions of redemption in the Exodus narrative speak of the redemption from Egypt but fall short of bringing them to promised land. The fifth expression speaks of the Jews being brought to the Promised land, again an allsuion to the final redemption. 

The five pieces of the Afikoman allude to the five levels of the soul, most prominently the quintessence - the Yechida.

This is the beauty of an education that is informed by the teachings of Chassidus. A child is capable of picking up the subtle nuance of the underlying qunitessence of Passover and indeed all of Judaism. May we each merit to access our personal quintessence, which will ultimately bring the universe and even the cosmos, to experience the complete and final redemption through Moshiach, the individual to whom Kabbala refers as the general Yechida of the universe. 

Speaking of Moshiach, the last day of Pesach was designated by our sages as the day on which the aura of Moshiach is prevelant. As such the Baal Shemtov instituted the special celebration of faith - meal of Moshiach during the closing moments of Pesach. Please join us at Chabad Uptown or Chabad Metairie for this celebration (details above).

At Chabad Uptown this celebration is dedicated by Rabbi Zelig & Bluma Rivkin and family in loving memory of Rabbi Sholom Gordon, whose Yahrtzeit is the last day of Pesach.  

Wishing you a wonderful and meaningful rest of Pesach!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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