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Prudish or Proper?

We live in a time in which communications are dominated by social media. This has advantages, such as the ability to get information that is productive, to the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of time. Imagine if Paul Revere had had access to Twitter; or if Moses could use Whatsapp instead of the trumpets to gather the people in the desert. It also enables people to stay in touch in real time despite great distances between them (or sometimes sitting on the next couch…). Every tool has both positive and negative applications.

In my opinion, one of the negative applications of social media is people using it to conduct their personal, even intimate, relationships in full view of the world. Granted, social media is not the sole culprit in this public display of most private matters. Entertainment media can shoulder its fair share of blame. Entire magazines and shows are dedicated to gossiping about who did what in public. This has now seeped into the “mainstream” culture of Western society.

It used to be that, at least on the outside, modesty was valued. Today “those kind” of folks are regarded as prudish rather than proper. In the 1980s, my uncle, Rabbi Manis Friedman wrote a book entitled, “Doesn’t anyone blush anymore?” I shudder to think what the 2017 version of this book what have to deal with. So what is Torah’s view on this?  

In this week’s Torah portion Moses is recounting the travels and battles of the 40 year desert sojourn. He tells of the instruction by Hashem to the nation of Israel to avoid armed conflict with the nations of Moab and Ammon. This is meant to be a reward to Lot, the ancestor of these two nations, for protecting Abraham and Sarah’s secret during their trip to Egypt. Though the lands of Moab and Ammon are part of the land promised to Abraham’s descendants, that heritage was delayed so that Lot’s descendants could enjoy the use of those lands for a time.

Yet there is a subtle difference in how those instructions are relayed regarding Moab vs. how they apply to Ammon. Regarding Moab it says, “Do not distress the Moabites, and do not provoke them to war.” About Ammon it says, “When you approach the children of Ammon, neither distress them, nor provoke them.” The Ammonites are not to be provoked at all, while the Moabites may not be provoked to war, allowing a little frightening, but no battle.

Rashi explains, that the Ammonites were given preferential treatment for the following reason. Both Moab and Ammon were the result of an illicit relationship between Lot and his daughters. When the babies are born, the older daughter names her son Moav - from my father. She unabashedly proclaims the illegitimate origin of her son. The younger daughter on the other hand, names her son Ben Ami - son of my people, thereby merely alluding to his origin, while maintaining a public sense of modesty. Because of that slight nod to modesty, her children are protected from any sort provocation during the Israelite journey to the Promised Land.

So we see how much Hashem values modesty. He is willing to give security to a wicked nation born of incest, just because of mere lip-service to modesty by their ancestress. How much more so would Hashem regard the modesty of His treasured people. Let us take heed and begin to implement this lesson into our lives. Prudish? I think not. Proper and G-dly is more like it!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Hashem to the Rescue

There is a man that I know from his business travels to New Orleans, who shared the following story with me yesterday. He is a “Minyan fanatic,” meaning he never misses a single of the three daily prayers with a Minyan. He arranges all of his travel around Minyan schedules – morning, afternoon and evening. He will book convoluted flights or take a cab from a layover airport to Shul, just to catch a 15 minute Minyan for Mincha.

Recently he took a trip to Arizona with his wife and teenage daughter to visit the Grand Canyon. The nearest reliable Minyan is in Phoenix – over 3 hours away. After morning Minyan, he drove to Grand Canyon to meet his family who were already on a tour. He calculated enough time to leave the tour early to drive back to Phoenix for the Mincha/Maariv Minyan in the late afternoon. He gave himself and extra hour and a half in case there was some traffic etc.

During the drive he encountered road sign indicating that there was an accident up ahead that was causing a slowdown. GPS indicated that it would be a 15-30 minute delay. A few miles later traffic came to a complete stop. Knowing that he had an hour and half extra he was not overly concerned. As things began to take longer he started to get worried. People were getting out of their cars and hanging out in the Arizona heat.

At this point he had an hour left to Mincha and the drive would still be over an hour with no clearing point in sight. He took out a Tehillim, made a pledge to Tzedakah and prayed to Hashem to help him keep his dedication to praying with a Minyan. As he finished, he saw some flashing lights coming down the shoulder. A policeman was distributing water to all the people in the standstill traffic. He went out and asked the officer what was going on. The officer replied that there was an accident with casualties. He said, “I am a paramedic.” (He is a member of Hatzolah – volunteer EMS in New York.) The officers escorted his vehicle down the shoulder for three miles. As they pulled up to the accident scene, the last of the wounded was being loaded into an ambulance. The officer turned to him and said, “Thank you for your offer of help sir, but you are free to go.” He zipped onto the highway and drove very efficiently to Phoenix. He walked into the Shul as the Chazzan began “Ashrei” - the first passage of Mincha.

I share this story not only because it is interesting, but because I think there are some important lessons to be learned. First of all, we see the hand of Hashem that shows up at the least likely times. A person should never give up hope. A story like this strengthens the belief in Divine Providence.

I think that we can also be inspired by the man’s devotion and take it to heart. One of the Chassidic masters shared a teaching paraphrasing a verse from Eicha (Lamentations). The verse is, “Kol Rodphe-ha Hisigu-ha Bein Ha-Metzarim” – Her pursuers (the inhabitants of Jerusalem) caught up to her between the narrow straights.” He explained, “One who wishes to “catch up” with Hashem, should pursue this endeavor Bein Hametzarim (during the three week period leading up to Tisha B’Av).

We are in an auspicious time to rededicate ourselves to Hashem and His service. I would encourage you all to take some inspiration from this story and strengthen your own commitment to Shul attendance and participation in the Minyan. (We can certainly use the help!)

May these days of mourning be transformed through our rededication to days of rejoicing with coming of Moshiach!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Good for the far and near

I would like to share with you the gist of an annual phone conversation I have with a Jewish woman who lives in a very rural part of Louisiana. She is an older woman, who does not have access to a car and very limited access to the internet. The people around her know she is of Jewish persuasion and some of the respect her for it. However many of them are suspicious at best and at worst relentlessly try to “save her soul.”

Without a community and without access to communications technology, she has very little opportunity to interact with Jews or get first hand Jewish inspiration. She heard about Chabad and got on our mailing list. She calls once a year to thank us for the calendar and other literature that we mail to her. They are her lifeline to anything Jewish. In addition to the publications that we mail out each year (calendar, holiday guides, family magazines etc.), I have started to send her a few books and articles each year so that she would have more Jewish material to read.

Over the years people have indicated that perhaps it was time to move on from publications such as the calendar as everyone has a computer and a phone that gives them access to the info. When I hear that I think of the lady in the story above. If we stopped printing and mailing the calendar, she would lose her sole Jewish exposure, from which she draws her Jewish learning and inspiration.

In addition, despite the increased popularity of digitized information such as books, newspapers, prayerbooks, etc., as long as Jews keep Shabbat there will always be a need for the printed word, including our calendar. I am gratified when I walk into a house or business and I see the Jewish Art Calendar hanging and being used. I am happy to receive phone calls asking me about some of the information that is shared on the calendar pages each year.

Once again we are going to print with our annual Jewish Art Calendar. This is made possible by your support through ads and tributes. Use the calendar to reach over 2600 homes and businesses to whom the calendar is mailed. You can advertise a business, honor a loved one on a Yahrtzeit, birthday or anniversary, or send greetings to the community for the new-year. We need your support to make sure that people like the lady on the phone, and everyone else who enjoys and uses it, receive their calendar. Please see below for the ad rates and support the publication.

Want to also highlight an event coming up in just over a week. During this time of mourning for the destruction of our Holy Temples, it is customary to find valid reasons to temper the mourning with celebration. One of those is a Siyum – the conclusion of a volume of the Talmud. On Sunday night, July 23 at 8 PM, we will be holding a Siyum at Chabad Uptown. Max Chiz and I are getting set to conclude the Tractate Erachin and we invite the community to participate in our joy and the celebration of the Torah. Following the Siyum and evening services, refreshments will be served in honor of the occasion.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Confronting an internal KGB

90 years ago on this day, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe was released from Soviet imprisonment. This marked the first show-down in a battle that would end up lasting 70 years. At that time (1927) the GPU (forerunner of the KGB) and Communist party had a Jewish sector that was singularly devoted to eradicating Judaism from Russia. (Other religions were targeted as well. In fact, on the night of the Rebbe’s arrest, 10 other faith leaders were arrested, some were eliminated by a firing squad that very night, making his survival that much more extraordinary.)

Reading the diary of the Previous Rebbe, in which he gives a detailed account of the experience, one discovers that he made a determined resolution to defy the Soviets without submitting to their intimidation in the slightest. Even as a prisoner in the feared Spalerno prison, he refused to behave submissively in any way, shape or form. He addressed them with open disregard. They had never dealt with a person who didn’t melt with fear under their threats and tortures. In the end they were forced to blink first and he was released and eventually left Russia. But not before establishing a vast network of underground Jewish activities that were manned by his Chassidim (at great peril and loss of life). He continued to direct and fund those activities, even traveling to the USA in 1929 to raise awareness and much needed support for the Russian Jews. Thanks to those efforts and self-sacrifice, the embers of Jewish life managed to keep burning throughout the 70 years of Communism. With the fall of the Soviet Union, those embers burst into flames as Jewish life sprung up from the underground.

What can we take away from this story that can impact the way we live our lives of serving Hashem? Thank G-d we do not live in fear of religious persecution. On the contrary, we live in a country where our right to worship is protected under the very constitution of the land. We do not have a KGB threatening to arrest us for practicing and teaching Judaism. On the contrary, our government encourages faith based communities, wishing them to thrive and flourish.

Our issue is the internal KGB (Yetzer Hara). Our KGB uses similar tactics, such as persuasive attacks utilizing the intelligent sounding language of progressiveness to tell us that our values are primitive. Our KGB tries to get us to feel the need to be like everyone else and not stick out and be unique. Our KGB tells us that if we would only assimilate all of our problems will dissipate. These are all eerily familiar to declarations of Soviet utopian promises. It didn’t help us then and it will not help us now. Just as the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe stared them down and didn’t flinch, we need to take the same approach with fortitude and strength in our devotion to Torah and Judaism! The result will be a strong Jewish people dedicated to Hashem.

I take this opportunity to wish my mother a happy milestone birthday. May Hashem bless her with healthy long years filled with nachas and spiritual meaning and success in all she does, together with my father in good health!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

 

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