ChabadNewOrleans Blog

A frost in Italy impacts Sukkot

In the book Hayom Yom, the Rebbe cites, “that during the Amidah, when reciting the blessing for crops and livelihood, one should have in mind wheat for matzah, the Etrog (and wine for kiddush).”

Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the first Chabad Rebbe writes, that when G-d was commanding Moses regarding the Mitzah of the Etrog, He dispatched an angel to bring an Etrog to show them what it was. The angel descended to a region in Italy known as Calabria or Magna Graecia, which is in the southern coastal part of the country and brought an Etrog from there. It is therefore the Chabad custom to use an Etrog from that region. They are known as Calabria Etrogim or Yanova Etrogim (because they were distributed to the rest of Europe out of Genoa (which is pronounced Yanova in the Jewish dialect).

During very tumultuous times such as the Napoleonic war era, WWI and WWII, Chabad Chasidim and especially the Rebbes, went to great pains to obtain an Etrog from that area. In 1940, while fleeing from the Nazis in France, the Rebbe smuggled himself over the French-Italian border at great risk to obtain an Etrog from Calabria.

Italian farming families in that region have over the last century developed the industry to the point that they are fully supported by a crop that has value for only one week a year! While industrial development and the tourist – resort industry has nearly eliminated the citron (Etrog) farming in the rest of Italy, in Calabria, there are families and farms who are clinging to their citron orchards to be able to provide this religious need to those that require it. They have established relationships with Rabbis who supervise the Etrog crop to ensure that it is free of grafting which would invalidate the Etrog for ritual use.

This past winter, a freak frost in Italy brought the temperature to below freezing for 4 days in Calabria. In just those four days, 80 percent of the Calabria Etrog crop was destroyed and rendered unfit for use on Sukkot. This has left the farmers and Etrog sellers with a major shortage. It will most likely impact both price and availability.

Here at Chabad in New Orleans, Rabbi Mendy Schechter has been the distributor of Etrogim for the past decade. He usually offers a choice of Etrogim from Israel and Calabria (Italy). This year the Calabria Etorg shortage will have an impact on availability and price. Over the next two weeks the market will be determined and we will be sending out an email about the orders. Should you have any questions in the meantime, please email him at [email protected].

Etrog merchants have expressed their amazement at the 20 percent that miraculously survived the frost. G-d was surely looking out for those that are careful to perform the Mitzvah on Sukkot using Calabria Etrogim.

We welcome Berry & Chaya (Kaufmann) Silver and their family to our community. We wish them much luck in their transition to New Orleans and success in all of their endeavors.

We also wish to welcome again, Nachum Amosi, who is back in New Orleans from Israel. Hatzlacha Rabba.

Wishing each of you to be written and inscribed for a good and sweet year!
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

Kosher Humans

Dear Friends,

What makes a human being Kosher? Now, have no fear; I am not advocating cannibalism. I am talking about what makes us “palatable” as people to G-d and our fellow humans.

Every aspect of Torah law has multiple layers of application, ranging from the most straight-forward “how to” aspect to a deeper level of application in the psyche and character of the human being. In this week’s Torah portion we are given the identifying signs of what makes animals Kosher for Jewish consumption. Regarding land animals we are instructed to determine whether the animal has split hooves and chews its cud.

Chassidus explains that these are not random identifying signs that could have just as well been something else, such as a protrusion of the fourth right rib. Rather these signs are significant in and of themselves. To appreciate this let us examine how we would apply these ideas on the deeper – human character level.

Humans are also animals in the sense that we are (at least partially) earthly beings that engage with the physicality and materiality of the world. This is represented by the hoof or foot, which interfaces with the earth. In our engaging the world we recall that it is for a higher purpose – the purpose for which we were placed here by Hashem, namely to make this world a G-dly place. In doing so, we run the risk of getting caught up in the process and becoming subsumed into the materiality. Instead of transforming the world, we become transformed by the world. How do we ensure that this does not occur? By having a split hoof. The gap that runs from the front all the way through to the back of the hoof is the space through which G-dliness can enter, thereby elevating the foot and the whole body.

In interpersonal relations, the gap represents the humility that is our openness to the opinions of others. We may not agree but at least we are open to considering them.

What about chewing cud? That’s an easy one to explain. Rumination is good not just for grass or chewing gum, it is also valuable for decisions. It is always important to consider whether what I am about to decide is appropriate – whether it is what G-d wants of us. The same applies to words and messages that we convey. Our sages teach that the tongue is protected by two gateways, the teeth and the lips. Before opening each gateway it behooves us to consider whether we should be saying what we are about to say. If only technology had such protections. Before you delete a file the computer asks whether you are sure you want to delete it. Perhaps they should consider asking that question before every email is sent, before a Facebook update is posted, and before a sentiment is tweeted (or retweeted). Don’t we all know some folks who might benefit from that? How many friendships were destroyed, relationships wrecked or careers ruined by a careless send or post. Imagine if they would just chew their cud?

So let’s open the pantry of our mind and psyche and make sure that everything in there is Kosher!

On behalf of Chabad of Louisiana I would like to welcome Arnie Fielkow back to New Orleans as he assumes his new role, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans. We have enjoyed a wonderful friendship and working relationship with Arnie that began through his friendship with my late colleague, Dr. David Kaufmann. We wish Arnie much success and we look forward in working with him for the betterment of our New Orleans Jewish community.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


New Details Revealed in Testimony

If you thought that you would be getting a new scoop on Russian collusion or the S&WB water pumps, you are at the wrong news feed… I am going to address a far more current and relevant story – the breaking of the Tablets at Sinai.

In the book of Devarim we find Moshe recapping (and teaching lessons from) the narrative of the journey from Egypt, through the wilderness, to the banks of the Jordan River, overlooking Eretz Yisrael. One might mistakenly assume that we can zoom through it because it is just repetition. However, an astute reader will notice that there are details in the recap that are not obvious in the original narrative. For example, when Moshe reviews the story of the golden calf and the breaking of the tablets, he states, “I took hold of the two tablets, and I cast from upon my hands and broke them before your eyes.” Here he adds the detail of “taking hold of the tablets.”

Why would he have to “take hold” of the tablets when he’d been carrying them all down the mountain? This ties in to a fascinating textual analysis of why the Ten Commandments were presented in singular from rather than communal (plural). It was a way for Moshe to absolve the people of Israel from the sin of the golden calf. He could make the argument that all of these commandments were addressed only to him as an individual. Similarly, when the Tablets were given to Moshe, they were presented to him personally. (We see this from the text of the narrative about the second set of tablets.) Once he received them, Moshe resolved to share them with the people of Israel (as he did later on with the second set). However, once he realized that the commandments contained therein would implicate the people in the sin of the golden calf, he “seized them back for himself” so as to further remove them from guilt. His thinking was, “Let this all be on me. I will take one for the team” (as a good leader should).  Though he had no connection whatsoever to the sin of the people, we see that Moshe puts himself at risk over and over again to argue for Hashem’s forgiveness of that sin.

This is the degree to which our Ahavat Yisrael (love for our fellow Jew) must extend. To quote today’s Hayom Yom daily inspiration, “Ahavat Yisrael must consume a person to the core.”

I want to give a shout out to my children’s school, Torah Academy, on the opening day of this academic year. Started in the early 90s, Torah Academy took a big hit (literally and figuratively) during Katrina. Three years ago the brand new facility opened at the W. Esplanade location and now the enrollment has surpassed pre-Katrina numbers. We are excited for a great school year in every way! Thank you to all of those that are making this a reality. As we say in Hebrew, “Chazak, Chazak, V’nitchazek!”

This weekend Chabad Uptown is launching our Junior Shabbat Club under the direction of newly appointed youth leader, Mushka Rivkin. Junior Shabbat Club will be held each Shabbat morning from 11-12.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Having your rugelach and eating them too

Over three millennia ago, a system of values was introduced to the world. This value system would change the way people considered issues such as the acknowledgement of a Higher Power, the significance of human life and dignity, social obligations of human to human, human to animal, and human to environment, societal constructs such as property rights, ethics of war, civil and business law and so much more. I speak, of course, about the Torah. The Torah – the Jewish bible has been the most influential force in history with regards to forming the structure of societies and the morals for humanity.

While we didn’t make this stuff up – Hashem did, we can certainly take pride in our involvement in the process of the Torah being received at Sinai, as well as being a force in bringing these ideas and values to all of humanity the world over. While much of the human race was involved in barbaric practices with little respect for human life and dignity, our ancestors were internalizing the vitalizing words of Torah, absorbing the moral preaching of the prophets, and debating the finer points of the dignified body of Oral (Talmudic) Law.

As such we often find Jewish people expressing their pride in what they would consider a Jewish value. When a Jewish value serves as the inspiration for an effort to improve the world, they bask in the glory of its origin. They speak of the Jewish values that served to stimulate so many accomplished Jews throughout the ages in a wide range of capacities.

Yet, somehow, when those same Torah values do not conform to the values du jour of contemporary society, all of a sudden they are ridiculed as backwater principles that belong to the dark ages. What happened to the great Torah that was responsible for all of the enlightened ideas of which we were so proud? Poof! Just like that it is categorized as superstitious and narrow minded? To paraphrase the popular adage, “you can’t have your rugelach and eat them too.”

1985 marked 850 years since the birth of Maimonides. There was much ado being made of the significant milestone, from a religious as well as an historical perspective. He was one of our greatest sages in the post-Talmudic era. He wrote on Halacha and philosophy, Talmudic commentary and medicine. In the Israeli Knesset, a day dedicated to honoring the Rambam was held. MK after MK got up to speak of the great rationalist and philosopher who contributed so much to contemporary thought. Toward the end of the day, a Torah observant MK got up to speak and began to propose legislation that addressed intermarriage. When some of the less observant MKs protested about the discriminatory nature of his proposed law, he proclaimed, “I was merely reading a passage from the book of the great rationalist whom we honored today, Maimonides.”   

The greatness of the Torah is that it is the infinite wisdom of Hashem. That greatness is a packaged deal. It would seem paradoxical to pick and choose what of the infinite wisdom of Hashem catches our finite fancies. All of the above is just my opinion. Let the discussion begin.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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