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A Meaningful Yom Kippur

As we prepare for the holiest day of the year, I would like to share the following perspective. There are two ways we can look at Yom Kippur and the High Holy Days in general.

One standpoint is marked by the overlay of a distinctive tinge of fear and urgency with notion that our future is being decided and this is our last chance to state our case before the Supernal Judge Who is determining what our year is going to hold in store for us. From this vantage point, Neilah (closing service) on Yom Kippur means the gates of heaven are closing and we must “daven our way” to a good year now or we lose the chance. None of the above is untrue and this take is entirely rooted in millennia of Jewish thought and writings.

The second approach is, that these days are an opening into an opportunity to create or significantly expand a deep and meaningful relationship with G-d that is unparalleled at any other time of the year. Looking at it this way, Neilah on Ym Kippur means that the gates of “heaven” are closing and we have the chance to have them close behind us, since we have achieved an intense oneness with Hashem. This is the Chassidic perspective.

These two are not mutually exclusive. Both are true and necessary. It is a question of emphasis. In my opinion, when one emphasizes the second way, Yom Kippur is that much more meaningful and even enjoyable. Fasting is not only an act of penance but rather a way of ridding oneself of material distractions for the day. This thread runs through the entire meaning of the day and season.

May we each find a way to make the most of this most important day so that it is indeed a highly meaningful one that brings us up close and personal with Hashem.

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

All rise for the Almighty Judge

Another week, another hurricane relief appeal. Our neighbors to the east, while somewhat dodging a bullet, have been severely impacted by the storm. With only a week to Rosh Hashanah many of the homes, businesses and Synagogues are still without power. As was the case in Houston, Chabad in Florida and the Caribbean Islands are at the forefront of the relief efforts. They are providing meals and other forms of material and financial assistance along with much needed moral and spiritual support. Please support the work of Chabad by contributing generously at www.chabadneworleans.com/hurricane. A committee of national Chabad leadership along with Rabbis on the ground are distributing the funds around the areas affected by Irma.

Rosh Hashanah is nearly here. Yom Hadin – Judgement Day. Being judged is something that most of us find very uncomfortable. Why do we resent being judged? Don’t we regularly self-assess or judge ourselves? Why then do we have such a hard time with others judging us?

Most likely what bothers us about being judged by others is, that we feel that they don’t truly know our circumstances to be able to take everything into account when rendering judgement. They don’t know what we struggle with. They don’t know what emotional or environmental challenges we may be facing at the time. They judge by what the eyes perceive.

What if we knew that the judge was an individual who had intimate knowledge of our struggles and challenges and who loved us unconditionally and wanted what is best for us? I would guess that most of us would welcome that judgement as an opportunity to get real constructive insight to self-betterment.

This is exactly what Rosh Hashanah is. Hashem, who loves us more than our parents and spouses are capable of, judges us using His true insight and understanding of our character and circumstances. As a result, we can achieve a sense of cleansing and fresh start following the High Holy Days. This is the reason why Rosh Hashanah is also a day of feasting as per scriptural instruction. We are celebrating the judgement that we know will be in our best interest.

Tonight at Chabad of Metairie, Marthe Cohen tells her story, Behind Enemy Lines, of being a spy during WWII against the Nazis. See below for rsvp details.

On Sunday morning Chabad Uptown is hosting our inaugural Mommy & Me for moms & toddlers. This month features a honey cake bake and circle time. See below for details.

Come by and visit our Kosher Awareness Day table at Whole Foods Arabella Station on Monday afternoon. There will be a special children’s activity table from 4-6. See below for details.

Our Jewish Art Calendar for 5778 has been mailed and you should be receiving it this week. If you have not received your copy by Rosh Hashanah please let us know or come by Chabad Uptown for a complimentary copy.

We will be sending out the full RH schedule early next week.

Shanah Tovah and Shabbat Shalom to all!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Today the world trembles

This has been a busy storm season. The US is bracing itself for another major hurricane. Hurricane Harvey is just barely in the rearview mirror as Irma churns through the Caribbean with two more on her heels. Every time a major natural disaster strikes some “wise guy” gets up and pontificates about how the storm is a punishment for this, that or the other. We Katrina survivors recall well how all kinds of folks blamed it on this sin or that offense. Preachers of every stripe rushed to judgement of why G-d would be punishing New Orleans or the USA at this particular time…

Now I certainly believe that G-d runs the universe and that there are consequences for choices that we make. (I am not referring to the natural and scientific explanations for what is happening. I refer strictly to the realm of theology, which IMO is not a contradiction.) However, until one of those clergypersons shows me the memo from G-d or evidence that they are the recipients of prophetic vision, I would encourage them to stop with these foolish pronouncements that are so hurtful and insensitive to the victims of those storms or natural disasters. Does not Isaiah state, “My thoughts are not your thoughts?” How can a person have the chutzpah to speak in G-d’s name without being asked to do so?

In the spirit of the above sentiment, I would like suggest that it would still behoove us to take personal stock of our spiritual situation to see if there is room for improvement in our lives. I am not suggesting that we blame ourselves, but rather that we consider how we can better the situation and bring the world to a closer relationship with Hashem, thereby eliciting Hashem’s blessing for the world.

On Rosh Hashanah We recite this passage after the sounding of the shofar, “Hayom Harat Olam – today the world trembles, today of all of creation stands to be judged.” We believe that Hashem is a loving G-d Who only wants the best for us and all of His creation. Perhaps by improving our lives and gently influencing those around us to do the same, we can heighten our spiritual sensitivity and begin to appreciate all that Hashem does. And as the passage continues, we ask that Hashem should deal compassionately with the universe.

The Rebbe would often use the phrase “tov hanireh  v’hanigleh – open and revealed good” when bestowing a blessing upon people. We ask that there be no need to strain ourselves to figure out the hidden good in what Hashem does, as all blessings will come to us as open and revealed good.

May Hashem spare us of the wrath of these storms and all trouble and distress. May Hashem grant each and every one of us a good, sweet, healthy, prosperous and meaningful year of 5778.

Our condolences to Barbara Polikoff, upon the passing of her mother, Muriel. May you be comforted by the Omnipresent One among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Shabbat Shalom from Los Angeles
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

Elul Action for Houston

Actions speak louder than words! In the month of Elul we are enjoined to engage in sentiments and activities that bring us closer to Hashem and improve our character and spiritual development. One of the areas is Tzedakah. We all know that Tzedakah takes on many forms, financial, personal, emotional, time, intellectual and others.

We need to put our “money” (of all of the above forms) where our mouth is. I am going to leave the profound commentary (and there are some wonderful articles and posts out there) about hurricane relief to others. Let’s cut to the chase. Right now there is a great need for many forms of Tzedakah. It is being organized on many fronts. We had a very productive meeting coordinated by the Federation under the new leadership of Arnie Fielkow this week. Long term and short term strategies were discussed and are already being implemented in coordination with JFNA and Jewish organizations in town.

On the ground in Houston as we speak, Chabad of Texas has organized one of the most energized relief (and rescue) efforts I have ever witnessed. They have been mobilized from the get go organizing direct relief in many forms to those who have been hit by the storm. Meals, supplies, volunteers, financial aid, and every other type of support is being offered to those in the hard hit community.

All of these efforts need support, both financial and man-power & supplies. In the short term I encourage you to, first of all, read about it at www.chabadhouston.com/relief and contribute at www.chabadhouston.com/hurricane. Secondly, volunteers are needed to continue staffing those relief efforts. Chabad of Houston has reached out to us and asked us to mobilize volunteers for Labor Day weekend (Sunday and Monday). At www.chabadhouston.com/relief there is a section for volunteering. Chabad of Baton Rouge and Chabad at Tulane are organizing groups for Sunday as well. We have a few spots in a vehicle leaving Sunday for volunteering. Contact me to get on board.

JFNA in coordination with our local Federation is raising money for the short and long term relief efforts. We all remember how the money raised after Katrina sustained our Jewish community for several years. Our Federation will be coordinating volunteering and relief missions. To participate in the JFNA campaign and to learn about volunteering opportunities, www.jewishnola.com/harvey.

We must always remember our debt of gratitude to the Houston community for their support to us during and after Hurricane Katrina. It is our time to shine in return.

May the merit of the millions of acts of goodness and kindness bring our world over the threshold of redemption through Mashiach now.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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