ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Finding Love in the Classifieds

In the 1940s many Jews lived in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville, among them a young Chabad yeshiva student named Mendel Baumgarten. In his Shul there was a man that never lost an opportunity to make snide remarks about Chabad and the recently arrived Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, who established himself in the next neighborhood, Crown Heights in 1940. One day the man came into Shul and announced that he wanted to publicly apologize for the derogatory manner in which he had spoken of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Baumgarten, who was always bothered by the man’s attitude, approached him to find out what changed. The man explained that due to a recent illness his assets depleted, leaving him in a distressed financial situation. He had nowhere to turn for help, so out of desperation, he placed an ad in the classified section of the Yiddish daily paper called the Morgen Journal stating, “A Jew needs help” along with his phone number. A few days later he got a call from a man identifying himself as the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s secretary saying, “The Rebbe saw the ad and requested that I inquire as to what kind of help was needed.” He described his situation and the Rebbe sent him the funds to cover his debts.   

Today, the 10th of Shevat, is the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Yahrtzeit. Upon his passing in 1950 he was succeeded by his son-in-law, our Rebbe. The Previous Rebbe’s legacy was one of love and caring for each individual and this legacy was continued and expanded by the Rebbe. There are some leaders who are great visionaries and are very good in providing leadership in the macro picture, but they have a hard time relating to the micro – the individual. Others are exceptional on the micro level, but lack the capacity to lead on the macro level. The Rebbe and his father-in-law possessed the rare combination of being able to care for both “Klal Yisrael” as well as “Reb Yisrael.” While overseeing global operations, including the Jewish underground in the Soviet Union, they were able to focus and concern themselves with the needs of the “little guy.” Ahavat Yisrael, the love and care for each Jew, is what defined their leadership, and every interaction was shaped by the principle of caring for all. This is a lesson from which we can all derive inspiration.

Have a good Shabbos
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Tips for staying warm

The last few days in the New Orleans area we have been experiencing numbing cold that has brought the city to a veritable stand-still. We were frozen not just in a barometric sense but also in the colloquial application of the term – numbed into inaction. No work, no school, no driving, no going out and getting things done. We were frozen into a state of nothingness.

This experience can give us an appreciation for why coldness is a good description for a state of disconnect from Hashem and holiness. G-dliness is warmth and light, as the verse states (Deuteronomy 4:24), “for the L-rd your G-d is a consuming fire.” Coldness reflects the notion of apathy and indifference along with a lack of motivation to get anything done.

So how do we stay warm? How do we remain enthusiastic and committed to what Hashem wants of us? I would like to share a few tips for staying warm in the frosty environment.

·         There are two ways to warm oneself against the cold. The first is to wrap oneself in warm clothing. The second is to light a fire or turn on a source of heat. The key difference is that the first method only helps the individual, whereas the second can help others as well. This is true about spiritual frost. We can insulate ourselves against the apathy to G-dliness or we can light a fire that also warms others.

·         In the olden days the home had a furnace in the center room that would provide warmth to the whole house. Obviously the closer a room was to the furnace, the warmer it would be. In order to ensure that the outer rooms of the house would be warm, the furnace in the inner room had to be stoked to a very high temperature. If the furnace would only be warm, then the outer rooms would be cold; but if the furnace was fiery hot, then the outer rooms would at least be warm. The furnace and the inner room represents the period of education and youth. The outer rooms represent the period of adulthood, when our responsibilities distract us from our immersion in Torah and Mitzvot. If the furnace is steaming hot; if our time of youth and education is fiery and steaming, then some of that warmth will be retained in our later years.

·         We must see coldness as an opportunity for transformation to warmth. The Baal Shemtov loved light and brightness. One winter night, the Baal Shemtov’s disciples did not have enough candles to illuminate the Shul. The Baal Shemtov instructed them to go outside and gather a few icicles (eiz-lichtelach) that were hanging from the roof and kindle them instead. They did so and the icicles burned and gave off light. This story conveys the approach of Chassidus to challenges. They are only intended to stir us to find deeper strength within ourselves, allowing us not only to overcome but also to transform.

Please see below for a new program that we are introducing for children later next month called the Jewish Power Hour. In the meantime stay warm in every sense of the word.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


Do Jews LOL?

Humor has played an important role in Jewish life. Books have been written on this topic. The association between humor and Jewish life has often been connected with the capacity to contend with the difficulties of exile. I would like to share two passages from the Talmud that give us an additional, perhaps more uplifting role for humor.

Rabbi Beroka (a Talmudic sage) often had encounters with Elijah the Prophet in the marketplace of Bei Lefet. Two brothers came to the marketplace. Elijah said to Rabbi Beroka: These two also have a share in the World-to-Come. Rabbi Beroka went over to the men and said to them: What is your occupation? They said to him: We are jesters, and we cheer up the depressed. (Taanit, 22a)

Before Rabba began teaching halacha to the Sages, he would say something humorous and the Sages would be cheered. Ultimately, he sat in trepidation and began teaching the halacha. (Shabbat, 30b)

What we see from these passages is that not only did humor play a role in Jewish life, but the role of humor is also sanctioned by G-d in the Torah. The jesters in the first passage are described as “men of the world to come” and the opening joke in the second passage enables the sages to focus on the lesson. In each case the humor facilitates a stronger devotion to serving Hashem. A person who is suffused with sadness will find it hard to experience the expansiveness of spirit necessary to truly have a relationship with Hashem. So the jesters brought cheer, thereby allowing their “clients” to rejuvenate their spiritual journeys. Similarly, the endorphins released by laughter at the humorous remark of the teacher, make the students that much more capable of absorbing the serious teachings subsequently being transmitted.

This is something that Tanya (Ch. 7) describes as harnessing a neutral activity to become a vehicle for holiness, thus itself becoming holy.

It is also in this spirit that we bring you Café Chabad – The Chosen Comedian. Robert Cait is a funny dude. He has wide acclaim in the world of comedy and voice over. His creds speak for themselves. But he has come to use his humor to also inspire. Originally from Toronto, Robert has been living in Los Angeles for many years. It was there that he met my uncle, Rabbi Joshua B. Gordon OBM, and their neshamas connected on a deep level. As his Yiddishkeit blossomed Robert broke into a new market – the Jewish circuit. He has performed at Synagogues, JCCs and Chabad Houses all over the English speaking world.

He will be here in New Orleans tomorrow night, Thursday, January 11 performing at Chabad Uptown at 7 PM. We look forward to seeing you there. More info: or

Happy LOL and Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


Still Relevant 800 Years Later

This Sunday is the 20th of Tevet, the Yahrtzeit of the Rambam. Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, also known as Maimonides lived over 800 years ago. Yet somehow more than 8 centuries after his passing in 1204, he continues to be highly relevant in the world of Jewish law, Jewish and general philosophy, Talmudic commentary, medical ethics and medicine, and astronomy and related sciences. There aren’t many people in world history that have remained as relevant in so many areas of life and scholarship.

I do not profess to be an expert in analyzing greatness nor in conveying an appreciation for the greatness of Maimonides. Yet, I am comfortable stating, that for the Rambam, the lens through which he saw all else was the Torah. His greatness in all other areas are wonderful accomplishments, for which he has received much acclaim. However for the Jewish people his primary accomplishment is his ability to convey the truth of Torah in a clear and precise manner, making it accessible to anyone that understands the language in which it was written. He was the first codifier of Halacha, addressing the entire spectrum of Jewish life and law. He is a primary source in interpreting the Talmud. He is a pillar of Jewish thought, addressing matters of faith, philosophy and theology. He was also a caring leader of his people, who used his medical expertise, political connections and his gift of writing to bring comfort to so many of his brethren.

In our small corner of the universe (New Orleans), and at our microscopic moment in history (21st century), we gather each month to drink from the fountains of his wisdom and to be inspired the richness of his teachings. Join us on the first Sunday of each month at 8:45 AM for Breakfast with Maimonides. A group of seekers of Torah wisdom come together to bask in the radiance of the writings of the Rambam under the guidance of Rabbi Zelig Rivkin. There are bagels and lox and much food for the mind, heart and soul. As this Sunday is his Yahrtzeit, it would be a most auspicious time to explore the class. We look forward to seeing you there.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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