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Showing Solidarity

This past week has been an intense one for the Jewish community and for American community as a whole. Our thoughts have been swirling in all kinds of directions. Certainly, foremost among them is the grief and sorrow for the people who were most directly impacted by the horrific attack in Pittsburgh, resulting in the tragic murder of 11 precious souls and the wounding of six others. There are the thoughts about what the ramifications are of this event on the place of Jews in American society. There are the immediate and long term security considerations. Thoughts about the role of politics and rhetoric in this murderous attack. Thoughts about how a tragedy can pull us together as a Jewish nation. And much more.

There have been some poignant moments. Certainly the solidarity expressed at the vigils and memorial gatherings by so many people from so many backgrounds and faiths. The sincere and meaningful offer from folks like the Cajun Navy to “have our backs” so that we can worship in safety. The random but heartwarming expressions of support from people like the man who stopped me in Walgreens yesterday to tell me the he and his family are praying for my people.

Another angle has been the amazing groundswell of energy to have good deeds overpower the evil that was perpetrated. Campaigns such as #Mitzvah4Pittsburgh have yielded wonderful commitments from people to infuse the world with goodness through the Mitzvahs which they have undertaken. For more on that see www.chabadneworleans.com/pittsburgh.

Chabad of Louisiana is launching an initiative – a Pittsburgh Solidarity Shabbat – #ShowupforShabbat that will be held next week, Saturday, November 10 at both Chabad Uptown and Chabad Metairie. The idea is to encourage our fellow Jews to show up in Shul as an expression of solidarity along with the determined declaration that we will not be kept from our Synagogues by threats and fear. We hope to fill the Synagogues with people with the same sense of urgency that is felt on Yom Kippur at Neilah.

May Hashem protect us and shield us under the canopy of peace so that we never again need to deal with anything the likes of this horrific tragedy. May we truly experience the sense of Am Yisrael Chai for all times.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Mind Your Own Business?

When we reflect on the wickedness of Sodom, we usually think about extreme moral depravity and cruelty. We think about the manner in which they institutionalized corruption and abuse; the disregard for basic human dignity and their decadent attitude toward hedonistic indulgence.

Where does this start? How did they come to be such an immoral society? What measures can we take to protect ourselves from going down those same pathways?

Let us examine an interesting passage from the Talmud that sheds some light on this. Ethics of our Fathers (5:10) states: “There are four types of people: One who says, "What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine" is a boor. One who says "What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours" — this is a median characteristic; others say that this is the character of Sodom. One who says, "What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours" is a chassid (pious person). And one who says "What is mine is mine, and what is yours is mine" is wicked.”

So the attitude of what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours is defined as the character of Sodom (according the second opinion). One might think, what’s the big deal? You have yours and I have mine. It is about minding your own business. To each their own. Why is this the character of Sodom?

It is a natural human tendency to protect one’s self and property. We are instinctually inclined to self-preservation. However we also intellectually recognize the need for sharing and caring for others. Life is about getting ourselves to the point where what we understand overpowers our self-centered instinct. A moral and healthy human society is one where folks care and look out for each other.

Sodomite society created a philosophy out of selfishness. The weltanschauung of Sodom declared “what’s mine is mine and what’s your is yours.” Once that is your outlook on life, there is no limit to how low your society can sink.

In a sense, the Western societal rule of “mind your own business” is a subtle expression of the same Sodom-like sentiment. Judaism tells us that someone else’s welfare is my business. Obviously this is not a license for being a nosy yenta with no respect for human privacy and dignity. But we should not become so self-absorbed that we do not notice the needs of others and we are not moved to help them.

This is true in a material/physical sense; but also in a spiritual/religious sense. If we have the opportunity to encourage someone in their growth as a Jew, we should not “mind our own business.” Our sense of love and caring for another should lead us to proactively reach out to them and share something inspiring or invite them to participate in a Jewish experience.

So stop minding your own business. Shout from the rooftops about how wonderful Mitzvot are. Declare your passion for Torah and Judaism by sharing them with others! If you need to appeal to your self-preservation side, doing this feels really good and meaningful once you get past the initial discomfort with not “minding your own business.”

On a different note, the Eva Schloss lecture next month is at 90% capacity. We are getting ready to move to standing room only and consider an overflow area. Get your tickets now before it is too late. www.jewishlouisiana.com/evaschloss.  

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Individualism vs. Collectivism

As Torah narratives go, we are in the exciting part of the cycle. After getting through with the preliminaries of creation and the flood, we are finally all in on the inspired and inspiring life of Avraham. A recurring theme is the promise of a great nation of descendants coupled with the gifting of the land (of Israel).

A closer peek gives us two distinct forms in which the blessing of plentiful offspring is offered. 1. Your children will be as numerous as the sand near the sea. 2. Your descendants will be as plentiful as the starts in the sky. Aside from diversity of linguistic expression, what is gained by the two metaphors of the sand and the stars?

One of the Chassidic masters explained that each of these represents a different angle with respect to the tension between collectivism and individualism. Sand is valuable primarily when it is bunched together with more sand. The sand can form a beach, mud, glass, computer chips etc. A single granule of sand is hardly useful. This brings out the value of the collective. When we are united, pooling our efforts and resources, we are invincible.

Contrast that with the stars. Each one is a powerful source of light and energy on its own. Indeed two stars coming together can be a destructive force. This brings out the value of individuality.

Which approach is correct? Does Judaism favor the collective or the individual? The answer lies somewhere in the middle. Judaism calls for a balance between collectivism and individuality. There are times when a tip in one direction or another is called for, but a healthy balance is the proper approach.

Here is proof from a Halachic phenomenon with a philosophical and mystical twist. A Torah scroll contains 304,805 letters, each handwritten in black ink on parchment. If a single letter is missing or deformed, the entire scroll is unfit for use. Additionally, each of the letters must be ringed by “white space.” Should a letter touch its fellow even slightly, thereby violating the "white space" between them, again, the entire scroll is disqualified from use.

Every Jew is a letter in G‑d's scroll. The people of Israel comprise a single, interdependent entity; the lack or deformity of a single Jewish soul, G‑d forbid, would spell a lack or deformity in us all. Yet equally important is the inviolable "white space" which distinguishes each of us as a unique individual. True, the letters spell a single integral message. But this message is comprised of hundreds of thousands of voices, each articulating it in its own manner. To detract from the individuality of one is to detract from the integrity of the collective whole.

This is one of the messages of the stars and sand.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Eva Schloss Coming to NOLA

We are nearly 80 years removed from the onset of the Holocaust. This coming November marks 80 years since that horrific assault on the Jewish people in Germany and Austria known as Kristallnacht. In the years that followed the Nazis tried to implement their "final solution" by eradicating the Jewish people. Six million murdered later along with countless others whose lives were unimaginably impacted for generations, we have what's known as the Holocaust.

How many people alive today can actually give eye-witness accounts of the atrocities? The generation of survivors, even those who survived as children, is fading before our very eyes. As they go, the audacious attempts at Holocaust denial grow greater and more bold. 

We need to people to hear the story from the mouths of the last living survivors so that those stories can be retold by those of us who hear them firsthand. 

This November, in connection with the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, Chabad of Louisiana is bringing Eva Schloss to New Orleans. She was a neighbor and later a step-sister to Anne Frank. Her family escaped Austria and arrived in Holland, where the moved near the Frank family. Eva is currently on tour in the US from England, where she lives. New Orleans is her last stop before she heads home on the newly scheduled direct flight from MSY to London.

Please seize the opportunity to hear this legend tell her story. The event is endorsed by the New Orleans Holocaust Memorial Committee and will be hosted at the New Orleans JCC. The lecture is a joint project of Chabad New Orleans, Chabad Metairie and Chabad Baton Rouge. 

For registration - www.jewishlouisiana.com/evaschloss. Seats are filling up quickly and space is limited. At the event Eva's Story - Mrs. Schloss's book will also be sold, including a limited number of signed copies. Advance book sales are also available on the website. 

Looking forward to a meaningful event on Nov 6 at 7 pm.

Have a wonderful Shabbos
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Welcome back from the Mall

The shopping experience has two components (not that I would know much about it…). There is the thrill of buying the merchandise; and then there is the enjoyment of using it. The transition between those two components is when you come home and unpack your purchases.

The Previous Rebbe utilizes the analogy of a shopping trip to explain what this past month of Tishrei is all about. We pick up merchandise from the various vendors, Rosh Hashanah, 10 days of Teshuvah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. Each vendor provides us with items that will be put to good use throughout the year in our growth and developments as Jews. We have a carful of devotion, reflection, love and awe, joy, oneness, enthusiasm and much more. Now that the holidays are over, we must start to utilize the goods and apply them in our lives.

This process begins with unpacking and putting things in place to be used when we need them. That is what this Shabbat is all about. It is the transition between the holidays and regular time. We can reflect on all that we experienced this month and then start to insert those experiences into everyday life.

So welcome back from the Tishrei Mall. I hope you enjoyed the shopping trip. Now unpack and start enjoying your merchandise as well.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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