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#CountYourBlessings

This week Malkie and I were blessed by Hashem with the great joy of seeing our oldest child, Mushka, engaged to be married to a wonderful young man named Yossi Cohen. He is from Montreal, yet he has a significant NOLA connection; his sister and brother-in-law, Mushka and Rabbi Leibel Lipskier, are the directors of the Tulane Chabad undergraduate program.

We are extremely new at this game, and countless people commented to us that we look to young to be marrying off a child… yet we are quite cognizant of our need for gratitude to Hashem for bringing us to this point in our lives.

Mushka is very fortunate that all four of her grandparents, may Hashem grant them long and healthy years, are present in her life and were able to celebrate with her. She is a first grandchild to them. Where it gets a little more unique, is that Mushka is also blessed to have a great-grandmother in her life, my Bubby Rivkin, may Hashem grant her continued long and healthy years.

There were many highlights to this week’s celebration. Most notably, standing with Mushka and Yossi, along with parents and grandparents, at the Rebbe’s Ohel asking for his blessing for their future marriage and life together.

Another special moment was visiting with my grandmother to get her blessing and wisdom as they embark on this new stage of their lives together. She has the benefit of much life experience, including over 60 years of her marriage to my grandfather, of blessed memory. She was dropping gem after gem of insights, advice and anecdotes to them, and to Malkie and me, about marriage and life in general. I hope that we all have the intelligence to absorb and appreciate the wisdom that she is imparting. May she continue to do so for years to come in good health.

In the meantime we are counting our blessings with immense thankfulness to Hashem for all that He has bestowed upon us. We are also very thankful to the many of you who reached out with good wishes in person, by phone and in writing. You are our extended family and we are glad to share our simcha with you!

Wishing you all a happy Adar and Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

How do you celebrate Purim in Hawaii?

One of the more Halachicly controversial places to live in the world is Hawaii. For decades the Rabbinic authorities who were versed in the subject, maintained contentious discussions with regard to the Halachic location of the International Dateline. During WWII, when Shanghai became a haven for many Polish Jews, this issue became very relevant. What are the practical ramifications? The most glaring one would be when to observe the holidays, but there are many others as well. So much so, that some of the Chabad Yeshiva students in Shanghai during the war fasted for two days in observance of Yom Kippur in case the Halacha followed the authorities that said Shanghai was still on “our side” of the dateline. While the consensus seems to have been achieved; and Hawaii was deemed to be on “our side” of the dateline, there are still some lone holdouts on the matter. Today there is an established Chabad community in Hawaii and they follow the widely accepted ruling with respect to Hawaii’s place on the Halachic map.

Why am I telling you all this? Because this year’s theme for Chabad of Louisiana’s Purim Feast is “Purim in Hawaii.” Many question the need for these themes. What’s wrong with good old Mordechai, Esther, Achashverosh and clown costumes? Why reach to the end of the world and beyond to find these themes for our Purim events?

The truth is that it is not inherently necessary. However, Chabad under the guidance of the Rebbe, realized long ago, that the best way to keep our youth engaged in Judaism is to make it enjoyable. There was a time when most kids thought of religion as long boring services on the High Holidays, being dumped on Sunday morning at Temple so that parents could sleep or have a Sunday morning to themselves, drawn-out and meaningless Passover Seders, and giving money to plant trees in Israel. Why would anyone want to continue to be engaged in that sort of thing, when TV, sports, video games, and pop culture are so much more alluring? The solution is to make Judaism exciting and enjoyable. This is something that the entire Jewish world has caught on to and with good results.

A holiday can be enjoyable and exciting, leaving positive associations. A Mitzvah or Jewish tradition can be fun and something to look forward to rather than resent. So the themed Purim parties fall under this heading. There is nothing inherently that connects Pina Colada to Purim, and a Lei is no more Purim-like than a clown. But then again there is nothing that makes them inherently not connected. So when an exciting theme makes it more attractive for people to participate and celebrate, go for it!

So join us and say “Aloha” to Purim in Hawaii – on Purim day, Thursday, March 1 @ 5 PM. The venue is Torah Academy – 5210 West Esplanade Ave. For registration and information see, www.JewishLouisiana.com/purimparty.

The Jewish Power Hour Program is being rescheduled to the month of April. Exact dates will be released within the next few weeks.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Hero in the Shadows

Yesterday we marked 30 years since the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, wife of the Rebbe. It is fair to say that, aside from the famous Jewish women of the bible, no Jewish woman has more children named for her. There are tens of thousands of girls and women who bear her illustrious name. Yet, during her lifetime (she passed just short of her 87th birthday in 1988), the vast majority of Chassidim had very limited knowledge of her and minimal interactions. From the day her husband succeeded her father (upon her urging, despite his own hesitation) as the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1950, the Rebbetzin made a conscious decision to withdraw into the background. Some say it was in deference to the elder Rebbetzins, her mother and mother-in-law. Some say it was to protect the Rebbe’s modicum of remaining privacy. Most likely it was a combination of many reasons. Be it as it may, few chassidim even knew how she looked.

So much so, that in the 1970s, when the Rebbe launched the Shabbos Candlelighting Campaign, a Yeshiva student on the streets of Manhattan, asked her if she was Jewish and if she would like a pair of Shabbos candlesticks. She merely smiled in response. Seeing this, his friend rushed up to him, chiding him for approaching the Rebbetzin. He simply had no idea how she looked. The next day he received a message from the Rebbe’s secretary that she was very pleased that they were enthusiastically fulfilling the Rebbe’s directive of Mitzvah campaign outreach.

In the 1980s a small Shabbos apartment was built for the Rebbe and Rebbetzin in the library building next door to 770 (the main Shul and Chabad HQ). Once in a while the children or students standing in the courtyard between the two buildings, would see the curtains part as the Rebbetzin was looking to see if the Rebbe was coming. I saw her once on a Shabbos afternoon in this manner. Otherwise she was almost a legendary figure who existed only in whispers and shadows.

As a typical self-centered 14 year old at the time of her passing, I had little appreciation of what she meant to the Rebbe; and how deeply her passing would impact him, and by extension, us. I recall (with shame) seeing a woman crying profusely during the funeral and thinking to myself, “why is she so sad, did she actually know the Rebbetzin?” It was only after the Rebbe started to speak about her, and the lessons we could derive from her life, that we got an inkling of how special she was. It would not be an exaggeration to say that she was both the Rebbe’s most fervent chasid and his sole confidant. Her testimony in the Library case was highly instrumental in defining for the judge the role of a Rebbe and his relationship to chassidim.

Malkie and I are proud to have named our eldest, Chaya Mushka. She along with the tens of thousands who share that name, are living lives inspired by this special woman, thereby making a real difference in our world. May her memory be for a blessing and inspiration to us all.

This weekend, in honor of her Yahrtzeit, Chabad Shluchos (female emissaries) gather in New York for the annual conference of the most powerful and influential women in the world. May it be uplifting, blessing all their future endeavors with success.

Shabbat Shalom from Rabbi Mom
Mendel Rivkin

When More is Less

In Jewish literature there is a saying whose message is “more is less.” It has both Halachic/legal as well as philosophical applications. An example of the legal reference is regarding the Kosher status of an animal, where having an extra organ is as negative as missing one. The philosophical reference alludes to the notion that there are circumstances where adding to a discussion or argument actually detracts from the desired effect. (In modern lingo that would be known as TMI.)

How does this all fit with the idea of positive adding, such as going the extra measure when it comes to a Mitzvah or stretching oneself beyond the requirement to help another? When is more, less; and when is more a good thing?

This week’s Parsha is named Yitro, after Moshe’s father-in-law. Elsewhere in the Torah he is called Yeter (among other names). Both Yeter and Yitro are associated with the concept of adding. The Midrash points out that he is called Yitro because of his contribution to adding a passage to the Torah about judges. However the name Yeter also means added. So what additions might that name be referencing?

Chassidus explains that Yitro was a great philosopher and theologian. He explored all religions and branches of wisdom in the universe before he came to the truth of Torah and Hashem. While he was amassing wisdom, at the same time he was fattening calves for sacrificial worship to idolatry. This is possible because when wisdom is corrupted by ego and fueled by a lack of humility and submission to G-d, the greatest perversions of morality are possible. This is the meaning of Yeter. It is an addition that is actually a subtraction. Once he discovered the truth of Hashem, he became Yitro, a new kind of addition, the kind that adds to Torah rather than subtracting from it.

We find this paralleled in life as well. Some of the most cruel and corrupt people in history were also very educated. The more they learned, the more they were able to pervert that wisdom to perpetrate horrific travesties. This is true regarding science, technology, medicine and every other discipline known to humankind. On the other hand, when the learning is tempered with humility, great things result for mankind.

What changed for Yitro? The letter “vav,” signifying the truth of Torah. The “vav” is one of the four letters of the Tetragrammaton. Kabbala teaches that the “vav” represents the channeling of Divine wisdom to the world (through Torah). This then is the key. When one seeks the truth, one approaches it with a sense of humility, allowing the truth to overtake the sense of self.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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