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Inflated, Deflated and Healthy Egos

The most important “ritual item” at the Seder is the Matzah. We eat Matzah because that is what Hashem commanded us (even before we left Egypt – along with the original Pesach lamb), as well as to commemorate the exodus and the dough they carried out that did not have the opportunity to rise. Conceptually Matzah is also associated with humility, as it is dough that is not allowed to rise.

If bread that rises is connected to an inflated ego, then it would seem that even more compelling that Matzah should be bread made from a grain that cannot rise at all on its own, such as rice or millet. Yet the Talmud clearly instructs that a grain that cannot become Chametz (leavened), may not be used to make Matzah. Only grain that has the potential to rise can be used for Matzah, in which rising is restricted. This is an interesting wrinkle in the arrogance vs. humility dynamic.

With respect to grain there are three possibilities, grain that cannot rise on its own, grain that can rise but is restricted from doing so, grain that can rise and does. Similarly when it comes to the ego there are three possibilities. There is an inflated ego (Chametz), a deflated ego (grain that cannot rise), and a healthy ego (Matzah).

What is the difference between the deflated ego and the healthy ego? Deflated ego is reflected in people who do not possess a sense of self-worth. They are lowly in their own eyes. These types of folks cannot achieve much. A “healthy ego” would be people who are aware of their positive qualities while at the same time recognizing that they are gifts from G-d and nothing to boast about. These are people with a strong sense of self-worth and the confidence to accomplish their goals.

On Pesach our job is to rid ourselves of arrogance and inflated ego, but not to get to a state of lowliness. Matzah is the perfect balance. In fact Chametz – inflated ego, is often as much as an indication of lack of self-worth as lowliness. It is just that in this case, the ego is inflated to compensate for the missing confidence, whereas in the case of a deflated ego the result is lowliness. A healthy state is the one where people have the confidence to do what Hashem wants them to, without letting it “go to their heads.”

We are not doormats. We are empowered by G-d to accomplish a lot and change the world. Yet we are always cognizant that the empowerment comes from Hashem alone, and we therefore do not attribute our successes to ourselves. Sometimes we need an ego check to ensure that we are staying on track. That is one of the dimensions of the Pesach holiday.

If you are still looking for a place for the seders, please contact Rabbi Nemes at Chabad Metairie – 504-454-2910 or rabbi@jewishlouisiana.com.

Wishing you a kosher, happy and meaningful Pesach!
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Three Torahs - Triple the Love

This coming Shabbat we will experience something that is fairly uncommon in Jewish life, three Torahs will be taken from the ark and read. Usually we use only one Torah. On special days we use two Torahs. Three Torahs are used on Simchat Torah. There are three other occasions when three Torahs are used depending on calendrical quirks. When Chanukah, Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh Tevet coincide, when Rosh Chodesh Adar and Shabbat coincide (we add parshat Shekalim), and when Rosh Chodesh Nissan and Shabbat coincide, as it does this year. We will read the weekly Parsha – Vayikra, the section for Rosh Chodesh, and Parshat Hachodesh (the section about the Pesach offering).

Even children, who do not necessarily comprehend what is being read in the Torah, recognize that something special is going on in Shul, when they see three Torahs being removed from the ark. The can line up to kiss not one, not two, but three Torahs as they pass through the Synagogue.

Why is this so special? The Torah represents many things to the Jewish people. It is our history, our heritage, our guide for G-dly living, some of the most profound wisdom available to humankind, and much more. One of the most important of all is, that Torah is a symbol of G-d’s love for the Jewish people. The Torah is described in Talmud, Midrash and Kabbala as one of the most precious entities in G-d’s possession. The greatest expression of love that G-d ever demonstrated was to give this most precious gift to our people.

Think about the words of the blessings we recite when reading the Torah. “Who has chosen us from among all the nations and given us His Torah… Who has given us the Torah of truth and planted eternal life within us…” The depth of G-d’s love for us was, and is, on full display with the giving of the Torah. So each individual Torah scroll is a symbol of that deep love. When three Torah scrolls are taken out of the ark – that is Hashem’s love in triplicate. Love so deep must elicit a reciprocal love from us to Hashem. Consequently, when three Torah scrolls are removed from the ark – that is also triple the love rebounding from us to G-d.

Last week an elderly woman, who’d been living in a senior’s facility for years, passed away. Adele Cahn was quite involved in the Jewish community in her younger years, but the last few years she led a somewhat reclusive life at Lambeth House. Chabad offers quite a bit of programming at Lambeth House, including monthly and holiday events, but Adele declined to come out to participate. Every Rosh Hashanah a delegation of adults and children (usually led by Adam Stross and Saadya Kaufmann) walk from Chabad to Lambeth House to sound the shofar for the Jewish residents there. After sounding the Shofar for the group that gathered, they would go to the rooms of the residents who were unable to come down. Each year Adele Cahn would receive the delegation in her room, and delight in the ability to participate. It was one of the highlights of her time there. She will be missed. We are proud to know that our annual delegation was able to give her that joy, making her last years a little more meaningful.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Does Spiritual = G-dly?

How many times have we heard someone we know (maybe even ourselves) state, “I am not religious/observant, but I am spiritual.” What does that mean? I am not sure I can divine (no pun intended) what each person means with that statement, but let’s try to define the terms on a literal as well as colloquial basis.

Spiritual is defined in the dictionary as, A. Related to the spirit as opposed to material or physical. B. Related to religion or a religious belief. This would imply that in order to be spiritual one has to either, A. Believe in a soul or spirit. B. Accept a religious belief. Colloquially, the definition of spiritual has been expanded to include a quest for personal meaning and growth, an inner dimension and “sacred space” outside of the confines of organized religion. Often, but not always, the colloquial definition would be applied by people who believe in G-d, but don’t accept that a particular “organized religious path” is the truest way to connect with G-d.

Let’s take a look at what Judaism (granted a somewhat organized religion), within the context of Chasidism, has to say about this. Kabbala teaches and Chassidus echoes the teaching, that Hashem is beyond the grasp of the finite, and that humans through their own efforts could never achieve a connection. Therefore G-d gave us tools, which are invested with the power of the infinite, to enable us to bridge the gap. These tools are called Mitzvot. In addition to meaning a commandment, Mitzvah is also etymologically associated with the Aramaic – Tzavta – meaning connection. Within this paradigm, the only, and I repeat, only possible manner that a human being can achieve a communion with G-d, is by using the tools that G-d gave us, AKA Mitzvot. The obvious exception would be if Hashem decided to give us another (short term) method.

A fascinating example of this can be found in this week’s Torah reading. The people of Israel construct the Sanctuary so that they could connect (experience the Divine Presence in their midst). Everything is ready and complete, but no Divine Presence. Then they start to perform the service and use the Sanctuary as they were commanded by G-d. All of a sudden “The Glory of G-d fills the Sanctuary.”

In a similar sense, we can apply all kinds of activities and experiences to feel spiritual and closer to G-d, but if we don’t do things on His terms, we fall short. It might feel good, but it ain’t G-dly.

Purim with Chabad by the numbers:

12+ Megilah Readings in the NOLA metro area
300+ People heard the Megillah at those readings
270+ Purim Shuttle Packages packed and delivered by 20+ Volunteers
200+ People attended Purim in Hawaii

This is besides what Chabad did for Purim in Baton Rouge and Biloxi. To support Chabad’s Purim activities this year, go to www.chabadneworleans.com/donate. And now, we are off to Pesach!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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