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Governor's Mansion Goes Kosher

This past Tuesday, through the efforts of the Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Relations Council, John Bel Edwards, the Governor of the State of Louisiana, hosted an event honoring the special relationship between Louisiana and Israel. A little lagniappe came during the event when the governor signed an Executive Order prohibiting the state from doing business with companies that boycott Israel, becoming the 25th state to reject BDS. Present also was Consul General of Israel, Gilad Katz. A big shout out to all the folks at the Federation that worked hard to make this happen.

In a unique twist, the elegant event was fully Kosher, catered by Rabbi Peretz and Mushka Kazen, of Chabad of Baton Rouge. This is a refreshing development under the current leadership of the Jewish Federation to invest greater effort in ensuring that Federation events are Kosher. Yasher Koach to CEO Arnie Fielkow and President Henry Miller for spearheading the more inclusive trend at the Federation.

This also reflects a national trend. Chabad has been called on to oversee the Kashrut at quite a few government sponsored events, including the White House Chanukah Party over the past few administrations. It also demonstrates that one need not compromise elegance for Kosher. Kosher food is not just gefilte fish and a barrel of pickles. Short of a handful of ingredients, almost any dish can be made Kosher. Getting the word out on this is vital to the campaign for Kosher awareness.

So pats on the back all around to everyone involved on all fronts. This was a good day for being Jewish in Louisiana.

This week, Jackie Gothard passed away. Most people rightfully associate her with Beth Israel, especially post-Katrina. I would like to share a different memory. In early 1976, just a few months after arriving to establish Chabad in New Orleans, my parents, Rabbi Zelig and Bluma Rivkin, acquired a property on Freret St. for the new Chabad House.

The Chabad House would serve the Jewish student population at Tulane as well as the general community. The grand opening was set for Purim night. Judge Sol and Jackie Gothard served as the hosts for that event, launching over four decades of friendship. May her memory be for a blessing for her family and all those who knew her.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Science and Faith Converge at the Doctor's Office

This past week we had the pleasure and privilege to hear from Yossi Goodman, a man with an astounding story of salvation through Divine Intervention. Briefly, Yossi was plowed over by a drunk driver going 60 MPH. He was thrown 70 feet through the air and landed in a pool of blood with his head smashed and legs and torso broken beyond belief. He was brought to the hospital where his parents were advised not to waste a room or machines by hooking him up to life support. A neurologist, who was a declared atheist, told his mother that he had never seen a case this bad and there was no hope. His parents, with the support of the community and prayers from all over the world, along with the advice and blessing of the Rebbe, elected to fight for his life. Many procedures and disheartening and scary moments later, he emerged from the danger and started to mend. He made a complete recovery, leads a normal life, ran a marathon, got married and has two children, (one of whom was born in the same hospital room in which he lay comatose) and shares his story all over the world. The only remnant of his ordeal is the mark on his throat where they punctured it to insert the tracheal tube. As he was leaving the hospital, months after the accident, the neurologist came over to his parents and declared, “I now believe there is a G-d, because medically there was no way for this to happen.”

This story got me thinking about the role of doctors from a religious standpoint. If G-d is the healer why do we go to doctors? If doctors are the healers, do they have the right to make blanket pronouncements about the case? If not, where does the doctor fit into the G-d’s plan for our health and wellbeing?

Clearly the Torah instructs us to use the services of a doctor. To quote the sages of the Talmud, “G-d gave permission to doctors to heal.” Since G-d created this world to operate within the natural order (primarily), therefore we do what we can within nature to resolve our issues. So when we are sick we seek medical care. At the same time, we believe, that just as all of nature is really the hidden Hand of G-d, so to with medical care. G-d works through the agency of the physician to bring us the blessing of healing. Since we are instructed to work within the natural order, we seek the best possible care, just like we do our best to earn a living and the like.

Within this context the role of the doctor is clearer. The doctor needs to view himself or herself as an agent of G-d. Doctors must do the best they can within nature to heal. A doctor who combines medical expertise with faith has the most optimal tools for success. I know a surgeon who has told me that at times she steps back from a procedure for a moment to say the Shema and pray for G-d’s help for success.

However, when they have exhausted the options available to them, it is not within their purview to declare that there is no hope. Rather they should say, that there is nothing left we can do medically. But G-d is not bound by the rules of nature or medicine and miracles can happen. This then is the role of prayer and good deeds for the sake of the person who needs the blessing of healing. By seeking the best medical care along with calling out to G-d for salvation we can give ourselves the best chance for achieving our goal of healing.

May we all be blessed with good health and prosperity for a long a happy life!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Will The Real Lag B'omer Please Stand Up

Today is Lag B’omer, a day typically and traditionally celebrated outdoors. There are often bonfires and bows & arrows. Since the 1940s, the custom of Lag B’omer Parades has grown and expanded.

Lag B’omer marks the day that the plague killing 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva ceased. It also marks the day that one of his subsequent students, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, returned his soul to his Maker. On his deathbed, he instructed his disciples to mark his Yahrtzeit as a day of festivity - celebrating the teachings of Kabbala and the ascension of his soul on High.

A common modern misconception introduces a connection of Lag B’omer to another historical event – the Bar Kochba revolt in the second century. This is was made even more popular with the rise of secular Zionism and the establishment of the State of Israel, when an association with historical Jewish warriors was sought.

While both Rabbi Akiva and his student Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai lived during that period, and Rabbi Akiva was, initially, a fervent supporter of Bar Kochba, drawing a connection to Jewish war heroism is a blatant diversion from what Lag B’omer is all about.

Rabbi Akiva’s support for Bar Kochba was based on the supposition that this revolt was a physical expression of the spiritual rise of the Jewish people. He even presumed Bar Kochba to be Mashiach. That support came to an abrupt end after Bar Kochba declared that “we don’t need G-d on our side. As long as G-d doesn’t support the enemy we will be ok.” Rabbi Akiva realized that the revolt was entirely divorced of a spiritual context and was therefore doomed to failure.

This is the exact opposite of the theme of Lag B’omer. Both Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon had reached the pinnacle of human spiritual achievement. They studied and taught under the most challenging of circumstances and yet, are responsible for bringing the vast body of the Oral Tradition to the Jewish people via the Talmud, Midrash and Zohar. Lag B’omer is about the powerful light of the inner teachings of the Torah. Lag B’omer is about discovering the powerful unity that Jews experience through Torah and Mitzvot. Lag B’omer is about an intensified devotion to Hashem and His purpose for our existence. Lag B’omer is about ascendancy of the spirit; the superiority of form over matter. Reducing it to a celebration of Jewish military heroics is akin to an arrow not only missing the bullseye, but missing the target altogether.

The bonfires are a symbol of the great light of Jewish mystical wisdom. The bow & arrow symbolize the righteousness of Rabbi Shimon and his followers. Jewish mystics and Chassidic masters have traditionally utilized the spiritual power of this day to perform many miracles. For the Chabad Rebbes, the blessings of Lag B’omer had a specific focus on the area of fertility. Many childless couples were blessed on this day and merited to have a child.

May we utilize this holy day properly and experience the spiritual strength it can give us!

Happy Lag B’omer and Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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