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Alone but not Aloof


A Jew living in Berlin is the 1930s would go each morning to a café and order coffee and a copy of Der Sturmer (Nazi propaganda newspaper). His friends asked him how he could bring himself to read that vile publication. He replied, “When I read the Jewish papers, I learn of all of the negative things befalling our people. Der Stumer tells me how we are on top of the world, we control the banks, the media, the arts etc.”

In this Parsha, one of our greatest enemies, Bilaam, proclaims some of the most eloquent praises of the Jewish people. One of them “a people that dwells alone, and will not be reckoned among the nations.” This refers to the “otherness” of the Jewish people. (For more on this, see earlier post entitled Embracing Our Otherness - http://www.chabadneworleans.com/templates/blog/post.asp?aid=1203266&PostID=61658&p=1).

I would like to suggest that there is also a personal application of this idea for each of us. There is a tension that is generated when we attempt to integrate our studies, faith and practice with our mundane human activities. On one hand we come to appreciate the beauty of G-dliness and spirituality. This can lead us to spurn the pursuit of material or physical experiences. We may endeavor to “float” slightly above the mundane so that we are not caught up in the earthliness of day to day life. On the other hand, we are enjoined by G-d to make this world G-dly – a dwelling for the Divine. This can only be achieved by engaging the very earthliness we are attempting to escape.

I recently heard a talk given by a colleague, in which he referenced an enigmatic Kabbalistic passage that was quoted by the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, who was citing a talk by his father, the Rebbe Rashab. The author of the passage is R’ Shamshon Ostropolier, a mystic who was murdered during the Chelminicki massacres of 1648. He writes (paraphrasing from Hebrew) “It is good to have isolation while among people and solitude within your fellow men.” The Rebbe Rashab declared that this passage contained the underlying current of all of Chassidus.

Is he advocating for the isolation and solitude of escapism? First of all that does not fit with Chabad philosophy of engaging the world to transform it into a dwelling for Hashem. Secondly, his isolation is “among people” and his solitude is “within your fellow men.” Those qualifications do not suggest escapism or the life of a hermit. So what is the meaning; and how does it reflect the very core of Chabad doctrines?

He is teaching us how to resolve the aforementioned tension. He is giving us the secret to surviving the paradox of being a Jew who loves G-d and cleaves to Him, while living very much in 2018 and making the most of what modern advancements have to offer. We must be “among people” and “within our fellow men” while at the same time be isolated and in solitude. We speak the language of the 21st century while our hearts and souls are connected to an ancient source. We are present and in the moment, but we remember that it is for a purpose. We engage, but only in order to sublimate and transform. Bearing this in mind, we never allow the worldliness or earthliness to define or control us. On the contrary, we define it.

This then is the application of the passage from Bilaam, a people that dwells alone and is not reckoned among the nations. We live “among the nations” and are very much a part of this world. But we remain alone. We remember that we have a real self that propels us to hover above while simultaneously “remaining within.” When we live this way, we are assured to be successful in our mission of making this world a dwelling for the Divine!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin



 


 

 

A Life of Happiness and Good Fortune

Malkie and I are very touched by all of the blessings and good wishes extended to us on the occasion of our daughter, Mushka’s recent marriage to Yossi Cohen. Marrying off a child is an intense experience, especially the first one. Thank G-d the wedding was wonderful and, again we are grateful for those who graced us with their blessings both in person and from afar.

There are certain standard forms of blessing that the Rebbe wrote to people in honor of a wedding. One of those is the Hebrew phrase “Chaim Me’usharim Bakol.” Chaim means life. Bakol means in all. Me’usharim is hard to translate. It is the plural form of Me’ushar, which is the verb form of a combination of happiness and good fortune. So the blessing could be rendered as “A life of happiness and good fortune in all.”

On the morning of the wedding Malkie and I took Mushka to visit the Rebbe’s Ohel. As we stood there praying for our daughter’s future, I contemplated the meaning of this blessing, Chaim Me’usharim Bakol. At first glance it seems a bit cliché. We wish a young couple happiness. But happiness is subjective. What if they are too immature to know what true happiness is? Or what is they are so mature that they are happy with very little? That is why we add good fortune to the mix. This is more objective. On the other hand, good fortune does not guarantee happiness. One has to also come to appreciate what good fortune is as it comes from the Source of all Blessing. So the Rebbe combines the two together. And he then adds Bakol, in all. If a person has happiness and good fortune in all, health, prosperity, a peaceful marriage, healthy children, spiritual fulfillment and a purposeful life, this is indeed an all-encompassing worthy blessing.  

As they stand at the very beginning of their lives together, we wish our daughter and son-in-law, to quote the Rebbe, Chaim Me’usharim Bakol, a life of happiness and good fortune in all and the wisdom to appreciate it! They began their marriage surrounded by the love of family and friends, the spirituality of our sacred marriage customs, and the holiness of a chupah in the shadow of 770, the place from which the Rebbe taught, inspired and blessed so many. May this serve as a beautiful and solid foundation upon which they build their lives.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

It's All About Love

I am sure you think that this message with that headline will be about my daughter’s upcoming marriage. I certainly wish Mushka and Yossi Mazel Tov along with a marriage and life full of love for each other, Hashem, the Torah and other people. However my message today is about a different angle of love. I refer to the love that drives our relationship with Hashem and with each other. I refer to the love the fuels the relationship of a Rebbe and his Chassidim.

The Zohar says that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai considered love to be the primary force of the connection between Hashem and the Jewish people. He cites the verse, “I love you, says Hashem.” The Talmud explains this verse as Hashem saying, “either way (whether they keep the Torah or not) they are my children.”

Tanya teaches that the ultimate motivation for a Jew to observe the Torah is out of a love for Hashem. Then it’s not about fear of consequence or anticipation of reward. When you love someone you are devoted to what they want.

Next week is the 3rd of Tammuz, the day 24 years ago that the Rebbe was taken from us in a physical sense. Yet the intensity of the relationship between the Rebbe and the Chassidim is very profound. Someone once asked the Rebbe if he thought that the Chassidim’s devotion to him was a little over the top. The Rebbe replied, “It is merely a reflection of the love I have for them.”

In that spirit I would like to share a story about the Previous Rebbe. In 1945, upon hearing reports from Holocaust survivors about the experiences of the war, he experienced a major medical event, which further impacted his already compromised capacity to move and speak. One afternoon in 1946 the nurse observed that he was moving his lips and making jerking movements. She quickly summoned members of the family out of concern for his health and well-being. His son-in-law (our Rebbe) came and bent over to hear what he was saying. He stood up and said that everything was fine and they can leave him alone. He related that he heard his father-in-law whispering the words of Az Yashir, the song the Jews sang after crossing the Red Sea while moving his feet as if he were traveling.

Some time later, word came to New York that the first group of Russian Jews had managed to escape Russia using forged Polish passports, allowing them to take advantage of the tiny window of escape from the USSR after WWII. This was very risky and anyone that was caught suffered greatly as a result. The time that their train crossed the border was the very moment that the Previous Rebbe was whispering and walking in place. Sitting across the Atlantic, paralyzed and ill, the Previous Rebbe sensed that his Chassidim were undergoing something perilous. He was praying for them and vicariously “traveling with them” from afar.

This is the love that the Rebbe referred to and this is the love that is reciprocated by the Chassidim. This is a powerful energy. I wish that we should all be able to experience it and, more importantly, capitalize on it to accomplish wonderful things for ourselves and the world.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge the recent passing of Phyllis Kaufmann. She and her husband Ray, OBM, were respected members of the New Orleans Jewish community. We got to know them through their sons, David (Dr. Kaufmann OBM) and Avram (may he live and be well). In addition to being a wonderful Bubby and community member, Mrs. Kaufmann possessed a measure of wisdom that enabled her to advise people in many areas. She was a great proponent of education and a staunch supporter of Torah Academy. Her warmth and insight will be missed. May her family take comfort in the positive impact she had on so many.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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