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Dancing over Destruction

We are very excited to announce, that in commemoration of the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, Chabad of Louisiana will be hosting Eva Schloss, the sister of Anne Frank, for a Holocaust memorial lecture on Tuesday, November 6. She is from a generation that is fading and their stories must be told so that the world will know and remember. If you would like to be involved in the event planning or sponsorship please let me or one of my colleagues, Rabbi Zelig Rivkin, Rabbi Nemes, and Rabbi Ceitlin, know. The time and venue will be determined in the coming days. Tickets will be available once the details are set.

This past Sunday we marked the 9th of Av, anniversary of the destruction of the Holy Temple. There is a fascinating passage in Lurianic Kabbala where the question is asked: Why do we diminish our mourning on Tisha B’av in the afternoon and recite passages of comfort in the Mincha prayer? The Talmud indicates that the main destruction of the Temple actually occurred in the afternoon! So the mourning should seemingly intensify in the afternoon rather than lessen.

He cites a Talmudic commentary explaining a curious verse in Psalm 79. “A song by Asaph. O G-d, nations have entered Your inheritance, they defiled Your Holy Sanctuary; they turned Jerusalem into heaps of rubble.” Asks the Talmud, “A song by Asaph? It should be a lamentation by Asaph! They should cry rather than sing! The sages explain, that with the burning of the Temple, the Jewish people realized that the wrath of G-d was being poured onto the “wood and stones” of the Temple structure rather than over the nation of Israel itself. They therefore took comfort from and “rejoiced” over the complete destruction of the Temple and the song was composed to express their gratitude to Hashem for that. (The Arizal offers an alternative explanation that is not mutually exclusive to the above commentary. He proposes that since the potential Moshiach was born immediately in the wake of the destruction, therefore Tisha B’av afternoon we focus on the comfort of the future redemption.)

The Rebbe cites this teaching and points out that from this we can derive that, the notion of Tisha B’av afternoon being a time of comfort, actually started that very first Tisha B’av, not a year or years later. As the Jewish people watched the flames devouring the building, they rejoiced in the knowledge that Am Yisrael Chai, the Jewish nation lives and will live forever. Buildings may come and go, but the people will survive and thrive.

Talk about optimism and a positive attitude… This may be the origin of the Jewish perspective on survival. Certainly this shapes our own approach to Tisha B’av. This idea is emphasized even more in the days following the fast day, where the focus is only on the hope for the future! May our fervent hopes and wishes for redemption and comfort be realized in totality very soon!

Congratulations to Camp Gan Israel on another wonderful summer! Much appreciation to Rabbi Peretz and Mushka Kazen and their amazing staff for giving our children an awesome experience!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Jaguar Attack and Halacha

Living in New Orleans in the mid-70s, I remember the Audubon Zoo as a frightful nightmare. The animals were housed in old-fashioned cages and a visit to the zoo was hardly fun. All that changed toward the end of the 70s when major changes were implemented and the zoo evolved over time into one of the premier zoos worldwide. With those improvements we loved visiting the zoo, as do my children until this day. My mother’s Audubon Institute membership card is responsible for many exciting days for her grandchildren from around the country.

I am not going to get into the morality of zoos and whether animals should be housed in captivity or not; as I do not know enough about the subject to offer intelligent commentary.

This week’s incident with Valerio, the Jaguar that escaped and went on a mauling rampage resulting in the death of nine animals, got me thinking about a related Halachic connection. Six of the animals were killed right away and the other three died within days as a result of their injuries.

One of the conditions that can render an animal non-Kosher (unfit for consumption) is called Trefah. This means that the animal suffers from a condition that threatens it health and life. There are many different causes and types of circumstances that can designate an animal as Trefah. One of them is called Derusah – mauling by a wild animal. Halacha discusses the criteria of Derusah depending on the species of the aggressor. A lion and similar sized cat has the capacity to maul even a large animal such as a bull thereby threatening its Kosher status. One of the areas of discussion is whether the animal can survive after the mauling for an extended period of time. There are different Halachic methods used to make the determination.

Initially after the jaguar incident, some of the animals that had been mauled were projected to survive. Within two days all three of them died, including the fox that was in stable condition. This really drove home to me the Halacha on full display about the impact that mauling has on the long term viability of the animals that survive. Just another example of seeing the world through the lenses of Torah.

On a different note… This Shabbat is Tisha B’av and so the fast is delayed to Sunday. Usually the meal that we eat before the fast is eaten in a mournful state; bread and eggs dipped in ashes, while sitting on a low stool all by oneself. However because on Shabbat no public display of mourning is allowed, the meal before the fast can include even meat and wine. When Tisha B’av falls out this way, we get a taste of Redemption when the fast will be abolished and transformed into a celebration. May we indeed experience that transformation this year so Tisha B’av will be celebrated as the Festival of Redemption!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Friendship in Action

Rabbi Bunim of Pshischa, one of the early Chasidic masters, developed a reputation as a prodigy at a very young age. Scholars who came to visit his father vied for the privilege to discuss Torah topics with him. Once a group of scholars were visiting and his father asked him to prepare a scholarly presentation on the Mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim, welcoming guests. Young Bunim went to the next room, ostensibly to prepare his Dvar Torah. A while later he returned. Curiously he asked his father and the guests to join him in the next room. When they entered they saw a room with beds prepared for gusts to spend the night. Instead of talking, he demonstrated the Mitzvah through action.

During these three weeks of commemoration for the destruction of the Temple, there is an emphasis on Ahavat Yisrael and Achdut Yisrael – love and unity among the Jewish people. This is to mitigate the baseless hatred and divisiveness that was a primary cause for the destruction. There are a lot of teachings that explain the value of love, unity and friendship. Enough to fill three weeks’ worth of Dvar Torahs and beyond. And then there are those who demonstrate with actions!

I experienced this type of friendship recently. Although he may get upset at me for publicly acknowledging it, I am ready to take the heat so that others learn from his example.

Yesterday, Yochanan and I were on a reconnaissance mission for the New Orleans Eruv project. We were surveying certain trouble spots that were identified as areas that need to be addressed. We were driving between Orpheum and Airline Dr. at the Parish line on Cecil St. We got out to survey that corner and then needed to head back toward Orpheum. We spotted a dirt road that could get us there without having to go all the way around Airline and back. In an ill-advised move we took the road. About halfway through, the car got stuck in the gravel mixed with mud. We tried to get it out but we just dug ourselves deeper into the rut. I told Yochanan to call AAA and then headed back to Airline to flag down a truck to give us a push out. It was hot and sunny. The first truck I stopped – the driver said he was on company GPS and couldn’t go off of his designated route. The second truck was a JP public works truck. The driver said he drove there all of the time but he didn’t want to risk anything because of liability and permission. He offered to call the Fire Dept… Finally an hour later the tow truck came from AAA. After driving halfway toward our car the driver decided that he didn’t want to risk getting his truck stuck so he left and said that he asked dispatch to get us a different kind of vehicle.

We were at wits end. Nearly two hours in the heat; tired, thirsty and sunburned. At that point Yochanan called our friend Adam Stross. As soon as he heard he jumped into his truck and was on the way. He tried pushing the car out but it didn’t work. He went and bought a chain, hooked it up to car and yanked it out.

We are still waiting to the second AAA truck…

Some people talk about friendship while others just do it!

Thanks buddy! We appreciate your friendship!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Speak Up

While the vast majority of the Mitzvot are initiated by G-d via His command through Moshe, there are several Mitzvot that were conveyed in response to human initiative. A notable example is in this week’s Parsha with respect to the Mitzvah of inheritance.

The land is being divided amongst the tribes and families. Five sisters approach Moshe with a claim. They are the daughters of Tzelafchad, Machla, Noa, Chagla, Milka and Tirtza. Their claim was that in the absence of male children, their father’s portion would be lost unless they were awarded his portion as rightful heirs. Moshe had a momentary memory lapse on the law of inheritance and he brought their claim to Hashem. In response, the Mitzvah containing the laws of inheritance was conveyed and they were awarded the portion of land.

Why is it that of all of the Mitzvot of the Torah, Moshe would forget this one? Our sages explain (cited by Rashi in our Parsha) that the five sisters merited to have the Mitzvah conveyed through their initiative because of the great love that they expressed for the land of Israel. They were from the tribe of Menashe son of Yosef. Their ancestor Yosef had already demonstrated a love for the land by ensuring that his coffin would be brought there for burial when the Jews left Egypt. Indeed his burial place in Shechem is known until this day. Apparently this trait was passed down in the family. The five sisters absorbed this attachment to Eretz Yisrael and it surfaced in our story. Contrast this with the disdain expressed for the land by the men of the previous generation during the saga of the spies. Parenthetically, this is one of the areas of Jewish life and history where the women outshone the men with their devotion and faith.

What would have happened had they not spoken up? Would we never have been given this set of laws? Highly unlikely. In fact the Midrash comments on the verse where G-d affirms the claim of Tzelafchad’s daughters, “This is the way this passage is inscribed before Me on high.” As if to say, the passage was ready to be conveyed as a Mitzvah and they merited to be the means by which is was done. Yet, unlike other times, the Mitzvah did in fact come through their initiative. This teaches us that Hashem values initiative. There are times that He would rather things develop from below. Certainly the initiative must be within the context of Hashem’s will as conveyed through Moshe. We can’t just make up our own rules and principles. If the plan had been nixed by Hashem through Moshe then they would know that they were mistaken. But it wasn’t nixed and they had been justified. The result is they merited to be associated with this Mitzvah for the rest of history.

If one has an idea, an observation, a suggestion or something similar, speak up. One never knows if their initiative can change the course of history. This is also the answer to those who criticize the Rebbe’s approach to incessantly praying for and demanding the Redemption through Moshiach. They say that it is up to Hashem anyway so why bother? Imagine if the daughters of Tzelafchad would have just resigned themselves and not spoken up? On the contrary, Hashem appreciates and values initiative. In this case we take the initiative to press the issue until we experience the Redemption!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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