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Getting Comfortable with Israel Advocacy

When I was growing up it was a near given that a Jew, especially one who was engaged at any level in the community or in Judaism, would be an advocate for Israel. It didn’t mean that one agreed with every position held by the Israeli government or the Israeli society, but at least one regarded Israel advocacy as a basic fundamental of Jewish identity. The right of Jewish people to be in the land of Israel and to defend themselves against those that did not accept that right, was the normative position for the average Jew. One could even argue, that associating this assertion of the Jewish right to Israel with a Biblical, or at least historical, legacy, was also not foreign to the average Jew.

That given has eroded considerably during my adulthood. Jews began to assign primary importance to other causes and the urgency of Israel advocacy faded. World attitudes have shifted and that may have caused Jews who identify with “progressive causes” to develop a bit of discomfort with Israel advocacy. This has become even more acute in very recent years with the rise of intersectionality, where leaders of other advocacy movements have rendered Israel support as antithetical to their worldview. A most glaring example of this is the Women’s March and the shunning of pro-Israel supporters of the March’s cause. One Women’s March leader went as far as to declare that one cannot be a supporter of women’s rights and a supporter of Israel; that the two causes are mutually exclusive.

Without getting into debates on the merit of the above sentiment, or about the merit of each individual cause, it behooves us to analyze the results. This shift has contributed to the phenomenon of some (mostly) young, socially conscious Jews carefully examining their willingness to be advocates for Israel. For others, it has pushed them entirely outside of the spectrum of Israel advocacy at all (and beyond). We have seen the fallout of this firsthand here in New Orleans during last year’s city council “BDS law” drama.

Yet, Israel is of vital Jewish interest. Nearly half of the world’s Jews live in Israel. It is safe to say that Israel has the greatest concentration of Jews in one area since Babylonia in Talmudic times. If for no other reason, Israel’s security is the last line of defense for the safety of close to seven million of our brothers and sisters. As such, it is essential for the Jewish community to engage those Jews who are ambivalent or disenfranchised about Israel and to provide a forum for developing a sense of comfort in advocating for Israel’s right to exist and thrive as a country where half the Jews of the world reside.

I don’t have the answer or the solution to how to do this, but we must keep trying to find effective methods. I would like to invite you all to an event this evening where one young man presents his personal journey on this path. Leibel Mangel, will present his story “From Auschwitz to the IDF” at Chabad Uptown at 7 pm. See below for more details. His is a fresh perspective that may give us all something to think about. Hope to see you there.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Shabbos in the hospital

This past Friday night Malkie gave birth to a baby boy. His Bris will take place this Shabbos, G-d willing (see below for schedule details). This was our third child to be born on Shabbos (the other two were born during the day on Saturday). Being in a hospital to have a baby on Shabbos is both unique and strange.

We arrived an hour before Shabbos started; and as the sun was setting, Malkie lit her candles and then got into the bed to “have the baby.” That baby was born in a calm and serene environment, perfectly conducive to the Sabbath that had been ushered in just before he arrived. The medical team actually commented on how calm and serene the experience was. One nurse even chose to stay past her shift just to be a part of it.

Nothing in a hospital is Shabbos friendly. You can barely walk through a door without relying some kind of electronic gadgetry. They want you to sign a hundred forms. To get anything done by a nurse “just press the button to call us.” The bed goes up and down with a button. There are lights everywhere. To turn them off and on “just press the button.” You get the picture.

Now when it comes to health emergencies one is allowed to violate Shabbos. But for convenience or comfort one may not. That is very confusing to the hospital staff. We tried our best to explain to them that our Sabbath precludes us from turning on the lights or using the call button unless it is an emergency. But this is not part of their mindset so it is hard for them to remember. Plus for someone not in the know, it is difficult to wrap your head around the inconsistency between necessity and convenience. So “consent to treat” forms may be signed but acknowledgement of information forms must wait until tomorrow night… Plus the rules of the game changed an hour into our stay, when Shabbos actually started. So it was strange for the staff and for us to have to keep explaining it.

On the other hand, having a baby on Shabbos means no phone calls, texts, social media posts or visits the entire day. While parents of a new baby certainly welcome and appreciate the support and love of friends and family, that time of tranquility to be quiet and alone with the baby and recover is a lagniappe benefit of Shabbos.

Finally, Shabbos in the hospital puts you on an island surrounded by technology. Everything beeps, chirps, squawks and lights up around you while you are in quiet commune with your Creator, bonding with the new addition to your family.

A Shabbos male birth means a Shabbos Bris. This is another unique Jewish experience where the Bris supersedes some aspects of Shabbos. We look forward to joining with family and friends this Shabbos for the Bris of our son.

Wishing you a tranquil Shabbos!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Self-Serving or G-d-Serving

Rebbetzin Rivkah was the wife of the fourth Chabad Rebbe. She was also the granddaughter, daughter-in-law, mother, and grandmother of 5 generations of Chabad Rebbes. She was a witness to, and a participant in, nearly a century of glorious Chabad history.

At the age of 18 she was diagnosed with a serious illness. Her doctor ordered her to be careful about eating first thing in the morning. She was hesitant to eat before reciting her morning prayers, so she resolved to awaken even earlier, pray and then eat. Needless to say, the lack of sleep compounded with the eating after prayers, did not do her health any favors. When her father-in-law, the third Rebbe, heard about this he said to her: "A Jew must be healthy and strong. The Torah says about mitzvot, 'Live in them,' meaning bring vitality into the mitzvot. To be able to infuse mitzvot with vitality, one must be strong and joyful." Then he concluded: "You should not be without food. Better to eat for the sake of davening rather than to daven for the sake of eating;" he then blessed her with long life.

In 1959 the Rebbe shared this story and then analyzed the concept of eating to daven rather than davening to eat. He explained that eating and davening represent the two dimensions of a Jewish person’s life. Davening is symbolic of activity that is G-d-centric. Eating is representative of all other activity. There are three ways a person can approach the tension between these two dimensions.

1.      To compartmentalize. When I daven, learn and do mitzvot, I am all in on the G-dly and the holy. But when I eat, work and go about life, G-d and the Torah are not taken into account. This would be the Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde approach. Not recommended!

2.      To recognize that there is a symbiotic relationship between the two dimensions. Since G-d is the source of all blessing, I must daven if I want to eat. In this approach, my primary focus is the “eating” (physical and material life). But in order to withdraw from my account with the “Big ATM in the Sky” I must make deposits in the form of “davening.”

3.      To recognize that there is a symbiotic relationship between the two dimensions. But in this approach, there is nothing separate about the two. Rather I acknowledge that life is about serving Hashem and every experience that I have (even the seemingly mundane ones) is to that end. So I eat in order to daven. I strive to incorporate the concept of “know Hashem in all your ways.” There is nothing in the life of a Jew that is divorced from serving Hashem.

This third approach is the one advocated in the story. If you daven so that you can eat, then your life is about “eating” and davening is merely a facilitator. If you eat in order to daven, then your life is about “davening” and eating is merely a facilitator. The second approach is self-serving. The third is G-d-serving. The true service for a Jew, is when all of life’s activities are utilized in the service of G-d, either directly or indirectly.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

The Rebbe's Gifts to Us

This coming Wednesday we mark the anniversary of the beginning of the Rebbe’s leadership in 1950. When the Rebbe assumed the helm of the Chabad movement upon his father-in-law’s passing, the Jewish world and the Chabad movement were just starting to recover from the decimation of the Holocaust. Chabad was a small group, with most of the Chassidim located in New York, Israel or in various displaced person camps around Western Europe. Nearly 70 years later the Chabad movement is one the largest and most active Jewish organized groups, with a presence in 120 countries and every state in the USA. The explosive growth of Chabad and its organizational development can be traced exclusively to the Rebbe’s inspired leadership.

I would like to share a partial list of some of the Rebbe’s contributions to Jewish life that have shaped the growth of Chabad and its influence on Jewish life and the world at large.

  • Shlichus: He instilled within his followers the responsibility for the material and spiritual welfare of every Jew, and the willingness to go anywhere to fulfill that responsibility.
  • Transformative Torah: His revolutionary insights to all areas of Torah have shaped our way of looking at many different things in the universe. Over 1,000 volumes of his teachings have been published in 10 plus languages.
  • Embracing Technology: The Rebbe was way ahead of the game in terms of the use of technological developments. That has also resulted in Chabad occupying a unique leading Jewish presence on the internet to spread Judaism and morality.
  • Strong and unambiguous moral leadership on many issues, including geopolitics, ethics, and Jewish peoplehood.
  • Loving the individual: The Rebbe saw, and taught us to see, every person as a storehouse filled with treasures. When you were in his presence you felt as though he was there only for you. He changed how we perceived the wounded, special needs children, the hippie generation, the youth rebellion, widows and orphans, the wealthy, the aged, and so much more.
  • The role of women: His Shlichus model empowered women as co-equal partners with their husbands in the creation and maintenance of thousands of communities across the globe.
  • The power of children: The Rebbe spent an unprecedented amount of time with children. His children’s organization, Tzivos Hashem, launched in 1980 along with the Children’s Torah scroll project, has impacted millions of children.
  • Fusion of material and spiritual: Each person and every profession or talent in the universe could be integrated into ones relationship with Hashem and furthering His cause for creation.
  • A vision for the future: All of the above contributions were infused with an urgency of bringing the world as a whole and every person, space and experience individually, to the time of Redemption. It was his declared mission statement from day one; and it permeated every talk, teaching, initiative and project.

As we reflect on these and many other of the Rebbe’s gifts to our generation, we must rededicate ourselves to living up to these ideals and ushering that special future era of Redemption for the whole world.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Dark Shades and Perfect Doves

Sunglasses serve to protect our eyes from the sun’s harmful UV rays. They also make it more comfortable for us to be out when the sun is bright. However, they simultaneously obscure our vision and skew the perspective of what we are seeing. The darker the shades, the less true to reality our picture becomes, and the more difficult it is for us to truly see what is before us.

There is a verse in Song of Songs (6:8-9): “There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and innumerable maidens. My dove, My perfect one, is but one…” The Midrash explains: “The sixty queens are the sixty tractates of the Mishna. The eighty concubines are the passages of the Braita (statements by the Tana’im – Mishnaic sages – that are not included in the Mishna, but were recorded in a later generation). The innumerable maidens are the Halachic statements by the Amora’im (sages of the Gemera – Talmud).

Chassidus explains: The reason why their number keeps increasing is because the vision of the truth is more and more obscured as the generations descend. The relationship with the King (through Torah) is more diluted, and shared with a greater numbers of contenders. The earliest sages (Tana’im) lived during or just after the Second Temple era. The G-dly revelation associated with the Temple was still very potent. Thus their path to truth was short and relatively easy. As such, their statements are clear and concise declarations of the Torah’s truths. There is not a lot of discussion or dialogue necessary. Their vision of Torah is through a clear glass.

A generation passed and exile intensified. The Braita teachings are more complex with greater detail. It was as though their vision of Torah was via the shade of sunglasses. Their path to the truth was longer and littered with obstacles, lacking the clarity of the earlier Mishna teachings.

Fast forward to the next era. Now the Jews are in a diaspora. In fact, the Talmud was primarily recorded in Babylon. The teachings include lengthy discussion and challenges. Only after much give and take are conclusions reached. The vision of Torah can be compared to a fully tinted glass that allows for very poor vision. Their path to the truth was almost a perilous one.

As the generations descend, the density of the obscuring force increases; and the light shining through decreases, leading to a more difficult path to truth. But with supreme effort, the sages inevitably tread through the path and arrive at the truth by the glimmer of light that shines through to them.

So what is left for us? We are certainly not queens. Nor are we concubines or even maidens. Our Torah learning is like the light coming through a thick curtain, barely providing illumination for our way. What is left for us is “My dove, My perfect one, is but one.” The dove is a reference to the love that we demonstrate to Hashem through prayer and mitzvot. While our Torah may be imperfect, we are empowered to fulfill G-d’s purpose for creation – making this world a dwelling for Him. The greater the challenge, the darker the path, the more valuable and meaningful the achievement. So valuable, that Hashem calls us “My perfect one,” thereby emphasizing our uniqueness, “is but one.”

So when we are assaulted with feelings of spiritual inadequacy in comparison to earlier generations, remember that you have the power to build a dwelling for the Divine. Hence Hashem sees you as “My dove, My perfect one.”

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

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