ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Thankful for... Sleep

However it evolved and whatever the accurate story is… this day has been established as the American holiday to give thanks. We are bombarded with statements by everyone under the sun telling us that they are thankful for this and that. Companies for their customers. Employers for their employees. People for their friends and family. Societies for their freedoms and good fortune. All that is nice and good. But we need to establish to whom this thanks is meant to be offered.

Clearly the origins of the thanksgiving concept, as well as the formalized application the holiday, all point to a thanksgiving directed to the Creator, in gratitude for His blessings and salvation. Abraham Lincoln, when declaring Thanksgiving as an official American holiday fixed in the calendar, explicitly stated as much.

While having a day designated to express thanks to the Creator is a wonderful thing, as Jews we know that every day needs to be thanksgiving. The day of a Jewish person begins with an expression of thanks and ends with an expression of thanks. The first words that are supposed to be uttered immediately upon awakening are “Modeh Ani” – the words of gratitude to Hashem for restoring our soul and life to us once again. The final prayer we say praises Hashem for guarding over us as we sleep and the act of entrusting our soul to Hashem for refreshing.

One of the things that I reflect on in the realm of thanksgiving to Hashem, is the special value of sleep. After a day of work, stress, excitement, disappointment, worry, anticipation, joy, anxiousness and a host of other feelings and experiences, once can lay down to sleep and wake up refreshed the next morning with a new perspective and a sense of being able to deal with life anew. Often the new day following a night’s sleep brings with it a renewed sense of optimism and energy. The issues haven’t changed, but my perspective has – all thanks to the gift of sleep.

One of the commentaries to the prayer Modeh Ani is the contrast between Hashem and the natural world. If I entrust a beat up object to a friend for safekeeping, it will be returned to me in the same state. When we entrust a tired and battered soul to Hashem at the end of the day, He returns it to us renewed and refreshed.

Thank you Hashem for all that You have given us in every area of life!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

You've Come a Long Way Baby

Back in the 60s the cigarette company Virginia Slims coined the phrase “You’ve come a long way, baby.” They intended it in reference to equality in the quality of cigarettes geared toward women. While the only equality that it brought was equal exposure to lung cancer inducing carcinogens, the phrase has come to represent advances in the empowerment of women in our society.

This week the New Orleans Jewish community can declare a collective “You’ve come a long way, baby” to NOLA Jewish women. On Wednesday night 250 women from every walk of Jewish life gathered in the Gates of Prayer social hall for the 2nd Mega Challah Bake, an event brought to the community as a collaborative project between Chabad of Louisiana and Hadassah of New Orleans. This project began when Chabad approached Hadassah in 2017 about doing this. They enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to bring this special event to NOLA Jewish women. This year, under the leadership of Malkie Rivkin, Chaya Ceitlin and Chanie Nemes of Chabad, and Charisse Sands and Betty Moore of Hadassah, history was made in New Orleans. These five women, along with dozens of volunteers and many individual and corporate sponsors, put the word UNITY into COMMUNITY. Nearly every Synagogue sisterhood and community agency was represented. There was a feeling of true Achva – sisterhood – sitting together with 250 sisters in one room for a singular purpose – experiencing Jewish womanhood. The buzz around town and on social media is an indication of how impactful the event really was.

A Tree of Life honoring various Jewish women along with the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue and Chabad of Poway attacks, was a beautiful feature. There are pictures in the photo section below. (The official event photos will be released next week and we will happily bring them to you.)

The rest of the community has some catching up to do. The women are showing us the way to true achdus – unity. We talk a lot about unity and collaborative efforts in the NOLA Jewish community, and much progress has been made on that front. But we can learn a boat load about togetherness from the women of Chabad and Hadassah and the 250 ladies that participated in the event.

Wishing a restful Shabbat to all those that invested so much effort and hard work into the success of the program!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


The Power of Empowerment

In a class last week we were discussing the contrast between Avraham and the great people that preceded him. The Torah singles Avraham out for praise for above individuals such as Adam, Chanoch, Noach, and Shem. I asked the participants why they thought this was so. One person offered the following idea. The earlier great people had knowledge of Hashem because Hashem communicated with them. Avraham was the first to discover Hashem on his own. Now this is a logical and compelling conclusion. Yet, I pointed out, the Torah tells us nothing about Avraham’s early life of discovering Hashem and sharing that discovery with thousands around him. All we know about Avraham’s early life is who his father was, who he married and that he left his birthplace to a land called Charan. Any other information we have about Avraham’s accomplishments until he was past 70 is from the Oral tradition and a few hints in later verses of the Written Torah.

We meet Avraham in the Torah when Hashem commands him at the age of 75 to leave Charan and move to Canaan. That is the opening of this week’s Parsha. This implies that there is a marked distinction between the life of Avraham until that command and the life of Avraham following that command.

The Rebbe points out that this teaches us that the true power that a Jew has to impact the universe and bring change to the world is when the Jew is empowered by the command of Hashem. We can achieve much through our own efforts, as is evidenced by the first 75 years of Avraham’s life. But he power of real and lasting transformation comes when we are empowered by Hashem’s command.

This is the underlying reason why Mitzvahs are such a vital part of Jewish life. Mitzvahs are plugged into the “Divine juice.” This, in turn, endows us with the same infinite energy flow, with which we can infuse the world with divinity.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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