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ChabadNewOrleans Blog

The Double Edged Sword of Yom Kippur

We are coming off a most meaningful Yom Kippur. People were excited to be back in Shul after an evacuation. I saw a potent energy this Yom Kippur at Chabad House. That being said, Yom Kippur can be a double-edged sword.

On one hand, a Jew can come away from Yom Kippur energized and uplifted, with a passion and drive to embrace the next Jewish experience. For this Jew, Sukkot cannot come soon enough. So many Mitzvahs and causes to celebrate. One can eat in the Sukkah, shake the Lulav and Etrog, and dance on Simchat Torah. For such a Jew, there is nothing as empowering as the momentum derived from a vibrant Yom Kippur. There is enough fuel in the Jewish tank to last for a long time. Yom Kippur whetted the appetite for Yiddishkeit and there is a feeling of wanting more and more. I am very excited for such a Jew, because their Yiddishkeit quotient will soar over the coming year.

On the other hand, one might come away from Yom Kippur feeling like a fully accomplished Jew with no need to consider Yiddishkeit until next year. Since we were given a clean slate, no further investment of effort is necessary. For such a Jew, there is an anti-climactic sentiment associated with the end of Yom Kippur. I am saddened by this attitude, because it represents a wasted opportunity to harness the power of Yom Kippur to take us to the next level.

I beg you, be in the first category rather than the second! Don’t let Yom Kippur be for naught. Yom Kippur is about developing our relationship with Hashem.  A relationship requires effort and investment. Every Mitzvah, every Jewish holiday celebration, every chance to pray or study Torah, constitutes an investment in the relationship. Hashem is pleading with us to be invested in this relationship that He so strongly desires. It is the best thing that can happen to us!

Wishing you a meaningful post-Yom Kippur rest of the Jewish year!
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

A Tribute to George Haas

Yesterday we learned of the sudden passing of George Haas. Our hearts go out to Elaine, his wife of 62 years, their children, and the entire family. What a time to go! With a clean slate the day after Rosh Hashanah.

I called George “my favorite Levi” (he was a Levite and delighted in being called to the Torah as one). He was a mensch par excellence and one of the proudest Jews I’ve ever met. He cared about Klal Yisrael with every fiber of his being. He possessed an encyclopedic knowledge about all kinds of things. He would often ask trick questions about Jewish traditions and calendar quirks. He would frequently make meaningful observations about things that I wrote or events that were occurring. His musical ken was second to none. We once had a performer tease the audience with a few notes from a song, asking if anyone could identify the composition. George piped up immediately with the correct answer, “the nutcracker.” With all of his positive qualities, he really did not like making a big deal out of himself. He had a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor, as well as many other types of humor.

If there was one thing that George was more passionate about than anything else, it would be Jewish continuity. He was rabidly devoted to this cause. I am sure his survival of the Holocaust and escape from Vienna in 1939 contributed to his obsession with Jewish continuity. He wanted to ensure that he would have proud Jewish children and proud Jewish grandchildren. He was ecstatic every time another grandchild was born. He saw each Jewish baby as the answer to Hitler. In fact, every baby that was born in the community was a cause for celebration on George’s part. I cannot count the number of posts and comments from George on Facebook when he saw an announcement of a new baby, or a family photo with a bunch of children. I was once invited to give the invocation at the Yom Hashoah event at the JCC. I spoke about the importance of filling the void left by the murder of 6 million. To quote, “As we gather to remember the lives of six million kedoshim – holy ones, we must commit ourselves to filling the void. My good friend, George Haas, native of Vienna who escaped just ahead of the war, sees each of his grandchildren as an answer to Hitler. Filling the void…”

George recently celebrated his 90th birthday. In typical George Haas fashion, he wanted to celebrate with his family and friends, with a Kiddush in Shul at Chabad Metairie. He sent me this email, “Dear Rabbi Mendel: I’ll be celebrating my 90th Yom Huledet at the Chabad Center on the Shabbos preceding Memorial Day. In order not to slight the uptown folks I would like to re-celebrate my Yom Huledet on Breshit in early fall with a special Open Kiddush.” A few weeks later the sponsorship for the grand Kiddush arrived. I can assure you George, that we will have a rocking Kiddush to celebrate your life, knowing that you will be with us in spirit. Farewell my friend. May your soul be bound with the Source of all life!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The Generator the Tipped the Scales

A simple wagon driver once saw a carriage filled with people careening down a hill out of control. He ran and jumped on the horse and slowed it down, ultimately bringing them a halt, thereby saving the lives of all the passengers, the driver, and the horses, as well as the carriage. After a nice long life, he passed on and came before the heavenly court. He was a good guy, but he had done some good and some of the opposite. His deeds were placed on the scale, and it was tipping to the wrong side. Suddenly an angel came dragging the lives of the family that he saved. It was still tipping the wrong way. The angel brought the horses, and then the carriage. It was still tipping in the wrong direction. Finally, the angel came dragging the mud that was stuck to the wheels and that tipped the scale for good, earning the wagon driver his ticket to heaven.

Usually, the week before Rosh Hashanah is spent on my own intense spiritual preparations for the upcoming Days of Awe. As a Rabbi, I have the additional obligation to inspire a congregation. With Ida blowing through town, leaving so many in such dire straits, this week was spent on an entirely different set of activities. Rather than study and meditate on the deeper meaning of Rosh Hashanah, we were hooking up generators and distributing fuel. Instead of preparing uplifting sermons, we were bringing cold water, ice, and food to folks around the region, along with a friendly face, a warm word and some cheer. Instead of considering our deeds on judgement day, we were connecting with people making sure they were safe, having them know that someone cares.

I am confident that when our deeds are placed on the scale this year, the generators, the fuel, the ice, the water, the smiles and caring words will bring the balance squarely on the positive side. Instead of long sermons we will hold up our sweaty clothes and sleep deprived eyes, and people will be uplifted. Instead of personal meditation, we will consider the value of helping another person and be inspired.

So many people were involved in this ongoing effort. In addition to some of the people who were already thanked on social media, I want to single out a few individuals that were amazing over these past few days. Leibel, Levi, Sholom, Zalman, Peter, Dotan, Gene, Lou, Nanette, Neil, Chaim, Yosef, Monica, Aaron, Mazal, Sam, Chaim Shlomo, and so many others who helped in so many different ways. We want to thank all the individuals and organizations, local, regional, and national, that continue to partner with us, empower us and enable us to help our fellow Louisianians who are suffering in the aftermath of the storm.

On behalf of our team from Chabad of Louisiana, Chabad of Metairie, Chabad of Baton Rouge, please go to www.chabadneworleans.com/ida to keep the love flowing!

See below for more Hurricane Relief resources and for photos.

Shabbat Shalom and see you in Shul on Rosh Hashanah!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

The Generator that Tipped the Scales

A simple wagon driver once saw a carriage filled with people careening down a hill out of control. He ran and jumped on the horse and slowed it down, ultimately bringing them a halt, thereby saving the lives of all the passengers, the driver, and the horses, as well as the carriage. After a nice long life, he passed on and came before the heavenly court. He was a good guy, but he had done some good and some of the opposite. His deeds were placed on the scale, and it was tipping to the wrong side. Suddenly an angel came dragging the lives of the family that he saved. It was still tipping the wrong way. The angel brought the horses, and then the carriage. It was still tipping in the wrong direction. Finally, the angel came dragging the mud that was stuck to the wheels and that tipped the scale for good, earning the wagon driver his ticket to heaven.

Usually, the week before Rosh Hashanah is spent on my own intense spiritual preparations for the upcoming Days of Awe. As a Rabbi, I have the additional obligation to inspire a congregation. With Ida blowing through town, leaving so many in such dire straits, this week was spent on an entirely different set of activities. Rather than study and meditate on the deeper meaning of Rosh Hashanah, we were hooking up generators and distributing fuel. Instead of preparing uplifting sermons, we were bringing cold water, ice, and food to folks around the region, along with a friendly face, a warm word and some cheer. Instead of considering our deeds on judgement day, we were connecting with people making sure they were safe, having them know that someone cares.

I am confident that when our deeds are placed on the scale this year, the generators, the fuel, the ice, the water, the smiles and caring words will bring the balance squarely on the positive side. Instead of long sermons we will hold up our sweaty clothes and sleep deprived eyes, and people will be uplifted. Instead of personal meditation, we will consider the value of helping another person and be inspired.

So many people were involved in this ongoing effort. In addition to some of the people who were already thanked on social media, I want to single out a few individuals that were amazing over these past few days. Leibel, Levi, Sholom, Zalman, Peter, Dotan, Gene, Lou, Nanette, Neil, Chaim, Yosef, Monica, Aaron, Mazal, Sam, Chaim Shlomo, and so many others who helped in so many different ways. We want to thank all the individuals and organizations, local, regional, and national, that continue to partner with us, empower us and enable us to help our fellow Louisianians who are suffering in the aftermath of the storm.

On behalf of our team from Chabad of Louisiana, Chabad of Metairie, Chabad of Baton Rouge, please go to www.chabadneworleans.com/ida to keep the love flowing!

See below for more Hurricane Relief resources and for photos.

Shabbat Shalom and see you in Shul on Rosh Hashanah!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

25th Anniversary Reflections

Yesterday Malkie and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. 25 years is considered a generation. We are very blessed to have merited to raise one generation and witness the start of a new generation of our family during this time.

There are two things that I reflected on in connection with our anniversary, that I would like to share. A wedding marks the beginning of the formation of a new unit, a husband and wife. They build a life together; and they share hopes and dreams of where they want their life to go. On an anniversary, one often contemplates how those shared hopes and dreams are coming along.

As we celebrated our anniversary, surrounded by our family, my thoughts kept returning to a quote from the book Hayom Yom – Nissan 9. “Jewish wealth is not houses and gold. The everlasting Jewish wealth is: Being Jews who keep Torah and Mitzvot, and bringing into the world children and grandchildren who keep Torah and Mitzvot.”

We have much to thankful for to Hashem for this immense wealth with which He has blessed us.

Obviously, a wedding anniversary is a very personal milestone. Yet, as Hillel teaches in Pirkei Avot, “If I am (only) for myself, what am I?” When a couple gets married and starts a life together, they must think about what value their life will contribute to Hashem’s world. In 25 years, how have I advanced the realization of Hashem’s purpose for creation? In 25 years, how has my home and family benefitted others? Can I honestly say that my marriage and family has made a difference, leaving an indelible mark on the world around us? These are the things we must reflect on. Hopefully the answers are positive ones. Furthermore, we look forward to being granted many more healthy and happy years together, during which we can continue and increase in those areas.

May Hashem bless each and every one of you to be inscribed and sealed for a healthy, prosperous, and meaningful year of 5782.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Friday the 13th - The Luckiest Day

This morning, on Friday the 13th, I was considering breaking a mirror, under a ladder, in the presence of a black cat. But then I decided that it was too much trouble and I had better things to do with my time.

I remember how incredulous I was when I discovered as a teenager, that most buildings in Manhattan do not have a 13th floor. I could not understand why a rational society would lend any credence to such foolishness. 

The horror genre built an entire industry around these superstitions. Their favorite day is Friday the 13th, because it brought them a billion-dollar windfall from the movie series and the business that it spawned.

So why don’t we Jews believe in this stuff? In this week’s Parsha we learn the following: “When you have come to the land the L-rd, your G-d, is giving you, you shall not learn to do like the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who passes his son or daughter through fire, a soothsayer, a diviner of [auspicious] times, one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, a pithom sorcerer, a yido'a sorcerer, or a necromancer... Be wholehearted with the L-rd, your G-d. For these nations, which you are to possess, hearken to diviners of [auspicious] times and soothsayers, but as for you, the L-rd, your G-d, has not given you [things] like these.”

Be simple with the L-rd, your G-d – Tamim ti’hiye – is not so simple. The commentators discuss whether Judaism rejects sorcery because it is false, or rather, because it is immoral. Either way we cut it, a Jew need not be concerned with those superstitions or divinations, because we are laser focused on Hashem. Since we believe Hashem runs the world and is intimately involved in every detail of what occurs, it matters little whether some diviner claims that something is lucky or unlucky. Hashem is in charge and if we do what we need to those matters will not have any connection to us whatsoever.

So today is the luckiest day in the world. Today is the day we can plug in to our relationship with Hashem through Torah and Mitzvot. In return Hashem blesses us all to be inscribed and sealed for a healthy, prosperous, and meaningful year of 5782.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Meet the Chaplain

This week I had the opportunity to sit down for a conversation with one of our community’s lesser known assets, LCMC Heath System Chaplain, Rabbi Levi Partouche, who just completed his first year in New Orleans. I share some highlights of our dialogue.

MR: Please tell us about yourself.
LP: I was born in Montpellier, France, where my parents are the Rebbe’s Shluchim for many years. My schooling took me to Paris, New Jersey, Florida, Israel and Brooklyn. After marrying my wife Sarah (nee Ross), we joined the team of Shluchim in Montpellier for 3 years before moving to Jacksonville, FL, so I could enroll in a CPE (Clinical Pastoral Counselling) course and residency. There our son Mendel was born. Upon completing the residency in summer of 2020, I began to apply for jobs in the field. LCMC had an opening and offered me a position. Other offers came as well, but New Orleans, with its Jewish communal infrastructure, seemed to be the best fit.

MR: What are your duties with LCMC?
LP: As a member of the chaplaincy team, I rotate between the LCMC facilities (UMC, Children’s, Touro, West Jeff and others). The primary role is providing pastoral care and counseling to all patients, regardless of religious affiliation, and their families. I help Jewish patients navigate through the confusion of “end of life” issues. I have served as the Rabbi present to recite final prayers before death. I have helped facilitate a greater availability of Kosher food upon request. I am on call at least two nights a week. One particularly memorable event was dealing with a family crisis when a young man was brought in after being shot accidentally by his father. During the initial COVID surges, the hospital staff, including chaplains, often served as the connection between isolated patients and their families, helping them with phone calls etc. I was privileged to engage with several Jewish COVID patients in a very powerful way. 

MR: Sounds like a very busy schedule. Yet, I believe you have also expanded your reach beyond your official duties.
LP: I am a member of Chabad on Call (an association of Chabad Medical Chaplains). My wife and I try to serve in a ministering role to healthcare professionals and their families. We give out challah. We have them over for Shabbat. We host monthly picnics in the park. We have Jewish holiday events. I have also gone to other facilities in a volunteer capacity. On a visit to the VA Medical Center, I discovered that there was no Kosher food available. I successfully worked with dietary to change that. During the recent construction of the New Orleans Eruv, I lobbied Children’s Hospital to allow the use of some of their structures for the Eruv. The change to incorporate Children’s Hospital within the Eruv is in the works. This will allow parents visiting their children at the hospital on Shabbat to bring water or a baby carriage on the walk.

MR: How is your family adjusting to life in New Orleans?
LP: My wife Sarah has roots in New Orleans. Her father is a Tulane and Chabad House alum. She teaches at Slater Torah Academy, where our son is enrolled for the coming school year. We live in the wonderful Chabad Uptown community. We have developed many nice friendships and look forward to continuing life in this greater New Orleans Jewish community.

MR: Thank you very much for your time and best of luck with all of your endeavors.

Lovable Sinners

This morning on the news, the meteorologist reported on a cold front that is arriving Monday, which will drop our temperature all the way down to the high eighties – low nineties. What a break!! The heat has been so bad, that weather is an actual legitimate conversation topic.

Yet, although one would hardly notice in our area, technically summer has turned the corner. The days are starting get shorter, and the nights longer. In fact, the Talmud says that the 15th of Av (last Shabbat) is the day that “the sun’s power begins to weaken” – meaning that the days get shorter and there is less sunlight. (Since ours is primarily a lunar calendar – the phenomenon is observable to a greater degree when the 15 of Av falls in mid-August, unlike this year when it was in late July.)

Since that is the case, in times of the Holy Temple, they would not use any wood that was cut after that date for the woodpile on the altar. In the Temple only the best supplies may be used. Wood that contains some moisture is more likely to become wormy. So only wood that was cut while the sunlight was most potent, was allowed to be used. At some point during the second Temple era, the community could not afford to keep the Temple supplied with enough wood that met the criteria. Individual families began to supply the wood from their own personal stockpiles. The day that they brought the wood to the Temple would be regarded as a family holiday.

There was one particular family whose shift to supply the wood began on the 20th of Av. What was unique about them, was that they were depleting their wood supply at a time when it could not be restocked until next spring. So their contribution to the Temple came with a significant sacrifice on their part.

If we consider this further, we realize that the altar was used minimally for the communal offerings, which benefitted the entire Jewish people. Primarily, the altar was used for individual offerings brought mostly for purposes of atonement. So here we have a family that is willing to deplete their own supply at significant cost, just to help some sinners find atonement. They might have said, “Sinners, bring your own wood. Why is your atonement my problem?” But this was not their attitude. In fact, not only did they supply the wood, they did so happily amid jubilant celebration.  

The lesson is obvious. Our love for each other should be so powerful that we are willing to help another person, even one who might be deemed less deserving, often at great cost to ourselves. Any we must do it with joy.  

Shabbat Shalom, and, may I be the first to wish you to be inscribed and sealed for happy, healthy, and sweet new year of 5782!

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Study With Childlike Wonder

Did you know that some of the most prominent codifiers of Jewish law present the Mitzvah of Torah study within the context of an obligation to teach children? In fact the verse they cite to present the Mitzvah of Torah study (from the Shema in this week’s Parsha) is: “And you teach them to your children and speak of them…”

What about the obligation of adults to study? Why doesn’t the Torah present that as a separate concept? Why is an adult’s requirement to learn Torah absorbed within the requirement to teach a child?

(My brother Rabbi Yochanan wrote an article addressing this from a slightly different angle. It can be read here: https://www.facebook.com/yochanan.rivkin/posts/10102774127797479.)

This past week, we wrapped up our JLI course, “The Scoop on Resurrection” with a lesson that focused on the notion that sometimes we have erase an existing mindset to reach unparalleled success. We read about a study done by Dr. George Land as an outgrowth of a project that he did for NASA – called the Creativity Test. He applied this test, which was used to identify that highest level creative geniuses, to children of varying ages, and later to random adults. The results were astounding. The proportion of people who scored at the “Genius Level”, were:

Amongst 5 year olds: 98%

Amongst 10 year olds: 30%

Amongst 15 year olds: 12%

Same test given to 280,000 adults (average age of 31): 2%.

So are all five year olds essentially creative geniuses who become numbskulls by the time they are 30?

The answer is that creativity is quashed by acquired pre-conceived notions, past assumptions, arcane and unquestioned systems, and cultural and societal norms. In other words, the very rules that we put in place (mostly valuable and productive) are exactly the cause for our drop in creativity. In short, we are getting in our own way. Our egos, our perceptions of our place in society, how we think others are viewing us, and the like, are preventing us from revolutionary intellectual development.

Young children are not yet encumbered by these issues. They haven’t yet been corrupted by all of the aforementioned issues that plague us adults. When a child studies Torah it is simply through the lens that this is G-d’s word and nothing else matters. By introducing the general Mitzvah of Torah study within the context of children’s education, the Torah is instructing us, that true success in Torah study is achieved when we approach the Torah with childlike wonder.

This helps us avoid distractions like, “How does this fit with societal norms? Doesn’t this clash with what I’ve studied in another discipline?” Then the power of connection with Hashem with which Torah affords us, can be experienced in an optimal manner.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

You Have a New Notification From G-d

A prominent feature of modern technology such as smart phones and computers, is notifications. One might be walking, driving, sleeping, working, reading, (or even praying) when all of a sudden there is the ping or short vibration of a notification on your smartphone.

It might be Facebook notifying you that your friends haven’t heard from you in while, and encouraging you to post something important, like your thoughts on the government’s handling of the pandemic or who will be the New Orleans Saints next starting quarterback. It might be YouTube notifying you that a new episode of a favorite series has been posted. It might be a text message from a family member or friend. It might be one of a thousand WhatsApp messages. It might be Zelle notifying you that money has been posted to your account. It might be your ID protection app informing you that they just prevented an attempted infiltration of your bank account. Speaking of bank accounts, it might be your online banking app telling you that your monthly statement is now available for download. It might be the weather app cautioning about an impending flash flood warning. Or maybe your Breaking News app telling you about the latest corruption scandal in Louisiana politics. You get the picture.  

Does it even happen that you are going about your merry (or not so merry) way when all of a sudden you feel an urge to do something G-dly? Maybe a niggling feeling to go to shul or lay tefillin. Perhaps an inclination to have Friday night dinner or attend a class. Maybe it is a yen to call your parents or spend some quality time with your spouse or children. It may be a pull to volunteer for a project that helps the needy.

Whence do these unanticipated urges originate? It’s not like I was thinking about those things in the preceding moments.

Surely, the fact that we possess a soul that is inherently connected to G-d would be a sufficient explanation for the presence of such desires and inclinations. But why now? Why not yesterday or tomorrow?

Chassidus explains, that this is a result of a notification from Hashem. Built into the operating system of our souls is that capacity for a notification system. It is not incessant, because that would detract from our freedom to choose. But on occasion there is a little ping or vibration from above that awakens those urges for improvement. The notifications are so slight that they barely register. Yet, it is just enough to get the process going. When we view the notification and initiate the course of change, this is called Teshuvah.

Next time you feel the ping or the vibration of your soul, click on it and follow the suggestions. It could be a game changer!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

Mutual Admiration Society

In this week’s Parsha we find something puzzling. Hashem commands Moshe to instruct the people of Israel to avenge the people of Israel by waging war against the Midianite nation.

(This is in response to the insidious plot suggested by Bilaam at the end of Parshat Balak, that the Midianites send their women to seduce the men of Israel, inducing the Jewish men to be immoral with them and worship their deity. The implementation of this plan brought a plague upon the people of Israel, resulting in 24,000 Israelite casualties. When Bilaam heard about the plague, he came running back to Midian to collect his payment for the plan that killed so many Jews. To his misfortune, his ill-timed return to Midian coincided with the war against the Midianites. The Torah relates about the slaying of Bilaam and the five chieftains of Midian.)

When Moshe transmits Hashem’s command to do battle against Midian to the people of Israel, he frames is at “avenging the L-rd against Midian.” So which is it; avenging the honor of Israel or avenging the honor of the L-rd?”

The explanation offered by the Rebbe in the name of his father, R’ Levi Yitzchok, is as follows. There were two aspects to the insidious plot suggested by Bilaam and carried out by the Midianites. One was an attempted assault against the people of Israel – to get rid of as many Jews as possible. The second was the method; inciting the Jews to immorality and idolatry, which is an affront to their G-d. As Bilaam characterized it “The G-d of these people despises promiscuity.” This is the most effective way to destroy them from within.

The war against Midian was a response to both of these aspects, the assault against Israel and the affront to G-d. Because of Hashem’s love and admiration for the people of Israel, He frames the battle as avenging the honor of Israel. Moshe, on the other hand, expresses his love and admiration for Hashem, by framing the battle as avenging the honor of the L-rd.  

In a relationship of love, one is always looking out for the benefit and honor of the other. May we emulate this approach to life in our personal relationships, our interactions with our fellow Jews, and our relationship with Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Exercising Those Joints

The parents out there know, that inevitably there is going to be some time spent at the ER with your kids. By the grace of G-d, we have not had a ton of ER visits in our family over the years (excluding COVID tests). Last week one my daughters injured her finger while playing ball. We took her to the ER. The took some x-rays and, a bunch of hours later, they determined that she had a slight fracture. They put her finger into a splint, and left us with instructions to follow up with Orthopedics.

Yesterday, we had the follow up appointment and, thank G-d, the finger is healing very nicely. They taped it up leaving the knuckle exposed, and told her that she needs to move the finger often to keep the joint from stiffening up. With Hashem’s help she will all better soon.

Thinking about what the NP told her about making sure to bend the finger every so often to keep it from stiffening, I thought about how this was a valuable lesson in our service of Hashem.

We get into a groove in our Jewish practice. Things become automatic – almost by rote. How do we ensure that the “joint” of our connection to Hashem and Judaism doesn’t become stiff and ineffective? We have to keep exercising it. What is the way we can keep our joints moving and well exercised? The answer is Torah study and paying attention to our prayers.

When we get emotionally involved in prayer, this keeps us invested in our relationship with Hashem, moving it beyond the automated by making things fresh and exciting. When we study Torah, the material that we absorb, maintains our enthusiasm and invigorates our practice of Judaism.

So take the doctor’s advice and make sure that your Jewish joints are not getting too stiff.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

In Defense of Jewish Pride

An immigrant Jewish salesman from the 1950s related this incident to his children. “I was traveling by bus from town to town through the south. Suddenly a couple of rednecks got on the bus and started to speak disparagingly about Jews. Their words became increasingly malevolent. I felt very afraid and threatened.” His son asked, “What did you do Papa? How did you handle the situation?” The salesman replied, “I just sat in the corner and pretended I wasn’t Jewish.”

Throughout the ages, Jews have been faced with an existential question. Is it better to blend in and lay low about our Jewishness? Will that save us from persecution and/or gain us acceptance to the societies in which we live? Or, is it advisable to be open and proud of who we are and what we stand for?

Many opted for the first path. Family names were changed. Westernized first names were taken. Visibly Jewish garb such as yarmulkas were left at home or removed altogether. Jewish practices and observances were marginalized, especially when they conflicted with participation in society. How can we keep Kosher if that will keep us out of restaurants and important social functions? How can we keep Shabbos if that will prevent us from participating in valuable events? And so on and so forth. Did it help? History tells us that just when we think we have succeeded in convincing society that we are a part of them, they provide us with an ugly reminder that they still consider us to be an “other.” It may take some time, but in the end that is what happens.

On the other hand, when Jews are steadfast and openly proud of who they are and principled about their values and practices, they ultimately engender respect even from those that resent them. It may take some time, but in the end that is what happens.

In this week’s Parsha, Bilaam, one of history’s greatest anti-Semites, tries everything he can to portray the people of Israel in negative light. In the end, he could not help but speak admiringly, albeit begrudgingly, of their fine qualities and principled devotion to their identity. He examined them with a proverbial magnifying glass to try to find flaws. The more deeply he looked, the greater his respect grew for them.

When Jews take pride in who they are, and demonstrate devotion to their values and principles, that gains them the respect and ultimately, the admiration of those around them.

My friends, every day is Jewish pride day. Every week is Jewish pride week. Every month is Jewish pride month. Every year is Jewish pride year. Hold your head high, keep your spine straight, and be a proud member of our people!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

The Shtreimel and the Kibbutz

A Jew who hailed from Galicia (a region in Poland) once came to the Rebbe. He was very taken with the Rebbe’s scholarship, charisma, and spiritual stature. He declared to the Rebbe boisterously, “Lubavitcher Rebbe, with your holiness and leadership qualities, you could have tens of thousands of Chassidim who are adherents of other Chasidic sects. They will all come streaming to you as their Rebbe. But you will need to start wearing a Shtreimel (fur hat). We Jews from Poland and Hungary could not conceive of a Rebbe without a Shtreimel.”

The Rebbe smiled and replied. “These Jews that you speak of already have a Rebbe. How many Kibbutzniks will become my Chassidim if I start wearing a Shtreimel?” In other words, the Rebbe pointed out to him, that a Shtreimel is not going to help attract Jews without a spiritual direction in life. As for the others, they already have a direction and leadership, albeit of a different nature.

Yet, in a brief comment on this week’s Parsha, the Rebbe offers an insight into the role of Moses and relates it to his father-in-law, the Previous Rebbe.

We know that for the 40 years in the wilderness, the Jews experienced three constant miracles. The Manna came to them in Moshe’s merit. The water flowed from the rock in Miriam’s merit. The Clouds of Glory protected them in Aaron’s merit. When Miriam and Aaron pass away in this week’s Parsha, there is a brief interruption of the water and the clouds, but in the end, to quote the Talmud, “They all returned in Moshe’s merit.”

The Rebbe explains, that while Moshe’s primary thing is Torah, (represented by the Manna – food for the soul), when needed he can even provide water and clouds (which represent other spiritual needs). Speaking as a chasid of the Previous Rebbe he said, “A chasid should always know, that his Rebbe can be a conduit for all of Hashem’s blessings.”

Indeed, while the Rebbe never wore the Shtreimel, countless Jews who were associated with other religious Jewish ideologies and disciplines, came to embrace the Rebbe as their Rebbe.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Become a Miracle Worker

In the 1960s a Hillel director brought a group of Jewish students for a meeting with the Rebbe. They took the opportunity to ask many questions about Chassidus, Chabad theology, and the role of a Rebbe. They were fixated on the miracle working aspect of a Rebbe. The Rebbe patiently answered their questions, explaining each issue to their satisfaction. As they were getting ready to leave, the Rebbe said, “Would you like me to perform a miracle right now in front of you?” They were very excited to see what would unfold. He continued, “If each of us in this room undertakes to improve something in our Yiddishkeit and begins to implement it, this will be the most wondrous of miracles.”

While there are many mind-boggling miracle stories of the Rebbe, this one conveys more of what defines the Rebbe’s approach to life than any other. Miracles are nice. But everyday transformation is even more powerful. It’s one thing to suspend the laws of nature and ride the transcendent wave through life. It’s another thing entirely to change life within itself. Let’s make the regular every day a miracle by infusing it with divine energy. We can witness such miracles as the splitting of the sea and the ten plagues, and be left unchanged. On the other hand, hard work and elevating the daily grind, brings about true change.

This week a Facebook group called Humans of Judaism posted this story: https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=365045314988934&set=a.265020441658089.

In it a fellow named Rich Lee shares that he had an encounter with a couple he identifies as Levi and Mirel (they are my cousins). Levi “randomly” asked Rich if he would like to put on Tefillin and he agreed. While saying the Shema, Rich had a moment of connection with his recently deceased son. The miracle is the Levi reached out. The miracle is that Rich agreed. The miracle is that thousands of viewers will be uplifted and perhaps inspired to do something Jewish by the story. These are the Rebbe’s miracles.

This Sunday, the third of Tammuz, as we reflect on the Rebbe’s continued leadership, we must resolve to channel that energy and continue making miracles. These everyday miracles are what will bring our world past the ultimate finish line with the coming of Mashiach very soon.

Please join us Monday evening at 6 pm, for a special global event that we will be showing on the large screen at Chabad House. Unfazed: Lessons of Resilience and Self-Empowerment from the Rebbe. If you wish to watch it from home it can be accessed at www.chabadneworleans.com/unfazed.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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