ChabadNewOrleans Blog

The Value of a Farbrengen

Anyone slightly familiar with the world of Chassidim has encountered the word Farbrengen. Farbrengen literally means a gathering – a coming together of multiple individuals. A gathering could take place for many reasons. A progrom is a gathering of people for a very negative purpose. A protest or demonstration is a gathering for a purpose whose value depends on which side of the issue one is. A sporting event is a gathering of people for a purpose that is useful bot not very lofty. A conference or trade exhibition is a valuable gathering of people for the purpose of advancing the particular field or industry. There are many more examples. What makes a Farbrengen special and why is the Farbrengen so central to Chassidic life?

The Farbrengen seeks to achieve two major goals and along the way also achieves some secondary goals. The first major goal is brotherhood and friendship. In Hayom Yom (a book of aphorisms for daily inspiration) the Rebbe cites the idea that the founding of the Chassidic movement was about love; the mutual love between the Rebbe and Chassidim and the love between the Chassidim themselves. When people gather in love to break bread and say L’chaim, this brings them closer. When you add to that, the dimension of caring for each other that arises from a Farbrengen, you increase the closeness significantly. At the Farbrengen the participants wish each other well. They may offer blessings to their fellow participants in areas of need in their lives. There is usually the signing of melodies that fosters a commonality of purpose as well. If the niggun is a joyous one the people feed off of each other’s joy. If the niggun is an introspective one, the introspection is heightened by being with others who are similarly engaged.

The second major goal is inspiration and growth in the service of Hashem. At a Farbrengen someone or multiple persons share a thought, an idea or a concept, maybe a story or a parable, all for the purpose of uplifting and elevating the participants in their devotion to Hashem through the study of Torah and fulfillment of Mitzvot. Often the speaker will inspire the listeners to seek a greater sense of refinement of character or a broader openness to caring for others. These two major goals feed off of each other, and are dependent on each other. When one senses the love of another, one is receptive to their encouragement for self-betterment. A fringe benefit of a Farbrengen is Simcha – joy. The camaraderie, the singing and the general feeling of elevation results in a deepened sense of happiness for all who partake.

Please join Chabad of Louisiana on Sunday night (June 30) at 7 pm for a Farbrengen to be held at Chabad Metairie. This Farbrengen is open to the entire community as we prepare for Gimmel Tammuz next Shabbat, marking 25 years since the Rebbe’s physical passing. Though the void is painful, the Rebbe’s leadership and inspiration continues to grow and develop as is evident by the growth of Chabad worldwide. A special video presentation entitled Hidden Treasures will be shown. We look forward to “Farbrenging” with you.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Message to the Edry Family / Practical Mitzvah

This week our community suffered yet another loss with the passing of David Edry. After a brief illness he succumbed on Wednesday evening, returning his soul to his maker. David was a quiet man but always with a wry witticism on the tip of his tongue. He loved his family and was happiest in the nest basking in the warmth of his wife, children and grandchildren, while surrounded by friends. His passing leaves another hole in the Chabad community in general and the Israeli community in particular, who are already reeling from the recent passing of David’s dear friend, Kotel Sadrusi. We express our heartfelt message of comfort and strength to Etty, Sharona, Itay and Gilli along with Luria and Sali. We are here for you in the tough times and G-d willing in the good times.

The sages teach that when a member of a group passes away, the entire group needs to be spurred to examine the areas of their Judaism that could use improvement. It behooves us as a community experiencing a series of tragedies to do the same. Each person as an individual and the community as a whole, must engage in some introspection to see how we can shape things up. Next Sunday (June 30) there will be an inspirational gathering (Farbrengen) at Chabad of Metairie in preparation for Gimmel Tammuz (see below). Let us utilize that opportunity to do some soul searching.

On a practical note, there is a mitzvah opportunity I would like to share with you. A 60 year old Jewish man who I visited in prison several years ago (before he was transferred) is being released to New Orleans in 10 days, after a decade of incarceration. He is being put onto the streets without a single shred of resources or stitch of clothing beyond what he will be wearing. I am trying to help him land on his feet. During his time in prison he has become much more Jewishly aware and observant. He wants live near a Shul so he can daven and keep Shabbos.

I am looking for partners that are willing to help out. We need help in three areas.

1. Gift cards: I want to give him a little bit of breathing space so that he can get into a shelter, purchase some clothing and food until he gets himself settled with a job and place to live. Please contact me about providing either store gift cards or prepaid debit cards to ease his transition.

2. Work: If anyone knows of an employment opportunity that would consider a former inmate please let me know.

3. Housing: If anyone knows of an inexpensive housing option within walking distance of a Shul please let me know.

In the merit of our community’s generosity may Hashem bless each of us with good health, prosperity, and a meaningful life to enjoy it. May this Mitzvah of Tzedakah be the channel for G-d’s blessing to put a stop to the rash of tragedies in our community.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Shavuwhat: 1979 - Shavuwhoa: 2019

When I was growing up in New Orleans in the late 1970s, Shavuot was not exactly the most popular date on the Jewish calendar. In fact even the more established traditional congregations struggled to get a minyan, especially if it was on a weekday. Chabad House at that time was attended mostly by Tulane students. Since Shavuot was during summer break, it was tough to gather a minyan for the holiday. In 1979, if my memory serves me right, we left town altogether for Shavuot and spent the holiday with the Rebbe in New York.

Things started to shift when the Rebbe made a strong push to have everyone attend Shul to hear the Ten Commandments, even very young children and infants. As a result an effort was made to gather people and have a minyan so that the Torah could be heard.

Fast forward 40 years to 2019. This year, thank G-d, Shavuot was celebrated with a bang in all four Chabad locations, Uptown, Metairie, Biloxi and Baton Rouge. Each with a minyan and Torah reading along with a host of programs and events bursting with people.

At Chabad Uptown we started the holiday with the dinner and all night learning. Over 60 people participated. There were programs for adults and children. The discussions included Jewish perspectives on the following topics: Astrophysics, prayer, meditation and mysticism, environmental consciousness, emergency response, DNA and Jewish peoplehood, the ethical dilemma of foreclosures, history, individuality, morality, Kabbala, love and unity, anti-Semitism as well as a number of smaller breakout group discussions. At Chabad of Metairie a similar program drew strong attendance. In Biloxi for the first time the community gathered for late night Torah study with robust and eager participation.

The next morning over 100 gathered to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments. Over 30 children stood on the podium in front of the Shul and lead the congregation in a robust declaration of the Shema and other Torah passages. The adults proudly looked on as the children, our guarantors, filed out of the Shul to receive their treats after the Torah reading. Our future is indeed bright. Chabad of Metairie, Biloxi and Baton Rouge all had record crowds clamoring to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments and grab some cheesecake or a blintz, some quiche and other dairy delights.

We have come a long way my friends. Now we must seize the momentum as we grow our Jewish communities “yiddle by yiddle.”

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Milk vs. Honey

There is a well-known Jewish custom to partake of dairy foods on Shavuot. (Think cheesecake, blintzes, quiches and ice cream… and my Ashkenazi lactose-intolerant innards are already doing summersaults…) A number of reasons are offered as to the root of this custom. One is the verse in Song of Songs (4:11), “Milk and honey under your tongue,” which is interpreted as referring to the Torah.

It occurred to me that these two foods represent two very distinct qualities of the Torah. On one hand we have milk, a substance that is best consumed while fresh. Indeed, milk that is not fresh does not taste good and is eventually unhealthy for consumption.

We say in the Shema, “And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart.” Our sages comment on the words “this day,” that we must view the Torah as having been given to us today. In other words the Torah must always be fresh. There is a never a day-old Torah. There is only the Torah of today. This is reflected in the blessing recited before an Aliyah where we refer to G-d as “Notain HaTorah” the giver (present tense) of Torah. We must always see Torah as fresh and relevant. It should always be current and exciting for us to study the Torah and practice its teachings.

On the other hand we have honey, a substance that if stored properly can last for a very long time, even centuries long. The experts claim that honey need not have an expiration date. This represents another quality of Torah; that it is intended to be applicable at all times. There is no “best if used by” date on the Torah. In 5779 (2019) it is as applicable and pertinent as in 2448, which was 3,331 years ago.

While these two qualities seem to be opposites, in fact they complement each other. One for whom the Torah is always fresh, will also see the Torah as eternally applicable. One for whom the Torah has no expiration date, will always seek to discover fresh relevance in the Torah.

When the fresh milk of Torah paired with the long-lasting honey of Torah are “under our tongues” this is the ultimate experience of the holiday of Shavuot, when we relive the giving and the receiving of this priceless gift from Hashem.

May your milk always be fresh and your honey enduring! And by the way, the Torah has no recommended calorie limit either… so “taste and you will see that Hashem is good.”

Happy Shavuot and may we merit to receive the Torah with joy and inner meaning.

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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