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A New Year Overflowing With Blessings

In this week’s Torah portion Moses declares: And it will be, when all these things come upon you the blessing and the curse which I have set before you that you will consider in your heart… and you will return to the L-rd, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul, and you will listen to His voice according to all that I am commanding you this day you and your children.” (Deut. 30:1-2)

The gist of the message here is that when we are complacent in our relationship with Hashem, extenuating circumstances are then employed to get us back on track. The Rebbe points out that the conventional wisdom is that those circumstances usually appear in the form of challenges (curses). However the word blessings is also snuck into the verse. This teaches that Hashem can also use a showering of blessings to get our attention focused on our connection with Him.

Here are two brief lessons that I take from this teaching. Our interpersonal relationships can and should mirror our relationship with Hashem. Sometimes (in a marriage, for example,) the relationship is faltering because of lack of focus or complacency. The conventional approach to dealing with this, is to respond in kind (curses or challenges). The lesson here is, that showering blessings and being loving that can also serve to shake the other person out of complacency and into focus. One can argue, that this is an even more effective approach than the first.

The second, is a wish to each and every one of us is, that Hashem should shower us with blessings beyond our capacity to anticipate how great those blessings can be. This will serve to snap us out of our complacency and refocus on this most important relationship with our G-d.

Wishing us all the blessings for the New Year in every aspect of our lives. May it be good in an open and revealed manner as per the infinite capacity of generosity of which Hashem is capable.

If you are still looking for a place to experience the High Holidays, we are saving a seat for you at any of our Chabad locations – New Orleans, Metairie, Biloxi or Baton Rouge. We have prayer books with English translation. All of the services are accompanied by commentary, stories and inspiration. The atmosphere is heimish – warm and homelike. Come on by.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Shofar at the WWII Museum

Earlier this week I was invited by my friend Morris Kahn to give an invocation at an award ceremony being held at the WWII Museum. The organization of which he is a board member, under the leadership of Bill McNutt, is lobbying for the US to hold a state funeral for the last Medal of Freedom recipient from among the WWII veterans. You can see more about the project at worldwar2salute.org. The award was recognizing Congressman Steve Scalise for his efforts on their behalf.

I figured that since it was the month of Elul, I would include some references to Rosh Hashanah and bring a Shofar along to sound at the ceremony. There happened to be several Jewish people in the room, including one of the WWII veterans being honored on stage. After a poignant introduction by Morris Kahn I shared the following remarks.

“Honorable Congressman, Honored Veterans, Honored assembly, Ladies and gentlemen.

“Proclaim liberty throughout the land for all of its inhabitants.” This verse from Leviticus 25 was chosen to be inscribed on the Liberty Bell. Liberty… Freedom… It is under the banner of these ideas that the valiant members of our armed forces have fought for centuries. In the 20th century, 16,000,000 fought and hundreds of thousands of our brave men and women gave their lives to defend freedom against totalitarianism, the great generation of WWII.

In two weeks from today the Jewish people will be observing Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and sound the Shofar–ram’s horn. The motifs of Rosh Hashanah include a day of renewal, a day of judgement, a day of Divine Coronation, and also a day of remembrance. We ask that the Al-mighty remember us in mercy.

Just as we ask of the Al-mighty to remember, we too must be diligent in keeping sacred and strong, the memories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our United States of America. We must never forget those who died so that we could live as free people in this glorious land. We must honor the lives of those who served as the guardians of liberty for each and every one of us.

We pray for the safety of the members of the armed forces, and we pray for the souls of those who lost their lives in the service. May their souls be bound in the bond of life with Al-mighty G-d. To paraphrase the words of Jonathan to David in the book of Samuel, "Go in peace! May the L-rd be between us and you forever.”

I will now sound the Shofar as a clarion call to remember and to usher in a sweet new year for all. May G-d bless this assembly. May G-d bless our armed forces. May G-d bless the United States of America.” The Shofar is sounded.

After the ceremony was over I went over to pay respects to an elderly member of the audience, the wife of the Jewish WWII vet who was on stage. She told me, “Rabbi that was such a wonderful presentation and sounding of the shofar. I felt so proud to be Jewish at that moment.” Needless to say, hearing that I enabled someone to experience pride in the Jewishness absolutely made my day. 

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Why Do People Love Their Children?

Why do people love their children? Do we love our kids because they bring us fulfillment? Do we love them because they represent our achievement as parents and as people? Do we love them because they turned out just the way we imagined they would? Do we love them because they are cute and good looking, smart and successful? Do we love them because they do things for us? What if they weren’t any of those things??? Would we still love them? Would we take delight and pleasure in being with them?

Why does Hashem love us? Does He love us because we bring Him fulfillment as a creator or as a G-d? Does He love us because we turned out the way He envisioned for us? Does He love us because we are successful Jews and accomplished human beings? Does He love us because we do what He wants us to? What about when we aren’t those things? Does He still love us then? Does He take delight and pleasure in being with us?

In an Elul teaching, the Rebbe addresses this issue in a profound manner. It is based on the famous parable of the King in the Field (for an overview see www.chabadneworleans.com/974169). In the parable the King comes to field and anyone who wishes can have access. He greets each person that comes “with a pleasant countenance and a smiling face.” The Rebbe breaks down the two elements of pleasant countenance and a smiling face in the following way. Each of these is an expression of joy and delight. They represent the delight that Hashem has in His relationship with us.

The first is the delight that Hashem takes in our accomplishments. When we serve Him by studying Torah, doing Mitzvot, praying, and infusing meaning into our everyday lives, this gives Hashem much pleasure and delight, causing Him to greet us with a pleasant countenance.

The second, the Rebbe explains, is the delight and pleasure Hashem takes in our relationship, just because we are. Not resulting from anything we do or how we appear, just that we are His children. Our connection with Hashem is rooted so deeply in Hashem’s essence, that irrespective of how we act and what we do, He takes joy and delight in our very existence.

This knowledge of how much we mean to Hashem, should inspire us to enthusiastically want to reciprocate that love by being the best that we can, thereby also bringing Hashem delight in the other manner as well.

This analogy is really important for us to apply to our parent/children relationships on both levels. Parents love their children irrespective of what they do and how they appear. That love should also bring the children to want to make their parents delight not just in who they are, but also how they live.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Worthy Milestone

What are the average American youths looking forward to for their 21st birthday? Buying their first drink. Buying their first legal drink … Starting their senior year in college. Completing military service. Making more money to buy stuff that they want, like a nicer car or a better Wii or X-Box. Then there are the less common type of folks, who are focused and have already launched successful businesses, made a lot of money, have charitable interests, and so forth. But by and large, many young people are not all that driven at that age.  

In his book Hayom Yom, the Rebbe cites this passage as the daily wisdom for 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.”

I am proud to share, that next week, on his 21st birthday, my nephew, Schneur Schapiro, will be making a Siyum HaShas – conclusion of the entire Talmud.

Just to put this in context. The Talmud consists of 20 volumes, containing 60 tractates and over 2,700 folios (double sided pages). That’s 5,400 pages of studying in Aramaic and Hebrew. Those that follow the daily cycle (Daf Yomi), require nearly 7.5 years to finish. For a young man, who started as a teenager, to be so driven and focused, is truly unique. This project required him to devote years of time to studying outside of school hours, while others may have been relaxing or pursuing other interests.

This is a milestone worth celebrating. I wish my sister and brother-in-law, Rabbi Mendy and Fruma Schapiro, along with the entire family, continued Yiddishe nachas and Jewish wealth as per the quote in Hayom Yom. May Hashem bless them with good health and the means to enjoy the nachas with which they have been gifted.

I would like to welcome Warren and Daniella Cohen to the community along with their daughter Maayan. Warren is a Tulane grad (08) and was the Tulane Chabad student board president when the Rohr Family Chabad Student Center was dedicated in 2007. We wish them much success in their endeavors here in NOLA!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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