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ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Rebbe for one, Rebbe for all

One morning in the 1970s, the phone rings at the office of the Rebbe’s secretariat. On the line is the director of the Mosad (Israel’s version of the CIA). He tells the secretary that a top secret meeting of Israel’s Security Council just wrapped up, where they discussed a problem about which they would like to seek the Rebbe’s advice for a solution. “When can I meet with the Rebbe?” The secretary tells him to wait a moment while he presents his request to the Rebbe. The Rebbe responds that he can come the next afternoon at 2 pm, through the side door and the back stairway so that his visit remains confidential. The Mosad director jumps on the next flight out of Tel Aviv and arrives at 770 for his 2 pm meeting. Following the meeting, at 3:15, the Rebbe came out to the Shul for Mincha (afternoon prayer). Rabbi Leibel Groner, a member of the Rebbe’s secretariat, asked the Mosad head if there was anything he would be willing to share. He replied that the matter was highly confidential so he could not discuss the substance of the meeting. “However, I will tell you that when the Rebbe heard the problem, he commented with a smile, ‘For this you had to cross the ocean to find a solution?’, and then offered an excellent resolution in a few minutes. He then spent the next hour addressing an issue concerning which he was unhappy about how it was being handled by the Israeli government.” He concluded, “The Rebbe spoke of matters of Israeli society, politics and geographic dynamics like a person who was personally familiar with every inch of the land, and with his finger on the pulse of Israeli society.”    

One might think that a person to whom world leaders turned for guidance on matters with geo-political ramifications, would have little time or mindset to relate to individuals. Yet the Rebbe spent many hours a week seeing people from all walks of life, giving them direction, encouragement, and blessings in all situations, large and small. Initially it was the audiences that he had with people three nights a week. Later it was the Sunday “dollar lines” when thousands would wait on line for hours to be greeted and blessed by the Rebbe for a few seconds, along with a dollar for distribution to Tzedakah. Then there was the many hours a week the Rebbe spent on correspondence. At one point the USPS shared that 770 Eastern Parkway received the most mail in all of New York.

This coming Wednesday we mark 70 years since the Rebbe’s ascendance to the leadership of Chabad. 70 years of teaching, inspiring, initiating, encouraging and uplifting the Jewish people and all of humanity the world over. The Rebbe combined a world vision, with grand plans for the goal of humanity, along with a deep caring for each and every individual.

As we reflect on the Rebbe’s leadership and inspiration, we should be spurred to greater personal growth and a sense of devotion to the material and spiritual well-being of others. Take a moment or two to learn more about the Rebbe. More importantly take a moment or two to learn from the Rebbe. You can explore at www.chabadneworleans.com/therebbe. Stay tuned for an opportunity in to mark this special milestone in our own community.

May we speedily merit the realization of the Rebbe’s vision of Redemption through the coming of Moshiach.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Humility vs. Low Self-Concept

What could possibly be wrong about toning down one’s ego or sense of self? In fact humility is one of the character traits about which Maimonides recommends to lean slightly off the middle course in direction of even more humility.

Yet, the Baal Shemtov states that there is a type of humility that is counter-productive and even destructive. He explains that it is possible for a person to see themselves as unworthy of accomplishing anything good. The result? The person does not accomplish anything good. Furthermore, they use their “unworthiness” as a license to an unrestricted lifestyle of “anything goes” because, “I am worthless anyway.”

Where’s the disconnect? Humility is defined as a person not being arrogant or boastful about what they can or have accomplished, because they recognize their talents and abilities as gifts from G-d. In fact, they think, had someone else been similarly gifted from above, they may have achieved much more. So while the individual acknowledges their capabilities, those capabilities do not cause them arrogance. This is the trait that Maimonides lauds and cautions us to pursue even to a slight extreme.

The Baal Shemtov, on the other hand, is speaking of someone with a low self-concept. Someone who lacks the self-confidence to aspire toward achievement and greatness. The trouble is, that when we do a self-examination of character, we cannot always separate the two because they both feel like humility. This is what the Baal Shemtov is warning about, do not confuse humility with a low self-concept. Do not use “humility” as an excuse not to stay in control of your actions and character. We must soar with accomplishment while remaining aware that those successes should not give us an ego boost.

This balance of character is the mark of a refined, yet accomplished person, who can contribute much to G-ds plan for our world.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

For the Love of G-d

This week we begin reading the second of the five books of the Torah, Shemot – Exodus. Psalms 119:130 states: “The beginning of Your words illuminates.” Rashi comments that this means the beginning of Your (G-d’s) words in the Ten Commandments, (I am the L-rd your G-d) illuminates the hearts of the people of Israel. The Rebbe suggests, based on a Midrash, that it would also be possible to apply this to the “beginning of Your words” in each of the five books of the Torah. Indeed, Rashi, in his commentary to the opening verse of each of the five books, directs the meaning of the verse to the love the G-d has for the Jewish people.

So let’s take a moment and examine each one.

Genesis begins with the story of creation. Rashi comments, “Now for what reason did He commence with “In the beginning (instead of the Mitzvahs and the narrative of the Exodus)?” Because of [the verse] “The strength of His works He related to His people, to give them the inheritance of the nations” (Ps. 111:6). For if the nations of the world should say to Israel, “You are robbers, for you conquered by force the lands of the seven nations,” they will reply, "The entire earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it and gave it to whomever He deemed proper when He wished, He gave it to them, and when He wished, He took it from them and gave it to us.”

Exodus begins by recounting the names of the twelve tribes who came to Egypt. Rashi comments, “Although [G-d] counted them in their lifetime by their names, He counted them again after their death, to let us know how precious they are [to Him].”

Leviticus begins by G-d calling to Moses to instruct him about the offerings in the Sanctuary. Rashi comments, “Every [time G-d communicated with Moses,] it was always preceded by [G-d] calling [to Moses by name], an expression of affection.”

Numbers begins with the census of the Israelites in the Sinai desert. Rashi comments, “Because they were dear to Him, He counted them often.”

Deuteronomy begins with the rebuke of Israelites by Moses. Rashi comments, “Since these are words of rebuke and he [Moses] enumerates here all the places where they angered the Omnipresent, therefore it makes no explicit mention of the incidents [in which they transgressed], but rather merely alludes to them, out of respect for Israel.”

So now we have a deeper appreciation for the meaning of “The beginning of Your words illuminates.” Each beginning illuminates the hearts of the Jewish people by shining a light on the profound love and care that Hashem has for His people. Even in a “negative” context, Hashem is careful to preserve the honor of His people and the love He has for them.

Were it only that we could emulate our Creator by speaking lovingly and respectfully about each other, thereby bringing out only the best of each and every one of us.

This might be a good segue to a reminder about the upcoming JLI course entitled Judaism’s Gifts to the World. At Chabad Uptown, the class will be offered on six Wednesdays starting January 29. For more information and to register, see www.chabadneworleans.com/jli. The first class will be free and open to the public at 7:15 pm on Wednesday, January 29. For more info see www.facebook.com/events/776308576203260. Dinner will be served. Please share this with anyone who may be interested.

At Chabad Metairie, the course will be offered on six Tuesdays starting January 21 (with a week off for Mardi Gras). For more information and to register, see www.jewishlouisiana.com/jli. The first class will be free and open to the public at 7:15 pm on Wednesday, January 29. For more info see www.facebook.com/events/603993793697142. As above, Dinner will be served. Please share this with anyone who may be interested.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Is There Too Much Jewish Influence?

There has been some reaction to the recent uptick of attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions, that seeks to highlight some kind of insidious “Jewish influence” and the repercussions which that engenders. This reaction has some blatantly anti-Semitic sentiments. It also consists of the ridiculous attempt to blame the individual victims for the perceived grievances of the group with whom they affiliate.

At this week's “No Hate, No Fear” solidarity march with the Jewish community in NY, New York Times columnist Barri Weiss gave an impassioned speech about what makes her proud to be Jewish. It is a worthy read (or watch). This really brought the idea of Jewish pride to the forefront of people’s consciousness.

What are we proud of as Jews? We find the use of monikers such as “the chosen people.” What were we chosen for? What responsibility does that confer upon us? What kind of Jewish influence has there been in a positive sense in our society?

By Divine Providence, long before this latest rash of anti-Semetic incidents, the Jewish Learning Institute prepared the course for winter 2020 entitled, “Judaism’s Gifts to the World.” This course should be our response to accusations of Jewish influence and anti-Semitism. It deals with six fundamental values that Judaism, via the Torah, introduced to civilization. They include, The Gift of Social Responsibility, The Gift of a Guiding Purpose, The Gift of Respect for Life, The Gift of Equality and Individuality, The Gift of Work/Life Balance, and The Gift of Escaping the Cycle. By tracing their fascinating journey to the mainstream, we’ll discover a timeless core of purpose, integrity, and clarity in each value; a powerful gift of guidance as we navigate our own daily choices.

Here in New Orleans, as in hundreds of locations around the world, this course will offered beginning at the end of this month. At Chabad Uptown, the class will be offered on six Wednesdays starting January 29. For more information and to register, see www.chabadneworleans.com/jli. The first class will be free and open to the public at 7:15 pm on Wednesday, January 29. For more info see www.facebook.com/events/776308576203260. Dinner will be served. Please share this with anyone who may be interested. There is no obligation to sign up for the rest of the course, but beware that it may be too interesting to resist…

At Chabad Metairie, the course will be offered on six Tuesdays starting January 21 (with a week off for Mardi Gras). For more information and to register, see www.jewishlouisiana.com/jli. The first class will be free and open to the public at 7:15 pm on Wednesday, January 29. For more info see www.facebook.com/events/603993793697142. As above, Dinner will be served. Please share this with anyone who may be interested. There is no obligation to sign up for the rest of the course, but beware that it may be too interesting to resist…

We can either bemoan anti-Semitism or we can address it. Certainly we need to be more vigilant and steps must be taken to deal with it on many fronts. But being armed with the knowledge of what Judaism has given to the world, is a wonderful component that can reap long-term benefits for ourselves and those with whom we interact.  

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin
 

Books, Photos, and Random Thoughts

A couple of random musings…

Yesterday I was at the grocery store doing our weekly Shabbos shopping. A woman approached me and said that she was Jewish. She shared that she was inspired by the fact that I walked around looking visibly Jewish (she pointed to my kippah and Tzitzis), especially in light of the recent uptick of attacks against Jewish people. I thanked her for her words and we wished each other to be safe. We cannot overstate the value of proudly displaying our Jewishness.

This week Chabad booksellers are offering staggering discounts on books. The reason? Hei Teves – the 5th of the Teves. On this day in 1987 a fierce challenge to the Rebbe’s status as successor to his father-in-law was rejected in Federal court. The story can be seen at www.chabadneworleans.com/2807371. The face of the challenge was the books and manuscripts of the Chabad movement. When the ruling came forth, the Rebbe declared that the celebration is that of books. Over the years the Rebbe encouraged people to utilize this day to buy and study Jewish books. For great deals see www.kehot.com or www.sie.org. For an interesting take on this day and its spiritual significance, check out this post by my brother, Rabbi Yochanan Rivkin - https://www.facebook.com/yochanan.rivkin/posts/10102260771557499.

We recently posted nearly 40 great photos of Chanukah @ Riverwalk taken by JJ Hellinger. They can be viewed here – www.chabadneworleans.com/4273243.

This week we participated in the funeral of Sue Canalizo, wife of Hillel Canalizo. She passed away very early Tuesday morning. When the funeral logistics were being worked out, because of the legal holiday on Wednesday, there was a possibility of the funeral being delayed until Thursday. In the end took place on Wednesday. There is a Jewish tradition that a body is not left alone until the burial. A shomer – guardian stays with the deceased until the time of the burial. When speaking to Hillel about getting a shomer, we were facing the possibility of two days’ time. I said that he will need a break because it would be difficult to do it by himself. His response left me floored. “You have 55 years with a person. What’s two more days…” That devotion really impressed me. May we all have someone in our lives that feels like that! May Hashem comfort Hillel, Donna and her daughters, among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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