ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Becoming a Progressive

After Zeta’s first eyewall passed over us there was a period of intense calm within the eye of the storm until the second one arrived. As we are surrounded by the chaos of so many disturbances, Zeta, Covid, the elections, the economy and whatever else may be churning up your life right now, we need to find that place that can function as the eye of the storm, within which there is intense calm. That niche is generated by our faith in G-d that somehow all of this is for the best and we are in His hands.

Yesterday morning I was outside surveying the area around our home and a neighbor passed by. Of course, we got talking about Zeta and how busy this hurricane season has been. She is an academic with a background in linguistics. She jokingly observed that people think Zeta is the last letter of the Alphabet because of the Z, but it is an early letter in the Greek alphabet. I said that for those of us that read Hebrew we know that Zeta is like the Zayin and there are many more letters to go. We both laughed and emphatically expressed the hope that we are not going to read it that way with this year’s storm names.

With the elections looming this week, there is a lot of talk about progressives. What does it mean to be a progressive? The Torah’s definition of a progressive comes from the opening verse in this week’s Torah portion. But first an intro from Zachariah 3:7. There is a contrast between Mehalech (one who walks) and Omed (one who stands). Chassidus interprets that verse in the following manner. Omed refers to angels. They are called stagnant, or those who stand, not because they don’t move, but because they do not progress. As they are created so they remain. Mehalech refers to the soul of man. We have the potential for growth and progress. How does one live up to the moniker of Mehalech?

In this week’s Parsha, G-d tell Avraham, “Lech Lecha – walk, go, progress to you.” That is a strange instruction. Go to you? How do you go to yourself? The Rebbe explains that Lech Lecha is Hashem telling Avraham to become who he really is, a Mehalech, a progressive. There are two thrusts in this journey of becoming a progressive. One involves self-discovery – identifying the G-dly speak within us and channeling that power into serious growth and development. The other thrust is applying your self-discovery into change that benefits others and advances Hashem’s plan.

We have been a nation of Torah true progressives for nearly 4,000 years now. Just a little further and we will propel our world over the threshold of redemption!!

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom – a Shabbat a good health, safety, (hopefully electricity,) and tranquility!

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Stop! Please Stop!

In a democracy of any sort, elections are very important. Every four years we are told that this upcoming presidential election is more important than ever. Perhaps this time that is not even an exaggeration. Each of us has a constitutionally protected right to express our political opinion and to advocate for it in discussion with others. I am all for people exercising that right.

However, I (along with billions of other humans) have been observing a disturbing trend when it comes to political discussions. This trend holds true regarding in-person discussions, but it even more prevalent and virulent when it comes to online discussions, and on social media. Instead of the discussions remaining in the realm of ideas and concepts, they are increasingly turning into personal conflicts. I get that people are passionate about the issues and their candidates, but that does not give license to wholesale insult anyone that disagrees with you. This is a massive problem, even among close friends and family members. People are unfriending each other, not just on Facebook, but in real life.

There is a verse in Isaiah (55:7), “Let the evil one abandon his way and the man of iniquity his thoughts.” The Tzemach Tzedek (third Chabad Rebbe) taught, that the Hebrew word for iniquity can also be vowelized to mean “strong willed.” A person must not go around believing and declaring that my way of understanding is the only way. We always need to consider the view of another. It does not mean we have to agree, but at least respectfully consider the other view.

We are at a point where a large percentage of those engaging in political speech on social media or elsewhere, are so convinced of the infallibility of their opinion, that they do not even give the other person the respectful courtesy of actually paying attention to what they are saying. Even as we listen to others, we are usually just absorbing their words for the purpose of a rebuttal, or even worse, to use their words against them in an insulting manner.

I am going to go out on a limb and opine, that America will survive the results of this election one way or the other (just my opinion – fee free to disagree). But the fallout over the nastiness and the divisive dialogue (not among the politicians, but) between people, threatens to have more ominous ramifications for society and humanity as a whole.

So by all means, express your opinion, advocate for your side, electioneer for your guy, and even use hyperbole or other forms of persuasion. But please, don’t get personal. Don’t insult your friend, your brother, sister or cousin, your neighbor, or your fellow occupant of planet earth.

Finally, take a moment to open your ears, your mind and your heart to the perspective of another. Two people can observe the same phenomenon and perceive it in diametrically opposite ways. Our perception may be colored by personal experience, family history, or some knowledge and insight that we possess. The other people also have compelling reasons that are driving their perception.

Remember that on November 4 (or whenever the election results are finalized) we still have to share our lives and our society with the other folks. Let us not poison our ability to do so. Concerning Torah Proverbs (3:18) states, “Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.” May we indeed have Shalom!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Keep on dancing with the Torah

Last weekend we celebrated Simchat Torah, the holiday that emphasizes how precious the Torah is to us. Even though the Torahs are wrapped up and covered during the dancing, indicating that we all share an equal association with the Torah, yet, the ultimate goal is to translate the celebration into a new enthusiasm for the study of Torah.

The Chabad Rebbes would make the following declaration at the conclusion of Simchat Torah: “V’Yaakov Halach L’darko – and Jacob went on his way.” This was an encouragement to take all of the inspiration of the holiday month and translate it into an energy that uplifts everyday life.

Quite often we make idealistic resolutions. The challenge is to pragmatize those ideals and apply them into action. On Simchat Torah we dream of a renewed commitment to Torah study for the coming year. Then the holiday ends and we find it challenging to make those dreams a reality. At times, what a person needs, is an opportunity to present itself that will enable one to make that transition from “if only” to “absolutely.”

I would like to share with you an opportunity here in our community to quench your desire for quality Torah learning. The Jewish Learning Institute has developed another tantalizing course entitled “Secrets of the Bible.” This course takes six intriguing Biblical narratives and dissects them using the knife of Jewish mysticism and Chassidus. Stories like Adam and Eve and the Tree of Knowledge, Noah’s Ark, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, the Golden Calf, and the Korach Rebellion, are guaranteed to capture your attention. As always, the inner dimension of these stories will leave us with much food for thought and incisive insights into our own longing for self-improvement.

The six-week course will be offered beginning in early November at Chabad Uptown, taught by yours truly (Rabbi Mendel Rivkin), and at Chabad Metairie, taught by Rabbi Mendel Ceitlin, starting the last week of October. Each location will offer an in-person option as well as a separate Zoom option. Chabad Uptown classes will be held on Wednesdays and Chabad Metairie will hold the classes on Tuesdays. Details about registration, pricing, and exact schedules will be released in the middle of next week, G-d willing. The first class will be free and open to the public in both venues with rsvp required.

Do not let this opportunity pass you up! Don’t allow another year of empty Simchat Torah dreams to go by. Grab hold of yourself and make the commitment to participating in Secrets of the Bible this fall/winter. We look forward to sharing this adventure with you.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Don't Let the Grinch Steal Sukkot!

This Grinch named COVID-19 has stolen our Jewish holidays in 2020. None of them were able to be observed in a “normal” manner. We had solo Passover seders. Shavuot with no gatherings. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with many people avoiding in person Synagogue services. We have been Zooming all around the world without getting off of the couch for 6 months.

Now Sukkot is here. This is the one holiday that COVID cannot take from us. In fact Sukkot must be observed outdoors in the Sukkah. What we know about this virus informs us that outdoors is a safer environment than indoors. So do not allow the Grinch to steal this one from you. Be part of a Sukkot celebration. Build you own Sukkah and celebrate. Join us for Sukkah Fest (see below for details) or reach out to Chabad of Metairie for a personal visit by the Sukkah on Wheels. Let us know if you would like to get together in our Sukkah to perform the Mitzvah of Lulav and Etrog and grab a bite to eat.

There is a fellow in Brooklyn who built a Sukkah that is a block long. He is trying to help people who need a Sukkah, but due to COVID do not want to be in a small cramped environment. In fact the Talmud says that when Mashiach comes, G-d will construct a Sukkah that is large enough to hold the entire Jewish people at once.

What we take from this is that we can be safe while at the same time be united and enveloped together by our Sukkah. We made our Sukkah a little bigger in the hope that we can host people in a safe way as well.

Wishing you all a safe and happy Sukkot!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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