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ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Rabbis or Convicts

If you were at services yesterday (or watched the livestream), you would have noticed that Tachanun (prayers of penitence) was not recited. Tachanun is omitted on the joyous days of our calendar. We did not skip Tachanun yesterday because of Thanksgiving, rather it was omitted because on that day, Kislev 10, in 1826, the second Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Dovber, was released from confinement. Just like his father (Rabbi Schneur Zalman) before him, his was falsely accused by the Czarist government of treason because of his activities on behalf of Jews in Russia and the land of Israel.

There was once a Jewish teen from a suburban family that got involved with Chabad. He got really into going to shul and loved attending classes and programs at his Chabad House. His traditional but secular parents were supportive of his quest, but really did not understand why he was so enthusiastic about his newfound community. One winter night, he tells his mom that he is going out to a farbrengen, a Chassidic celebratory gathering. She asks, “what is the occasion?” He replies, “the 10th of Kislev, the second Rebbe went out of prison.” She politely nodded and said goodbye. The following week the story repeats itself. “What’s the occasion this time?” “The 19th of Kislev, the first Rebbe was released from prison.” Her eyebrows lift in askance, but she says nothing. Two weeks later another farbrengen. “What now?” “This time it’s the 5th of Teves, the day the Rebbe won the court case over the books.” His mom says to him, “Son, I think you need to stop hanging around these Rabbis who are always either in prison or court…”

The truth is that is could seem a bit ridiculous to celebrate what appears to be an isolated incident such as the second Chabad Rebbe having a legal tussle with the Russian courts. Why is it that 200 years later, in a Shul in New Orleans, Tachanun is omitted to commemorate the occasion?

If we look at the situation from a deeper perspective, we can begin to appreciate why these dates are so significant. First of all, the arrest of both of those Rebbes constituted an attempt by the Russian government and the Jewish opposition to Chassidism, to quash and eradicate the fledgling Chassidic movement. Their subsequent release represents the survival and thriving of the movement, and everything it has contributed to Judaism and the Jewish people.

Beyond that, we have also been taught, that everything that happens in this world, is a reflection of what is going on in the supernal realms. So in fact, when the Rebbes were being tried by the Czarist government, they were simply mirroring what was going in the heavenly court. The Rebbes were on trial in heaven for their bold attempts to make the secrets of Judaism – the inner teachings of the Torah, accessible to all Jews. It was their push to accelerate the process of Redemption that was being challenged on High. Once they were exonerated below, that was a sign that on High they were also given the green light on their activities.

This scenario repeated itself nearly each generation in one form or another, as the push toward Redemption grew bolder and more intense. So we celebrate the survival of the teachings and the teachers, but we also celebrate the advancement of the cause and the push to bring Redemption for ourselves and the world at large.

L’chaim! Sing a niggun and study some of these special teachings. Be inspired by an uplifting story and commit yourself to be a part of this cosmic revolution to bring the world under the Sovereignty of the Al-mighty.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Zooming for the Glory of G-d

I am going to go out on a limb and assume that Chinese-American businessman, Eric Yuan is probably not a religious man. When he founded Zoom, he most likely did not have in mind that it was being made for the glory of G-d. It is further likely that the development of most internet technology is intended for the following two purposes - commerce and entertainment, and of course, profiting from commerce and entertainment. Did they know that deep down it was fulfilling the passage in Ethics of Our Fathers Chapter six, “Everything that Gā€‘d created in His world, He did not create but for His glory. As is stated (Isaiah 43:7): "All that is called by My name and for My glory, I created it, formed it, also I made it."?”

Now technology has been used extensively for promulgating religion and Torah teaching. Tools like email, the World Wide Web, and social media platforms have enabled promoters of Torah to reach incalculably more people than before. Video streaming platforms have propelled Torah’s teachings to the furthest reaches, geographically and conceptually. People could be wherever they were and access a class, a lecture, an inspiring video and the like.

In this COVID lockdown era, Zoom and similar technological platforms have been the lifeline for people to stay in touch with their families, companies, friends, and their religious communities. We have prayed on Zoom, learned Torah on Zoom, and attended life cycle events – baby-namings, Bris ceremonies, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, weddings, funerals and shiva calls – all on Zoom. We are so “zoomed out” that I heard someone mention the other day that instead of saying Zei Gezunt (Yiddish for “Be Well”), people have been saying Zei Gezoomt…

But this past week Zoom unwittingly reached a new level of “doing the L-rd’s work.” This year’s Kinus Hashluchim (shluchim conference) was forced by COVID to be virtual. Being that the five day conference would cater to people from all time zones, it was decided to have an unprecedented element of the conference. As night fell in Australia last Saturday, a Zoom farbrengen (Chassidic gathering) began. As Shabbat ended in each time zone, more and more people joined from their respective locations. It was intended to last for 23 hours, until a few hours after Shabbat ended in Hawaii, the last Chabad location on the spectrum. But something unique happened. As Hawaii was wrapping up, Australia and the Far East were waking up and the rejoined. Then Asia and Europe jumped back on when they woke up. By the time it was Sunday morning in New York, the Farbrengen was still going full force. When Zoom’s maximum of 1,000 participants was exceeded, a link was created to allow others to watch a streaming link of the event. The spontaneous global conversation just kept going and going. People logged in when they had an hour or two and continued to inspire each other. It came to an end last night after 130 hours of non-stop farbrengen. As Shabbat was approaching in Australia, it was time to wrap it up.

I have no doubt that the name of Hashem was glorified this week like never before, by this beautiful display of unity, love and ongoing inspiration. Eric Yuan, you da man. You just need to figure out how to allow more than 1,000 devices to login at the same time. Of course we look forward to the time when we will be allowed to gather in person. But in the meantime, this global 5 day farbrengen was like no other!!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The Future is Now and Forever

I recently read an interview with Michael J. Fox, whose foundation has raised nearly one billion dollars for Parkinson’s research. He was talking about his new book is entitled The Future is Now, and this quote jumped out at me. “The good thing is that there’s always a future. Until there isn’t. The future is the last thing you run out of. The moment until you shut down you’ve got a future, and then you don’t.”

Clearly his intent is that one must make the most of the present thereby ensuring that one’s future is meaningful and productive. (All a play on the “Back to the Future” concept.) This is a powerful message coming from a person that has successfully battled a debilitating disease for three decades. Each of us can take some inspiration from his rallying cry.

Yet, as I read the quote, something left me with a sense of discomfort. I thought about it and then realized that what bothered me was the notion that at the moment of death one ceases to have a future. Contrast that with the name of this Parsha – Chayei Sarah – the Life of Sarah, which opens with her passing, and yet is called “The Life of Sarah.” Our sages derive from this, that the righteous even in death are considered alive. How is this so? Because their lives are not defined solely by their physical accomplishments and presence, rather, their lives are primarily defined by the spirit. It is the message and example of faith and love and awe of Hashem along with caring for others, that lives on long after their physical death.

Sarah our matriarch passed away nearly 4,000 years ago, and yet millions, if not billions, of people continue to live with and be inspired by her exemplary life. Little children are familiar with her life story as if she were a grandmother living in their homes. Adults analyze and try to find applications from her wise words as though they had just heard her speak them on a Zoom event last night.

So to reframe the quote, “The good thing is that there’s always a future. And then there continues to be. The future is the thing you never run out of. The moment until you shut down you’ve got a future, and then you continue to have one.” The only condition for achieving this is that you have to live the kind of life that lives on even after it is over. The Future is Now, and forever.

This weekend, Shluchim, emissaries of the Rebbe worldwide are joining in a virtual Kinus – conference. The Kinus is usually held in person and includes the largest sit down kosher dinner in New York City. This year, the pandemic has moved the Kinus online. As always, we invite you, our communities and friends, to join us for the Virtual Grand Event, scheduled to begin at noon on Sunday (CST). You can watch it at www.chabadneworleans.com/kinus.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Start the Healing

This has been a contentious week for the American public. No matter which candidate you support, there has been enough frustration to go around. The contentiousness has highlighted the ferociousness of the suspicion and disdain with which the sides regard each other. The accusations and attacks on the character and ideals of the other party have been elevated to a frenzied pitch.  

Take all of that into account. Reflect on how unworthy you think the other side is. Consider how wrong you believe them to be and the kind of destruction of our society that you envision coming from their approach to governance.

Now that you have really brought into sharp focus how deplorable and contemptible they are, consider the following moral dilemma. If you got word that G-d had a plan to rid the planet of the scourge of your opponents by bringing death upon them all, how would you react?  

We all share a forefather, Avraham, who was faced with this very dilemma. He was informed by G-d, that his neighbors to the east, the inhabitants of Sodom and Amorah, were being singled out for obliteration. These were the most deplorable people around. They were immoral on every level and by every definition. The legislated meanness into their laws. They outlawed helping others. They killed people at whim. The boundaries of morality within human intimate relationships were entirely eradicated by their society. They took pleasure in the pain of others. One might think that Avraham would throw a Sodom destruction watch party and dance a jig at the news.

Instead, he put his credibility with G-d on the line, to challenge G-d on the decision to destroy those people. He begged and pleaded with G-d to save them. Ultimately the judgement of the True Judge prevailed and they were destroyed. But Avraham goes down in history of the one who was willing to stand up and express concern even for people that were most contemptible by all standards.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. No matter what we think of the other side, they don’t sink anywhere close to the depths of depravity that was Sodom. Let’s emulate our father Avraham. Take the opportunity to reach out in true friendship to someone from the other side. Express empathy with their way of thinking even while disagreeing with them. We cannot wait for the people at the top of the ideology camps to do this for us. While that would be nice, it is unlikely. But for us regular rank and file folks, let’s begin a grass roots movement of caring for each other even when we don’t think much of the other person’s ideals. If each of us made this move, you would shocked how quickly the fissures in our society can begin to heal in a meaningful way.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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