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The First Jewish Quarantine

Malkie and I would like to thank all of you for your warm congratulatory wishes on the occasion of our daughter Sara’s engagement to Ari Rosenblum this week. We are very thankful to Hashem for continuing to bless our family so profoundly.

In true 2020 form, this simcha in our family has taken a unique twist. “Due to Covid” has become the buzzword for all that is abnormal in our lives. Well, “due to Covid” I remained on the outskirts of the celebration. I have been in quarantine for some time now and it got me thinking about the first major Jewish quarantine that is connected to this date on the Jewish calendar.

Today is the fast of the Tevet 10 – when the siege on Jerusalem began nearly 2500 years ago, ultimately resulting in the destruction of the First Holy Temple by the Babylonians. Our sages point out that the second temple was destroyed due to baseless hatred among the Jewish people. It stands to reason that this was not a new phenomenon, and that there was an element of that in the first temple era as well.

Our sages state that Hashem always sends the cure before the blow. The Rebbe points out that siege, the first major quarantine of the Jewish people (it lasted for three years), had the potential cure that could have prevented the destruction had we gotten the message.

We know very well that when people are quarantined together, there are two possible outcomes (not mutually exclusive…). One is that they will get on each other’s nerves and end up with much animosity and bad feelings. The other is that the common challenge and tight quarters will draw people closer together.

The siege on Jerusalem was Hashem was giving us the chance to draw closer to each other, leaning on each other for support in a loving way. Sadly, we didn’t utilize the opportunity and the siege led to a destruction and exile from which we are still suffering. Perhaps these quarantines are a second chance.

Yishai Ribo is an Israeli composer and musician. He wrote a song during the spring called Keter Melucha – the crown of (G-d’s) Kingship. It was a play on the term Corona as being related to crown. The pithy lyrics go through the early days of the pandemic and everything we missed – holidays, parsha readings in the Shul etc. Then he asks “what are we to take from this suffering and separation?” It can only be to give You, Your Keter Meluchah – crown of Kingship.”

So, on this day we reflect on the positive side of quarantine – our chance to finally crown Hashem as King eternally.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Chanukah has been a chocolate and vanilla swirl

These past eight days have been all over the map.

On one hand, Chanukah is the holiday of light and joy. Especially at Chabad, we take the opportunity to spread the light and message of Chanukah very seriously. We usually kick off the holiday with a wonderful celebration at the Riverwalk together with 500 fellow New Orleanians. On the other hand, this year with the shadow of COVID-19 hanging over us like a dark cloud, we had to go virtual. On the other hand, that allowed many more people to be a part of it because they were able to watch the live stream or check out the recording later. To date it has been viewed over 1250 times. https://youtu.be/WrLH0INWMLA or https://fb.watch/2sCg6mgaJG/.

On one hand, during Chanukah the first vaccines were administered to the frontline healthcare personnel. On the other hand people continue to die from this disease, including the father of a classmate and cousin.

On one hand, our whole family was together for the first time in six months. On the other hand, we all ended up in quarantine because some tested positive for COVID…

On one hand, our Mobile Menorah Parade encountered mostly empty streets due to COVID. On the other hand, a “chance” note from a reporter on my windshield, resulted in a nice whimsical story about the Mobile Menorahs. See here for the story - https://fb.watch/2sCGAKRwlu/.

So this Chanukah has been a bit of a chocolate and vanilla swirl.

But actually that’s just it. The Chanukah miracles infuse us with a message of resilience. Imagine if the Maccabees had decided that the Syrian Greek army was just too much for them to handle… Imagine if the children in Judea had decided it was just too dangerous for them to secretly study Torah in the caves and forests… Imagine if the priests had given up looking for pure oil after they hadn’t found any despite great efforts… Imagine if the High Priest had decided that one jar just wasn’t enough and they would just wait until new oil was procured…

But they didn’t and we won’t. We will persist, and we will ultimately come out on top.

Wishing you a joyous, bright and meaningful 8th day of Chanukah and Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Becoming a Kohen

A man walked into a Synagogue and asked to meet with the Rabbi. He implored the Rabbi to make him a Kohen. The Rabbi tried to explain that you can’t just make someone a Kohen. The man begged and pleaded and offered a very significant contribution to the Synagogue for this process to happen. Finally, after realizing that the man would not relent, the Rabbi indicated that he would consider it. The Rabbi asked, “why is it so vital to you that you be a Kohen?” The man replied, “Rabbi, my grandfather was a Kohen, my father was a Kohen, I too wanted to be a Kohen.”

Obviously, this is a joke and there is no way to make a non-Kohen a Kohen. But it is really that far-fetched?

Let us consider the following passage from the Rambam, Laws of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years chapter 13: “Why did the Levites not receive a portion in the inheritance of Eretz Yisrael and in the spoils of war like their brethren? Because they were set aside to serve G-d and minister unto Him and to instruct people at large in His just paths and righteous judgments… Therefore they were set apart from the ways of the world… Instead, they are G-d's legion… as [Numbers 18:20] states: "I am your portion and your inheritance."

Not only the tribe of Levi, but any one of the inhabitants of the world whose spirit generously motivates him and he understands with his wisdom to set himself aside and stand before G-d to serve Him and minister to Him and to know G-d, proceeding justly as G-d made him, removing from his neck the yoke of the many reckonings which people seek, he is sanctified as holy of holies. G-d will be His portion and heritage forever and will provide what is sufficient for him in this world like He provides for the priests and the Levites…”

Maimonides is telling us that a non-Levite or non-Kohen can reach the status of “holy of holies” (the status of a High-Priest) by choosing to devote himself to the service of Hashem. Does this mean that one must become an ascetic, and separate oneself from all worldly affairs?

The resolution to this issue is one of the cardinal principles of Chassidus (whose New Year we celebrate this Shabbat – Kislev 19). Chassidus demonstrates to us that we can engage in “worldly affairs” while still living up to the Rambam’s criteria of setting oneself aside to stand and serve before G-d, removing from his neck the yoke of many reckonings which people seek.” One who trains oneself to “know G-d in all your ways,” is capable of being engaged in every day life while still not bearing the yoke of worldly affairs. We recognize that when our striving for connection to Hashem is in the driver’s seat of the journey of life, then worldly affairs per se are not a yoke or a burden that conflicts with that connection. However when a person views “worldly affairs” as a conflict with devotion to Hashem then they serve as a burden and a yoke that must be avoided if one wishes to be a “Kohen.”

Wishing you all a Shana Tova – happy and successful new year in the teachings and ways of Chassidus, which enables us all to rise to the level of a High Priest ministering before G-d.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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