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Cradled in Hashem's Hands

Everything around us seems to be in upheaval. There is the coronavirus pandemic, with hundreds, and even thousands of people infected each week. As a result, the economy and the markets are in chaos. People are anxious about their health. People are anxious about their finances. Furthermore, there is widespread apprehension about the political situation in our country. The impending elections are a source of stress for a lot of people all across the political spectrum. And if US politics is not enough to drive people mad, Israel is going to a third election in less than a year, with concerned parties in an absolute tizzy. In addition to the global issues, everybody is dealing with something in their own personal life. It may be in the area of health, finances, relationships, work, any or all of the above, or something else altogether.

Yet we Jews are expected to embrace the new month of Adar that started this week, with the attitude of “Mi’shenichnas Adar Marbim B’Simcha – when Adar enters, we increase in Joy.” How are we supposed to balance this paradoxical state of existence? How can we be joyful in the face of the upheaval and uneasiness about our personal issues and those affected society as a whole?

My great-uncle Reb Sholom Deitsch began undergoing heart trouble in his 40s. Every day he experienced symptoms similar to heart attack and his quality of life nose-dived very quickly. In a private audience with the Rebbe in 1969, after describing his medical situation, he exclaimed to the Rebbe that he feels as though his life is in total chaos and he could not function on any level. The Rebbe replied to him, “Reb Sholom, ir ligt doch bei dem Aibershter in di hent – you are being cradled in Hashem’s hands.” If you are in Hashem’s hands then you know you are in the best place possible. There is no need for feeling that your world is caving in on you in a fit of chaos. If you are in Hashem’s hands then you can be tranquil. My great-uncle passed away later that year from his heart condition. But the rest of his days were spent in relative tranquility with the Rebbe’s calming words in his mind.

Now let’s return to the Adar attitude. If we live on an island of tranquility in a world of chaos, then we can also not only accept the concept of joy, but we can even embrace it. In fact, what are sages are explain to us is that “how can we increase our “Adar-ness?” How do we mitigate the effect of the challenges that life has placed before us? Through Simcha – joy.

May we truly come to realize that we are cradled in Hashem’s hands thereby enabling us to live joyful and meaningful lives. Happy Adar!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Loving Kindness Is Actually My Religion

Everyone has those things that get under their skin. One of mine, is a car with covered with bumper stickers that demonstrates irreverence to organized religion, and then has a one that says “Loving Kindness is My Religion.” Now I know that that statement originates within a specific religious sentiment. But, when it appears in the context of someone showing off their “secular bonafides,” while rubbing the faces of all “believers” in the dirt, that ticks me off a bit! Now, I have a sense of humor and I can handle an occasional poke at things I consider sacred. However, I can’t stand the air of superiority being implied. As if to say, “While you Neanderthals, who believe that there is a G-d telling you how to live, practice prejudice based on your G-d’s ideas, we enlightened folk are the ones who know what loving kindness is and how to properly practice it every day.” The irony that they are not projecting loving kindness towards anyone in an organized religion that they don’t like… but that’s a story for a different day.

What they are conveniently forgetting is that Loving Kindness actually is my religion. Not in the “look I am being a loving, caring compassionate human” kind of way. But rather, in a very real structured, yet understated kind of way.

Consider these three texts from the Sages of the Talmud.

1.      What’s hateful to you, don’t do unto others. This is the entire Torah, the rest is commentary. (Hillel the Elder)

2.      “You shall love your fellow like yourself.” Lev 19:18 “This is a great principle of the Torah.” (Rabbi Akiva)

3.      The following verse contains an even greater principle: “This is the account of the descendants of Adam [when G-d created Adam, in the likeness of G-d He created him]. (Ben Azzai)

What could be more compelling than seeing every human as created in the Divine Image as a motivator for respecting the dignity of each person and treating them with loving kindness? In a Darwinian model, the drive to survive or even thrive, could very well supersede the humanistic calling for acting kindly towards another. So next time you see one of those bumper stickers with the word fiction made out of religious symbols, and the claim of the dude’s karma running over your dogma, inevitably there will be the sanctimonious declaration of how loving kindness is his religion. Hopefully you won’t be stalled on the side of the road, because most likely that car will not stop to help you…

On the other hand, did you hear the story of the guy with a kippa standing on the side of the interstate with a blowout? A Jewish guy pulled over to help him. After they got the tire off and changed, a brief conversation revealed that the guy did not know the first thing about Judaism. When the Jewish guy asked him why he was wearing a yarmulke, he replied, “My daddy told me to always keep one of those Jew caps in the glove compartment. If you break down, put it on and a Jew will stop to help you…”

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Make Yourself at Home

This weekend in New York, thousands of Chabad Shluchos (the wife partner of the husband and wife team who serve as the Rebbe’s emissaries around the world) are gathered for their annual conference. One of this year’s themes is Love: The Thread that Binds. This concept focuses on love, as the thread that mutually binds the Rebbe and his Shluchim, and how they in turn connect with that love to every Jew. Malkie was asked to address one element of the theme last night. I would like to share an excerpt of her talk with you.

“A few weeks ago we hosted a young lady, who was visiting New Orleans with her mother. Following an enjoyable Friday night at our home, they came to Chabad House on Shabbos day. I was busy preparing the Kiddush with some other women and girls. My husband walked into the kitchen to carry out the huge, hot, cholent pot. Mid “salad mixing” and “cholent carrying”, the mom approached us and said,

“Rabbi Mendel and Malkie, I feel so welcome here at your Chabad House, as I did last night at your home! I have been to many Chabad Houses all over. So, tell me, is there a course that the Rabbi and his wife have to take before going to establish a Chabad House? You know… a course on how to be warm, and welcoming, uplifting, and engaging, to EVERY person they meet? Because I see this trend in every Chabad House that I go to...every Chabad Rabbi and his wife are so warm and welcoming!”

My husband, eyes on the huge hot cholent pot and his task at hand, answered, matter of fact, “No, there is no such course!” Realizing that I wanted to elaborate, I put down the salad forks, and said, “Although we are not required to take any such course, we are privileged to learn from the Rebbe who teaches us that we must always strive to remain positive and welcoming when encountering another Jew. My husband and I were fortunate to grow up in the Rebbe’s physical presence and we witnessed this lesson, time and time again, first hand from the Rebbe. Learning the Rebbe’s teachings is what gives this positive and uplifting outlook to each Shliach and Shlucha that you have met ...and those that you have not yet met!”

I mentioned something that I often tell people who come into our Chabad House. A person might comment, “I feel so welcome here!” I reply, “As you know, this building is called Chabad House. Not exactly the name of a Shul or Community Center that you might be accustomed to. But the Rebbe’s vision is that each Chabad House is simply called, as you see on our sign outside - Chabad House. Your house is the place where you feel ‘at home’. Your house is a place where you feel comfortable. Your house is a place where you feel secure and welcomed. This is the vision of a Chabad House. A home for every Jewish person where they feel comfortable, anywhere in the world. A home, and a place for their heart!”

It is our hope that every person that encounters Chabad or engages with Chabad in any way in our community, will have that same experience.

After Purim, Chabad of Louisiana will be running our first ever matching campaign, with a goal to raise $140,000. If you have had a positive experience with Chabad over the 45 years since our establishment in New Orleans, please consider being a generous participant. Details will be released within the coming weeks.

Now you must excuse me while I return to my Shabbos cookingJ

Good luck to Chabad @ Tulane with the Shabbat 1000 program tonight. By far the largest Shabbat dinner in our region!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Rebbe of the Hippies?

It was Erev Yom Kippur 1979. Outside of 770 Eastern Parkway (Chabad HQ in Brooklyn) there was a long line of people waiting to receive a piece of honey cake and a blessing for a sweet year from the Rebbe. Joining the line was a fellow who affiliated with the Satmar group. The Satmar Rebbe had passed away that summer, and he wanted a blessing from a Tzaddik to start the new year. As he waited his turn to have his moment with the Rebbe, he glanced around to see who else was there. He noticed that the person just before him the line looked like a hippie. He started thinking to himself, “If the Lubavitcher Rebbe is this guy’s Rebbe, then how could he be my Rebbe. We occupy entirely different worlds.” He was contemplating leaving and going home. But he decided to stay to receive the blessing. When he approached the Rebbe, he received the cake and blessing and started to walk away. The Rebbe called him back and asked, “Do you have the writings of the Yismach Moshe? (Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum of Uhel, Hungary was an early Chassidic master and the forerunner of the Satmar dynasty.) He replied that he does. The Rebbe continued, “Certainly you recall the story he relates in the introduction to his commentary on Psalms?”

Let me break to tell the story. The Baal Shem Tov had a disciple named R’ Michel of Zolotchov. When his father, R’ Yitzchak of Dorovitch, passed away, the heavenly court instructed Rashi’s soul to go and welcome him to Gan Eden. When Rashi encountered R’ Yitzchak he asked why he merited to have such a welcoming committee? R’ Yitzchak said that it was in honor of his son’s accomplishments. Rashi asked, “What is your son’s greatness?” He replied, “He is a great Torah scholar and is intensely involved in the service of the heart in prayer.” Rashi replied, “There are many like that who don’t merit this greeting. There must be something else.” R’ Yitzchak replied citing a verse in Malachi, “He turned many from sin.” Rashi was satisfied.

The Rebbe continued addressing this Satmar chasid saying, “If it was good enough for Rashi, it should be good enough for you.” In other words, the Rebbe sensed his discomfort with the presence of the hippy and put him at ease with the story, thereby also giving the man insight to the Rebbe’s approach to how we view a fellow Jew, no matter what their external appearance might be.

Coming off of the celebration of 70 years of the Rebbe’s leadership this week, Chabad of Louisiana will be hosting a special event next Monday night. The screening of the film – The Time in Between – a documentary about three individuals who were involved in the hippie/counter-culture movement of the 60s and 70s, and how they got involved with the Rebbe and Chabad. Please join us at Chabad of Metairie at 7:15 pm on Monday, Feb 10. See below for more details.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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