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Three Conditions for Jewish Peoplehood

Next week we celebrate the festival of Shavuot, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Sinai. A number of revolutionary concepts were introduced with the giving of the Torah. One of them is Jewish peoplehood. (It really started to form at the time of the Exodus and became formalized at Sinai). Along with Jewish peoplehood came the condition of our Arvut - sense of responsibility – for one another. When G-d gave us the Torah and the Mitzvot contained therein, he declared us responsible for each other’s commitment. The phrase our sages use for this is “Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Lazeh” – all Jews are responsible for one another.

Now the word Areivim also has additional connotations that offer some insight to the nature of this responsibility. There can be a sense of responsibility where a person maintains a distance and condescends to “take care of” the other. There are many folks who advocate and support the care for others while adopting a “not in my backyard” approach. Areivim also means “mixed together” – in other words our sense of responsibility comes with a feeling of “we are in this together,” rather than “you are needy and I am here to throw you a few crumbs from afar.”

How indeed can we expect this attitude to be adopted and implemented? That’s where the third meaning of Areivim comes in. Areivim also means sweet. When we view each other as sweet and we act sweetly to each other, this is the recipe for successful Arvut – responsibility.

If another Jew is seen as sweet, then I am happy to “mix” with them, which, in turn, infuses the Arvut with a passion and enthusiasm that makes it effective!   

As Louisiana has entered “Phase 1 of reopening,” we are going to cautiously proceed with a slow and deliberate reopening of Chabad House. For right now only the minyan, following all of the appropriate protocols and regulations, will be reinstated. All other activities will still take place remotely.

Since there is a special tradition to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments on Shavuot (next Friday), we are developing a plan to use an outdoor space (weather permitting), thereby enabling more people to participate, while maintaining “social distancing” protocols. Details will be announced on Monday, G-d willing.

Let us hope that Hashem will bring a speedy healing to our world, allowing us to once again be a people and a community together. Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Leaving Sinai

There was once a little Jewish girl who was being raised in a home where Judaism was not a premium value. Every summer she would travel to the countryside to spend a few weeks with her grandmother. Grandma was much more traditional. She utilized the time of her granddaughter’s visit to impart her love for Judaism and G-d to the little girl. At the end of her visit, her parents drove up from the city to pick her up. As she was leaving she took a deep breath of the beautiful outdoor air and said “Goodbye nature, see you next summer.” Then she kissed her grandmother and said, “Goodbye Grandma, see you next summer.” Then she kissed the Mezuzah and said, “Goodbye G-d, see you next summer.”

Yesterday, the 20th of Iyar on the Jewish calendar, was the day the people of Israel departed from Mount Sinai. They had been there for nearly a full year. During that time they received the Torah, had the Golden Calf experience, obtained forgiveness and received the second set of Tablets, built and dedicated the Tabernacle, and celebrated the first anniversary of the Exodus. They were told that the sign to know that it was time to move, would be the lifting of the Cloud of Glory from above the Tabernacle.

One could view the departure from Sinai in two ways. One would be similar to the little girl and her grandmother. As long as we are at Sinai, under the influence of the Revelation experience, we remain connected and devoted to G-d and what He expects of us. But once we depart, we cannot maintain that elevated state of connection.

The second and more proper perspective is, that leaving Sinai is by the direction G-d (as symbolized by the lifting of the Cloud of Glory). The purpose is not to take us away from the Siniatic impact, but rather for us to take the experience of Revelation and apply it to regular everyday life. In a sense, the 20th of Iyar represents the first full day of our mission as Jews – to transform and elevate our world into a dwelling for the Divine.

When we are at the foot of Sinai, G-d’s presence looms large in everything that we do. When we travel away from Sinai, this becomes our challenge. Our mundane activities must be suffused with a devotion to Hashem. As Proverbs states, “In all your ways you shall know Him.” This theme is reflected in Pirkei Avot, “All your deeds should be for the sake of heaven.”

When the Cloud of Glory lifted, it led the way, showing the people of Israel in which direction they were to travel. Thankfully, Hashem has given us this same guidance in the form of Torah teachings and inspired Jewish leaders over the generations, who show us the way to maintain the intensity of our connection with Hashem.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Social Distancing from G-d

Today is Pesach Sheini – the second Passover, one of the more obscure holidays on the Jewish calendar. Pesach Sheini originated with a small group of people who were ritually impure at the first anniversary of the Exodus. Hashem responded to their plea for inclusion, by giving them a “make-up date” one month later. From the language that the Torah uses, there is an inspiring insight derived in Chassidus.

The quote from the book of Numbers (8:10) is, “any person who becomes impure (by contact with the) dead, or was on a distant journey, for you or for future generations, shall offer a Pesach offering in the second month…”

The key phrase is “for you.” The simple application is, that Hashem is speaking to those present, and then also to future generations. Chassidus interprets the phrase “for you” as relating to the reason for your impurity or distance. In other words, even if a person is deliberately impure, which conceptually means that they are apathetic to G-dliness and spirituality (symbolized by death), they are still welcome to a second chance. Similarly, even if a person is deliberately practicing “social distancing” with Hashem, Hashem wants them to know that they have an opportunity to get close.

The second chance that Pesach Sheini offers in an expression of Hashem’s boundless love for each and every one of us. Even if in our own minds we are unworthy, and therefore we distanced ourselves, Hashem desires our closeness. Indeed, in response to the cry of a small group of Jews, who were experiencing spiritual FOMO (fear of missing out) that Pesach, Hashem gave us a whole new Mitzvah and a new holiday.

So feel the love wash over you. It is a cleansing love. It is a liberating love. It is an empowering love. But don’t miss the opportunity – seize the moment and the second chance to shake off your own sense of inadequacy, and allow yourself to experience the welcome home embrace of our loving Father.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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