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Religion & Politics

Everybody and their grandmother has an opinion of whether religion and politics are a good mix. For me, I avoid taking public stances on political issues, because my “job” is to encourage people to enhance their relationship with Hashem through Torah and Mitzvot, without getting involved in the distractions of political differences between folks.

That being said, I want to wade ever so slightly into the religion and politics connection strictly for the purpose of drawing a parallel. One of the certain things about politics, especially in our time, is that it evokes strong passion. Just take a peek at any social media platform, and you will find people passionately declaring that if you vote for this one, you are literally disavowing your G-d, your people, your family and the future of the universe. Then you will find people proclaiming the exact same thing about the other candidate. Even the people that are dispassionate about politics or the current political climate, are passionately dispassionate. They want ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with any of it.

Now politics is important and political decisions have ramifications – “elections matter.” Yet in the broad scope of things, our relationship with Hashem is so much more important. The ramifications on our lives, the universe, and history are far-reaching.

I would love to see people demonstrate the same passion, as they respectfully and tastefully discuss how important Judaism is to them, or how valuable it is to have a life of connection with Hashem. Not in a way of putting others down, but rather in a way that encourages others to explore that relationship with Hashem in their own lives. Talk about what excites you about something you studied in the Torah. Talk about how special it is for your family to celebrate this holiday or observe that tradition.

As we prepare for Rosh Hashanah and the high holidays of 5781, let’s get really passionate about Yiddishkeit. This will enhance our own experience of the holidays, and convey a powerful positive message to those around about what is important.

“As water reflects the face, so does the heart of one man reflect another.” (Proverbs, 27:19) Our expression of love and passion towards Hashem will generate a reflection of Hashem’s love and passion towards us. This brings with it the blessings of good health, prosperity, nachas, peace and meaningful spiritual growth for us and all of our loved ones.

Shana Tova Umesukah – wishing you a good and sweet year!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Feeling Judged and Loving It!

One of the things that most people least appreciate is the feeling of being judged by another. In fact when a person or a group is deemed to be non-judgmental, that is a compliment of the highest order. So it is no wonder that some folks might be a bit uncomfortable with the notion of Rosh Hashanah being Yom Hadin - the Day of Judgement. Let me share why I think that rather than being uncomfortable with it, we should actually embrace it!

The problem with being judged by another is that the other doesn’t know our circumstances and is not aware of the state of our mind and heart. All they see is the external action and result. Furthermore, and maybe even more important, we cannot know for sure that the other loves us and wants what is best for us. Even if we are convinced that they do, that love and caring would rarely, if ever, be as powerful as the love we have for ourselves along with the ability to put our faults and shortcomings in context. So it is possible that even the judgement of a loving parent, a close relative or friend, can make us uncomfortable.

However, when the one judging us knows us even better than we know ourselves, and loves us far more that we are capable of loving ourselves, then we have nothing to worry about. Such judgement is solely for our benefit and can only bring superbly positive results.

King David echoes this sentiment in Psalm 27, which we recite twice daily during Elul and all though the holidays. He proclaims, “Though my father and mother have forsaken me, the L-rd has taken me in.” Even in a situation where the judgment of one’s own loving parents leave one with a sense of being forsaken, we know that “Hashem takes us in.”

So embrace the opportunity to be judged by the One Who loves you and knows you more than anyone out there including yourself. It can be a most rewarding experience.

May G-d grant each and every one of us a Shana Tova – a good and sweet year of health, prosperity, meaningful spiritual growth and nachas. May Hashem bless our world with healing and peace through the coming of Moshiach speedily.

For a list of Rosh Hashanah services and options at Chabad Uptown, go to www.chabadneworleans.com/highholidays2020.

For Metairie: www.jewishlouisiana.com/highholidays.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Relinquish Control

As many of you know, I have served as a prison chaplain for over 20 years. It is not often that I hear from the folks that I visit after their release. This week I had the pleasure of communicating with a man that I have come to regard as a friend over the years that I have been visiting with him.

He was serving a lengthy sentence which was exacerbated by the fact that he refused to testify against others. He had been challenging his sentence for over 9 years. With each visit, I observed the great strides he was making as a Jew and a person. Unfortunately COVID-19 precluded me from visiting, and we had not seen each other since February. Appeal after appeal was denied. As each door to freedom closed, the chances seemed slimmer and slimmer that he would not have to serve out his full sentence of another 10 years. When the final appeal was denied, he felt a sense of being let down by G-d. He drew strength from the Jewish literature that he had, and determined to change his mind set and attitude toward Hashem. He sat down that evening and contemplated all the positive things that Hashem had given him in life. He then offered a sincere expression of thanksgiving to Hashem. He concluded his prayer by saying, “Hashem, I am putting this all into Your hands. Whatever You do is for my good.”

The next morning he got a message that his case manager wanted to see him. He walked in and she asked him if he had someone that could come pick him up. He was taken aback and asked her what she meant. She informed him that the judge discovered a brief that had been omitted from his case file when she was deciding the appeal. Now that she read it she decided to release him, and because of COVID, it would be effective immediately. They had never heard of such a thing and yet it was real. It was so unusual, that the halfway house to which he was released, insisted on keeping him for an extra few days in case they would discover that it was a mistake and he would need to go back to prison.

When we spoke, we mused over the amazing fact that as soon as he relinquished control to Hashem, there was immediate transformation of his situation from misery to joy, from imprisonment to freedom.

May each of us discover the spiritual strength to similarly relinquish control to Hashem, coupled with a sense of profound gratitude for the abundance with which He has already blessed us. May we all merit to see Hashem’s open and revealed blessings in our lives as He showers with a good and sweet new year.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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