ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Shabbat and Y2K Memories

With January 1st falling on Shabbat this year, it got me reminiscing about another New Year that fell on Shabbat, 22 years ago. You might recall the hype leading up to “Y2K.” As the calendar was getting set to transition from 1999 to 2000, there was concern that the computers, which were programmed to use a two-digit formula to identify years, would be incapable of distinguishing between 2000 and 1900. The inability of those systems to distinguish dates correctly, had the potential to bring down worldwide infrastructures from banking to air travel. There was panic that planes would fall out of the sky, financial institutions’ systems would lose track of people’s assets, and the world as we know it would be altered. Thanks to much advance effort on the part of many computer programmers, the transition occurred nearly glitch free.

I recall sitting at home that evening, after a relaxing Shabbat dinner, getting ready to head off to bed, and remarking to Malkie, how lucky we are. While the world is freaking out about Y2K, we have Shabbat. Shabbat is a time when, for 24 hours there are no planes, no banks, no computers, and no worries about anything related to those matters. We were so relaxed, that I distinctly remember sleeping soundly to the extent that I did not even hear the fireworks at midnight. The next morning, we woke up and the world was still standing. The crisis had been averted.

This week I came across a teaching from the Baal Shem Tov that explains this Shabbat phenomenon is a most sublime fashion. In the creation narrative, the Torah tells us about everything that Hashem did for six days to bring the universe into existence. Then comes the seventh day. “Now the heavens and the earth were completed and all their host. And G-d completed on the seventh day His work that He did, and He abstained on the seventh day from all His work that He did.”

On one hand we are told that the work was complete. On the other hand we are told that G-d completed His work on the seventh day. Which is it? The Midrash explains, that the way G-d completed the work on the seventh day was by introducing rest to the universe. What is rest? Abstaining from work. But in a deeper sense, rest is the absence of any movement or even change. Change is a condition associated with time and space. Introducing rest to Creation, meant elevating all of existence to its source, where time and space are entirely suspended. In simpler terms, Shabbat means that the universe plugs into an energy wherein regular everyday concerns are not merely suspended but are actually elevated to beyond the mundane. So, on Shabbat, the reason why there are no planes, banks, or computers, is because there really aren’t any. Their apparent existence is just a condition of our inability to see what reality is.

We are meant to take this experience of Shabbat and infuse the rest of our week, with all its mundane “realities,” with that same sense of Shabbatlike Divinity.

Wishing you a restful Shabbat
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The Power of a Name

One of my favorite Jewish jokes is the one about the three Cohen brothers who approached Henry Ford with their game changing patent that installed air conditioning into automobiles. Ford was excited and offered to pay them an exorbitant sum for the rights to use their invention in Ford automobiles. They had one condition. They wanted each unit to be clearly labeled with their name, Cohen Air Conditioning. Notorious antisemite that he was, Ford refused to have the name Cohen visible in his cars. They settled for a higher price and their first names. To this day, every ford vehicle has the first names of the three Cohen brothers on each air conditioning control panel, Hi, Norm and Max.

Now imaging if they had used their Jewish names, Chaim, Nachman, and Moshe? That would be something else entirely. The second book of the Torah is known in English as Exodus. However, while this is a valid translation of the book’s alternative name, given by our sages in the Midrash, Sefer Yetziat Mitzraim, the primary name of the second book in the Holy Tongue is, Shemot, which translates as “Names.” Why would a book that relates the story of the slavery, the exodus, revelation at Sinai, and the building of the Tabernacle, be called “Names?”

Our Sages comment that the names of the twelve tribes are listed right at the beginning of the book to teach us that our people never gave up their Jewish names throughout the duration of Egyptian persecution. To paraphrase their words, “the Reuven and Shimon that came to Egypt, are the same Reuven and Shimon that left Egypt.” In fact, the maintaining of their Jewish names is one of three merits that earned them the Redemption from Egypt.

A Jewish name is something that is associated with an identity. We should be proud of our Jewish identity and proud of our Jewish names. Now I am the first to recognize that having a “different sounding” name could make for some uncomfortable moments. Whenever I am at the DMV, as soon as I see the clerk looking down at the paper, scrunching up her eyes and puckering her lips, trying to figure how to pronounce Menachem (my first name), I am already half-way up to the counter trying to put her out of her misery. I cannot even count how many times a customer service rep has called me Wendel or (get a load of this one) Mental. Yet, I am very proud of my Jewish identity and my Jewish name. I would not even consider replacing it or supplanting it with a more “American” sounding name, just to save myself those uncomfortable moments.  

Jewish names are an important part of our Jewish identity, and we should “wear” them proudly.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2448

Jacob had twelve sons. Each of them was a spiritual powerhouse. Some displayed extraordinary greatness. Many of them demonstrated leadership qualities on various occasions. When the dust settled and the story of the people of Israel developed, one tribe emerged as the ultimate paragon of leadership. That is the tribe of Judah, the forerunner of the dynasty of King David. Judah’s leadership is already exhibited in the narrative of this week’s Parsha. When the Viceroy of Egypt (Joseph) falsely accuses Benjamin of pilfering his silver goblet, it is Judah who steps up and fights for his younger brother’s life. He explains his sense of urgency with the following declaration, “For your servant assumed responsibility for the boy from my father.” Indeed, earlier in the narrative, Judah proclaims to his father Jacob, “I will guarantee him; from my hand you can demand him.” This convinced Jacob to allow Benjamin to go with them to Egypt.

The Hebrew word that is used for guarantee or responsible is “areivut.” At Mt. Sinai, we all made a similar commitment of being in a state of “areivut” towards one another. As our sages declare, “Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Lazeh – All of Israel are responsible for one another.”

What this means is that we each need to speak in the voice of Judah and declare “For your servant assumed responsibility for the boy.” We are responsible to ensure that each Jewish child, literal or figurative, is cared for. We must see to it that no Jew falls through the cracks and is alienated from his or her heritage, because nobody cared enough to stretch forth a welcoming hand. “Areivut” needs to be the driving force behind our personal and communal decision-making process.

 We all share a Father, who waits with eager anticipation for each of His children to come home safely. At Sinai we promised, “I will guarantee him; from my hand you can demand him.”  We are therefore motivated by the notion that “For your servant assumed responsibility for the boy from my Father.” We know that Hashem expects and empowers us to make sure that every Jewish child comes home.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

My Emmy Nominated Mobile Menorah

A year ago, as I walked back from the Spanish Plaza to my vehicle following our virtual Chanukah @ Riverwalk, I found a note under my windshield wiper. It was from Bill Wood and Jason Abshire, journalists associated with the Wild Bill program at WGNO. They were intrigued by the Menorah on top of the car and were interested in doing a feature story about it. We set a time and a few days later they came to do the story. It ran during Chanukah last year and you can view the story here -

After the program ran, I texted Bill and congratulated him on a job well done. He jokingly replied that he will submit it for an Emmy. A year later I come across a news tidbit that the story had actually been nominated for a Suncoast Regional Emmy in the religion category. The competition in that category is mostly about religious scandals and exposes… So, who knows?

While my 300,000 mile Ford Crown Vic is no longer, the legend of the car menorah lives on. In fact, this year, we ordered an additional 30 Menorahs, so we anticipate an expanded parade in the number of vehicles participating. The parade departs from Chabad Uptown at 7:30 Saturday night (Dec 4). There will be a party bus for children and a lot of fun for all involved. The parade route goes from down St. Charles into the CBD, French Quarter, the edge of the Marigny and then back home using the same route.

Some folks question the value of the Mobile Menorahs. They argue that it is merely a publicity stunt and does not accomplish anything of substance. I vehemently disagree. I have seen the excitement that the Mobile Menorahs bring to passersby. This year, I heard from a Shliach in a small town, that he got a call from a man who identified himself as someone who had been cut off from Judaism for many years, but his Jewish spark had burst into flame from seeing the Rabbi’s Mobile Menorah riding around their small town.

One of the principles of Chanukah is Pirsumei Nissa – publicizing the miracle. There is no doubt in my mind that in the past 45 years since the Rebbe launched the public Menorah campaigns, tens of thousands of Jewish sparks have burst into flame as a result, and millions of Mitzvos have been performed. My son Sholom is in Tel Aviv this year. He shared with me that he helped pack 10,000(!) Menorah kits to be distributed on the streets of Tel Aviv this Chanukah. In our Shtetl of New Orleans, hundreds of boxes of candles were distributed along with many Menorahs, at events all over town and direct home delivery.

We are witnessing real change and even transformation! The struggle between light and darkness is tough, but victory is within reach.

Here are some links to the coverage of Chanukah @ Riverwalk.

Facebook Live (Thank you Yishai):

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

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