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Seeing Beyond the Mask

One of the customs associated with Purim is the practice of wearing a mask or costume. For more on this custom see www.chabadneworleans.com/search/keyword_cdo/kid/8935. Whatever the explanation is for masking, clearly it is about appearing like something you are really not. When you walk into Shul or down the street of a Jewish neighborhood on Purim, you might see a clown, who is really a serious scholar. You might see a soldier, who is the least likely to be in a fight. You might see a gangster, who is really a teacher of young children.

The takeaway from this is that we must remember that it’s all just a veneer. Beneath the surface, when you strip away the mask, the person is really something else entirely.

The Rebbe points out, that “real life” is actually the same. When we encounter someone who is arrogant, disdainful, acerbic, or ungracious, we must remember that this is only a veneer that is created by the Yetzer Hara. The reality is that the person is a pure, nice and holy Neshama – a spark of Hashem. The mask is in place due to life circumstances, a tough break, or the unceasing attempts of the Yetzer Hara at persuasion.

Let us recall to always see beyond the mask (or two in this pandemic…) and connect to people based on who they really are.

Please join us for one of our Purim events or multiple Megillah readings listed below.

Happy Purim
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Purim vs. Covid

In 2020, Purim was on Tuesday, March 10. That was the day that the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Louisiana. Little did we know what the next year would look like. (In fact, we still don’t…) We had no conception of what COVID-19 would do to our lives, what it would do to our communities, what it would do to our congregations, or what it would do to our ability to observe our religion in a communal or personal setting. Nobody had even heard the phrase “unmute yourself” at that point. Zoom was an obscure company that provided corporate meeting software.

We have had many unprecedented experiences in the last year. Holidays didn’t look anything like they did previously. Life cycle events were marked in unusual ways. Pesach, Shavuot, High Holidays, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, and Chanukah were all celebrated in strange fashion.

Purim 2021 is on Friday, February 26 (starts the night before, Thursday, Feb 25). While the vaccines are being rolled out and many are getting inoculated against the virus, there are still restrictions in place. However, I encourage everyone to find a way to observe Purim. There will be opportunities to hear the reading of the Megillah indoors and outdoors, according to one’s comfort level. We can still send Shalach Manot, give Tzedakah to the poor, and enjoy a Purim feast and L’chaim. It is vital that we do not allow COVID to take this one from us.

Please look out for information from Chabad (all locations) over the coming week, about a wide range of options, times and settings in which to hear the Megillah.

The Megillah tells us that Adar is categorized as the month of overturning a negative to a positive – “the month that was reversed for them from grief to joy and from mourning to a festive day.”

May we indeed merit to see this occur for us in 5781. May Hashem transform the uncertainty and fear that the world has experienced over the last year to an unbridled freedom and joy during this happy month of Adar through the coming of Mashiach speedily!

Shabbat Shalom and happy Adar
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Seeing Greatness in Others

One of the marks of a qualified leader, is the ability to identify potential, and bring out leadership qualities in others. Moses personifies this, as is evidenced in this week’s Torah portion. Yitro advises Moses to do the following, “you shall choose from among the entire nation men of substance… and you shall appoint over them [Israel] leaders over thousands, leaders over hundreds, leaders over fifties, and leaders over tens.”

So here you have a bunch of individuals, who, yesterday, were just “regular Joes,” indicated by the phrase “from among the entire nation,” and today they are elevated to leadership status. How does this happen?

The Rebbe points out that there are two conditions that enable this to occur. The first is, that the person at the top (Moses) has to be able to see positive potential in others of which the individuals themselves are not aware. The literal translation of the Hebrew – V’ata Techeze is not “you shall choose” but “you shall see.” This has the connotation of “you shall identify” the potential qualities within these individuals to be leaders. In fact Moses “seeing” these qualities in them, actually brings out that potential, which have been dormant until now.

The second condition is that the individuals that are elevated to leadership status must remember that to succeed they need to function as an extension of Moses. This is indicated in the verse, “they shall judge the people at all times, and it shall be that any major matter they shall bring to you, and they themselves shall judge every minor matter, thereby making it easier for you, and they shall bear [the burden] with you.” By recognizing that they bear the burden “with you” this enables them to succeed in a Moses-like fashion.

The late Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Lord Jonathan Sacks often said about the Rebbe, “great men inspire others to follow them, but the greatest inspire others to lead.” The Rebbe took a generation full of regular “Joes and Janes” and empowered them to leadership roles in communities all around the world. When you look at someone through Moses’s glasses, you see their greatness. The success of the Shluchim is tied to their cognizance that they bear the burden of leadership together with the Rebbe.

The annual Kinus Hashluchos – conference of Chabad Women Emissaries – takes place this weekend, albeit virtually, as called for by our times. Thousands of Shluchos take the opportunity to connect with each other as they rededicate themselves to “bearing the burden” of world Jewish leadership with the Rebbe. May Hashem bless their meeting with success to the great benefit of the Jewish people and the entire world.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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