ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Passover Family Memories

One of the beautiful elements of Passover is the connection to family. We all have a memory of a Seder with parents or grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Many families have certain traditions, customs, stories or memories that they incorporate into their Pesach observances. These are passed from generation to generation and serve to keep families connected to each other as well as to Judaism.

I would like to share an anecdote from our family that I reflect on each year around this time. One of the observances of Passover is selling the chametz. This usually done by authorizing a Rabbi to represent you in a sale of the chametz to someone who is not Jewish. The chametz is then reacquired after Passover is concluded. The Chabad custom is that this sale be treated with all the seriousness of the real sale that it is. For some added gravitas, a guarantor, called an Arev Kablan, is used to ensure that the sale will go through. The Rebbe would sell his chametz to a Rabbi using an Arev Kablan. In 1991 my grandfather, R’ Mordechai Rivkin, was designated by the Rebbe to serve as the Arev Kablan for the sale of the Chametz. For the occasion he purchased a new handkerchief to use for the transaction (as per Jewish custom that commitments are made by the raising of a handkerchief). Incidentally, this handkerchief has been used in our family at engagements and weddings for the bride and groom to make their commitments to each other.

At the end of the procedure, the Rebbe began to share a few words of inspiration with the handful of people present to witness the sale (the Rabbi, my grandfather and two or three of the Rebbe’s close aides). Upon concluding his words, the Rebbe turned to my grandfather and said, “You are a Kohen. You should merit and prepare to give the priestly blessing in the third Beis Hamikdash (holy temple) with the coming of Moshiach very soon.”

This story was shared under the chuppah at our daughter Sara’s wedding earlier this month. It is a story that I think of often, especially around Passover and other holidays when the priestly blessing is recited. It was a privilege for me to offer the priestly blessing alongside my grandfather for many years. It is a privilege for me and my sons to carry on this sacred task bequeathed to us through his lineage.

May this blessing that the Rebbe gave my grandfather 30 years ago, be fulfilled with immediate the coming of Moshiach, giving us the great honor of conferring the priestly blessing on all of Israel in the third Temple.  

Have a meaningful, Kosher and joyous Pesach!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

No Empty Seats at the Seder

In the 1970s, there was a call to American Jewry to set an empty seat at the Seder table, symbolizing our identification with the plight of Russian Jews stuck behind the Iron Curtain.

The Rebbe responded to that call with a call of his own. Instead of setting an empty seat for Russian Jews at the Seder table, find a Jew who would otherwise not attend the Seder and fill that seat. This, the Rebbe declared, would be a more effective means of identification with Russian Jews. Since all Jews are interconnected, a Jew who fulfills a mitzvah on one side of the world, can uplift and support a Jew in another part of the world who is forbidden to fulfill that same Mitzvah.

This was a continuing echo of a concept that the Rebbe introduced in the 1950s, called the fifth son. We are all aware of the four sons at the Seder, the wise, wicked, simple, and the one who does not know to ask. The Rebbe said that in the USA we have a fifth son, the one who does not know enough or care enough to even show up at the Seder. It is our task to ensure that this lost Jewish child attends a Seder.

Last year nearly everyone had an unusual Seder. There were many empty seats. There were many missing children and lonely parents. There were many families and groups of friends who were kept apart by the pandemic. As the population gets vaccinated and things begin to open up, let us make sure that everyone is remembered. Nobody should be allowed to fall through the cracks. There should not be an empty seat at the Seder.

This year we need to take extra care that there not be people who are alone because they have nowhere to be. No empty seats at the Seder!!

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and happy Passover prep!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Wedding Bells - Past and Present

This week Malkie and I were privileged to marry off our daughter Sara to a wonderful young man, Ari Rosenblum, in a beautiful wedding that was set in the grounds of the Destrahan Plantation. It was a very special experience for us as parents to see our child so happy and energetically looking forward with eager anticipation to a life together with her new husband, filled with Hashem’s blessings of good health, prosperity, a lovely family, success in their endeavors, and devotion to Hashem’s plan for making this world a better place.

We are truly grateful to Hashem for His infinite kindness and the beneficent blessings with which He continues to shower us. We were delighted to be surrounded by our parents, our family, the extended Rosenblum family, and our NOLA Jewish community, as we celebrated this special occasion. For many, the outdoor setting afforded them the first opportunity to be “among people” since the onset of the pandemic one year ago.

We have the merit of being part of the team of the Rebbe’s Shluchim to New Orleans. Making a Kosher and Jewish wedding in New Orleans during these Covid times has proven to be challenging. We enjoyed the help and support of many who enabled us to pull this off. For this we are very appreciative.

By Divine Providence, Sara and Ari’s wedding week will conclude as our family marks the Yahrtzeits (13th and 1st) of my paternal grandparents, Reb Mordechai and Dusia Rivkin. Sara was fortunate to know them both and was especially close to Bubby. Celebrating the wedding and thinking about the challenges we faced to pull it off, gave me the opportunity to reflect on the exceedingly more difficult circumstances of their wedding in Tashkent, USSR in 1945.

My grandfather was involved in a business that was deemed illegal by the Soviet government. (In other words, they actually turned a profit.) He and his partners used much of the money they made to support the network of clandestine Jewish institutions in the USSR established by the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe. The secret police found out and they were wanted men. My grandfather went into hiding during his engagement to my grandmother. When they deemed it safe, the finally scheduled the wedding. But alas, an agent of the secret police strolled into the wedding venue holding a photo of Zeidy, with the intent of identifying and arresting him at his own wedding. Thank G-d, a close friend gave the agent a very significant sum of money in exchange for the photo and his agreement to disappear from the scene.

They eventually escaped from the USSR and came to these shores, where they presided over a beautiful family spanning many generations. It is my hope that Sara and Ari understand and appreciate that they are links in this special chain. Their path was paved by the love, devotion and sacrifice of their ancestors. May Hashem grant that they continue to be worthy links in the chain as they bring Nachas to the generations that came before them and to us all.

Thank you to all of you who participated in our Simcha in person or by extending your heartwarming wishes of Mazel Tov to our family.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

A Coin of Limitless Value

Have you ever seen the Mitzvah mobiles engaging people on the streets of New York, or been stopped at the Kotel and asked to lay Tefillin, or asked to shake the Lulav and Etrog somewhere around town? Perhaps you questioned the idea of asking someone to do a Mitzvah on the spot. What value does laying Tefillin, or hearing the Shofar, or shaking the Lulav have, if I am just doing it to get this persistent dude off of my back? Can there be a significance attached to doing a Mitzvah out of habit or without any intent?

The Midrash tells us that there were three things that Moses heard from G-d that shocked him. The command to build a Sanctuary. How could a meager structure house the glory of the Divine Presence? The command to being offerings. How could a measly handful of animals serve as a gift to honor G-d? The command to give the Half-Shekel (in this week’s Torah portion), as an atonement for the soul following the sin of the Golden Calf. To each situation G-d replied, that He asks of us only what we as mere mortals are capable of.

The Sanctuary was built using the generous contributions of the children of Israel. The heart that they invested in their contributions rendered the structure fit to house the glory of G-d. The offerings are brought of the owners’ volition. The emotional investment in the offering and its accompanying service makes it a fit gift to G-d that can atone for transgression.

But the half-shekel is a paltry coin, and Halacha dictates that it may be taken by the Beit Din even by seizure if a family did not contribute willingly. How could a minimal offering, which potentially lacks any investment of heart, atone for the soul following the most egregious sin?

G-d replied by plucking a coin of fire measuring a half-shekel from beneath His Throne of Glory. “This is what you shall give,” G-d declared. The coin of fire from the Throne of Glory represents that essential point of connection between the soul of the Jew (hewn from the Throne of Glory) and G-d. The fact that coin measured a half-shekel indicates that this fiery connection can be contained even within the finite limitations of the human condition.

So when one does a Mitzvah without consciously associating it with a relationship with G-d, that connection is still inherently present. Therefore the Mitzvah is not only significant, but it has infinite value, a value that can only come from a connection to G-d. Even on a day that you are not feeling it, you should be aware that everything you do is valued by G-d and maintains that point of connection with G-d.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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