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Shabbat Encroachment

The term encroachment generally conveys a negative connotation. We understand it to be something like the creep of a negative force. However, technically it can be applied in a neutral sense as well, as in gradually advancing beyond the usual limits of a particular setting. I would like to offer three applications of Shabbat encroachment.

Our sages teach us that we should allow Shabbat to encroach upon the weekday by starting a little early and ending a little late. At the very minimum we go from just before sundown on Friday to nightfall on Saturday, with some adding even more time. Since Shabbat is a time of withdrawal from the mundane and increased holiness, encroaching upon the weekday results in an increase of holiness and G-dliness in our week and a decreasing of the mundane.

In a conceptual sense, Shabbat is more than just a day in time, it is also a mindset or paradigm. In fact, one could argue that the time and energy spent on prayer, study and service of G-d is the Shabbat in everyday life. So while generally we devote a little time in the morning and evening to prayer and study, Shabbat encroachment would be “stealing” from that time and adding in the activities of holiness. On a deeper level, Shabbat encroachment would be diverting not just time, but prioritization and focus. I might be going about my daily business, but my mind and heart are on my Divine service.

Finally we have Shabbat encroachment in the big picture of history. The Zohar says that there are six millennia and the seventh (Shabbat) is the era of Redemption. However since Shabbat is supposed to “steal” a little weekday time, the era of Redemption should kick in on the “Friday afternoon” of history. We are now in the year 5781. It is late on Friday afternoon. According to the law of the Torah, the Shabbat of Redemption should be kicking in any moment now.

Let’s make sure we are not caught unaware. Just like on Friday afternoon, we change clothes, prepare special foods, and transform our homes for Shabbat, we should now be laser focused on preparing our lives for the imminent Shabbat that is about to be ushered in through the coming of Moshiach.

Shabbat Shalom (in every sense)
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Hold On For Dear Life

In Jewish law there is a concept called bitul – where an overwhelming quantity of a substance can cancel the status of a smaller substance that is lost in the mix. For example, if a drop of milk falls into a pot of chicken soup, as long as there is 60 times as much soup as the drop of milk, the soup is still kosher.

The Torah instructs that the fruit of a tree for the first three years is prohibited for consumption. This fruit is called Orlah. What happens if there is a tree (still within the three years) that gets “lost” in an orchard among hundreds of older trees? One may not harvest the fruit of any of them since the prohibited fruit is on one of them and the tree is connected to its roots in the ground. However, if the fruit was already harvested and the orlah fruit was in the mix, the status of the forbidden fruit can be cancelled if there is more than 200 times the permitted fruit as the orlah fruit.

The Rebbe takes this seemingly obscure Halacha and finds a powerful application for each of us. As Jews, we make up a fraction of a percent of the world’s population. It is said that the number of Jews in the world today is less than a statistical error on a Chinese census. So we might think that the law of bitul applies. We should just allow ourselves and our heritage to be absorbed into the vastness of humanity and be cancelled out. Perhaps we feel overwhelmed by the sheer challenge of retaining our unique identity and are ready to give up.

The above Halacha instructs, that as long as we remain connected to our life-source, our tree, our roots, nothing can cancel us. When we Jews demonstrate a vibrant attachment to Hashem and His Torah, there is no force powerful enough to overwhelm us. This is the secret of our survival over these two millennia, despite being homeless and the most persecuted people in world history.

Zalman Shazar was the third president of the State of Israel. He was born to a Chabad family in Russia. His original name was Shneur Zalman Rubashov, named for the Alter Rebbe, founder of the Chabad movement. When he became active in the Zionist movement he adopted a more contemporary family name, Shazar – based on the acronym of his full name.  

When he was leaving Russia for Israel, he went to spend Shabbos with his grandfather, a Chabad Chasid. As they were parting, his Zeide said to him. You must always remember your roots. You are named for the Alter Rebbe. His famous Niggun of four stanzas (a song that relates the journey of the soul through music) shall be your anchor in life. Whenever you are contemplating a decision, sit down and recall the niggun, and you will sense whether it is the correct decision to make.

Indeed the niggun and the roots that came with it, remained with him. He had great respect for and a wonderful partnership with the Rebbe in many endeavors. In fact, later in life, as Israel’s president he re-embraced his religious heritage. (For more on his relationship with the Rebbe – www.chabadneworleans.com/1115565.)

As Proverb 3:17 reminds us, “It is a Tree of Life for all who hold fast to it.” Hold on for dear life and we will not only survive, but thrive!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Change We Can Believe In

Think about everything that you would like to see changed in our world.

Think about a world where there is no illness or suffering.

Think about a world where there is no hunger or poverty.

Think about a world where there is no discrimination or exploitation.

Think about a world where there is no war or hatred.

Think about a world where there is an abundance of resources for all.

Think about a world where good-heartedness is the norm.

Think about a world where there are limitless possibilities for meaning and growth.

Think about a world where all of existence pulsates with a singular striving – to be one with the Creator.

Think about a world where the Creator is no longer concealed within the artistic drapes of His handiwork.

You have been thinking about the world of Redemption through the coming of Moshiach.

What we described is what our sages call Tikkun Olam – perfecting the universe under the Sovereignty of the Al-mighty.

How do we get there? What can we do to advance the process and bring our world to that state? For this we must become informed. We must explore what our sacred sources reveal about that time and the path that leads us to it. Then we must begin to live in that mode. All of what we described is within the reach of each of us, in our little corner of the universe. We start with ourselves and our immediate surroundings; and then a groundswell of transformation occurs, propelling our world into Redemption. This is the change we can believe in!

Join us in exploring this further and become a part of the solution. The new Jewish Learning Institute course entitled: This CAN Never Happen, launches later this month. For the uptown course information and schedule – www.chabadneworleans.com/jli. I look forward to having a motivated group of folks who will engage in a spirited conversation about these important ideas. For the Metairie course info and schedule – www.jewishlouisiana.com/jli.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Redemption With a Sense of Urgency

In 1943 a young man was riding the subway in Brooklyn when he overheard the following conversation between two Jews. They were on the line that rides along Eastern Parkway. When they stopped at the Kingston Ave station (in front of 770 Eastern Parkway – Chabad HQ), one asked the other, “Do you know who lives here, the Lubavitchers!” “Who are the Lubavitchers?” “The folks who really believe in the coming of Moshiach.” This anecdote took place shortly after the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe launched a campaign in response to WWII under the slogan (loosely translated from the Hebrew original) “Imminent Repentance Brings Imminent Redemption.”

Less than a decade later, upon assuming the leadership of Chabad, the Rebbe made the push for redemption the focus of his mandate. Over the next 40 years, every campaign and initiative was anchored to the goal of hastening the coming of Moshiach. On this night thirty years ago, the Rebbe gave a talk in which he expressed his deep-seated pain at the fact that all of the efforts had not yet born the fruit of Redemption. He asked all of us to shoulder this responsibility with him and do all that we could to complete the process. From then on the sense of urgency has increased even more.

There is a quote that is cited as a preface to Hayom Yom, “Every person must ask, ‘What have I done today to hasten the Redemption through the coming of Moshiach?’”

But what actually is Redemption? Many are uncomfortable talking about things like Moshiach. There is an association with other religions that may even make it feel un-Jewish. In order for us to have the sense of urgency to orient our lives in this way and be receptive to these ideas, we must become informed. We have to familiarize ourselves with the sources and concepts. We have to educate ourselves on the centrality of Redemption to Judaism. We must make it personal and relevant to us as 21st century occupants of this universe.

This Saturday night a marathon of Moshiach learning and inspiration begins at 8:30 our time. It can be accessed at www.tutaltz.com. I encourage you to participate and learn more.

In a similar vein, the JLI Course “This CAN Never Happen” begins at the end of the month, being taught both Uptown as well as Metairie. For the uptown course (on Zoom and in person) www.chabadneworleans.com/jli. For the Metairie course www.jewishlouisiana.com/jli.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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