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Do You See Lamps?

Malkie and I had the pleasure of getting a sneak preview tour of the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience (MSJE) ahead of their soft opening this week. Curator Anna Tucker showed us around; and we had the honor of chatting with Board Chair Jay Tanenbaum and director Kenneth Hoffman. We were very impressed with the exhibits and the attention to detail at every level of the museum. We are certain that MSJE will become an important destination for visitors and locals alike, as they trek through downtown New Orleans. We wish them Mazal tov for the opening and much success moving forward.

In 1907 the fifth Chabad Rebbe was asked, “What is a Chasid?” He replied, “A Chasid is a lamplighter.”

In the olden days, the lamplighter walked the streets carrying a flame at the end of a pole, going from lamp to lamp to set them alight. So the Rebbe was saying that is Chasid is one who seeks to kindle the lights of others.

After some back and forth the man declared to the Rebbe, “But Rebbe, I do not see the lamps!” To which the Rebbe replied, “That is because you are not a lamplighter.”

This is reflected in an exchange between G-d and Aaron the High Priest in this week’s Parshah. On the opening verse, “When you light the lamps (of the Menorah),” Rashi comments, “When Aaron saw the dedication [offerings] of the tribal princes, he felt distressed over not joining them in this dedication... So G-d said to him, “By your life, yours is greater than theirs, for you will light and prepare the lamps.”

The Rebbe explains that when G-d says “by your life” He is providing the “recipe” for success as a lamplighter. Of course this is a reference to the literal Menorah that stood in the Sanctuary. But the Menorah also alludes to the “Candle of G-d which is the soul of man.” How do we successfully become lamplighters, helping our fellow Jews to kindle their lamps-souls? “By your life” tells us that you must be prepared to invest your life and much effort into this endeavor. When you turn this into a life’s endeavor, you will begin to see your fellow Jew as a lamp – a candle of G-d.

Each of us can be a mini-High Priest. We must first work to earn the role of a lamplighter, we will then the lamps and set ourselves to the task of illuminating the world with much light.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

They Are All My Brothers And Sisters

All eyes are on Israel. Many are pained about the loss of life and destruction of property within Israel. Our hearts go out to the people whose lives have been turned upside down by this endless chain of conflict. Many are pained by the need for Israel to defend herself thereby resulting in loss of life and destruction of property in Gaza. Especially painful is the loss to civilian life as a result of the militants hiding among civilians and even children.

From my view, one of the tragic fallouts of this conflict is the gaping fissure that this creates between Jews. There are those who are ardent supporters of Israel. There are those who are vocal critics of Israel. There are those who are ambivalent about or apathetic to the issue altogether. When the violence flares up and heated words are hurled, the gap widens and we become entirely disparate from each other. The dialogue inevitably devolves into uncivil exchanges or worse, leaving people on all sides of the issue disenfranchised and cut off from each other.

The greatest victory we can give our enemies (whoever they may be) is a splintered Jewish people. When we are fractured, we are vulnerable to the worst attacks. We must learn to disagree, even about fundamental principles, without breaking away from each other.

Most of you know that I am steadfastly supportive of Israel’s obligation to defend its citizens against attack. I cringe at what I perceive as moral equivocation when analyzing this situation. That being said, when someone professes an alternative view, one that I disagree with vehemently, that does not prevent me from being willing to embrace them with open arms. These are my brothers. We are all children of Hashem. We share a Jewish neshama. If we can have a civil discussion about the issue, wonderful. If not, then I would rather find other things that bring us together to share with them.

Brothers and sisters, let us not allow our disagreements on this issue, as central as it is to us, to turn against each other, thereby opening ourselves up to the most insidious attacks against our very sense of Jewish self. Our enemies (and they are numerous and from all sides) delight in seeing us fractured. Let us remember that we are children of One Father, we have so much to share and give each other.

May Hashem bless our world with the ultimate awareness of His truth, which will in turn eliminate all conflict. May Hashem bless us with true peace with the coming of Mashiach.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Why is Jerusalem not Mentioned in the Torah?

Yesterday our family marked the 100th birthday of my late maternal grandfather, R’ Sholom Ber Gordon OBM. As we are spread all around the world, we utilized Zoom to meet so that we could reminisce and draw inspiration from his life and our memories of him.

One of my cousins shared that he spent a week with my grandfather toward the end of his life to help with his rabbinic duties in Shul and as a hospital chaplain. (We took turns doing this after he was weakened by his final illness.) After morning services he instructed my cousin to share a dvar Torah. My cousin shared the Rebbe’s explanation on why the Torah identifies Jerusalem not by name, but rather as “the place that I have caused My name dwell.” (Although Yerushalayim is mentioned 669 times in Tanach (823 if you include references to Zion), the Torah (Pentateuch) does not mention either of them.) The Rebbe explains that since a Jew can and will have to access G-d in many places around the world as a result of exile, any place of prayer and Torah learning, constitutes “the place that I have caused My name to dwell.”  

My grandfather, hearing this Dvar Torah, piped up immediately with a related passage in the Talmud. When one of the sages came from Babylonia to Israel, he was asked by the sages of Israel if the Jews of Babylonia lived long lives. They explained that since the verse in the Shema says, “So that your days will be numerous upon the land which I have promised to your fathers,” they wondered whether it was possible to have “long life” without living “upon the land which I have promised?” They eventually concluded, that since the Babylonian Jews attend the Synagogue to pray, it is as if they are “upon the land which I have promised.”

This is a very empowering message. No matter where we are and in what situation we find ourselves, it is within our capacity to create a miniature Jerusalem in our lives. A place of prayer or Torah study is in fact “the place that I have caused My name to dwell.” We can transform any space and any moment into a sacred one by with what we choose to fill it.

This does not replace the need and the yearning to be in the literal Jerusalem, which will be rebuilt speedily through the coming of Mashiach. But in the final moments of exile, this fills our here and now with value and meaning.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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