ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Lovable Sinners

This morning on the news, the meteorologist reported on a cold front that is arriving Monday, which will drop our temperature all the way down to the high eighties – low nineties. What a break!! The heat has been so bad, that weather is an actual legitimate conversation topic.

Yet, although one would hardly notice in our area, technically summer has turned the corner. The days are starting get shorter, and the nights longer. In fact, the Talmud says that the 15th of Av (last Shabbat) is the day that “the sun’s power begins to weaken” – meaning that the days get shorter and there is less sunlight. (Since ours is primarily a lunar calendar – the phenomenon is observable to a greater degree when the 15 of Av falls in mid-August, unlike this year when it was in late July.)

Since that is the case, in times of the Holy Temple, they would not use any wood that was cut after that date for the woodpile on the altar. In the Temple only the best supplies may be used. Wood that contains some moisture is more likely to become wormy. So only wood that was cut while the sunlight was most potent, was allowed to be used. At some point during the second Temple era, the community could not afford to keep the Temple supplied with enough wood that met the criteria. Individual families began to supply the wood from their own personal stockpiles. The day that they brought the wood to the Temple would be regarded as a family holiday.

There was one particular family whose shift to supply the wood began on the 20th of Av. What was unique about them, was that they were depleting their wood supply at a time when it could not be restocked until next spring. So their contribution to the Temple came with a significant sacrifice on their part.

If we consider this further, we realize that the altar was used minimally for the communal offerings, which benefitted the entire Jewish people. Primarily, the altar was used for individual offerings brought mostly for purposes of atonement. So here we have a family that is willing to deplete their own supply at significant cost, just to help some sinners find atonement. They might have said, “Sinners, bring your own wood. Why is your atonement my problem?” But this was not their attitude. In fact, not only did they supply the wood, they did so happily amid jubilant celebration.  

The lesson is obvious. Our love for each other should be so powerful that we are willing to help another person, even one who might be deemed less deserving, often at great cost to ourselves. Any we must do it with joy.  

Shabbat Shalom, and, may I be the first to wish you to be inscribed and sealed for happy, healthy, and sweet new year of 5782!

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Study With Childlike Wonder

Did you know that some of the most prominent codifiers of Jewish law present the Mitzvah of Torah study within the context of an obligation to teach children? In fact the verse they cite to present the Mitzvah of Torah study (from the Shema in this week’s Parsha) is: “And you teach them to your children and speak of them…”

What about the obligation of adults to study? Why doesn’t the Torah present that as a separate concept? Why is an adult’s requirement to learn Torah absorbed within the requirement to teach a child?

(My brother Rabbi Yochanan wrote an article addressing this from a slightly different angle. It can be read here:

This past week, we wrapped up our JLI course, “The Scoop on Resurrection” with a lesson that focused on the notion that sometimes we have erase an existing mindset to reach unparalleled success. We read about a study done by Dr. George Land as an outgrowth of a project that he did for NASA – called the Creativity Test. He applied this test, which was used to identify that highest level creative geniuses, to children of varying ages, and later to random adults. The results were astounding. The proportion of people who scored at the “Genius Level”, were:

Amongst 5 year olds: 98%

Amongst 10 year olds: 30%

Amongst 15 year olds: 12%

Same test given to 280,000 adults (average age of 31): 2%.

So are all five year olds essentially creative geniuses who become numbskulls by the time they are 30?

The answer is that creativity is quashed by acquired pre-conceived notions, past assumptions, arcane and unquestioned systems, and cultural and societal norms. In other words, the very rules that we put in place (mostly valuable and productive) are exactly the cause for our drop in creativity. In short, we are getting in our own way. Our egos, our perceptions of our place in society, how we think others are viewing us, and the like, are preventing us from revolutionary intellectual development.

Young children are not yet encumbered by these issues. They haven’t yet been corrupted by all of the aforementioned issues that plague us adults. When a child studies Torah it is simply through the lens that this is G-d’s word and nothing else matters. By introducing the general Mitzvah of Torah study within the context of children’s education, the Torah is instructing us, that true success in Torah study is achieved when we approach the Torah with childlike wonder.

This helps us avoid distractions like, “How does this fit with societal norms? Doesn’t this clash with what I’ve studied in another discipline?” Then the power of connection with Hashem with which Torah affords us, can be experienced in an optimal manner.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

You Have a New Notification From G-d

A prominent feature of modern technology such as smart phones and computers, is notifications. One might be walking, driving, sleeping, working, reading, (or even praying) when all of a sudden there is the ping or short vibration of a notification on your smartphone.

It might be Facebook notifying you that your friends haven’t heard from you in while, and encouraging you to post something important, like your thoughts on the government’s handling of the pandemic or who will be the New Orleans Saints next starting quarterback. It might be YouTube notifying you that a new episode of a favorite series has been posted. It might be a text message from a family member or friend. It might be one of a thousand WhatsApp messages. It might be Zelle notifying you that money has been posted to your account. It might be your ID protection app informing you that they just prevented an attempted infiltration of your bank account. Speaking of bank accounts, it might be your online banking app telling you that your monthly statement is now available for download. It might be the weather app cautioning about an impending flash flood warning. Or maybe your Breaking News app telling you about the latest corruption scandal in Louisiana politics. You get the picture.  

Does it even happen that you are going about your merry (or not so merry) way when all of a sudden you feel an urge to do something G-dly? Maybe a niggling feeling to go to shul or lay tefillin. Perhaps an inclination to have Friday night dinner or attend a class. Maybe it is a yen to call your parents or spend some quality time with your spouse or children. It may be a pull to volunteer for a project that helps the needy.

Whence do these unanticipated urges originate? It’s not like I was thinking about those things in the preceding moments.

Surely, the fact that we possess a soul that is inherently connected to G-d would be a sufficient explanation for the presence of such desires and inclinations. But why now? Why not yesterday or tomorrow?

Chassidus explains, that this is a result of a notification from Hashem. Built into the operating system of our souls is that capacity for a notification system. It is not incessant, because that would detract from our freedom to choose. But on occasion there is a little ping or vibration from above that awakens those urges for improvement. The notifications are so slight that they barely register. Yet, it is just enough to get the process going. When we view the notification and initiate the course of change, this is called Teshuvah.

Next time you feel the ping or the vibration of your soul, click on it and follow the suggestions. It could be a game changer!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

Mutual Admiration Society

In this week’s Parsha we find something puzzling. Hashem commands Moshe to instruct the people of Israel to avenge the people of Israel by waging war against the Midianite nation.

(This is in response to the insidious plot suggested by Bilaam at the end of Parshat Balak, that the Midianites send their women to seduce the men of Israel, inducing the Jewish men to be immoral with them and worship their deity. The implementation of this plan brought a plague upon the people of Israel, resulting in 24,000 Israelite casualties. When Bilaam heard about the plague, he came running back to Midian to collect his payment for the plan that killed so many Jews. To his misfortune, his ill-timed return to Midian coincided with the war against the Midianites. The Torah relates about the slaying of Bilaam and the five chieftains of Midian.)

When Moshe transmits Hashem’s command to do battle against Midian to the people of Israel, he frames is at “avenging the L-rd against Midian.” So which is it; avenging the honor of Israel or avenging the honor of the L-rd?”

The explanation offered by the Rebbe in the name of his father, R’ Levi Yitzchok, is as follows. There were two aspects to the insidious plot suggested by Bilaam and carried out by the Midianites. One was an attempted assault against the people of Israel – to get rid of as many Jews as possible. The second was the method; inciting the Jews to immorality and idolatry, which is an affront to their G-d. As Bilaam characterized it “The G-d of these people despises promiscuity.” This is the most effective way to destroy them from within.

The war against Midian was a response to both of these aspects, the assault against Israel and the affront to G-d. Because of Hashem’s love and admiration for the people of Israel, He frames the battle as avenging the honor of Israel. Moshe, on the other hand, expresses his love and admiration for Hashem, by framing the battle as avenging the honor of the L-rd.  

In a relationship of love, one is always looking out for the benefit and honor of the other. May we emulate this approach to life in our personal relationships, our interactions with our fellow Jews, and our relationship with Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Exercising Those Joints

The parents out there know, that inevitably there is going to be some time spent at the ER with your kids. By the grace of G-d, we have not had a ton of ER visits in our family over the years (excluding COVID tests). Last week one my daughters injured her finger while playing ball. We took her to the ER. The took some x-rays and, a bunch of hours later, they determined that she had a slight fracture. They put her finger into a splint, and left us with instructions to follow up with Orthopedics.

Yesterday, we had the follow up appointment and, thank G-d, the finger is healing very nicely. They taped it up leaving the knuckle exposed, and told her that she needs to move the finger often to keep the joint from stiffening up. With Hashem’s help she will all better soon.

Thinking about what the NP told her about making sure to bend the finger every so often to keep it from stiffening, I thought about how this was a valuable lesson in our service of Hashem.

We get into a groove in our Jewish practice. Things become automatic – almost by rote. How do we ensure that the “joint” of our connection to Hashem and Judaism doesn’t become stiff and ineffective? We have to keep exercising it. What is the way we can keep our joints moving and well exercised? The answer is Torah study and paying attention to our prayers.

When we get emotionally involved in prayer, this keeps us invested in our relationship with Hashem, moving it beyond the automated by making things fresh and exciting. When we study Torah, the material that we absorb, maintains our enthusiasm and invigorates our practice of Judaism.

So take the doctor’s advice and make sure that your Jewish joints are not getting too stiff.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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