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Riding the Floodwaters to Success

Nearly every ancient culture has a “flood story.” In the story the deity wishes to destroy the world/humanity and one person/group is allowed to survive, often in a boat/ark. When we read the Torah’s account of the deluge in Noah’s time, it is similar to the others. The waters are referred to as a Mabul, which means flood or deluge. However, in Isaiah’s prophecy where he references the story (which we read for the Haftarah), the waters are called Mei Noach – the waters of Noah. Why would we name the waters after the one guy who wasn’t destroyed?

The Chassidic masters point out, that this informs us that the waters were not just about destruction, but also about cleansing. This is alluded to by the 40 days of rain, corresponding to the 40 seah (liquid measures) of water required for a Mikvah. The waters of Noah, bring cleansing and healing to the world, enabling it to start over anew. Furthermore, the waters were effective in bringing Noah and the people in the ark to greater heights. The verse states, (Genesis 7:17) “Now the Flood was forty days upon the earth, and the waters increased, and they lifted the ark, and it rose off the earth.”

Our sages explain that the floodwaters represent our material concerns, which threaten to drown away our love and connection to Hashem. The Baal Shem Tov teaches that the ark symbolizes the words of Torah and prayer (etymologically related to the Hebrew word for ark - Tevah). So, the way to survive the onslaught of our material concerns (the need to be involved in making a living) is to take haven in the ark – prayer and Torah study. Once we are secure in the ark, not only do the floodwaters not have the power to drown our connection to Hashem, they can actually serve as a means of elevating us by compelling us to dig deeper within ourselves to maintain that connection.

This is generally true of most challenges in life. If we find the means to survive the challenge, we actually discover that the challenge helps us thrive and grow even greater than we could have previously imagined.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


Now What?

We made it through the month of holidays! We not only survived, we actually thrived! It was an exhilarating marathon of somber and joyous moments. The serious moments such as the sounding of the Shofar Rosh Hashanah or proclaiming the Shema at the end of Yom Kippur. The joyous moments such as entering the Sukkah to beautiful weather on the first night of Sukkot or dancing the night away on Simchat Torah. We had the opportunity to be reflective, introspective, nostalgic, hopeful, confident, yearning, fulfilled, thrilled, celebratory, and exhausted. Now what? It is almost six months until the next Biblical holiday and two months to Chanukah. How are we going to maintain the inspiration of the holiday month?

I have two solutions to offer. Both are needed and they feed off each other.

The first is that we must view the holiday month as a shopping spree. We filled our basket with all the above-mentioned experiences. Despite the disagreement of some in this reading audience, shopping is not an end unto itself. There is a point where one leaves the mall, walks to the car, and drives home with a full trunk of merchandise. Once we arrive at home, we unpack the bags and begin to enjoy the acquisitions. So too with the holiday inspiration. Now is the time to start unpacking and utilizing all that we have experienced over the past month.

The second solution is to turn our focus to freshly started Torah cycle. It is no coincidence that we start the Torah over following the inspiration of the holidays. We are enthusiastic about Judaism. We are excited about our connection to Hashem. We want to learn more about how to nurture that connection. Enter the Torah. With renewed passion we can dive deeply into the weekly Torah portions and glean ongoing inspiration. We can look for new angles that we hadn’t previously uncovered. We can discover new layers of Torah interpretation that capture our interest and keep us zoned in. The first Chabad Rebbe called this exercise, “Living with the Times.” Each week we read the news of the week. It is fresh and relevant. It leaves us hungry for more and more.

Wishing you a wonderful year of exploration and inspiration!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Don't Be The Absent-Minded Professor

When I was in elementary school, they showed us a film entitled, The Absent-Minded Professor. One of the elements of the plot that stuck in my mind was Professor Brainard so caught up in his invention of “Flubber” that he missed his own wedding. I recall there being a note taped to his bulletin board with the wedding date and time and a reminder to be there. Despite all the precautions, his distraction related to the invention of “Flubber” caused him to miss the wedding.

Don’t be Professor Brainard! Don’t miss your own wedding celebration.

The Jewish mystics teach that the season of holidays can be viewed through the analogy of a relationship between and man and a woman. Elul is the time of courtship between Hashem and the Jewish people. Rosh Hashanah is the proposal. The sounding of the Shofar is our acceptance of Hashem’s proposal of marriage. Yom Kippur is the solemn Chupah ceremony. Sukkot is the wedding feast and Simchat Torah is the wedding celebration and dancing.

We took the High Holidays seriously. We heard the Shofar. We attended Shul on Yom Kippur and felt the intimate connection with Hashem. Now it is time for the wedding celebration. Let’s not foolishly miss our own wedding celebration like Professor Brainard just because we are distracted by things that are “important.” Simchat Torah night (Monday, October 17) is an extremely crucial time to be in Shul for the first dance celebrating your marriage.

Come and celebrate. Come and dance. Come and enjoy. Revel in the company and attention of your new Spouse. See you there.

Don’t be the Absent-Minded Professor! Don’t miss your own wedding celebration.

Shabbat Shalom! Happy Sukkot! Happy Simchat Torah!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Praying for Tickets

I hope everyone had a meaningful Yom Kippur. This is the really the most wonderful time of the year. We float from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, to Sukkot, to Simchat Torah. Each holiday gives us a boost in another area of our Jewish experience and our relationship with Hashem.

I recently had an occasion to supervise morning prayers for the 3-4 grades at Slater Torah Academy. These kids are great. They are proficient in their reading and very enthusiastic about “davening.” They sing most of the prayers out loud together. They are still 8 or 9 years old, so as an incentive to keep them focused on the prayers, the teacher walks around and gives raffle tickets to the children that are participating nicely. Being kids, some of them begin to daydream or lose focus. When they see the teacher approaching with the tickets, their enthusiasm returns.  

As I observed this, my initial thought was a sad one. Why do they need tickets to do what they know is important. But then I reflected further and realized that we adults are not much better. We also pray with more enthusiasm when there is a “prize” on the line. While it may not be a raffle ticket, are we not more focused when a loved one is sick, or we have a pressing financial issue? Don’t we pray with more intensity during the High Holidays knowing that our futures are being determined? But that thought was not very comforting. It just means that we adults are as capricious as kids in our commitment to Hashem.

But then I recalled a beautiful Chasidic interpretation of a Talmudic teaching. “One should always engage in the service of Hashem even if not for the “sake of heaven,” for as a result of serving with ulterior motives, we can come to serve altruistically.” The Hebrew term connoting “as a result of” is “Mitoch.” An alternative application of “Mitoch” is “within.” In that sense the Talmud is telling us that deep within our service for “raffle tickets” lies our latent commitment to altruistic service of Hashem.

This is a liberating and empowering idea. Even when we find ourselves doing things out of personal ulterior motives, this does not negate the value of what we have done. Certainly, we must seek to bring the altruism from a latent state to a revealed state. But until that happens, our service is not worthless in Hashem’s eyes, not should it be from our own perspective.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom and Happy Sukkot
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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