ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Give the Rebbe a Gift

What birthday present would you give to a person who has no need nor appreciation for “stuff?”

When Chassidim considered this question in anticipation of the Rebbe’s birthdays over the years, they concluded that the best present would be the gift of an increase in Torah learning, mitzvah observance, and advancing the Rebbe’s efforts to reach every Jew in love. As the Rebbe’s 70th birthday drew near in 1972, the Rebbe addressed the sentiments of so many who wished to give him a present for that special occasion. He confirmed that resolutions of an increase in personal Torah and Mitzvahs brought him great pleasure. He acknowledged that intensifying the work of Chabad on an individual level as well as movement wide, were gifts that would be greatly welcomed. In fact, he launched an initiative to establish 71 new institutions over the coming year.

This year, we are celebrating the Rebbe’s 120th birthday. In addition to the individual gifts that people who have been touched by the Rebbe’s inspiration and teachings will be offering, we wanted to do something community wide. The Director of Chabad of Louisiana, my father, Rabbi Zelig Rivkin, with the encouragement and support of Richard and Vivian Cahn of the Cahn Family Foundation, resolved to significantly expand the distribution of Shmura Matzah in our community. This is a project that was an initiative of the Rebbe’s in the early 1950s. This year, over 1,100 households in Louisiana will receive a box of this hand baked Shmura Matzah to use at their Seder. Shmura Matzah is Matzah made from flour that was guarded from the time of the grain harvest until the moment it is mixed with water and baked in under 18 minutes. This is the ideal Matzah to be used at the Seder. The Rebbe wanted every Jew to have the benefit of using this special Matzah at their Seder.

We need partnership for this project to be a success. I speak not of financial support. We thank the Cahn family for generously underwriting the project. We need volunteers to help deliver the Matzah between now and Passover. If you would like to be a part of our communal gift to the Rebbe, please let me know that we can count on you to get Matzahs into homes in time for Pesach. You will also be giving yourself the gift of knowing that you enhanced the Pesach of so many in our community. Bringing the joy and meaning of Pesach to another, is the channel for Hashem’s blessing of a meaningful and joyous Pesach. May we all experience the true freedom and liberation from everything that is holding us down as individuals and as a society.

I look forward to hearing from you!
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Pondering Purim Paradoxes

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Purim is a holiday filled with paradoxes like a Hamantash is filled with… (insert favorite filling here).

On one hand, the political circumstances of the Jews have never been better in times of exile (aside from our contemporary days). The Queen of Persia was a member of the tribe. Mordechai, a top ranked member of the Sanhedrin, was also a prominent courtier and advisor to King Achashverosh. Jews were welcomed and successfully integrated into Persian society. From the standpoint of security, it would be hard to find a rival time in the history of our exile when the Jews were better equipped to diplomatically address any threat.

On the other hand, there has never been a threat that was more existential than Haman’s ultimate final solution for annihilating Am Yisrael. Every single Jew in the world lived under Persian sovereignty. Haman’s stated plan to was to kill every single Jew, young and old, men, women, and children, in a single day. He had the authority and the power to carry out his plan. What Hitler tried, unsuccessfully, thank G-d, to achieve in 7 years, Haman was actually capable of accomplishing in one day. He had orders to the leadership and citizenry of each of the 127 provinces to strike against the Jews and exterminate them in one fell swoop.

On the other hand, when Mordechai and Esther sought to alleviate Haman’s threat, they did not rely on their connections and political security. The first step they took was creating a spiritual awakening of prayer and fasting on the part of the Jewish people. In fact, Esther, whose beauty was ostensibly going to be the ticket to salvation, fasted for three days before approaching the king to save her people. Not exactly the best recipe for looking your best.

On the other hand, when reading the Book of Esther, which is absent of a mention of G-d altogether, one might mistakenly conclude that that the entire story was a sequence of natural occurrences.

On the other hand, the G-dless narrative was included in scripture, and is full of allusions to the hidden Hand of G-d, pulling the strings “behind the scenes.”

On the other hand, the primary observances of Purim are very physical in nature, giving us the impression that we are simply celebrating “they tried to kill us, we won; let’s eat.”

On the other hand, Purim contains some of the deepest spiritual mysteries of the Torah, causing our sages to declare that the celebration of Purim and the book of Esther, will survive into the times of Mashiach, when most other aspects of Judaism will pale in comparison to the great revelations of Redemption.

Actually, there are no paradoxes here at all. It all makes perfect sense. We Jews have never been governed by the natural order. Our survival and thriving, is linked to our relationship with Hashem. When we let our guard down and think that we are secure, we get a rude awakening. That awakening sparks a spiritual revival, pushing us to discover that the ultimate was to serve Hashem is by integrating spirituality into everyday physical life, which leads us on the path to Redemption. See, it all wraps up nicely with a bow on top, just like a beautiful Mishloach Manot package.

L'chaim and happy Shushan Purim
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Passion for Caring

I want to share with you the message and story that I offered to my son Murdechai this past Monday night at his Bar Mitzvah celebration.

During times of chaos and conflict, the Rebbe urged an increase in love and unity among the Jewish people as a pathway to world peace and conflict resolution. The Mitzvah of Ahavas Yisrael, loving our fellow as ourselves, is a fundamental principle for all Jewish people. We are privileged that the Rebbe made this our “job.” As a family of Shluchim, our mandate is all about caring for and helping others.

Back in Russia, a Chassidic school teacher once observed an exchange between two five-year-old students. One boy asked the other if he could borrow some of his ink, because he did not have anymore in his own inkwell. The second boy refused saying, that he needed the ink for himself. During the next class, the teacher called on the second boy and asked him, “what is Kamatz Alef?” Alef is the first of the Hebrew letters and Kamatz is the first vowel. The boy replied, “Kamatz Alef, ah.” The teacher said, “No, Kamatz Alef means that when your friend asks you to borrow some ink you willingly give it to him.” The teacher then asked him, “what is Kamatz Beis?” The boy said, “Kamatz Beis bah.” The teacher said, “No, Kamatz Beis means that when your friend asks you to borrow some ink you willingly give it to him.” The teacher then went on to ask him each of the 22 letters and gave him the same answer.

We need to know that the foundation of Judaism is caring for another. We must strengthen our Ahavas Yisrael muscles to the point that we develop a geshmak – passion and flavor for caring and doing a favor for another.

This was my message and blessing to my son. It is a message and blessing that is valuable for each and every one of us!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Real Time Ukraine Update

I want to share with you some real time updates that I am getting from colleagues on the ground in Ukraine and those that recently escaped.

As the hostilities escalated, it became clearer that things were going to be much tougher than anticipated. Leaked information from Russian military units indicated that senior Jewish leadership would be targeted specifically. Chechen fighters aligned with the Russian forces, were seen to have displayed indiscriminate cruelty even against civilians, raping and pillaging like the “good old days” when the Cossacks and the Tatars united to terrorize the region and especially the Jews. In cities with high level clashes such as Charkov, Sumy, Zhaparozhe, Chernigov, Zhitomir, Chernovitz, and of course Kyiv, the focus turned from hunkering down to getting as many people out as possible. Here are some actual experiences of Ukraine Shluchim and their communities.

My cousin and her husband together with their eight children, including a three week old baby, went on a 60 hour journey through Ukraine, Moldava, Romania and then on to Israel.

A good friend, together with his family and the other Shluchim of his city, went on a dangerous escape across the border that included some very tense moments of trying to obtain more gasoline for the escape vehicles.  

A classmate and his family were jammed onto a train for 20 hours along with thousands of others trying to leave with not an inch to move, no access to food or facilities.

Another friend and his family had all of their escape routes apparently cut off by Russian forces, until they managed to break through and leave on a 24 hour car ride towards the border to safety.

A colleague shared a tearful voice note about how torn he was to be leaving the community that he has led since the early 90s. After filling 10 buses with members of the community, he grabbed the Torah and got on the last bus to safety.

I could go on and on. Even as these Shluchim and their communities reach the borders in safety, they are left homeless and penniless. Although they hope to be able to return and rebuild after the situation improves, they have no idea to what extent of destruction they will return. In the meantime, there are hundreds of Shluchim and tens of thousands of refugees from these communities that need to be cared for.

We, the international Jewish community, need to step up and be their support system. These are our brothers and sisters. Please open your hearts and wallets to generously contribute to the relief effort at Let us go into a peaceful Shabbat, knowing that we are doing our part to care about our brethren in crisis.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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