ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Don't Clog the Aisle

This week I had the pleasure of attending my nephew, Mendel’s wedding in New York. It was a beautiful simcha; and it was great to catch up with so many relatives and friends. Unfortunately, that pleasure was accompanied by the agony of a commercial flight. Right now, the friendly skies have become quite nasty. It is rare to have a trip go smoothly with no mishaps. Seems like every flight is either delayed, cancelled, or makes unscheduled stops. So, flying home last night, our flight was delayed due to staffing shortages in the airport and then again due to overcrowded runways. We ended up leaving an hour and a half late (which is relatively minimal) and arrived at MSY close to 1:00 am.

Now there is a protocol as to how to deplane, from front to back. There is a logic to this system as it allows for the most efficient use of the aisle. We had some people jump up as soon as the plane came to a halt and run up the aisle from the back towards the front. Of course, they did not make it all the way up, they got held up at row 17. So now instead of the people sitting in the aisle seats having the ability to stand and retrieve their bags from the overhead bins, they were jostling with these interlopers who were clogging the aisle. This resulted in the deplaning process taking longer than it should have.

These people most likely did not have insidious designs on messing up everyone’s night more that it already was. Chances are they were simply not considering the impact of their actions on others. To them, all that mattered was getting off the plane as soon as possible. But that lack of intentionality in their choice, messed things up for everyone.

This reminded me a of a story about the Baal Shem Tov. During a journey he once approached a Synagogue to enter for prayer. He stood at the door of the empty Shul and declared that the room was too full for him to enter. He then approached a bustling Synagogue and told his disciples that there was plenty of space to enter. When asked for an explanation, he explained: “When people pray without intention (kavana) the prayers have no “wings” to propel them heavenward. They remain stuck in the Synagogue, taking up space. Now, when people pray with “kavana,” those prayers soar to G-d, leaving plenty of room for more prayers and the people who offer them.”

This teaches us the significance of intentionality. Proper orientation of our actions through intent, prevents chaos and increases productivity on every level. This is certainly true when it comes to our relationship with Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Making Torah Personal - A Tribute to Richard Stone

In anticipation of Shavuot last weekend, we were planning the traditional all-night learning schedule. I was being encouraged to consider a theme for the event, around which all the presentations would revolve. Schematically this is a good idea. For some reason I was resisting the idea and I could not put my finger on why I was so reluctant. As I was introducing some of our presenters on Saturday night, it hit me. I invited people to share what they were passionate about in Torah, which would hopefully be interesting to others.

During our prayers we recite, “grant us our portion of Your Torah.” This implies that each of us has a part of the Torah that is “our portion.” When a person is drawn to a particular theme, section, or topic in the Torah, it may very well be because this is their portion. The enthusiasm we experience over our portion, can be shared with others in a way that can be interesting and inspiring. Of course, there is room for thematic programming. Occasionally it is good to allow the organic attraction to a something specific be in the driver’s seat.

Last week we learned of the passing of Richard Stone. Richard was a favorite native son of the New Orleans Jewish community, despite moving away in the 1960s to attend Harvard. Much has been written of his many accomplishments, and there were many. A full obituary can be read at:

I would like to share three things on a more personal note, one more personal than the next. Richard retained a profound interest in the New Orleans Jewish community. Family ties brought him to New Orleans often, and he was deeply entwined in the developments of our community. He had a strong sense for picking up nuance, and he did his utmost to be engaged in the community across the entire spectrum.

He was particularly proud of what Chabad of Louisiana was accomplishing in the community. As a friend and supporter of our work, he served as the keynote speaker at the 25th anniversary celebration of Chabad in Louisiana. During many of his visits he would come by, and my father and he would spend hours conversing. He also advocated for us in conversations with others.

Finally, years ago, my grandfather was dealing with a complicated legal matter in connection with his business. He wrote a letter to the Rebbe with a request for a blessing and guidance on how to resolve the issue satisfactorily. The Rebbe advised him to find an “orech din yedid” – an attorney who is a friend. I interpret that to mean someone who will take personal interest in the issue, beyond just as a professional matter. My grandfather turned to my father for a suggestion. My father had become quite friendly with Richard Stone, who was an expert in that area of law, and reached out to him about the case. He took the case and handled it as a real friend. This cemented the friendship even more and my grandfather was grateful to him until his last day. Richard mentioned to me on many occasions that he was honored by the moniker that the Rebbe used, Orech Din Yedid, and he was enthusiastic about the friendship and closeness he felt to my grandparents and our family.

Our heartfelt condolences to his children, siblings, and their families. He will be missed. May his memory be a blessing for all who knew him.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


A Rendezvous With G-d

Many couples like to travel down a nostalgic path as they reflect on the journey that is their relationship. They choose to revisit a location that was significant in that journey. It might be the place where they first met, or perhaps the site of their wedding, or the spot of their honeymoon. Going back to that space, brings up the memories of what drew them together, and reinforces their connection in the present.

As Jews, we practice this regularly in our relationship with G-d. Many of the holidays and rituals are symbols or commemorations of particular aspects of that connection. Tefillin is often compared to a wedding ring, the symbol of our love and devotion to G-d. Pesach would be our “first date.” Shabbat reflects on G-d’s unique love for us. A Mezuzah can be similar to a photo of our beloved hanging in our home.

Shavuot is our anniversary. At Sinai we stood “under a Chupah” with G-d and committed to each other in an eternal covenant. Each year on Shavuot, we “revisit the spot” by reading the Ten Commandments and the narrative of Revelation at Sinai.

R’ Isaac Luria, the Arizal, takes this a step further. Commenting on the verse in Esther (9:28), “And these days shall be remembered and celebrated throughout every generation,” he said, that we do not merely remember and celebrate, we actually reexperience. Chassidus expands this idea in that as we reexperience each year, we take it to a new level. So, we are not just nostalgically reflecting on something that happened in the past, we are experiencing it in a way that is unprecedented. This year’s “rendezvous with G-d” will be more intense and passionate than ever before.

Shavuot begins tomorrow (Saturday) night. Make the most of this year’s opportunity to take our relationship to new heights. Participate in the all-night learning. Come hear the reading of the Ten Commandments on Sunday. Savor a piece of cheese cake (wedding cake)! What we invest in this rendezvous with G-d, can have yearlong positive reverberations for us!

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Shavuot!
May we merit to receive the Torah in a deeply meaningful and joyous manner!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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