ChabadNewOrleans Blog

OMG / Ian Hurricane Relief

Much of our focus during the High Holidays is on our relationship with G-d. We ask for our needs. We confess our sins. We proclaim G-d’s sovereignty. We ask G-d to remember us for good. We consider the extent of our commitment to fulfilling G-d’s precepts. We approach G-d as children to a father, and as subjects to a king. We spend a lot of time praising G-d and the wonderous works of creation.

Despite all of this focus on G-d, for many of us G-d remains an abstract concept. How much do we actually know about G-d? We might wonder, if G-d is so powerful, why does He need our incessant praise? How many of us have a real relationship with G-d? Do we really communicate with a Being, or do we mouth prayers to an abstract presence that floats in and out of our consciousness?

If any of these questions or issues resonate with you, I would strongly encourage you to consider our upcoming 6-week course called: My G-d – Defining the Divine. The course begins at Chabad Uptown on Wednesday, November 2. It will also be offered in Metairie within a similar timeframe.

Our founding assumption is that G-d is. But that is all; everything else is on the table for prodding and dissecting. We will be addressing 25 questions about G-d. From “does G-d have feelings,” to “how did G-d come to be,” to the very meta “can we question G-d?”   

For more information or to register for the course, Feel free to try the first class with no commitment, on Wednesday, Nov 2 at 7:00 pm.

For information on the Metairie class with Rabbi Mendel Ceitlin,

The best way to connect to G-d, is through a Mitzvah. Over the last few days, we have been following the horrific destruction wrought on Southwest Florida by Hurricane Ian. My cousins run the Chabad in Venice, Florida, which is at the center of the chaos. They and their Chabad colleagues in the area, are on the frontlines of the relief efforts. To support those efforts, please generously contribute at May G-d protect us all from harm.

Shabbat Shalom and G’mar Chatima Tova
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


In Anger, Remember the Love

This week at morning minyan we were joined by Rabbi Rafi Zarum, who was in town for a speaking engagement. Since he is saying Kaddish for his late father, he led the morning service. There are some differences in the prayers between our Siddur and the one that he generally uses. Upon completing the service using our Siddur, he pointed out with interest, some of the differences, including one that appears at the end of Tachanun (prayers of penitence). The passage in Nusach Ashkenaz reads as follows, “In anger, remember compassion.” The passage in Nusach Sfard reads as follows, “In anger, remember compassion. In anger, remember the Akedah. In anger remember the Uprightness (of Jacob).”  

The passage in the Chabad Siddur adds one more phrase, “In anger, remember compassion. In anger, remember the Akedah. In anger, remember the uprightness (of Jacob). In anger, remember the love.”  

Of course, there are multiple layers of interpretation of each of these phrases. But the straightforward reading of the last one is, that we ask G-d to remember His love for us and our love for Him, when we are doing things that can “anger” Him. As we prepare for the High Holidays, let us reflect on this when it comes to our relationship with Hashem.

To paraphrase the Zohar, “Just as it is above, so must it be below.” We must seek to implement this approach into our personal lives as well. We each have relationships. There are people that we love and who love us. At times our loved ones can annoy us or even anger us. When that happens, it is crucial that we keep this principle on the forefront of our perspectives, “In anger, remember the love.”  

If, in the moment of anger, we remember the love, this can let the air out of our exasperation, thereby significantly and swiftly diminishing our anger. This approach can have far-reaching ramifications. There is so much hurt that is caused between loving spouses, parents-children, siblings, and friends, because in the moment of anger we are just angry. But if we “remember the love” and that diminishes our anger, the other party (spouse, child, sibling, friend) will sense that difference and be uplifted to feel that love. They may even be motivated to change the way they are acting, which is the cause of the anger to begin with.

May you be inscribed and sealed for a healthy, sweet, prosperous, and meaningful new year of 5783.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

In My Humble Opinion

It used to be that people would preface their opinion on a matter with the phrase, “in my opinion” or, if we were lucky, “in my humble opinion.” There were the abbreviations “IMO” or “IMHO.” At least then, people qualified their pronouncements with the notion that this is simply the opinion of one individual. I might think you are foolish for not accepting my opinion, but at least I recognize that other opinions potentially exist.

I have noticed a trend in the last few years, especially when people are posting on social media. People have gotten into the habit of simply making pronouncements as absolute truth, as if they are literally the fountain of all wisdom in the universe.

This is true of political statements, philosophical pronouncements, religious assertions, and things more mundane like assessments of restaurants or commercial products. Folks seem to be so full of themselves, and so confident in their perspective, that they do not entertain the possibility of an alternative view.

The prophet declares, “The wicked shall give up his way, and the man of iniquity his thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:7) The Chassidic masters offer this interpretation. The Hebrew term “Aven” (iniquity) has the same letters as “On,” meaning strength. Just as it is imperative that the "wicked leave his path," for without teshuva it is impossible to approach the Sacred, so must the "man of strength," one with unshakeable confidence in his reasoning, "leave his thoughts." He is not to insist, "I say so. This is what I think;" every "I", ego, is a source of evil, a cause of divisiveness.

Just before my 17th birthday, I underwent a process to be accepted into Yeshiva Gedolah (university level Talmudic Seminary). The process consisted of two tests, written and oral. I did well on the written test, which was meant to assess our general knowledge of Talmud and Chassidic thought. The oral test was structured so that each pair of students was given one page of the Talmud to prepare in advance, after which the dean would examine them in his office. I am ashamed to admit, that my study partner and I (who are still very good friends) did not utilize the preparation time seriously enough. We entered the dean’s office without having properly prepared for the exam. During the exam, seeing that we were inadequately prepared, the Rabbi asked me about a seeming conflict between Rashi’s commentary and the text of the Talmud itself. After glancing at the text of Rashi for a few seconds, I declared, somewhat flustered, “It seems that Rashi doesn’t make sense.” The Rabbi looked up at me sharply and then gently gave me one of the most profound lessons of my life, “Rashi makes sense. You don’t sufficiently understand the text.”

Having the humility to recognize our place, whilst maintaining cognizance of our strengths and abilities, is a healthy balanced way to live life. So next time you are about to share your profundity with the world, please preface it with “in my humble opinion.”

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

G-d Works With NOLA Advanced Biomed to Save a Life

Did you know that New Orleans is home to one of only two Bio-Med labs in the country that offers highly advanced testing for a rare blood disease? Neither did I. It’s good to hear that we are at the top of some good lists! This week I heard a most amazing story of Divine Providence, which I would like to share with you.

Of course, we do not understand the ways of Hashem. Ideally, none of us should have to deal with an extreme medical challenge. However, for reasons that are, hitherto, unfathomable to us, sometimes people are destined to face a challenging situation. With the proper perspective, one can find immeasurable Divine Kindness within those challenges.

A couple was taking their teenage son on vacation for a few days. He wanted to come to New Orleans. It was not their first choice, but it was what he wanted. So off they went to NOLA. During the trip the mother started to feel sick. Upon arriving things were getting worse. So, the next day she went to the ER. After running labs, it seemed that she had a rare auto-immune blood disease. The trouble is that there are several types of this condition that appear similar, and only certain labs in the country have the capacity to do the sensitive testing to determine the difference. The treatment for one type can be fatal for the other. Thankfully a doctor at the hospital had significant expertise in recognizing the potential for the rarer type (4 in 1,000,000), and he held off treatment until the results of the testing came back.

New Orleans is home to one of two Bio-Med labs in the country that offers highly advanced testing for this rare blood disease. Had they gone on vacation elsewhere, they may have had to wait several days for results. That delay could have proved fatal, G-d forbid. Instead, results were back within hours and effective treatment began in a timely manner. By Divine Providence, their son insisted on a New Orleans vacation, thereby saving his mother’s life.

Malkie and I went to visit her, expecting to see someone who was in bad shape. Instead, we found a patient who was alert, upbeat, and very thankful for the miracles that she experienced. She was also very complimentary of the wonderful care she received here in New Orleans.

May Hashem bless her with a speedy continued recovery and many years of healthy long life together with her wonderful family.

May we be spared such challenges. But when faced with one, may we have the wisdom and faith to know that Hashem is looking out for us.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

So Stereotypical

I was speaking to my son Sholom in Israel, and he shared with me the following experience. One of his responsibilities at the Yeshiva in Tel Aviv at which he is interning, is manning the Tefillin stand near Dizengoff Square, which is just steps from the Yeshiva. This afternoon he was standing there and politely offering passersby the opportunity to lay Tefillin before Shabbat starts. One fellow replied belligerently, “How would you like it if I came to your neighborhood in Meah Shearim and set up a stand offering something secular?” Sholom interjected saying, “where do you think I live?” He continued, “My apartment is a few blocks from here in Tel Aviv. In fact, I come from New Orleans in the US and I have never even been to Meah Shearim.” The man embarrassedly mumbled an apology for stereotyping all religious looking Jews as living in Meah Shearim. Sholom smilingly encouraged him to put on Tefillin. Though he refused this time, I suspect this experience may change his outlook in the future.

A few weeks ago, Sholom was standing at the Tefillin stand with an Israeli student, when they were accosted with the usual “You religious Jews are all parasites. You don’t serve in the army. You don’t have jobs.” The Israeli standing with Sholom burst out laughing. Sholom asked him why he was laughing. He replied, “The irony is that I served in an elite paratrooper unit in the IDF. Furthermore, the reason I am only in Yeshiva part-time is because I have a business that I am running during the rest of the day.”

These are typical cases of “don’t confuse me with the facts.” Sadly, many people stereotype and generalize about people that they perceive as “other” to them. We like to place people in little boxes that we create for them. It is an insult to people’s individuality. It also absolves us from the responsibility and effort of getting to them as distinct individuals. It so much easier to just say, “All ______ folks are the same.” This is the lazy way out.

In recent years, Aviv Geffen, an icon of the “Israeli left” and Avraham Fried, a Chassidic music superstar, engaged in a rapport that brought deeper understanding of each other. They performed a duet called Batzoret – which is about unity between people during trying times (societal drought). (You can watch it here – all Hebrew -

One of the things that came out of the rapport, was Aviv Geffen acknowledging that he engaged in stereotyping about “religious Jews” in Israel. He apologized and declared at a concert, “I spoke from ignorance and I did not understand the other. I’ve matured and I want to ask your genuine forgiveness from my heart.”

A beautiful (all Hebrew) interview with the two singers about their mutual metamorphosis can be seen here -

This is the type of rapprochement that we need to bring our world to a better place, a place that is ripe for Redemption!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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