ChabadNewOrleans Blog

It's All About "Luces"

One my favorite aspects of being a Rabbi is the opportunity to study with people. One weekly study session is an essay of the Rebbe on the Torah portion.

This week we learned an essay on the fashioning of the Menorah. There is a disagreement among the commentators whether the command for the Menorah to be chiseled out of one solid piece of gold also includes the lamps at the top of the Menorah. Maimonides rules that the lamps are included in this instruction. Rashi does not mention the lamps when addressing this command. From this we infer that Rashi disagrees with Maimonides, and allows for the lamps to be made separately, and then mounted on the Menorah when they are ready for kindling.

The Rebbe makes the observation that it must be something so obvious to Rashi that he doesn’t even see the need to comment. He explains that the Torah gives all the detailed instructions on the fashioning of the Menorah, including the command to chisel it from one piece of gold. Only then does the Torah tell us about how the lamps and other accessories should be made. This is sufficiently obvious enough for Rashi to infer that lamps are included in the accessories, and are therefore regarded as separate from the Menorah.

In a later Parsha, Moses repeats all the instructions regarding the Sanctuary to the Jewish people. He includes the instruction about the Menorah by saying, “the menorah for lighting, and its implements, and its lamps, and the oil for lighting.” Rashi comments on the word “Lamps” and gives a nearly identical interpretation of lamps (cups for oil and wicks) except that he adds the Old French term for lamps, “Luces.” Why would he add the Old French term to the comment in the repeat version, if it wasn’t needed in his original comment?

The Rebbe explains that since a big deal was made about the Menorah, the lamps might be perceived as a mere accessory. Rashi wishes us to recognize the ultimate purpose of the Menorah. For this reason, he adds the Old French term, “Luces.” Luce means light. This enables us to recall that while the structure of the Menorah is fascinating, it is all about illumination.

Most of the Rebbe’s essays end with a practical lesson. This one does not. My study partner asked me, “So what is the lesson?” I replied by paraphrasing the Rebbe, “it must be something so obvious that it need not be explicitly stated.” What indeed might the lesson be?

A Menorah without lamps is pointless. We must remember that purpose of all that we do is “Luces,” to bring Divine illumination to the world. We can get caught up in the structure and the details of what are doing and forget that is all about “Luces.”

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Big-Tent Judaism

Did you know that 1,500 (mostly) Jewish Tulane students celebrated Shabbat last week under one “big-tent?”

We hear the phrase big-tent used to describe a phenomenon in which an attempt is made to bring a broader spectrum of people into an experience, an ideology, or a group.  

Sometimes the tent is made big through a shift of ideals to make it more appealing to folks that may have felt excluded previously. However, the tent can also be widened through raising awareness that what folks may have though was exclusive of them, is actually something that they can very much embrace and be a part of.

3,300 years ago, G-d planted this concept into the Torah. Just before Moses passes away, and the people enter the promised land, G-d gave the Mitzvah of Hakhel.

“At the end of [every] seven years, at an appointed time… When all Israel comes to appear before the L-rd, your G-d, in the place He will choose, you shall read this Torah before all Israel, in their ears. Assemble the people: the men, the women, and the children… in order that they hear, and in order that they learn and revere the L-rd, your G-d, and they will observe to do all the words of this Torah.”

By having the people, men, women, and children, gather and hear words that are uplifting and inspiring, this can broaden the number of people that feel included in the tent of Judaism.

This is the mandate of Chabad in general. Especially this year, which is the calendar year in which that Hakhel assembly would take place if we had a Temple, the mandate becomes that much more compelling.  

Last Friday night, Chabad at Tulane assembled 1,500 students to celebrate their Jewish identity. (See a video taken just before Shabbat began of students singing Oseh Shalom together. “Assemble the people … in order that they hear, and in order that they learn and revere the L-rd, your G-d.”

Later that weekend, on Sunday night, a gathering of 4,000 Shluchos (Chabad Women Emissaries) was held. At the event, Israeli media personality Sivan Rahav-Meir declared that was in one of the most influential rooms of the Jewish world. 4,000 communal leaders, each serving as a powerful influence in their respective communities around the globe. They had representatives from six continents (all but Antarctica) lead a roll call of Chabad Shluchos from each country in their continent of origin. Each of these women serves the role of “you shall read this Torah before all Israel.”


This is Big-Tent Judaism reimagined. The Torah doesn’t change. Tradition is the same. But the tent gets bigger and bigger.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Healing Attitude

We are in the midst of a three week stretch where the weekly Torah portion references healing. Last week’s Parsha had the verse, “I am the L-rd, your healer.” This week’s Parsha contains the idea that all were healed at Sinai in anticipation of the great Revelation. Next week’s Parsha gives us the Torah’s endorsement of the doctor’s role in healing people.

So it would be an appropriate time to express prayerful wishes for those among us, family, friends, and anyone out there, who are in need of G-d’s blessings for healing. Amen!

My son-in-law, Ari Rosenblum, who is dealing with a significant health challenge, penned some thoughts which he posted a few weeks ago, about a take-away from his experience that he wishes to share with others. I hope you find his words as meaningful as I did.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Five weeks ago, I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma.

The big C. Not what I ever expected as a healthy 24-year-old. My emotions ran the gamut from shock to denial to nervous and overwhelmed. I suddenly had to think, and probably won't stop thinking for a while. Am I my body? Does this diagnosis define me? I'm going to look different; I'm going to feel different. Will I be different? That depends.

I started my first round of chemo with a fierce determination to beat this disease. I'm not just going to get better. I'm going to get better than ever. I’m going to grow, spiritually and emotionally. I’m going to deepen my relationships with my wife and my family. I’m going to build “meme therappy” and take it to the next level. I’m going to develop my relationship with G-D. And I’m going to pause before judging others.

Walking down the street this past week, I said hello to acquaintances as usual, and it hit me. Nobody has any clue what I'm going through right now. Just as I am unaware of what is going on in their lives. Who else is going through this? How many are dealing with something similar? How many have challenges, struggles, doubts, and worries? It's easy to make judgments or assumptions about people based on their appearance or known circumstances, but the truth is that everyone has their own battles to fight. Let's strive to be more compassionate towards each other and support each other through whatever challenges we may be facing.

So, as I continue on my journey towards recovery, I am filled with gratitude for the love and support of my family, friends, and healthcare team. I am determined to stay positive and make the most of each day, and I encourage others to do the same.

The Lymphoma is here temporarily, and the physical growth that it caused will subside. But I hope that the growth that takes place in my mind and heart will stay with me and create long term meaningful impact.

So, will I be different? I sure hope so.

The Power of 11

I don’t know about lucky numbers, but there are significant numbers in Jewish tradition. When you delve into Kabbala, the significance of numbers plays an even greater role. There is something about the number 11 that figures very prominently in the Rebbe’s life. The first full day of the Rebbe’s formal role as leader of the Chabad movement was the 11th day of the 11th month (Shevat) in the year 5711. According to Jewish mysticism, the 12 months are associated with the 12 tribes as they are listed in the narrative of the inauguration of the Sanctuary. That inauguration took place during the first twelve days of Nissan. The tribe corresponding to the month of Shevat is the tribe of Asher. Asher’s tribal prince brought his inaugural offering on the 11th of Nissan (aligning with the 11th month of Shevat). By no coincidence, that day is also the Rebbe’s birthday.

So there is something about the number 11 that is intensely associated with the Rebbe. What else in Judaism is associated with the number 11? The Ketoret - incense in the Sanctuary had 11 ingredients. Why is this so? The mystics explain that most things in the realm of holiness find fulfillment in the number 10. There are 10 sefirot (Divine Attributes) with which Hashem created the cosmos. These are reflected in the 10 soul powers within each of us. Each of the 10 is comprised of (to use the Kabbalistic metaphor) a fusion of energy and a vessel or conductor to contain or channel the energy. Every positive force that Hashem created, has a counter-balanced force of negativity. This is so in order that there be freedom of choice between two options. As such, there are also 10 spiritual forces of negativity. There is one cardinal difference. Because of the inherent arrogance associated with negative forces, the fusion of energy and vessel does not take place. They remain distinct from one another. As such, the Zohar describes the forces of negativity as “the 11 crowns of impurity.” There is the energy, and then there are the 10 vessels to channel the energy.

This is why there are 11 ingredients in the incense. The Ketoret represents such a powerful force of holiness, that is has the power to mitigate the forces of negativity. It therefore had 11 ingredients, corresponding to the aforementioned “11 crowns of impurity.” From where does the Ketoret derive this power? The Zohar proclaims about G-d, “You are He whose Unity is infinite, but You are not in the calculation (of 10). But You are He who brought forth ten sefirot.” So we see that in Holiness there is also an 11th dimension. It is the Essence of G-d, which transcends the Sefirot. Ketoret channels the power of the Divine Essence, which mitigates anything that seeks to undermine G-d’s absolute unity.

This 11th dimension will be openly revealed to the universe in the era of Redemption. This then is the connection between the Rebbe and the number 11. From the get-go, the Rebbe’s declared goal was to usher in the Redemption. To echo the language the Rebbe used in his opening address, 72 years ago this week, “the task of our generation is to bring about the revelation of the Divine Essence for all to experience.”

May we indeed witness the fulfillment of this goal very soon.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.