ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Give Me Liberty - Give Me Life

Pesach is all about liberation. The first time it was from Egyptian bondage. Subsequently, it is also liberation from a slavery mindset or personal limitations. We often enslave ourselves to societal pressure or a self-created paradigm in which we are stuck. Pesach is the time to focus on breaking out of those “Metzarim” or boundaries that are keeping us down and preventing our true growth.

Last week the New Orleans Home and Garden show was held at the Morial Convention Center. We had a guest with us for Shabbat, a young Israeli fellow, who was a vendor at the show. He fashions knives and other kitchen tools. He shared with us a moving story of what happens when you break free of your self-created limitations.

He comes from a family that is traditional but not observant. When he moved to the US to expand his business, he started to attend a Synagogue. The Rabbi organized a trip to the New York area and encouraged him to go. During the trip the group visited a Yeshiva for Hebrew speakers in New York. At the end of the trip the Rabbi asked each of the participants to make a Jewish commitment. My guest said that he wasn’t sure what kind of commitment he was ready for. The Rabbi said, “why don’t you commit to study in Yeshiva for a week?” To which he responded, “I will commit to two weeks in Yeshiva.”

When they returned home, the Rabbi asked him when he was planning to keep his commitment. He replied that he wasn’t sure yet. The Rabbi said, you need to strike while the iron is hot, and suggested a time that was very near. He replied, I cannot go at that time, I already committed to exhibiting at a show in another city. The Rabbi pressed him a little and encouraged him to take the leap. After a brief deliberation, he decided to cancel his appearance at the show and go to Yeshiva. This came at a business cost because he had already put down a deposit for the exhibition and it was not refundable at that point. He would also lose the potential income from new orders that would be gained at the show. But he was prepared to accept the loss and keep his commitment to Hashem.

Four hours later he received a message from Williams Sonoma, one of the largest players in his industry. He had been trying for half a year to get them to carry his products, but he could never get anyone to give him a real answer. That day he was contacted and was given the largest order he had ever received. The profit on that order was more than he would make for months on end from all other orders.

As soon as he experienced his own “exodus from Egypt,” his opportunities expanded in unprecedented ways.

May we all experience our personal liberation from that which is keeping us down, from within and from without.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Pesach
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Humble vs. Worthless

One of themes of Passover is the is the symbolic difference between Matzah and Chametz. The rising or leavening of Chametz signifies arrogance, whereas the unleavened state of Matzah represents humility. This is a fundamental idea in Jewish spirituality. Arrogance is the root of much, if not all, of what goes wrong with humanity. Recognizing this truth, and seeking to remedy it, is the beginning of getting things right.

According to Jewish law, Matzah can only be made from these five grains; wheat, barley, oats, rye, and spelt. The common denominator between them is that they have the potential to rise. It would seem that if humility was such an integral component of Judaism, it would make more sense to make the Matzah from a grain that cannot rise, such as rice or the like. Why make Matzah from one of the five, leaving yourself vulnerable to the potential of arrogance, when you can avoid it altogether by using a different grain?

The explanation is that there is a difference between humility and a lowly self-concept. A grain that cannot rise at all, would represent a lowly self-concept. A person with a lowly self-concept cannot accomplish anything. One needs to have an accurate sense of one’s worth, coupled with the humility that it is all a gift from G-d, to be utilized in the proper manner.

The Baal Shem Tov argues that false humility (a lowly self-concept) is a catalyst for sin. Such a person reckons that they are worthless anyway, so why would they invest effort into doing the right thing and being a good person. Inevitably this leads a person down the slippery slope of harmful behavior.

So, we need the Matzah to keep our arrogance in check. But humility does not mean viewing yourself as a doormat upon which all can trod. It means finding that healthy balance and appropriate self-concept.

Speaking of Matzah, if you know of a Jewish household in New Orleans that would appreciate a package of Shmurah Matzah for the Seder, please let us know. We are in process of delivering packages of Matzah around town. If you would like to get involved in this effort, by volunteering or supporting, please get in touch. It is our hope that the thousands of Jewish households receive Shmurah Matzah for the Seder this year.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Did You Get Your Booster This Week

Did you get your booster this week? A new one was released on Tuesday.

I refer not to vaccines or the like. I am talking about something different altogether.

According to the purveyors of the inner dimension of Torah, there is an energy associated with each of the Jewish holidays, from which we draw for the entire year. For example, Pesach releases an energy of freedom, from which we draw freedom for the rest of the year. Chanukah provide us with power to illuminate our surroundings for the entire year.

Sukkot/Simchat Torah are called the season of our rejoicing, from which we are meant to draw joy for the entire year. So why is it that we have a holiday of Purim halfway into the year, which is about joy? The Rebbe explains that Purim is the booster shot, giving us an extra dose of joy to get us through the remaining months.

It appears that joy is a quality that is not so easy to attain, and even harder to sustain. So, while the energies associated with the other holidays can last a full year, joy needs a booster shot.

I sincerely hope that even got a good dose that will carry us forward in a joyous manner for the whole year. Photos of the earlier part of Purim can be seen below. More photos will be added in the coming week.

On a different note, Chabad of Louisiana is embarking on a mission to have packages of Shmura Matzah delivered to an unprecedented number of Jewish households in the state. Our affiliates, Chabad of Metairie and Chabad of Baton Rouge will be covering their respective environs. Chabad of Louisiana intends to cover all of Orleans Parish, the Northshore, and cities in the northern part of the state.

If you know of a Jewish household in any of those areas that would appreciate a package of Shmura Matzah for the Seder, please let us know. If you would like to get involved in this effort, by volunteering or supporting, please get in touch. It is our hope that the thousands of Jewish households receive Shmurah Matzah for the Seder this year.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The Revolution that Began in a Wheelchair

My maternal grandmother (Mrs. Miriam Gordon) was fond of recalling to us the most memorable day of her youth. It was a late winter day in 1940 when her father pulled out of high-school for a very special event. They went to the piers in the New York Harbor to be part of the throngs of thousands that came to greet the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, to the USA. The Rebbe finally appeared on the gangway of the SS Drottningholm that sailed out of Sweden. Though he was not even 60 at the time, he was being pushed in a wheelchair. He had suffered torture and beating at the hands of Stalin’s minions in the Soviet Union; and just recently endured the German Luftwaffe bombardment of Warsaw in the fall of 1939. He was physically broken and in bad health.

Many people suggested that he consider utilizing his arrival in America as an opportunity to relax and quietly nurse himself to better health, without getting too involved in the activism to which he was accustomed. From his wheelchair he resolutely declared that “America is Not Different.” He dismissed the suggestions that he take a step back from activism. The man who unflinchingly faced the Soviets and survived the Nazis, was not fazed by American Jewish apathy. He was not going to go out with a whimper.

The Previous Rebbe gathered young men and women and inspired them to devote themselves to the spiritual and material welfare of their American Jewish brethren. He sent young married couples (like my grandparents) to jumpstart Jewish education and Jewish life in communities and cities throughout the country. He dispatched single Yeshiva students to become teachers and traveling Rabbis. When the war ended, those efforts expanded to other locations around the world.

For ten years he fought like a lion to bring authentic Judaism to new frontiers. When he passed away in 1950, his successor, our Rebbe, continued those efforts, exponentially growing them to unimaginable heights. Today Chabad has a global presence and reach. But it all began with a revolution from a wheelchair 83 years ago.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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