ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Utilize Your Access

One of the most valuable commodities is access. Someone that has access to power or resources can achieve monumental things. Political and business leaders, or famous celebrities are surrounded by people who may even monetize the access they can offer to their famous associates. Access to capital can be the difference between the success or failure of a business venture.

Now, having access does not guarantee that one will take advantage of the access. How many people have gym membership, giving them access to opportunities for exercise, that do not spend any time in the gym? The gym membership does not automatically translate into better fitness and health. The access must be utilized for it to accomplish anything.

What is the value of access to Hashem?

Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad, offers the following famous analogy when explaining the dynamic of Elul. A king is usually in the palace. To get access, one must be well connected and receive an invitation. On occasion, the king leaves the palace and goes out to the people. This phenomenon is called “the king in the field.” When the king is in the field, no appointment or connections are required to gain access. He is accessible to all and is, in fact, happy to see anyone who comes to meet him. One need not be dressed in sophisticated clothing. One need not speak sophisticated language. All that is required is the desire to utilize the access that is granted.

During the month of Elul, Hashem makes Himself accessible and offers “to meet us where we are at.” Though our garments may be sullied with the stains of “field work,” we are welcomed with a smile. All of this is made available to us so that we can prepare adequately and enter the new year as well-connected aristocrats, who have access to the King anytime.

However, as mentioned, access does not guarantee that one will take advantage of the access. We must desire to utilize the access. Let us not be the fools who have the King within reach yet allow the opportunity to slip by unrealized. The King is waiting for us. He wants to greet us. He wants to interact with us. Make the most of your access over the next three weeks. This will bring us the blessings of a Shana Tova in all areas of life both materially and spiritually.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Doing Elul Louisiana Style

Today marks the beginning of a 40-day period the culminates with the High Holidays – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The high holidays are days of judgement. So today, as the beginning of Elul, is when we start with our pre-trial motions, to invoke some legal parlance.

I have a memory from sometime in the early 80s. There was a school play at Lakeshore Hebrew Day School and the plot involved a Jewish boy (David) getting arrested after being falsely accused of shoplifting. While in jail, he meets another Jewish kid (Danny) who had a rough childhood and ran with the wrong crowd, landing him in prison. David strikes up a conversation with Danny and realizes that if the kid only had a good home environment, he could live a decent life. As they converse, David tells Danny that when his father comes to get him out, he will ask him to help Danny as well. He concludes with this declaration. “My father knows the judge; he will be able to get you out.”

The entire audience got a good chuckle. “Only in Louisiana…”

Now, while using connections to the judge may be a corruption of justice in our legal system, when it comes to the “Judge of all of the universe,” it is highly recommended.

In fact, while feeling judged is usually something we recoil from, we should embrace the judgement of the Judge Who loves us more than we love ourselves and knows us better than we know ourselves. Indeed, He programmed us with the proclivities for failure and success. He knows the deep truth about the circumstances that caused us to falter. He empowers us with the tools for personal redemption and is our most devoted cheerleader.

Talk about conflict of interest… And yet, this is one case where the Judge will never recuse Himself, despite the defendant being His precious child. Throw in some “bribery” in the form of Mitzvot and Tzedakah, some “flattery” in the form of prayer and psalms, and we are well on the way to a positive judicial outcome.

Did I mention that the judge also attends the victory party? That’s what Sukkot/Simchat Torah are all about!

Who said there was nothing positive to be derived from our system of corruption?

In all seriousness, seize the opportunity these next 40 days to present your best case and then get ready to party with the judge in victory!

Shabbat Shalom. May we all be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet year filled with health, prosperity, nachas, and meaningful spiritual growth.

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Blessings Part III - Making Mitzvot Meaningful

For the past two weeks we have been exploring the meaning of the text of blessings.

Part I here:
Part II here:

In our third installment, we will explore the words that are added in a blessing over a Mitzvah, “Asher Kidishanu B’Mitzvotav, V’tzivanu” - Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us…

Asher – Literally means who or which has. Asher is etymologically related to Osher which means joy or fortune. We have the good fortune and joy of being singled out by our great G-d for the purpose of fulfilling His mandates.

Kidishanu – Literally means sanctified us, from the root Kodesh – holiness. The same term is also used for the act of marriage, where the groom says Harei At Mekudeshet Li – behold you are consecrated to me. In this context it connotes two things. Firstly, designation for an exclusive relationship. The second connotation is the holy union of intimacy.

B’Mitzvotav – Literally means with His commandments. However, in Aramaic Mitzvah is etymologically related to Tzavta, which means connection. So, a Mitzvah is not just a mandate to perform an act, it is an opportunity to connect to the Infinite.

V’tzivanu – Literally means and commanded us. As above in the interpretation of Mitzvah, this word is related to connection. So, we would read it “and He connected us (to Him through the particular Mitzvah that we are about to perform).

To summarize, when we make a blessing over a Mitzvah, we are thanking G-d for giving us the great fortune of designating us for a profoundly intimate relationship with Him, and abundant opportunities for connection bridging the gap between finite me and Infinite G-d.

Bringing this full circle, we encounter this text of blessings wherever we turn as Jews. As mentioned in part I, we are making as many as 100 blessings a day. I hope that these articles will empower us to infuse more meaning and intentionality into the otherwise mumbled words of a Bracha.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Blessings Part II

Last week we began exploring the deeper meaning of the text of blessings we recite throughout the day. For a refresher see here:

This week we will continue with the next part of the text.

Melech – Literally means king. Why is Jewish mysticism obsessed with monarchy as a model for the interface between G-d and His creation? The secret lies in this phrase, “Ein Melech B’lo Am – there is no King without subjects.” “Am” which means nation or subjects, is etymologically related to Omemot – a reference to dimming coals. In other words, an “Am” is an entity whose connection to the King is dimmed, offering a perception of autonomy. Hashem desires a relationship. Within that context, He requires an “other,” an “Am,” subjects who are “seemingly” separate who can choose to connect. Which leads us to the next word in the text…

Ha’Olam – Literally means the universe. However, Olam shares an etymological root with He’elem, which means concealment. The platform in which Hashem can be a Melech and have a relationship with an Am, is by necessity an Olam, a place where the Divinity that underlies all of existence, is concealed.

So, the blessing now conveys to us that we are asking G-d to draw down from His pool of Divine flow stemming from His essence, through His transcendent self, via the aspect of Him that is personally associated with us, for the purpose of having a relationship with us so that we can reveal Divinity in a world of concealment.

Now we see how masterful our sages were in being able to tap into the richness of the Holy Tongue to convey that lengthy message in a mere six words.

But how do we accomplish this? How can we reveal Divinity in a world of concealment? This is conveyed to us in the final part of each blessing. There are three types of blessings that we say.

·       Blessings over an experience of pleasure from G-d’s world (such as food or drink).

·       Blessings of thanksgiving and praise for something that G-d did for us.

·       Blessings over Mitzvot.

The common denominator is that all three are associated with our human experience. When we bless over one of those three areas of life, we are proclaiming that all we encounter is a part of the Divine reality. The food that we eat. The world around us. The objects with which we perform Mitzvot. All of these become vehicles for us to channel Divinity into this world of concealment, thereby illuminating it with the truth that “There is Nothing Aside from Him."

Next week. G-d willing, we will explore the added phrase that is included in the blessing over Mitzvot.

I hope that these explanations have served to pique your interest, but more importantly, have infused your blessings with more meaning.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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