ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Where is My Joy Button?

You cannot legislate an emotion. We cannot be commanded to feel something. So how can Hashem command us to be joyous on the festival of Sukkot? What compels this joy, to the extent that the holiday is called “the season of our rejoicing?”

There are many angles taken by the sages over the generations to help us appreciate the joy of Sukkot.

We have covered some of them over the years and can be accessed here:

The wedding:

The victory party:

I would like to share an angle that struck me this year towards the end of Yom Kippur (it is not my own idea but rather based on things that I have learned over the years in Chassidic thought.)

Imagine a person goes through life under the assumption that they are an insignificant speck on the tapestry of humanity that houses billions of other insignificant specks. (That itself is an inaccurate assumption, because each speck contributes to the full picture, but I digress.) One day the person uncovers something very significant about themselves. There is a joy in that self-discovery that is very powerful.

Imagine someone living a simple or even poor lifestyle. They simply don’t have the resources to enjoy the “finer things” of life. One day they are informed that there has been a dormant account in their name filled with money left to them by a distant relative many years ago. The lawyers and the bank were unable to trace them for all that time. They had been wealthy all along, they were just unaware of the wealth that was theirs. The joy is not just in the newfound wealth, but in the discovery that this is what they have had for a long time.

Imagine someone goes through life not knowing who their biological parents were. They are assumed to be from humble stock (not that there is anything wrong with that). Then all of a sudden, they find out that they are from a noble and gracious background. The joy in discovering one’s special identity is uniquely profound.

Throughout the High Holidays, especially on Yom Kippur, we are engaged in a journey of self-discovery. Our appreciation for the identity of our soul as being very connected to G-d, grows exponentially as the day goes on. At Neilah, we finally achieve the breakthrough that opens us up to our reality. The “doors of heaven” close, but we are left inside to experience an intimate union with G-d. We discover that the “real me” is that core essence of my Neshama that is totally bound up with Hashem. The joy that follows is indescribable. It compels us to want to celebrate and experience this newly discovered identity in every way possible. The holiday of Sukkot is that celebration, with all of its opportunities to experience and rejoice in our true selves. The celebration reaches a climax at the end of the holiday on Simchat Torah, after which we settle in to daily life in our new reality.

So, whoop it up. Shout joyously to the world about how excited you are to have discovered your true identity. Celebrate it with everything you’ve got!

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Sukkot
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Overcoming Yom Kippur Fasting Fatigue

A common topic of conversation around this time of year is how difficult people find fasting on Yom Kippur. Folks are daunted by the notion of over 24 hours without food or water. I understand why that feels overwhelming, especially in our climate.

I must admit that I generally don’t find fasting on Yom Kippur to be a challenge. There are six fast days on the Jewish calendar. Yom Kippur is the least difficult for me. Why is this so? Practically, when one is occupied, one does not have the opportunity to consider personal discomfort. Yom Kippur is a busy day, filled with prayers and devotion.

Beyond the practical, there is an undercurrent of energy associated with Yom Kippur that can elevate us above our everyday concerns and considerations. There is a quote attributed to Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch, “On Yom Kippur… who can eat.” Eating is so pedestrian, relative to what we are experiencing on this special day.

I recall the years that I was privileged to be in the Rebbe’s presence for Yom Kippur. The energy, and the adrenaline that it brought, increased as the day went on. By the time we got to Neilah, the final prayer service of Yom Kippur, 770 (the Rebbe’s shul in Brooklyn) was rocking like it was Simchas Torah. The songs became livelier, the prayers more intense, and the atmosphere was electric. The crescendo was at the last moment before the sounding of the Shofar. According to Chabad custom, a victory march is sung at the end of Yom Kippur. The Rebbe ascended a platform (in the early years he climbed up on his chair) and led the singing and dancing with amazing energy. The room was shaking, and thousands of people jammed together were singing and dancing in place. An outside observer would never believe that the entire assembly had been fasting for 24 hours.  

Yom Kippur is an amazing day to get in touch with our core identity. The solution to Yom Kippur fasting fatigue is getting your Yom Kippur groove on. When you are in the “zone,” the energy comes from a source far more powerful and potent than mere food and drink, it comes from the soul!

Wishing you all a meaningful Yom Kippur! May G-d seal us all for the blessings of good health, prosperity, nachas, and meaningful spiritual growth.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Putting the Happy in "Happy New Year"

The Torah gives us basic instructions on how to observe the holidays, including Rosh Hashanah. The Talmud and other works of the Oral tradition give us more details, and layers of meaning underlying each holiday and its unique observances. It is less common, however, to find descriptions in Scripture of actual observances of the holidays. There are a few scattered references to holiday observance throughout the entire Tanach.

One of those is in the Book of Ezra/Nechemia. Ezra was the leader who oversaw the return of the Babylonian exiles to Israel at the beginning of the Second Temple era. 70 years of desolation had wreaked havoc on Torah observance. Assimilation and intermarriage were rampant, leaving most Jews ignorant of and apathetic to religious practices. It is not a stretch to say that the vast majority of Jews alive at the time had never seen, let alone read from, a Torah scroll.

Enter Ezra and Nechemia. They gathered the people and started to teach them what was written in “the scroll of G-d’s Law.” There was a surge of commitment, and many people were very inspired. The narrative continues that it was Rosh Hashanah, and the people were moved to tears by the words of Torah that they heard. Ezra and Nechemia then declared, “This day is holy to the L-rd your G-d; neither mourn nor weep. Go, eat delicacies, and drink sweet drinks, and send portions to whoever has nothing prepared, for the day is holy to our L-rd, and do not be sad, for the joy of the L-rd is your strength.” Scripture continues, “Then all the people went to eat and to drink and to send portions and to rejoice greatly. And on the second day (of Rosh Hashanah), the people… gathered to Ezra, and to understand the words of the Torah. And they found written in the Torah that the L-rd had commanded by the hand of Moses that the Children of Israel dwell in booths on the festival in the seventh month… And all the congregation of the returnees from the captivity made booths and dwelt in the booths… and there was exceedingly great joy.”

There are several takeaways from this narrative that are relevant to us in 2023.

Firstly, we see that Rosh Hashanah is to be properly observed not with sadness, but with joy. Since it is “a day holy to Hashem”, He rejoices, and we derive strength in that joy. Real teshuvah should induce us to “rejoice greatly.” What greater joy is there than distant children who come home to their parents?

Secondly, we see that for us to be happy, we need to share with those who don’t have their own. It is never enough to take care of yourself and be happy. We can only rejoice when we bring that joy to others. When we “eat delicacies and drink sweet drinks” we must remember to “send portions to whoever has nothing prepared.” This is true of any type of need, whether material and spiritual.

Lastly, we see from this story that on Rosh Hashana one should already be thinking about Sukkot. Just as we are cautioned to be concerned with the needs of others for Rosh Hashanah, so too for Sukkot. In return, the joy of Sukkot feeds back to Rosh Hashanah. So, on this occasion, I encourage all of us to think of how we can help another Jew observe the holidays. This is true both in a material sense as well as in a spiritual sense. We must ensure that every Jew has access to a Sukkah and a Lulav & Etrog. We must see to it that our fellow Jews have what they need to celebrate Sukkot.

We at Chabad seek to make the holiday of Sukkot as accessible as can be. One of the ways is through Sukkah-Fest, offering hundreds of people the opportunity to celebrate together in a Sukkah with good food, and access to a Lulav & Etrog. Partner with us in the spirit of “the Ezra story” by going to or reply to this email and let us know that you want to be a partner!

In the merit of our love and care for each other, may Hashem bless us all with a good and sweet year filled with health, prosperity, nachas, and meaningful spiritual growth.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Someone Who Is Not An "Other"

In 1960 there was a Jewish woman in London who was very ill. The doctors were concerned for her life and had nearly despaired of curing her illness. She and her husband were friendly with a recently arrived Chabad Rabbi, who suggested that they write to the Rebbe for a blessing and his prayers on her behalf. They did so, and shortly afterwards her condition improved and, ultimately, she made a complete recovery.

The couple was very grateful to the Rebbe for his blessing and prayers. They made no secret of that gratitude, and it became a topic of conversation in their community. Their Synagogue Rabbi, though an admirer of the Rebbe, was perplexed by the advice given by the Chabad Rabbi to ask for the Rebbe’s prayers. He cited a passage from the Torah reading on Rosh Hashanah to support his question. In Genesis chapter 21 we read of Yishmael taking ill in the wilderness outside Beersheba. The verse states, “Fear not, for G-d has heard the lad's voice…” Upon which Rashi comments, citing a Midrash, “From here we learn that the sick person’s prayer is more effective than the prayer of others on his behalf.”

“In light of the above,” the Rabbi asked, “why would you ask someone else (the Rebbe) to pray for the woman who was ill instead of encouraging her to intensify her own prayers?”

The question made its way back to the Rebbe. After pointing out that the advice to ask a sage for prayers comes from the Talmud, he then proceeded to explain why it was proper advice. Rashi says that the prayer of the sick person is more effective than the prayer of others. Emphasis is on “others.” However, if someone is not an “other,” but rather cares about you as much as you care about yourself, then their prayer would be as effective.

The term Rebbe is an acronym for Rosh Bnei Yisrael – the head of the children of Israel. Just as the head is what senses the pain and pleasure of the organs and limbs of a body, the Rebbe is the “head” of our collective Jewish soul, and therefore senses the needs and feelings of a Jew anywhere. When the Rebbe prays for us, he is not praying for an “other;” it is his own pain and need that he senses as our collective Rosh.    

We employ the same term when speaking of the upcoming holiday, Rosh Hashanah. It is not just the beginning of the year, but also the “head” of the year. What we experience spiritually on Rosh Hashanah, reverberates throughout the rest of the year. This is why we are encouraged to pack as much spirituality and goodness into the 48 hours of Rosh Hashanah, not wasting any of the time on trivialities. We take great care to ensure that our “brain” is healthy and well-supported. This pays dividends for the rest of our year.

May we merit to utilize the gift that is Rosh Hashanah, as well as the days leading up to it. This in turn brings the blessings of a good and sweet year of health, prosperity, nachas, and meaningful spiritual growth for all of us.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

New Year, New Horizons

A new year brings new beginnings and new horizons. For us as Jews, those horizons must include new opportunities to expand our involvement with the study of Torah.

I am excited to announce that Chabad of Louisiana is partnering with the Stone family to present this year’s slate of JLI courses in memory of Richard B. Stone. Richard was a real friend of Chabad of Louisiana, and the New Orleans Jewish community. More on that here:

This year's courses are particularly intriguing. The fall course is The World of Kabbalah. The winter course is Advice for Life (from the Rebbe's guidance). The spring course is Decisions of Fate (Jewish values for making life and death decisions), which will offer CLE and CME credits. We feel that this is a meaningful way to honor Richard's memory as well as his devotion to Jewish learning, and how the Torah informed his view of law and ethics.

Registration for The World of Kabbalah, which begins after the holidays, is already open. For more information see

Chabad Metairie will be offering the course as well –

In addition to the slate of JLI courses, we have several new and classic adult education offerings to share with you.

Breakfast with Maimonides: The first Sunday of each month (including this weekend) at 9 am, taught by Rabbi Zelig Rivkin.

Opening the Talmud: A weekly Talmud class for beginners – Sunday evenings at 6 pm, taught by Rabbi Yossi Cohen

The Machzor Unpacked: Meditations on the High Holiday liturgy – Tuesday, September 5 at 8 pm, taught by Rabbi Yossi Cohen.

“Read It In Hebrew”: A four part Hebrew reading crash course – beginning Tuesday, October 17, taught by Rabbi Mendel Rivkin.

We hope that you will take advantage of these opportunities to expand your Torah horizons and we look forward to exploring our shared heritage together with you.

We take this opportunity to welcome two new families to our community.

Drs. Stefan and Naomi Grant & family.
Rabbi Mendel and Rivka Rivkin & family.

Wishing them much success in their new location and new endeavors.

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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