ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Add Some Fruit To Your Diet

At one time, it was thought that a person needed to eat basics to survive; and that adding things like fruit to one’s diet was a luxury for people that could afford it. At some point it became clear that there were significant health benefits from adding fruit into one’s diet. Fruit (and vegetables) have nutrients, vitamins, minerals that are not just an added benefit for good health, but in some ways, integral to maintaining good health. They have many additional qualities that are foundational to good health.

This week we celebrated Tu B’Shevat, the New Year for Trees. Why are humans celebrating the trees’ New Year? Do they celebrate our New Year? There is a lot we can derive from this holiday and the fruitful lessons it provides.

When it comes to observance of Judaism, the study of Torah, performance of Mitzvot, and our connection to Hashem, there is the basics, the bread, meat, and potatoes. We can technically go through our days checking all the right boxes and keeping everything by the book. But it can be without any pleasure or enthusiasm. We can be mechanical and joyless as we go through the motions of Jewish observance. Tu B’Shevat teaches us that we should not consider it an optional luxury to mix some fruit into our diet. We must add flavor and color to our Judaism. A mitzvah must be performed with joy and passion. Torah must be studied with enthusiasm and pleasure.

In addition, there are specific messages that can be derived from the “fruits of the land of Israel,” that are not just an added benefit or luxury but are integral to maintaining a healthy state in our connection to Hashem. Here are a few samples.

From grapes we learn how vital it is to inject joy into our Judaism. From figs (and the fig-leaf in the Garden of Eden) we learn the power of forgiveness and transformation. From pomegranates we learn how to value each person regardless of their external appearance. From olives we learn how challenges lead to growth. From dates we learn the importance of investing effort in the future. For a more detailed version of these lessons,

A fruit tree is about producing fruit. Deuteronomy (20:19) states, “For man is a tree of the field.” As we go about our lives, we must be cognizant and mindful of the fruit we are bearing, the impact we have on the world around us. Are we producing fruit that is beneficial to humanity and Hashem’s goal for creation?

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom and a fruit producing adventure filled with flavor, color, and effervescence.

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Why Do We Need a Rebbe?

This Shabbat is the 10th of Shevat, the day that the Rebbe assumed the leadership of Chabad following the passing of his father-in-law and predecessor in 1950. There are many who acknowledge the Rebbe’s monumental influence on post-Holocaust Judaism and the Jewish nation. There are many who recognize the Rebbe’s vast contribution to Torah learning and literature. There are many who laud the Rebbe’s guidance and leadership qualities on both the individual and collective levels. There are many who are awed by the Rebbe’s saintliness and the “miracle stories.”

Yet some of these many people are uncomfortable with the notion of a Rebbe altogether. Why do we need a Tzadik at the center of our Jewish life? Why do we ask a Rebbe to pray on our behalf or to give us blessings? Why do we have to devote ourselves to the direction and guidance of another person? Doesn’t every Jew have a direct connection with Hashem? Why the need for, what appears to be, an “intermediary?” Yet Moses declares in Deuteronomy (5:5), “I stand between the L-rd and you.”     

The answer to this question has multiple dynamics. I would like to focus on one of them. There is no question that each of us has a direct connection with Hashem. This connection is experienced through prayer, mitzvot, Torah study, and what we call “service of G-d.” Furthermore, this connection is intrinsic to our very existence, because our souls are, as Tanya states, “a literal part of Hashem above.”

If we were just souls, there would be no further issues. The problem is that we have bodies. And, even worse, we have what Tanya calls an animal or natural soul, that is driven by self-orientation. Most of us spend a lifetime contending with this self-oriented side of being. Even when we manage to overcome that self-orientation just a bit, it comes back and bites us when we least expect it. This “self” is the biggest obstacle to constant “Dveykut” – connection to Hashem. Even as we pray, study, and do Mitzvot, our “self” gets in the way of truly experiencing this “Dveykut.”

A Rebbe, a Moses, is a person who is at the state where the sense of self is no longer in the way. As much as is humanly possible, he is completely transparent, allowing for the soul – “the literal part of Hashem above” – to be the dominant force in his existence. A Rebbe is our Neshama in Ultra HD. The Devykut of a Rebbe to Hashem is constant and unimpeded by the sense of self.

Now the Jewish people have a collective soul. By connecting to a Rebbe, this enables us to tap into our own individual Neshamas and experience a deeper Dveykut to Hashem at a “higher resolution.” So, Moses is not an intermediary in the sense that he stands between the people and Hashem to maintain distance. Rather he serves as a conduit for the people to experience their closeness in a more real way than they would without his facilitation.

I have just scratched the surface of a topic that deserves much more time and space to address, but I hope that it has whet your appetite to delve deeper.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Mindless Ritual or Meaningful Act

Traversing through my Uptown neighborhood this week, I encountered the annual sight of dozens of young ladies traipsing in and out of houses on Broadway. These Tulane students returned to New Orleans a full week ahead of class to engage in Sorority Rush. To an outsider such as myself, it seemed that the traditions associated with this activity are bizarre. Girls lining up and then walking in circular lines, removing their jackets and purses outside despite the cold weather, high fiving each other while walking in opposite rows, and a bunch of other things that I cannot explain. I am sure that each practice has an explanation and history, but to me they seemed like mindless rituals.

Conversing about this with someone in our community, we mused that for many who observe us performing our “traditions” and “rituals,” they seem equally bizarre and mindless. This was a sad thought for me. Because I know that each of our practices is laden with layers of meaning and explanation. Every detail of a Mitzvah or even a Jewish custom is substantiated with precise intentionality. Yet, for too many they are meaningless; to quote Tevya, “I don’t know why, but it’s a tradition.”

So, I would like to utilize this forum to share some of the detailed meanings behind the oft-practiced Jewish tradition of Kiddush on Friday night.

The Torah declares, “Remember the Sabbath Day to Sanctify It.” How do we fulfill this obligation? By mentioning the Sabbath in blessing as it enters (and when it ends). Our sages instituted that this blessing be recited over a cup of wine. This ritual is called Kiddush. The idea behind it is to connect the remembrance of Sabbath and the themes of faith associated therein, with a physical act of reciting words and drinking wine. This is an expression of the recurring notion conveyed through all action-based Mitzvahs, that our feelings are influenced by our actions.

Why over wine? Firstly, wine brings joy, a lovely association with a Mitzvah that should be done with gladness of heart. Beyond that, there is an opinion that the fruit of the tree of knowledge was a cluster of grapes. Adam and Eve partook of that fruit on Friday afternoon just before sunset, bringing darkness and suffering to the world and to mankind. By using that very same substance, at the same time, to usher in a day devoted to G-d and spirituality, we reverse the effects of that sin and bring redemption to the world and to humanity.

We take a cup that can hold a minimum of approximately 3.4 ounces and fill it with wine. Why this amount? The one reciting the Kiddush must drink more than half of the cup. For the average person just over 50% of 3.4 oz is a mouthful of wine, enough to be a significantly enjoyable consumption.

While reading the words of Kiddush (that are themselves layered with meaning), we hold the cup of blessing in the upturned palm of our hand to symbolize being a recipient of that blessing. We raise the cup at least a hand-breadth above the table to demonstrate that we are investing mindful effort in raising the cup. During the Kiddush we glance at both the candles and the wine. The sin of Adam and Eve darkened the light of their eyes (spiritual perception). We thus direct our eyes to the candles and wine to reverse the impact of the sin. 

The Kiddush is recited in the presence of the Challah (albeit covered) to connect the Mitzvah of remembering the Sabbath to the Mitzvah of honoring and delighting in the Sabbath, through a delicious repast. Even the number of words in the Kiddush (72) is significant, as is the acronym formed by the first four words (Tetragrammaton). Not a single detail is meaningless or without explanation.

You have now had a tiny taste of the meaning behind the traditions and rituals of Kiddush. 612 to go! Get busy and learn.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


Who's Who at Chabad of Louisiana?

Chabad of Louisiana was established in 1975 with the arrival of my parents, Rabbi Zelig and Bluma Rivkin, who were sent by the Rebbe as his emissaries to New Orleans. Since then, Chabad of Louisiana has expanded and developed into a broad network of institutions and initiatives that are staffed by 14 Shluchim families. Some may be confused by the web of multiple folks named Mendel, Yossi, Mushka, and Rivka, along with the other Shluchim on the Chabad of Louisiana team. I would like to make it easier by presenting a “Who’s Who” at Chabad and help clarify the roles and a sampling of the responsibilities of each of them in the community. This list will by no means be an exhaustive one, as each of the Shluchim families and individuals is involved in many initiatives and activities, all intended to improve Jewish life in the community. First and foremost, each of them serves as a representative of the Rebbe and his ideals. One of the most powerful impacts of Chabad Shluchim is forging relationships with individuals in the community. 

Please note that each of the affiliates of Chabad of Louisiana is financially independent.    

Chabad of Louisiana
Rabbi Zelig and Bluma Rivkin - Founders and directors of Chabad of Louisiana. Rabbi Zelig Rivkin was tasked by the Rebbe as the regional director for Chabad in the state of Louisiana and Southern Mississippi. Mrs. Bluma Rivkin is also the coordinator of Mikvah Chaya Mushka and teaches at Slater Torah Academy.

Dr. David (OBM) and Nechama Kaufmann – Past coordinators of Chabad at Tulane and Camp Gan Israel, founding coordinator of Chanukah @ Riverwalk, Nshei Chabad Candlelighting project. Mrs. Kaufmann also teaches at Slater Torah Academy.

Rabbi Mendel and Malkie Rivkin – Program Directors at Chabad of Louisiana. JLI, Living Legacy Series, Prison Chaplaincy. Mrs. Malkie Rivkin also serves as the Judaic Elementary principal at Slater Torah Academy.

Rabbi Yossi and Mushka (nee Rivkin – daughter of Mendel and Malkie) Cohen – Community Engagement Directors at Chabad of Louisiana. JKids, Jewish Women’s Circle, Holiday Distribution Projects. Mrs. Cohen also teaches at Slater Torah Academy.

Chabad of Metairie
Rabbi Yossie and Chanie Nemes – Directors of Chabad of Metairie. Rabbi Nemes also oversees the Louisiana Kashrut Committee. Mrs. Nemes also runs the Rosh Chodesh Society and teaches at Slater Torah Academy.

Rabbi Mendel and Chaya Mushka (nee Nemes) Ceitlin – Program Directors – Chabad of Metairie. JLI, Hospital Chaplaincy, Mohel. Mrs. Ceiltin also teaches at Slater Torah Academy.

Rabbi Zalman and Libby (nee Nemes) Groner – Youth Directors – Chabad of Metairie. CTeen, Camp Gan Israel, Friendship Circle. Mrs. Groner also teaches at Slater Torah Academy.

Rabbi Mendy and Chavie Schechter – Prison Chaplaincy, Law Enforcement Chaplaincy and Liaison, Chevra Kaddisha, and Kosher Supervision.

Chabad at Tulane
Rabbi Yochanan and Sarah Rivkin – Directors – Chabad at Tulane. Coordinators of Chabad Tulane Grad and Alumni Program. Rabbi Yochanan Rivkin is the Rabbi at Anshe Sfard, and serves on the Board of Directors, Slater Torah Academy.

Rabbi Leibel and Mushka Lipskier – Directors of Chabad Tulane Undergraduate Program.

Rabbi Mendel (son of Yochanan and Sarah) and Rivka Rivkin – Directors of Student Engagement at Chabad Tulane Undergraduate Program.

Slater Torah Academy
Rabbi Yossi and Rivkie Chesney – Rabbi Chesney is the Executive Director of Slater Torah Academy. Mrs. Chesney is the director of Jewish Preschool of the Arts at Slater Torah Academy.

Chabad of Baton Rouge
Rabbi Peretz and Mushka (nee Rivkin – daughter of Zelig and Bluma) Kazen – Directors of Chabad of Baton Rouge and LSU.

Chabad of Southern Mississippi
Rabbi Akiva and Hannah Hall – Directors of Chabad of Southern MS and Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel – Gulfport.

Our partners: None of these institutions and initiatives would be possible without our many partners who empower us and believe in our cause.

I hope that this has been helpful to further acquaint our community with the Chabad of Louisiana team. We are privileged to serve this community and look forward to engaging with each and every one of you as the opportunity arises.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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