ChabadNewOrleans Blog

A Knotty Issue

This past Monday, Malkie and I had the privilege of participating in the Bris of our grandson, Mordechai, born to Mushka and Yossi Cohen. A family Simcha is always wonderful. This was particularly meaningful for me as this baby was named for my grandfather, Reb Mordechai Rivkin, OBM who passed away nearly 16 years ago. Having left home to attend school in New York at the age of 11, I spent a lot of time in my grandparents’ home. I became exceedingly close to my grandparents, who were almost like surrogate parents to me when I was living far from home. I lived in close proximity to them for 14 years, and during that time I spent countless hours in the company of, and in conversation with my grandfather. I can say without hesitation that he was one of the greatest influences on my life and he played a significant role in molding me into the person that I am. We proudly named our son after him 15 years ago. To now have a grandson who bears his name is very moving.

There is an old common practice of tying a knot to remember something. What are the origins of this practice? Does it have any value?

There is a fascinating passage in the Zohar on this week’s Parsha that mentions two sages who would tie knots to remember their studies. The connection to the Parsha is that following the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe prays to G-d for favor and when it is granted, he asks G-d that He show him (Moshe) His glory. To which G-d replies “you shall see My back, but My face you will not see.” Upon this Rashi cites a passage from the Talmud, “G-d showed Moshe the “knot of His head Tefillin.” Obviously, this is all anthropomorphic. G-d does not have any form. Face, back, neck, and knot of the Tefillin are all metaphors for varying Divine manifestations. Yet the metaphor is employed because there is something to be garnered from that connection.

What’s up with the knot? A knot is a connecting point that, when formed, actually serves to bring the two ends closer. When we speak of the connection between Hashem and the Jewish people, a knot features prominently in two Mitzvahs, Tefillin (which is knotted on the bicep and at the nape of the neck – see above), and Tzitzit, the fringes that hang off the corners of a Talit or Talit Katan. (Last week someone asked me to explain the “cat-o-nine-tails” sticking out of my pants pocket.) Each of the four corners has a series of five knots and eight strings.

The common denominator is that each of these Mitzvahs is connected to remembrance. Concerning the Tefillin is states in Exodus (13:9), “They shall be a remembrance between your eyes.” Regarding the Tzitzit is states in Numbers (15:39), “This shall be fringes for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the L-rd.”

When Moshe was trying to invoke G-d’s mercy following the Golden Calf it was expressed by way of a knot, which repairs a breach and brings the two ends closer. The Mitzvahs that are connected to knots, serve to remind us of our commitment and closeness to Hashem. By remembering and acting upon our special connection, we will merit the Redemption through Mashiach speedily.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel RIvkin

Manpower or G-d-power?

This message comes to you from the quaint New England town of Suffield, CT, a town now filled with the sounds of Torah learning since the establishment of a Chabad Yeshiva in Suffield last year. My son Murdechai is a student here. This weekend I have the pleasure of spending Shabbat at the Yeshiva along with other fathers and relatives of the boys.

Earlier this week we had the privilege of hosting IDF Lt. Col (res) Yaron Buskila at Chabad of Louisiana. As one who was on the ground in and around Gaza on October 7, his account was both mesmerizing and shocking. There were moments of horror and moments of heroism. His message was From Crisis to Victory. After describing the extreme circumstances in the aftermath of the terror attack, he then began to lay out the hope for victory. He expressed how uplifted he was when he saw the endless convoy of vehicles carrying soldiers who took the initiative and headed towards the crisis in the 48 hours following the attack. He articulated how the country had become united in purpose. He articulated how valuable the outpouring of support from Jews worldwide is for those fighting on the ground. He shared how, in contrast to the hate graffiti that was scribbled on the walls of the Jewish homes in the villages around Gaza, he and the soldiers under his command taped messages of hope for peace written by Israeli children to the walls of Gazan homes. He took some tough questions and was not afraid to address some of the difficult issues.

I would like to share one message that he conveyed through a personal anecdote. While still on active duty, he was a commander for a special ops unit that dealt with terror threats in Judea and Samaria. They received word of shots being fired at a town. The unit advanced to the town and, based on the intelligence that they had, they proceeded towards the edge of town near a factory on the outskirts of the town from which they presumed the shots were fired. They advanced and started shooting, only to discover that the terrorists were behind them. He was shot and wounded. After a harrowing attempt to crawl on his elbows towards the home from where the shots were fired, he arrived to find that a mother and daughter were killed in the attack. The husband was crying and blurted out “you were not in time.” Yaron was taken by helicopter to the hospital to undergo surgery. He was very down by the botched operation and decided that he was going to get out of the military.

When he regained consciousness following the operation, he opened his eyes to find a Chabad Rabbi sitting near his bed with a guitar playing a song with lyrics from the Torah, “You shall remember the L-rd your G-d, for it is He Who has given you the strength to achieve success.”  This was a Eureka moment for him. He realized that all this time he was relying on his own strength and talent for success. But it is Hashem upon whom we must rely. He resolved to return, energized by this new conviction, which has been his guiding light ever since.

This is a powerful message that pertains to each of us in our lives. When we remember from where our strength is derived, we go with the power of Hashem to achieve success in all good things.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Don't Allow Our Enemies to Define Us!

One of the most identifiable Jewish symbols is a Menorah. Many Jewish institutions incorporate a Menorah into their emblem or seal, including the State of Israel. The origin of the Menorah as a Jewish symbol goes back to the one that was used in the Temple/Tabernacle, which is described in detail in this week’s Parsha. It was made of solid gold with very ornate designs chiseled into the gold.

One of the questions debated is the shape of the Menorah’s branches. Most images that we see depict the Menorah with six rounded branches coming out of the center branch. However, Rashi in his commentary to the Torah states that the branches emerged diagonally from the center. There is also a diagram drawn by the Rambam that depicts the Menorah as having diagonal branches emerging from the center. The Rambam’s son, Rabbi Avraham attests that this was his father’s hand drawn diagram, and that his father was deliberate regarding the shape of the Menorah’s branches.    

There is one major medieval commentator, Ma’aseh Choshev, who argues that according to Kabbalah it would seem that round is a more appropriate shape for the Menorah. He has an alternative way of understanding Rashi’s words. He also did not see the Rambam’s diagram, because he writes that since the Rambam did not comment on the shape, we do not know what his opinion is on the matter. (The manuscript with the diagram was discovered at a much later point. It was on display at the Yeshiva University’s Maimonides exhibit in 2022.) There is also room to understand the Ibn Ezra as opining that the branches were curved. But Rashi and the Rambam maintain that it was diagonal.

So then the question is how did round become the default shape of the Menorah for so long? This can likely be traced to the Arch of Titus. Titus was the Roman general (later Ceasar) who destroyed the second Temple around the year 70 CE. To celebrate his victory the Romans erected an arch on which the embossed images of Roman soldiers carrying away the Temple implements, including the Menorah. The Menorah in that depiction is round. The are several proofs that the Menorah on the arch is “the artist’s renderings” rather than a faithful depiction of reality. The Menorah is missing its three legs. There are images of dragons at the base of the Menorah, certainly not a Jewish symbol. Titus and his father Vespasian also minted commemorative coins with the phrase Judea Capta (Judea has been vanquished) on them. From time to time, the Romans would force the Jewish populace in Rome to walk under the arch as a means of humiliation.

In hindsight we can argue that the rounded Menorah is a symbol of Jewish exile, Judea Capta. It is ironic that Israel, which seeks to pull Jews away from the diaspora, the “galut mentality,” adopted a symbol of Jewish vanquishment and humiliation.

This is one of the reasons that the Rebbe encouraged the use of the “Rambam Menorah” as an emblem or symbol of Jewish institutions. Why should we allow our enemies to define us? Why should we celebrate Judea Capta and be reminded of that constantly?

This mindset of allowing our enemies to define us, has crept into the attitude of Jews towards Israel today. How many times can you hear Apartheid State without starting to wonder whether there is truth to that? How many times can you be told about Nazi-like treatment of Palestinians without starting to be uncomfortable in your own skin. We need to forget about what the “world thinks” and define ourselves. The UN, the EU, the Quartet, and the rest of our enemies do not get to define us. We must be proud of the role Hashem has for us and our place in the Holy Land. Judea will not be Capta! Instead, it is Am Yisrael Chai!

Please join us on Monday night to hear IDF Lt Col. Yaron Buskila share an eyewitness account of October 7 in a talk entitled, “From Crisis to Victory.” To register,

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Joy is a Powerful Driver

The first of the four sections of the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch) is called Orach Chayim (the Path of Life). It deals with the daily life of a Jew and then proceeds to go through the calendar cycle, with all the special days contained therein.

The very first law authored by the Rama (the Ashkenazi authority who wrote glosses on the Code) begins with a quote from Psalms 16, “I place Gā€‘d before me constantly.” This teaches that from the moment we awaken, the awareness that we are constantly in the presence of the Divine influences how we go about our day.

The last set of laws deals with the month of Adar I (in a Jewish leap year). He instructs us that on Purim Katan (the 14th of Adar I), though it is not the actual day of Purim (which is held in Adar II), nevertheless we should mark the day with a slight increase in celebration. He then concludes with a quote from Proverbs 15, “One who is glad of heart, celebrates constantly.”

The common denominator is the term “constantly” in both verses. Constant awareness of being in Hashem’s presence and constant joy. In Hebrew the word is Tamid. The same term is used to describe the daily offerings in the Temple that we brought on the altar, the first offering each morning and the last offering each afternoon. The two “Tamids” are the bookends of a day in the life of a Jew. Similarly, in Orach Chayim (the Path of Life) the two “Tamids” are the bookends of Jewish life, Reverence for G-d and joy.

The first one makes sense. Constant awareness of being in Hashem’s presence is the driver for all that we are supposed to be about. But joy? Why is joy so integral to Jewish life? Judaism does not view joy (only) as a response to positive circumstances. Rather, Judaism views joy as a generator of positive circumstances. Joy and a positive attitude help shape and mold positive outcomes.

The Talmud states, “When Adar enters, we increase in joy.” This year we have two Adars. That is double the joy. Twice the power to influence and shape positive outcomes. May our collective joy shape the positive outcome for our world, bringing us the blessing of peace and security for our brethren in Israel and the joy of Redemption for the whole world.

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov! Be Happy!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The Formula For Getting Young Jews to Support Israel

So many are dismayed by the increase of young people who are, at best, indifferent or, at worst, outright hostile towards Israel, especially since October 7. While most Jews, of all ages, are feeling a heightened connection and support, there is a minority, a significant minority, that is orienting the other way.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time bemoaning how this came about. But I would like to consider some ideas on how we can get ahead of it moving forward.

We must teach our young people to love Jews. The prospect of millions of my loved ones in direct harm’s way should be a great motivator on the need to support Israel right now. For too long our children have been made to feel uncomfortable with feeling greater affinity for their Jewish brothers and sisters. Of course, all people are created in the Divine Image, and deserve to be treated with dignity and caring. But Jews are our family. There is nothing wrong or immoral with feeling closer to mishpacha! How do we generate that feeling of mishpacha?

We must teach our young people to love Judaism. When we think about the shared values, destiny, and connection with Hashem that Judaism offers as a heritage to every Jew, that increases our connection with each other. For too long our children have been given a watered down, inauthentic version of our precious Judaism. They have been robbed of the depth, the profundity, the soulfulness, the transformative nature, and the eternality of the guidance and direction that Torah and Judaism affords every one of us as our unequivocal heritage. The richest wisdom the world has ever known has been relegated into being some sort of cheerleader for the social justice de jour. How do we impart love of Judaism?    

By creating opportunities for them to feel pride in an authentic Jewish experience. I would like to highlight something taking place tonight in our own community. Chabad at Tulane will be hosting a Shabbat dinner on the center quad of the Tulane campus (LBC Quad) for 1500 students. There will be no empty chairs at this Shabbat dinner. Each one will be filled by a Jewish young lady or man feeling a surge of Jewish pride. Those filled seats will be highly effective in raising awareness about the hostages in Gaza. Hundres of boys will be laying Tefillin just before the sun goes down and Shabbat starts. Hundreds of girls will kindle Shabbat candles illuminating the world with their spiritual light. Those boys and girls singing Am Yisrael Chai at the top of their lungs, while getting ready to hear Kiddush, will come away with an authentic Jewish pride experience that can be life-changing.

We are racing against the clock. We cannot afford to lose another generation of young people. Everyone must get involved and support these efforts to create the proud Jews of the future.
Israel is not just a strip of land. It is really about Jews and Judaism. The sooner we recognize that the more successful we will be.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Action Plan Highlights
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Add your Mitzvah today!

· Tefillin: Please visit Chabad Uptown or Chabad Metairie and lay Tefillin or reach out to have someone come by with Tefillin. If you have Tefillin, put them on daily and offer to share them with other Jewish males over Bar Mitzvah.

· Shabbat Candles: Ladies and girls, you have the power of light in your hands. Light Shabbat candles before sunset on Friday (this week at 5:20 pm).

· Mezuzah: Put a Mezuzah on the door of your home or check the existing ones to make sure they are valid. Reach out to us if you need a Mezuzah or help checking the ones you have up.

· Tzedakah: is a great resource to get funds directly to the organizations on the ground in Israel helping with the war effort. There are many other reputable organizations raising funds as well, see for the Jewish Federation’s initiatives. The main thing is to offer our support.

· Pray: Chabad Rabbis in Israel have asked that recite the following Psalms for the safety and security our people in Israel - Psalms 20, 22, 69, 122, and 150. At Chabad (both locations) we recite them twice daily during the morning and evening minyan.

· Letter in the Scroll: Get your child a letter in the Children’s Torah Scroll – . The Unity Torah for people of all ages –

· Study Torah: Join a Torah class or study on your own. Check out the recently begun course Advice For Life –

· Take a tour of a Mikvah and explore the secret to Jewish family purity and harmony. For more info,


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