The Power of Free Will - Changing the World

Thursday, 19 October, 2023 - 2:46 pm

It’s been nearly two weeks. There is a lot of tragedy and a lot of hope. Much that is heart-breaking and much that is heart-warming. We continue to remain engaged and committed to supporting our people in Israel both physically and spiritually. (I will once again share the action points below.) I commend the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans for all they are doing to guide our community through this unique period.

I would like to muse about an idea that I have been contemplating since the attack. I have seen people use expressions such as “soulless,” “lacking the Tzelem Elokim (image of G-d),” or “animals” to describe the terrorists who perpetrated the atrocities on our brothers and sisters in Israel on that Simchat Torah morning. (I do not want to get into a discussion, at this time, over the question of dehumanizing our enemies. The pain is still too raw.)

I feel that calling a terrorist “animal” or the like, gives them a free pass for what they did. Nobody observes a lion hunting an antelope and comes away thinking that the lion must be held accountable for what it did. That is the lion’s nature, instilled in it by Hashem. That is how it is supposed to act. When a human being acts that way, calling him an animal is an insult to the nature of the universe as created by Hashem. Hashem gave humans the unique gift of free will, making us distinct from every other being in the universe. How we apply that gift, is up to us.

What we must see here are individuals, with a soul, with a “Tzelem Elokim”, who have exercised their free will and chose to do things that are otherwise inconceivable for a human being with a soul. This demonstrates for us the power of free will. It also demonstrates for us the impact of environmental influence. Generations of people were raised with hate towards us, resulting in their ability to use their free will to commit unimaginable atrocities against others. This is a tragedy far more profound than just people behaving like animals. To take the precious gift of free will and use it to thrust oneself down to the depths of depravity, is to abuse the divine bestowal of our unique human status.

If free will and environmental influence can bring a person to sink so low, how much more so can we harness the power of free will and environmental influence to rise to the greatest heights. This demonstrates how vital a proper values-based education is for the development of a person. This demonstrates how powerful a force for good each of us can be when we apply our free will to doing the right thing. Let us harness the power of our souls, our “Tzelem Elokim,” our free will, to infuse our world with G-dly positivity. We have the power to change the world for good. We have the capacity to bring light and goodness to all of existence. Through our efforts we will usher in a time of redemption, when, as the prophet Isaiah declares, “They shall neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mount, for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the L-rd as water covers the seabed.”

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Action Plan Highlights

·    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. I am proud to report that we have experienced a significant surge in people coming forward to lay Tefillin.

·    Shabbat Candles: Ladies and girls, you have the power of light in your hands. Light Shabbat candles before sunset on Friday (this week at 6:14 pm). If you need or know someone that needs Shabbat candles, let us know and we will get a package to them. Many women have committed to light Shabbat candles in our community. This is very gratifying.

·    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. In New Orleans several dozen Mezuzahs have been put up in the past two weeks. We just got a shipment of 120 additional Mezuzahs and requests are coming in strong.

·    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. 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: Register now for The World of Kabbalah and introduce the calm that comes from the power of Torah knowledge into your life. For the uptown course For the Metairie course


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