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Devarim Deutronomy

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   663: Vayikra

663: 11 Nissan

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Bamidbar Numbers

Devarim Deutronomy

April 20, 2001 - 27 Nisan, 5761

665: Shmini

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Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

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  664: Tzav666: Sazria-Metzora  

No Deposit, No Return  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Rambam this week  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

No Deposit, No Return

By Rabbi Eliyahu Touger

What would one expect to grow from an untilled field? Surely nothing more than thorns and weeds. It would take a miracle for useful crops to grow.

How about if a store is left untended? No purchases will be made and the merchandise might even be stolen. Certainly, no profit will be made.

These examples reflect a dynamic woven into the fabric of our existence. As the soda bottle profoundly teaches: No deposit, no return.

This concept is reflected in the personal realm, as well. There is no such thing as spirituality without sacrifice. A person cannot expect to develop himself and grow unless he invests effort.

Sefirat HaOmer, the counting of the Omer, which joins the holidays of Passover and Shavuot, teaches precisely this lesson. Before the exodus, G-d told Moses: "When you have led the people out of Egypt, you will serve G-d on this mountain." Like schoolchildren ticking off the days until vacation, the Jews eagerly counted the days until they received the Torah on Mount Sinai.

Ever since, our people have counted the 49 days from the second day of Passover until Shavuot in fulfillment of G-d's command to count the Omer.

We are, however, not only counting days. Our mystic tradition, the Kabala, teaches us that our emotional makeup consists of 49 different attributes. Each of the days we count corresponds to one of these attributes. When counting the Omer, we should also be refining ourselves and our characters, working to make ourselves more complete and more sensitive.

This is also alluded to by the Hebrew word "sefira" which mean "counting." Every night we count one of these 49 days. But sefira also means "shining." During these 49 days, we should endeavor to make our personalities shine.

On Passover, G-d liberated the Jews from slavery; they witnessed Divine miracles of immense magnitude. Nevertheless, the people's inner selves - who they were and how they thought - remained unchanged. G-d took the Jews out of Egypt, but He did not take Egypt out of the Jews. That task, the cultivation of their spiritual personalities, He left to the people themselves.

This pattern is not merely a story of the past. Every year on Passover, G-d takes us out of Egypt, giving us the opportunity to experience spiritual liberation. But after Passover, He asks us to internalize that experience, to make our spiritual heights part of our own conceptual framework. And the responsibility for this endeavor He entrusts to us.

We cannot expect spiritual growth and heightened consciousness to happen by itself or to be granted to us from Above on a consistent basis. Instead, Judaism has always put the emphasis on personal initiative. It is we ourselves who will change ourselves.

Counting the Omer represents a systematic attempt to better ourselves. It is a time to focus on who we are, where we are going, and how that transition can be made in a systematic manner which will produce lasting change. It is a time to integrate our "selves," the way we usually think and feel, with our "super-selves," the innate spiritual potential which we all possess. This prepares us for Shavuot, reliving our acceptance of the Torah, which enables us to transform ourselves and our environment into a dwelling for G-d.

From Keeping in Touch, published by Sichos In English

Living with the Rebbe

In the beginning of this week's Torah portion, Shemini, we read about the dedication of the Sanctuary: "And Moses said, 'This is the thing which the L-rd commanded you to do; and the glory of the L-rd will appear to you.' " In Chronicles II, the Torah provides a similar description of the dedication of the Holy Temple built by King Solomon: "And when all the people of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the L-rd upon the house, they bowed with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and prostrated themselves and praised the L-rd, saying: For He is good; for His loving kindness endures forever."

When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem the Jewish people bowed down to G-d in the literal sense, "with their faces to the ground upon the pavement." But the concept of spiritual prostration or nullification before G-d exists even now, in the Divine service of each and every Jew.

In fact, there are three levels of prostration:

The highest level is when a person sees the "fire" and the "glory of the L-rd," and as a natural consequence, willingly bows down and nullifies himself. The person is so attuned to holiness that he can actually "see" it; his awareness of G-d is so overpowering that it arouses the strong desire to worship Him.

But what happens if a person's soul is not particularly illuminated by G-dly revelation? What if he doesn't see or feel the "glory of the L-rd," and the underlying G-dliness of creation is hidden by the coarseness of the material world? In this instance, the person must force himself to bow down and be submissive. In other words, he serves G-d out of a sense of coercion, but against his natural inclination.

In general, this is the difference between the times of the Holy Temple and the exile. When the Holy Temple was in existence, the Divine Presence was openly revealed. The pilgrimage to Jerusalem was performed not only "to be seen" but "to see" the G-dly light that illuminated visibly.

By contrast, during the exile G-dliness is concealed. We cannot see the open miracles that were commonplace when the Temple stood. Accordingly, it is impossible to reach the level of prostration that comes from "seeing," and a certain measure of coercion is necessary.

There is, however, a third example of prostration, which starts with coercion and leads to a heightened perception of G-dliness. When a Jew forces himself to serve G-d, he gradually gains the ability to feel holiness, even if he couldn't in the very beginning. This will ultimately result in a Divine service that is enthusiastic. For whenever a Jew takes the first step and makes the effort, he will discover that deep inside, he wanted to serve G-d all along...

Adapted from Volume 27 of Likutei Sichot

A Slice of Life

Thank You, Son

By Deena Yellin

My spiritual mentor is neither a rabbi, a teacher, or a scholar. A spiritual guide of a more unconventional sort, he is too young to grow a beard, and drinks heavily, straight from the bottle. Most of his wisdom is culled from the works of Dr. Seuss and a certain purple dinosaur.

He is my two-year-old son.

Under his tutelage, I have discovered a new magic and spirituality in everyday life. He has taught me that spirituality is not something elusive but can be part of the mundane.

In my previous life, for example, I awoke most mornings by hitting the snooze bar because I dreaded the new day. Nowadays, he pitter patters to my bedside promptly at 6 a.m. each morning and grabs my hand from under the covers.

"Up now!" he shouts excitedly as he pulls me from bed. Like an army general he issues his orders: "Mama outside!"

I wonder if there is a coffee in the world that can give the boost that spurs such a morning attitude.

To my son, each sunrise provides the opportunity to explore new things. Armed for adventure with his Elmo and sippy cup, the possibilities are limitless.

There was a time, many years ago, when I might have approached life with a similar sense of enthusiasm. But somewhere along the line, I aged too quickly and became too jaded. I began crossing days off of the calendar with disregard. I lingered in bed rather than leaping out.

But my son's optimism makes me think; If a toddler can be so excited about the unforeseen potential of a new day, maybe the sky is the limit for me, too.

I recall rushing through tasks at a marathon pace, oblivious to the people or objects. Now, with my son in tow, even a short trip to the post office or grocery has been transformed. An errand is more like a journey to be savored. He has taught me to examine every flower petal carefully, to marvel at the planes passing overhead and to turn strangers into friends with a simple greeting and toothy smile.

Traipsing through the neighborhood on my son's heels, I am discovering things I never noticed; that even big scary dogs can be friendly, and, if you look close enough, a dandelion is beautiful.

On Shabbat, he reminds me that the day of rest is a gift that bonds our family, and community, together. Knowing that our Sabbath observance will be embedded into his consciousness, I pay more attention to my Sabbath preparations. Anxious to bring home the significance of the day, I polish my candlesticks until they gleam, as the aroma of freshly baked challah fills our home Friday afternoon.

My husband and I no longer breeze through the Sabbath rituals. Instead, we sing aloud and clap our hands. When my son jumps off his chair and dances to the Shabbat songs we sing, my husband and I join him. Circling our dining room, I see the Shabbat candles dancing and the Sabbath Queen smiling.

My Saturday morning routine has changed. Instead of curling up with a novel and showing up in shul fahionably late, I arrive earlier. I have no choice since my son hurries me there with cries of "Kiss Torah!"

Even if his primary motivation is to visit our synagogue's candy man, who sits near my husband, I must give him credit; all my parents' prodding never got me to services so early.

He worships in his own style, opting to stand when congregants sit and sit when they stand. When the cantor sings, he sings along, but with his own tune. He swaggers up to the ark to kiss the Torah, gazing at it with all the awe generally reserved for Teletubbies.

Teaching our children the Jewish dos and don'ts is no simple matter. But even more complex is to convey the flavor and texture along with the rituals. Having read parenting books from Dr. Spock to What to Expect, I am aware of the typical parenting concerns-such as how to get the child to eat healthy foods. But what has worried me most was how to nourish my son's spirit.

Thus far, his spirit seems to be nourishing his parents, who he has inadvertently pushed into observance. He has awakened in us the need to experience life in a deeper way.

Aside from giving us sense of continuity as our messenger into the future, he has returned our gift.

We gave him the gift of life, but he teaches us how to live.

Thank you, son.

Deena Yellin is a journalist who publishes in The New York Times, Newsday, The Record and The Jewish Week (where this article orignally appeared).

What's New

A Little Girl Named Miriam

This newest addition to the "Little Greats" series by HaChai Publishing will delight young children and their parents. Clever and brave, little Miriam is a true heroine. When King Pharoh doesn't want there to be any Jewish baby boys, Miriam watches her own baby brother and finds a way to keep him at home. Masterfully told by Dina Rosenfeld and whimsically illustrated by Ilene Winn-Lederer

Eternal Joy: A Guide To Shidduchim & Marriage

Based on the teachings of the Rebbe, adapted by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg, this third and final volume of the series deals with Married Life and Shalom Bayit - "peace in the home."

A cursory glance at some of the chapter headings of this work reveal its imposing scope: Sustaining the Spirituality of Marriage; The New Residence; Making a Living, Building a Life; Marital Relations; Childbirth; Partners in Marriage; Shalom Bayit Problems and Means of Resolution; Spiritual Assistance and Hindrances to Shalom Bayit. Published by Sichos In English.

The Rebbe Writes

20th of Iyar, 5726 [1966]

Greeting and Blessing:

...In your letter you ask my opinion as to whether a religious or charitable group may properly receive donations from a company which is conducting its business in an un-ethical way, at usurious rates of interest, etc.

Generally speaking, it is not my function to answer Shaalos [questions of Jewish law], for which there are special Rabbinical bodies in each city. Moreover, it would be impossible for me to give you a definitive answer to your particular question, in view of the fact that many important points of information are missing. For example, one essential factor is whether the acceptance of a donation from that company would be tantamount to an expression of approval of its methods, either explicitly or implied; or whether it can in no way be so mistaken by anyone, not even by the company itself, in which case it would be a question of in no way encouraging the policy of the company, but only giving it the Mitzva of Tzedoko [charity], or withholding it. It is only after you have all these facts available and ready to be presented to a Rov, that he would be able to give you his decision.

You do not mention anything about yourself and your affairs, from which I gather that all is in good order. And "in good order," insofar as a Jew is concerned, means that it is not stationary, but is progressing and advancing.

This brings me to the timely message of the present days of Sefira, the Counting of the Omer. It has been noted that in counting the Omer we use the cardinal numbers rather than the ordinal numbers. In other words, we say, for example, "Today is thirty-five days of the Omer, etc." rather than "Today is the thirty-fifth day of the Omer." This means that it is not a case where each day constitutes merely a single additional day, but each day constitutes a part of the whole and, in fact, complements the previous days. Considering that the counting of the Omer symbolizes the counting of the days of preparation for Shovuoth, the Festival of the Giving of the Torah, the lesson of the Counting of the Omer, and the significance of each day of this period, are obvious.

With blessing,

12th of Nissan, 5734 [1974]

Greeting and Blessing:

Following the pleasure of our meeting and conversation after the Farbrengen [Chasidic gathering] last night, I wish to add here in writing some thoughts which, for obvious reasons, I did not wish to express in the presence of others, namely, in regard to your son.

I am in agreement with the opinion of your brother-in-law mentioned in your letter, especially as he is a physician. I believe, that the best help that can be given your son, in general, is to get him to work.

I should only add, and I trust your brother-in-law would concur, that in view of the fact that this would entail a change in your son's way of life for a period of time, it would be well if his job would, in the first stage at any rate, would meet two conditions: Firstly, that it would not impose on him too much responsibility, so that he would not be frightened or discouraged by it. On the other hand, it should have a more or less rigid timetable and schedule, so that he would get used to a routine and orderly life, which, in my opinion, is the overriding consideration. If it is the kind of work which he might consider beneath him, it might be explained to him that it is only a start, and temporary, and, indeed, the first step to advancement. It is well known that here in the USA people at the top often take pride in the fact that they worked their way up from the bottom of the ladder.

After he adjusts himself to a part-time occupation of several hours a day, he could probably be induced to work half a day and in due course a full-time job.

Needless to say, the above is [in] addition to what we spoke about the importance of his feeling that his parents and friends have the fullest confidence in him.

With regard to the business proposition that would involve a loan of $2 million, I do not think it advisable in the present monetary and business situation, all the more so since you state in your letter that the asking price is an exaggerated one....

With blessing,

Rambam this week

28 Nisan 5761

Positive mitzva 146: shechita (ritual slaughter of animals)

By this injunction we are commanded that we must kill animals in the prescribed manner before eating their flesh, which becomes permitted food only by killing in that manner. It is contained in the Torah's words (Deut. 12:21): "You shall kill of your herd and your I have commanded you."

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

We are now in the period of "sefirat ha'omer" (the counting of the omer), the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot. In the same way the Jewish people could hardly wait until the Torah was given at Mount Sinai after they left Egypt, so too do we count each of these 49 days in eager anticipation of the festival.

The Hebrew word "sefira," which is usually translated as "counting," is also related to the word "sapir," "sapphire," connoting illumination and the diffusion of light. The days of sefira are dedicated to purifying and refining our character traits, each day representing a different aspect of our soul-powers to be illuminated. Regardless of our "success rate" in the past we must never give up, for there is nothing in the world that cannot be improved by an infusion of spiritual light.

This is also one of the reasons it is customary to study Ethics of the Fathers on Shabbat afternoons between Passover and Shavuot. A compendium of the moral advice and counsel of our Sages, it is especially appropriate during this seven-week period of self-improvement.

Individual character refinement is the preparation for the giving of the Torah on Shavuot. The Torah was given to make peace in the world. Its purpose is to sanctify the material plane of reality, and unify all of the world's disparate elements. Before we receive the Torah on Shavuot, it is therefore appropriate to prepare ourselves in microcosm, by working on our character traits and increasing our sense of Jewish unity.

In general, the counting of the omer is intended to refine our souls as well as the world at large, ultimately leading to the Final Redemption. At that time, we will proceed together with the entire Jewish people "on the clouds of heaven'' to the Land of Israel, to Jerusalem, and to the Holy Temple.

May it happen immediately.

Thoughts that Count

And Aaron raised his hands (yadav) toward the people and blessed them (Lev. 9:22)

Although the word for hands is pronounced "yadav," it is spelled without the second yud, as if written in the singular - "yado." From this we learn that Aaron raised both hands to administer the Priestly Blessing, yet linked them together to look like one.

(Shaar Bat Rabim)

At that moment Aaron merited to receive the Priestly Gifts, and merited that his descendents, the kohanim, would bless the Jewish people until the Resurrection of the Dead.

(Midrash Rabba)

All that goes on its belly (Lev 11:42)

Comments Rashi, "This is a snake." A person who is haughty and acts condescendingly toward others should consider what happened to the snake in the Garden of Eden: Before it was cursed it walked upright like a human being; after it behaved arrogantly toward its Creator, it was humbled and made to creep through the dust...

(Maayana Shel Torah)

And you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy (Lev. 11:43)

Whoever is careful to keep the laws of kashrut brings an extra measure of holiness and purity into his life, and "scours" and cleans his soul for the sake of the Holy One, Blessed be He.

(Maimonides, Laws of Forbidden Foods)

It Once Happened

Rav Lehmann was in a hurry. As head of the delegation slated to meet with the Minister of Education, he had only 30 minutes to get to the station, from where he and the two other representatives of the Jewish community would board the train to the capital.

Rav Lehmann had already put on his coat when he heard an unfamiliar voice asking to see him immediately. The Rabbi's wife explained that her husband was in a terrible rush and suggested that the visitor come back the following day, but he refused. "No! Tomorrow will be too late. It's absolutely urgent - a matter of life and death..."

The Rabbi ran into the hallway and invited the stranger into his study. "Please tell me what the problem is very quickly," he said. "I'm about to leave, and the carriage is already waiting."

"Yes, Rabbi. Shalom Aleichem! Don't you recognize me?" the little white-haired old man asked.

"No, I'm sorry. But please get to the point. I can only give you a minute."

"Yes, Rabbi," the little man said, settling comfortably into a chair. "It is indeed a case of life and death. But I'm surprised that you don't remember me. About a year ago I heard you give a sermon in shul. Ay-ay-ay, what a sermon! Every word you uttered was a gem. I have a good memory, Rabbi. I could repeat it for you, if you'd like..."

"My dear friend," Rav Lehmann replied. "Please get to the point. Otherwise, you'll be sitting here by yourself. I must run."

"Yes, Rabbi. This is the story...

"Thirty years ago I married a true 'woman of valor.' For 25 years we lived happily. Then, five years ago, my wife passed away..."

Rav Lehmann was getting annoyed. "If you've come here to ask me to resurrect her, you're wasting my time and your own. Come back tomorrow and I'll be more than happy to listen to your life story. But I simply must leave for the station. My train is departing in a few minutes."

The old man clutched the Rabbi's sleeve. "Please hear me out," he begged. "I assure you, the life of a live person is at stake. Let me continue...

"A few years ago my son moved to America. After my wife died, he asked me to come live with him. I went, but I didn't like it, and I came back. That was a year ago, about the same time I heard your sermon. Ay-ay-ay, what a sermon! Every word was a pearl, a precious gem..."

"Again with the sermon!" the Rabbi cried, looking at his watch.

"All right, I won't mention it again. But just listen to what happened. I arrived home a few days before the brit [circumcision] of my grandson, and was given the honor of being sandek [the one who holds the baby]. Unfortunately, the day before the brit the baby got sick and passed away.

"But that isn't why I'm here. Yesterday, my daughter gave birth to another son, and again asked me to be sandek."

"May the brit take place in a good and auspicious time," the Rabbi mumbled, rushing to the door.

"But Rabbi!" the old man persisted. "I'm afraid. Don't you understand? I don't even want to say it aloud, but... Maybe I shouldn't be sandek?"

"So let someone else be sandek!" Rav Lehmann said distractedly as he scrambled into the waiting carriage.

"And the name? What should we name the baby? This is a life-determining matter!"

"You want me to pick a name?" the Rabbi cried, finally losing his patience. "Call him Chaim, Tzvi, Dov, Zev, Zerach, Baruch..."

The Rabbi promised to pay the driver double if they made it in time, but they were too late. As soon as they arrived at the station they heard the train departing.

Rav Lehmann was beside himself. How would he ever excuse his lateness to the Minister? The other members of the delegation, who had waited for him, were amused when they heard the reason for his delay. They decided to take the next train, scheduled to depart in two hours.

When they returned to the station later, the whole place was in an absolute uproar. The train they had missed had been involved in a terrible accident. Many of the passengers had been killed and dozens were injured. In retrospect, the old man with his rambling story had been an emissary sent from G-d to save their lives...

The Minister had been very worried about Rav Lehmann, and was delighted to learn that he and his colleagues had not been on the ill-fated train. The delegation's mission was conducted successfully.

Years later, Rav Lehmann was traveling through a certain village, when all of the townsfolk came out to greet him. Standing at the front of the line was none other than his old friend, the little white-haired man.

"Shalom Aleichem! Do you remember me? A few years ago I heard you give a sermon. Ay-ay-ay, what a sermon!" The old man held a small child in his arms. "This is my grandson, Chaim-Tzvi-Dov-Zev-Zerach-Baruch."

"So many names?" the Rabbi asked in surprise.

"But you yourself chose them!" the old man replied. "I have a very good memory. I can even repeat your sermon word for word if you'd like. Ay, was that a sermon..."

Moshiach Matters

In the days of Moshiach there will be a stupendous revelation of Divinity. For G-d, who is known as "the tzadik (righteous) of the world," this revelation will be a kind of "repentance" - for having withheld this light from His people throughout all the years of exile.

(Or HaTorah, Vayikra)

  664: Tzav666: Sazria-Metzora  
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