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It's all getting rather tedious, isn't it? The politicking and political speeches of the primaries, that is. Each day the campaigning intensifies and before we know it, the countdown to "E" day will begin.
Amidst the fevered pitch of politics, we Jews now find ourselves in our own little counting period, known as Sefira. But, whereas the political countdown brings with it more accusations of misdeeds, mismanagement and misconduct by opponents, Sefira provides us with an opportunity to reflect on our own character traits in an attempt to repair and correct them. The vehicle used for this introspection is the counting of the days between Passover and Shavuot, the time period when our ancestors went from the decadence of the Egyptian Exile to the heights of the Revelation at Mount Sinai.
The idea of the Sefira as an occasion for spiritual growth and self-improvement began with the very first time the Omer was counted. When the Jewish people departed from the House of Slavery, they were almost totally bare of mitzvot. Spiritually, physically and emotionally they were in a depressed state. They knew, though, that they were headed for the wilderness and the mountain where they would worship G-d and receive His most precious gift--the Torah. In their eager anticipation of this event, they counted each day as it went by. During this period, they also occupied themselves in the performance of mitzvot, in serving G-d with love and fervor, and in improving their relationships with their fellow men and women. In this way, they would be adequately prepared for G-d's great revelation. As a reward for their conduct, G-d gave them the eternal mitzva of Sefirat HaOmer --the counting of the Omer.
The Omer was an offering brought from freshly harvested barley which was then ground into the finest flour, mixed with oil, and offered as a thanksgiving to G-d for the good harvest. A splendid ceremony surrounded this ritual which took place on the second day of Passover in the Holy Temple.
Nowadays we count the Omer as a remembrance of the barley sacrifice. And it is for this reason that, after concluding the counting, we say a special prayer asking G-d to rebuild the Holy Temple, speedily in our days.
Is there any value in our merely counting the days even if we may not contemplate, meditate, deliberate or cerebrate about our attributes and how to improve them? Yes! Most definitely!
Counting the Omer is a mitzva. It's as simple as that. And in these days immediately before the arrival of Moshiach, it would be very advantageous for each one of us to beef up our own personal cache of mitzvot.
Adapted from an article by Shterna Citron.
This week's Torah portion, Acharei, begins with the words, "And G-d spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron." Nadav and Avihu, both of whom were truly righteous men, were consumed by a great fire. Why did they deserve such a harsh punishment?
The Midrash offers some reasons why Nadav and Avihu died: They entered the Holy of Holies without permission; they performed their service without wearing the required priestly garments; they were not married and thus had no offspring. But what was so terrible about these infractions that it brought about their premature deaths?
Studying the cause of Nadav's and Avihu's passing, we find a common element in each infraction. Chasidic philosophy explains that Aaron's sons died precisely because of their high spiritual stature. Nadav and Avihu possessed an overwhelming love of G-d, which ultimately blinded them to their true purpose. Their deaths were caused by their good intentions which ran counter to G-d's intent in creating the world. Aaron's sons' desire to merge with G-dliness was incompatible with human existence. Their souls so longed to be one with G-d that they could no longer remain in their physical bodies, and the two men died.
On the one hand, this attests to Nadav and Avihu's high spiritual accomplishments. But on the other hand, their behavior was considered sinful because man was not created solely to fulfil his spiritual yearnings. G-d created man for the purpose of making the world holy through the performance of the Torah's commandments.
G-d gave us the responsibility to refine the world, purifying it and enabling physical matter to become a receptacle for holiness. G-d desires a "dwelling place below," not for us to follow only spiritual pursuits and disdain this world. Nadav and Avihu's excess in the realm of the spiritual, to the exclusion of the physical, was their downfall.
This is why the verse reads, "...when they had come near before G-d, and they died." Their death was not the result of their actions, but rather, the essence of their sin. Aaron's sons drew so close to G-d that physical existence was impossible.
Entering the Holy of Holies without permission was therefore symbolic of ascending too high; performing the service while being improperly clothed shows an unwillingness to "clothe" oneself in mitzvot, which are called the garments of the soul. Nadav and Avihu wanted to take the "short cut" to G-d, without having to trouble themselves with the obstacles posed by the physical world.
Likewise, the fact that neither Nadav nor Avihu married and had children showed their refusal to lead a natural, physical existence. Such a path to G-dliness was too cumbersome for them. However, this is not what G-d wants from us.
We learn a valuable lesson from their death: Although there are certain times when we feel a strong desire and longing for G-dliness and we experience a great spiritual uplift, we must carry those feelings into our daily lives and translate them into tangible actions. This is the purpose for which we have been created--to transform our physical surroundings into a dwelling place for the Divine Presence.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
A MIRACLE AMIDST THE TRAGEDY
by Isser Kirshenbaum
Tuesday was a routine day at the Israeli Embassy in Argentina. I sat in my office in the Press Department on the second floor, occupied with my work. At about three o'clock I suddenly heard a loud "boom" and deafening noise. At first, I didn't realize what had happened. I thought that one of the copy machines in my office had blown up, or maybe the air conditioner had blown up. The room filled with smoke and the smell of ash and gas stood in the air. But it was only once I opened my door that I realized that not only was my office filled with smoke, but the entire building was struck.
I went out of my room and saw destruction all around. Little by little I was able to recognize some of the people--all of them co-workers of mine in the embassy--who were trying to escape from the catastrophe. I fanned away the smoke and started to help in the rescue of the injured. I don't remember how the hours passed. But, eventually I found myself outside and only then did I realize: I had gotten out without even a bruise. It was unbelievable. One of the walls of my office was totally destroyed from the bomb and I wasn't even scratched.
And then I remembered the blessing of the Rebbe: About a month ago I came to Crown Heights to visit my son and daughter-in-law. I would like to digress and mention that all of my children learned in the Chabad Yeshiva in Argentina and this is how our family became connected with the Rebbe. Of course, I didn't pass up the opportunity to go to the Rebbe for "dollars" on this visit. When my turn came to pass before the Rebbe, he gave me three dollars for tzedaka. When he gave me one of them he said to me, "For a long life." I was very surprised. I am a young man so why would the Rebbe bless me with long life?
Now, after the bombing, I suddenly understood the meaning of the blessing "For a long life." I was one of the few who left the bombing without a scratch--my friends who had also received blessings from the Rebbe came out with only minor injuries, as well. Somehow, this matter got to the media and the Rebbe's blessing to me became the topic of the day in Argentina.
But the story doesn't end here. Another wondrous thing happened that simply must be publicized just as much.
I had attached a tzedaka box to my office wall in the embassy in accordance with the Rebbe's instruction (that every Jewish home should have a tzedaka box affixed to a wall so that it is a part of the home). Near the tzedaka box was a "Chitas" (a book containing the Torah, Psalms and Tanya all bound together) and a picture of the Rebbe on the wall.
After I came out of the destruction--thank G-d--with no injuries, and after I said the blessing "Shehecheyanu" on Shabbat, I returned to the wreckage. Nothing had happened to the tzedaka box, the Chitas and the picture of the Rebbe. All three had come out of the terrible incident totally in tact. This is a miracle that must be publicized.
Presently, we are in temporary quarters, and it's understood that I took with me the picture of the Rebbe, the Chitas and the tzedaka box.
Immediately after the incident I sent a fax to the Rebbe, telling my story of deliverance. On the one hand I rejoice in having come out, thank G-d, healthy and whole. On the other hand I cry for the young orphans, for the workers who were killed, and for the injured. We will, G-d willing, help them to the fullest of our ability to overcome all obstacles and return quickly to work.
When I saw the orphans I remembered the Rebbe's words when he spoke after the murder of Mrs. Lapine. The Rebbe said that the children will, G-d willing, not be orphans for long for soon Moshiach will be revealed.
At this time, while I am still deeply influenced by the bombing, I pray to G-d that another incident such as this never happen again, and that the martyrs--G-d avenge their blood--be good representatives for us Above and that immediately the righteous Moshiach redeem the Jewish people from our exile.
Translated from the Kfar Chabad Magazine.
SHARE THE LEGACY
A Passover awareness campaign by the Chai Foundation placed posters with the dates of Passover on the entire New York City subway system. Posters were also displayed in schools, synagogues, and restaurants throughout the U.S.
JEWISH MEDICAL ETHICS CONFERENCE
The unique Jewish approach to modern medical and ethical dilemmas will be considered during a special weekend program for medical and health professionals and students. Highlights of the May 14-17 conference include fetal research and genetic engineering, Jewish insights into the management of substance abuse, health care to AIDS patients, euthanasia, and more. The conference is hosted by the Lubavitcher community in Brooklyn and is being organized by the Lubavitch Youth Organization. For more info, call (718) 953-1000.
UNITY OF THE COMMUNITY
One of the many "Celebration 90" projects undertaken around the world in honor of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's 90th birthday was a "Unity of the Community" Torah scroll writing campaign in greater Chicago. The Torah scroll is being written by a scribe in Chicago and upon completion will alternately reside at different communities throughout Chicago.
NEW CENTER IN YARDLEY
A new Chabad Center recently opened in Yardley, Pennsylvania to serve the growing Jewish population in Bucks County. In their short time there, Rabbi Yehudah and Miriam Shemtov, directors of Lubavitch of Bucks County, have succeeded in implementing a wide range of Jewish educational activities for young and old. For more info call (215) 321-4320.
Freely translated from a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
It is surely unnecessary to elaborate on the close relationship between the physical and the spiritual, of which even modern science has become convinced.
Physically, at this time of the year, we find nature again in full bloom. After a period of hibernation, it springs back to life with a renewed vigor and vitality, faithfully reproducing the same elements which characterized the same period a year ago, and two years ago, and all the way back to the first seasons of the natural cycle.
In our religious and spiritual life, also, we have the seasons and festivals which recur year after year, and reproduce the same spiritual elements which first gave rise to them. Thus, at this time of the year, with the days of Sefira connecting the festival of Passover (physical freedom) with its culmination in Shavuot (spiritual freedom), we can--if we are sufficiently prepared and attuned to it, relive the experiences of our ancestors who actually witnessed the Revelation and accepted the Torah at Sinai.
What a long way our ancestors covered in the course of but 50 days; from the abominations of Egyptian "culture," in which moral depravity and polytheism reigned supreme (as recent archaeological discoveries have amply brought to light)--to pure monotheism at Mount Sinai, where the Jews received the Torah with the call of "Na'ase v'nishma" [we will do and we will hear]. "Na'ase" came first, that is, the complete surrender of man to G-d. Through the medium of the Torah, G-d "descends" on Mount Sinai, and the Jew ascends to G-d. Thus, the soul is released from all the fetters which tie it down to earthly things, and on the wings of fear of G-d and love of G-d it unites with the Creator in complete communion. It is only then that it can fully appreciate the inner meaning of "I am G-d, your G-d, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage," and the rest of the Ten Commandments, till "Though shalt not covet," that is, not only refrain from taking what is not yours, but not even to desire it.
This great rise from the abyss of Egypt to the sublime height of Sinai was attained by pure and simple faith in G-d, from the day when parents and children, adults and infants, several million souls in all, set out on the trek through the desert, undaunted by the irrationality of it, but simply obeying the Divine call with absolute trust. This won special Divine favor, in the words of the Prophet: "I remember unto you the kindness of your youth, the love of your betrothal, your going after Me into the wilderness." It is this faith that carried the Jews through the ages, an insignificant physical minority in the midst of a hostile world, a spot of light threatened by an overwhelming darkness. It is this absolute faith in G-d that we need nowadays more than ever before.
It is said, that the whole sun is reflected in each drop of water. In the same way the whole of our nation is reflected in each individual, and what is true of the nation as a whole is true of the individual.
The core of Jewish vitality and indestructibility is its pure faith in G-d; not in some kind of an abstract Deity, hidden somewhere in the heavenly spheres, who regards this world from a distance; but absolute faith in a very personal G-d, Who is the very life and existence of each of us and Who permeates every aspect of existence. Where there is such faith, there is no room for fear or anxiety, as the Psalmist says, "I fear no evil, for You are with me," with me, indeed, at all times, not only on Shabbat or Yom Tov, or during prayer or meditation on G-d. When one puts his trust in G-d, unconditionally and unreservedly, one realizes what it means to be really free and full of vigor, for all one's energy is released in the most constructive way, not only on one's own behalf, but also on behalf of the world at large.
The road is not free of obstacles and obstructions, for in the Divine order of things we are expected to attain our goals by effort; but if we make a determined effort, success is Divinely assured, and the obstacles and obstructions which at first loom large, dissolve and disappear.
I wish you to treat this road of pure faith in G-d, without excessive introspection and self-searching, as in the simple illustration of a man walking: he will walk most steadily and assuredly if he is not overly conscious of his movements, and doesn't seek to consciously coordinate the hundreds of muscles operative in locomotion.
Why are "Ethics of the Fathers" read on each Shabbat from Passover until Shavuot?
We read one chapter of "Ethics of the Fathers" (Pirkei Avot) each Shabbat following the afternoon prayer because these are the days leading up to the Giving of the Torah and Pirkei Avot contain ethics and moral exhortations to help us improve ourselves so that we are worthy of the Torah. Many have the custom to continue reading these chapters throughout the summer months until Rosh Hashana; summer is a time when people are prone to become more lax in their Jewish observance.
2nd of Iyar (May 5) we commemorate the birthday of the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel, known as the Rebbe Maharash.
One of the most memorable and pithy maxims that we have from the Rebbe Maharash is the saying, "L'Chatchila Ariber"-which means, "In the first place, go over."
The Rebbe Maharash mentioned this concept--which has been the constant battle cry of Lubavitch outreach workers all over the world--in reference to one who finds himself faced with an obstacle. "The whole world says, first try to go under or around an obstacle. If this doesn't work, then go over it," the Rebbe Maharash noted. "But I say, 'In the first place, go over,'" he declared.
What does it mean to go over an obstacle right away rather than trying another method to pass an obstruction? In confronting obstacles to all good endeavors, one should take the most ambitious and aggressive approach. One cannot remain passive, hoping that the situation will change by itself or that the obstruction will magically disappear. It must be approached as a challenge. And, as such, it should be afforded one's utmost attention and energy.
In addition, when working at overcoming obstacles, we have to keep uppermost in our mind only positive thoughts and the image of the endeavor successfully accomplished. For this, too, will aid in our ultimate triumph and success.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
The chasidim regarded Reb Pesach of Malastovker with utmost respect. He was a noted scholar, a devout chasid, a master of nigunim [Chasidic melodies] and physically robust. He merited a long life and had the opportunity to establish a connection with the Alter Rebbe, the Mittler Rebbe, and the Tzemach Tzedek.
Once, he courageously warded off a group of hoodlums who attempted to attack a Jewish girl. The would-be attackers vowed to take revenge and chased Reb Pesach, who took refuge in a yard stocked with large barrels, hiding beneath one of the barrels where they could not spot him. Enraged at the loss of their prey, they slashed the barrels with their swords. Although they did not discover Reb Pesach, their slashes wounded his skull. Some time later, Reb Pesach visited the Alter Rebbe and related the incident, complaining that the wound caused him constant head pain. The Alter Rebbe grasped Reb Pesach's head and the pain ceased.
After the Alter Rebbe passed away, Reb Pesach began to feel acute pain from the old wound. At his next meeting with the Mittler Rebbe, Reb Pesach told him of his agony. The Mittler Rebbe, too, grasped his head and the pain receded.
Upon the passing of the Mittler Rebbe, Reb Pesach again experienced intense pain. He traveled to the Tzemach Tzedek who relieved his agony, as his predecessors had done in the past.
Rabbi Eliyahu Yosef Rivlin was one of the prominent chasidim of the Mittler Rebbe and, afterwards, of the Tzemach Tzedek. He fell ill with tuberculosis and the adhesions from his lungs became attached to his rib cage. The doctors told him that his days were numbered and, with this pessimistic report, he approached the Tzemach Tzedek.
The Tzemach Tzedek replied, "The Ramah, upon whom the Ashkenazic halachic tradition is based, rules that an animal with such a condition is trefe (i.e., that it will die within a year). Rav Yosef Karo, upon whom the Sephardic tradition is based, rules that such as animal is kosher. Travel to Israel where Rav Yosef Karo's rulings are accepted as law."
Rabbi Eliyahu Yosef followed this advice and lived twenty years longer in Israel. Once, however, he journeyed back to Lubavitch to see the Tzemach Tzedek. The Tzemach Tzedek, startled by his appearance, asked him to explain himself. Rabbi Eliyahu Yosef related, "Though fish spend their entire lives in water, when it rains, they rise to the surface. Why? They want to receive water from heaven..."
One Shabbat afternoon, as Dr. Lieberman napped, he dreamt that a distinguished-looking man was standing before him and reciting passages from the Mishna. He listened and recognized the teachings, for they concerned the requirement to treat critically ill women in labor even when the desecration of the Shabbat was involved. When he awoke, he pondered over the strange dream. Though the issue was obviously related to his occupation, he wondered about the identity of the figure in his dream.
His thoughts were interrupted by his attendant. "Doctor, someone is waiting to see you. He says it is an emergency."
A very anxious-looking man entered the study. "I am from Horodok. My wife has been in labor for many hours and is in critical condition. Please come see her; it is a matter of life and death."
"What a strange coincidence," mused the doctor. Still under the impression of the dream, he agreed to accompany the man. Though there were several complications, the doctor's timely arrival and professional experience enabled him to deliver a healthy baby.
Two months later a telegram arrived at Dr. Lieberman's home from the Rebbe Rashab's [the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe] home in Lubavitch, requesting him to come to Lubavitch to make a house call. The doctor came, examined the patient, and discussed his treatment with Rebbetzin Shterna Sorah. While they were speaking, the Rashab entered the room. Seeing the Rebbe for the first time, the doctor recognized him as the person who had appeared to him in his dream.
When he related his dream to the Rashab, the Rebbe shrugged. "I know nothing about your dream. I do recall the man from Horodok describing his wife's complicated pregnancy to me. He asked me whether to hire a doctor or a specialist to deliver the baby. I advised him not to call upon a specialist since labor and delivery is often prolonged and a specialist usually makes brief visits. I suggested that he summon a doctor and recommended you."
Reprinted with permission from "My Father's Shabbos Table" by Rabbi Y. Chitrik
And Aaron shall then go into the Tabernacle of Meeting (Lev. 16:23)
"To remove the incense-bowl and the spoon," comments Rashi.
Once, in the Russian town of Lubavitch, a young man noticed the great Rabbi Hillel of Poritch making his way home from the synagogue after the morning prayers. Reb Hillel had sunk up to his ankles in mud, and was holding the bag containing his tallit and tefilin aloft as he slogged through the swampy muck. The young man offered to help him by carrying the precious bag, but Reb Hillel refused. "The High Priest had to immerse himself in a mikva just to enter the Holy of Holies, to retrieve the utensils which had been used for the incense. This in itself was considered part of the Priest's service. From this we learn that carrying the tallit and tefilin home from the synagogue after prayers is also part of the service, and I want to perform this myself!" he explained.
For on that day shall [the High Priest] make an atonement for you (Lev. 16:30)
The Jewish people are likened to a walnut. A walnut is edible even if it falls into dirt and filth. All one must do before eating it is wash it off, for the inside meat remains unsoiled. The same may be said of the Jewish people. No matter how sullied they become by their misdeeds a whole year, Yom Kippur comes and "washes" them off. A sin affects only the external part of the Jewish soul; the inner essence is always untouched and pristine.
Blood shall it be considered to that man; blood has he shed (Lev. 17:4)]
The purpose of the animal offerings was to accustom the individual to self-sacrifice. However, the Torah tells us, if the sacrifice was offered in the wrong place, "blood shall it be considered to that man." Sacrificing oneself on foreign altars, for the sake of foreign ideologies and ideals, is not only a waste of time, but a grievous sin.
There are those who argue that our generation--with all its problems, weaknesses, and apathy--is not fit for Moshiach. How is it possible that our generation will be fit to see the revelations of the future redemption, revelations of such magnitude that the glorious and noble generations of the past did not merit to see? Is our generation better than the preceding ones?! Actually this itself is proof that now is the time for the revelation of Moshiach, as our Sages state: "Moshiach will come b'hesech hadaat" (Lit. "in a time of forgetfulness,")--when we aren't expecting him.