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Warm weather means different things to different people. For some it's outdoor sports. For others, it's long drives through the country. Still others can't wait to go outside and start gardening when the sun is shining and it's smelling like spring.
We can learn a lot from the great outdoors--from every flower, shrub, plant, even each weed! So let's take a moment to examine just one of G-d's beautiful creations--trees.
Probably the most important part of the tree is its roots. Their nourishment and their stability comes through their roots. Trees with strong roots and root systems are able to survive strong winds, droughts, or a scorching sun.
On the other hand, trees that have bountiful, beautiful branches covered with glossy, green leaves are a magnificent sight to behold in spring, summer or fall. But without strong, deep roots, drastic changes in weather can devastate them.
In Chapter 3 of "Chapters of the Fathers" that we read this Shabbat afternoon, our Sages speak about just this phenomenon. No, they weren't necessarily horticulturists, maybe not even farmers. But they did have keen insight into the human mind and condition.
Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya said, "Any person whose wisdom exceeds his deeds, to what is he likened? To a tree whose branches are many, but whose roots are few, and the wind comes and plucks it up and overturns it on its face...But anyone whose deeds exceed his wisdom, to what is he like? To a tree whose branches are few, but whose roots are many, so that even if all the winds in the world come and blow on it, they cannot budge it from its place."
In the case of a tree, it is the roots that bring the entire tree--the trunk, branches, leaves and fruit--its nourishment. Rabbi Elazar is telling us that our deeds, our actual physical mitzvot, are what nourish us and keep our entire beings healthy, strong, and able to survive even the most tempestuous storms of life. This concept, that action is the most essential thing, is actually one of the most important concepts in Judaism. Contemplating the deed, understanding the deed, studying the deed, does not exempt you from doing the deed. You could meditate on and learn about putting up a mezuza or making your kitchen kosher for days. But until you've actually done the action, you have not given nourishment to your roots which ultimately nourish the total person.
Remember, too, that Rabbi Elazar, and all of the Sages for that matter, was very exacting in the way he expressed himself. He spoke about one whose deeds exceed his wisdom. This means that our deeds, our mitzvot, have to be greater in number than our Jewish knowledge, in order for our "trees" to be healthy and stable.
Now, one might object, "But if I do mitzvot and I don't understand them first, I feel like a fake. What do I gain from doing something I don't understand, or saying words I don't comprehend?"
In answer, let's get back to the total tree, including its numerous fruits. When you're hungry and you eat an apple, do you understand exactly how that fruit nourishes your body, how it is broken down by your acids and enzymes, goes through your digestive system, into your blood stream, and finally nourishes each and every organ in your body? Probably not. Were you not to eat that apple until you understood exactly how it nourishes you, it would take years of study in biology, nutrition, physiology, medicine, etc. And in the meantime, you'd be a lot more than a little bit hungry!
Basically, Rabbi Elazar is telling us, "Get on with the eating. Even if you don't understand exactly how it nourishes you or what you're eating, ess, ess mein kind--eat, my child. And if you are lucky enough to be one of those people who have had a strong Jewish education, then you are obligated to do even more deeds, more mitzvot, because your deeds should exceed your wisdom.
One of the Torah portions we read this week, Kedoshim, contains the commandment: "Sanctify yourselves and be holy." Man is commanded to sanctify himself even within the parameters of Torah law. Not only must he heed both positive and negative mitzvot, but he must also sanctify himself in those areas which the Torah has deemed permissible.
One might think that because these areas are not specifically spelled out in the Torah, this commandment is less important than others which are explained in great detail. But it is precisely this personal sanctification which has the power to bring the Final Redemption closer to reality.
Although learning Torah and performing mitzvot requires the individual to subjugate, to a certain extent, his own personal desires to G-d's will, this in no way ensures that his inner nature will be purified and refined. But when a person, of his own accord and of his own volition, consistently behaves in the same dignified and respectful manner, no matter what the endeavor, it demonstrates that the Torah's holiness has penetrated his inner being and that he is totally committed to G-d.
At the same time, this imbues one's entire life with G-dliness, not only those areas directly involved with religious observance. A person who strives to sanctify himself at all times, however mundane his activity, reveals the G-dliness within all of creation and proves that no aspect of life is too insignificant to be used in the service of G-d.
This commandment has particular meaning for us now, as we stand on the threshold of the Final Redemption, for one of the main changes that will occur when Moshiach comes is the revelation of G-dliness that will suddenly become apparent. When Moshiach comes we will realize that G-d is indeed everywhere and that truly "there is nothing besides Him."
At the present time, holiness is manifested in a limited way. Now, it is the physical objects we use to perform mitzvot which become imbued with holiness and sanctity. During the Messianic Era, however, we will easily recognize the G-dliness inherent in every detail of creation.
When Moshiach comes, G-d will be perceived as He exists--without any limitations whatsoever. G-d's desire to establish a dwelling place for Himself "down below" will be totally fulfilled and the purpose of creation realized.
Sanctifying even the most mundane aspects of our lives, therefore, not only prepares us for the imminent Redemption, but serves to bring Moshiach even closer.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Reb Abraham Abba Miller
by Faige Miller
"He who saves one life, it is as if he had saved the whole world." (Talmud)
Whenever my husband, Abraham Abba, of blessed memory, would see me reading books about the Holocaust, or of that period in Russia, he would say, "Ask me. I will tell you about it!"
My husband was torn away from his home in Poland in 1939, torn away from his young wife whom he would never see again, from his house in Krinitza, a famous place where people came from all over Europe for the healing baths and mineral springs. All the great rabbis came to Krinitza for the summer and many stayed in my husband's rooming house. He was well known for his hospitality, charity, and kindness to all.
After having been uprooted many times my husband ended up in Siberia. Having to do hard labor, sawing and cutting down trees, he would get up at the crack of dawn to report to work. Nevertheless, there, in the bitter frost of the early morning, he would uncover his arm and put on tefilin, having yet to be ever watchful not to be discovered by the overseer, not to be caught performing this religious act, which was strictly forbidden and punishable.
Once, before Passover, my husband approached an elderly couple, who, because of the sheer impossibility of observing any religious ritual in that place and time had long ago given up on it. My husband asked them if they would like to have a seder and observe the holiday of Passover. They just looked at him, not believing that such a thing could ever happen. But he asked them to leave everything to him; he would do it all. He cleared the house entirely and the three of them tried by all means--by bartering and trading, to obtain a few pounds of flour. There, in their oven, my husband baked the matzos.
But how were they to obtain a pot for cooking the potatoes? My husband bought some tin, cut out a round bottom, and shaped the remainder around it like walls. Then, without any adhesive or soldering--just by bending it--he made a pot. When they started to cook the potatoes, water leaked out of all the cracks, but wonder of wonders, gradually the starch of the potatoes filled up and sealed the cracks, and the leaking stopped. They had a pot for all of Passover.
Passover eve, my husband told the couple to put on their Shabbos clothes, which probably dated back to their wedding day, decades before, and told them to be happy. During the Seder there was a lot of crying. Maybe they were tears of joy, that the elderly couple had merited to have another Seder after so many years.
Once my husband saw a man lying in the street who had collapsed from starvation, and who was actually near death. My husband shouted into his ear: "Get up! I will give you money for food!"
And hearing this the man perked up and tried to get to his feet. My husband helped him up, took him to his house, where he revived him with some good, hot food, and then gave him money to buy food for his equally famished family.
Many people were stricken with typhoid fever, and few wanted to risk their own health to attend to them or help them. My husband would go from one patient to the next to help out. He would wash them, apply compresses and cure them--with garlic! Today the medicinal value of garlic is better known. My husband would string up cloves of garlic and put them, like a necklace, around the patient's neck, so that they were able to inhale the "fragrance" of it.
But the following and most heroic act I heard about just recently. At a yartzeit gathering for my husband in my house, his nephew, who had also been in Siberia with my husband told me this amazing story:
At that time, if a person was already very sick, almost given up on, so to speak, he was not even given a chance to recover, or even to die in peace. Instead, a wagon was called to cart the patient away to be dumped on a heap together with all the dying and dead.
It happened that my husband came to the house of a friend who was nearly in the throes of death. The wagon had already been called for him. With the greatest presence of mind, my husband pulled the patient out of bed, dressed him in his--my husband's--clothes, and sat him down at the table, with a book in front of him.
My husband crawled into bed, pretending to be the patient. When the wagon came, and it was seen that the "sick man" was in good health, there was a lot of shouting. After all, the wagon drivers had been bothered for nothing! When they left, my husband put the patient back into bed, and nursed him back to health.
The friend came to America after the war. He had a son here, and my husband made the shidduch [match] for this son, with the daughter of another friend. The couple have many children and many, many grandchildren!
He who saves one life saves whole generations for all time to come.
The Brooklyn branch of Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe (F.R.E.E.) recently organized its 10,000th bris. Mazal tov to six-year-old Avrohom Vays (pictured above flanked by rabbis, doctors, the mohel and the sandek).
You've dedicated a few years of your life to studying English, Math, History, and Econo-mics...Why not take a few days to learn about yourself? College students are invited to a ten-day-long journey into the depths of Torah via classes, discussions, and workshops that show that self-discovery and personal growth is integral to traditional Judaism. Yeshivacation provides the thinking 90's Jew a forum for exploring his or her roots. June 4th - June 13th. For more info call (718) 735-0217 or (718) 735-0250.
OVER ONE MILLION POUNDS
Ask the man on the street what the most urgent problem facing him today as a citizen of the C.I.S. is and invariably he will answer, "Food." Ezras Achim has made the easing of this critical situation one of its main priorities. In the last four months alone Brooklyn-based Ezras Achim has sent 28 containers each holding 50,000 lbs. to the C.I.S.. The containers were sent from Israel, France, Italy, Switzerland and the U.S. packed with every form of food staples and kosher food as well as clothing and medication.
IT'S NEVER TOO LATE
Excerpted from letters of the Rebbe to participants in the annual Lubavitch Women's Convention
The time between Passover, the festival of our deliverance from Egypt, and Shavuot, the festival of our receiving the Torah, is particularly auspicious for every activity aimed at strengthening the study and practice of the Torah and mitzvot, for this is the annual period of preparation for receiving the Torah.
This period is especially auspicious for women's work in this direction, considering what our Sages have said about the part played by our Jewish women in connection with the two historic events of the deliverance from Egypt and receiving the Torah. In connection with the first, our Sages said that in the merit of the righteous women our ancestors were freed from Egypt; in connection with the second--G-d commanded Moshe to speak first to the Jewish women and then to the men, thereby assuring that the Torah would be readily received and perpetuated for all time.
Every year, at this time, the Divine blessing and influence are renewed, just as when first revealed during this period. However, it is necessary to prepare and provide the proper means and "vessels" in order to receive this benevolent influence, at this time and for long afterwards, and make effective use of it.
One of the teachings of Pesach Sheini--as my father-in-law of saintly memory pointed out--is that in matters of Judaism one should never give up, and it is never too late to rectify a past failing.
The days of Sefira connect Passover--the Festival of our Liberation from Egypt with Shavuot--the Festival of our receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. This underscores the fact that the purpose of the liberation from Egyptian bondage was to receive the Torah, as indeed, G-d had expressly told Moses from the beginning, that when he will lead the people out of Egypt, they will "serve G-d on this mountain." At the same time, it also emphasizes that we can achieve true liberation only through the Torah.
In both events--the liberation from Egypt and the receiving of the Torah--Jewish women had a very important share. Our Sages tell us that in the merit of the righteous women we were freed from Egypt; while before the Torah was given, and before we could receive it, the women had to be approached first--only then, the men.
The meaning of Torah is that it teaches the Jew how to conduct his daily life, from the most tender age and through his entire life. This is what Jewish education is all about.
Just as in those days in Egypt it was largely due to Jewish women, wives, mothers and daughters, that a new generation was brought up that rose to the highest level and received the Torah with na'ase v'nishma [unconditional acceptance of doing first and understanding later], so at all times, and particularly in the present time, Jewish women, wives, mothers and daughters have a special role in the education of the children, their own as well as others they may encounter.
Rachel, the wife of Rabbi Akiva, was the daughter of the wealthy Kalba ben Savua. Her father disowned her when she married Akiva, then an unlearned shepherd. Rachel saw potential greatness in Akiva and encouraged him to leave home and devote himself to Torah. Her self-sacrifice for her husband's Torah learning is legendary. When Akiva returned home after 24 years he attributed his achievements as well as those of his 24,000 students to Rachel, as recorded in the Talmud.
"Why are we kept back, that we may not offer the offering of the L-rd in its appointed season among the children of Israel?" This question was posed to Moses and Aaron when some of the Jewish people were unable to offer the Passover sacrifice together with the other Jews.
These Jews had become ritually impure in their desert travels and thus were not permitted to bring the special Pascal sacrifice.
They could have left well enough alone. After all, our Sages have taught, "If a person intended to perform a mitzva and circumstances prevented him from it, it is regarded as if he had performed it!" Since they were forcibly kept from performing the mitzva, the reward for the mitzva was not denied them.
But that wasn't enough for them. And because of their protest and great desire to fulfill this mitzva to its fullest potential they and all future generations were rewarded with "Pesach Sheini." Pesach Sheini, celebrated this week on Wednesday, means the "Second Passover," and is observed one month after the first Passover. Until the destruction of the Holy Temple, any Jew unable to bring the Passover sacrifice on the 14th of Nisan--either because he was ritually impure, in a distant place, was prevented by unavoidable circumstances, or even if he intentionally did not bring it--could bring it on the 14th of Iyar.
One of the primary lessons of Pesach Sheini is that it is never too late. We can always make up for a past misdeed, omission or failing through sincere desire and making amends.
In addition, the complaint of the Jews to Moses and Aaron, "Why are we kept back..." teaches us an important lesson in how we are to approach those mitzvot that we can currently not perform because we are still in exile.
Why, G-d, are we kept back from offering the sacrifices in their right time?
Why are we kept back from seeing Your glory revealed?
Why are we kept back from performing each mitzva to its optimum, for each mitzva is incomplete while we are in exile?
Let us also not be content with the words of our Sages, that if we desire to perform these mitzvot it is enough. Like the Jews in the desert, let us rally together and cry out to G-d, "Why are we kept back...bring the true and ultimate Redemption which You promised us!"
And may G-d immediately heed our heartfelt cries as He did those of our ancestors.
Bruria sat at the table staring at the open scroll of Torah, but she didn't see the words before her. Her anguished past was usually held at bay by her intense study of the Law, but on days like today the painful scenes intruded into her present and irrepressibly dominated her thoughts.
The horrible scene was as fresh in her mind as the day on which it had occurred. "Father, Father," she screamed over and over. She had tried in vain to go to him, whether to help him or to join him in his martyrdom. It seemed like only hours had passed since his pure soul escaped from his tormented body, flying heavenward together with the holy letters of the Torah scroll wrapped around his body which refused to burn. The same day saw the martyrdom of her holy mother and the enslavement of her sister.
Her husband, Rabbi Meir, entered the room, interrupting her thoughts, but she didn't look up. "What are you thinking of, my wife?" he asked softly.
"So much time has passed since that terrible day. I'm thinking about my poor sister. Oh, Meir, we must do something again to try to ransom her. It's been so long since we've tried. Please, I can't bear to think of her a captive of the wicked Romans. I can't live with myself, imagining what she's going through."
"You're right, Bruria. I promise to try. Perhaps G-d will have mercy on her and intercede on her part. Perhaps this time I will succeed."
The following day Rabbi Meir prepared for his mission. He changed from the clothing which marked him as a scholar and dressed for the road. He loaded his horse with provisions, and carefully tucked in his belt a bag of gold coins. With this small fortune he hoped to bribe the prison guard and free his sister-in-law.
When he reached the Roman fortress, he dismounted and approached the guard. "Halt! What is your business here?" barked the Roman guard.
"I have come to ransom the Jewish girl who is being held here."
"If that's it, you may as well get back on your horse. There's nothing I can do about it. I have superiors to answer to. Do you think I can let prisoners out just like that? What do you think would happen to me?"
"I understand your problem, well," replied Rabbi Meir as he removed the bag of gold from his belt. He made sure that the guard saw the bag and heard the clinking of the coins.
"Maybe the contents of this bag will solve your problem," said Rabbi Meir. "Keep half for your trouble, and use the rest to keep the other guards quiet. I'm sure that now you can free the girl."
The guard stood wide-eyed, looking down at the bag. Only his fear stopped him from grabbing it. "If they find me out, I'll be in the kind of trouble there's no getting out of."
"I will make you a promise: If you need help, just cry out, 'G-d of Meir, answer me!' and you will be saved."
"How can I trust you?" No sooner had the guard uttered his question when Rabbi Meir spotted a pack of wild dogs. He picked up a few stones and threw them at the dogs who leaped at him with bared fangs.
"G-d of Meir, answer me!" cried out Rabbi Meir. Instantly, the dogs ran away. When the guard saw that, he reached for the bag of gold. Obviously, this wasn't your average horseman, but a miracle-worker.
In a few moments Bruria's sister was running down the road, free.
When news of the girl's escape reached Rome, a government investigation was quickly begun. It wasn't long before the guard was implicated, convicted, and condemned to death by hanging. He was led to the gallows and the rope placed on his neck. But he hadn't forgotten what Rabbi Meir had told him, and at the last moment he cried out, "G-d of Meir, answer me!" At once, the rope snapped. The hangmen brought a new rope, but no matter how they tried, something always went wrong. Even the executioners sensed that something out of the ordinary was occurring.
They removed the guard from the scaffolding and asked him, "What's going on here? It seems that some great power is saving you. Nothing like this has ever happened before!" The guard told them about the strange horseman who had come to ransom the girl, and about his promise of help.
The strange story was told and retold until it reached the ears of the highest officials in Rome. Rabbi Meir's reputation as a holy man who could work miracles was well known to them, and they surmised that the daring horseman was none other than Rabbi Meir himself. No effort was spared to apprehend and punish him. Those Jews would be taught an indelible lesson.
One day as Rabbi Meir was walking down the street, he was recognized. He fled down the winding, narrow paths as fast as he could, but soon they would catch up to him. Just then he saw a non-kosher restaurant. This was the perfect place to hide. Why, who would imagine that the great Rabbi Meir would be found inside a treife restaurant? He entered, ordered some food, and sat with the plate in front of him, sticking one finger into the food, while licking another.
Just as he had assumed, his pursuers arrived in no time. They looked into the door and stared hard at Rabbi Meir. No, it couldn't be--they must be mistaken. True, there was a man who looked just like Rabbi Meir, but he was sitting and licking his fingers, enjoying the plateful of non-kosher food. No, it couldn't be Rabbi Meir. They quickly left to continue the search elsewhere.
Rabbi Meir waited another few minutes and then left. He knew that he couldn't stay in the Holy Land any longer. That very day Rabbi Meir would make plans for his escape to Babylonia and safety.
You shall be holy, for I am holy (Lev. 19:2)
"Holy, but not removed from the world," comments the Ktav Sofer.
Man is enjoined to imitate G-d, the source of all holiness, Who actively involves Himself in all aspects of His creation. G-d wants us to live a holy life within the physical world, not to be ascetic.
A saying exists that a wealthy man's son never has to worry about making a living. Likewise, G-d reassures His children, the Jewish people, that holiness and sanctity are well within their grasp. "For I am holy"--"I have enough holiness to go around for everyone."
(The Rebbe of Alexander)
And you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am G-d (Lev. 19:18)
This verse may also be read: "And you shall love your neighbor"--"as you are yourself." G-d holds us to the same standards by which we judge other people. If we show love for our fellow Jews, G-d will show the same love for us.
It says in the Midrash, "Redemption is compared to the aura of dawn, for it is to come by stages as does the dawn. At its onset, darkness prevails, but as it advances, it grows brighter and stronger until all is flooded by daylight."
(Book of Our Heritage)