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Who was your favorite teacher? Which teacher made the biggest impact on your life? Let your mind wander over the years and through the classrooms, from nursery through higher education.
When we're young, we learn from all of our teachers because there is so much to learn, so many new concepts, so many exciting areas to explore. And, of course, because to us, the teacher knows [just about] everything. In our youngest years, our most memorable teachers are often those with the twinkliest eyes, the most creative ideas, the kindest demeanor.
As we get older, though, we expect more out of school, and more out of life. Teachers of the "Micky Mouse" courses or "easy A" classes are almost never memorable. Our favorite teachers from our more mature years are usually not the ones in whose class we had a good time, but rather, the ones who pushed us, who made us work, maybe even helped us excel for the first time ever.
In the fourth chapter of "Chapters of the Fathers" (that we study this Shabbat afternoon), Ben Zoma asks, "Who is wise?" and answers with the statement, "One who learns from every person." Ben Zoma's proof is that King David declared, "From all those who have taught me I have gained wisdom." No lesser personage than King David learned something from every single one of his teachers!
We're not being told to harken back to our childhood when we learned from every teacher without exception or discretion. We are expected to do exactly what we did for the demanding teacher--work hard, strive toward something, eventually succeed and become all the better for it. In this instance what we're striving and working toward is the ability to learn from everyone.
As in most courses of worth, there are prerequisites. An important prerequisite to this course of action is to subjugate one's ego. After all, how can I possibly expect to learn from others if my ego keeps getting in the way, telling me that this teacher doesn't practice what he preaches, or that teacher doesn't really understand the subject very well, or he speaks in a monotone, or I learned it already from a better teacher, etc.
If we further define a wise person we come to some very interesting conclusions. First, our Sages tell us that just by being willing to learn from everyone allows us to be called a wise person. For with this healthy attitude we will ultimately become wise.
And who is a wise person? Not simply someone who learns. There are a lot of people who are "book smart" but we wouldn't necessarily call them wise, right? So having knowledge, even acquiring knowledge, is not really the definition of a wise person. A wise person is one who will look for something good he can learn from another person. Whether a piece of knowledge or good character trait to emulate, the wise person will find something even in a person who is of a lesser stature than himself. The ability to find in even the simplest person a good trait or insight is something that only a truly wise person can do.
"From all those who have taught me I have gained wisdom" brings us to an additional sentiment and responsibility. Our pursuit of "knowledge" should truly be a pursuit of becoming a wise person--a wise person who finds the good in everyone, without exception. This, in turn, makes it infinitely easier to fulfill the mitzva of ahavat Yisrael--loving another Jew. Each one of us is obligated, in order to properly fulfill the mitzva of ahavat Yisrael, to find the good in the other person. Ultimately, this will have the effect of enhancing our wisdom--wisdom as defined by the Torah and our Sages.
This week's Torah portion, Emor, begins with a fundamental teaching about the education of children: "Speak to the priests...and say to them." Our Sages explain that this repetition alludes to the mitzva and obligation placed on adults to instruct their children in the proper path. Parents, the Torah insists, must provide the next generation with the proper Jewish education.
But why is such a fundamental concept not mentioned until now, halfway through the Torah? Would it not have been more appropriate for this mitzva to be given immediately after the revelation at Mt. Sinai? Furthermore, why is this mitzva mentioned in connection with the priests?
In explanation, bear in mind that the Torah portion studied during any given week has particular significance for that time of year. Its selection is not arbitrary; its teachings are especially applicable at that particular time. The commandment to educate the young must therefore apply most specifically now, during the month of Iyar, a month primarily characterized by counting the Omer.
The essential concept of Sefirat HaOmer, counting the Omer, is education. The Jews were educated and refined as they counted the days before the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai, seven weeks after their exodus from Egypt. The release from bondage was, so to speak, the "birth" of the Jewish nation, which was then followed by a period in which they were educated for the great event to come.
This learning experience was not, however, in the fundamentals of Judaism; G-d had already said of Abraham, "For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, that they will keep the way of G-d." This process of refinement, achieved through counting the Omer, refers to an even higher degree of perfection.
Furthermore, this type of education has a special connection to the service of the priests, for their job was to bring the Jews closer to G-d through the sacrifices brought in the Holy Temple. Because the priests raised the sanctity of the entire Jewish nation, it is to them that the commandment to instruct the young was addressed.
We learn from this that the duty to provide our children--and every Jewish child--with a proper Jewish education involves more than teaching them just the basics of Judaism. We must also endeavor to instill in them the desire for perfection in the service of G-d.
Today, as we stand on the threshold of Moshiach's imminent arrival, this lesson is particularly apt, for it prepares us for that time when "the entire world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d, like the waters of the sea cover the earth."
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Yosef Goldstein
As told by Rabbi Yosef Goldstein
The year was 1943. The complex currently known throughout the world as "770" on Eastern Parkway was not yet built. What is now the main part of the shul was an empty driveway.
In that driveway, for the past two years, hundreds of Jewish children had gathered on Lag B'Omer for a special program organized by Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, son-in-law of the Lubavitcher Rebbe at that time, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn.
I was the Master of Ceremonies of the Lag B'Omer program. The children, who were all sitting quietly and attentively on folding chairs, waited anxiously for Rabbi Menachem Mendel [the present Rebbe, shlita], to come.
When the Rebbe came, I told the children to sing the song that Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok had said we would sing as we went out of exile, "Ki B'Simcha Teitzeiu--We go out in joy."
Then, I introduced the Rebbe, shlita, to the children. The Rebbe took one of the folding chairs and stood on it so that all of the children would be able to hear better.
The Rebbe addressed the children. As he did so, I couldn't help but notice that the last window to the left on the second floor opened. To my astonishment, I saw Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok in his long, black, silk coat and his shtreimel (fur hat) at the window. The Previous Rebbe was a portrait of majesty, of glory, of royalty. I had never before seen such a display of holiness as I saw at that moment.
The Previous Rebbe was standing--a difficult task for him because he had suffered a stroke. He was listening to his son-in-law the entire time.
I was in a quandary. Where should I look? Should my gaze be focused up on the Previous Rebbe or near me at the Rebbe, shlita? As I quickly contemplated this question, a strange sight caught my attention. A second window, close to the first, also opened. But try as I might, I could not see anyone looking out of the second window. Who had opened the window?
The answer to my question came as rapidly as the question. For, as soon as the Rebbe, shlita, finished his talk, a messenger came and asked him to come upstairs to his father-in-law.
What transpired there, the Rebbe later told to Rabbi Yitzchok Groner, now the head Lubavitcher emissary in Australia, and Rabbi Groner told me.
"You surely know," the Previous Rebbe told the Rebbe, shlita, "about the dispute that existed between the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad-Lubavitch, who lived 200 years ago] and the tzadik Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev." The dispute was in regard to the prayer "V'Shamru" which is said in many communities on Friday night before the Shemona Esrei prayer. For various reasons, the Alter Rebbe did not include the recitation of that prayer in the Friday night service. Rabbi Levi Yitzchok--who, in addition to being a colleague of the Alter Rebbe's was also related through marriage--was always trying to convince the Alter Rebbe to include the prayer in the services.
All of this the Previous Rebbe related to the Rebbe, shlita, and continued, "Rabbi Levi Yitzchok told the Alter Rebbe, 'When Jews say V'shamru on Friday night it causes a big yarid [a lively fair] Above.'"
The Alter Rebbe wanted to keep the peace in the family. Ultimately, he agreed to print it in the prayer book, though with the instructions that according to the Chabad custom it is not said.
The Previous Rebbe continued, "The Alter Rebbe agreed with Rabbi Levi Yitzchok, 'I know and you know that there is a big yarid Above when V'Shamru is said. But it is not my custom to go to every yarid!'
"But to this yarid [the Lag B'Omer program]," the Previous Rebbe told the Rebbe, shlita, "the Alter Rebbe did come!"
When I heard this story I understood why the second window had opened, though no one was in sight. For, the Alter Rebbe was there, though I could not see him.
Bris Avrohom's 13th Annual "Bar Mitzva" Dinner, celebrating the Bar Mitzva of 18 boys who are part of the Russian Jewish Community in New Jersey, took place at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan. Each boy received a kiddush cup, tefilin and a Hebrew/Russian chumash presented by director Rabbi Mordechai Kanelsky. The boys are pictured above with their sponsoring couple.
EARN WHILE YOU LEARN
The Ivy League Torah Study Program is a summer fellowship in Judaic Studies for university students. Seventy select students from across North America will live and learn authentic Torah Judaism at a scenic Catskills Mountain camp setting. Students receive room and board plus a $900 fellowship, while attending an intense program of classes. For further info or an interview contact Rabbi M. Bogomilsky/ILTSP, 824 Eastern Parkwy, Bklyn, NY 11213 or call (718) 735-0200 or 1-800-33-NCFJE. Sponsored by the NCFJE.
CHABAD OF NORTH SHORE
"A fresh breeze is blowing on the North Shore" is the slogan of the new Chabad-Lubavitch center on Massachusett's North Shore. Headed by Rabbi Yosef and Laya Lipsker, the new center is 50 minutes north of Boston. Activities are being focused in the Swampscott-Marblehead-Lynn areas with a Jewish population of about 15,000. So far, their activities have inlcuded special holiday programs, a Kosher Week at the local supermarket, Torah classes and a kosher breakfast with Chasidic inspiration for women at a prestigious yacht club.
ACTION IS ESSENTIAL
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rosh Chodesh Iyar, 5741
In response to the information about the forthcoming Annual Convention to take place on the weekend of Lag B'Omer--may G-d grant that it should be with much success in every respect.
No doubt the Convention will be duly inspired by the bright day of Lag B'Omer, the day connected with Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Rashbi). And since "action is the essential thing," the inspiration will surely be translated into actual deeds.
To be sure, who can compare to Rashbi, one of the greatest Sages and leading disciples of Rabbi Akiva? However, since the Torah, the Torah of Life (Torat Chayim), describes his actions, it surely indicates that every one of us, man or woman, should be inspired to act in the same spirit and direction.
Thus the Talmud relates that when Rashbi emerged from the cave in which he had been hiding for twelve to thirteen years, during the Roman persecution, he immediately inquired if there was anything that needed to rectified. When he was informed that such a situation existed, he spared no time or effort until he corrected it. And this, although the problem involved nothing more crucial than saving some Jews the trouble of going out of their way while crossing a certain area.
The instruction to us is clear: If one is obligated to go to a great deal of trouble to spare a fellow Jew a relatively minor physical hardship, how much more must we do to help Jews in spiritual matters which are of paramount importance to them and to future generations.
By the grace of G-d, we live in a land where no one has to hide in a cave, or even in the privacy of his own home, in order to observe Judaism and disseminate it among fellow Jews. Nevertheless, there are patches of deep darkness out-side, and turbulent winds threaten to erode the spiritual and moral values of the young generation. This is a situation which is worrisome, not only as regards the preservation of Judaism, but also regarding the preservation of basic moral standards.
In light of this situation, the quality of Torah education has never been more important than now. This applies not only that which the child receives in the educational institution, which must be of the highest standard in terms of purity and holiness. But it is just as important that the education which the child absorbs at home, from the general atmosphere and conduct that makes the home what it is, be at that same high standard. And this is largely dependent on the woman--the akeret habayit, "the foundation of the home," and the em habanim, "the mother of the children."
It has often been emphasized that the best way to deal with a problem is to prevent it from developing in the first place. Thus, it is necessary to spare no effort until each and every Jewish child, boys as well as girls, receive the maximum Torah education, both at school and at home. And, as mentioned, insofar as the home is concerned, the woman is the "Foundation of the Home," whom G-d has endowed with the privilege and responsibility--hence also the capacity--to permeate the home with the light and warmth of Judaism, Torah and mitzvot--to overflowing. This should reach the level that even the neighboring Jewish homes and the whole neighborhood becomes Jewishly brighter and warmer, in accordance with the Divine order, request and promise: "Make Me a Mikdash [a sanctuary], and I will dwell in their midst"--in the midst of each and every Jew, man, woman, and child.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (commonly known by the acronym of his name, Rashbi
) lived in the 2nd century c.e. He openly criticized the Roman government and was forced to go into hiding. He and his son hid in a cave and immersed themselves in Torah. Emerging after 13 years he founded an academy in the Gallilee. His esoteric teachings were recorded by his disciples in the Zohar
, the most fundamental work of Kabala
. On his yahrzeit on Lag B'Omer, tens of thousands gather at his tomb in Meron, in northern Gallilee.
This Sunday is Lag B'Omer--the 33rd day of the Omer period between Passover and Shavuot--a day of parades and park-outings.
On Lag B'Omer we commemorate the passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. His instructions to his followers and all future generations, was to rejoice on his yartzeit since that was the day on which his soul completed its Divine mission.
In addition, when years earlier Rabbi Akiva's students were struck with a plague, none of them passed away on Lag B'Omer although they did die before and after that auspicious day.
Rabbi Akiva was one of the greatest Jewish scholars and leaders of all times. Maimonides (the Rambam), in his Laws of Kings, describes him as one of the greatest Sages of the Mishna.
It shouldn't be surprising, then, to read in the Laws of Kings that Rabbi Akiva was not only conversant with the laws of Moshiach, but that he actually pointed to a person in his generation whom he and other Sages believed was Moshiach.
The Rambam writes: "One should not enter-tain the notion that the King Moshiach must work miracles and wonders, bring about new phenomena with the world, resurrect the dead, or perform other similar deeds. This is defin-itely not true. Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest Sages of the Mishna, was one of the supporters of Ben Koziva [Bar Kochba], and described him as the King Moshiach. He and all the Sages of his generation considered Ben Koziva to be the King Moshiach until he was killed because of his sins. Once he was killed, they realized that he was not Moshiach. The Sages did not ask him for any signs or wonders."
The Laws of Kings is part of a work on Jewish law, not history. Recounting the above incident serves not as an historic interlude, but to teach us or to clarify a specific aspect of Jewish law connected with Moshiach. The most obvious clarification is that Moshiach needn't perform signs, wonders, etc. to be considered Moshiach.
The story of Bar Kochba also serves as an introduction to the following law that "If a king will arise from the House of David...we may with assurance consider him the Moshiach" just as did Rabbi Akiva.
Despite the fact that Bar Kochba did not turn out to be the redeemer, the Midrash (Asara Harugei Malchut) states that Rabbi Akiva made no mistake. For, since there exists in every generation a person capable of being Moshiach, Bar Kochba was that person in his generation.
It's Lag B'Omer and bonfires burn brightly all over the Land of Israel as well as throughout the Jewish world as we celebrate the yahrzeit of the great Tanna, Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai. The little village of Meron in the upper Gallilee is buzzing with happy activity as hundreds of little three-year old boys gather with their families for their first haircuts. They are following the instructions of Rabbi Shimon himself who enjoined his disciples to mark the day of his passing with great joy. This custom has been honored throughout hundreds of generations to our very day.
But while we remember Rabbi Shimon with festive gatherings, the times in which he lived were filled with suffering and harsh repression. The Romans were cruel rulers in the Jewish land, and their aim was to stamp out the practice of Judaism. Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues continued teaching their devoted students despite the threat of death which hovered over them all. And Jewish scholarship blossomed in spite of the Roman menace.
One of the greatest and most beloved of Rabbi Akiva's students was Rabbi Shimon, whom he called "my son." Even while his master, Rabbi Akiva was in prison, Rabbi Shimon visited him to serve and to continue learning Torah.
Once during those difficult days, Rabbi Shimon sat with his fellow rabbis, Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Yose ben Chalafta, discussing the Roman rule. Rabbi Yehuda spoke first saying, "The Romans aren't all bad. They have invested in dozens of beneficial projects--beautiful cities, bridges and roads, which all serve to enhance public life." Rabbi Yose shook his head in disagreement, but said nothing. Only Rabbi Shimon spoke up in fearless disdain of the wicked conquerers. "How can you say that? Why, everything they have done was only to satisfy their own greedy desires. Of course they have built cities--to contain their houses of vice; and bridges--an excellent source of revenue to fill their coffers!"
But as Rabbi Shimon spoke, an informer was sitting nearby, paying close attention to his words. This man was only too happy to repeat the rabbis' conversation to the authorities. As a result, Rabbi Shimon and his son, Eleazer were forced to flee. They eventually found a hidden cave where they remained for twelve years, constantly learning Torah. They achieved such an exalted level of holiness that when they emerged at last, their gaze alone was enough to scorch the surroundings which appeared mundane to their holy eyes. G-d sent them back to their cave for yet another year, for fear that they would destroy His world.
When they emerged for good, Rabbi Shimon's body was covered in painful sores from sitting immersed in the sand of the cave for so many years. (He had removed his clothing to preserve it, and so, had to cover himself up with sand.)
After some time Rabbi Shimon was cured of his sores by the Tiberian mineral springs. He established a yeshiva in the village of Tekoah in the Gallilee. There, the most brilliant students of the age, including Rabbi Yehuda, gathered to learn Torah from the Master. Amid the silvery olive groves they learned not only the revealed Torah, but the esoteric, mystical Torah as well, laying the groundwork for the Zohar, the fundamental work of the Kabala. Of Rabbi Shimon it is said that he restored the study and knowledge of the Torah.
Rabbi Shimon's disdain for the worldly and mundane was well known. The Talmud relates a story about Rabbi Shimon's students, one of whom had managed to amass a fortune in a foreign country. When he returned, his fellow students were eager to do the same as he had, and make fortunes of their own. Rabbi Shimon took his students into a valley and prayed that the valley fill up with gold. When his prayer was answered, he told the students that they could take as much gold as they wished. The only drawback was that what they took would be subtracted from their eternal reward. The students learned the lesson well. They replaced whatever they had taken, unwilling to trade gold for their real treasure.
In the later part of his life Rabbi Shimon travelled to Rome at the behest of the other Sages to petition the emperor, Marcus Aurelius, to repeal the anti-Jewish decrees which were set in place by his predecessor. The Talmud describes the manner in which he achieved his success in this mission. When Rabbi Shimon arrived in Rome, the daughter of the emperor was gravely ill. No doctor had been able to cure her, and it seemed that she would die. Rabbi Shimon was able to effect a cure, and as a reward, the Emperor offered him his choice of a precious object from the royal treasure vault. Rabbi Shimon entered and was able to find the scrolls which contained the evil edicts. He took them and tore them up in front of the Emperor. In this way, he was able to restore to the Jewish people the right to practice circumcision as well as to observe the Sabbath.
Speak unto the priests (Lev. 21:1)
The name of this week's Torah portion--"Emor"--"speak"--contains a lesson for us all: We must strive to always speak well of our fellow Jew and judge one another favorably. Just as speaking ill of someone reveals his negative qualities, words of praise reveal the inner good.
You shall not profane (22:32)
The Hebrew word for "profane"--"t'chal'lu"--is related to the word meaning "empty" or "void."
"Do not cause a void or emptiness to come between us," G-d cautions, referring to transgressions which place a barrier between a Jew and G-d.
"Furthermore, make sure that no place is void of Me." Haughtiness pushes away the Divine Presence, which is incompatible with pride and lack of humility.
You shall afflict your souls on the ninth day of the month at night (23:32)
That Talmud states that when a person eats well on the ninth of Tishrei in preparation for the fast of Yom Kippur, it is considered as if he fasted two consecutive days. Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk explained why: Just thinking about how holy and awe-inspiring Yom Kippur is makes it hard for one to eat. If, however, despite this natural reflex, a person manages to get the food down--is this not also affliction?
So that I may be sanctified among the Children of Israel; I am G-d Who sanctifies you (Lev. 23:32)
This verse is followed by the commandment to proclaim the various festivals, as was done years ago when the Jewish calendar was set according to the testimony of eyewitnesses. Because the Jewish people are, in essence, sanctified, they have the power to determine when the festivals will fall, thereby imbuing them with holiness as well.
(Der Torah Kvall)
Since the day the Temple was destroyed, an individual was born who is worthy because of his righteousness to be the redeemer, and when the time comes G-d will appear to him and send him, just as G-d appeared to Moses
(Chatam Sofer-Likutim, ch. 98).