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L'Chaim
May 1, 1998 - 5 Iyar 5758

516: Tazria/Metzora

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The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.


  515: Shemini517: Achrei/Kedoshim  

Your Heart  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  Rambam this week
The Rebbe Writes  |  What's New  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

Your Heart

So how's your blood pressure? Now is surely the time to be asking this question as it is National Blood Pressure Month in the United States. Whether your blood pressure is high, low, or thank G-d, normal, it couldn't hurt to say a few words about the heart.

On Shabbat afternoons beginning after Passover, it's customary to study one chapter each week from the tractate of the Mishna known as "Ethics of the Fathers," containing moral guidance from many of our greatest Sages. It is Ethics that contains the famous question of Hillel, "If not now, when?" And when if not now (in National Read to Me Week - yes, it's this week) is a more appropriate time to begin reading Ethics on Shabbat afternoons?

The Hebrew word "Mishna" has the same letters as the Hebrew word "neshama," or soul.[1] The words of our Sages as recorded in the Mishna are intrinsically connected to our souls. Studying Mishnayot is so powerful that Jewish teachings explain, "All the exiles will be gathered in only by virtue of the study of Mishnayot."

So, what can one learn from Mishnayot about the heart, the cause of blood pressure?

In the second chapter of Ethics, studied this Shabbat, we read of an interaction between the great teacher and mystic Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai and five of his most outstanding disciples.

Rabbi Yochanan instructed his students, "Go and see what is the good way to which a person should cleave." Rabbi Eliezer said: A good eye; Rabbi Joshua said: A good friend; Rabbi Yosay said: A good neighbor; Rabbi Shimon said: One who considers the consequences of his actions; Rabbi Elazar said: A good heart.

Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai said to them: "I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach to all of yours, for in his words yours are included."

Rabbi Yochanan further instructed his disciples: Go and see which is the evil path from which a person should keep far way. Rabbi Eliezer said: An evil eye; Rabbi Joshua said: A wicked friend; Rabbi Yosay said: A wicked neighbor; Rabbi Shimon said; He who borrows and does not repay... Rabbi Elazar said: A bad heart.

Rabbi Yochanan responded: "I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach to all of yours, for in his words your are included."

Obviously, neither Rabbi Yochanan nor Rabbi Elazar were discussing the physical health of one's heart. They were discussing its spiritual health.

The heart is the core and essence of a person, and it is the source of all of a person's powers, both physical and spiritual. Rabbi Elazar is teaching us that if the source - the heart - is good, everything else will also be good, and will not be flawed in any way.

How did Rabbi Elazar come to these amazing conclusions? The Torah ends with the Hebrew letter lamed and begins with the Hebrew letter bet. When put together they spell the word lev, heart. From the Torah, we learn how to have a truly good heart. And it is, perhaps, for this reason that Rabbi Elazar's advice to future generations as recorded in Ethics: Rabbi Elazar said: "Be diligent in the study of Torah."

So, whether in celebration Blood Pressure Month, Read to Me Week, or simply for its own sake, do something good for your heart: Study Torah.

   

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) This is the origin of the custom of studying Mishnayot - chapters of the Mishna - for a loved one who has passed on, for it brings an elevation to the deceased person's soul when Mishna is studying in the merit of his or her neshama.


Living with the Rebbe

The first of the two Torah portions we read this week is Tazria, which comes from the Hebrew word meaning to plant seeds. Why does a farmer sow his field? For the purpose of obtaining a greater yield than he started with. It makes no sense to go to all that work if the end result will be quantitatively the same as before. Thus the whole point of planting seeds is to eventually harvest a larger crop of produce.

The Jewish soul, sent from the celestial spheres down into the physical world, is likened to a seed that is planted in the earth. Once enclothed within a physical body and able to perform practical mitzvot, the soul can obtain a very great "crop" from its service in this world.

In the allegorical sense, man's service of G-d is likened to the act of sowing. His mission in life is to produce the greatest possible yield by sowing goodness within himself, his family and friends, and within the world at large. His study of Torah and performance of the commandments are like seeds that germinate into an overwhelmingly abundant yield of good.

Exile, too, is likened to the act of sowing. The actions we perform during the galut (exile) serve the function of cultivating and hastening their later outgrowth in the Messianic era.

The second Torah portion that is read this week is Metzora, which opens with the words "This shall be the law of the leper." In many places this portion is known simply as "This Shall Be."

The words "This shall be" are in the future tense. They constitute G-d's promise that so it shall be, that after the difficult process of sowing there will be much to harvest. After the exile, the redemption will surely arrive. When Moshiach comes we will reap all the fine fruits that grew from the seeds we planted throughout the years of exile.

Thus the two Torah portions, Tazria and Metzora ("This Shall Be"), are symbolic of exile and redemption. In many years (as this one) they are read together, on the same Shabbat.

Whenever two Torah portions are combined it signifies that their themes are interrelated. Exile and redemption constitute a natural sequence; the redemption follows the exile immediately upon its conclusion.

We who are still in exile and involved in the act of "sowing" must thus always strive to connect ourselves in all we do to the imminent Final Redemption, just as Tazria is connected to Metzora. Our "seeds" must be sown with a sense of perpetual longing and anticipation of Moshiach's coming. We must never reconcile ourselves to remaining in exile, but repeatedly demand and pray to G-d that He fulfill His promise. In this way we will merit the true and complete Redemption, immediately and at once.

Adapted from Hitva'aduyot 5742


A Slice of Life

The following is a free translation of a story that appeared in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot on Iyar 4, 5717 (May 5, 1957). Reprinted from The Week in Review, published by VHH For subscription to WIR or information call (718) 774-6448.
On the eve of Independence Day last year, as the bonfires were being raised on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, the lights were burning also in Tzafrir (Kfar Chabad), the Chabad-Lubavitcher village in the Lod Valley.

For four days, since the evening of the first day of Iyar, the village had been in deep mourning and grievous anguish, the likes of which the Lubavitcher chasidim had not known in many years.

On that black and bitter night, a band of fedayeen [Arab terrorists who crossed into Israel from Egypt and Jordan and were responsible for many killings of Israeli civilians during the 1950's] entered the village. They made their way to the synagogue of the local agricultural school, where the school's young students were in the midst of the evening prayers, and raked the room with fire from their Karl-Gustav rifles.

They reaped a cruel blood-harvest: five children and one teacher were killed and another ten children wounded; their pure, holy blood soaking the prayerbooks that fell from their hands and splattering the synagogue's white-washed walls.

The village chasidim, brawny, broad-shouldered Russian Jews with thick black beards and bushy brows, stood dumbfounded before the terrible scene that met their eyes.

"A pogrom in Israel! A pogrom in Chabad!" they whispered, and bit their lips in rage. This was not a common scene for the Lubavitchers.

These chasidim, who had survived the pogroms in Czar Nikolai's Russia and whom the Red Army could not intimidate, who had been banished to the frozen plains of Siberia, whose backs decades in Stalin's prisons and camps could not bow, now stood stooped and despairing. Perhaps we should disband, seek refuge in safer havens?

But it was clear to all that before any decisive move would be made, the Rebbe had to be consulted. Nothing would be done without his knowledge and consent. All awaited the telegram from "there," from New York, but the telegram was inexplicably not forthcoming. Four days had passed since the terror had struck. A lengthy telegram had immediately been dispatched informing the Rebbe of all the details of the tragedy, and an answer was expected that very night. But the Rebbe was silent.

Why is the Rebbe's answer on such a fateful matter tarrying?

And then, four days after the tragedy, the telegram arrived. The news spread throughout the village: A telegram from the Rebbe! The entire village, men, women and children, assembled in the village square to hear the Rebbe's reply. And the Rebbe was characteristically succinct.

The telegram contained a single sentence, three Hebrew words: "Behemshech habinyan tinacheimu," wrote the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. "By your continued building will you be comforted."

The chasidim of Kfar Chabad now had a firm grasp on their future: they knew what they had to do. The Rebbe said to build! And that by their continued building they will be comforted!

That night the village elders held a meeting to discuss how the Rebbe's directive might be implemented. After a short discussion, a decision was reached: a vocational school will be built where children from disadvantaged backgrounds will be taught the printing trade. On the very spot where the blood was spilled, the building will be raised.

The next morning, all residents of the village gathered at the empty lot adjoining the agricultural school and began clearing and leveling the land in preparation for the building. The joy was back in their eyes.

In the weeks that followed, letters arriving from New York described what had transpired there in those four endless days in which the village had awaited the Rebbe's reply...

The tragic news from the Holy Land had arrived in New York moments before the farbrengen [which took place on the evening of the first day of Iyar] was scheduled to begin, but the Rebbe's secretaries decided to withhold the news from him until after the gathering. But what his assistants did not tell him, his heart seems to have told him.

That night, the Rebbe spoke of Jewish self-sacrifice and martyrdom for the sanctification of G-d's name, about the rebuilding of the Holy Land, and the redemption of the Jewish people. Tears flowed from his eyes as he spoke. All night he spoke and wept, sang and wept, and wept still more.

The farbrengen ended. The chasidim dispersed to their homes, and the Rebbe retired to his room. With great trepidation, two of the Rebbe's closest chasidim knocked on the Rebbe's door and handed him the telegram from Israel. The Rebbe sank in to his chair. After three days of seclusion, he called his secretary and dictated his reply: "Behemshech habinyan tinacheimu."

The chasidim of Kfar Chabad have fulfilled their Rebbe's request.

Without the aid of philanthropists or foundations, they have raised 50,000 Israeli pounds. And today, one year after the tragedy, the new building of the vocational school is completed.


Rambam this week

Rambam for 5 Iyar, 5758
Positive Mitzva 19: Grace After Meals

We are commanded to bless G-d after every meal. This mitzva is contained in the words (Deut. 8:10) "And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless the L-rd your G-d."

Rambam for 8 Iyar, 5758
Positive Mitzva 215: The Law of Circumcision

By this injunction, based on the words (Gen. 17:10) "Every male among you shall be circumcised" we are commanded to be circumcised. The Torah explicitly decrees the punishment of karet for any man who violates this positive precept.


The Rebbe Writes

Erev Lag B'Omer, 5734 [1974]

I just received your letter of Iyar 9 from Yerushalayim Ir-Hakodesh [Jerusalem the Holy City].

First of all, to open with a blessing, here is wishing you and all the family a hearty mazal tov on your nephew's marriage scheduled for the auspicious day of Lag B'Omer. No doubt my letter with blessing was duly received. May G-d grant that it should be a binyan adei-ad [an everlasting edifice].

The reason for my prompt reply to your letter, despite the great pressures, you can guess. For, as usual, I come to you with a new "assignment."

But a prefatory word will explain why. For, after reading your entire letter, it leaves the unmistakable impression that you consider yourself no more than Mr. Shneur Zalman Jaffe, hence you write only about family matters and relatives, etc. Do not misunderstand. Every Jew is a "whole world," as we are especially reminded on Lag B'Omer, which is connected with p'nimiyut haTorah [the inner dimension of the Torah] (RaShBY), with deeper insights into the concept of Ahavas Yisrael [Love of a Fellow Jew], as well known to those who are born and bred in Chasidic families.

However, there is the well known saying by our saintly Rebbes - Az gut iz gut, iz beser nit beser? (What is good is good, but isn't better- better?).

I have in mind the fact that in addition to being Mr. S.Z.J., you are "Mr. Manchester," and surely you have heard about this appellation in reference to your good self. Consequently, your being now in the Holy Land, in addition to the great mitzva of sharing and increasing the joy of the chatan-kalla [groom and bride] and all the family, etc., there is surely a further reason (not necessarily in that order) - to arouse all Mancunians in the Holy Land, and those who have family ties with M/c [Manchester], and inspire them with the spirit of RaShBY, without measure or limit, since such activity should be inspired by unbounded ahavat Yisrael, and, moreover, you have seen hatzlacha [success] in your activities in this direction. And furthermore, since Mrs. Jaffe is your helpmate, and generous in her cooperation.

You will surely also not overlook the fact that one of the Mancunians living in Eretz Yisrael is a "certain" Dr. Moshe Jaffe and will include him too, in this your campaign - and likewise on the principle "Good is good, but better is better." Particularly in view of the fact of his dominating position in the Federation of Synagogues in Eretz Yisrael, which gives him the great zechut [privilege], hence also great responsibility, for all shuls in the Holy Land, including the unaffiliated, since he would surely like to see them join - and, again, to apply to each of them the principle, "Good is good, but better is better."

I believe I had occasion to mention to you once a word of the father of my father-in-law, to the effect that what is expected of every Chasid is that when he is engaged in a job, he should do it with p'nimiyut [inwardness], so that no other thing should distract him at that time, however important it is. I therefore hope and trust that if you accept my said suggestion about your "job" during your stay in Eretz Yisrael, you will consider it as though this is the only shlichut [mission] which Supreme Providence has given you in Eretz Yisrael.

Because time is of the essence, and because of the importance of the matter, I am having this letter sent to you by Special Delivery - Express. And for better measure still, I will request the office to contact you by long distance phone, so that you can make the most of Lag B'Omer and Shabbat and subsequent days.


What's New

SEFIRA REMINDER ON YOUR DESKTOP

You can now have an electronic "Sefira Reminder" at your desktop. If your computer has WINDOWS95 you can download the "sefira.exe" program from www.chabad.org/software/

Included in this unique program are insights to every day of the Sefira as explained by Rabbi Simon Jacobson plus lots more. (Hint use your "right mouse button" to see special features).

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

To celebrate the ten year anniversary of the Rebbe's Birthday campaign, Lubavitcher Yeshiva and Oholei Menachem yeshiva in Brooklyn staged a massive birthday party for their students. Children whose Jewish birthdays occur in the summer were honored at a school-wide party. In both yeshivot, the children's names were written on a huge birthday cake covering an entire table. All students received booklets explaining the Rebbe's birthday campaign and containing customary ways to celebrate one's birthday including: giving extra charity; making a good resolution; gathering with family and friends; presenting a Torah thought at a birthday gathering. When initiating the campaign the Rebbe quoted the Talmud that on one's [Jewish] birthday one's "mazal" is stronger. Thus, the day should be used appropriately. To find out when your Jewish birthday falls in the secular calendar, call the Tzivos Hashem Super-phone at (718) 467-7800, your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center, or try the on-line calendar at www.chabad.org/calendar/cal.htm


A Word from the Director

It is customary to study Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, on Shabbat afternoons between Passover and Shavuot. This week's section, Chapter Two, contains the following advice in the name of one of the greatest Jewish Sages, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi: "Be as careful in [the performance of a seemingly] minor mitzva as of a major one, for you do not know the reward given for the mitzvot."

As the Rebbe has explained, there are two aspects to our Torah observance and two types of reward:

"The commandments were given solely to allow the creations to become refined." Each one of the Torah's 613 mitzvot causes a different aspect of spiritual purification in the person who performs the mitzva, the physical objects he uses to perform it, and in the world at large. In this sense, the reward G-d gives us for keeping His commandments is greater for certain mitzvot and less for others, according to the specific mitzva's characteristics.

At the same time, all mitzvot share something in common in the way we approach them. The Torah's mitzvot are the will of G-d. Whenever we do a mitzva, our motivation is not to bring about its particular spiritual effect but simply to do what G-d wants of us. In that sense, all of the different mitzvot are merely details.

What difference does it make which one we do first? The important thing is to fulfill the will of the Creator. Accordingly, the reward we receive for this aspect of our observance is the same for all the commandments.

Interestingly, the reward we receive for our role in refining the world is limited, just as each mitzva is categorized as "major" or "minor." But the reward for fulfilling G-d's will is beyond limitation - "you do not know" - completely above and beyond our comprehension.

How fortunate we Jews are, as we say at the conclusion of each Chapter, that "the Holy One, Blessed Be He, wished to make the people of Israel meritorious. He therefore gave them Torah and mitzvot in abundant measure."


Thoughts that Count

If a woman has conceived (Lev. 12:2)

These words, dealing with the subject of having children, immediately follow a lengthy enumeration of the laws of kashrut (in the previous Torah portion, Shemini). From this we learn that if the parents eat food that the Torah prohibits, they cause their offspring to suffer from "timtum halev," a spiritual insensitivity to holiness.

(Igeret HaRamban - Maimonides)

And he shall shave off all his hair, his head, and his beard, and his eyebrows (Lev. 14:9)

A person was smitten with the plague of leprosy for one of three reasons: arrogance, engaging in gossip, or having been envious of others. The purification process, therefore, consisted of shaving off the hair of the head (the seat of pride), the area of the beard (for having failed to prevent the mouth from speaking slanderously), and the eyebrows, which failed to stop the eyes from narrowing in jealousy.

(Kli Yakar)

If a man shall have in the skin of his flesh...the plague of leprosy (Lev. 13:2)

Oddly enough, although most people are careful to keep the laws of and inspect their food to make sure it is free of the tiniest worm, when they speak lashon hara (gossip) they have no compunctions about chewing up their fellow man and swallowing him alive...

(Rabbi Yisrael of Salant)

Humility: Our Sages tell us that "The observance of mitzvot requires the proper intention." In truth, when a person performs a mitzva for the sake of heaven, its value is endless and immeasurable. Yet there is one commandment that is impossible to observe intentionally, and that is being humble. Consciously intending to be humble is nothing but pride...

(The Rebbe of Kotzk)


It Once Happened

The great scholar Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides), also known as the Rambam, was an accomplished physician, personally attending the Sultan of Egypt and his family. He was not the only doctor in the palace, but the Rambam was the Sultan's favorite, and this provoked much envy and jealousy.

His rivals lost no opportunity to devise schemes and plots to discredit the Rambam in the eyes of his royal employer, but the Sultan was not fooled by the wicked plots. With each failed scheme, the Rambam rose even higher in the Sultan's estimation.

The Rambam's detractor's never rested in their machinations. Finally, the Sultan exploded in anger. "You charlatans never give up! How many times will you come to me with your foolish stories and ridiculous claims against ben Maimon? This time I challenge you to prove that you are superior to the Jewish doctor!" The physicians left elated, confident that they would surely find a way to finally ruin the hated Jew.

The following day they appeared at the appointed hour at the royal palace, an unknown man in tow. "This man, your Excellency, has been blind from birth, and we, Sire, will cure him before your eyes! Ben Maimon surely cannot perform this feat, but we can do it!"

The Sultan smirked at these words. "Liars! It is patently impossible to cure someone who has been blind from birth!" At that, one of the physicians stepped forward and with a flourish, he applied a layer of salve to the man's eyes. Everyone stood staring at the man, waiting to see some sign of a cure. Could it really happen that a blind man would see?

The silence was broken by the man's joyous cries, "I can see! I can see!"

But before a word was spoken, the Rambam flashed a scarf before the man's eyes. "What color is this handkerchief?" he asked.

The man responded in a victorious tone, "It is red!"

"Aha!" said the Rambam with a smile. "The fraud is obvious! A blind man cannot possible identify colors, which he has never before seen!"

The Sultan rose from his seat and exultantly clasped the Rambam's hand, exclaiming, "How could I have believed them for a moment!"

The group of deceitful physicians quickly left the room, praying the Sultan would not punish them in his anger.


There was a very wealthy merchant who lived in Lithuania many years ago. In addition to his business he lived in a fine home filled with rich and luxurious furnishings. One day, as he contemplated his possessions, he decided that he had better take out some fire insurance to protect his property. The agent lived in the town of Horodna, and he so he traveled there to meet with him.

As he was making his way to the agent's home, he saw the famous tzadik, Reb Nachum of Horodna, as he went about his rounds distributing alms to the poor of the town. Despite his great scholarship, Reb Nachum was extremely modest, and he shunned fame, serving as a lowly caretaker of the local shul. Nevertheless, he became widely known as a miracle worker.

The wealthy man approached him, saying, "Might I have a few words with the esteemed Rav?"

"What can do for you?" asked Reb Nachum.

"I have come to Horodna to take out a fire insurance policy on my properties. However, as I happened to meet you here, a thought came to me. If, instead of giving these 50 rubles to the insurance agent, I give them to you to distribute among the poor, maybe you will promise me that I will never suffer a loss from fire."

"How can I make you such a promise?" he replied. "Only G-d can guarantee. I cannot do what you ask. I can, however, give you my blessing that the merit of your charity will protect you from all evil, including fire." The wealthy man was satisfied and he gave Reb Nachum his 50 rubles and returned home.

On a hot summer day many years later, the wealthy man awoke to the odor of smoke and the cries of men and women. People rushed from their beds to see the glow of flames flashing from the roof of the warehouse. Many ran with buckets to join the fire brigade, pouring water on the raging fire.

Panic increased as the flames seemed to rise higher and higher. Only the wealthy man stood impassively watching the conflagration. He turned to the frantic crowd and quietly said, "Reb Nachum gave me his blessing that my estate would not be destroyed by fire, and I trust that he will fulfill his word."

No sooner had he uttered these words, than a stiff wind came and extinguished the flames. The wealthy man recounted the miracle for many years after always concluding, "Everyone who witnessed it could attest that it was no normal occurrence. It was an open miracle!"


Moshiach Matters

"Fulfill for us, L-rd our G-d, the promise which You have made to us through Zefania Your prophet, as it is written, (Zefania 3:20): At that time, I will bring you back, and at that time I will gather you; for I will make you renowned and glorified among all the people of the earth, when I bring back your captivity before your eyes, said the L-rd.' "

(From the morning prayers)


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