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Ahh, spring. If spring is here, can summer be far behind?
Spring forces us out of hibernation. In the spring we yearn to be outdoors, at least more than we were during the cold, dreary winter months. Spring, and the summer season that follows, inspires us to exercise and get in shape.
Interestingly, Jewish mystical teachings explain that being involved with "strengthening the body" can lead to a "weakening of the soul."
Thus, especially in the spring and summertime, when we are more preoccupied with getting and staying in shape, we have to be especially diligent about exercising and fortifying our souls.
Traditionally, this spiritual body-building is done through the study of Ethics of the Fathers - Pirkei Avot - on Shabbat afternoons beginning on the Shabbat after Passover.
In the first chapter of Pirkei Avot (which we study this Shabbat afternoon) we read that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachya said: "...Judge every person favorably."
At first glance, this doesn't seem like such a difficult task. After all, it's like saying that we should give someone the benefit of the doubt or that we should uphold that great American principle of "Innocent until proven guilty."
However, in real life situations, it's not so simple to consistently "judge every person favorably."
Afterall, it's easy to give someone the benefit of the doubt when we don't even have to lift a finger to do so. But this precept is teaching us to judge favorably even if doing so is a struggle.
Imagine someone asking you to bench 10 pounds. What a joke! Now, imagine being told to bench 100 pounds. That's much more serious. What if you were asked to bench 200 pounds? That's something altogether different.
Judging someone favorably when the other person's actions don't impact on you is no big deal. It's like benching 10 pounds. It's practically a joke. But if the other person's conduct does affect you and does not seem worthy of favorable judgement, that's more like benching 100 pounds or even 200 pounds. Yet, even then, one should endeavor to find redeeming virtue in him.
Judging a person favorably involves an honest appreciation of the challenges which that person faces. And this awareness should also lead to the understanding that G-d has surely given that person the ability to overcome these challenges. For, as our Sages state, G-d forces a person to confront only those challenges which he can overcome. Knowing that G-d has entrusted the formidable powers necessary to overcome difficult challenges should heighten the esteem with which we regard this individual.
With our newfound respect for the person, our interactions with the person will be permeated with admiration. Our attitude will, in turn, inspire the individual to bring these potentials to the surface.
As the warm weather continues to lure us to be more involved in healthy and pleasurable pursuits, let's remember to build our characters and strengthen our spiritual muscles as well.
We read in this week's Torah portion, Shemini: "And it came to pass on the eighth day...that Moses and Aaron went into the Tabernacle of Meeting, and then came out and blessed the people. And the glory of G-d appeared before all the people."
The seven days of consecration had passed; it was already the eighth day, and the Divine Presence had not yet come down to rest upon the Sanctuary.
The Jewish people were agitated. Had all their hard work been in vain? G-d's Presence in the Sanctuary would indicate that the sin of the Golden Calf had been forgiven. But maybe they hadn't followed G-d's instructions properly...
As they were to find out, the only thing missing was Aaron's participation. For there is an essential difference between the Divine service of Moses and the Divine service of Aaron the priest, and both kinds were necessary in order for G-d's Presence to descend.
On the eighth day Moses told them, "Aaron my brother is more worthy than I am, for it is through his sacrifices and service that G-d's Presence will rest upon you."
Moses's Divine service flowed from above to below; his function was to draw G-d's holiness down into the physical world. This is reflected in the fact that the Torah was given through Moses, who brought it down from heaven and presented it to the Jewish people.
The direction of Aaron's Divine service, on the other hand, flowed "upward," as reflected in his kindling of the menora. His function was to elevate and raise the Jewish people towards G-d, by offering the korbanot (sacrifices) and performing the other services in the Sanctuary. Both thrusts - upward and downward - are required in order to effect G-d's plan of establishing a "dwelling place down in this world."
G-d imbues the world with holiness so that we, His creations, may be refined and elevated. Once the Torah was brought down by Moses, the second step of actually performing the service in the Sanctuary and meeting G-d half way, as it were, became necessary. For it is only when both thrusts are present that the dynamic process is complete, and the maximum level of holiness is attained.
The practical lesson to be derived is that a Jew must emulate Aaron if he sincerely wants the Divine Presence to permeate his being. Aaron, we are told, "loved peace and pursued peace, loved [G-d's] creatures and brought them close to Torah." Dealing with our fellow man in such a manner not only brings benefit to others but to ourselves, for, as noted before, it is the "upward" thrust that causes the Divine Presence to rest on the works of our hands.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 7
TO SAVE A SOUL
by Elchonon Lesches
I remember the seventh day of Passover that year as a stormy day, an ideal day to stay indoors. But the seventh day of Passover is when Lubavitcher Chasidim the world over walk to nearby synagogues to share words of Torah and the joy of the holiday. So, despite the weather, a friend and I set off to one of the synagogues in the [North American] city where our yeshiva was located.
After a half-hour walk we reached the shul. We received a gracious welcome from the rabbi, who greeted us with a warm smile. "The Lubavitchers!" he said. "You came, just like every Yom Tov."
We sat down and as we waited for the rest of the minyan to arrive, the rabbi began to reminisce. "I knew the Rebbe even before he became Rebbe. I worked near Eastern Parkway, and sometimes I would see him on his way to the Merkos office. I noticed that the Rebbe respected everyone.
"Even after I moved here, I maintained contact with the Rebbe through letters. It was clear that he always understood the situation.
"In one particular instance, I was privileged to be part of an incredible series of events where the Rebbe brought back a soul to its heritage, almost against its very own will.
"When I first moved here, I was the rabbi in the main shul downtown. My position brought me in contact with various dignitaries and city officials.
"One day, a woman arrived on urgent business, 'something to do with the Grand Rabbi of Lubavitch,' the secretary told me. The woman sat quietly in my office for a while. Then finally she said, 'The Lubavitcher Rebbe sent me to you.'
" 'Why don't you tell me what this is all about?' I encouraged her.
"She recounted the story with obvious pain and guilt. Her teenage daughter had gotten involved with a bad crowd. She and her husband had not realized the extent until she found a note from her daughter saying that she was running way from home, escaping with her 'friend,' a man who was obviously up to no good. In desperation, the parents had turned to the Rebbe, who had told them to contact me. She had boarded the first flight to my city and was now waiting for me to help her reclaim her daughter.
"I sat there stunned, wondering what the Rebbe wanted from me. True, I had connections with many powerful people, but no one who would likely have information relevant to this case. Nonetheless, I knew I must be able to help her in some way. 'Madam,' I said, 'if the Rebbe sent you to me then everything will work out well.' She gave me the name of the man who her daughter had mentioned in the note. We arranged to meet again in a couple of days.
"As soon as she left my office, I called the Chief of Police. When I mentioned the name she had given me, he recognized it instantly. 'We know him,' he said. 'He's the new mobster in town. He's definitely been involved in many recent crimes, but we have nothing concrete on him.'
"My next call was to another contact, someone who worked at a city investigative organization. He said they were watching him closely and knew he was a seasoned criminal, but there was no hard evidence to convict him. A few more calls followed and soon I was out of leads. I was getting nowhere.
"It was around this time that something else occurred to me. I am not a Lubavitcher but there are plenty of Lubavitchers in our city. Some of them even have better contacts than I do. Why had this woman been sent to me? What was it that the Rebbe had perceived with his G-dly vision, something I had that the others had no access to?
"Then it dawned on me. I was the only Jewish prison chaplain in the city. Two weeks earlier, one of the guards had taken me to a high-security zone that I had never visited. 'We got a big one,' the guard had revealed to me. 'Controls a major organized crime ring around here. Jewish too.'
"He led me to a prisoner in solitary confinement, and we spent some time talking about G-d and Judaism. This criminal must be my contact, I thought, the link that the Rebbe had known about.
"On my next visit to the jail a few days later, I met with the Jewish prisoner and brought up the name of the man I was investigating. The prisoner made a face. 'What business do you have with him?' he asked. 'And who does he think he is anyway, stepping all over our territory! We should have finished him off a while ago!' Seeing that the prisoner might be willing to help me, I explained that the man in question had abducted a Jewish girl and that I was trying to find her whereabouts. No doubt due to the Rebbe's blessing, he promised to help me. 'Don't worry, Rabbi,' he assured me, 'I'll take care of it.' I knew better than to ask how this was feasible from behind prison bars.
"A day later the police received a call that a man was being beaten on the street. They rushed to the scene to find the very same man who had run away with the girl lying unconscious on the pavement, with a bag of drugs by his side.
"The man was arrested. As he was not a U.S. citizen, he was scheduled for deportation. The girl's mother wanted me to ensure that her daughter would not follow this man out of the country. Here again the Rebbe's blessing assisted us. The judge overseeing the case was another of my 'contacts!' We spoke about what arrangements we could provide for the girl, who would be asked to testify later and might therefore be in danger. He issued an order placing the girl under the supervision of a local Orthodox family. With time, her outlook changed completely and today she is a fine woman with nice Jewish children.
"The Rebbe was concerned even about those who were not concerned about themselves!" the rabbi summed up.
Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
On board flight 39 of Chabad's Children of Chernobyl was Vladimir Altman, father of two children who had been evacuated from the Chernobyl region and flown to Israel for medical treatment 2 years earlier. Mr. Altman found Vika and Roman healthier than he had ever dreamed possible, thanks to the expert care they have been receiving in the specially equipt medical center in Kfar Chabad.
Zman Cheiruseinu, 5743 
To All Participants in The Annual Banquet of the Lubavitch Yeshivah "Achei Tmimim" Brookline, Mass.
I am pleased to be informed of the forthcoming Annual Banquet to take place on 11 Iyar. May it be blessed with Hatzlocho [success] and exceed all expectations, in keeping with the spirit and teachings of Zman Cheiruseinu [the Season of our Liberation, i.e. Passover] which we have just celebrated.
As has often been emphasized, the Festival of Pesach [Passover], the Season of Our Liberation, comes around every year not merely to remind us of the Liberation of our ancestors from Egyptian bondage, but also to inspire us to strive for a greater measure of self-liberation from all limitations and distractions which impede a Jew from his free exercise of Yiddishkeit [as expressed] in the Haggadah: "In every generation a Jew should see himself as though he personally has been liberated from Mitzrayim [Egypt]."
In this blessed country of freedom and opportunity, such total identification with the spirit of the "Season of Our Liberation" pertains more to the inner self than to outside factors which are often beyond one's control. Here, thank G-d, there are no external constraints or limitations to getting involved with Jewish causes, especially the most vital cause of Torah education. It is only a matter of setting one's goals high enough to meet the challenges and opportunities of these times. Given the will and determination, the opportunities are limitless.
The vital importance of Torah education for the preservation of every Jewish community, indeed for the preservation of our Jewish people as a whole, needs no elaboration. But these days linking the Festival of Pesach with the Festival of Shovuos particularly emphasize this eternal truth. For, so our Sages point out, it is only because the Jewish children in Egypt received the proper Jewish education (under the most adverse conditions!), that our whole Jewish people, strong and numerous, was liberated from Egyptian slavery; and it is only because these very children (and Jewish children of every generation) had been made the guarantors of the Torah and Mitzvos - the Torah was entrusted to our Jewish People.
In this spirit, I pray and trust that every one of you will rise to the occasion, to enable the Lubavitch Yeshivah to continue and expand likewise from a position of liberation from financial burdens and limitations. And since G-d rewards in kind, but most generously, He will surely grant everyone of you and yours, in the midst of all our people, true liberation from anxiety and want, both materially and spiritually.
With esteem and blessing of Hatzlocho,
In memory of Yosef Yitzchak ben Shlomo Shneur Zalman yblc't
23 Nisan 5759
Positive mitzva 215: the law of circumcision
By this injunction we are commanded to be circumcised. It is contained in G-d's words to Abraham (Gen. 17:10), "Every male among you shall be circumcised." Likewise, (Gen. 17:14), "And the uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that soul shall be cut off [from his people]."
We are now in the period of sefirat ha'omer, the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot. The first counting of the omer took place when the Jewish people left Egypt. They were so anxious for the Torah to be given at Mount Sinai that they counted each day with longing and anticipation.
Some days of sefira fall in Nisan and the last few are in Sivan, but most are in the month of Iyar, which we bless this Shabbat. In fact, the month of Iyar is unique, because every day of the month has its own special mitzva: the counting of the omer.
The mitzva of counting the omer expresses the concept of perpetual progress and spiritual ascent. When the Jews left Egypt they were unworthy of receiving the Torah immediately. They had to wait and count 49 days, each day purifying one of the negative character traits they had acquired in Egypt. Only after this period of seven weeks were the Jews sufficiently cleansed and prepared for the great revelation of G-dliness at Mount Sinai.
On the first day of the omer we count "one day," on the second, "two days," and so on until we reach "49 days." Every day the number grows; every day we come that much closer to the Festival of the Giving of the Torah. Each year we repeat this cleansing process, every day of sefira climbing up another of the 49 rungs on the ladder of holiness.
Thus every day of Iyar reminds us of a fundamental principle in Judaism: "One must always ascend in matters of holiness." A Jew is never static, never stands still in spiritual matters. We must always strive to learn more Torah and to observe more mitzvot, in the most beautiful manner we can.
G-d's interaction with man is measure for measure. When we increase our performance of good deeds, G-d responds in kind with an abundance of blessing - an additional measure of blessing as a gift from Above.
But these you shall not eat...because it chews the cud (ma'aleih geira) but does not divide the hoof (u'farsa einenu mafris); it is unclean to you (Lev. 11:4)
A Jewish host must make sure that his guest is comfortable. He should cut several slices of bread from his loaf (the Hebrew word parsa means both hoof and a slice of bread) in case the guest is too embarrassed to do so, and must himself partake of enough food to encourage the guest to eat without self-consciousness. This is alluded to in the Torah: The camel, which "chews the cud but doesn't divide the hoof," is not a kosher animal, as it eats enough but doesn't share his parsa (bread). Likewise, the pig, "which divides the hoof (i.e., shares his bread with others)...but doesn't chew its cud (i.e., does not eat enough to encourage guests) - it is unclean to you." Only a host who fulfills both requirements is "kosher." (Reb Meir of Premishlan)
You shall sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy, because I am holy (Lev. 11:44)
The rich man's son doesn't worry about livelihood because his father is always there to help him financially. So too is it with the Jewish people: Because our Father is holy, it doesn't take very much effort to be holy ourselves. All we need do is take a step in the right direction, and our Father helps us along... (Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Barditchev)
Why does this verse follow the Torah's enumeration of forbidden foods? To teach us that when a Jew is careful to eat only kosher, his soul is invested with an additional measure of holiness. (Maimonides, Hilchot Maachalot Asurot)
And the stork (chasida) (Lev. 11:19)
The Talmud asks, "Why is this bird called a chasida? Because it acts with loving-kindness (chesed) towards its friends." One might think that this is a positive virtue, but the stork is not a kosher animal. It acts this way only with those close to it, rather than with all creatures equally. (Otzareinu HaYashan)
Once, in a small village there lived a wealthy man who was an extremely generous host. Every guest who had the good fortune of staying in his home received not only the finest food to eat, the fluffiest, most comfortable bed in which to sleep, but the poorer guests also were sent away with a handsome donation to smooth their difficult lot. He was entirely praiseworthy in his devotion to the mitzva of receiving guests, except for only one thing: he continuously congratulated himself and sought praise for his deeds.
When the Baal Shem Tov became apprised of this man's good deeds, and their unfortunate accompanying pride, he saw that all of these mitzvot were rendered useless by his boastfulness. The Besht dispatched his disciple, Reb Zev Kitzes to bring about a change in the man's behavior.
One day Reb Zev turned up at the door of the wealthy man and sought lodging. Of course, he was greeted with the greatest of generosity, but at every turn the wealthy benefactor asked, "Aren't I the best host you have ever encountered?" or "Have you ever been treated to anything like this?" To each inquiry Rev Zev replied: "We'll see."
When evening came and everyone went to sleep, the host bedded down together with his guests, as was his custom. When he was fast asleep, Rev Zev touched his finger and the man had a strange dream. In his dream, the king arrived at his house to visit him. He served the king a glass of tea, and suddenly the king passed out and died. The host was arrested and imprisoned, but then a fire broke out in the jail and he managed to escape.
He ran and ran until he arrived in a far-away village where he worked as a water carrier. The work was hard and he could eke out the barest survival, since there was an abundance of water in the area and no one required his services. One day, as he was carrying the heavy pails of water, he stumbled and fell, breaking both of his legs. As he lay on the ground weeping, he recalled that once he had been a wealthy man.
Reb Zev released his finger and the man woke in his own bed, weeping, but now from the realization that it had been only a dream. Reb Zev told him that the Baal Shem Tov had allowed him to experience this dream in order that he repent from his pride. The man asked if he could return with Reb Zev to the Besht to learn how to truly extinguish his pride. The two traveled together to the Besht and when the wealthy man returned to his home he was a changed man, as generous as ever, but humble and modest.
There lived a man named Shopvol in the city of Anipoli. This man was a simple craftsman, but he prayed in the shul every day, rain or shine, and never missed a day. If there was a minyan, he joined it, but if not, he still came to shul and prayed in his accustomed place.
Once the Baal Shem Tov was traveling through the area and spend a night in Anipoli. As he was sitting by the window smoking his pipe in the early morning, he spied a man rushing through the street, although it was bitterly cold. The Besht called his host and asked who the man was and where he was going, to which the he replied that the man was named Shopvol and he was hurrying off to pray in the shul as usual.
The Besht was curious to meet him and asked that he be asked to come. The host replied, "He probably will refuse to come. He's a simple craftsman with little understanding." That answer notwithstanding, the Besht sent one of his disciples to go to the man and ask that he bring him four pairs of socks.
When the man arrived, the Besht asked, "How much are these socks?"
"They are a gulden and a half each pair," was the reply.
"Perhaps you would sell them for a gulden?" the Besht asked.
"If I were, I would have said it up front," the man replied.
The Besht paid the full amount and continued speaking to the man, inquiring about his life and his work. "How do you go about making the socks?" he asked.
"When I have finished making fifty pairs," said the man, "I soak them in warm water and then wring them out and lay them flat to dry. Then I wait for the merchants to come and buy them. They always come to me, and I hardly ever go out, except to go to shul to pray. It was only out of my respect for you that I agreed to bring these socks to you."
The Baal Shem Tov enjoyed the man's simplicity and honesty and he wanted to investigate more deeply into his soul. He asked, "What do you do when your children are ready for marriage and you have to make a wedding?"
"I have never had a problem, for G-d always provides, a bit from here and a bit from there also comes in, and I have always, thank G-d, managed."
Then the Besht asked, "Do you ever say Psalms?
"The ones I know by heart, I say while I work," the man answered.
After the man left, the Besht turned to his host and said, "A man like this is the very foundation of the synagogue. He will remain so until the coming of Moshiach."
In order for there to have been the great revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai there had to be an exile in Egypt of 210 years. Similarly, in order that there should be the great revelation of the inner teachings of the Torah in the ultimate Redemption, this exile has had to be so long. (Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch)