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Devarim Deutronomy

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Devarim Deutronomy

April 30, 1999 - 14 Iyyar, 5759

566: Emor

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

  565: Achrei Mot-Kedoshim567: Behar-Bechukotai  

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

How's Business?

"How's business?" is often one of the first questions we ask an acquaintance after completing the mandatory queries about health and family.

Naturally, a business owner might have a different reaction than an employee, as the boss and worker benefit differently from the venture. Yet they both have at least one thing in common-they are occupied with their work, even if only while "on the job."

How many of us would consider the study of Jewish subjects a business or an occupation? Probably not many. But did you know that Judaism speaks of Torah study as exactly that?

Rabbi Meir, in the Mishna known as Ethics of the Fathers, suggests, "Minimize your business activities and occupy yourself with the Torah..." The word "occupy" here indicates that Torah study should be like an occupation or business venture. First off, we should be at least as absorbed and interested in this area of our lives as we are about our careers, even if we don't devote every (spare) moment to Torah study.

In addition, when it comes to Jewish studies, we have to consider ourselves the "owner" of the business. A worker looks at the clock, wondering when it will be time for a coffee-break, or lunch, or time to punch out. The owner, who garners much more of the profits, doesn't concern himself with the time. He just keeps on going, until everything is accomplished.

Many people look at their businesses as security for the future and something they can pass on to their children. This, too, is how we can view our study of Jewish law, philosophy, customs, history, etc. For it certainly is an inheritance for the next generation and a guarantee for Jewish continuity.

One could ask how it's possible to take a few minutes out of the hectic business day to think Jewish. The story is told of a wealthy Chasidic businessman who was calculating his accounts for the day and "mistakenly" wrote as the sum total, "There is nothing but G-d." When teh "error" was noticed, he was asked how he could have been thinking about G-d while reckoning his ledger. The Chasid replied, "If when a person prays or studies Torah his mind gets distracted by business thoughts, why can't his mind wander to G-d when he is occupied with his work?"

Set aside time to study Torah today. Even better, find out where there are some classes or study with a friend. Take advantage of the "Lunch 'n Learn" classes in offices and businesses around the world offered by your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center. Let your fingers do the walking and dial a pre-recorded telephone Torah class or download a lesson from the internet. And the next time somebody asks you "How's business?" share with them something edifying you learned!

Living with the Rebbe

In the beginning of this week's Torah portion, Emor, G-d warns the priests against becoming ritually impure through contact with a dead body, with seven exceptions: father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter or wife. A high priest is forbidden to become impure even for these relatives.

A general principle in Judaism is that G-d performs the same mitzvot He commands the Jewish people. In this vein, the Talmud relates that a heretic once asked Rabbi Avahu how G-d, the ultimate "priest," was able to immerse Himself after He buried Moses and thereby became ritually impure. Rabbi Avahu replied that G-d "immersed" Himself in fire.

Our Sages explain this exchange in several ways. The Tosefot comments that the heretic's question was not really about "impurity," as Jews are considered G-d's children, and a father is allowed to become ritually impure for his son. Similarly, the Zohar states that in the future, G-d will become "impure" in order to redeem every Jew from exile. But the question still remains. If G-d is a "high priest," isn't it forbidden to become impure even for His children?

In order to understand, let's examine the idea that G-d performs the same mitzvot we do. Obviously, this doesn't mean that G-d puts on a huge pair of tefilin, or sits in an enormous celestial suka. It means, rather, that the mitzva of tefilin or suka exists Above in a more refined spiritual form. In fact, the only reason the mitzva exists in our physical world is because of its spiritual source up Above! Nothing exists down here without a higher, spiritual counterpart.

When we say that G-d puts on tefilin or sounds the shofar, we are discussing abstract spiritual concepts. As human beings in a physical world, we can accomplish these same spiritual processes by performing the mitzva in a physical manner, i.e., with a horn of a ram, parchment of a mezuza, etc.

Nonetheless, even though there is a similarity between a mitzva as it exists down here and as it exists Above, it only applies in the positive sense. For example, if the performance of a particular mitzva is restricted in any way due to the limitations of the material world, this does not imply that the mitzva is limited Above, as G-d is higher than all limitations.

Accordingly, the prohibition against the high priest becoming impure indicates that on the spiritual level, the high priest is above all impurity. In our world, however, given the limitations of the body, it could conceivably happen that a high priest might become impure. From this perspective, the Torah's prohibition is simply a "concession" to materiality, rather than a reflection of the essence of high priesthood.

In truth, the spiritual reality of the "high priest," i.e., G-d, is impervious to impurity. G-d's burial of Moses or redeeming us from exile has no effect on His true Essence.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 7

A Slice of Life


by Jay Litvin

I stood between the train cars, wind blowing in my hair, watching the Mexican countryside flash by. With each passing hour, the train wheels carried me further from my obligations, my bills, my job, and the people who knew me. In twelve more hours, my wife and two children and I would get off the train, ride a bus for several hours, and then take a boat to a place where no one knew us. A place where I would receive no phone or electricity bills, because there would be neither electricity nor roads in the small village that would be our home, so there would be no automobile to care for, no insurance fees or gas expenses. The palm-thatched palapa in which we would live, cost $150 per year. I would live off the land with my hands, my machete, and a crude, Mexican-made fishing device to supply most of our food.

I was free! I had left bills, obligations, the constraints of societal norms, and the expectations of others behind me.

Today, I have seven children and I work 12 to 14 hours a day. I have even less time than money. My obligations to family, work, and community are greater than anything I left behind when I boarded that decrepit train to Mexico. And yet there is a sense of freedom in these obligations that surpasses the most idyllic, sun filled days spent fishing in a dugout canoe on the Pacific Ocean.

A hungry person is not free, but enslaved by the need to end the growling in his stomach. In those Mexican days, I was hungry for the connection and fulfillment that I thought I would find in this primitive, natural environment. The freedom and pleasure I discovered were wonderful, but only a diversion from the goal that I had set off to achieve.

Late at night, sitting in our palapa, the kids tucked into their hanging bamboo beds, the kerosene lantern casting its glow around the makeshift table, dimly illuminating the palm fronds that surrounded our home, I would feel the same emptiness that had taken me to Mexico in the first place. And though I wouldn't dwell on the thoughts and feelings that crept into consciousness in the silence of the night, I knew that the true purpose of this journey was not being achieved. I was still starving for meaning in life.

I didn't find freedom from this hunger until I reached the gray, workaday city of Milwaukee. Because it was in Milwaukee that I discovered Chabad and Torah-true Judaism.

One cannot be truly free unless one knows who he really is, what he really wants, and what he is meant to do. Regardless of how fantastic or romantic, dramatic or adventurous the masks I wore, they were in the end only masks, and not my real face. I am not a machete-carrying Mexican peasant working the land. I am a Jew connected to G-d through Torah and mitzvot. And when I am being who I truly am and fulfilling the purpose for which I was brought into the world, the yokes of worldly obligation are no longer the markers of whether or not I am free. They become the tools with which I exercise my freedom.

I must earn money to give my children the education they need to become Torah-loving people. The telephone is vital to my work and to the ability to communicate words of Torah, or to help a friend.

The adventure I seek is found in the constant exploration of who I am, as I stretch further and further in my question to become the best parent, husband, friend and Jew I can be.

Today my soul no longer aches. It is nourished by a connection with the Almighty and a sense of His presence in my daily hours. My children are not running barefoot through the sand, but walking sure-footed through life. I don't fish, have little time for vacations, and carry a Tallit bag instead of a machete. I am bound to the yoke of Torah and I have never been more free.

Reprinted from The Week in Review, published by V.H.H. For a complimentary copy call 718-774-6448

What's New


Rabbi Shneur Zalman and Miriam Zaklos arrived recently in the southern Siberian center of Novosibirsk, where temperatures are usually 40 degrees below zero, to reinvigorate and lead the local Jewish community. The community is officially numbered at 15,000 but observers say it may actually be more than double that amount. The Zakloses joined more than 55 other couples who are the Rebbe's permanent emissaries around the former Soviet Union. The Jewish community received its synagogue back from local authorities about a year ago and immediately turned to Lubavitch with a request for a full-time emissary couple. In recent years the Lubavitch movement had supplied the community with all their religious needs, temporary rabbinic leadership for holidays and the like, and had helped fix and refurnish the returned synagogue.


This year, more than 500,000 children are expected to participate in Lag B'Omer outings and parades organized by Chabad-Lubavitch Centers throughout the world. On this 33rd day of the omer period, coinciding with May 4, we commemorate the passing of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, author of the Zohar. Rabbi Shimon asked his students to celebrate and rejoice on the day of his passing. Many have the custom to visit his gravesite in Meron, Israel on Lag B'Omer..


"What the Torah is and Why We're Happy We've Got It" is the title of a lecture offered by the Chabad Center of Northwest New Jersey. Jews are the "people of the book." What are these books, and how did they get here? The class will be held on Thursday, May 13, 8:00 p.m., before the holiday of Shavuot, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah. Register in advance by calling (973) 625-1525. Most Chabad Lubavitch Centers will also be offering special lectures in preparation for the holiday of Shavuot (May 21 and 22). Call your local center to find out more information.

The Rebbe Writes

Rosh Chodesh Iyar, 5741 [1981]

To All Participants In the

Annual Dinner of Oholei Torah

G-d bless you all!

Greeting and Blessing:

I was pleased to be informed about the forthcoming Annual Dinner on the 13th of Iyar, on the eve of Pesach Sheni. May G-d grant that it should be with much Hatzlocho [success].

Pesach Sheni came about, as the Torah tells us, when (on the first anniversary of the Exodus from Egypt) there were several Jews who were unable to offer the Korban Pesach [Passover offering] and celebrate Pesach with all the Jewish people, and they voiced their unhappiness with a heartfelt appeal: "Why should we be deprived of this Mitzvah?" And for the sake of these several Jews, indeed for the sake of each one of them, an entirely new chapter was incorporated in the Torah, and a special day was designated in our calendar Pesach Sheni, with its particular Mitzvos and all this "unto your generations" - for all posterity.

Thus the Torah, Toras Chaim ("instruction in living"), emphatically reminds us how precious each and every Jew is, and that no Jew should ever be deprived of his natural right to fulfill all the Mitzvos, by reason of circumstances, such as being on a "faraway journey," and the like.

It has often been emphasized that the best way of coping with spiritually "deprived" Jews, as in the case of any problem, is - prevention: to see to it that no Jew should ever find himself in a state of being on a "faraway journey" from Yiddishkeit [Judaism]. This can be achieved only through a Torah-true education, permeated with the spirit of dedication, that is implanted in Jewish children from their earliest childhood, in keeping with the principle, "Educate the youngster in the proper path; even when growing old he will not depart from it."

Such is the kind of education that is implanted in the students of Oholei Torah, with much Hatzlocho, as is well known to those who are familiar with this educational institution.

However, it is up to all of us to see to it that this Torah institution should not find itself in a position where it must come with a heartfelt appeal: "Why should we be deprived?" Surely, it must not be kept back by the lack of financial means, from carrying on its vital educational work, and, moreover, from expanding its facilities for a growing number of students. This is the obligation and privilege of the loyal friends and supporters of Oholei Torah.

With prayerful wishes to the Honored Guests and all who are active participants in this great endeavor, and with esteem and blessing for Hatzlocho,

16 Iyar 5711 [1951]

I was pleased with the opportunity to exchange a few words with you. As you connected your visit with the day of Pesach Sheni which we observed on the day before yesterday, I want to make it the subject of this letter.

One of the significant lessons of Pesach Sheni is never to despair even when one has not attained the spiritual heights of others. Thus, while all the people are celebrating the Passover at its proper time, and one finds himself "far away," or otherwise unfit to enter the Sanctuary, he is told: Do not despair; begin your way towards the Sanctuary; come closer and closer; for you have a special chance and opportunity to celebrate the second Passover, if you try hard enough.

Please convey my regards and best wishes to your circle.


Rambam this week

In memory of Yosef Yitzchak ben Shlomo Shneur Zalman yblc't

14 Iyar 5759

Positive mitzva 157: recounting the departure from Egypt

By this injunction we are commanded to recite the story of the Exodus from Egypt, with all the eloquence at our command, on the eve of the 15th of Nisan. It is contained in the Torah's words (Ex. 13:8): "You shall tell your son on that day, [saying: It is because of that which the L-rd did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.]"

A Word from the Director

This Tuesday is Lag B'Omer, the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer. It is traditionally an auspicious time for fostering an increase in Ahavat Yisrael, the mitzva of "And you shall love your fellow as yourself."

The emphasis on loving our fellow Jews on Lag B'Omer goes back thousands of years, to the days of Rabbi Akiva. Although 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva's students passed away in the weeks between Passover and Shavuot (for failing to show each other the proper respect), no one died on that day.

Yet we cannot say that Rabbi Akiva's disciples did not observe the mitzva of Ahavat Yisrael. These were not "regular" people; they were the disciples of a very great tzadik, who surely instilled in them the knowledge that Ahavat Yisrael "is a very important principle in the Torah." What happened, rather, was that they failed to show the proper degree of respect.

Each one of Rabbi Akiva's students was a great scholar in his own right. Accordingly, in addition to the usual measure of love every Jew must demonstrate for his fellow, an extra degree of deference and honor was required.

Lag B'Omer thus reminds us that it is not enough to love our fellow Jew merely to the extent that he is not insulted. We must take that extra step and demonstrate an additional degree of honor that makes all the difference.

In truth, every Jew is deserving of special respect, as every Jew is considered to be an entire world. G-d Himself stands above each and every Jew and scrutinizes his behavior at all times, setting aside all His other affairs, as it were, just to watch him and see what he is doing!

And if any Jew is worthy of such close attention, surely he deserves that extra degree of respect!

May the Jewish people immediately merit true unity with the ingathering of the exiles, with the coming of Moshiach and the Final Redemption.

Thoughts that Count

And you shall not profane (lo techal'lu) (Lev. 22:32)

The Hebrew word for profane comes from the root chalal, meaning an empty space. When a person sins, it causes an "empty space" or interruption between himself and G-d. The Torah advises us not to let this happen. Similarly, arrogance and pride repel the Divine Presence, also causing an "empty space" devoid of G-dliness. (Likutei Sichot)

In the manner that he has caused a bodily defect in a man, so shall it be done to him (Lev. 24:20)

Whenever a person sees a defect in others it is a sure sign that the same defect exists in him, as the saying goes, "He who charges others charges them with his same fault." (Kovetz HaMincha)

In booths you shall dwell seven days (Lev. 23:42)

Why does the Torah use the plural booths instead of booth? Because the verse contains a double meaning: A person who observes the mitzva of suka in this world merits to observe it in the World to Come - in the suka that will be made from the skin of the Leviathan. (Nachalat Tzvi)

That your generations may know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths (Lev. 23:43)

According to Jewish law, if a person experiences discomfort while sitting in the suka (i.e., from cold, rain, etc.), he is not obligated to stay there. One reason is that when someone is upset he is unable to think straight. Preoccupied and ill at ease, he is therefore incapable of observing the mitvza of knowing that G-d "caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths." (The Rebbe of Koritz)

It Once Happened

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (known by his acronym, Rashbi), was one the Jewish people's greatest Sages. He was a student of Rabbi Akiva and lived at the height of the Roman persecutions. Even among the greatest of our people, he was widely recognized as exceptional in piety and holiness. It was said of him that every woman should pray that her son emulate him, and that so exceptional was he, that his merit alone sufficed to protect his entire generation.

When it was decreed by the Romans that Rabbi Shimon be put to death for his anti-government remarks, he went into hiding together with his son, Elazar. They concealed themselves in a cave for twelve years, spending all their time learning Torah. When, at long last, the death sentence expired and they emerged from the cave, they had risen to such heights of holiness and divine comprehension that they saw the world in a different light from average person. Although Rabbi Shimon was great before his concealment, when he emerged from the cave he was greater by far. Before his stay in the cave he could respond to every question of his father-in-law Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair with twelve answers; when the twelve years of study had concluded, he could supply twenty-four answers.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai composed many volumes of Torah commentary, but he is probably best known for the Zohar, which is the basic work of Kabala. In accordance with Rabbi Shimon's wishes, the anniversary of his death (yarzeit), which is on the thirty-third day of the Omer, is marked by great celebrations, particularly at the site of his tomb in Meron in Northern Israel, where huge crowds gather from every part of the world.

It is somewhat unusual to celebrate on a yarzeit. One possible source for this ancient custom at Rashbi's tomb is based upon the fact that the Roman death sentence against Rabbi Shimon was annulled through a miracle. Since those killed by the Romans were denied burial, the celebration is marked at his tomb, indicating that Rabbi Shimon died a natural death.

The unusual custom of burning costly items at his gravesite has been practiced over the centuries. The holy Rabbi Chaim ben Attar (known as the Or Hachaim) observed this custom when he went to Meron on Lag B'Omer. When he reached the tomb he declared, "How can such a lowly creature as I enter into this place of fire that issues forth with tongues of flame?" He is said to have burned a number of expensive items of clothing in honor of Rashbi. (Some say that the value of the clothing was then donated to charity as a holy offering in honor of the tzadik.)

The antiquity and continuity of these customs are evidenced by records in the diary of a traveler dating from 1522, "...On the fifteenth of Iyar a great caravan was formed in Meron; more than one thousand souls were there, for many came from Damascus with their wives and children, and most of the community of Safed, and the whole community of Levukim, which is a village near the cave where Rashbi and his son were hidden... and there we passed two days and two nights [coinciding with Lag B'Omer] celebrating and rejoicing."

In a later account by Rav Asher Zelig Margolies (1941) the pilgrimage to the tomb of Rashbi was described in detail: "It is impossible to describe the greatness of the day of joy and exultation with trembling which takes place in Meron on Lag B'Omer-one can actually see that it is a day of simcha for the upper worlds and the is actually a simcha like that of the world-to-come. Some who are there sing out and rejoice, exult and delight in dances of holiness, with the joy of singing 'Bar Yochai' and other holy songs; others stand wrapped in sacred emotions, pouring out their souls in unceasing streams of tears near the holy burial sites of Rashbi and his son Rabbi Elazer...Here and there, groups are seen with children, dancing and clapping, holding the little ones on their shoulders and giving the [three-year old boys] their first hair-cuts. Distributing wine and cakes, calling out l'chaim and exchanging blessings - and the crowds dub these little children 'the bridegrooms of Rashbi...' "

In times gone by it was customary in many places in Europe for people to visit cemeteries on Lag B'Omer led by members of the local burial society who would check the condition of all the graves, noting which needed repairs. After the survey of the graveyard was completed, the townsfolk enjoyed some boiled eggs, cakes and liquor.

The town of Homil, which was famous as the home of the tzadik Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac (a Chasid of Rabbi Dov Ber of Lubavitch), was a place which honored this custom. In Homil, only when the tables were arranged and piled with food would a carriage would be sent for the Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac, who would first visit the cemetery and after deliver some words of Torah.

One year on Lag B'Omer, Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac passed through the cemetery and paused to read a certain tombstone. For several moments he stood deep in thought. Then he turned to one of the officials of the burial society and said, "In the Heavenly Court, they are demanding an accounting of all the marvelous things which are written about the deceased on this stone!" Then he added, "Go at once and bring me an ax!"

When the man returned with the ax, Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac ordered him to demolish the inscription on the stone. When the writing was no longer legible the rabbi returned to the waiting townspeople with the explanation: "I was delayed because I was doing a favor for a fellow Jew."

Moshiach Matters

On Lag B'Omer, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai opened the pipeline of the inner meaning of the Torah, "Pnimiyut HaTorah." The study and dissemination of Pnimiyut HaTorah brings Moshiach. Rabbi Shimon told his son, "Until you see a keshet (rainbow)... do not expect to see the coming of Moshiach." This is why children play with a keshet v'chez (bows and and arrows) on Lag B'Omer, to show that Lag B'Omer is the appropriate time for the Redemption. (The Rebbe, Lag B'Omer, 1951)

  565: Achrei Mot-Kedoshim567: Behar-Bechukotai  
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