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Honking horns, DSL, paying bills on-line, watches in every shape, size, color and price-range. These are just a few examples that illustrate how important and precious time is to most of us. Convenience stores and neighborhood groceries abound because we'd rather waste a little money than a lot of time.
For forty-nine days, seven weeks between the holiday of Passover and Shavuot, we are reminded by the Torah just how valuable time is.
Starting on the second night of Passover and continuing through the day preceeding Shavuot, we "count the omer." (The omer was a measure of barley brought as a sacrifice on the second day of Passover during Temple times.)
Each evening, we state that it is a certain number of days since the bringing of the omer. In addition, we preface the count by saying a blessing for this commandment.
If by chance, one forgot to "count the omer" at night and during the entire following day, he may continue counting once he remembers, but without the blessing.
"What's the big deal?" one might ask. "By forgetting to count one day out of forty-nine, a person forfeits the opportunity to say the blessing for all the remaining days!" True, it might seem a bit harsh, but it teaches a powerful lesson: time is priceless and irreplaceable.
Counting the omer instills within us the understanding that time should not and must not be wasted. The story is told of a famous rabbi who could literally account for every minute of his day. He knew exactly what he did when. He never "lost" time. He, like many others, viewed his every hour, every minute, as a precious gift from G-d. Just as one wouldn't use an expensive bottle of wine for cooking, or give fine imported chocolates to a three-year-old, so too, should time be used to its fullest and spent on the more important aspects of life.
(That time is so precious is obvious even to those who might wish to convey a different message, such as banks. In fact, one international bank has an ad running that states, "'Time is money' is an insult to time.")
There's another "timely" idea that we can learn from counting the omer. Each day influences the next day. If, unfortunately, we forget to count one day, all of the rest of the days are effected by our forgetfullness. If, however, we remember to count every day, we are able to bless each subsequent day, and that blessing impacts future days positively.
Whether you wear a rolex or a timex, try to keep in mind just how precious time is. And make a point of scheduling in time for really important things, like learning more about your 4,000 year old heritage.
To learn about the potential for change infused into these seven weeks, visit www.meaningfullife.com and check out their guide to the counting of the omer.
This week's Torah portion, Shemini, contains three seemingly unconnected incidents and ideas. The portion opens with an account of the eighth day of the consecration of the Sanctuary, moves on to the death of Aaron's two sons, Nadav and Avihu, and concludes with a list of kosher animals and the prohibition against eating insects and reptiles.
On each of the first seven days of consecration, Moses built the Sanctuary only to take it apart again later that very same day. Only on the eighth day ("shemini") did he put it together, and it remained standing. On the eighth day, a fire came down from Heaven and consumed the sacrificial offerings. The eighth day thus had an advantage over the previous seven.
The two sons of Aaron were on an extremely high spiritual level. According to Chasidic teachings, their yearning for G-dliness was so powerful that their souls could simply not remain in their physical bodies, and they died. Although this is obviously not something G-d wants or expects from us, it nonetheless attests to their exalted spiritual stature.
After the Torah relates what happened to Nadav and Avihu it warns us against emulating their actions. From this we learn that the Jewish people were on such a high spiritual level at the time that a warning was necessary.
It is therefore surprising, at first glance, that after recounting two situations relating to exalted spiritual levels - the eighth day of consecration and the deaths of Nadav and Avihu - that the same Torah portion also contains the prohibition against eating insects and reptiles. The law against eating creatures in this category is perfectly understandable to the human mind; it is only human nature to find them repugnant. Why, then, does the Torah find it necessary to warn us about something that is so obvious?
The answer is that regardless of a Jew's spiritual standing he must always have kabalat ol, acceptance of the yoke of Heaven. Despite whatever spiritual attainments he many have achieved, in the end there is nothing as important as kabalat ol. A person must never think that because he is on a high spiritual level, he is automatically "immunized." Without genuine acceptance of the yoke of Heaven there is always the danger of deterioration - even to the point of eating insects and reptiles, G-d forbid!
Accordingly, the Torah's prohibition against eating creeping things immediately follows the other two incidents to teach us that kabalat ol is required in all circumstances and situations in life.
Adapted from Volume 1 of Likutei Sichot
by Rabbi Herschel Finman
I was raised in a typical Jewish home and received the compulsory five years of afternoon Hebrew school. One thing I learned in those long afternoons was that sharpened pencils, when thrown just right, would stick into a drop ceiling.
After my bar mitzva, I promised myself that I would start going to synagogue again when I retired. After all, who went to synagogue? Old men and young boys. It was not that I was turned off from Judaism. On the contrary, I enjoyed the Passover seders, lighting Chanuka candles and getting together for other holidays. It's just that Judaism as I knew it didn't have the answers to my questions.
One day in a high school chemistry class, the teacher was explaining an equation in Quantum mechanics. I asked the teacher, "But why does DS + DG = DH?" She patiently explained the equation again after which I once more asked her why. She responded, "That's just the way G-d wants it."
It hit me that science could not answer all of my questions. Perhaps there was something more. My journey to find the answers to my questions began.
As I felt I knew enough about Judaism having spent five years in Hebrew school, I decided to look into Christianity. At that time I was taking a "Bible as Literature" class. We were given an assignment to compare and contrast the literary style of the apostles. When certain contradictions caught my eye, I questioned the teacher. The teacher demurred, saying that he was an English teacher and I should ask the choirmaster, a Protestant Minister.
I was in the choir and knew the choirmaster. I respectfully posed my query. The man's veins popped out of his neck and his eyes bulged. He threatened to fail me and have me expelled for making fun of his religion. End of my journey into Christianity.
I then turned to Hinduism. I went to the school library and took out the definitive book on Hinduism, at least according to the Jewish librarian. The first chapter began by listing the 5,000 gods that Hindus worship. Having been raised with matza on Passover and brisket on Rosh Hashana, 5,000 gods went against my grain. End of my journey into Hinduism
My eldest brother had gone off to Thailand to learn the secrets of Buddhism. He had left behind a 32-volume set of Buddhist philosophy. I began reading it and became enthralled. I decided I would eventually follow my brother's footsteps to Thailand.
My mother had rented the apartment downstairs from us to a young Lubavitch couple. We became close friends and I began to debate them on Judaism verses Buddhism. We were all beginners and the playing field was basically level. They did have an advantage though, chocolate brownies.
I would come home late on Friday nights. Before going up to our apartment, I would stop in downstairs, feast on brownies and discuss philosophy until well after midnight. One night my host asked me when my Hebrew birthday was. I told him I didn't know what a Hebrew birthday was. He explained the nuances of the Jewish lunar calendar and produced a book that had corresponding dates. As it turned out, that night was my Hebrew birthday. He told me that if I went to synagogue the next morning, I would be called up to the Torah (known as an "aliya"), an honor I had not had since my bar mitzva.
I went to synagogue the next day. When I told the rabbi that it was my Hebrew birthday and I would like an aliya, he almost fell through the floor. It had been many years since I had attended services. The Rabbi invited me to lunch but I declined; I did not want to push this Judaism business too much.
As my discussions continued with the downstairs neighbors, it occurred to me that I needed to know his material to better argue with him. I began studying the weekly Torah reading and attending Chasidic philosophy classes, all the while keeping up my Buddhist readings. By mid-December I was a regular at Saturday services and had accepted the rabbi's invitation for lunch. However, I was still quite careful not to get too close; Buddhism was my journey.
What drew me to Chabad was the philosophy. I appreciated the local Chabad Rabbi's class based on Tanya, the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy. These weekly classes inspired me to think deeply about our purpose of existence and how to achieve that goal.
In one of my Friday night get-togethers for brownies and discussion, I admitted to my host that Buddhism and Chasidic philosophy were very, very similar and that I enjoyed the contrasts and similarities. His response to me was, "If you believe they are saying the same thing, why run to Thailand? You have it right here!" I could not argue.
My host showed me a brochure about a Shabbat Discovery Weekend in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and asked if I wanted to go. He offered that if I didn't enjoy the experience he would reimburse me for my expenses. I agreed.
That Shabbat I was billeted with a modest Lubavitch family. In the middle of the meal the phone began to ring. After about 20 rings I asked the host if he was going to answer the phone, perhaps it was important. His response, "Maybe it's not." I was hit by a lightening bolt. Here was the inner peace, the simplicity, I was looking for. In one small phrase, "Maybe it's not," this simple man had transcended time and space, something I had been trying to do for three years. I felt encouraged.
At the end of the weekend I was offered a week in Tiferus Bochurim, a yeshiva in New Jersey for late starters to Torah study. I found the food foul and the learning incredible. I realized that there was a world of Judaism to which I had not been exposed. After the week, I went back home. I took off the yarmulke I had procured in Crown Heights and sat down to the non-kosher spaghetti and meatballs (with parmesan cheese) my mother had prepared. After I ate, I went into the bathroom and threw up. I put the yarmulke back on and announced to my mother that I was religious.
For the next eight years I studied in yeshivas in Morristown, Miami, Seattle and finally Brooklyn where I received ordained and met my wife Chana. We spent three years in Melbourne, Australia helping the Chabad community in a variety of ways. Since 1988 we have resided in the Greater Detroit area. And I have learned that the Jewish journey never ends.
Let's Go To Shul
Let's Go To Shul is written and illustrated by Rikki Benenfeld, whose earlier book, I Go To School, was a hit with pre-schoolers. In Let's Go To Shul, the highlight of the week is the family trip to shul on Shabbat morning. Simple rhymes detail all the important objects and events young children encounter at the synagogue. HaChai Publishing.
24th of Nissan, 5727 
Sholom uBrocho [Peace and Blessing]:
I was genuinely pleased to see you at the farbrengen [Chasidic gathering], and previously at the davening [prayers]. In addition to the pleasure of seeing tangible proof of your satisfactory physical health, it is particularly gratifying to be able to share with good friends the joy of Yom Tov [the holiday], especially Achron-shel-Pesach [the last days of Passover]. For the farbrengen on this occasion is on many respects an extension of the Haphtorah [selection from the Prophets] of the day, which speaks of the blissful days of Moshiach and continues in the note of true fulfillment, when "the earth will be full of the knowledge of G-d, as the waters cover the sea."
While the Haphtorah speaks of the Days of Moshiach, G-d, Who is the Essence of Goodness, desires that the Good (in this case the universal knowledge of G-d) which He will give us should be enjoyed to the fullest measure. Needless to say, the joy and appreciation of gaining something through toil and effort is incomparably greater than something which comes by without trying. Consequently, the activity now to spread "knowledge of G-d on earth" - the dissemination of Yiddishkeit [Judaism], Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments] - is the proper and necessary preparation for it, whereby also it will be possible to enjoy to the full the blessing of "the earth will be full of the knowledge of G-d, as the waters cover the sea."
The joy is compounded when one has the opportunity to bring the knowledge of G-d to spheres which are inaccessible to others, for which G-d provides a special capacity to accomplish it.
As you will easily infer, I am referring to your unique Zechus [privilege] in being able to bring the "Emes Hashem l'Olom" [the eternal truth of G-dliness] to a circle where few, if indeed any but you, can penetrate - the Emes Hashem - embodied in His Toras Emes. Truth is, of course, incompatible with compromise, for even the slightest compromise invalidates the real truth.
This reminds me of the story related by my father-in-law of saintly memory during a farbrengen on Achron-shel-Pesach:
"My grandfather, the Rebbe Maharash, once said to the Chosid R' Elya Abeler, a market trader: 'Elya, I envy you. You travel and go to markets and fairs, which gives you the opportunity to exchange a Jewish word with a fellow-Jew and inspire him to Nigleh [the revealed aspects of Torah] and Chasidus. This creates joy in Heaven, and G-d pays the commission in terms of children, life and sustenance. The busier the market and the greater the effort, the greater the Parnosso - [livelihood].'
"Scores of years later, when R' Elya recounted this to me, he was aglow and aflame with those words, and his limbs shook, as though he had just heard them for the first time that day." (Sefer Hasichos, 5703, P. 111).
The story speaks for itself. I will only add the obvious, that envy in matters of Torah and Mitzvoth is quite in order.
To reiterate what I wished you during our meeting, may it be G-d's Will that for many years to come you should work in the above mentioned direction, in good health, and with joy and gladness of heart, and with a growing measure of vitality and inspiration; and may the above blessings of the Rebbe Maharash be fulfilled in you and yours.
P.S. It was a particular pleasure for me to hear your daughter recite on the sedra [portion] of the Torah and about the [Passover] Seder, which she did with naturalness and innocence characteristic of a child, oblivious of compromise. It bespeaks your ability, undoubtedly shared by your wife, to instill such pure faith in her. Have much Nachas [pleasure].
23 Nisan 5762
Positive mitzva 94: fulfilling all oral commitments
By this injunction we are commanded to fulfill every obligation we have taken upon ourselves by word of mouth: every oath, vow, offering and the like. It is contained in the Torah's words (Deut. 23:24): "That which is gone out of your lips you shall observe."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat we will bless the new month of Iyar. In the Torah, the months of the year aren't referred to by name but by sequential order, to teach us that the yearly cycle is an ongoing, continual process. Nisan, the month when the Jews left Egypt, is "the first month"; Iyar is "the second month." Each month is a preparation for the one that follows.
The month of Iyar is an especially auspicious time for healing. Indeed, its Hebrew letters are an acronym for "Ani Hashem Rofecha," "I am G-d your Healer." The healing G-d provides, however, is very different from that of a human doctor. A regular doctor is given the ability and power to cure illness, but the cure is not retroactive. By contrast, G-d can remove the illness retroactively, so that it seems as if the person was never sick!
The month of Nisan, characterized by the miraculous redemption of the Jews from Egypt, "spills over" and influences the month of Iyar, to ensure that the healing will be effected in the above G-dly manner. Only G-d, Who is above nature, can utterly root out illness as if it never existed.
In the same way that there is physical illness and health, so too is there spiritual illness and healing. During the time between Passover and Shavuot, it is customary to learn Ethics of the Fathers on Shabbat afternoons. Its pithy teachings inspire us to acquire positive character attributes and "heal" the soul. As the weather outside warms up from its winter coldness, so too does the Evil Inclination become thawed out and reactivated. Yet "armed" with the miraculous month of Nisan, and further fortified by our Sages' teachings, the month of Iyar provides us with an opportunity for "super-natural" spiritual wellness. For now is the perfect time to heal any infirmities that might exist, and work toward true spiritual liberation.
And Aaron raised his hands ("yadav") toward the people and blessed them (Lev. 9:22)
Although the word for hands, "yadav," is pronounced in the plural, it is written without an extra yud, as if in the singular ("yado"). This is an allusion to the importance of Jewish unity: When the Jewish people stand united, Aaron's "hands" are transformed into a single hand reaching up to Heaven, to bring down an abundance of G-dly blessing.
And the swine, though its hoof is parted and is cloven footed, yet it does not chew the cud; it is unclean to you (Lev. 11:7)
Why do the verses describing non-kosher animals begin with what would seemingly make them kosher, rather than what distinguishes them as unclean? Moreover, the Torah cites their signs of purity as the reason for their not being kosher! The answer is that these "kosher" signs actually add to their spiritual impurity; one must be especially careful precisely because of them. For the most dangerous trait of all is hypocrisy, when impurity tries to pass itself off as purity.
Nevertheless, a fountain or pit where there is plenty of water (literally "a mikva of water") shall be clean (Lev. 11:36)
One of the reasons that according to Jewish law the conversion process includes total immersion of the person's body in a mikva is as follows: Our Sages said (Tractate Yevamot 22): "A proselyte who converts is considered as a newborn." The waters of the mikva (ritualarium) are symbolic of the amniotic fluid surrounding the infant in the womb before birth.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Do not make your souls abominable by means of any creeping thing, nor shall you make yourselves unclean with them, that you be defiled by them (Lev. 11:43)
It sometimes happens that a person's nature will inexplicably change for the worse; the individual himself may be bewildered and not know why. In many cases, the only explanation is that the person has eaten something that had a negative spiritual effect upon his character.
(Ohr HaChayim, in the name of the Arizal)
Ed.'s note: Many years ago, in the city of Lemberg in Galicia, there lived a family by the name of Brill. According to legend their name was derived from the miraculous "brillen" (glasses in Yiddish) at the heart of this story.
One time, a baby boy was born into a Jewish family. Their joy was short-lived, however, when it was discovered that the child was blind. As the doctors could do nothing to help, the parents accepted the Divine decree and loved their child even more. The boy's first name is not known, but for our purposes we will call him Michel.
When Michel was three years old he was given his first haircut and brought to school. Although he obviously could not learn to read, the teach began to teach him the blessings and prayers by heart.
It soon became apparent that the child was unusually intelligent. Whatever he heard was immediately remembered. Over the next few years he memorized the entire prayer book, many books of the Bible and many tractates of Mishna. The child acquired a vast amount of Torah knowledge and was beloved by all.
Michel was especially drawn to sefarim, Jewish holy books. Even though he couldn't read, he would remove them from their shelves and lovingly caress their pages. Passing his fingers over the holy letters, he seemed to absorb their sanctity. Each book received a kiss before being put back.
One time Michel asked his brother to bring him to the main study hall in Lemberg. As was his habit, he began to take the sefarim off the shelves and straighten out their pages. He came across a very thick volume covered with dust; it was obvious that no one had used it in a very long time. He opened it and was surprised to feel something hard between the pages. It was a glasses case that someone had forgotten. The boy opened the case, took out the glasses, and playfully put them on. He thought he would faint: unbelievably, he could see! The entire world suddenly came into focus.
Michel thought he must be dreaming. He took off the glasses and again was blind. Putting them back on, he could see his younger brother and the square-shaped letters on the pages before him. It was a miracle.
Michel fought against the urge to cry out about what had happened. But he was still in shock and needed a little more time to assimilate the change. Instead, he put the glasses in his pocket and asked his brother to take him home.
Michel's parents could see that something was wrong. The poor boy's hands were trembling; he was deathly pale and could barely eat. But when they asked him what was the matter, he insisted that everything was fine.
That night he waited until everyone had gone to sleep to try on the glasses. Again, he could see as if he had never been blind. A few days later he could no longer keep the secret to himself, and told his parents about the miraculous glasses. Needless to say, the entire household was filled with gladness and light. The whole city of Lemberg marveled at the miracle. Everyone agreed that there was no one more deserving of such good fortune than he. Moreover, now Michel could begin studying Torah in earnest.
Sometime later Michel went back to the study hall to take a good look at the book in which he had discovered the glasses. It was an ancient volume of Kabala (mysticism), and although he had made great strides in learning, he could not understand much of what was written. Michel was determined to learn more about the book and the glasses, but no one was able to answer his questions. Finally, he found a very old man who remembered that as a young child, he had often seen the Rabbi of the town poring over that particular volume and wearing similar glasses. Further questioning revealed that the rabbi was none other than the famous Torah scholar known as the "Pnei Yehoshua" for his commentary on the Talmud [Rabbi Yaakov Yehoshua Falk, 1680-1756], who later headed a community in Germany.
Astoundingly, Michel later learned that he had found the glasses on the exact date of the rabbi's passing (yartzeit)! For the rest of his life he observed the Pnei Yehoshua's yartzeit as a special day of thanksgiving.
Michel Brill grew up to be not only a Torah scholar but also a successful businessman who gave generously to charity. Years later, when he passed away after a long and fruitful life, his descendants gathered to divide up their inheritance. Everyone was willing to relinquish everything their father had left them aside from his miraculous glasses. In the course of their argument the glasses fell to the floor and shattered, and so each of his children ended up with a small sliver of glass...
The anticipation of Moshiach's coming fuses together the exile and the redemption. Considering Moshiach's coming as an imminent reality, grants one an awareness of the redemption in the midst of exile. This is reflected in the Hebrew words for exile and redemption. By adding an alef, representative of G-d, "L-rd of the world," the Hebrew for exile (gola) is transformed into geula, redemption."
(The Rebbe, Shabbat Hagadol 5760-1990)