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Respect. Self-respect, respect for other people, respect for other people's property and opinions and customs and feelings and history....
Respect never goes out of style, it's always politically correct, and it does not become obsolete as technology catapults us toward the age of knowledge-on-request-at-your-fingertips.
The revered and venerated Sage, Rabbi Akiva, is renowned for his teaching, "Love your fellow Jew as yourself. This is a great principle of the Torah." A lesser known teaching of his is: "Beloved is a person, for he was created in the image of G-d..." Keeping this second teaching in mind can help one act on the first teaching, for when we remember that every person is a Divine creation, can we do anything less than respect him or her?
This Tuesday we will celebrate the special day of Lag B'Omer. One of the events commemorated on Lag B'Omer is the suspension of a plague that had been afflicting the students of Rabbi Akiva. The plague, we are told, was caused by the students' lack of respect for one another.
A disciple is one who follows in the ways of his teacher. Is it possible that disciples of one whose entire life was consumed by the axiom, "Love your fellow as yourself" - so much so that this teaching is synonymous with the name "Rabbi Akiva"- did not display enough respect for each other?
An amazing insight of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on this question is as follows: Each of Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 students was so infused with love for his fellow that this love was all-consuming. He loved his friend so much that he wanted to not only share his insights, opinions and interpretations but to convince his peer of their validity until the peer adopted them as his own. He was not able to give his colleague "space."
Remember, we're not talking about a person who is opinionated, arrogant, narcissistic, or condescending. We are talking about someone who loves the other person so much that he wants the other person to share his Truth (with a capital "t").
And this is where the hint of a suggestion of a lack of respect comes in. Respect includes giving another person space. It means allowing for divergent opinions. It acknowledges that G-d created every person differently for a reason. Yes, we can learn to harmonize, modify, accomodate, adapt, perfect. But we cannot expect to become the same; had G-d wanted us to all think, act and react in exactly the same manner, He would have created us that way.
Most of us don't have to worry that our lack of respect is caused by such an all-encompassing love. We're still working on the regular, run-of-the-mill respect.
The way to encourage such respect is to begin looking at our fellow person as one who is created in the image of G-d.
This week's Torah portion, Emor, contains the mitzva of Sefirat Ha'omer, the commandment to count the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot: "And you shall count from the next day after the Sabbath...seven Sabbaths shall be complete."
As with any other mitzva, counting the omer requires a blessing. Each day of the Sefira period we recite the blessing, then count how many days (and weeks) have elapsed.
But what happens if we've forgotten to count? According to one opinion, each day of counting is a mitzva in its own right. If one day we forget to count, it doesn't affect the coming days and we may continue. According to another opinion, the entire 49-day period is a single mitzva. If we forget to count one day, the mitzva has been compromised, and we may not continue. Jewish law establishes, however, that even if we miss a day we should continue counting, albeit without a blessing.
A person who converts to Judaism during Sefira was obviously unable to perform the mitzva before he became Jewish. Starting from the day he converts he is obligated to count; nonetheless, he cannot truthfully say, "Today is the third day" (or whichever day it is), being that he has not counted the previous days.
A child who becomes Bar or Bat Mitzva during Sefira is obligated by the Torah to count, even though the counting began before he attained majority. He is even permitted to continue reciting the blessing, as his performance of the mitzva before Bar Mitzva was for educational purposes. (However, while still a minor, his counting was only obligatory by Rabbinic law.)
There are some halachic authorities who opine that at present, until Moshiach comes, the entire mitzva of Sefirat Ha'omer is only Rabbinic. If Moshiach comes during Sefira (may it happen immediately), we will continue counting and reciting the blessing, once again obligated by Torah law.
Our Sages teach that the mitzvot we observe during the exile are only in preparation for the mitzvot we will perform in the Messianic Era. As we say in our prayers, "There we will offer to You our obligatory sacrifices...in accordance with the command of Your will." In other words, when the Holy Temple will be rebuilt, our mitzvot will be "in accordance with the command of Your will"; in the meantime they are not the ultimate objective, but a preparation for and semblance of the future.
Nonetheless, the mitzvot we do now are still precious, as they are the channel through which we will eventually perform them after the Final Redemption. Moreover, Sefirat Ha'omer is particularly important. In the merit of this mitzva, may we continue to count Sefira with Moshiach's arrival.
Adapted from Volume 1 of Likutei Sichot
Chutzpa in Prison
by Rishe Deitsch
Back in the 1970s, the Lubavitcher Rebbe initiated a campaign for his chasidim to visit and help Jewish prisoners. Rabbi Yossie Tevel began visiting prisons then and continues to visit them.
In those days, it wasn't easy for Rabbi Tevel to get permission from the authorities to enter the prisons. Some chaplains do not welcome competition. Rabbi Izak Hodakov o.b.m., the Rebbe's secretary, was guiding Rabbi Tevel every step of the way, and he always instructed Rabbi Tevel to approach stubborn or hostile chaplains politely and patiently.
By hook or by crook, Rabbi Tevel and his merry band of Lubavitcher chasidim finagled their way into the prisons to visit the Jewish prisoners.
But there was one prison in upstate New York that was a hard nut to crack. No matter how often Rabbi Tevel applied for permission to visit, he was always refused. This prison's chaplain was a Reform rabbi close to 80 years old. Rabbi J. was adamant that no Chabad rabbi would enter "his" institution. He didn't need any help. But as soon as Rabbi Tevel got word of another refusal, he would just apply again. It looked like Rabbi J. had met his match.
Things came to a head a few weeks before Passover. Rabbi Tevel, as always, requested permission to meet with the Jewish prisoners. Rabbi J., as always, refused. Rabbi Tevel sighed, "What am I asking? All I want is permission to bring matza and maror to the Jewish prisoners." Finally, Rabbi J. agreed, but only that he could send the food by mail, not that he could deliver it himself.
A few days later, Rabbi Tevel came with the matza and maror. Rabbi J. met with him and took the packages-he wouldn't let Rabbi Tevel meet the prisoners. But for the first time, they sat and talked. In accordance with Rabbi Hodakov's explicit instructions, Rabbi Tevel remained calm, thankful, and patient, and soon-incredibly-Rabbi J. was agreeing to let Rabbi Tevel come back with a few friends on Lag B'Omer. It was a breakthrough, although as they were setting the time, Rabbi J. warned Rabbi Tevel: "Don't push it... when you come, don't overstep your bounds."
On Lag B'Omer, the chasidim arrived with a tape recorder, a lively tape, and lots of food. They explained the significance of Lag B'Omer, why it is a happy day, and drew the Jewish prisoners into a joyous circle of singing and dancing. There were only two Jewish prisoners there, because Rabbi J. had not spread the word as he was supposed to.
But word of the party going on (or was it the enticing smell of the pastrami?) got out, and other Jewish prisoners joined the group.
Soon Rabbi Tevel and his cohorts took out tefilin and asked everyone to do this important mitzva. The prisoners took turns putting on tefilin. Then Rabbi Tevel got a crazy idea. He turned to Rabbi J. and called out, "Rabbi J.! Now that we're such good friends, maybe we could put on tefilin with you, too?"
Rabbi J. seemed to freeze for a few seconds. A strange expression came over his face. And then, slowly, he stood up and walked over to Rabbi Tevel, saying, "Your chutzpa is truly without limits!"
Rabbi Tevel took this as a compliment and began to put the tefilin on Rabbi J. But Rabbi J. stopped him. "I know exactly what to do." He took the tefilin and put them on perfectly. And then, suddenly, Rabbi J. burst out into hysterical weeping and wailing... and he didn't stop for a full 20 minutes. Rabbi Tevel didn't know what to think. Soon the room grew silent as everyone gathered around solemnly watching Rabbi J. say the blessing and the Shema through gasping sobs. And then, a heartfelt cry: "Tattah zisser, zei mir moichel!" ("Sweet Father, forgive me!")
"Please, Rabbi, tell me what's wrong," Rabbi Tevel begged. "Why are you so upset?" Rabbi J. caught his breath, calmed down, and told his story.
"My family lived in Berlin. My zaide was a religious Jew, and my father was also religious. Many years ago I lived through that infamous night known as Kristallnacht. My zaide was a dignified presence in the community, and the Germans knew it. They took my zaide, tied a pig around his neck, and forced him to march around the town for hours. When they were through with him, they shot him point blank. I was a boy, and I witnessed the whole gruesome spectacle. I ran into the forest to escape. After a few days I realized that I was alone in the world. I asked G-d either to kill me also, or else I would take revenge on Him for what had just happened to me, and to my family. I swore to G-d I would make Him sorry!
"After the war, I came to America and became a Reform rabbi. And in my bitterness and grief, I made it my business to marry as many Jews to non-Jews as I could, and if possible, to officiate at weddings on Tisha B'Av or other days when weddings are forbidden. I wanted to make G-d suffer as He had made my family and me suffer.
"Why do you think I didn't want you here all these years? I knew what Lubavitch is. I knew they warm people up and draw them to Judaism. I didn't want you to get to me. So I kept you away.
"Today, you asked me to put on tefilin. As I sat there trying to keep my armor on, I heard my father's voice, and then my zaide's voice, telling me to put on tefilin. Much as I tried, I couldn't stay cold. My heart welled up and I suddenly felt that I had been wrong all these years. In an instant I regretted all the 're-venge' I had wrought against Him. Ach, Yossele..."
Rabbi J. was now calling his former enemy "Yossele." They parted with warm hugs and Rabbi J. invited Rabbi Tevel to come back any time.
A few nights later Rabbi Tevel's phone rang. It was Rabbi J.'s son. Ever since Lag B'Omer, his father couldn't stop talking about the young Chabad rabbi, his work with the prisoners, and his experience putting on tefilin after so many decades. Today his father had passed away. Would Rabbi Tevel please attend the funeral? When Rabbi Tevel got over his shock, he agreed.
At the funeral, Rabbi J.'s son begged Rabbi Tevel to say a few words. So Rabbi Tevel spoke about the pintele Yid, the tiny spark that lives on within every Jew, no matter how estranged he is from his Judaism. The pintele Yid is flickering still, waiting to burst into full flame, and the Rebbe knows that and feels that and actually suffers when a single pintele Yid is not yet burning brightly. Which is why he sent his chasidim into prisons.
Not just for the prisoners. For the chaplains, too.
Condensed from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
Foundation Stone Set
Yeshivas Lubavitch of Manchester, England, recently had a foundation stone setting ceremony. The new facility will replace the former building which was destroyed by fire nearly six years ago. Once complete the yeshiva will be able to accomodate double the number of students currently studying there. Students hail from England, France, Germany, and the U. S.
New Center in California
Rabbi Mendy and Mrs. Alte Wolvovsky are opening a new Chabad-Lubavitch Center in Sonoma County, California. The Center will be based in S. Rosa. There are well over 100 Chabad-Lubavitch Centers in the state.
26th of Nissan, 5714 
Sholom uBrocho [Peace and Blessing]:
I received your invitation to the Bar Mitzvah of your elder son -, which will take place on Shabbos, [Torah] p.[ortion] Emor, 5th of Iyar, and I wish you Mazzal-Tov [congratulations] on this occasion.
It would be superfluous to speak of the importance of Bar Mitzvah to you, to whom Jewish traditions and customs are personal experiences. However, I would like to emphasize that there is a significance and a message in the fact that the Bar Mitzvah is taking place at this time between Pesach [Passover] and Shovuoth.
The days of Sefirah ["counting" the omer] connecting the Festival of Our Freedom [Passover] with the Festival of Our Receiving the Torah [Shavuot] are a period of transition and preparation, from freedom to FREEDOM. True freedom, to the Jew, cannot mean only freedom from external forces of evil, but also, and especially, inner freedom and harmony which only the Torah can give us and help to attain.
I trust that--- will realize that his Bar Mitzvah marks a transition from "slavery," in a sense, to full freedom, for many childish inclinations and habits to a life in full accord with the Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments] incumbent upon every fully grown Jew - I send him my prayerful wishes to walk along this happy path with determination and joy, inspired by the Chassidic way of life of his ancestral home. And may you have much Yiddish Nachas [Jewish pleasure] from him and your other children, bless them.
. . . I received your letter of Friday, the 7th of Iyar, in which you ask my advice how to deal with Mr. . .
Generally speaking, it would be advisable to discuss the matter with the doctor, and perhaps it is possible to find a doctor that had occasion to examine him.
I also wrote a letter to..., which he may have shown to you. It would be well to find an opportunity, of course, without him knowing that I suggested it to you, to emphasize to him again that the normal way for a person to make progress is to advance step by step, rather than expect of himself radical changes all at once.
Even if the progress seems slow, this is the way of progress in his circumstances.
Besides, there are different times during the year which are appropriate for different purposes: there are times for joy, and times for serious reflection, and remorse, and teshuvah [repentance]. Therefore he should, at this time, postpone any effort at repentance, which does not mean that he has to completely abandon the idea, but only to postpone it until the appropriate time for teshuvah. But in the meantime he should try to make progress in the learning and observance of the Torah, step by step, with complete peace of mind.
Another important point for him to remember is never to entertain any thought of despair that any sin could not be corrected or forgiven. For G-d is the Essence of goodness and of mercy and never rejects teshuvah, which is carried out at the proper time and in the proper way. He should therefore have absolute faith in G-d, and the stronger his faith will be, the sooner he will find peace of mind.
Above all, as already mentioned, all thoughts and discussions about repentance, etc., should be postponed for the proper time, and it is best to avoid such topics and discussions altogether, and whenever anything like that comes up, it should be discussed in a way that would not excite or upset his nerves. May G-d bless you with success.
14 Iyar 5762
Positive mitzva 127: the first tithe
By this injunction we are commanded to set aside the tithe from the produce of the land. It is contained in the Torah's words (Num. 18:24): "For the tithe of the Children of Israel, which they set apart as a gift unto the L-rd." This tithe belongs to the Levites, and is only obligatory in the Land of Israel.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Lag B'Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer (coinciding with April 30th this year), is a festive holiday marking the passing of the famed Sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, known as the Rashbi.
During the time of Roman persecution, Rashbi and his son Rabbi Elaza, were forced to spend 13 years in hiding. During that time, he and his son lived in a cave under extremely dire conditions.
When it was safe for Rashbi to emerge from the cave, one of the first things he discussed with the local people he encountered was whether or not there was something he could do to help them.
This anecdote provides a lesson for us in our daily lives. Rashbi suffered physically during his 13 years in hiding. But, rather than concern himself with his own needs or at least take some time to rest and recuperate after his ordeal, he immediately set about helping his fellow Jew.
That Rashbi had reached a certain level of self-perfection during his years of solitude was not enough for him. For the ultimate goal had not been reached-the coming of Moshiach and the revelation of G-dliness throughout the world. And because this had not been accomplished, there was still more to do and to achieve. Thus, Rashbi was determined to continue with selfless dedication to helping the entire Jewish people.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai authored the Zohar, the basic book of the mystical Jewish teachings. It states in the Zohar that with the revelation if its teachings "the Jewish people will go out of exile with mercy." May we all learn well and live by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's example, thereby hastening the coming of Moshiach, now.
They shall not make any part of their head bald, nor shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any gashes in their flesh... They shall be holy to their G-d (Lev. 21:5-6)
In ancient times it was the custom of idolatrous priests to alter their appearance, as a symbol of their status. Without these external markings their distinction would not be apparent, and everyone would know that they engaged in the same abominations as their fellow idol worshippers. By contrast (as if a comparison may be drawn!), kohanim (the descendants of Aaron) do not need any external signs of their exalted holiness. They are already holy, and are recognizable by their good deeds.
For any man in whom there is a blemish shall not approach (Lev. 21:18)
When Rabbi Jacob was appointed chief rabbinical authority of the city of Lissa he had many opponents. One day he approached their leader and asked him why he objected. "Do you think I am not enough of a scholar? Are you dissatisfied with my qualifications?" "Oh, no," the man replied, "it's just that you are too young. It doesn't look nice to have a person your age as our head." "In that case," the Rabbi replied, "you needn't worry. I promise you that it is a 'temporary blemish,' and that with every passing day it will lessen..."
Therefore shall you keep my commandments, and do them ("otam"); I am the L-rd (Lev. 22:31)
The letters of "otam" can be rearranged to form the word "emet," truth. From this we learn the importance of approaching mitzvot (commandments) truthfully, and not being deceived into thinking we have an unlimited amount of time to do them, as it states in Ethics of the Fathers: "Do not say, 'When I will have free time I will study.' " Rather, we should be aware that time is short, and "collect" as many mitzvot as possible in this world.
You shall not defile ("techal'lelu") My holy Name; and I shall be sanctified among the Children of Israel (Lev. 22:32)
According to the Zohar, the root of the Hebrew word for defilement is "chalal," meaning an empty space. G-d's holy Name becomes defiled if we act as if the place we is standing on is devoid of Him.
This story took place nearly 60 years ago and was recorded in the book Hilulai D'Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
The outer yard surrounding the room where the graves of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (also known as the Rashbi) and his son were buried was jammed with Jews from all over Israel. They had come to Meron on Lag B'omer, the 33rd day of the counting of the omer. Lag B'Omer is the anniversary of the passing of the Rashbi, who had enjoined his disciples to celebrate, rather than mourn, on the day of his passing. Today, all of those gathered in Meron would cut the hair of their three-year-old sons for the first time, leaving only the side-locks.
The voices of hundreds of Jews could be heard as they recited Psalms. There were Jews of all types, whose ancestors had come from all over the world. All were praying and begging G-d to help them raise their children in Torah and good deeds in the merit of Rabbi Shimon.
It was already after mid-day on Friday and time to get ready for Shabbat. The visitors from Tiberias, Tzfat, Haifa and the residents from other cities and towns in the Galilee started to leave for their homes in order to arrive before the commencement of the Sabbath.
Many of the visitors though, especially the ones from Jerusalem which is quite a distance, chose to remain in Meron for Shabbat.
On Friday night, the beautiful melodies of the various groups praying reached the heights of the nearby mountains. Their hearts were overflowing as thousands of Jews joined together to dance and sing.
Shabbat morning arrived and the men gathered in large groups to descend the valley to the small Meggido Lake where they immersed themselves to prepare for the morning prayers. When the morning prayers had finished a scream pierced the Sabbath atmosphere. A woman who had brought her son just yesterday for his first haircut was crying hysterically.
Her son had suddenly become sick and had died. Doctors who were sent from the British government to the area immediately put the enire section under quarantine. No one could come and no one could leave.
Suddenly, the mother gathered the boy in her arms and went into the room where the Rashbi was buried. She placed the dead child on the Rashbi's grave and started crying out, "Oh great tzadik (righteous one). I, your servant, came in your honor to cut the hair of my child. I came to make my son, my first and only child, into a good Jew. I kept my promise to come here on Lag B'Omer. Only yesterday I held him here and cut his hair in song and joy. Now, great tzadik, how shall I return home without my child? How can I show my face in my home?"
In the midst of her prayers, the mother arose and said, "Tzadik, Rabbi Shimon, I am laying down my child on your grave as he is. I beg of you, with tears, do not shame me. Give me back my child just as I brought him here. Let the holy name of G-d be exalted along with the name of the great tzadik. Let everyone know that there is a G-d ruling over this world."
The woman concluded her prayers and left the room, leaving her son on the grave of the Rashbi. The doors of the room were closed as everyone left the room.
A few moments later a child's scream was heard from behind the closed door. The mother ran into the room and to her great surprise she saw her son standing on his feet and crying for a glass of water. Happiness and commotion filled the room. The local doctors examining the child announced in wonder that this was not a natural occurence or a normal incident, but rather a miracle which must have happened in the merit of the great Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
The government agents immediately reopened the gates and the masses once again poured inside. Everyone seeing the revived child pronounced the blessing "Blessed be G-d Who revives the dead."
The Redemption will involve freeing all the elements of existence that have been subjugated in the exile. Nothing will be lost. On the contrary, everything will be redeemed. Every single Jew will be redeemed. All the positive activities and achievements of the Jews (and also the non-Jews) in the exile will not be nullified. What will be nullified is the concealment of the world's true inner being which is brought on by the material substance of the world and the subjugation to the rules of nature that exist at present. But all the positive aspects of the exile will remain, and indeed will be elevated.
(The Rebbe, 13 Iyar, 5751)