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When Reb Pinchas Horowitz first became a disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch, the Maggid advised him to study with Reb Zusya of Anapoli.
Reb Pinchas went to Reb Zusya and told him of the Maggid's advice. Reb Zusya humbly replied that he could not understand why the Maggid would send anyone to study with him, but he would be happy to join Reb Pinchas in his intellectual endeavors.
"What should we study?" Reb Pinchas asked.
"Whatever you are studying," Reb Zusya replied.
Reb Pinchas took out a volume of Talmud and began explaining the following passage: "When there are only nine people in the synagogue, there is an opinion that the ark can be counted to complete the quorum of ten necessary for prayer." The Talmud then asks: "Is the ark a person? For no matter how holy the ark is, it is people who are re-quired to fulfill the quorum for prayer."
Reb Zusya interrupted: "What does The Talmud mean, 'Is the ark a person?' Everyone knows the ark is only an object."
Reb Zusya continued: "Maybe the intent is that a person can be an ark in which the Torah is contained, a veritable repository of knowledge, but unless he is a person, unless that knowledge is integrated with his humanity, there is a question if he can be counted among the community."
Reb Pinchas understood that this was the lesson the Maggid had wanted him to learn from Reb Zusya: not how to augment his knowledge, but how to use his knowledge to refine himself and change his character.
Judaism considers personal growth a lifelong task for each of us, 365 days a year for every year of our lives. Nevertheless, every year, a period of time is set aside when these efforts become the focus of our attention. This reflects the spiritual significance of Sefirat HaOmer, the 49-day period between Passover and Shavuot.
The Hebrew word "sefira" means "counting." Every night we count one of these forty-nine days. But sefira also means "shining." During these 49 days, we should endeavor to make our personalities shine.
According to the Kabala, the Jewish mystical tradition, we have seven fundamental emotional qualities. These qualities then interrelate, combining each one with another to form the full range of human feeling. Seven times seven equals 49, the number of days mentioned above. This is not coincidental, for the cultivation of our spiritual personalities during these 49 days involves the refinement of our emotions, eliminating their coarseness and directing them to G-dliness. As we work to upgrade our emotional potential, we prepare ourselves to relive the experience of the giving of the Torah on the holiday of Shavuot.
The ultimate experience of personal refinement will come in the Messianic Era, when "there will be neither envy nor competition...." For then the G-dly spark that is latent within every person will be revealed. At present, effort is necessary to look beyond our fundamental self-concern and appreciate the inner, spiritual core that exists within ourselves and within others. In the era of the Redemption, such an endeavor will not be necessary; it will be the way we naturally view things.
What can we do to hasten the coming of this era? Conduct ourselves at present in a manner that demonstrates our awareness of this inner G-dliness. When we show genuine love to another person, we are highlighting the G-dly spark that both we and the other person possess and are establishing a connection between the two. How more Messianic can one be?
Reprinted from Keeping In Touch by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, published by Sichos In English.
In the current Torah portion, Shemini, we learn of the signs which distinguish kosher animals from non-kosher. All the animals which both chew their cud and have split feet are permissible as food for the Jew.
Every detail of Torah teaches and instructs man. The signs that identify purity and fitness in animals shed insight on the types of behavior which are commendable and appropriate in the conduct of man.
Both kinds of animals, the pure and the impure, are mentioned in the Torah. Interestingly enough, from this we learn that one could follow the Torah and still be an "impure animal." In other words, this speaks of one who would seem to follow the guidelines of the Torah, but in reality violates some of the fundamental and basic precepts. When it comes to the "animal" soul - a person's physical or base desires - even behavior that follows the letter of the Torah's guidelines (alluded to by the non-kosher animals which are also mentioned in the scripture) may in fact be reprehensible, in that it does not accord with the commandment, "You shall be holy." One example of such a person would be a glutton who only eats kosher food.
What determines the purity of the kosher animal? One sign is that the hoof must be split. Even our mundane actions, which usually conceal G-dliness, must be "split" - open, so that the Divine purpose within the mundane act can shine through. A further aspect is that the hoof must be split into two distinct parts. Similarly, the path which we tread in this world must clearly distinguish between the left and the right - the right hand which "draws near," must be tempered by the left hand which "pushes away." For, while it is important to bring all Jews close to Torah, it is equally essential that we not attempt to deform the Torah by adapting it to contemporary trends. This approach, while nobly motivated, leads eventually to our losing sight of what our true goals are; our efforts to bring the Torah to the people leave us without a Torah.
A split hoof, however, is not a sufficient sign of kashrut; the animal must also chew its cud. In our day to day life, we must very carefully "chew over" every mundane activity we undertake. The act must be well considered both in terms of its necessity and the method by which it will be carried out. When these three conditions are present in ourselves, then we, too, like the kosher animal, became "pure."
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
The Fruit of His Labor
by Braindy Naparstek with Rishe Deitsch
Rabbi Aron Zakon o.b.m., was born in the year 1930, to Bryna and Yitzchok Zakon. Reb Yitzchok Zakon had a secret minyan in his house in Kiev. When Reb Yitzchok received the information that the KGB had gotten wind of his minyan and was about to arrest him, he fled to Moscow, a city easier to "get lost" in. His wife Bryna insisted on keeping the minyan going even without her husband, saying, "How will my little boy learn to pray otherwise?" And so the minyan continued in their home and little Aron learned to pray.
A few years later, Bryna moved with her son and three daughters to Moscow, where her husband was still hiding from the KGB.
In 1943, hard times forced the Jews to leave Moscow, and the Zakons moved to Tashkent. Bryna eventually came down with typhus and died when Aron was 13 years old. Soon he joined the underground Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Tashkent.
In 1945, Aron left Russia and went to France. He came to America in 1948 to study under the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe. He received rabbinic ordination and eight years later married Sima (may she be well until 120), and together they began to raise a beautiful family. Theirs was an open home to people in need, whether physical or spiritual.
In 1962, Rabbi Zakon was teaching "afternoon Hebrew school," or Talmud Torah, at the Rockaway Park Jewish Center. His job was not an easy one; after a full day of school, which child has interest to sit at a desk and study for another few hours?
Rabbi Zakon was so discouraged that after several years of teaching at the Center he wrote to the Rebbe for advice. He described his frustration with the job; he wrote that he felt he was wasting his time.
The Rebbe replied, "Continue in this job, and you will see fruits from your labors."
So for the next ten years, Rabbi Zakon continued to teach. He often brought students home for Shabbat. His wife would try her best to make the students comfortable and happy during their stay in Crown Heights. But often she would shake her head after they left, saying, "They are totally not interested."
Finally, in 1972, the Rockaway Park neighborhood changed and the Talmud Torah closed down. Rabbi Zakon's voice gave out and he left Jewish education entirely and became a storekeeper in the neighborhood where he lived. He gave his heart and soul to his family and to the Rebbe's mitzva campaigns for another 30 years.
Late one Thursday night, as Rabbi Zakon was locking up the store, Chani Hecht, the manager of a neighboring store, stopped him to tell him a story:
Chanie had been doing business with a vendor in Manhattan by the name of Renee for several years. Their relationship had always been strictly business; however, today, said Chanie, Renee had opened up.
"I was dating somebody for a long time and wanted to marry him. But he wasn't Jewish, and I am Jewish. I couldn't marry him. I finally broke up with him," said Renee.
Chanie asked, "What was it that stopped you from marrying him?"
Renee went on to tell Chanie about a teacher she had had some thirty years earlier in Talmud Torah. He was a Lubavitcher, said Renee. He had taught them that a Jew is always a Jew and must only marry a Jew in order for the nation to survive and not assimilate. He was unwavering about the evils of assimilation, said Renee. Jewish identity was very important to him; you had to know who you are.
Chanie asked, "Who was the teacher?"
"Oh, he can't be alive today. He was an old man with a white beard thirty years ago! His name was Rabbi Aron Zakon." (Rabbi Zakon had turned white in his twenties.)
Even though she had not kept up her connection with Rabbi Zakon, still, his words had remained with her always and she could not forsake the Jewish nation by intermarrying.
Chanie assured Renee that Rabbi Zakon was very much alive and, as a matter of fact, she saw him every day since their stores were near each other. Renee was overjoyed to hear this and asked Chanie to give Rabbi Zakon her warmest regards.
On the evening that Chani told Rabbi Zakon this story, he came home in a joyful mood. He remembered the Rebbe promising him that he would see fruits from his labors, the labors that had seemed futile to him for so many stressful years. And now he was blessed with this knowledge, that a student had been so moved by his words. All Shabbat, he told his family and friends, "See? The Rebbe promises, and it comes true!" These were practically the last words Rabbi Zakon said, since the next day he had the heart attack and stroke that ended his life at the age of 72.
Afterwards, Chanie went back to Renee and told her what had happened. She explained how she, Renee, had given Rabbi Zakon a wonderful last Shabbat, full of joy and nachas.
As a result of her conversations with Chanie, Renee began a correspondence with Mrs. Zakon. In one letter, she told Mrs. Zakon that she had recently bumped into the mother of two boys who had been in Rabbi Zakon's class with her. She hadn't seen her in years. Naturally, she asked the woman, "How are Mark and Jeffrey?"
Renee learned that Mark and Jeffrey are observant Jews today, and their children study in a Jewish school.
"How did it happen?" asked Renee.
Their mother told her how. "Remember when you were all small, you had a teacher named Rabbi Zakon? He sparked in the boys an interest in Judaism; they spent a Shabbat in his house, they enjoyed it, and it stayed with them. When they got older they embraced it as a way of life..."
In Renee's most recent letter to Mrs. Zakon, she wrote: "Not only do you see fruits of your labors today, but you will see them for generations and generations to come."
Reprinted with permission from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
Gutnick Chumash Vayikra
The third volume of the Gutnick Chumash, Leviticus/Vayikra was released this past month. Vayikra is packed with tables and diagrams which, together with the critically acclaimed translation, greatly enhances the study of the weekly Torah portion. Readers can now enjoy the Torah portion with the Rebbe's commentary culled from over 800 different talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Available at Jewish bookstores or through the book's publisher at www.kolmenachem.com
16th of Av, 5739 
Blessing and Greeting:
I am in receipt of your letter of July 27, in which you write in regard to conversion in accordance with the Halachah [Torah law] which, of course, is the only valid conversion.
Needless to say, it is difficult to deal with such a matter through correspondence. The best thing would be if you could speak personally to a practicing orthodox Rabbi, for it is a very important and serious matter. If for some reason this is impossible to do without delay, you ought to write to one of the competent Rabbinic authorities, such as the Union of Orthodox Rabbis (address below), in whose domain it is - not in mine. And since they treat such matters in confidence, you can write to them quite freely in every detail.
Though you write that you have spoken with an orthodox Rabbi, I see from your letter that you're still confused, and the sooner your status is rectified the better.
P.S. I gather from your letter that you are aware of the general attitude of the Jewish religion not to encourage proselytizing, and, indeed, to discourage would-be converts. A gentile who wishes to embrace the Jewish faith is often reminded at the outset that gentiles, too, have a Divinely ordained purpose in life to promote the rule of justice and decency and the other basic Seven Divine Precepts, with all their ramifications, which have been given to all mankind (the descendants of Noah, hence the so-called Seven Noahide Laws), thereby attaining spiritual fulfillment.
You should therefore not be surprised that you have not been encouraged in your desire for Geyrus (conversion) according to the halachah, which is the only kind of valid conversion. For, obviously, any other form of conversion has no validity whatsoever, since it would be a self-contradiction to adopt a new religion in a way which is contrary to that religion.
And since Halachic conversion requires a total commitment on the part of the proselyte to strictly adhere to all the laws - the do's and the don'ts - of the Jewish religion, which, in your present place and circumstances is well nigh impossible to fulfill, there is an additional strong reason to discourage you from taking that step. For, with all your best intentions, you would not be able to conduct a full Torah-true life in your present place - the first condition of Halachic conversion, lacking which there can be no conversion.
Since it is a very serious matter, I am reiterating here what has been indicated in the main body of the letter, namely, that before you take up residence in a city and neighborhood where you can be certain of being able to carry out the said unequivocal commitment to conduct the everyday life in accordance with the Jewish Code of Law (Shulchan Aruch), there is no point in talking about Geyrus. Unless after discussing the matter with an orthodox Rabbi, and despite his reasoning and discouragement, a basis may be found for pursuing the matter.
I trust you will accept the above in the proper spirit, since it is first of all my duty to clarify the true aspects of the situation, and it would also be in your best interests, as well as your family's, to follow the path of truth.
1 Iyar, 5764 - April 22, 2004
Positive Mitzva 57: Slaughtering the Second Passover Offering
This mitzva is based on the verse (Num. 9:11) "On the fourteenth day of the second month, at evening, they shall do it" If someone was unable to bring the Paschal sacrifice because of impurity or because he was too far away to get to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, he is given another opportunity. This person is commanded to fulfill this obligation, a month later, on the fourteenth day of the month of Iyar.
Positive Mitzva 58: Eating the Second Passover Offering
This mitzva is based on the verse (Num. 9:11) "And eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs" The second Paschal sacrifice must be eaten on the night of the fifteenth day of the month of Iyar. Just like the first, it is to be eaten with matzot and bitter herbs.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
On the second night of Passover, we began to perform the daily mitzva of Sefirat HaOmer - counting the Omer. Every day between Passover and Shavuot we pronounce a blessing on this mitzva. Then we say, "Today is the first day of the counting of the Omer," "Today is the third day...," "Today is the seventeenth day...," etc.
What is the purpose of counting time? Honestly speaking, time will remain the same whether we count it or not. We count the days, and say a blessing each time, to show the preciousness and value of time. Each minute, every hour, our whole day, should be permeated with this realization. And if, in fact, we are successful at reminding ourselves how valuable time is, certainly we will want to fill that time up with non-trivial pursuits. We will fill our time with the performance of good deeds, mitzvot, and Torah study.
Sefirat HaOmer teaches us that we must not say, "I'll do it tomorrow," or "Next week I'll have more time." It's the famous tragic story of the man who always said, "I'll do it tomorrow." Well, that "tommorow" never came. Every day we count the Omer, every day we say a blessing on this mitzva, every day we must fill our time with the mitzvot that need to be attended to on that day, and in doing so, we will certainly hasten the Redemption and bring Moshiach, NOW!
Moses told Aaron, "Come close to the altar" (Lev. 9:7)
Rashi states: Aaron was reserved and afraid to come close. Moses said to him, "Why are you reserved? For this you were chosen." The Baal Shem Tov explains Rashi's comments in the following manner: You were chosen for this - because of your reserve and modesty, and your doubts about being worthy to carry out the Divine service. These are the qualities that demonstrate your being fit for the job.
Fire came forth from before G-d and it consumed them, so that they died before G-d (Lev. 10:2)
What was the failing of Nadav and Avihu, two sons of Aaron, that they were killed by a G-dly flame when they offered an unauthorized fire? They desired to be one with G-d spiritually (through the sacrifice) rather than remain in this physical world. The spiritual high was not brought down into practicality.
(Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch)
And it came to pass on the eighth day (Lev. 9:1)
The eighth day of the consecration of the Tabernacle was the first day of the month of Nissan. Ten special events took place on that day, including many "firsts": Nissan became the first of the months when counting the months of the year; the priests, not the first-born, performed the special services; communal sacrifices were brought; the priests blessed the people with the Priestly Blessing.
Sanctify yourselves, and you will be holy, because I am holy (Lev. 11:44)
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev said: If the father is wealthy, it is easier for the child to be successful in matters of livelihood. If he prefers, he doesn't need to work too hard since he can always fall back on his father. This is what the Torah means when it says "Sanctify yourselves": one needn't do more than begin to be involved in holy matters, and immediately "you will be holy," for "I am holy." Because G-d is holy and we are His, it will be easy for us to become Holy.
Rabbi Hillel the Elder was a descendent of King David and leader of the Jewish People. He was well known for his ahavat Yisrael - simple, all-encompassing love of every Jew. Among many of the famous stories told about Hillel are the following two:
Once a non-Jew came to Hillel's contemporary, Shammai, and said:
"I want to be a Jew on one condition. Teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one foot!"
Shammai was incensed by what he considered the man's insolence, for a person can learn Torah his entire life and still not learn everything. Shammai took the yardstick in his hand and drove the non-Jew out of his school.
Boldly, the man went to Hillel's House of Study and said:
"I want to be a Jew, on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot."
Hillel looked at him and said, "Good. I will do as you say!"
The would-be convert then stood on one foot while Hillel taught him, "What is hateful to you, don't do to others. This is the entire Torah. Now, go and learn all the laws so that you will know what to do and what not to do."
The man went and studying and eventually became a righteous convert.
Once, two men were sitting together discussing the reputation of their leader, Rabbi Hillel.
"Hillel never becomes angry, not with anyone or about anything," said the first.
The second said, "I am going to irritate him until he becomes angry and chastises me."
"I don't believe you can. I'll bet 400 zuz you can't manage to anger Hillel," wagered the first.
The second man laughed and said, "The money is mine already. I know how to aggravate him!"
That Friday, when Rabbi Hillel was busy preparing for Shabbat, the man came to his house and shouted, "Where is Hillel?
Hillel thought, "Maybe someone has an important question that needs to be answered immediately." Though in the middle of his bath, Hillel dressed himself, went out and quietly asked the man, "My son, what is it you request?"
Said the man, "I have a question to ask."
"Ask, my son, ask."
"Why are the heads of the Babylonians round?" he asked, all the while thinking how angry Hillel would become being asked such a foolish question on the Sabbath eve.
But Hillel answered patiently, "My son, that is a difficult and big question. It is because the midwives do not know how to deliver babies properly."
The man left and returned an hour later. Again he shouted, "Where is Hillel?"
This time too, Hillel wasn't angered. He dressed and went out. "My son, what do you need?"
The man said, "I have a question to ask. Why are the Tharmudians' eyes narrow and almost closed?"
"My son," Hillel responded, "the answer is that they live in a city where much sand is blown by the wind. G-d created them in this manner to protect their eyes."
The man left and came back in a while, calling for Hillel again.
Hillel asked calmly, "My son, what is your question?"
"Why do Africans have wide feet?"
This time, too, Hillel answered patiently, "My son, they live in a place with much mud. G-d made their feet wide so they wouldn't slip in the mud."
The man saw he wasn't angering Hillel, so he thought, "Now I will speak to him with chutzpa and curse him! Then surely he will become angry and I will win the money." He said to Hillel, "I have many questions to ask, but I am afraid you will be angry with me."
Hillel invited the man to sit, so they could speak easily. "All the questions that you have, ask."
"You are Hillel, who is called the leader of Israel?"
"Would that there shouldn't be more of your kind in Israel."
Disregarding the insult, Hillel asked, "My son, why?"
Said the man, in disgust, "Because of you I lost 400 zuz. My friend promised to give me that money if I could make you angry."
Cautioned Hillel, "It is better that you should lose out on 400 zuz and twice that amount, than that you would be successful at angering Hillel."
Kosher animals have two signs: they chew their cud and have split hooves. The Torah lists four animals that have only one of these signs, and are therefore non-kosher - camel, rabbit, hare and pig. Each of these four animals represents one of the four nations that enslaved the Jewish People in exile. We are now in the last of these four exiles, which corresponds to the pig (chazir in Hebrew). The word chazir means "return." For, at the end of this - our fourth and longest exile - G-d's glory and the glory of the Jewish People will return to their formerly lofty level.
(Vayikra Rabba 13)