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818: Emor

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Devarim Deutronomy

May 7, 2004 - 16 Iyyar, 5764

818: Emor

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  817: Achrei Mos-Kedoshim819: Behar-Bechukosai  

Tooth Decay  |  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

Tooth Decay

You know the drill: brush in the morning, brush at night. Thirty seconds a quadrant. That's two minutes of brushing. And then the dental floss.

Now the mouth goes through a series of contortions - fully open, side-skewed, half-closed - depending which tooth you're digging into - er, flossing at the moment.

So you work the floss between the teeth - gently, gently - and begin gliding it into the gum line around the tooth (read sawing at the roots). You go deep into the gum-gulley on one tooth, then on its neighbor, then pull the floss back up and out.

Sort of reminds one of the process of self-refinement and character modification. First, we get rid of the surface problems - the obvious negative traits. Some of them attach to our character so loosely we can "rinse" them off; some, a bit more stubborn, cling to us strongly enough that we have to "brush" them off. Some of these personality weaknesses are top down - thoughts that take us nowhere, thoughts that create mistrust, thoughts that lead us astray; so the "dentist" tells us to brush top down. Some are bottom up - feelings of jealousy, impulsive actions - and these we need to redirect, to let the "mind rule the heart." So we send them up for review, so to speak. We brush them bottom up.

But occasionally we forget to floss and once in a while we're too tired or overworked to brush properly. What applies to our dental hygiene applies to our spiritual hygiene, our refinement routine, as well.

Still, we go to the dentist confident he'll be impressed with the state of our teeth. And yet, during the exam, we're surprised at how much plaque has built up, how much gunk has attached itself to our teeth.

So the dentist pokes and prods with the little metal hooks, testing the tops of our teeth, the gum line - hitting a sore point here or getting stuck on a tooth being probed there. Finally come the X-rays and - we've got a cavity.

Some tooth decay. Get it filled now or we might be looking at a crown or root canal later - let's not go there.

How could this happen? We were so careful. Yes, the dentist explains, we did a good job taking care of our teeth, in general. But it doesn't take much to start a cavity - a little speck lodged in a hard to reach, out of the way corner, waiting a few hours too long to brush, drinking or eating something with a smidgin too much sugar. Or it could simply be that our mouth proved to be hospitable - too hospitable - for the bacteria.

We need to see our spiritual dentists on a regular basis, too. The Rebbe emphasized the need for a mentor, an individual we trust, someone we can turn to for advice and guidance, who knows and cares for us and who has a degree of spiritual expertise. As it says in Ethics of the Fathers, acquire a rav - a spiritual mentor - for yourself.

We can learn some other lessons from our tooth decay analogy. No matter how carefully we "brush" our character, how scrupulously we observe the mitzvot, some speck of neglect may escape our attention and lodge itself beyond our detection. This tells us three things: 1) We should not point out or make fun of another person's "decay," because we have our own, however, incipient or latent; 2) The better care we take of our teeth - the more mitzvot we do on our own - the better off we are; and 3) Just as our teeth need professional care on a regular basis, so our souls need "professional care" - the guidance and advice of a spiritual mentor.

Oh, and there's a fourth: mitzvot and good character traits - like clean, healthy teeth - make us smile!

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Emor, begins with a fundamental teaching about the education of children: "Speak to the priests...and say to them." Our Sages explain that this repetition alludes to the mitzva (commandment) and obligation placed on adults to instruct their children in the proper path. Parents, the Torah insists, must provide the next generation with the proper Jewish education.

But why is such a fundamental concept not mentioned until now, halfway through the Torah? Would it not have been more appropriate for this mitzva to be given immediately after the revelation at Mt. Sinai? Furthermore, why is this mitzva mentioned in connection with the priests?

In explanation, bear in mind that the Torah portion studied during any given week has particular significance for that time of year. Its selection is not arbitrary; its teachings are especially applicable at that particular time. The commandment to educate the young must therefore apply most specifically now, during the month of Iyar, a month primarily characterized by counting the omer.

The essential concept of Sefirat HaOmer, counting the omer, is education. The Jews were educated and refined as they counted the days before the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai, seven weeks after their exodus from Egypt. The release from bondage was, so to speak, the "birth" of the Jewish nation, which was then followed by a period in which they were educated for the great event to come.

This learning experience was not, however, in the fundamentals of Judaism; G-d had already said of Abraham, "For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, that they will keep the way of G-d." This process of refinement, achieved through counting the omer, refers to an even higher degree of perfection.

Furthermore, this type of education has a special connection to the service of the priests, for their job was to bring the Jews closer to G-d through the sacrifices brought in the Holy Temple. Because the priests raised the sanctity of the entire Jewish nation, it is to them that the commandment to instruct the young was addressed.

We learn from this that the duty to provide our children - and every Jewish child - with a proper Jewish education involves more than teaching them just the basics of Judaism. We must also endeavor to instill in them the desire for perfection in the service of G-d.

Today, as we stand on the threshold of Moshiach's imminent arrival, this lesson is particularly apt, for it prepares us for that time when "the entire world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d, like the waters of the sea cover the earth."

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

A Slice of Life

Bentzi Sudak
by Bluma Wineberg

Among the cities Bentzi Sudak and Dovid Holtzberg visited on Merkos Shlichut[1] in the summer of 2001 was the city of Rostock, Germany. As Bentzi tells it:

Our visit to the city was not too exciting; in addition to hearing warnings from anyone we met in the other cities about the anti-Semitism in Rostock, we had no contacts and barely met a Jewish soul during our short visit there.

On Shabbat, my friend and I sat down and reviewed a talk the Rebbe had given on the same corresponding Shabbat many years earlier. Being the summer season, the Rebbe related how two students who were out in the field visiting some remote place had written to him, bemoaning their total lack of success on their trip. The Rebbe went on to say that it is impossible to come to such a conclusion (that there was total lack of success), since, "When a Jew sits at home and sees through his window how a yeshiva student with a beard is running by, he is reminded that his father also looked like this. He remembers that his father taught him: 'Each day when you wake up in the morning, you should say Modeh Ani [a short prayer of thanks said immediately upon awakening], and when you go to sleep you should say Shema Yisrael.' At the time when he is reminded of all this, he thinks about, or even says aloud, the words to the Shema and the Modeh Ani, and is thereby inspired."

After reading this talk, we were a little motivated, but not enough. "Very nice," I thought, "but how could this be happening to us as well? Does this happen to every group of students that is on Merkos Shlichut and doesn't meet anyone?" We were hungry for something more concrete in the way of seeing success.

The next day we went to a neighboring city, Schwerin, where we encountered similar "success." Besides the miserably hot, wet weather, the city was virtually dead and we had no contacts. To top it off, our pre-paid cell phone had run out of units. As it was Sunday there was not a solitary store open where we could buy more units for our phone. As a last resort we tried the train station, but to our dismay the only store that did sell these cards there was closed.

As we left the station walking to the rainy, wet parking lot, we heard someone call out in Yiddish: "Shalom Aleichem! Fun Vonen Kumt a Yid?" (Shalom! From where hails a Jew?) We turned around and saw a man in his sixties, beaming from ear to ear, whose red mustache only added to his already lively demeanor. He introduced himself as Pesach Kaufman, a newly arrived immigrant from Russia. We offered to put on tefilin with him. He agreed. As he couldn't read Hebrew, we gave him a card with the Shema transliterated in Russian. But then something strange happened. In a loud and confident voice, he recited Modeh Ani, which was not on the paper. He then tearfully started reading the Shema from the paper, but instead of reading it phonetically syllable by syllable, he sang it in a very moving tune, with tears streaming down his cheeks.

When he finished, I asked him how he knew the Modeh Ani and that moving tune for the Shema, although he couldn't read Hebrew. After a long pause, he overcame his emotions and told me his story:

He had been raised in a Chasidic home in White Russia. A few months before his Bar Mitzva, his father had bought him a pair of tefilin and took him to see his Rebbe, who blessed him to grow to be a true Torah scholar. Tragically, however, his Bar Mitzva never took place. They had to flee from his hometown to escape the war. Sadly, he was separated from his father, never to see him again, and never did celebrate his Bar Mitzva. That meeting with his Rebbe, and the blessing, was the last trace of Judaism that remained in his memory. Since then, he hadn't recited a single prayer or learned a single passage of Torah - until he met us. When he saw us, he said, we reminded him of his father, who used to dress similarly. Then old memories started flowing back - his home, his Rebbe, the Modeh Ani, and the tune in which his father would say the Shema with him at night.

I looked at my friend. We both realized that this was the exact scenario the Rebbe had laid out years earlier, he is reminded that his father also looked like this, his father taught him: when you wake up in the morning, you should say Modeh Ani and when you go to sleep you should say Shema Yisrael...

Yes, this happening to us... right in front of our eyes... and our dear friend, Pesach Kaufman, finally had his Bar Mitzva, in the parking lot of the Schwerin train station.

Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter



  1. (Back to text) Established by the Lubavitcher Rebbe 59 years ago, the "Lubavitch Peace Corps," known as "Merkos Shlichut," enables Lubavitch rabbinical students to share their knowledge, enthusiasm and Jewish pride with world Jewry. The students visit small Jewish communities and individual Jews in places as remote as Vietnam, Surinam, and Peru. The students teach classes in Jewish tradition, Talmud, Kabala and the Jewish life cycle, adapting the program to the specific needs and interests of each respective community.

What's New

Chasidic Soul Remedies

For time-tested spiri-tual and emotional healing, Chassidim have always looked to stories about, or advice from, tzadikim - righteous people whose entire being is bound up with G-dliness. To derive the maximum benefit from a chassidic teaching, a person must contemplate its details, engage in inner work to find where he and the story resonate, and discover how the resultant insight can enhance and transform his life. Chassidic Soul Remedies is comprised of nearly 100 Chassidic stories and thoughts culled from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbes by Rabbi Dovid Polter. Newly published by Sichos In English,

The Rebbe Writes

Pesach Sheni, 5720 [1960]

To all Children participating in the
Lag B'Omer Celebration
G-d bless you all!

Greeting and Blessing:

Your Lag B'Omer celebration is one of many similar celebrations taking place at the same time, in many parts of the world. I trust you know the meaning of this day, and why you are celebrating it.

Lag B'Omer, reminding us of what happened to the many thousands of students of the great tanna and sage Rabbi Akiba, teaches us all, and Jewish children in particular, that it is necessary to study the holy Torah in good companionship and with love and respect for each other.

Lag B'Omer also reminds us of the life and work of the saintly tanna and sage Rabbi Shimon ben Yochoi, one of the greatest of Rabbi Akiba's disciples. Rabbi Shimon ben Yochoi began to reveal the secrets of the Torah and gave us the holy book Zohar. G-d showed us an extra measure of love when He blessed Rabbi Shimon ben Yochoi with such Divine wisdom and permitted him to teach it to others, so that we could come closer to G-d than ever before.

Yet it was not until the time of the saintly Baal Shem Tov that the secrets of the Torah began to flow forth and spread among the Jewish people. Soon, on the first day of Shovuoth, the day of our Receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, will be exactly 200 years since the Baal Shem Tov's holy soul returned to heaven, after he had established the Chassidic movement and way of life.

This is our true Jewish way of life, based on three loves: love of G-d, love of the Torah and love of all Jews.

I hope and pray that your Lag B'Omer celebration this year - which is a very significant year - will inspire each and every one of you to a greater measure of love of G-d, the Torah and the Jewish people; a love which will not remain secret in your heart, but will be expressed in your daily conduct, so that every one of you will be a worthy son and daughter of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah - the fathers and mothers of our people.

With blessing to you, your teachers and parents,

9th of Adar, 5739 [1979]

Neshei U'Bnos Chabad
London, England
-G-d Bless You All-

Blessing and Greeting:

I acknowledge, with an apology for the unavoidable delay, your telegram, and I am gratified to note your commitment in every way possible to spread Yiddishkeit [Judaism], etc.

Since we have the assurance that when a Jew makes a firm resolution to do a good thing, G-d opens special channels and capacities to carry it out fully, may this be so also in regard to your pledge. Of course, this implies G-d's assured blessings for peace of mind and good health, with no problems, to be able to accomplish what must be without distractions and in a growing measure.

I was greatly impressed with the report on the Second European Convention, including the speeches, photographs, etc. Since you have such good material, it would be well to consider the idea of publishing it, with appropriate supplementary material, at the earliest possible date, in the form of a Pictorial Report or Album of the Convention. Needless to say, it should be attractive not only in content, but also in external appearance, artistic design, etc. Such a publication would undoubtedly generate considerable interest among those who personally participated in the Convention, for whom it would be a lasting momento and a decorative volume to have on the bookshelf, and it would also be of interest to many who did not participate in the Convention.

I do not know if such pictorial reports are customary in England. But Chabad/Lubavitch does not hesitate to make "innovations" and pioneer in activities designed to promote Yiddishkeit.

Needless to add, the above project, even any title mentioned above, is only a suggestion, and it is entirely up to you to make final decisions and changes that may make it more effective in achieving the central objective of promoting the activities of the Neshei for strengthening and spreading Yiddishkeit.

With prayerful wishes for Hatzlocho [success], and for a joyous and inspiring Purim,

With blessing,

Rambam this week

16 Iyar, 5764 - May 7, 2004

Positive Mitzva 107: Impurity of coming in contact with a dead body

This mitzva is based on the verse (Num. 19:11) "He that touches the dead body of any man shall be unclean" Contact with a dead body makes a person impure. G-d defined certain situations as impure. Persons or items coming in contact with impurity may also be considered impure and they must go through a process of purification. In Positive Mitzvot 96 - 113, the Torah commands us to regard certain things and situations as being impure.

There are many detailed laws applying to each stage of impurity. The Torah teaches us the procedures of purification for the different types of impurity.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

It says of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, whose anniversary of passing we celebrate on Lag B'Omer, that in times of distress, we can depend on him. Times of distress can refer to our present age, when we are all in "galut"-exile.

Why, specifically is it Rabbi Shimon upon whom we can depend? What of the other great rabbis, leaders, and righteous people who lived in the past?

Rabbi Shimon lived much of his life under the tyrannical rule of the Roman Empire. He was surrounded by the Hellenized world and the desire for "beauty" which Rome hoped all its citizens would embrace.

Yet, because of Rabbi Shimon's advanced spiritual state, he was not at all affected by his surroundings. He lived in a different, albeit spiritual, world altogether.

Perhaps, from Rabbi Shimon's example, we can learn that a Jew does not have to be affected by his surrounding. He has the power to be above, yet not oblivious to, the "Hellenization" around him.

The above is especially significant because many of the difficulties and obstacles that we encounter are often nothing more than a "smoke screen." As soon as one shows bitachon (faith in G-d), determination and perseverance, they disappear into thin air.

Let us depend on Reb Shimon in these stressful times of galut and let us emulate, even if only in our own small measure, some of the ways of this giant whose Yom Tov we celebrate on Lag B'Omer.

Thoughts that Count

Speak unto the priests (Lev. 21:1)

The name of this week's Torah portion, Emor, ("speak" in English), contains a lesson for us all: We must strive to always speak well of our fellow Jew and judge one another favorably. Just as speaking ill of someone reveals his negative qualities, words of praise reveal the inner good.

(Likutei Sichot)

You shall not profane (Lev. 22:32)

The Hebrew word for "profane" - "t'chal'lu" - is related to the word meaning "empty" or "void." "Do not cause a void or emptiness to come between us," G-d cautions, referring to transgressions that place a barrier between a Jew and G-d. "Furthermore, make sure that no place is void of Me." Haughtiness pushes away the Divine Presence, which is incompatible with pride and lack of humility.

(Likutei Torah)

And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap the corner of the field or the gleaning of the harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and the stranger (Lev. 23:22)

Rabbi Abdimi asked: Why did Scripture choose to place this law in the middle of the section dealing with the festivals? To teach us that whoever leaves the "corners" and "gleanings" for the poor, it is as if he built the Holy Temple and presented his offerings there.

So that I may be sanctified among the Children of Israel; I am G-d Who sanctifies you (Lev. 23:32)

This verse is followed by the commandment to proclaim the various festivals, as was done years ago when the Jewish calendar was set according to the testimony of eyewitnesses. Because the Jewish people are, in essence, sanctified, they have the power to determine when the festivals will fall, thereby imbuing them with holiness as well.

(Der Torah Kval)

It Once Happened

It's Lag B'Omer, and bonfires burn brightly all over the Land of Israel as well as throughout the Jewish world, as we celebrate the anniversary of the passing of the great Sage, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. The little village of Meron in the Upper Gallilee is buzzing with happy activity as hundreds of little three-year old boys gather with their families for their first haircuts. They are following the instructions of Rabbi Shimon himself, who enjoined his disciples to mark the day of his passing with great joy. This custom has been honored throughout hundreds of generations to our very day.

But while we remember Rabbi Shimon with festive gatherings, the times in which he lived were filled with suffering and harsh repression. The Romans were cruel rulers in the Jewish land, and their aim was to stamp out the practice of Judaism. Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues continued teaching their devoted students despite the threat of death that hovered over them all. And Jewish scholarship blossomed in spite of the Roman menace.

One of the greatest and most beloved of Rabbi Akiva's students was Rabbi Shimon, whom he called "my son." Even while his master, Rabbi Akiva, was in prison, Rabbi Shimon visited him to serve and to continue learning Torah.

Once, during those difficult days, Rabbi Shimon sat with his fellow rabbis, Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Yose ben Chalafta, discussing the Roman rule. Rabbi Yehuda spoke first saying, "The Romans aren't all bad. They have invested in dozens of beneficial projects - beautiful cities, bridges and roads, which all serve to enhance public life." Rabbi Yose shook his head in disagreement, but said nothing. Only Rabbi Shimon spoke up in fearless disdain of the wicked conquerers. "How can you say that? Why, everything they have done was only to satisfy their own greedy desires. Of course they have built cities - to contain their houses of vice; and bridges - an excellent source of revenue to fill their coffers!"

But as Rabbi Shimon spoke, an informer was sitting nearby, paying close attention to his words. This man was only too happy to repeat the rabbis' conversation to the authorities. As a result, Rabbi Shimon and his son Eleazer were forced to flee. They eventually found a hidden cave where they remained for twelve years, constantly learning Torah. They achieved such an exalted level of holiness that when they emerged at last, their gaze alone was enough to scorch the surroundings that appeared mundane to their holy eyes. G-d sent them back to their cave for yet another year, for fear that they would destroy His world.

When they emerged for good, Rabbi Shimon's body was covered with painful sores from sitting immersed in the sand of the cave for so many years. (He had removed his clothing to preserve it, and so, had to cover himself up with sand.)

After some time Rabbi Shimon was cured of his sores by the Tiberian mineral springs. He established a yeshiva in the village of Tekoah in the Gallilee. There, the most brilliant students of the age, including Rabbi Yehuda, gathered to learn Torah from the Master. Amid the silvery olive groves they learned not only the revealed Torah, but the esoteric, mystical Torah as well, laying the groundwork for the Zohar, the fundamental work of the Kabala. Of Rabbi Shimon it is said that he restored the study and knowledge of the Torah.

Rabbi Shimon's disdain for the worldly and mundane was well known. The Talmud relates a story about Rabbi Shimon's students, one of whom had managed to amass a fortune in a foreign country. When he returned, his fellow students were eager to do the same as he had, and make fortunes of their own. Rabbi Shimon took his students into a valley and prayed that the valley fill up with gold. When his prayer was answered, he told the students that they could take as much gold as they wished. The only drawback was that what they took would be subtracted from their eternal reward. The students learned the lesson well. They replaced whatever they had taken, unwilling to trade gold for their real treasure.

In the later part of his life Rabbi Shimon traveled to Rome at the behest of the other Sages to petition the Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, to repeal the anti-Jewish decrees that were set in place by his predecessor.

The Talmud describes the manner in which he achieved his success in this mission. When Rabbi Shimon arrived in Rome, the daughter of the Emperor was gravely ill. No doctor had been able to cure her, and it seemed that she would die. Rabbi Shimon was able to effect a cure, and as a reward, the Emperor offered him his choice of a precious object from the royal treasure vault. Rabbi Shimon entered and was able to find the scrolls that contained the evil edicts. He took them and tore them up in front of the Emperor. In this way, he was able to restore to the Jewish people the right to practice circumcision as well as to observe the Sabbath.

Moshiach Matters

There will come a time when "No longer will a man teach his fellow...for all will know Me, from the smallest to the great-est"(Jeremiah 31:33). A time when we will no longer require instruction and guidance from without, for the illumination will come from within, from the spark of G-d at our core. A time when the world we inhabit will no longer distort our intrinsic perfection but facilitate it and bring it to light. A time when the body and soul will autonomously achieve their deepest union - a union deeper than anything the most profound book and the most transcendent prayer can generate.

(From the Rebbe's journal, Lag B'Omer 5702 [1942], adapted by

  817: Achrei Mos-Kedoshim819: Behar-Bechukosai  
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