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918: Achrei Mos-Kedoshim

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Devarim Deutronomy

May 5, 2006 - 7 Iyyar, 5766

918: Achrei Mos-Kedoshim

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  917: Sazria-Metzora919: Emor  

Can You Afford to Own a Bank  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Customs  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

Can You Afford to Own a Bank

Whether you have hundreds of dollars to spare or hundreds of thousands of dollars, you should consider opening up a bank. You might actually even be a financial institution already! No, this is no "get rich quick" scheme, nor does it have anything to do with the state of the economy, past or present. It's just a little lesson in understanding whose money it all is anyway.

A philosopher once approached Rabbi Gamliel and asked the rabbi if the commandment to give charity is not contrary to human nature. "Isn't it only natural for one to be afraid that by giving charity one will become poorer?" queried the philosopher.

"On the contrary," replied the erudite rabbi. And, in age-old Jewish fashion, he began to answer the question with a question of his own. "If someone asked you for a loan, would you give it to him?"

"Well, that all depends on whether I knew the person or who was guaranteeing the loan," he answered.

"And if," continued Rabbi Gamliel, "the loan was guaranteed by the head of the government, would you agree?"

"Most certainly," was the reply.

"By giving charity, we are merely extending a loan guaranteed by G-d. In Proverbs it says, 'One who gives generously to the poor is extending a loan to G-d, Who will pay back everything that is owed.' G-d repays money to the giver in this world, and puts the reward on deposit for the World to Come. If G-d has guaran-teed the money, who can possibly be more trustworthy than Him? So, why should anyone fear that he will become poorer by giving charity?"

Rabbi Moses Maimonides, in his laws dealing with giving "gifts to the poor," states unequivocally, "No one ever became poor from giving charity." In fact we ought to thank G-d for putting His trust in us! He could have given someone else a sizeable income/ inheritance/lucrative business deal. But He trusted us with the money, fully expecting us to "loan" it out appropriately.

For, in reality, all of our money is not really ours. It belongs to the One Above who runs that Big Bank in the Sky. He gives it to us so that we can help others with it.

A Sage was once asked why G-d made some people rich and other people poor and then commanded us to give charity. Wouldn't it have been easier to give everyone his needs, thereby bypassing the "middle-man?"

The Sage answered that the giver actually receives more than the recipient. He is being given the opportunity to help another person, which is more valuable than money.

Charity is not just a loan, though, it is also an investment, as the following story illustrates. Rabbi Akiva felt that, though the wealthy Rabbi Tarfon gave charity gener-ously, it was not according to his means. "Would you like me to invest some money in real estate for you?" Rabbi Akiva asked Rabbi Tarfon.

Rabbi Tarfon was delighted to have Rabbi Akiva take care of the business transaction and gave him 4,000 gold coins toward this end. Rabbi Akiva took the money and immediately distributed it amongst the poor of a certain town.

Later, when Rabbi Tarfon asked how his real estate was doing, Rabbi Akiva brought him to the small town that had been rejuvenate thanks to the 4,000 gold coins. Rather than being upset, Rabbi Tarfon was delighted and touched. "You are my master and teacher, you are wiser than I," he said to Rabbi Akiva.

Distributing charity is investing in real estate: You're helping buy your-self a "home" in the World-to-Come.

Living with the Rebbe

This week we read two Torah portions, Acharei and Kedoshim. The portion Acharei begins with the words, "And G-d spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron." Nadav and Avihu, both of whom were truly righteous men, were consumed by a great fire. Why did they deserve such a harsh punishment?

The Midrash offers some reasons why Nadav and Avihu died: They entered the Holy of Holies without permission; they performed their service without wearing the required priestly garments; they were not married and thus had no offspring. But what was so terrible about these infractions that it brought about their premature deaths?

Studying the cause of Nadav's and Avihu's passing, we find a common element in each infraction. Chasidic philosophy explains that Aaron's sons died precisely because of their high spiritual stature. Nadav and Avihu possessed an overwhelming love of G-d, which ultimately blinded them to their true purpose. Their deaths were caused by their good intentions which ran counter to G-d's intent in creating the world. Aaron's sons' desire to merge with G-dliness was incompatible with human existence. Their souls so longed to be one with G-d that they could no longer remain in their physical bodies, and the two men died.

On the one hand, this attests to Nadav and Avihu's high spiritual accomplishments. But on the other hand, their behavior was considered sinful because man was not created solely to fulfil his spiritual yearnings. G-d created man for the purpose of making the world holy through the performance of the Torah's commandments.

G-d gave us the responsibility to refine the world, purifying it and enabling physical matter to become a receptacle for holiness. G-d desires a "dwelling place below," not for us to follow only spiritual pursuits and disdain this world. Nadav and Avihu's excess in the realm of the spiritual, to the exclusion of the physical, was their downfall.

This is why the verse reads, "...when they had come near before G-d, and they died." Their death was not the result of their actions, but rather, the essence of their sin. Aaron's sons drew so close to G-d that physical existence was impossible.

Entering the Holy of Holies without permission was therefore symbolic of ascending too high; performing the service while being improperly clothed shows an unwillingness to "clothe" oneself in mitzvot (commandments), that are called the garments of the soul. Nadav and Avihu wanted to take the "short cut" to G-d, without having to trouble themselves with the obstacles posed by the physical world.

Likewise, the fact that neither Nadav nor Avihu married and had children showed their refusal to lead a natural, physical existence. Such a path to G-dliness was too cumbersome for them. However, this is not what G-d wants from us.

We learn a valuable lesson from their death: Although there are certain times when we feel a strong desire and longing for G-dliness and we experience a great spiritual uplift, we must carry those feelings into our daily lives and translate them into tangible actions. This is the purpose for which we have been created - to transform our physical surroundings into a dwelling place for the Divine Presence.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

A Slice of Life

by Marc Wilson

The music is joyous, and the exuberant dance is itself the gift of life.

My mentor and friend Reb Leib Groner caught up with me recently at his granddaughter's wedding. Broad smile across his face, he nonetheless chided me, "I haven't seen much of your writing lately."

So, I countered with a wisenheimer retort. "Maybe you haven't been looking in the right places."

Besting me with his quick wit and an advantage of at least 50 I.Q. points, he shot back, "Maybe that's because you haven't been writing about the right things!"

You might not know who Reb Leib Groner is. For forty years, he was the private secretary, personal aide and intimate confidant of the Grand Rabbi of Lubavitch ("Lubavitcher Rebbe"), spiritual leader of the world's most influential Chasidic community and Jewish outreach program. To know of Reb Leib's worldly wisdom is to realize that he must speed-read the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and 17 other periodicals each day, in addition to his daily devotion to intense prayer, communal needs, and the study of Torah, mysticism and Chasidic philosophy.

I came to know Reb Leib through his son, Yossi, the Lubavitch emissary to the Carolinas, a man (nearly) as gifted as his father and mother. He is my Jewish exemplar, teacher, confessor, and one of a scant handful of compassionate people who stood by me and validated my humanity during the hardest times in my life.

I have spent numerous Sabbaths and Holy Days enjoying the hospitality of Rabbi Yossi and his brilliant, quick-witted wife, Rebbetzin Mariashi. I have watched intently as their ten children have grown to adolescence and adulthood, and prayerfully as their son, please God, surmounted a nearly devastating leukemia and bone marrow transplant.

I have spent relatively little personal time with Reb Leib. I catch myself as I write these words, because on the clock the time has been relatively meager, but all the encounters have been intensely personal: two Sabbaths in his home, a moment's greeting at two weddings and a bar mitzvah, and that is about it.

Reb Leib is also one of that handful that gave me validation during hard times. Do not think for a moment, however, that the validation was all warm fuzzies. He is an expert practitioner of tough love. With insight and consultation with the Rebbe - which in itself touched me for the magnitude of his concern - he chided and cajoled me to take challenging steps that became the turning point for my personal and professional restoration.

My veneration for Reb Leib and his son has an additional dimension. They are intensely orthodox Jews, black hats, caftans, untrimmed beards, all the accoutrements. I, on the other hand, am fallen-away orthodox, still greatly respectful of its pious way of life and still closely aligned with its theology, but no longer strictly observant of all of its nuances and demands. Father and son are well aware of that.

Yet, their warmth is genuine, their acceptance is unjudgmental and unconditional, their welcome is enthusiastic, never a proselytizing word toward their way of life, just to be an honorable person and to conduct my dealings with integrity.

These emotions rushed forth fresh and new just a day ago at Rabbi Yossi's daughter's wedding. I pop my head into the pre-ceremony reception, and with a flick of Rabbis Groner - junior-and-senior's hands, I am beckoned to a seat at the head table. An hour later, I am standing on the sidelines watching the exuberant Chasidic dancing, and in a moment, Reb Leib is yanking me by the arm, pulling me into the dizzying circle, tightly gripping my hand as this man twenty years my senior nearly lifts me off my feet in response to the tumultuous music.

The meaning of that yank is unmistakable: "Not words, but passion draws you to our circle. No one is a wallflower when we rejoice."

As I realize that Reb Leib is tugging at me, not at one of the attending dignitaries or Chasidic rabbis or well-heeled donors, the yank takes on one more meaning: The circle is especially intended for the least among us - the tattered, the torn, the fallen away, the otherwise rejected and dejected. It does not cost a penny, just the hopefulness that rejoicing and exuberance can restore ones soul.

And, I further realize that never once through all my dalliances in the various "liberal" denominations of Judaism have I ever been so eagerly invited into the circle. It then comes to me more clearly than ever that the saintly Rebbe and Reb Leib, Rabbi Yossi, their Rebbetzins, their colleagues and disciples, may well be "orthoprax" - unwaveringly meticulous in their traditional practices - but not by any means "orthodox." For they are the least narrow, most worldly and unconditionally inclusive in the basic doctrine of their faith: "The circle has room for everyone. Let me pull you into the circle and galvanize the strength you never knew was yours. The music is joyous, and the exuberant dance is itself the gift of life."

Reb Leib, thank you for giving me life by drawing me into your circle. Your charge has been fulfilled: I know that at least for once I have written about the right thing.

Marc Wilson is a rabbi, syndicated columnist and organizational design consultant in Greenville, SC. A collection of his essays may be found at, and he may be reached at

What's New

Excuse Me, Are You Jewish?

From Anchorage, Alaska, to Surfers Paradise, Australia; from Novosibirsk, Siberia, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; from Kinshasa, Congo, to Beijing, China, and everywhere in between, you'll find Chabad representatives. In candid-camera snapshots of how these men, women, and children live their lives of mission, Malka Touger tells more than a hundred stories which enable us to appreciate the unseen hand of Divine Providence, how the hearts of Jews are alive and seek to identify with their heritage, and how each one of us, if we just set ourselves to the task, can bring about miracles in microcosm. Published by Emet Publications.

The Rebbe Writes

28 Tishrei, 5715 [1954]

Blessings and Greetings!

...The beginning of your letter is surprising - that the last spark is extinguished, etc. How can a mortal know things like this? It seems that you base yourself entirely on the consideration of your age. This proves nothing, for, as is stated in the teachings of the Sages and as may clearly be seen, women older than yourself do give birth to sons and daughters.

Moreover, whoever observes G-d's world sees that because (in the words of the Tanach [Bible]) "Your works, O G-d, are manifold" and "Your works, O G-d, are mighty," no single individual can encompass and grasp all subjects. Indeed, no individual can grasp even a significant part of them, nor even most of the matters that are in his immediate vicinity and that affect his own life. This is why there is a diversity of specialists in the various disciplines, and no honest man will express a definite opinion except within his own field, while in other fields he relies on their respective experts.

With regard to our subject: It is true that the Torah takes into account the opinions of doctors, which determine certain rulings in the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law], and that every man and woman is obligated to follow doctors' orders when it comes to actual practice. At the same time, however, every individual must know clearly in his heart that it is G-d Who is the Healer of all flesh, and it is He Who literally conducts the world - that is, in the daily life of every man and woman, down to the last detail, and obviously in more basic matters.

From what you write it appears that no medical specialist's opinion was involved in the above instance. But even if someone had been in this situation, the instances in which doctors are mistaken in such matters are innumerable, and the matter depends only on the strength of a person's trust and his bond with the Creator of the Universe.

(This is attained by living a life of trust day by day, which as a matter of course arouses joy. There is also the joy that comes from one's ability to do something for those in one's environment, the merit of which is beyond measure. As the Baal Shem Tov used to say, a soul can come down to This World for 70 or 80 years - in order to do a single favor to a fellow Jew, materially or spiritually. And who more than the Baal Shem Tov could appreciate the enormity of the soul's descent as it arrives in This World, "from a lofty height to a lowly pit." Yet notwithstanding this, he made the above statement and handed it down to the succeeding generations, the generations of those who live in this ever-intensifying exile. [The challenge articulated by the Baal Shem Tov] surely applies particularly to a young woman who has not yet fully maximized her capabilities in influencing those around her, arousing within them the good that is in their souls and fortifying it with Torah - and "good signifies nothing other than the Torah" and its commandments. [And the obligation to do so] applies not only on Shabbos and on the Days of Awe and in exceptional circumstances, but especially and specifically in one's everyday life, the days that some people mistakenly call "the gray days.")

In fact there is no need for any lengthy exposition to explain such a simple point. One thought suffices: Every man and woman of the Jewish people, being descended from Avraham Yitzchak and Yaakov, is part of the link that bonds the Creator and Creation - by living his life as it is, and especially by activities such as those described above. And this link is the ultimate purpose of the entire Creation.

It is surely superfluous for me to add that in the above words I do not intend to minimize (G-d forbid) the subject of having a son and daughter. My only purpose is to point out the absolute truth - that there is no justification for melancholy, and certainly not (to borrow your word) for despair. Quite the contrary.

You ask about changing your place of residence, and secondly, more importantly, about taking a child into your home and raising him. This depends on the way it will influence yourself and your husband. If doing this will make you happier and will fortify your trust in G-d that He will fulfill your request by granting you healthy and viable offspring, it is certainly a sound idea.

I believe that I once wrote to you, basing myself on one of the talks of my revered father-in-law, the [Previous] Rebbe, that even though one must do a spiritual stocktaking, one must also not do it except at certain times. Otherwise, the loss outweighs the gain. Refrain from taking stock every day or even once a week. Better to invest your gifts in positive activities directed towards influencing your environment - and the Holy One, blessed be He, recompenses "measure for measure," but many times multiplied.

With blessings for joy and for good news regarding all the above,

Translated by Rabbi Uri Kaploun, reprinted from In Good Hands, published by Sichos In English


Why aren't weddings permitted between Passover and Shavuos?

Weddings do not take place from Passover up until three days before Shavuos as a sign of mourning for the twenty-four thousand pupils of Rabbi Akiva who died from a plague at this time of year. According to the Talmud, though there never was a generation so rich in Torah knowledge and good deeds as that of Rabbi Akiva, his disciples died because they did not respect each other sufficiently. Though weddings do not take place, we are permitted to celebrate engagements.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

As a preparation for the unity we will experience in the Messianic Era, every person should work on refining him/herself into a united, coordinated personality.

To illustrate this concept, the Rebbe told the following story:

Reb Zalman Aharon, the elder son of the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rebbe Maharash, once asked his uncle if he recited his prayers "b'tzibbur" - with the community, i.e., with a minyan (a quorum). The uncle answered in the affirmative.

The next day, Reb Zalman Aharon noticed that his uncle was praying at great length, taking much more time than any member of the community.

Reb Zalman Aharon approached his uncle later and asked, "Didn't you tell me you prayed b'tzibbur?"

"I do," his uncle replied. "B'tzibbur means 'with the collective.' After I unify the seven emotional and three intellectual aspects of my soul, I pray!"

But how can we accomplish this internal unity? How can one bring the divergent aspects of his/her personality into harmony?

By using our talents and gifts for the purpose of bringing G-dliness into the world and uniting with G-d.

Far from being an impossible task, this job of marshalling our talents to the service of G-d is intrinsic to every Jew, for each soul - as explained at length in Chasidic philosophy - is an actual part of G-d.

Thus, uniting the diverse aspects of one's personality through devotion to G-d is intrinsic and the essential part of the existence of every Jew.

When we begin working on personal unity and harmony, we find that it is much easier to foster unity and harmony amongst the Jewish people as a whole.

Thoughts that Count

Do not follow the ways of Egypt where you once lived, nor of Canaan, where I will be bringing you. Do not follow any of their customs (Lev. 18:3)

This verse is not exhorting us concerning transgressions; those are detailed later. Rather, it is informing us concerning the actions and deeds which are permitted; they must be performed in a different manner from the non-Jewish people in Egypt and Canaan. Even our eating and sleeping should be done in a Jewish way.

(Siftei Emet)

You shall be holy because I am Holy (Lev. 19:2)

The Midrash explains that these verses were said during the "Hakhel" years when all of the Jews were assembled together in Jerusalem. The fact that these words were said in public teaches us that even in the street, so to speak, one should be holy and not be ashamed of one's Jewishness.

(Divrei Shaarei-Chaim)

You shall not stand [idly] by the blood of your neighbor (Lev. 19:16)

In addition to a command concerning someone in physical danger, this verse is also an instruction for spiritual rescue. If one sees a Jew who is in danger of spiritual "drowning," it is forbidden to just stand there and watch. You must do all you can to help him. And, if you say, "Who am I to go out and save a soul?" the very fact that you are aware that the other person needs help and is in danger is proof that you have the ability to save him.

(Likutei Sichot)

You shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am G-d (Lev. 19:18)

Love of a fellow Jew is even greater than love of G-d. He who loves a Jew loves the one whom G-d loves, as it is written, "'I love you,' says the L-rd." To love that which the beloved loves is even greater than loving the beloved himself.

(Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi)

It Once Happened

Reb Yosef lived in Beshenkovitch. He was no ordinary man. He knew the Talmud virtually by heart and earned the greatest respect from the scholars of his town.

On a visit to Rebbe Shneur Zalman in 1804, he was advised, amongst other things: "For the benefit of your soul it is better for you to be a wagon-driver than a rabbi."

Years passed by. In 1814 Reb Yosef was offered the Rabbinate in the town of Lieple. Reb Yosef recalled Reb Shneur Zalman's words some ten years earlier! "It is better for you to be a wagon-driver than a rabbi." He realized that now was the time to fulfill the Rebbe's advice. He refused the offer.

But, how could he become, of all things, a wagon driver now at the age of seventy? Eventually he mustered up enough courage and went to the local wagon station.

"Yes, rabbi," asked the drivers, "where would you like to travel?"

"I have not come to travel but to learn to become a wagon-driver," he answered softly. The wagon drivers could not believe their ears. That night Reb Yosef came home dirty and bruised. He found his wife in tears. She had heard of her husband's visit.

Reb Yosef explained the Rebbe's instructions. She told him, "If the Rebbe told you this, you mustn't delay even a day. Tomorrow I will sell my jewelry and you will be able to buy a wagon."

A year passed and Reb Yosef was used to his new lifestyle. One evening he stopped over at a Jewish inn. The director introduced him to Solomon Gamitzki, a friend and employee of the Batchaikov Count. Gamitzki agreed to travel with Reb Yosef.

Reb Yosef said, "tomorrow morning, G-d willing, we will make our way.

"What time?" asked the visitor.

"After praying," was Reb Yosef's reply.

"At what time?" retorted Gamitzki. "To me it makes no difference whether you pray or not, I need to know when we will travel, to know when to wake up, wash, and eat."

"...And pray," concluded Reb Yosef.

"That I leave for you," said Gamitzki.

When Gamitzki realized Reb Yosef would not leave until 10:00 am, he ordered another coach for 5:00 am.

Gamitzki went to sleep for the night. Shortly after midnight, he awoke bewildered. Someone was crying. He opened his door and saw Reb Yosef sitting on his floor, reading by candlelight and crying. He was reciting the special midnight prayers.

Reb Yosef's crying went deep into his heart. He began recalling his youth, his father, his teacher, the wife and children he had left when he became non-religious. His entire past opened up before his eyes.

When the night came to its end, Solomon watched Reb Yosef pray, with great devotion. He started to cry. At 5:00, the innkeeper came to Solomon and told him that his coach was ready. But Solomon had decided to travel with Reb Yosef. Hours went by. Reb Yosef was still praying. Solomon, overcome with anguish, went to the innkeeper, borrowed his talit and tefilin, and prayed, too.

Out of his deep remorse, Solomon became sick. For several days, he hovered between life and death. The count sent his own doctor, but the doctor gave up hope.

Reb Yosef remained at Solomon's bedside, guiding him and helping him in his decision to return to his family and Judaism.

Eventually, Solomon was strong enough to leave the inn and Reb Yosef went home. Reb Yosef planned a visit to the Rebbe, Reb Dov Ber, who had succeeded his father, Reb Shneur Zalman, after his passing. He traveled together with other Chasidim to the city of Lubavitch.

One day, while in Lubavitch, Reb Yosef was greatly surprised to meet Solomon. Solomon had resigned from his job with the Count, and had now come to Lubavitch to study and be near Reb Dov Ber.

Reb Dov Ber had an interesting announcement for Reb Yosef: "I am appointing you as rabbi of the synagogue on Market Street. You no longer need to be a wagon-driver. My father appeared to me last night and told me that Yosef of Beshenkovitch has fulfilled his purpose.

Moshiach Matters

A person need not worry about what will become of his business activities when Moshiach comes. On the contrary, he can rest assured that all the activities that he carried out according to the Torah's guidelines - even those that are not directly associated with the Torah and its mitzvot (commandments) - are of value. However, this also points to the importance of a person keeping the fundamental purpose of his business activity in mind, and making sure that his efforts are directed to revealing G-d's honor.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 13 Iyar, 5751)

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