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Perhaps you've heard the term, "full court press." It comes from basketball and refers to a defensive technique. According to the rules, after one team scores a basket, the other team must bring the ball from the backcourt (where they defend) to the front court (where they try to score) in ten seconds or less. If they don't get it across the half-court line in that time, they lose the ball.
Normally after a team scores, it hurries to the other end of the court to defend its basket. This allows the team with the ball time to get across the line and set up a play. But sometimes the defending team decides to defend the whole length of the court, trying to prevent the team with the ball from making any progress. The defender stays close to the ball-handler, harassing him, blocking his progress and trying to steal the ball. Even if the strategy doesn't work completely, even if the offensive team gets the ball across half-court, the full court press still disrupts the plans and disturbs the rhythm, making it more difficult for the offensive team to set its play and get its shots.
The term has entered common conversation as well, becoming something of a cliché. It means, by analogy, to pressure someone relentlessly. High pressure salesmen, negotiators, or anyone who pushes us persistently or relentlessly, can be said to be applying the "full court press."
Tanya, the primary work of Chabad philosophy, teaches that the yetzer hara - the evil inclination - always applies the "full court press." It relentlessly attacks us, looking for any opening, trying every trick to keep us from getting across the court - to prevent us from having the opportunity to "score" a mitzvah.
But, as any good basketball coach will tell you, there are a few simple rules for breaking the full court press. And they also apply to breaking the pressure from our own negative drives which try to tempt and distract us away from a righteous path of Torah study and mitzva observance.
The first rule is to stay calm. The yetzer hara, like the full court press, tries to upset us, to get us angry or depressed. When we're emotionally distraught, "down on ourselves," we can easily lose focus and one upset can lead to another, like a chain reaction.
Second, think positive. We must go on the attack - as Tanya puts it, we should rebuke the yetzer hara: how dare it try to mislead us, to prevent us from doing a mitzvah, to separate us from our goal - a deeper attachment to G-d. When we forcefully press forward, the yetzer hara backs off.
Third, look up. A basketball player looks up the court, but we must look up - to Heaven, summoning Divine assistance in seeing and doing what is right.
Finally, avoid the traps. In basketball, the trap areas are the corners. And in life, too, the yetzer hara tries to trap us into thinking that we can't move forward, can't do return to our roots - can't rectify past mistakes, and resolve to improve.Once we're aware of the trap areas, we can avoid them.
Stay calm. Attack. Look up. Avoid the traps. The four rules for breaking the full court press - whether in basketball or in life.
The Torah portion of Emor is always read during sefirat ha-omer, the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot in which we count each day leading up to the giving of the Torah. The commandment of counting the omer appears in this week's Torah portion: "You shall count for yourselves... seven complete weeks they shall be." The Torah continues, "You shall count 50 days." There seems to be a contradiction: seven weeks total only 49 days; why are we told to count 50?
A further question: If we look at the actual words of the prayer used to count the omer, we find that we do something rather unusual. Instead of saying, "Today is the first day, second day, third day, etc." we count, "Today is day one of the omer... two days of the omer... three days, etc." Why is the counting done in this way?
The first counting of the omer, the one the Children of Israel counted upon their departure from Egypt, was done simply because of their anticipation and longing for the giving of the Torah. They therefore counted each day until Shavuot, waiting for this event.
This is the simple explanation. But the Midrash relates that there was a far greater significance hidden in the counting. The Jews' enslavement in Egypt caused them to sink into many of the non-Jewish practices and impurities picked up from the Egyptian people during their stay there. These were known as the "49 gates of impurity." When the Jews first left Egypt on Passover, they were in a low spiritual state, unworthy of receiving the Torah immediately. They had to count 49 days, each day purifying one negative character trait, (called a gate of impurity), elevating themselves step by step until they had attained the 49 gates of holiness. Only then, after a period of seven weeks, after they had cleansed themselves of the 49 levels of impurity could they receive the Torah on Mount Sinai.
This cleansing process was not for that first year only; it is repeated by us every year at this time. The days between Passover and Shavuot are days in which we are to ascend the 49 steps of holiness. The Hebrew word "sefira" comes from the same root as "evan sapir," a sapphire stone - implying light, brightness, and clarity. Each day of the sefira we purify and enlighten one of our character traits, as G-d opens up for us an additional gate of light and holiness through which we may enter.
This is why we count by saying "one day... two days... three days of the omer" etc. The "day" stands for a particular gate of holiness. On the first day we have reached one gate, on the second day, two, on the third day, three gates. When we count the omer we are specifying how many gates of holiness we have attained.
However, there are certain limitations to the level one can reach by his own initiative. No matter how hard he may try, one can only attain the 49th gate, the 50th remaining beyond the reach of his intellect. G-d enables us to attain the 50th gate of holiness as a gift from Above, after we have done the preliminary work of the first 49 levels.
Therefore, although we have indeed counted only 49 days, it is considered as if we have counted 50, because we attain this level through the grace of G-d. This revelation of G-dliness was alluded to when we were enjoined to "count 50 days."
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Uncle John Goes to Shul
by Steve Hyatt
When I first moved to Reno, Nevada, I was thrilled that the Chabad House was a mere two miles away; for the first time in my life I could walk to shul on Shabbat.
My weekly Shabbat walk takes me through several neighborhoods. About halfway through the journey I pass a huge evergreen tree. Over the course of the last four years I've observed a strange, and for me, very mystical sight.
Every Shabbat, at exactly 9:20 a.m., a pair of Red Tail Hawks were majestically perched on top of this towering tree. They both looked down on me, my friends and family as we walked by, and then flew off toward the shul. This happened each time I walked by the tree on Shabbat. Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall, my "friends" were waiting for me and then flew off as I passed by.
When I first told folks about this interesting phenomenon, everyone listened and then told me I was exaggerating. Even my best buddy Baruch Smith looked at me with incredulous eyes. That is until he spent Shabbat at my home and walked with me to shul in the morning. Now, even Baruch is a believer.
Since the hawks were only there on Shabbat, I figured there had to be some explanation for their appearance. I asked everyone for insights but no one could offer any.
As the years rolled by I gave up my search for an explanation and just enjoyed this unique Shabbat experience. When my parents moved to Reno and I started walking to shul together with my dad, I "introduced" him to the hawks and he marveled at their regular appearance.
A few months ago my Aunt Meredith and Uncle John arrived from Boston to spend a few days with us. Upon their arrival we learned that my aunt and uncle had never experienced a Friday night Shabbat dinner, so my wife Linda and I were determined to show them the true joy found at the Shabbat table. It's no secret in our family that Uncle John loves matzo ball soup, so my Mom cooked up a batch. Uncle John was beside himself when Mom put the steaming hot bowl in front of him. The smile on his face lit up the entire room.
Sitting around the table, my aunt, uncle, mom and dad, shared stories of what it was like growing up back in our hometown of New London, Connecticut. We laughed, we cried, and we eventually all went off to sleep with smiles on our faces, joy in our hearts and stomachs full of Mom's matzo ball soup.
The next morning we were sitting around the breakfast table and I told my uncle about the phenomenon of the two hawks. Uncle John, a world-class bird-watcher, was intrigued by my story and said, "Boy I'd give anything to see them up close."
A smile appeared on my lips and I said, "Well why don't you come to shul with us and I will show them to you on the way." Now for whatever reason, in his almost 80 years, Uncle John had never been to shul on Shabbat. So he was somewhat reluctant to start now. He politely declined my offer. As Dad and I were getting ready to leave, Uncle John said if I really meant it he'd love to come with us. As an avid bird-watcher he really wanted to see the hawks and he was also curious about what dad and I found so enjoyable about Shabbat morning at Chabad.
We walked out as we always do at precisely 9:00 that morning. Along the way we met up with our friends Jay, Judah and Mark and continued our walk down the mountain toward shul. At precisely 9:20 a.m., much to the amazement of my uncle, our feathered friends swooped into view and landed on the tree. We all stopped to view this wonderful sight and pondered how this continues to happen week after week. After looking at our friends from all angles we had to pull Uncle John away and continue our journey. And as if on cue the hawks flew away in the direction of the shul.
When we arrived at Chabad, I introduced my uncle to everyone and Rabbi Cunin started the morning services. The two-hour service flew by. We brought in long tables, set up the Kiddush and started singing tunes and enjoying the Rebbetzin's wonderful food. When someone put a bowl of chulant in front of my uncle, he asked me what it was. I told him it was a staple of many Shabbat lunches. He skeptically tasted a spoonful, then smiled and ate the rest with great relish. He even asked for another bowl! Another Shabbat treasure discovered! When it was time to leave, my uncle told me that he could see why my dad and I were drawn to the shul. He said the people were wonderful, the Rabbi was warm and welcoming, and the chulant was unbelievable!
On the way home, one of our feathered guides swooped down onto a nearby tree as if to wish us a safe journey home, and then just as quickly flew off. My 80-year-old uncle, 77-year-old father and I walked the last mile up the mountain with a steady gate and smiles on our faces. I couldn't help but ponder that Reno really is a special place. A place where in the space of one Shabbat, an 80-year-old Jewish man could bask in the light of Shabbat candles, attend shul, eat chulant, and see Red Tail hawks up close, all for the first time.
After my aunt and uncle left, I finally understood the mission of the hawks. They had waited patiently week after week, and year after year for Uncle John to appear. They were there to entice and guide him on his first walk to shul. They were never my hawks they were always Uncle John's hawks. If I didn't have a story about this unbelievable phenomenon, Uncle John might not have been intrigued enough to make the four-mile journey to shul and back.
If this story isn't unbelievable enough, it is also interesting to note that dad and I have walked by the towering evergreen tree on five consecutive Shabbat mornings since Uncle John left, and we have yet to see the hawks. Coincidence, I think not!
Chosen... For What?
A provocative Shabbaton with Rabbi Manis Friedman and Shimonah Tzukernik will be hosted by the Chabad-Lubavitch community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, over the weekend of May 19-21. Since the beginning of time the world has seen the Jews as "different." Why? Spend Shabbat getting to the nitty-gritty of what it means to be "the Chosen People." Join singles, couples and families as they experience an unforgettable, fulfilling and stimulating Shabbaton weekend featuring thought-provoking lectures, discussions and workshops - accompanied by delicious, traditional cuisine, amidst the warmth of Chasidic family life, song and dance. For online registration and info visit www.shabbaton.org or call (718) 953-1039.
Freely translated and adapted from letters of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Lag B'Omer, 5721 
One of the greatest sages of his day, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is especially distinguished by the fact that he taught and revealed the hidden and inner light of the Torah through the mystical works, the Zohar, Tikunei Zohar, etc.
The inner, concealed mysteries, which constitute the very soul or core of the Torah - p'nimiyus haTorah - is bound up with the innermost quality of every Jew, with his Jewish soul. As such, it creates the inner link which unites the Jew with G-dliness, as taught by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and explained at length in Chabad Chasidus.
The innermost core of every Jew - the "pintele Yid" - remains intact in every Jew, regardless of his outward status and external circumstances. It is absolutely imperative, however, to bring forth the pintele Yid from its potential state, both in one's self and in one's fellow-Jew, so that this inner quality becomes manifest and able to affect and dominate the external aspects of daily life in every detail. This is one of the main purposes of Chasidus in general and Chabad Chasidus in particular.
In the realization of this purpose, Jewish women have a very special role, since Divine Providence has bestowed upon them special capacities and opportunities which can and must be utilized to this end.
The woman is the foundation of the Jewish home. As such, she is responsible for the inner light and Jewish warmth of the home, sheltering the home from alien and hostile winds which blow from outside.
Moreover, women are endowed with a greater and more expressive measure of feeling and sincerity, making them especially suited to arouse and stimulate the inborn, Jewish feelings of love of G-d, love of the Torah, and love of the Jewish people.
Bringing to the surface one's pintele Yid until it dominates all external aspects of daily life, calls down the Divine reward in kind, namely that the inner and hidden goodness of the Divine becomes manifest in all the necessities of the daily life - health, sustenance, and nachas.
Lag B'Omer, 5733 
On this auspicious day of Lag B'Omer, I send you greetings and prayerful wishes for success in the fullest measure.
It has often been pointed out that in every important event in our history, which is commemorated by special days in our calendar, Jewish women have had a decisive role. This is true also of Lag B'Omer.
On the day of Lag B'Omer we commemorate the survival of Rabbi Akiva's disciples, after a plague which had decimated their numbers. These great scholars, together with their teacher, revived and perpetuated the continuity of the Oral Torah. Among these disciples was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (known as the Rashbi, an acronym of his name), author of the Zohar, and the vital link in the transmission of the inner light of the Torah, the Kabbala.
Our Sages of blessed memory declared that these very disciples of Rabbi Akiva saved the Torah at that time. (Yevamos 62b)
Wherein lies the woman's role in this critical period in Jewish history?
Our Sages of the Talmud clearly elucidated it by telling us the story of Rabbi Akiva. Behind his rise from a poor ignorant shepherd to the rank of the greatest Sage in his generation was a woman, his faithful and courageous wife, Rachel. And Rabbi Akiva publicly acknowledged this when he said to his disciples: "All that I have learned, and all that you have learned, we owe to her." (Kesubos 63a)
This means that the entire edifice of the Oral Torah, the very basis of the existence of our Jewish people and its way of life, is ultimately to be credited to a Jewish woman.
That this story, in all its details, has been told and recorded for perpetuity, is a clear indication that it is meant to serve as a source of instruction and inspiration to all Jewish women, everywhere and at all times. Its practical message is that every Jewish woman has been given tremendous potential, with far-reaching consequences, not only for herself, her husband and children, but also for our entire Jewish people.
Specifically in the sphere of bridging the generation gap in the true spirit of Torah - it is plain and self-evident that women have a very special role. For, in matters of the heart, that is, in the sphere of feeling and emotion, the woman has been endowed with an extra measure of sensitivity and understanding, not to mention the fact that Jewish education and character development of children are, from their infancy on, largely in the domain of the wife and mother, the akeres haBayis - foundation of the home.
Why do children play with bows and arrows on Lag B'Omer?
On Lag B'Omer - the thirty-third day of the counting of the Omer, we commemorate the passing of the great sage and mystic Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. According to tradition, rainbows,(a symbol of G-d's promise to never send another flood), were not seen while Rabbi Shimon was alive because his merit alone was enough to protect the world against the calamity of a flood. Since "Rainbow" and "bow" are both called keshet in Hebrew, the custom developed for children to play with bows and arrows.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Friday (May 12) is the 14th of the Jewish month of Iyar and is known as Pesach Sheni - the Second Passover. In the times of the Holy Temple, anyone who was unable to offer the Pascal sacrifice on Passover - because he was ritually impure or on a distant journey - was permitted to offer the sacrifice one month later.
The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, explained that the theme of Pesach Sheni is that it is never too late; it is always possible to put things right.
In the vernacular, we often say, "Don't cry over spilled milk," i.e., what's done is done. Although it's true that a situation cannot actually be reversed - especially in a physical sense - it can, however, always be repaired or rectified. This, then, is what Pesach Sheni teaches us.
But this is not the only lesson of Pesach Sheni. Spilled milk over which we shouldn't cry, for instance, is an unintentional mishap. However, the Torah speaks even about one who couldn't offer the sacrifice in the right time because he was away on a journey for his own personal reasons. This person planned the journey knowing full-well that he wouldn't be back in time to offer the sacrifice! And yet, even this person is allowed and encouraged to offer the sacrifice on Pesach Sheni.
Even when "ritual impurity" or a deliberate distant journey - alienation - are the cause of non-involvement with one's Jewish obligations, still, it is never too late; it is always possible to put things right.
Consider taking time this Sunday, Pesach Sheni, to contemplate and correct that which might come in the way of your Pascal offering - your Jewish obligations and involvement. And remember, it's never too late!
Whoever has a defect shall not approach (Lev. 21:18)
One who has a defect is not permitted to bring a sacrifice. In our times, when we have no Holy Temple, prayer must take the place of sacrifices. Therefore, "whoever has a defect" - whoever has not yet purified his soul of its defects in words, thoughts and deeds - cannot yet approach G-d properly during prayer. We must ask G-d for His mercy before we approach him with our requests.
These are the feasts of G-d. the holy convocations, which you shall proclaim in their seasons (Lev. 23:2)
In the days of the Holy Temple, the calendar was fixed and the determination of when the festivals would fall was done by the Sanhedrin, according to the testimony of witnesses who said they had seen the new moon. Even if after the fact, it was discovered that a mistake had been made, the court's decision was final and the holiday celebrated according to their calculations. G-d gave man the absolute power to determine when a festival fell and to imbue the day with holiness.
And you shall take...willows of the brook (Lev. 23:40)
The willow, one of the four kinds we take on the holiday of Sukkot, has neither fragrance nor taste. It symbolizes those Jews who have in their possession neither Torah learning nor good deeds. Their only merit is the fact that they are descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Maimonides teaches that even a willow that did not grow on the banks of a brook, say, one that was found growing in a desert or on a mountain-top, is kosher and may be used to perform the mitzva. Likewise, a Jew who did not grow up close to his roots in Judaism and was raised in a foreign culture, through no fault of his own, is also kosher, just by virtue of his being a Jew.
Unlike most of the other rabbis of his time, Rabbi Shimon spent all his time studying Torah. He had no other business or profession. He said that when the Jewish people please G-d by learning His Torah and keeping His mitzvot, G-d takes care of all our requirements, and there is no need to worry about sustenance.
Once, a group of Rabbi Shimon's students were talking about ways to become rich. Rabbi Shimon brought them to a valley, and prayed for a miracle. Suddenly, the valley was filled with shiny gold coins. "Take as much as you want," he told them, "but I warn you - the gold you take in this world will be deducted from your reward in the World-to-Come." They understood the lesson, and no one took even a single gold coin.
For nearly 2,000 years, Jews have celebrated Lag B'Omer in honor of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, because Lag B'Omer is the day on which Rabbi Shimon passed away from this world. For many people, it may be difficult to understand how the anniversary of a great sage's passing would be such a happy day. It would seem that it should be just the opposite - a day of mourning. But the more we understand about Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his achievements, the better we will understand why Lag B'Omer is one of the happiest days of the year.
Rabbi Shimon lived in a very difficult time for the people of Israel. It was not long after the destruction of the Holy Temple, and the armies of the Roman Empire still occupied the Holy Land. His teacher, Rabbi Akiva, had been cruelly tortured to death because he refused to stop teaching Torah in public. Even though later, the Romans no longer forbade the learning, Rabbi Shimon still hated them. One time, it happened that he was talking with two other Sages, Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Yosi ben Chalafta, about the Romans. Rabbi Yehuda praised them for building many beautiful cities and bridges. Rabbi Shimon, however, denounced the Romans, saying that whatever they had done, they did for their own selfish, greedy reasons. Someone overheard this conversation, and reported Rabbi Shimon to the Roman authorities, who gave the order to arrest him, and sentenced him to death. Together with his son, Elazar, Rabbi Shimon fled.
High in the hills of northern Israel, Rabbi Shimon and his son discovered a small cave - a perfect hiding place to escape the Rome persecution. There they hid for twelve years, until the Roman Emperor who wanted to kill them died.
While hiding in the cave, Rabbi Shimon and his son, Elazar, found that this was an ideal opportunity to study Torah without any distractions. They learned day and night; and because they became so righteous, G-d made many miracles for them. To provide food for them a carob grew up overnight; water was provided by the sudden appearance of a fresh mountain spring. They learned the Mishna, mastering all the laws of the Torah and the reasons behind them. They studied with such devotion, that the Prophet Elijah appeared to them, and revealed many secret mysteries of the Torah as well. After twelve years, Elijah told Rabbi Shimon that the Emperor was no longer alive. The danger had passed; Rabbi Shimon and his son could now leave their cave.
It was Lag B'Omer when Rabbi Shimon and Elazar stepped forth from the darkness into the bright sunlight. It was springtime, and the farmers were busy in the fields, plowing and sowing their seeds. But to Rabbi Shimon, this was not a beautiful sight. It seemed to him to be a waste of time. Man's years in this world are precious and few - how dare he spend them digging in the earth, when he could be devoting himself to the splendor of G-d's holy Torah?
Rabbi Shimon had developed tremendous powers during his twelve years in the cave, and now, as he looked with anger upon this unwelcome sight, the fields and trees burst into flame. A Heavenly Voice was heard, saying, "Would you destroy My world? Return to your cave!"
For another year, Rabbi Shimon and Elazar remained in the cave, immersing themselves in the wisdom of the Torah. They learned that even though man's earthly labor seems coarse and ugly, and a waste of time compared to the holiness of Torah, the greatest holiness is hidden within this physical world. G-d wants us to use material things to do His Will, and that is why He created them in the first place. It is not for everyone to spend all his time in Torah study like Rabbi Shimon and his son.
With this new knowledge, Rabbi Shimon and Elazar came out of the cave at the end of the thirteenth year again, on Lag B'Omer. Now Rabbi Shimon understood the importance of this physical world. Instead of destroying, he set about healing the world.
Our Sages state: "One may rely on Rabbi Shimon [bar Yochai] in a time of difficulty." Rabbi Hillel of Paritch taught that Rabbi Shimon was above the destruction of the Holy Temple. This means that while a soul enclothed in a body, even in "a time of difficulty," he was able to reveal a level of spirituality that reflects the level of Moshiach. Therefore, he worked many miracles.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, evening following Lag B'omer 5749)