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968: Emor

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Devarim Deutronomy

May 4, 2007 - 16 Iyyar, 5767

968: Emor

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  967: Achrei Mos-Kedoshim969: Behar-Bechukosai  

For the Love of Fish  |  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

For the Love of Fish

by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger

A large fish was caught by the count's servants. Gasping for breath, the fish took some comfort in the words he overheard: "What a beauty! The count will be so happy. After all, the count loves fish."

Although he suffered all the way to the castle, the fish consoled himself in the expectation of better things to come, for everyone who saw him exclaimed: "The count will be so happy. He really loves fish."

To his surprise, however, when they reached the castle, instead of being placed in a lagoon or, at the very least, in a large tank, he was brought to the kitchen. There again, he heard the people exclaim: "The count will be so happy. He really loves fish."

Realizing his fate, the fish cried out to the butcher who had raised his knife over his head: "The count does not love fish. He is not thinking about me at all. He loves himself!"

Often, when we speak of "loving another person," what we are really loving is what we can get out of that person or how loving the person makes us feel good.

This story serves as a good introduction to Lag BaOmer, one of Judaism's days of festive celebration. One of the reasons we celebrate is that on this day, a plague that killed thousands of Rabbi Akiva's students ended.

What was the reason for the plague? our Sages explain that Rabbi Akiva's students did not show respect for one another.

That explanation has raised many questions. Rabbi Akiva placed great emphasis on sharing and unity. It was he who taught: "'Love your fellowman as yourself' is a great general principle in the Torah." How then could his students depart from their master's path and fail to show each other respect?

The answer is that really loving someone means going beyond yourself, relating to the person for the person's sake, not for what you can get. Even with the best intentions - and surely Rabbi Akiva's students had the best intentions - our self-interest can get in our way. Quite possibly, we will fail to show a person - even one whom we are trying to love - proper respect and consideration.

Lag BaOmer also commemorates the passing of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, one of the foremost sages of the Talmud and author of the Zohar, the primary text of the Kabala.

Rabbi Shimon perceived these two areas of knowledge not as distinct, self-contained disciplines, but as one composite unit. The legal aspect - Talmud, serves as the body and the mystical element - Zohar - the soul, of one integrated Torah.

This unity within the Torah enabled Rabbi Shimon to perceive the Divine unity within our material world, and moreover, to see this unity expressed even in the material dimensions of his life.

When Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai completed the Zohar, the fundamental text of Jewish mysticism, he was told from heaven: "With this text of yours, the Jewish people will leave exile with mercy." There is a cause and effect relationship here. As people appreciate the mystic truths taught by the Zohar, they will understand the G-dly nature of their own souls, the souls of the people around them and the souls of all of existence.

When people begin thinking and living according to these insights, the society that they produce will reflect the prophecies of knowledge, peace, and unity that accompany the Era of the Redemption. The Redemption will not merely be an abstract ideal; it will be a motif that ripple by ripple makes its way into the fabric of our lives.

Reprinted from Keeping in Touch, published by Sichos In English

Living with the Rebbe

The name of this week's Torah reading, Emor, contains a lesson for every Jew. "Emor - Say" the Torah commands every Jew. The power of speech entails a certain responsibility we must always be aware of every time we open our mouths.

The Midrash explains that all of G-d's utterances are "pure statements." Whatever G-d says comes into being, unlike the statements of a fleshly king, who may promise the world but not necessarily fulfill his pledge. G-d is the essence of truth, and His utterances endure forever.

As every Jew is intimately connected to G-d, his statements share this same quality of endurance. Every Jew must therefore be extremely careful when he speaks, and refrain from saying anything negative about his fellow Jew.

The Torah portion of Emor teaches us to speak only positively about other Jews. As Maimonides puts it, "It is a mitzva [commandment] to love each and every Jew...therefore, one must speak [only] of his praise."

Maimonides writes that a Torah scholar "extols the virtue of his fellow and does not denigrate him." Every Jew is similarly obligated to say only kind things about others, and not, G-d forbid, speak evil of his fellow man.

Even if we see a Jew doing something wrong we must always judge him favorably and try to understand what caused him to sin. We must never defame his character or mention his transgression.

Just as G-d's utterances are "pure," abiding forever, so too do our positive statements about other Jews exert a lasting and powerful influence. The very act of praising another Jew serves to reveal the innate good that is hidden inside him, and causes him to want to live up to the words of praise.

Emor is read during sefirat ha'omer, the counting of the omer. These days are a period of mourning for the 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiva who passed away because they did not treat each other with the proper respect.

Counting the omer reminds us to stop speaking about other Jews in an unfavorable light. Similarly, Emor reminds us to speak favorably about our fellow Jews.

"Emor!" the Torah enjoins us. Say only good about another person!

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 27

A Slice of Life

A Bar Mitzva on the Way to Heaven

I am on-call at many hospitals in Chicago where I am committed to respond when emergencies arise.

One Monday, I received a call from a local hospital requesting that I visit an elderly gentleman who was doing very poorly. Doctors had told his children that it was just a matter of time. The man was in his 90s.

When I arrived at the hospital the patient was not responding and I stood at his bedside saying the Shema and various Psalms.

The son, who had come from out of town, was eagerly waiting to speak to a rabbi. A granddaughter was there as well. The son showed an interest to sit and talk with me so we decided to sit down in the lounge where I was hoping to give him words of hope and strengthen his faith in these very difficult moments. He began by telling me that in the past couple of days, his ailing father requested having a bar mitzva and he didn't know how to fulfill his father's wishes. When I asked the son if his father specified how he wants to celebrate his bar mitzva, he responded "My father asked to put on tefilin."

Later, I was told by the son that his father had refused to go to synagogue his entire life and had never put on tefilin. Now, at this age, moments before his demise, he had an interest in putting on tefilin and "becoming a bar mitzva." The son told me that he still wasn't sure whether or not his father was acting like the same "cynical dad" or indeed became a sudden believer. It was only after his father kept asking him day after day that he decided to call a rabbi and perform his dad's bar mitzva!

"I cannot put on the tefilin with your father," I told the son. I explained the son since it was already dark and tefilin are worn during daylight only. "If your father will be 'up to it' I will gladly return in the morning," I continued. When the son told me that his father goes in-and-out of this unconscious state, I had hope that by the morning he would be responsive. I suggested that I would call him at 6:30 a.m. to get an update of his father's condition.

In the morning the son asked me to come to the hospital since his father was now conscious and responding. Here, I must add that the next day was the day of a gigantic blizzard here in Chicago. A ten minute ride to the hospital turned into a 60 minute trip accompanied with blowing and drifting snow. Every minute felt like an hour with the uncertainty of the ailing man's condition. I hoped that he would still be conscious when I arrived.

When I finally arrived and entered the hospital room I saw a face lit up and eyes wide-open. When I asked the patient if he wanted to become a bar mitzva, he answered, "Yes."

"Do you also want to put on tefilin," I asked? Again, his answer was yes.

It was with great difficulty that the man put on the tefilin. He was in excruciating pain and to lift his arm and head was a tremendous struggle.

When I realized the pain he was suffering, I asked him again, "Are you sure you want to continue?" And he again responded yes. He repeated the Shema with me and finally concluded the first paragraph.

At that point everyone in the room began to sing "siman tov u-mazal tov." The man had a big smile on his face expressing his joy and pleasure. I cannot describe the scene nor the reaction of the nurses and the doctor who stood by.

Later that afternoon, the man told his son, "I am now a bar mitzva." Those were his final words. Forty minutes later he passed away.

The hospital staff, aware of this story, agreed that this was an event they had never experienced before. I have visited tens of thousands of patients over the past 30 years and I have never witnessed such an emotional experience as that.

"Because of the new hospital personal privacy laws (H.I.P.P.A. laws) I am unable to mention any names or the name of the hospital, but this story is touching and true and everyone with whom I have shared it agrees.

Rabbi Wolf is the director of the Chicago (Illinois) Mitzvah Campaigns.

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The Rebbe Writes

Freely translated and adapted

Fourth Day of the Week of Emor...Veomarto, Pesach Sheni, 5740
Year of Shemitah, a Shabbos unto G-d.

To the Sons and Daughters of our People Israel, Everywhere -
G-d bless you all!

Greeting and Blessing:

As we are approaching the auspicious day of Lag B'Omer, the day of rejoicing of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochoi (RaShBy) - of whom his teacher Rabbi Akiva said, "(Only) I and your Creator know your powers,"

Let us reflect on one point, at least, of the inestimable powers of Rashby - a point that is especially relevant even to the most ordinary Jew, and certainly to one of higher standing.

As is well known, Rashby had to hide in a cave for twelve years, then for yet another year, because of his uncompromising stand in preserving Yiddishkeit [Judaism] under Roman rule and persecution. When he finally regained freedom, one of the first things he set out to do was to inquire, "Is there anything that needs to be rectified?" Upon learning of such a situation, he immediately sets out to rectify it, though it only meant saving Jews the trouble of making a round about way. Yet, since it was a matter of concern to Jews, it deeply touches him, and he spares no effort and time until he actually remedies the situation.

Consider: After spending thirteen years in a cave, with only sand to cover his body, and finally emerging painfully scarred by his ordeal - how does he begin his free life? He goes out to inquire immediately what there is to rectify, and - true to the principle that "action is the essential thing" - he throws himself into the task and does not rest until it is accomplished.

Needless to say, no one can compare to Rashby, but since the above (Talmudic) account is part of the [oral] Torah, and "Torah" means "instruction," it is certain that every Jew has the capability to carry out the moral lesson of this account, too; namely, to act in the spirit and direction of it, and with assured success, all the more so since Rashby has shown the way and paved it for all of us.

If to do a Jew a favor materially - be it only to shorten the way for him to reach his destination - is such a great thing, how much more so is it to be able to show the way, and shorten the distance, in the spiritual sense, - "to the end that he may instruct his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of G-d, to do righteousness and justice." For it is the sacred duty of every Jew to walk in the way of G-d and to bring up his children to follow in this way, and to do all he can to spread Yiddishkeit, Torah and Mitzvos [commandments]; including the teachings of Rashby in his Zohar, Pnimiyus haTorah [the inner teachings of Torah], which has a particular relevance to our generation awaiting the imminent footsteps of Moshiach, for "with this Zohar Jews will be delivered from the Galus [exile] with Divine mercy."

And here we come to a further point connected with Rashby, which comes to light right in the beginning of the Preface to his work, the Zohar.

In the Beginning: Rabbi Shimon opened, 'The blossoms have appeared on the earth,' etc. What sustains the world ... is the voice of young children learning Torah, and because of them the world is saved...

In Torah-true education of Jewish children, the above two points of Rashby's teachings converge and come to fruition. It calls for the utmost effort, until every Jewish child, boy and girl, is provided with the kind of education that will ensure their keeping the way of G-d in the fullest measure, and passing it on to their children and children's children. In the words of the Psalmist: "So we will tell Your praise (transmit Your heritage) to generation from generation" - to all the children of the present generation and to all the children of the next, and so on.

May G-d grant that everyone should be actively involved in all the above, within the overall effort to spread Torah and Mitzvos, and do it with great joy. And the Zechus [merit] of Lag BaOmer, the day of Rashby's rejoicing, and it was his wish that all Jews participate in his rejoicing, will surely stand everyone, man and woman, in good stead, to succeed in their efforts in matters of Torah and Mitzvos in general, and in the above matters in particular; and acting with joy and inspiration assures even greater Hatzlocho [success]. Moreover, the Zechus Horabbim [merit of the multitude] helps, too.

With esteem and blessing for much Hatzlocho,


What is Lag B'Omer?

Lag B'Omer is the 33rd day of the Omer period between Passover and Shavuot. According to tradition, it is the day on which a terrible plague killing 20,000 of Rabbi Akiva's students stopped. It is also the anniversary of the passing - yartzeit - of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, author of the Zohar. Before his death he instructed his students to rejoice on the day of his yartzeit. The Holy Ari - Rabbi Yitzchak Luria - one of the greatest scholars in the mystical aspects of the Torah - taught the great virtue of rejoicing on that day, and later the Baal Shem Tov and his followers strengthened the custom of rejoicing on the yartzeit.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

On the 18th day of Iyar, which is the 33rd day of the counting of the omer, we celebrate the holiday of Lag B'Omer. There are two reasons for this celebration.

The two Sages who are associated with Lag B'Omer, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, both emphasized the mitzva of ahavat Yisrael, loving your fellow Jew.

Rabbi Akiva said that a person should love another Jew as he loves himself, and he was a living example of his words. Unfortunately, as we see, his students did not learn from his example.

In his writings, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai highlighted the concept of unity by drawing attention to the verse, "How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to sit together."

During the Lag B'Omer parade in 1990, the Rebbe spoke about unity. Unity stems from shared roots. Two brothers may lead very separate and different lives, but they share the same parents, and their fundamental common identity remains.

As Jews, we all share a common parentage, that of our forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, and from them we can learn a great lesson about unity. Each of our forefathers had a different approach to Divine service, yet together they formed the unique spiritual heritage of our people. Difference does not have to cause division, and in fact, true unity comes from bringing two opposites together.

Because of a lack of ahavat Yisrael, a lack of unity, we lost our Holy Temple and were sent into exile. Thus, we see that increasing our efforts in this area is the route home, to our complete and total redemption with the coming of Moshiach.

Thoughts that Count

Ben Zoma said: "Who is wise? He who learns from every person, as it is stated: 'From all those who have taught me I have gained wisdom...' " (Ethics 4:1)

In order to learn, a person does not have to be a sage - every person should learn. A wise person is not merely one who learns, but rather one who sees something positive in every person, and from him, he learns that positive quality.

(Likutei Diburim )

He [Ben Azzai] used to say: "Do not regard anyone with contempt, and do not reject anything, for there is no man who does not have his hour and no thing which does not have its place." (4:3)

There is no man who does not have his hour when circumstances favor him. Similarly, there is nothing which does not have its place which the Holy One has designated as its proper place. All creatures and every single detail of creation forms the totality and completeness of the world. Accordingly, one may not despise any person or any thing in the world.

(Maharal of Prague)

Rabbi Yochanan HaSandlar said: "Every assembly which is for the sake of Heaven will endure, but that which is not for the sake of Heaven will not endure." (4:11)

The purpose of a gathering should not be to secure the victory of one's own opinion, for in this case, each member of the group will want his opinion to be accepted, and the truth will be ignored. Rather, the purpose of the gathering should be "for the sake of Heaven" - to clarify the matter and discover the truth. Then the purpose of the assembly will be successful.


It Once Happened

In the course of this long and bitter exile the Jews have suffered many trials and tribulations at the hands of gentile monarchs who sought to line their treasure chests with Jewish money.

Once, in the kingdom of Bohemia, King Wenzel found himself in a predicament common to the aristocracy - he needed gold! And as always, he turned to his Jewish subjects to fill his coffers.

The Jewish community was accustomed to the cruel demands of the king, but this time the demand was more exorbitant than ever. Reb Shmuel, the leader of the community, was presented with an ultimatum: "In eight days, the Jews of Prague must hand over the sum of 20,000 pieces of silver. If you fail to do so, the king will withdraw his protection from the Jews of the realm."

Panic spread throughout the community, as word of the royal edict became known. Not long before, dozens of Jews had been massacred by wild mobs. If not for the intervention of the king's soldiers, who knows how many more would have died? The city elders calculated the total worth of the community. Even if the Jews sold all of their possessions, they could never hope to meet the king's demands.

Then Reb Shmuel stood up. "I am from the tribe of Judah, a descendant of King David, and I am sure that his merit will protect me. I will intercede before the king."

The next day, all the congregation gathered to pray for Reb Shmuel's success. As for himself, Reb Shmuel had a plan. Together with his beautiful and intelligent daughter Reb Shmuel headed for the palace, but first, he had one stop to make.

Many years before, as he traveled through the forest, Reb Shmuel chanced upon a leather box. Upon examination he realized it belonged to the local landowner, and he rode off to return it to its rightful owner. The grateful nobleman offered a reward, but Reb Shmuel refused, saying, "Our Torah teaches that we are obliged to return lost objects."

"I will never forget your kindness, and I am at your service if you ever need a friend," the noble swore.

Now was the time to collect this debt. Reb Shmuel explained the situation to his noble friend.

"As you are aware, the king does not receive Jews without their being summoned. However, he is always interested in beautiful women. Perhaps he will receive your daughter," replied the noble.

This is exactly what Reb Shmuel had expected.

Days later, all eyes focused on the young Jewish woman as Rachel entered the king's throne room.

"Ah, so you wish to speak to me. Well, I will hear you, but first, you must kiss this bridegroom who stands before you," and the king pointed to a large Christian statue which stood behind his throne.

"Your majesty," Rachel replied, "it is customary for the groom to approach the bride, and so I will wait for him to come to me."

The king laughed out loud at her clever response. "I see she is not only beautiful, but very bright. Allow the Jewess to speak!"

"Your Majesty, my father asks permission to say four words to the King."

"Four words! What could he say in only four words?! Very well, admit him, but if this is a joke this day will be your last!"

Reb Shmuel entered and stood before the throne. "G-d said to Satan!" he pronounced in a booming voice.

The king waited to see what would follow, but Reb Shmuel said nothing. "Very clever, Jew. Well, go on now and explain yourself."

"Your Majesty, these words are from the book of Job, when the L-rd condescended to speak to the lowest of the angels, Satan. Therefore, Sire, I infer that Your Majesty will deign to speak with me, the lowest of your subjects."

"Well said. Since you compare G-d and myself, I shall speak with you."

Then Reb Shmuel threw himself at the king's feet, beseeching him to rescind his onerous demand. When Reb Shmuel had finished, the king spoke: "I will forgive the Jews this time. But, tell me, what do you wish for yourself? Every messenger wants something for himself."

"No, Your Majesty, I desire nothing for myself at all." "No, that is not acceptable. It will not be said that King Wenzel fails to repay any good deed. From this time forth, you will be admitted to my presence at will, and you will be the official representative of the Jews in the royal court."

And then, as an afterthought, the king asked, "What is your name, Jew?" "My name is Shmuel," he replied.

"Shmuel is your given name. From this day, I decree that your family name will be that of the angel to whom G-d spoke. You and your descendants will forevermore be called 'Satan.'"

And so, to this day, descendants of this brave and righteous man who risked his life and that of his beloved daughter to save the Jews of Prague bear the strange last name of Satan or "Stein."

Moshiach Matters

If we would truly want it we could effect the coming of Moshiach now. Then we could celebrate the holiday of Lag B'Omer with the Rashbi himself. As it says in the Zohar that the righteous will be the first to rise, which will occur immediately after the coming of Moshiach. In addition, the Holy Temple also will have to be built immediately. In order for this to occur we will have to personally ask Moses and Aron, who already had the Holy Temple in their days, how to build it.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 17th Day of Iyar, 5747-1987)

  967: Achrei Mos-Kedoshim969: Behar-Bechukosai  
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