Time is of the Essence | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
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Honking horns, the Gulfstream jet, paying bills on-line, fancy watches in every shape, size and color. These are just a few examples that illustrate just how important and precious time is to most of us. Convenience stores and neighborhood groceries abound because we'd rather waste a little money than a lot of time.
For forty-nine days, seven weeks between the holiday of Passover and Shavuot, we are reminded just how valuable time is. Starting on the second night of Passover and continuing through the day preceding Shavuot, we "count the omer." Each evening, we state that it is a certain number of days since the bringing of the omer. In addition, we preface the count by saying a bless-ing for this mitzva (commandment).
If by chance, one forgot to "count the omer" for an entire day, he may continue counting once he remembers, but without the blessing.
"What's the big deal?" one might ask, "by forgetting to count one day out of forty-nine, a person forfeits the opportunity to say the blessing for all the remaining days!" True, it might seem a bit harsh, but it teaches a powerful lesson: time is priceless and irreplaceable.
Counting the Omer instills within us the understanding that time should not and must not be wasted. The story is told of a famous rabbi who could literally account for every minute of his day. He knew exactly what he did when. He never "lost" time. He, like many others, viewed his every hour, every minute, as a precious gift from G-d. Just as one wouldn't use an expensive bottle of wine for cooking, or give fine imported chocolates to a three-year-old, so, too, time should be used to its fullest and spent on the more important aspects of life.
There's another "timely" idea that we can learn from counting the Omer. Each day influences the next day. If, unfortunately, we forget to count one day, all of the rest of the days are effected by our forgetfulness. If, however, we remember to count every day, we are able to bless each subsequent day, and that blessing impacts future days positively.
Chasidic philosophy explains an added dimension of the seven-week countdown. These seven weeks correspond to the seven character aspects (or emotions) of G-d and of man (because man is made in G-d's image) and through this commandment we can link our personalities to that of the Creator.
As the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 28:3) puts it: Said Rabbi Chiah: "When are these 'seven complete weeks' really complete? When the Jews do the will of G-d."
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains: Rabbi Chiah is implying that Jewish service of G-d can and should be with total emotional and intellectual involvement. But this is not yet complete. The goal of counting the Omer is to rise to even more complete and meaningful involvement.
So, whether you wear a Rolex or a Timex, try to keep in mind just how precious time is, how it can be used to connect with Infinite timelessness, and make a point of scheduling in time for really important things, like learning more about your 4,000 year old heritage.
- (Back to text) The Omer was a bundle of barley from the new harvest brought to the Temple altar on the day after Passover. Although today there is no Omer and no Temple (until Moshiach builds the Third Holy Temple), counting the forty-nine days from Passover to Shavuot remains a commandment.
This week we read two Torah portions, Acharei and Kedoshim. In most years, the Torah portions of Acharei and Kedoshim are read together. In fact, they share the common theme of holiness.
The portion of Acharei opens with G-d's command to Aaron, warning him that he may not "come at all times into the Sanctuary." (The High Priest was only allowed to enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur.) Acharei thus deals with the highest level of sanctity (the service in the Holy of Holies), on the holiest day of the year (Yom Kippur), performed by the Jew on the highest level of holiness, the High Priest.
The portion of Kedoshim also begins with a command concerning holiness: "You shall be holy, for I am holy." Every Jew is obligated to emulate G-d and strive for the highest degree of holiness. But, practically speaking, how is this possible?
The answer lies in the Torah's directive "You shall be holy," the wording of which also implies a promise: "You will be holy!" G-d assures every Jew, "for I am holy" - for the simple reason that your holiness is derived from Mine. Every Jew possesses a "veritable portion of G-d Above," a Jewish soul that is a part of the Infinite. Every Jew is thus capable of rising to even the highest levels of holiness.
As the Torah teaches, the ultimate objective is not what happened to Aaron's two sons, Nadav and Avihu, who achieved such a state of spiritual arousal that their souls could no longer tolerate the confinement of their physical bodies. The highest level of Divine service transcends even this.
In the Midrash, our Sages interpreted the verse "You shall be holy" as meaning "My holiness is superior to yours." In other words, no matter how high a spiritual level a Jew may attain, he should always remember that G-d is Infinite and thus higher.
This contains a practical lesson for every Jew to apply in his Divine service, regardless of his present spiritual standing: The greatest tzadik (righteous person) can always rise higher, while those on the lower rungs of spiritual achievement must never despair of improvement. The directive of "You shall be holy" applies to everyone. G-d gives every Jew the strengths and abilities he needs to ascend. And when a Jew takes the first step and makes the effort to sanctify himself, G-d takes him by the hand and helps him achieve his goal.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Vol. 12
The Rectification of Anusim
by Ayala Markoff
I was born in Brazil to a Catholic family, and did not have the opportunity to meet Jews until much later in life. My grandparents and parents were born and raised on a farm in the rural area of Sao Paulo, Brazil. They lived a simple and honest life. Hospitality was a trademark in our family, and still is to this day. Farming the land in Brazil in the 1900s was no easy job, so Grandma insisted that her children go to school to have a better chance in life. Having had some schooling, my parents' generation left the rural area to try life in the city. They focused on education and sent all their children to college. For many years I lived a calm, happy and uneventful life. By the time I reached my early thirties, I was a successful scientist working for an international corporation. I knew very little about Jews and Judaism. Business led me to the United States, where I met Jews for the first time in my life. Or so I thought.
I remember the first time I heard about Yom Kippur. For no logical reason, I felt I had to observe this holiday. I embarked on a day of fasting and prayer that I will never forget. The Kol Nidrei services were particularly moving to me. Later I learned that many anusim would gather in secret locations on Yom Kippur eve. Before starting the Yom Kippur services they would pour their hearts out to G-d, begging for forgiveness for the public statements they had made against Judaism during the year. Anusim comes from the Hebrew word "anus," meaning "forced ones." They were Jews who went through forced conversion to Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition under the threat of expulsion or death. They are sometimes called Marranos, a term avoided by many because of its derogatory nature; Marrano means pig.
My interest in Judaism grew quickly. I attended all classes available to me. As destiny would have it, I learned to read Hebrew in Sephardic style and would walk around with a Jewish star around my neck. Whatever mitzva (commandment) I heard about I observed, as soon as possible and in the best way I could.
One day, I was talking with someone who said to me casually, "You are not Jewish." Hearing these words caused me great pain and anguish. I felt indignant and even insulted! Pondering my intense emotional response, I could not understand why a non-Jew would feel offended at someone stating the truth in a factual manner.
In one of the many Torah classes I attended I had a spiritual meltdown. Chabad Rebbetzin Chaya Epstein, of Beis Menachem in Chicago, Illinois, was teaching a class on the life of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe o.b.m., Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson. Tears rolled down my face. My soul was deeply moved by his life. In that moment, his suffering for keeping Judaism alive in communist Russia became my suffering. After class, Mrs. Epstein approached me privately and asked me if everything was alright. Still sobbing. I told her that I had no idea what was affecting me so much. After all, I was not even Jewish.
To my surprise, she asked me how could I be so sure that I was not Jewish. Shocked by her response, I could not understand how I could possibly be Jewish given my birth to a Catholic family and my Christian upbringing. Mrs. Epstein suggested that I research my ancestral lineage, focusing on my mother's side.
I continued attending her classes and learning from her. I also followed her advice and went on a journey of self-discovery, reaching deep into my family's history, roots, and customs. After a number of years, countless hours on the computer, and digging through the past by means of family interviews and reunions, trips to cemeteries, and visits to city halls in Brazil, I found out much of my family's history. My research revealed that my maternal great-great-grandmother's last name, Gomes, is Jewish, coming from the Hebrew word "gomel." Gomes is also my father's last name. The most amazing discovery, however, was that my maternal great-grandmother, Josefa Martin, kept a number of rituals which were reminiscent of mitzvot, as did many anusim from the post-Inquisition era in Malaga, Spain, where she came from. One of these mitzvot was to separate challa (to remove a small portion of dough reminiscent of the Holy Temple offering) every time she made bread, a mitzva that she could observe in the privacy of her home and which she passed down to all her daughters. Taking challa was one of the first mitzvot I was attracted to. I now enjoy sharing this special and significant mitzva with other women of my generation.
With the help of Chabad rabbis and rebbetzins, I have gone through a process of returning to the Jewish roots of my ancestors, according to Jewish law, as established by the Rabbinical Court of the Chicago Rabbinical Council of Illinois. My case was the first ever of this nature at this court. I was certified as a Returnee to the ways of my ancestors. I feel so privileged to be living in a country and in a generation where, unlike my great-grandmother, I have no need to hide my true Jewish identity. I can openly observe Torah and mitzvot. I pray to G-d that other Jewish souls who are yearning to return to Judaism, both consciously and unconsciously, find the proper guidance and support that will lead them back to Judaism.
Finally, I deeply thank the many people who were very helpful and supportive to me in this beautiful process, far too many to mention. In particular, I would like to thank my caring and supportive husband, Bruce Markoff; Rebbetzin Chaya Epstein of Beis Menachem; Rabbi Dovid Flinkenstein of Chabad of Wilmette; Rabbis Meir Moscowitz and Doniel Moscowitz of Chabad of Northbrook; and Rav Gedalia Schwartz of the Chicago Rabbinical Council.
May we all celebrate with much joy the return of any and all Jewish souls to the Jewish nation. And may we all experience the ultimate celebration with the coming of Moshiach today.
Reprinted with permission from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
Torah Scroll and Expansion
Jews in South Africa's West Coast welcomed a Torah scroll donated by the Welkom Hebrew Congregation, and celebrated the expansion of the Chabad preschool directed by Rabbi Asher and Zeesa Deren. The school's expansion included an additional classroom, indoor gym, and renovated bathrooms and lobby.
Rabbi Shmuli and Sara Stiefel will be arriving soon in St Ives, Australia, where they will be joining the staff at Chabad of the North Shore.
New Soup Kitchen
A soup kitchen opened in Minsk, Belarus, in the new Jewish Community Center there. The kitchen will serve 300 needy children daily, as well as supply indigent families with hot meals.
13th of Kislev, 5716 
Sholom uBrocho [Greeting and Blessing]:
I received your letter of 28th of Cheshvan, and I hope you will excuse the delay in reply, which was due to the pressure of duties.
You write that sometimes you are oppressed by the thought that perhaps in a prior life some things remained to be corrected, and you wonder how this may be corrected.
While it is true, as you have heard, that most souls have had a previous life, which explains, as you write, why some children suffer, and may also explain seemingly undeserved punishment in adult life, but the fact that the soul may have had a previous life should not cause anxiety. For G-d does not deal despotically chas v'shalom [G-d forbid], and does not expect one to consciously correct something of which he is not consciously aware. The reason that the secret of the soul's possible previous life was revealed to us is mainly in order that we should not entertain any suspicion that G-d's Hashgocho [supervision] is unjust, G-d forbid, so that where we cannot find a reasonable explanation for any happening, we can attribute it to a previous life. In other words, the knowledge that there may have been a previous life, should only strengthen our trust in G-d and bring gladness to our heart. This is indicated in Tillim [Psalms] (25;9,10, etc.): "G-d is good and upright, therefore He teaches sinners the way... All the ways of G-d are kindness and truth... forgive therefore my sin... may my soul dwell in goodness."...
Wishing you to have good news to inform about yourself and health of your daughters, and to "serve G-d with joy,"
2nd of Tammuz, 5716 
Blessing and Greeting:
I received your letter in which you ask the question "if a soul has come back to earth several times to complete its duty here, when Messiah comes in which form will the soul come back?"
I was pleased to note from your letter that you are taking an interest in your studies and follow the instruction of our Holy Torah as you are taught in the Yeshivah in New Haven.
As for your question, it was already asked a very long time ago by one of our great teachers of the Talmud, Rabbi Hizkiah, as mentioned in the holy book Zohar (Part 1, page 131a). The answer given there by another great teacher of the Mishnah, Rabbi Jose, is that the soul will come back to life in the body in which it has accomplished Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments] during her lifetime on this earth, and that a body which did not practice Torah and Mitzvoth on earth will not come back to life. This answer must be considered in the light of a further explanation by the great Rabbi Isaac Luria, who lived about 400 years ago, and is known as Ari (the "Lion"). (About his life and work you may have read in the "Talks and Tales.") The saintly Ari explained that it is almost impossible for a Jew not to fulfill at least some Mitzvoth. Therefore, in accordance with the answer in Zohar, almost all bodies will come back to life. The question then is in which body will the soul return if it had been in more than one body. The answer, strange as it may seem at first glance, is that it will return in all bodies it had inhabited. To understand how this is possible, let us remember that the souls of mankind started from two people, Adam and Eve. Their souls included all the souls of the future generations, in a way a single seed includes in it future generations of trees, fruits, and seeds. In the same way the souls of parents are not just two souls, but they can split up into soul sparks, each of which is in turn a complete soul. Therefore, when a Jew performs a Mitzvah, the body takes part in it and it is no longer "dry wood" that rots away, but it will come back to life with a soul which is a Divine spark, and which was included in the original soul. Thus at the Time of Resurrection (after Messiah will come) all "parts" of a "general" soul will each have a separate body, just as parents will come back to life with all their children.
If you find the above a little difficult to understand, you can ask your teacher to explain to you more fully, or leave the question until you grow older. But you may be sure that no good deed, no Mitzvah, not even a single minute spent in the study of Torah, is ever lost.
Study Torah in Groups
"Study should be communal in nature, preferably in groups of ten, for 'over every group of ten, the Divine Presence rests.' Furthermore, communal study contributes an element of happiness. Even a person who prefers the peace and quiet of individual study, should compliment his own studies by participating in these communal sessions. Everyone should consider the need to participate in these efforts as directed to him individually. (The Rebbe, 6 Iyar, 5751-1991)
In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and the other kedoshim of Mumbai
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
We are currently in the month of Iyar. In the Torah, Iyar is referred to as the second month, since it is the second month from Nissan. It is also called Ziv - the month of radiance (Kings I) - because the sun's radiance begins to grow. Iyar is also a month of healing, for the generation of Jews who came out of Egypt were healed this month from all their illnesses, as they prepared to receive the Torah. In fact, the word Iyar spelled in Hebrew letters is an acronym for the verse, "I G-d am your Healer."
The month of Iyar for the generation of the desert was, in essence, a foretaste of the Messianic Era when we will witness ultimate physical and spiritual bliss. According to the Midrash (Breishit Rabba) everyone will be healed of all their diseases. At the time of the Redemption, we are told, G-d will take the sun out of the special sheath in which He enclosed it. These special rays of the sun which had previously been hidden are healing rays and will cure everyone of all their ailments. Anyone who has any illness or disease, any blemish or disability, will be healed.
Death itself will cease, as the Prophet Isaiah said, "Death will be swallowed up forever and G-d will wipe the tears from every face."
When will these miracles occur? There are two stages to the Redemption. The first stage is the one about which Maimonides writes, "The world will follow its normal course." This stage is a precursor for the second, later stage when we will see changes in the conduct of the world. The laws of nature will be changed to what they were originally intended to be, that is, as they functioned while Adam and Eve were still in the Garden of Eden. At this time we will see the actual fulfillment of our Prophets' words such as the wolf at peace with the lamb, etc.
It is in this second stage that we will witness the Resurrection of the Dead. In this second stage, G-d will be revealed in all of His Glory.
May the month of Iyar truly be a month of healing - spiritual, physical and emotional healing for the Jewish people and the entire world.
With this - bezot - Aaron shall come into the holy place (Lev. 16:3)
The Hebrew word "bezot" has the numerical equivalent of 410, alluding to the 410 years of the First Holy Temple's existence. But why would Moses tell the Jewish people that the Temple would exist for only a specific time? What is to be gained by predicting this tragedy? Rather, Moses' intent was not to dishearten. On the contrary, he informed the Jewish people that it was in their power to prevent the sad event. Proper behavior would confer eternity to the first Holy Temple and preclude any exile. Now, too, it is up to us. Our present conduct can rid us of the exile. Our actions can hasten the coming of Moshiach and the establishment of the Third Holy Temple, which will stand forever.
For on that day [the high priest] shall make an atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins; before G-d you shall be clean (Lev. 16: 30)
Why is it necessary to explicitly add the words "from all your sins"? Is this not already implied? "An atonement to cleanse you" refers to sins that are committed against G-d; "All your sins...you shall be clean" refers to sins that are committed against one's fellow man. For these transgressions, Yom Kippur does not offer atonement until the wronged party has been properly conciliated.
Blood shall it be considered to that man; blood has he shed (Lev. 17:4)
The purpose of the animal offerings was to accustom the individual to self-sacrifice. However, the Torah tells us, if the sacrifice was offered in the wrong place, "blood shall it be considered to that man." Sacrificing oneself on foreign altars, for the sake of foreign ideologies and ideals, is not only a waste of time, but a grievous sin.
The famous Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak of Lublin, Poland, was known as the Chozeh of Lublin. One of his chasidim, Avraham Mordechai of Pintshov, was a pauper with no means to marry off his three daughters. Avraham Mordechai had no recourse than to go to the Chozeh and pour out his heart.
The Chozeh gave him a few coins and said "Go to the town of Kreshnik and there you will be saved." Avraham Mordechai hurried home, told his wife what the Chozeh had said, and set off to Kreshnik with no idea what to do there.
Three days later he arrived, checked into the only Jewish hotel. Each day after reciting the morning prayers, Avraham Mordechai would wander around Kreshnik for an hour or two. He would then return to the hotel to eat, study Torah for a few hours, and then wander around the town some more.
Late one evening, about ten days into his stay, there was a knock at his hotel room door. "Who is it?" Avraham Mordechai asked.
"Can I talk to you," was the answer. Avraham Mordechai opened the door and a religious Jew about 40-years-old entered, sat down, and spoke quietly as his eyes filled with tears. "I won't tell you my name and please don't ask. I have something I want you to give to the owner of this hotel."
The man produced an envelope from his coat, opened it and took out a stack of large denomination bills. "It's ten thousand rubles," he said. "It belongs to the hotel owner and I want you give it to him. Will you do this?"
The man saw that Avraham Mordechai was confused and he began to explain. "Ten years ago I worked here for the innkeeper. I was a private Torah teacher for his five wonderful children. We were like family, he trusted me implicitly. One day, I was teaching his youngest son and I noticed that the innkeeper entered his office in the room adjoining. I saw him take a large stack of money and put it in a desk drawer, lock it and put the key behind a picture on the wall.
"Seeing this planted an evil seed in my heart. At first I pushed it off as foolishness, but it didn't go away. I became overpowered by the thought that I needed the money!
"Finally, one night when everyone was out of the house I went to the office and found it unlocked. I entered, found the key, opened the drawer, took the money and a minute later I was in the back yard burying it in the hole I had prepared there. The robbery was not discovered until a few weeks later.
"Of course, no one suspected me. I was the epitome of faith and honesty, the last one in the world that would steal. After a month everything calmed down and life returned to normal. I worked for another year or so, told them I had work elsewhere and we parted the best of friends.
"But my conscience bothered me. A hundred times, a thousand times I thought of returning the money but I didn't. I was afraid maybe someone would catch me digging it up. Or maybe the innkeeper would get mad when I confessed and have me put in jail.
"For ten years I have been going insane from regret but with no solution in sight. Until a week ago something told me the time had come. I came back here in the middle of the night, dug up the money and waited till the morning in front of the hotel wondering what to do next. When I saw you come out I knew that you are the one. Help me erase my sin and clear my conscience. Please, ask the innkeeper not to ask any questions and give him the money back for me."
Avraham Mordechai stared in wide-eyed disbelief. Should he do it? Maybe he would get into trouble himself! But something inside told him this man was genuinely repenting, and so he agreed. The next morning Avraham Mordechai asked the innkeeper if they could speak privately.
Avraham Mordechai pulled the envelope from his pocket and put it on the table. "Here is the ten thousand rubles that were stolen from you ten years ago," he said. "Someone gave it to me to give to you and requested that you ask no questions."
The innkeeper picked up the money, began to count it and when he was finished looked up and, still under the impression of this dreamlike experience, wiped his brow and said, "But can I ask who are you? What are you doing here? I've seen you leave and enter and have heard that you just wander the streets. Why are you here?"
Suddenly Avraham Mordechai snapped back into his own reality and told the innkeeper who he was and how the Chozeh of Lublin had sent him for a solution to marry off his three daughters.
The innkeeper understood the Chozeh's intent. He immediately counted out one thousand rubles and handed it to him. "Here is enough money to marry off your daughters and buy them houses as well. And I would like to see your Rebbe and thank him personally for the miracle and for the chance to give this charity."
When Avraham Mordechai returned to the Chozeh and told him what happened the Chozeh just replied. "I had to do it this way...the power of the repentance of that teacher didn't allow me to sleep at night!"
Rebbe Yisroel of Ruzhin taught, "We don't need trains for the ingathering of the exiles, because gathering the exiles will take place in a manner resembling how I move the cup from one side of the table to the other."
(Ner Yisroel vol. 2, p. 188)