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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
A little known minor Jewish festival is this Friday, Iyar 14 (corresponding this year to May 8). It is called Pesach Sheini and is famous for bringing the idea of second chances to the forefront of our consciousness. The Torah teaches (Num. 9:10-11) that if someone was unable to offer the Passover sacrifice on its appointed day then he had a "second chance" to bring his Passover offering, eat matza and maror (bitter herbs) thirty days later - on 14 Iyar.
What might prevent someone from going to the Temple (in the days that it stood, and speedily may it be rebuilt in our days), offering his Passover sacrifice and observing the holiday there? He might be ritually impure because he came into contact with a dead body, or he might be too far away to make it in time. In such a case, the person had a second chance.
From this law of Pesach Sheini - the second Passover - our Sages derived the principle that every Jew always has a second chance - and a third chance - and a fourth chance - etc.
Of course, that "second chance" doesn't come by itself. We have to do something for it - namely, teshuva.
Teshuva - returning, is not only a major theme of the High Holidays, but is a key concept in Jewish philosophy. We might even say that teshuva is "second chance Judaism." We are told that indeed nothing stands in the way of teshuva.
That said, then, there's a curious story in the Talmud about a great sage, a colleague of Rabbi Akiva, named Elisha ben Avuya. So great a scholar was he that he was one of the four who entered the Garden of Mystical Knowledge. Unfortunately, the experience shattered his faith, and he became so immersed in heretical thoughts and activities that he became known as Acher - the other - because the Sages viewed him as having so disgraced himself.
And yet, his student Rabbi Meir (who was also a student of Rabbi Akiva) would not abandon him. One Shabbat they were traveling - Rabbi Meir walking and Elisha ben Avuyah riding on a horse, in clear violation of Shabbat. Yet at one point Elisha told Rabbi Meir to stop, because they had reached the limit one was allowed to walk on Shabbat. Rabbi Meir replied, if so (if you still have such a connection), why not do teshuva, why not return? Elisha ben Avuyah said he had heard a heavenly voice declare, "Let every Jew do teshuva - except Acher." From which he concluded his teshuva would not have been accepted.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe offers two, complementary explanations to the apparent contradiction of this story to the principle of teshuva: One, although Heaven did not desire the teshuva of Elisha ben Avuya, had he pushed himself and done teshuva, he could have stormed the heavenly gates, so to speak, and forced its acceptance. The other explanation is that the heavenly voice said that Acher's - the other's teshuva would not be accepted. But if Acher again became the sage Elisha ben Avuya - which could only be done through teshuva - then the teshuva of Elisha ben Avuya would have been accepted.
The Talmudic story concludes with an interesting account. After Acher's passing the Heavenly Court was at an impasse. He could not enter the World to Come because of his sins, and he could not be judged (i.e., punished for his transgressions, and thus his soul would be purified and he could then enter the World to Come) because of his Torah learning. But because of the prayers of Rabbi Meir before the Heavenly Court, and then the prayers of Rabbi Yochanan, Acher went through the purification process and the soul of Elisha ben Avuya did enter the World-to-Come.
In other words, while one person obviously cannot do teshuva for another, our prayers for, our interest in, our actions on behalf of "another" can be a powerful force to help "another" reach the level where he, too, can have a second chance, since every Jew will always have a second chance.
This week's Torah portion, Emor, contains the mitzva (commandment) of kiddush Hash-m - the sanctification of G-d's name: "You shall not profane My holy name, so that I may be sanctified among the children of Israel."
A Jew must give up his life rather than deny G-d. Sacrificing one's life for the sake of G-d causes His name to be sanctified throughout the world.
There are actually two types of kiddush Hash-m.
The first is when a Jew is willing to give up his life but a miracle occurs and he does not die, and the second is when he is actually put to death.
Our Sages disagree as to which level constitutes a greater sanctification of G-d's name.
The great scholar and codifier, Moses Maimonides maintains that the main part of the mitzva is actually giving up one's life, thereby publicly demonstrating the extent of the Jew's unshakable faith in G-d.
However, the Midrash (Torat Kohanim) maintains that when a Jew is willing to sacrifice his life and he is saved by a Divine miracle, G-d's name is sanctified even more. In such a case, not only does everyone recognize the Jew's absolute devotion, but G-d's Hand is openly revealed.
Moreover, according to the Midrash, the person whose life has been saved has an additional merit.
To illustrate, the Midrash cites two examples of kiddush Hash-m, that of Chanania, Mishael and Azaria, who agreed to be thrown into the fiery furnace but were saved by a miracle, and that of two Jews by the names of Papus and Lulyanus.
"You are from the same nation as Chanania, Mishael and Azaria!" Maryanus told Papus and Lulyanus. "Let your G-d come and save you just as He did them!"
Papus and Lulyanus replied, "But they were righteous Jews and Nebuchadnezzar was worthy of witnessing a miracle. You, however, are an evil man, and we ourselves are worthy of death in any event because of our sins."
From this it seems that when G-d performs a miracle and a Jew's life is saved, that person possesses a great merit. The sanctification of G-d's name is therefore also commensurately greater.
However, both Maimonides and the Midrash agree that a Jew must never seek to sacrifice his life thinking that he will be miraculously rescued.
For Maimonides, this is because being saved at the last second detracts from the sanctification of G-d's name; for the Midrash, this is because "He who gives up his life with the intent of being saved by a miracle does not merit one." Relying on a miracle to occur actually prevents it from happening.
In the merit of learning these laws may we see the fulfillment of the verse, "My Great Name will be sanctified...and all nations will know that I am G-d" with the final Redemption.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Vol. 27
It's Never Too Late
A family that just last year thought they were Arabs, celebrated the Bar Mitzva of their oldest son at the Western Wall in Jerusalem last week.
The incredible story began when Yad L'Achim* received a call from the head of a Torah educational network in the south of Israel whose son was being treated at the Schneider Children's Hospital in Petach Tikva.
"A young boy in the next bed, who appeared to be Arab, engaged us in conversation and then said, 'ana yehud,' ['I am a Jew' in Arabic]," the head of the network reported, "We were stunned. He went on to explain that his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, had come to Israel all alone and settled in a mixed Jewish-Arab city.
"She had six children and many grandchildren who were all raised as Arabs. But recently, just before her death, she summoned her children and asked to be buried as a Jew."
On hearing the story, Yad L'Achim founding chairman Rabbi Shalom Dov Lifshitz instructed his staff to meet with the family in an attempt to help them return to their roots.
Two months later, the circle began to close when five of this Holocaust survivor's grandsons had brisim. At a very moving ceremony in Upper Nazareth, attended by the local chief rabbi and Yad L'Achim's top officials, Tmam, Khalil, Yusuf, Mishil and Daoud took their rightful place among the Jewish people as Moshe, Daniel, Yosef, Ma'or and David.
Last week, the family took another important step in their return to Judaism, when their oldest son became a Bar Mitzva. The high point for family and friends came when he was called to the Torah at the Western Wall and recited the blessing, "Who chose us from among all the nations."
A festive Bar Mitzva meal was arranged that afternoon in Bnei Brak by Yad L'Achim, which has been attending to the family's needs, including helping the children get a Jewish education. It was particularly gratifying to see at the joyous event brothers and sisters of the Bar Mitzvah boy who are enrolled in Jewish schools in Upper Nazareth.
In a moving speech, Rabbi Lipschitz told the story of the Talmudic sage Rami bar Rachel. "Imagine that this sage was none other than the grandson of Shmuel [one of the most prominent Talmudic sages], but his father was a non-Jew and his mother a Jew who fell into captivity and was forced to marry him. It is known that our sages chose to call him this name, 'son of Rachel,' in order that all of us will know that he is only the son of a Jewish mother, and yet he could turn into a Talmudic sage, a Torah great in Israel."
Turning to the Bar Mitzva boy, Rabbi Lipschitz said: "It is clear that your ancestors in the Garden of Eden, the ancestors of a family that perished in the Holocaust, pleaded before the Heavenly Throne and asked for mercy for their descendants that they grow up as Jews and return to their roots. Indeed, their prayers broke through the Heavenly gates and from Above the people of Yad L'Achim were sent to bring you home.
"Your future is ahead of you and you can be a Torah sage in Israel. Today is eternal proof that no one is excluded from the Jewish People."
*Yad L'Achim was established in 1950 to help new immigrants adjust to the newly born country and to help them find a suitable religious framework.
Over the years, its attention has turned to more complex problems, including how to counter the missionary threat. Israel has attracted some 100 missionary congregations and cults because it offers a large concentration of Jews, many of whom are prime targets due to their economic distress and unawareness about Judaism. Fighting the missionaries, who have millions of dollars a year at their disposal, has long been one of Yad L'Achim's top priorities.
Another focus of attention is assimilation. Though it was once thought that this could not be a problem in a Jewish country, not even for the secular, the tragic facts show an increasing number of Jewish girls getting involved with foreign workers. Even more tragic and dangerous, is when Jewish girls get involved with Arab men. Indeed, Yad L'Achim gets some 1,000 calls a year reporting such cases.
Our Anti-Assimilation department responds to all such calls. In some cases, this means launching military-like rescues from hostile Arab villages where the Jewish women and children are treated as the "property" of their Arab husbands. The women are set up in "safe" houses around the country, where they can build new lives for themselves, no longer being prisoners in their own homes or living in fear of their next beating.
What motivates the staff of Yad L'Achim are their genuine, deeply felt concern for their fellow Jews. The Jewish soul is a precious, all-too-rare resource, and not even a single one should be give up on. Yad L'Achim continues its rescue activities, together with its efforts at Jewish outreach, as long as the problem of missionaries and Jewish-Arab marriage persists.
To read more about this organization's important work visit www.yadlachimusa.org.il
Escape from India
Escape from India is the amazing story of Ronen Dvash, who became entangled in a world he wished he had never known. He was arrested on drug charges and incarcerated in a Bombay jail. Ronen's imprisonment serves as the impetus to rise above the prison walls; he repents from the depths of his heart, and attains freedom, even behind bars. The book is translated by Avigail Meizlick from the original Hebrew and dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rebbetzin Rivka Holtzberg, who cared for Ronen when he was in jail and helped him escape to freedom.
Freely translated and adapted from a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
13 Iyar, 5730 (1970)
The story of Lag B'Omer, as related in the Talmud, is well-known.
Our Sages tell us that the disciples of Rabbi Akiva were stricken by a plague because they were not respectful toward one another.
But on the thirty-third day of the Sefira - Lag B'Omer - the plague stopped.
The story of Rabbi Akiva's students contains a lesson for every one of us.
The Talmud testifies that the students who died in the plague were "disciples of Rabbi Akiva."
It is clear that they were worthy of this title, which implies that they were dedicated to Torah and mitzvoth (commandments) with devotion, diligence and self-sacrifice, as their teacher, Rabbi Akiva, had taught them.
It follows that their lack of respect for one another could not have been due to trivial matters, but was motivated by the high level of their spiritual standing as "disciples of Rabbi Akiva."
The explanation of their conduct is to be found in the saying of our Sages, that people generally have different opinions and different personalities.
Each individual has, therefore, his own approach in serving G-d, studying the Torah and observing the mitzvoth.
For example, one person may do it primarily out of love of G-d; another person may do it primarily out of fear of G-d; a third may do it primarily out of a sense of complete obedience and submission to the Will of G-d; and so forth, though in actual practice, all of them, of course, fully and meticulously observe the Torah and mitzvoth in their daily lives.
Being disciples of Rabbi Akiva, they were surely "men of truth," who served G-d with the utmost sincerity and devotion, which permeated their whole beings.
Thus, it seemed to each one of them that his particular approach was the right one, and any one who had not attained his level was lacking in perfection.
Moreover, being disciples of Rabbi Akiva, who taught, "You shall love your fellow Jew as yourself; this is the great principle of the Torah," they were not content personally to advance from strength to strength in their own way of serving G-d, but they wished also to share this with their friends and tried to influence them to follow their path.
Seeing that the others were reluctant to accept their particular approach, they could not respect them to the degree that was to be expected of the disciples of Rabbi Akiva.
In the light of the above, we can see that the story of Lag B'Omer in the Talmud teaches us what should be the correct conduct of each and every one of us, and the instruction is threefold:
- Serving G-d, studying the Torah and observing the mitzvoth, both the mitzvoth between one individual and another, and the mitzvoth between an individual and G-d, must be performed with true inspiration and vitality, which permeate the whole of the person and his daily conduct.
- The above includes, of course, the great mitzvah of "Love your fellow Jew as yourself," which must also be fulfilled with the utmost vitality and in the fullest measure.
- Together with the above, a person must look kindly and most respectfully upon every Jew, who differs only in the manner of worship, whether it is out of love, or out of reverence, etc.
A further instruction from the above is that even if one meets a Jew who has not yet attained the proper level of Divine service, the approach must still be that of respect and affection, in accordance with the teaching of our Sages, "Judge every person favorably."
Let the great Sage, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who considered Lag B'Omer his day of personal joy, be an example and inspiration to all of us.
For Rabbi Shimon said that he was prepared to give up all his merits in order to save the world from judgement (Sukka 45b).
In other words, he was prepared to give himself completely to a person who has no merits of his own, whom he never met, and who may be at the other end of the world. How much more so should one be ready to give of himself for the benefit of near and dear ones and all his friends.
May G-d bless each one of you that you live and act in accordance with the spirit of Lag B'Omer and that you do so with the utmost measure of true Ahavas Yisroel (love of a fellow Jew), with joy and gladness of heart, to hasten the realization of the words of the Lag B'Omer week's Torah portion, "I will break the bars of your yoke (in exile) and make you go upright" - in fulfillment of the true and complete Redemption through Moshiach.
Eat matza on the 14th of Iyar
It is customary to eat matza on "Pesach Sheini" (the second Passover) which corresponds to Friday, May 8 this year. This commemorates the "second chance" given to those who were unable to bring the Passover sacrifice on the 14th of Nissan - Passover.
In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and the other kedoshim of Mumbai
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Lag B'Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer (coinciding with Tuesday, May 12 this year), is a festive holiday marking the passing of the famed Sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, known as the Rashbi.
During the time of Roman persecution, Rashbi and his son Rabbi Elaza, were forced to spend 13 years in hiding. During that time, he and his son lived in a cave under extremely dire conditions.
When it was safe for Rashbi to emerge from the cave, one of the first things he discussed with the local people he encountered was whether or not there was something he could do to help them.
This anecdote provides a lesson for us in our daily lives. Rashbi suffered physically during his 13 years in hiding. But, rather than concern himself with his own needs or at least take some time to rest and recuperate after his ordeal, he immediately set about helping his fellow Jew.
That Rashbi had reached a certain level of self-perfection during his years of solitude was not enough for him. For the ultimate goal had not been reached-the coming of Moshiach and the revelation of G-dliness throughout the world. And because this had not been accomplished, there was still more to do and to achieve. Thus, Rashbi was determined to continue with selfless dedication to helping the entire Jewish people.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai authored the Zohar, the basic book of the mystical Jewish teachings. It states in the Zohar that with the revelation if its teachings "the Jewish people will go out of exile with mercy." May we all learn well and live by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's example, thereby hastening the coming of Moshiach, now.
Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is Shabbat Shabbaton (a Sabbath of strict rest) (Lev. 23:3)
The six working days are a preparation for the seventh. Our Sages compare the first six millennia of the world's existence to the six working days of every week, for they serve as preparation, through Torah and mitzvot, for the seventh millennium -- the ultimate stage of the Messianic era referred to as "the day that is entirely Shabbat and repose for life everlasting." On Shabbat there are two levels of holiness: the cessation of work, and an additional, more sublime level of inner peace that transcends mere cessation from labor.
This level, too, is derived from the six days of work, for it is a direct result of the good deeds one has performed throughout the week. Similarly, the six millennia of service prepare the world not only for the first stage of the Messianic era when evil will be subdued, but also its final stage, when the "spirit of impurity will be forever removed from the earth."
(Maamar "Vayakhel Moshe" 5714)
And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Shabbat, from the day that you brought the Omer of the waving; seven complete weeks shall they be. (Lev 23:15)
Why must we count the Omer, when we know beforehand exactly how many days there are until Shavuot? The number is always 49--no more and no less. What is gained by our counting them? We count the Omer to show our love for each and every day that we are allotted. Indeed, every minute and second of a Jewish life is equally as precious, and should be treasured.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
The word "u'sefartem - and you shall count" is from the same root as the words "sapphire" and "bright" as if to say, "Work on 'yourselves' until you are shiny and bright."
(The Maggid of Mezritch)
The following story happened about four hundred years ago in the town of Cracow, which, at that time, had one of the most important Jewish communities. The Jews were mourning the loss of their spiritual leader, and decided that for a community like theirs no ordinary Rabbi would suffice. Two delegates were chosen to tour the country and find a suitable replacement to serve as their rabbi.
After visiting many big towns and large Jewish communities, they at last heard of a young man who was said to be the "star of the age," a veritable genius. They lost no time in contacting this exceptional young man and found him to be an 18-year-old rabbi by the name of Rabbi Moshe.
Despite his tender years, they were immediately impressed with his brilliant scholarship, his gentle bearing and his humility. They were convinced that he was the man they were looking for and they finally got him to agree to become the spiritual guide and leader of their Jewish community to make the necessary arrangement for his reception.
At that time in Cracow it was the custom, a sort of courtesy gesture, for the Jews to call on the bishop of the town and tell him of the Rabbi they had chosen for their community.
Thus it was that a suitable delegation called upon the Bishop of Cracow and, in the most glowing terms, described the Rabbi they had been fortunate enough to find to become the spiritual leader of the Jews of Cracow. The bishop was visibly impressed with their description of Rabbi Moshe.
The delegates lost no time in making all the necessary arrangements for Rabbi Moshe's coming. And when the date was set, they notified the bishop as they had promised him. Being rather fond of pomp and ceremony, the bishop had commanded that a band go on foot in front of the carriages, so that the entry of Rabbi Moshe should be announced by the beating of drums and the blowing of trumpets.
At long last, the carriage of Rabbi Moshe appeared. The bishop already had a picture in his mind of a sage and a patriarch. He was shocked when out stepped a lad, with hardly a suggestion of a beard, thin, small, and not particularly impressive. Nevertheless, the bishop made his speech of welcome with as good a grace as he could muster, but inwardly he was seething! He would show the Jews that they could not lightly play jokes on him, the Bishop of Cracow!
As soon as the bishop returned to his castle, he immediately sent a letter to the heads of the Jewish community saying he must see them at once. When they reached his home he told them that he was angry with them for having put him in so humiliating a position.
"Now I shall put a proposition before you which will decide the issue. If your rabbi is the great and wise person you would have me believe, he will have to prove it conclusively. I am going to invite all the sages and philosophers in the country to meet your rabbi. They shall ask him any question on any subject they please, and it will be up to him to give satisfactory answers. If, however, he fails in this public forum, not only will your rabbi suffer the consequences, but the whole Jewish community of Cracow will be driven out!
The Jewish leaders were miserable. Of course Rabbi Moshe was a great genius, but who could foresee what trouble lay ahead? They hurriedly told Rabbi Moshe, who said, "Do not worry, this is not the first time nor will it be the last, that such situations have arisen for us Jews. The Alm-ghty will surely grant me the necessary wisdom to answer all questions put to me, so that our Jewish name not be put to shame."
The momentous day came. The hall was packed. Jew and non-Jew alike had the same interest. The greatest thinkers and scholars had come at the bishop's invitation: bishops, priests, scientists, all were there that day!
Rabbi Moshe looked pale but calm. His gentle eyes glowed with a light of determination. With G-d's help, all would be well.
Rabbi Moshe faced his examiners and the questions began to pour forth. But he was not flustered. His answers came unhesitatingly, clearly and concisely. There was not a sound among the vast audience. As the hours passed and Rabbi Moshe emerged the victor, the bishop announced that the forum would be adjourned. The bishop apparently concluded that his own honor had been upheld, and that they had indeed a remarkable genius before them in the person of the youthful Moshe.
The bishop again made a public speech, this time with obvious pleasure. He said that Cracow, indeed the whole country, could regard it as an honor to have so distinguished a scholar among them. He would consider it a privilege to call upon Rabbi Moshe from time to time. The bishop concluded with the hope that Cracow would always be blessed with such great spiritual leaders and that the citizens of Cracow would live together in peace.
Rabbi Moshe was none other than the great Rabbi Moshe Isserles, known as the Ramo, who passed away on Lag B'Omer.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said...when it will be close to the days of Moshiach (Messiah) even children who will be in the world at that time will find secrets of wisdom, and will know from them ends [of exile] and calculations [of redemption], and at that time [G-d] will reveal [them] to everyone.
(Zohar Vayeira 118a)