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by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton
An outstanding Talmudic personality was Rabbi Elazar, the son of the famous Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. (Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, author of the Zohar, passed away on Lag B'Omer and hundreds of thousands of people visit his tomb in Meron on Lag B'Omer each year.)
Rabbi Elazar's holiness and erudition were almost unmatched and many amazing stories are told about him. But to me, the following is the most amazing story (Taanit 20a).
Once, Rabbi Elazar was on his way home when a strange looking man crossed his path and greeted him.
The stranger was very ugly and Rabbi Elazar, rather than replying to the greeting or just ignoring it, was so disgusted that he exclaimed:
"You empty fool, how ugly can a person be! Is everyone from your area as ugly as you?"
The man was insulted and shocked to his very essence! It took him a few seconds to recover but when he did he replied, "I don't know. But if you have complaints about me then go to the Craftsman who created me and say 'How ugly is the vessel You made!"
Rabbi Elazar got off his donkey and asked the man to forgive him, but to no avail. The man walked off in a huff. Rabbi Elazar followed him and asked again.
The ugly fellow just kept walking and repeating the same answer over and over (with the rabbi close behind), "I won't forgive you till you go to the Craftsman that made me and say 'How ugly are the vessels You made.'" This scene continued until the fellow reached the gates of his town.
When the townspeople heard that the famous Rabbi Elazar was at their gates they rushed to greet him only to be met by a strange sight; the great rabbi was groveling before a 'nobody' and begging his forgiveness. After hearing the entire story they took the fellow aside and finally prevailed upon him to forgive the rabbi. The end.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that if taken at face value this story makes no sense.
Is it a sin to be ugly? Why did the great rabbi have to comment; why didn't he just say "hello"? In addition, how could Rabbi Elazar say such dero-gatory things to a complete stranger? Finally, why is this story in the Talmud; what is it trying to teach us?
This story, explains the Rebbe, is in fact very deep and teaches an essential lesson in brotherly love.
This stranger in the story was not just physically ugly; his external appearance did not bother Rabbi Elazar. Rather he was spiritually ugly. He had done many heinous sins against G-d and man and he was ready to do more - his soul was ugly.
Rabbi Elazar realized that G-d orchestrated this "chance" meeting in order to get this fellow to clean up his life and reveal his true core.
Rabbi Elazar's caustic comment caused the man to start talking about his Creator. For the first time in his life, he realized he was G-d's creation! And not just an ordinary creation but the work of a craftsman; carefully designed with a purpose and mission!
And, even more, Rabbi Elazar caused him to repeat it over and over until it finally permeated him and changed him completely.
Today we cannot affect a person in such a caustic way as Rabbi Elazar; our times require understanding and revealed love. When we meet difficult, irritating, even evil people, we should view this as their outer "shell." But their inside - their true soul - is pure good, and with love it can be brought out. This is the only way that one can fulfill the commandment 'Love your fellow man as yourself."
This Shabbat we read the Torah portion of Bechukotai which is the final portion in the book of Vayikra (Leviticus). Bechukotai begins with the Divine promise: "If you will walk in My statutes, and keep My mitzvot (commandments) and do them" - then G-d will bestow many blessings, including rain at the right time, ample produce, security and peace.
One might wonder: Should we be fulfilling the mitzvot for the sake of material rewards or for their own sake - because G-d commanded them?
Among the many answers to this question, Maimonides gives the following answer: The mitzvot must, indeed, be fulfilled unconditionally and without regard for reward. However, there are inevitably various distractions and difficulties connected with daily life that makes it harder to fulfill the mitzvot. When these distractions are minimized, it is much easier to carry out the mitzvot fully and completely. But when material circumstances are not quite so satisfactory, though the same performance of the mitzvot is expected, it requires a greater effort. For it is obviously harder to concentrate on Torah and mitzvot when one has to overcome outside pressures.
G-d's promise of material rewards is not meant to provide reason for keeping the Torah and mitzvot. But it is a promise that where there is a firm resolve to walk in G-d's ways and keep His mitzvot, He will make it easier by providing all material needs and reducing outside pressures to a minimum.
The book of Leviticus, which we complete this Shabbat, is also known as Torat Kohanim (the Laws of the Priests) and the Book of Sacrifices.
Jews, as a people, and individually, are expected to behave like kohanim (priests), as G-d has declared: "And you should be unto Me a Kingdom of Kohanim." Just as the kohen has been selected to dedicate himself to the Divine Service - and not only for his own sake, but also for the whole Jewish people - so has every Jew been chosen to serve G-d, with a responsibility also for his entire environment.
To serve G-d does not mean to withdraw from the world; it rather means to serve G-d within this world and together with this world. The beginning of this G-dly service is in one's own home-life, by conducting it in such a way that G-d's Presence should dwell in it, as it is written: "They shall make Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell among them."
This is accomplished by a way of life exemplified by the sacrifices of old. The service of the sacrifices consisted in taking things from one's possession - a lamb, flour, oil, wine, salt, etc. - and consecrating them.
This is the way a Jewish home should be conducted; every detail of one's life should be consecrated to G-d. How is this accomplished? By bringing spirituality into our daily lives and our homes through charity and good deeds, communicating with G-d, and Jewish education. And then the Divine Presence dwells there, and it is a home blessed by G-d, materially and spiritually.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
by Rabbi Uriel Vigler
My eldest brother Motti is a Chief Surgeon in Hasharon Hospital in Israel. My earliest memories of him swirl around a skull in his bedroom and rigorous studying. Since the day he was born he dreamed of a medical career. Living in South Africa afforded him the opportunity to play doctor in his early adulthood - his Saturday night "partying" consisted of trips to the rural Baragwaneth Hospital to stitch up patients. Finally after fifteen years of studying, he is now an orthopedic hand surgeon in Israel.
He related an incredible story to me. An 84 year old patient arrived for his appointment. After assessing and diagnosing him, Motti concluded in his usual manner by stating that medicine can only do so much. The real cure is much more reliable - using the hand to don Tefilin.
This man was born in Europe to a Chasidic family. World War Two broke out when he was just a boy. At the age of 12 he was hauled to Dachau concentration camp where his entire family was murdered. Many miracles later, he arrived in Israel where he has lived ever since. In all his 65 years living in the Holy Land, not once had he put on Tefilin. But he decided today would be the day. His eyes welled with tears as he recited the blessing for the first time in his life.
My brother likes to think of himself as the official Orthopedic Hand Surgeon Emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in accordance with the Rebbe's advice to doctors: "I am sure that you follow the practice of many G-d fearing doctors, in advising patients who seek your advice regarding a health problem that it is appropriate to also effect a healing of the soul..." To a patient the Rebbe once wrote, "It is clear that a physical ailment needs to be treated by improving one's spiritual health as well. When one improves the vitality of the soul, this has the effect of improving the vitality of the body and aids in the effectiveness of the medical treatment..."
My family took a beautiful trip to Israel a few months ago. It had been four years since I was last in Israel, yet as I landed at Ben Gurion Airport, I felt an overwhelming sense of homecoming.
I decided to take a trip back to my old yeshiva in Kfar Chabad and indulge in a little nostalgia. Walking through the familiar study hall, I began reminiscing about the many years I had spent bent over my books at these very tables. Those years were by far the most spiritual I have ever experienced, as my schedule demanded rigorous study from 7 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. My day revolved around pages of Talmud and Mishna, in my spare moments my brain pondered concepts in Chasidic philosophy. We lived in a Torah bubble with no television, no radio, no internet, no blackberry, no email and certainly no magazines. The 200 yeshiva students were expected to share the two public payphones on campus.
And yet, despite the demanding program, I reveled in the sharpening of my mind and I drank in the words of my teachers. Those were the most incredible years of growth and development.
I look back and am amazed at the discipline of the system - today I cannot go more than five minutes without checking my blackberry and responding to the numerous messages received.
In the Torah we read, "Make Me a Sanctuary and I shall dwell within it." Our purpose in this world is to build a home for G-d. We create a home for Him not just in our physical world, but also in our hearts. When we set aside time for Torah, even a small amount of time, we welcome G-d into ourselves and make Him comfortable in our lives. Each person ought to make a daily commitment to switch off all blackberries and all internet to retreat into a space inhabited by only G-d and me. A half hour is all it takes: 30 minutes of no outside communication, thirty minutes of pure heaven. Try it out - you won't regret it!
While in Israel, my wife lost her wallet. We searched the car, overturned our apartment and called all our relatives with whom we had stayed, to no avail. Her credit cards, driver's license and other important documents had simply vanished.
At the back of my mind, I couldn't help the niggling thought that my wife was slightly careless. I mean, how does someone lose a wallet? Of course, I didn't breathe a word to her, but the accusations still festered in me.
I called Amex to cancel the card and they informed me that someone had called them to report Shevy's lost credit card, and in accordance with Amex's policy, they immediately cancelled it. So we knew the purse had been found, but had no idea by who or where.
I got the answer this week while chatting with my sister-in-law in Israel. We had been staying in Petach Tikva for Shabbat, and while packing the car after Shabbat to return to our apartment, I accidentally dropped the wallet. I realized, without a shadow of a doubt, that it was me who dropped it on the street, because my wife wasn't even with me at the time. A young Israeli found it, and realized it belonged to an American. The problem was, he had no idea how to locate the owner. For four weeks he kept the wallet, not knowing what to do. Finally he went back to the street where he found it and knocked on the first door. Out of the hundreds of doors that he could have knocked on, the door that he did knock on was somebody who knows my brother. He immediately made the Vigler connection and the wallet was back in our possession.
Many times we find ourselves in similar situations - we want to do what's right, but have no idea where to start. All G-d requires of us is to take the first step - go to the street and knock on a random door, from then on, G-d's the boss. The Midrash captures this idea in the statement, "Open a crack for Me the size of a needle, and I will open up for you a hole the size of a hall..."
Rabbi Vigler co-directs Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side in New York City. From Rabbi Vigler's blog at www.chabadic.com
I Will Choose the King
The newest addition to the Chassidic Treasure Chest is the discourse taught by the Lubavitcher Rebbe on his birthday in 1971. The discourse explains a parable in the Midrash about a clever subject who chooses the king as his patron, "because the others are all subject to replacement, whereas the king is not subject to replacement." The translation is by Rabbis Eliyahu Touger and Sholom Ber Wineberg with explanatory notes to assist the reader. From Sichos in English
26 Tammuz 5725 
Blessing and Greeting:
I am in receipt of your letter of July 13th, in which you ask for guidance how to influence an old friend who had been quite frum [Torah observant] in the past but has weakened in his conviction.
Needless to say, it would be difficult for you to accomplish much by way of correspondence alone. Therefore, it would be well for you to find some mutual friends on the spot, who could exercise their influence in the desired direction, while your correspondence with the party in question would act as a further stimulus from time to time, being guided by the mutual friends on the spot as to when and what to write to your friend.
As a general observation, I want to tell you of my experience which has convinced me that in most cases such as you describe, the true reason for the weakening in the convictions was not the result of a more profound study or deeper insight, but rather on the contrary, it came as a result of the fact that the convictions which one has held have proved an obstacle to the enjoyment of certain material aspects in life. And, human nature being what it is, one wishes to appease one's troublesome conscience by trying to find faults with the convictions and spiritual aspects.
In view of the above, the most effective approach in most cases is not to attempt to debate the spiritual matters, convictions and beliefs, but rather to try to bring the person closer to the kind of daily life and activity which bring their fruits also in this material world. I have in mind an activity in the Jewish community, or in the field of kosher education in particular, where he could see the good results of his work, and at the same time gain personal satisfaction from his success. The discussions mentioned above would only be of secondary importance, so as not to leave any of his questions unanswered.
What has been said above is in general terms which would apply to most cases. However, there are undoubtedly special factors connected with the individual himself, especially with his personal character, etc. Therefore, any action directed at influencing him should first be consulted with people who know him personally and would know his reaction to such efforts.
A further point which is also valid almost always is that in such a situation a wife or a fianc้e can accomplish a great deal, perhaps not so much directly as indirectly. This should therefore also be considered as a channel of influence. For as I gather from your letter, the person in question is still single. Therefore, it would be very well for him if his friends could find him a suitable shidduch.
Incidentally, insofar as "scientific proof" that the Torah is G-d-given is concerned, which seems to bother your friend, the fact is, however strange this may seem, that the best proof is still the oldest, namely that the Torah was transmitted from generation to generation in an unbroken and uninterrupted chain of tradition, from the time of the Divine revelation at Mt. Sinai and the giving of the Torah in the presence of 600,000 adult male Jews (several million Jews in all), to the present day. There is no stronger scientific verification of any fact than the Revelation at Mt. Sinai, which has been attested to by so many witnesses from generation to generation.
ASHER means "blessed, fortunate, happy." Asher was a son of Jacob and his wife Zilpa. (Genesis 30:13)
ADIRA means "mighty, strong."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Sunday is Lag B'Omer, the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer. It is traditionally an auspicious time for fostering an increase in Ahavat Yisrael, the mitzva of "And you shall love your fellow as yourself."
The emphasis on loving our fellow Jews on Lag B'Omer goes back thousands of years, to the days of Rabbi Akiva. Although 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva's students passed away in the weeks between Passover and Shavuot (for failing to show each other the proper respect), no one died on that day.
Yet we cannot say that Rabbi Akiva's disciples did not observe the mitzva of Ahavat Yisrael. These were not "regular" people; they were the disciples of a very great tzadik, who surely instilled in them the knowledge that Ahavat Yisrael "is a very important principle in the Torah." What happened, rather, was that they failed to show the proper degree of respect.
Each one of Rabbi Akiva's students was a great scholar in his own right. Accordingly, in addition to the usual measure of love every Jew must demonstrate for his fellow, an extra degree of deference and honor was required.
Lag B'Omer thus reminds us that it is not enough to love our fellow Jew merely to the extent that he is not insulted. We must take that extra step and demonstrate an additional degree of honor that makes all the difference.
In truth, every Jew is deserving of special respect, as every Jew is considered to be an entire world. G-d Himself stands above each and every Jew and scrutinizes his behavior at all times, setting aside all His other affairs, as it were, just to watch him and see what he is doing!
And if any Jew is worthy of such close attention, surely he deserves that extra degree of respect!
May the Jewish people immediately merit true unity with the ingathering of the exiles, with the coming of Moshiach and the Final Redemption.
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 of the Fathers 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 )
One must learn from every person, even from one's inferiors. This indicates that a person's wisdom is for the sake of Heaven, and not in order to become vain and conceited.
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. (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1)
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. (Ethics of the Fathers 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.
This story took place over 60 years ago and was recorded in the book Hilula D'Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai by the author who witnessed the scene with his own eyes.
The outer yard surrounding the room where the graves of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (also known as the Rashbi) and his son were buried was jammed with Jews from all over Israel. They had come to Meron on Lag B'omer, the 33rd day of the counting of the omer. Lag B'Omer is the anniversary of the passing of the Rashbi, who had enjoined his disciples to celebrate, rather than mourn, on the day of his passing. Today, all of those gathered in Meron would cut the hair of their three-year-old sons for the first time, leaving only the side-locks.
The voices of hundreds of Jews could be heard as they recited Psalms. There were Jews of all types, whose ancestors had come from all over the world. All were praying and begging G-d to help them raise their children in Torah and good deeds in the merit of Rabbi Shimon.
It was already after mid-day on Friday and time to get ready for Shabbat. The visitors from Tiberias, Tzfat, Haifa and the residents from other cities and towns in the Galilee started to leave for their homes in order to arrive before the commencement of the Sabbath.
Many of the visitors though, especially the ones from Jerusalem which is quite a distance, chose to remain in Meron for Shabbat.
On Friday night, the beautiful melodies of the various groups praying reached the heights of the nearby mountains. Their hearts were overflowing as thousands of Jews joined together to dance and sing.
Shabbat morning arrived and the men gathered in large groups to descend the valley to the small Meggido Lake where they immersed themselves to prepare for the morning prayers. When the morning prayers had finished a scream pierced the Sabbath atmosphere. A woman who had brought her son just yesterday for his first haircut was crying hysterically.
Her son had suddenly become sick and had died. Doctors who were sent from the British government to the area immediately put the entire section under quarantine. No one could come and no one could leave.
Suddenly, the mother gathered the boy in her arms and went into the room where the Rashbi was buried. She placed the dead child on the Rashbi's grave and started crying out, "Oh great tzadik (righteous one). I, your servant, came in your honor to cut the hair of my child. I came to make my son, my first and only child, into a good Jew. I kept my promise to come here on Lag B'Omer. Only yesterday I held him here and cut his hair in song and joy. Now, great tzadik, how shall I return home without my child? How can I show my face in my home?"
In the midst of her prayers, the mother arose and said, "Tzadik, Rabbi Shimon, I am laying down my child on your grave as he is. I beg of you, with tears, do not shame me. Give me back my child just as I brought him here. Let the holy name of G-d be exalted along with the name of the great tzadik. Let everyone know that there is a G-d ruling over this world."
The woman concluded her prayers and left the room, leaving her son on the grave of the Rashbi. The doors of the room were closed as everyone left the room.
A few moments later a child's scream was heard from behind the closed door. The mother ran into the room and to her great surprise she saw her son standing on his feet and crying for a glass of water. Happiness and commotion filled the room. The local doctors examining the child announced in wonder that this was not a natural occurrence or a normal incident, but rather a miracle which must have happened in the merit of the great Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
The government agents immediately reopened the gates and the masses once again poured inside. Everyone seeing the revived child pronounced the blessing "Blessed be G-d Who revives the dead."
The Talmud states: "It is written in Isaiah, 'In its time' i.e., the Redemption will come at its appointed time, but immediately after it is also written, 'I will hasten it.' Yet there is no contradiction: If the Jewish people are worthy, then G-d will hasten it; if they are not worthy, it will come in its time." This refers not only to two possible times for the Redemption, but also to two possible modes of Redemption: "I will hasten it" describes a Redemption in which our people will immediately soar to the loftiest heights. "In its time" describes a Redemption in which the ascent will advance slowly and by gradual stages.