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So how's your blood pressure? Now is surely the time to be asking this question as May is National Blood Pressure Month in the United States. Whether your blood pressure is high, low, or thank G-d, normal, it couldn't hurt to say a few words about the heart.
On Shabbat afternoons beginning after Passover, it's customary to study one chapter each week from the tractate of the Mishna known as "Ethics of the Fathers," containing moral guidance from many of our greatest Sages. It is Ethics that contains the famous question of Hillel, "If not now, when?" And when if not now is a more appropriate time to begin reading Ethics on Shabbat afternoons?
The Hebrew word "Mishna" has the same letters as the Hebrew word "neshama," or soul. The words of our Sages as recorded in the Mishna are intrinsically connected to our souls. Studying Mishnayot (pl. for Mishna) is so powerful that Jewish teachings explain, "All the exiles will be gathered in only by virtue of the study of Mishnayot."
So, what can one learn from Mishnayot about the heart, the cause of blood pressure?
In the second chapter of Ethics, studied this Shabbat, we read of an interaction between the great teacher and mystic Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai and five of his most outstanding disciples.
Rabbi Yochanan instructed his students, "Go and see what is the good way to which a person should cleave." Rabbi Eliezer said: A good eye; Rabbi Joshua said: A good friend; Rabbi Yosay said: A good neighbor; Rabbi Shimon said: One who considers the consequences of his actions; Rabbi Elazar said: A good heart.
Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai said to them: "I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach to all of yours, for in his words yours are included."
Rabbi Yochanan further instructed his disciples: Go and see which is the evil path from which a person should keep far way. Rabbi Eliezer said: An evil eye; Rabbi Joshua said: A wicked friend; Rabbi Yosay said: A wicked neighbor; Rabbi Shimon said; He who borrows and does not repay... Rabbi Elazar said: A bad heart.
Rabbi Yochanan responded: "I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach to all of yours, for in his words your are included."
Obviously, neither Rabbi Yochanan nor Rabbi Elazar were discussing the physical health of one's heart. They were discussing its spiritual health.
The heart is the core and essence of a person, and it is the source of all of a person's powers, both physical and spiritual. Rabbi Elazar is teaching us that if the source - the heart - is good, everything else will also be good, and will not be flawed in any way.
How did Rabbi Elazar come to these amazing conclusions? The Torah ends with the Hebrew letter lamed and begins with the Hebrew letter bet. When put together they spell the word lev, heart. From the Torah, we learn how to have a truly good heart. And it is, perhaps, for this reason that Rabbi Elazar's advice to future generations as recorded in Ethics: Rabbi Elazar said: "Be diligent in the study of Torah."
So, whether in celebration Blood Pressure Month or simply for its own sake, do something good for your heart: Study Torah.
- (Back to text) This is the origin of the custom of studying Mishnayot - chapters of the Mishna - for a loved one who has passed on, for it brings an elevation to the deceased person's soul when Mishna is studying in the merit of his or her neshama.
This week we read two Torah portions, Tazria and Metzora. Tazria comes from the Hebrew word meaning "to plant seeds." Why does a farmer sow his field? For the purpose of obtaining a greater yield than he started with. It makes no sense to go to all that work if the end result will be quantitatively the same as before. Thus the whole point of planting seeds is to eventually harvest a larger crop of produce.
The Jewish soul, sent from the celestial spheres down into the physical world, is likened to a seed that is planted in the earth. Once enclothed within a physical body and able to perform practical mitzvot (commandments), the soul can obtain a very great "crop" from its service in this world.
In the allegorical sense, man's service of G-d is likened to the act of sowing. His mission in life is to produce the greatest possible yield by sowing goodness within himself, his family and friends, and within the world at large. His study of Torah and performance of the commandments are like seeds that germinate into an overwhelmingly abundant yield of good.
Exile, too, is likened to the act of sowing. The actions we perform during the galut (exile) serve the function of cultivating and hastening their later outgrowth in the Messianic era.
The second Torah portion that is read this week is Metzora, which opens with the words "This shall be the law of the leper." In many places this portion is known simply as "This Shall Be."
The words "This shall be" are in the future tense. They constitute G-d's promise that so it shall be, that after the difficult process of sowing there will be much to harvest. After the exile, the redemption will surely arrive. When Moshiach comes we will reap all the fine fruits that grew from the seeds we planted throughout the years of exile.
Thus the two Torah portions, Tazria and Metzora ("This Shall Be"), are symbolic of exile and redemption. In many years (as this one) they are read together, on the same Shabbat.
Whenever two Torah portions are combined it signifies that their themes are interrelated. Exile and redemption constitute a natural sequence; the redemption follows the exile immediately upon its conclusion.
We who are still in exile and involved in the act of "sowing" must thus always strive to connect ourselves in all we do to the imminent Final Redemption, just as Tazria is connected to Metzora. Our "seeds" must be sown with a sense of perpetual longing and anticipation of Moshiach's coming. We must never reconcile ourselves to remaining in exile, but repeatedly demand and pray to G-d that He fulfill His promise. In this way we will merit the true and complete Redemption, immediately and at once.
Adapted from Hitva'aduyot 5742
by Rabbi Udi Studnitz
Ayal had several job offers in the United States. I had met him in my work as an emissary of the Rebbe in the Kiryat HaYovel neighborhood in Jerusalem. Ayal left Israel, but we kept in touch. Several weeks ago, he called and excitedly told me about an instance of Divine Providence that had greatly inspired him.
After moving to the U.S., Ayal opened a new company and did very well. A few months ago, he invited his younger brother to come and work for him. He looked for a small car for his brother so he could get around. He met an Israeli who dealt in used cars and the Israeli promised him a terrific car for $2,300.
They closed the deal, and Ayal gave him the money and got the car. He soon discovered it was a lemon. He angrily called the Israeli and demanded his money back. The Israeli refused. Ayal was furious and insisted the deal was off but the Israeli disagreed. Ayal began shouting at him but nothing helped. The man hung up the phone.
For the next three nights, Ayal couldn't sleep since he was so upset. He imagined what he would do to that Israeli if he caught him.
It was at this time that he received an unexpected e-mail from a Chabad House in his area. He had no idea how he had gotten on their email list since he had never visited and had no connection with them. In the email, the shliach (emissary) asked people to come and be part of a minyan at the Chabad House on a certain day because one of the members had to say the mourner's prayer of Kaddish. The shliach included this thought from the book "Bringing Heaven Down to Earth" based on the teaching of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman's book:
How you treat others is how G-d treats you. How you forgive them is how He forgives you. How you see them is how He sees you.
When you show empathy for the plight of another human being, G-d takes empathy in your plight.
When others slight you and you ignore the call to vengeance that burns inside, G-d erases all memory of your failures toward Him. When you see the image of G-d in another human being, then the image of G-d becomes revealed within you.
These words touched his heart. He felt that it related to what he had been feeling. On the spot, he decided he would forgive the Israeli who cheated him. He would be happy if he could get his money back, but he resolved to drop the feelings of anger and revenge that had so consumed him. He was willing to forgive him and to have pity on one who had fallen so low.
The next day he attended the minyan where he became acquainted with new people. This led to a few new business deals. Right after the prayers, the car dealer called him and said he had reconsidered and was willing to return all his money!
When I was still a yeshiva student, on Friday afternoon when our classes were over, I would go with a friend to a mall in the Ramat Aviv neighborhood where my yeshiva was. We would set up a table at the entrance to the mall and urge men and boys to put on Tefilin. Throughout the many hours we were there each Friday afternoon, we barely managed to get eight people to put on Tefilin. The atmosphere in Ramat Aviv, an extremely secular neighborhood in Israel, was very hostile. Every third person who passed by would make a cutting remark. We would smile and wish him a good day, trying not to get involved in debates.
On one of those Fridays, feeling helpless, we jokingly said that although it was hard to find people in this particular neighborhood willing to put on Tefilin, the day would come when people would be so eager to do so that they would chase after us and want to pay us for it. We laughed about how we would make all kinds of sales like two for one, etc.
The following Friday we were standing at our Tefilin table as usual when an expensive car stopped near us and a bare-headed, elegantly dressed man emerged. He put his hand in his pocket and took out a wad of hundred dollar bills. He came over and gave both of us a hundred dollar bill, saying, "I want to give this money to you because you put Tefilin on with people; continue what you're doing." He told us that the money was for us and not for us to give to charity. We stood there open-mouthed. This was not an everyday occurrence!
After we had recovered somewhat, we tried asking our benefactor who he was, but he refused to disclose any details. He departed as mysteriously as he arrived.
Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine.
I Will Write It In Their Hearts
This treasury of letters by the Lubavitcher Rebbe are his personal responses to communications from people from all walks of life. The profound lessons of his advice transcend the spheres of the individual recipients. Volume 7 of I Will Write it in Their Hearts has recently been released by Sichos in English, translated by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger.
As A Father Loves His Only Son
As a Father Love His Only Son talks about G-d's love for His children and how that reciprocal love triggers an unwavering belief in His salvation. However dire the situation, the believer does not get discouraged, he trusts in G-d and His mysterious ways. Compiled and translated by Rabbis Uri Kaploun and Eliyahu Touger, published by SIE.
The Torah Book of Opposites
In this big, colorful board book, a charming cast of characters illustrates important aspects of our beloved Torah. The Torah goes IN and OUT of the Ark... ...there are BIG Torahs for the grownups and SMALL ones for kids... ...we lift the Torah UP, then gently put it DOWN. "Letters, BLACK; Parchment, WHITE; OPEN wide, CLOSED up tight!" The Torah Book of Opposites is the perfect Jewish concept book for babies and toddlers! Written by Nechamy Segal illustrated by Marc Lumer and published by HaChai Publishing.
Rosh Chodesh Teves 5734 
Greeting and Blessing:
This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of December 24th.
It surprises me that, apparently, you are misinformed about the present state of affairs in the matter about which you write.
In the natural order of things, it is now well-nigh impossible to do anything to reverse the tide, inasmuch as those who determine the policy have brought it to a situation where it is impossible to retract all that has been promised in regard to the returning of territories, etc. This is not the place to dwell at length on such a painful and appalling matter.
Perhaps you know that there is a judicial formula, which originates in the Torah (Talmud), to the effect: techilaso beratzon vesofo be'ones ("He began voluntarily and ended up under compulsion"). The present situation has reached the stage of "compulsion." The time to have averted it was when I began to storm (naturally not through the press) immediately after the Six Day War, when those policy-makers hastily dispatched emissaries to Washington with assurances that they were prepared to return such and such territories, and that most of them were negotiable, etc. This was the "voluntary beginning" which has resulted in the present situation.
What will happen in the future - no one can say. But we are a people who depend on miracles, and, indeed, our whole existence as a small nation in a hostile world is also nothing short of a miracle. And so when the offer of territorial concessions was made immediately after and since the Six Day War, there was the miracle that the other party, the Arabs, rejected the offer.
And during the Yom Kippur War there was even a greater miracle when the Egyptians, after crossing the Suez Canal with a huge army, known to be at least 100,000 strong, and most likely much stronger, yet for no reason stopped in their tracks only a number of kilometers east of the Canal, facing no military resistance, and with the road ahead of them wide open. Unfortunately, extraordinary opportunities on both fronts which the miracles had provided were missed, and, again, I do not wish to dwell on matters which do not reflect favorably on our fellow Jews.
As for the practical thing which Jews everywhere can do to help the present situation - something which is most regrettably ignored, in line with playing down the obvious Divine intervention in the most critical days of the war - is that every Jews must strengthen his bonds with the Torah from Sinai, when G-d made us the "chosen people." This is also something of which we need not be ashamed, for contrary to those who misunderstand or misrepresent this in terms of privilege which smacks of chauvinism, this chosenness is primarily a matter of duty and obligation to be a model people for the whole world to emulate, a people where form takes precedence over matter, the spiritual over the material, and the soul over the body, a people which was destined to be "a light unto the nations" (Isa. 42:6, etc.).
It is this kind of life and conduct which the Torah describes that also stimulates right thinking and the proper outlook on life. It is this kind of life that also strengths the self-confidence of every Jew wherever he may be, and enables him to shed any inferiority complex and the readiness to be impressed by a non-Jew; or by an idea which comes from a non-Jew; or actually non-Jewish ideology. It is sad indeed when, instead of being a model and a living example for non-Jews to emulate, some Jews fall over themselves to emulate non-Jews, rejecting the "spring of living waters," the Jewish Torah and Jewish tradition, etc.
It is surely unnecessary to point out to you, an M.D., the psychological factor which has such an important role when two adversaries confront each other. When the adversary sees that his opponent is spiritually and psychologically strong and self-confident and certain of his just cause and not prone to be impressed by the adversary or any non-Jew due to the inferiority complex mentioned above - this is the best way of preventing wars, not only major wars, but even wars of attrition.
It is hardly to be expected that a Jew, who in his personal life is afraid to show that he is a proud Jew, whether at home or outside, who prefers to stack his library with non-Jewish volumes and authors, etc., and who makes sure to bring up his children in a way that when they walk in the street they should show no signs of being Jew, yet this same Jew should draw the line and take a different posture when he meets a political adversary and engages in political negotiations with representatives of other countries. Could such a Jewish representative truly consider himself at least equal to the gentile adversary in such a confrontation, having tried all his life to emulate and follow slavishly the gentile world and way of life? And whatever pretense and faηade he might make will surely not convince the adversary.
The same is true, of course, in regard to the education of the Jewish children, who are brought up on the culture of the various nations of the world, and where Jewish tradition and culture take second place at best or are non-existent. Could such children grow up into proud Jews, dedicated to their heritage and defend it?
continued in next issue
Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai
Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai lived at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. Before the actual fall of Jerusalem he hid himself in a coffin and was smuggled out of the city. He made and was granted three requests of the Roman commander Vespasian: the city of Yavneh to establish a yeshiva; the life of the Davidic heir to the monarchy; a physician to cure Rabbi Tzadok who had fasted 40 years to save Jerusalem from destruction. The establishment of Yavneh as a Torah center set the stage for the spiritual rebirth of the Jewish people despite the destruction of its physical base.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The Land of Israel is not like other lands. Other countries' borders are determined by wars, treaties and politics. The Land of Israel's borders are determined by G-d. There are many mitzvot that apply only in Israel; anywhere else in the world, and you can't do them.
The Land of Israel is called the Holy Land for a reason: its very soil is hallowed, permeated with G-dliness and holiness. It is a land "upon which the eyes of G-d rest, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year." The very air itself "makes one wise," according to our Sages.
After the terrible destruction of the Holocaust, G-d gave the Jewish people a wonderful gift - the opportunity to return to their ancestral home and live according to their own dictates. For the first time in almost 2,000 years, millions of Jews were able to take refuge in the Holy Land. But not only would the Land of Israel provide physical refuge, it was a golden opportunity for real spiritual freedom. For even though the Jewish people would remain in galut (the exile will end only with Moshiach's coming, may it happen immediately), Jews would be able to practice Torah and mitzvot proudly and openly. In allowing Jews political autonomy, G-d gave them a chance for true independence, which can only be attained through the Torah.
Shleimut ha'aretz, literally "the integrity of the land," means that the whole and complete Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. Given by G-d to every single Jew, it simply isn't in our power to reject this gift. Aside from the fact that it is against Torah law to cede portions of Israel to non-Jews (thereby putting Jewish lives in danger), the land always retains its special, holy nature.
May G-d continue to guide His people along the right path, and help us to live up to His expectations.
When a woman conceives and gives birth... (Lev. 12:2)
This Torah portion is immediately preceded by the words "to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, and between the beast that may be eaten and the beast that may not be eaten," to teach that keeping kosher has a direct effect upon the spirituality of future generations.
If a man shall have in the skin of his flesh a swelling or scab...he shall be brought to Aaron the priest...then shall the priest isolate the person with the plague [of "leprosy"] for seven days (Lev. 13:2-4)
Our Sages taught that nothing happens by chance. When a person came down with leprosy, the seven-day isolation period was to be used for contemplation and repentance. The leprosy was a reminder that G-d watches us all the time, and if we follow the priest's guidance, He would accept our repentance and heal us.
If the plague of leprosy is on a man, then shall he be brought to the priest (Lev. 13:9)
The Biblical plague of leprosy was visited upon a person who had participated in the sin of lashon hara - gossip. During a private audience with the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe a Jew once asked for a tikun, a "prescription" to correct the spiritual damage his misdeeds had caused. The man went on and on about how badly he had behaved, and used extremely harsh words to describe himself. "I'm sure you know," the Rebbe reminded him, "how grave the Torah's prohibition is against speaking lashon hara. But just as it is forbidden to speak lashon hara about someone else, it is also forbidden to speak lashon hara about oneself!"
Everyone in the holy city of Jerusalem knew Shalom the shamash, the young sexton who tidied up and maintained order in the famous "Beit Kel" yeshiva. Quiet by nature, he would fetch books for the Torah scholars and in general, make himself useful. But all in all, there was nothing extraordinary about Shalom that would raise any eyebrows.
Only recently had the young Jew arrived in the Holy Land, after a long and arduous journey from Yemen. Indeed, it was the fulfillment of his life's dream when he was finally able to kiss the holy soil and devote himself to the service of G-d in Jerusalem.
Shalom the shamash had been born in the city of Sharab, where his superior intellectual gifts were evident at an early age. Unfortunately, the premature death of his father prevented him from remaining in yeshiva, as the young orphan was now the sole support of his family. Shalom became a traveling merchant and plied his wares from door to door. This left him with only his evenings free to pursue his one true love: the study of Torah. He would often remain in the study hall till the wee hours of the morning before going home to catch a few hours of sleep.
But Shalom's thirst for Torah knowledge was insatiable. Despite his achievements, he still felt as if something were missing. It was then that he discovered the esoteric realm of Torah - the Kabala and its mysteries - as developed by the sages of Yemen. Enthusiastically he plunged into the study of the higher worlds and the Torah's secrets, and distinguished himself in this realm as well. But the young Rabbi Shalom insisted on working for a living, and continued to peddle his notions as before.
One time on a business expedition Shalom found himself in a very dangerous situation, and vowed that if G-d saved him, he would move to the Holy Land. Indeed, G-d came to his aid, and he left his friends and family and embarked on the long journey through the Middle East.
Shalom's joy knew no bounds when he finally arrived at the Beit Kel yeshiva in Jerusalem, headed by the famous Kabalist Rabbi Gedalia Chiyun. His soul longed to join the other students of the inner aspects of Torah, but he had no wish to reveal his already extensive knowledge. Instead, he presented himself as a simple Jew and found employment as the sexton of the study hall.
It was a wonderful opportunity to learn without being observed. As a regular presence in the yeshiva, no one paid any attention to Shalom, who kept his eyes and ears open to every word. Thus he gradually increased his knowledge until he far surpassed everyone else. But his greatness remained a secret known only to him.
One day a question came up in the yeshiva that no one could answer. For days the Kabalists consulted their heavy tomes, but could not come up with a satisfactory explanation. Rabbi Gedalia became almost obsessed with the problem, and was very perturbed by his inability to solve it.
The shamash had been listening to their deliberations and knew the answer. But not wishing to reveal himself, he remained silent. As the days progressed, it was as if a dark cloud hovered over the study hall.
One day Shalom came upon Rabbi Gedalia weeping over an open volume, begging and imploring G-d to illuminate his mind. It was impossible to ignore such a pitiful sight. Later that night, when the study hall was empty, Shalom wrote the answer on a small piece of paper and left it between the pages of Rabbi Gedalia's book.
The next morning the study hall was in an uproar. The problem that had appeared so difficult and complex had been solved in a clear and logical manner. Everyone was curious where the wonderful explanation had come from, but it remained a great mystery.
The strange phenomenon repeated itself several times. Whenever a difficult question was raised in the evening, its answer was found in Rabbi Gedalia's book the next morning. A thorough investigation was conducted, but the head of the yeshiva could not determine where the answers were coming from.
The riddle was solved in a totally unexpected manner, when Rabbi Gedalia's young daughter happened to mention that she had noticed the Yemenite sexton flipping through the pages of one of her father's books. In fact, she had noticed him doing so on several occasions. The next time an unresolved question was raised in the study hall the Rabbi made believe he was going home for the evening but hid in a closet. Indeed, to his utter shock, he observed the sexton consulting the holy tomes and secreting a piece of paper between the pages of his prayer book.
The next morning the head of the yeshiva insisted on seating Rabbi Shalom Sharabi at his right hand side, and revealed to all the great mystery. In fact, he later appointed him his heir and successor, despite his tender age of only 27.
Rabbi Shalom Sharabi's greatness was thus revealed to everyone in Jerusalem, and many stories are told about his wisdom. For 30 years he served as head of the Beit Kel yeshiva, until passing away in the year 5537 (1777).
The Torah states, "A woman who conceives and bears a son..." (Lev. 12:2) "Woman" is a common metaphor for the Jewish nation. "Conceives," in the Hebrew literally "gives seed," is analogous to the performance of good deeds. Bearing a child is the final Redemption. The performance of mitzvot is compared to the sowing of seed because one tiny seed can be the starting point for an abundance of fine produce. Similarly, just one mitzva (commandment) can be the source for abundant G-dliness.
(Ohr HaChayim as elucidated in Ohr HaTorah)