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May 4, 2012 - 12 Iyyar, 5772

1219: Achrei Mos-Kedoshim

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  1218: Sazria-Metzora1220: Emor  

Responsibility  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Who's Who  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters


by David Y. B. Kaufmann

One of the first things we're taught - or should be taught - is "take responsibility for your actions." But what does that mean? Most of us would probably say it means something like, if you mess up, admit it. If you break a window, cause a fender-bender, or don't do your homework because the basketball game was more interesting - admit it.

And take the consequences. Accept the punishment. Pay for the window, don't complain about the bad grade.

But this is after-the-fact responsibility. And there are two pitfalls (at least two) with after-the-fact responsibility. First, the damage is already done. There can be recompense or punishment, but the failure, or breakdown, or disaster, can't be reversed. Second, it's possible to be responsible for something for which we're not really responsible. That is, we may have to accept responsibility for actions over which we have no control. There are events we truly cannot foresee; not all of these are natural disasters. I don't include lack of maintenance or vigilance, though fatigue or emotional distress may be mitigating factors. But who can predict where lightning will strike? We are also responsible for individuals who work for us who act against our wishes or instructions. Agents or messengers who betray our trust or simply don't do the job; we have to be responsible for their irresponsibility.

Of course, while we'd like legal responsibility and moral responsibility to not just intersect, but to synchronously overlap, that's not always the case. We are legally responsible for an employee who slaps a customer, to use an extreme case, but probably not morally responsible. We, or our company, will have to pay damages, but are we really responsible for the employee's behavior? Not if we believe in free will.

Conversely, there are cases where we may be morally responsible but not legally so. I think many would argue this is even more egregious. For example, a teacher who belittles a child - "Jonny, you can't draw! Why do you even try?" - is morally responsible for the harm to the child's feelings and psyche, but not legally so. There's no liability.

Taking responsibility serves as a test of character. I don't just mean learning from one's mistakes. I mean becoming a better person - working on the weaknesses (and we all have them), becoming aware of the flaws so that we begin with before-the-fact responsibility.

And that's really what we mean, or want to mean, when we say "take responsibility." Before-the-fact responsibility can be as simple as spell-checking or keeping accurate records. It often entails enlisting a second person or doing a cross check.

Being human, we will inevitably experience the consequences of an after-the-fact responsibility. More important, though, is before-the-fact responsibility. Paying the bill fixes an after-the-fact. But only remorse, self-examination, self-improvement - teshuva, or return, in Hebrew - corrects a before-the-fact lapse.

Perhaps after-the-fact is for others. Before-the-fact is for yourself.


Living with the Rebbe

This week we read two Torah portions, Acharei and Kedoshim. One of commandments contained in this week's Torah portion, Kedoshim, is ahavat Yisrael - loving one's fellow Jew.

"You shall love your fellow as yourself," the Torah enjoins us. This mitzva is so important that Rabbi Akiva termed it "a great principle of Torah" - the key to observe all Torah and mitzvot (commandments).

Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidism, sought out the unlearned Jew, whose simplicity and sincerity placed him on a higher spiritual level than many sophisticated scholars.

Commenting on the Talmud's statement that the Jewish people are the two pairs of G-d's "tefilin," the Baal Shem Tov likened the simple Jew to the tefilin bound around the arm (symbolic of the deed), whereas the learned Jew is likened to the tefilin worn on the head (symbolic of the intellect). Just as tefilin are placed on the arm before the head, so too, practical deeds take precedence over intellectual knowledge.

Loving one's fellow Jew, therefore, involves respecting both the ignorant and the learned. In both these cases, however, the Jews in question are undeniably good. But what about those who are not? The Magid of Mezeritch, successor of the Baal Shem Tov, demanded that we love the absolutely wicked and the righteous in equal measure! The underlying reason is that when one concentrates solely on the Jew's inner essence, all Jews are equal and worthy of being loved.

Yet even this kind of love is somewhat limited, for when we say that one type of Jew should be loved like another, it implies that certain differences between them do exist, no matter how minute.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, taught that the love one Jew feels for another cannot be measured, much like the love between two brothers that stems from their very souls.

The commandment to "love your fellow as yourself" must therefore be taken literally: "as yourself." Just as self-love covers up a multitude of defects, so too must we love our fellow Jew with the same intensity.

Isn't this just a high ideal for which we strive but never hope to actually attain? Jews are different. Is it really possible to love a total stranger to the same degree one loves himself?

Yes! Although much has been written on the subject, suffice it to say that our love for each other is only a reflection of G-d's love for His children, the Jewish people.

Consequently, it is only natural that not only do we love G-d in return, but we extend that love to those whom He loves as well, without distinction.

In a deeper sense, however, the entire Jewish people may be said to comprise one collective whole, for the essence of every Jew is his soul, "a veritable portion of G-d Above." On this level, ahavat Yisrael is really loving ourselves, not some outside entity!

May we witness the greatest revelation of G-d's love for His children with the immediate Redemption by Moshiach.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

A Slice of Life

Lag B'Omer Beginning
by Rabbi Uriel Vigler

Each year our community gives so much to ten of Israel's wounded soldiers. But as much as we give them, they give us so much more in return. They inspire us, they give us hope, they show us the strength of the individual and the strength of the Jewish nation. They teach us passion and dedication, commitment and Jewish pride.

One of the events we organized for the Israeli veterans in June 2010 was a cruise. We invited young professionals in our community to join the severely wounded soldiers for a Lag B'Omer bash. I sent out multiple texts and emails inviting people to attend. I made phone calls and mentioned it to everyone I bumped into.

I worked particularly hard to convince my friend (we'll call him Sam to protect his privacy), to come to the party. I texted him. No response. I emailed him. No response. I facebooked him. Still no response.

By Divine Providence I met Sam on the morning of the event. Excited, I asked him, "Nu, Sam, will we see you tonight?" He hemmed and hawed and tried to get out of it, but I cajoled him into making a commitment. I knew Sam takes his commitments seriously, so once he said he was coming, I knew he was coming.

When he came home from work that night he was exhausted and ready to hit the sack. But a commitment is a commitment. So Sam jumped into a taxi and headed to the water. Crosstown traffic was at its peak, and the taxi wasn't going anywhere. Intent on honoring his commitment, Sam jumped right out of that cab and ran across Central Park, where he flagged down yet another taxi which brought him to the cruise terminal right in the nick of time. As Sam boarded, the boat left the harbor...

Now, at that same Lag B'Omer party was Sarah (also not her real name), a young woman who I knew only peripherally. Sarah was not a regular at our events, but when she heard about the cruise and the wounded IDF soldiers, she knew she wanted to participate.

Sam noticed Sarah, and something about her manner caught his eye. He wanted to approach her, but she was busy talking to the soldiers for much of the evening. Much as he wished to talk with her, the opportunity did not present itself that night.

Sometime later, Sam's friend asked him to go to another event. He was about to say "No, I'm too tired," when he decided to go along. Unbeknownst to Sam, Sarah was at that event too. When a friend invited Sam to join him - along with some other friends - for dinner, he realized that Sarah was among the group. He approached her and they hit it off immediately. They began dating and have been together since then.

Finally, this week Sam called me to share the happy news of their engagement. Sarah and Sam will be married in a few months' time.

Two happy individuals, a Divinely determined match, and the beginning of a new family. There is no doubt in my mind that our community received more than we gave that group of veterans who were the start of this blossoming relationship.

The morning after our event, I received an email from one of the attendees which really made me stop and think:

Dear Rabbi,

What a great party last night!

I found myself chatting with your brother-in-law Avi Shlomo, and we began to share more meaningfully. As we discussed some of the stresses we were both facing, we concluded that it's important not to worry too much about those day-to-day issues, because something much bigger might be right around the corner.

Later, as I walked home with my wife and young son, I had one of those "bigger experiences". Not 20 feet before the intersection my son stopped and asked me to carry him. He said he was tired. We stopped for a minute, I picked him up, adjusted him so he was comfortable and I could walk properly, and continued on our way.

The light was green and we began to cross the street. The first two lanes had cars which were stopped. The third lane seemed empty. But as we stepped onto the street, a car sped right through that third lane at 50mph, followed by numerous police cars! Had we been five feet ahead, that car could have killed all three of us.

My wife and I did not sleep well after that. We were both shaken, and grateful to be safe and healthy. And I can't stop thinking that Someone was watching over us. Someone "made" my son ask us to pick him up. Someone "made" us stop and fall a few feet behind where we should have been. And that Someone saved our lives.

Best Regards,

I re-read the email at least three times. It got me thinking: What was the miracle here? The most apparent miracle, was that G-d saved three lives. But the other miracle, the one we have to dig a bit deeper to find, is that Simon realized G-d saved his life.

It's all too easy to go through the day-to-day of life without noticing G-d directing, protecting and nurturing us. We're all guilty of it. But Simon's email served as a wake up call to me; a reminder to open my eyes and look for G-d. And once I remembered to look, I found Him everywhere. He is there with us every moment of every day.

Rabbi Uriel Vigler and his wife Shevy co-direct Chabad Israel Center on the upper east side of New York City. Read more of Rabbi Vigler's posts at

What's New

New Torahs

The Chabad synagogue in the "Sokol-Aeroport" neighborhood in Moscow, Russia, celebrated the completion of a new Torah scroll. Chabad Student Network of Ottawa, Canada, serving students at the University of Ottawa, Carleton University and Algonquin College, welcomed the first student Torah in the history of the Canadian Capital. The ceremony took place of the University of Ottawa.

New Center

The Chabad Jewish Center of Cancun, Mexico, recently started their building of a new center. The center will be a 3-storey, 15,000 square feet facility. It will house a synagogue, lounge, restaurant, mikvas and classrooms.

Shabbat for 1,500

Chabad at Binghamton University (NY) originated "Shabbat for 1000" 16 years ago. The goal: to get 1000 Jewish kids at BU to a Shabbat meal together. Today, dozens of Chabad on Campus sponsor Shabbat for 1000. And this year at BU, "Shabbat for 1500" attracted 1575 students! Mazel tov!

The Rebbe Writes

Continued from previous issue, from a letter dated Rosh Chodesh Teves 5734 [1973]

Parenthetically, here we find perhaps the greatest miracle, namely that despite the fact that a substantial segment of our Jewish youth in Eretz Yisroel [the Land of Israel] has been, unfortunately, brought up in such a non-Jewish atmosphere, implanting in them the idea that the non-Jewish culture is something superior to their own Jewish heritage, yet they had the strength at a critical moment to realize that they will not be intimidated by superior physical forces confronting them, and acquitted themselves with such extraordinary valor.

They were quick to realize, much more so than some of their elders, that G-d has clearly intervened in their behalf, and with characteristic honesty and sincerity of youth draw their conclusions, as is evident in the great religious revival among the rank and file of the defenders of our Holy Land. One could only wish that this inspiration and revival would be further stimulated and not allowed to evaporate.

Were the theme at hand one that is gratifying both to the writer and reader, it would have been worthwhile to expand on it. But since it is one that has the opposite effect, I must reduce it to a minimum. I trust, nevertheless, that it will suffice for a person of your background, and will stimulate you to use all the influence and energy which Divine Providence has given you to do everything possible to strengthen Torah-true Jewish education, both in your immediate surroundings and wherever your influence can be felt, instead of the schizophrenic education to which so many Jewish children are exposed and the polarity with which they are brought up, which reduces their Jewish identity to a miniscule part of their daily life, or to three days in the year when the parent feels impelled to go to the synagogue and pray and identify himself with his fellow Jews.

This is an area where every Jew, man or woman, young or old, both in the Holy Land and in the Diaspora, can and is duty bound to do something. And if one should think, what can a single person, or even a single act, accomplish - we live in a day and age where it is repeatedly demonstrated that even a small thing or a small act can have tremendous effects, and in this case tremendous effects for the benefit of all our Jewish people everywhere, including the Holy Land, which is the subject of your letter....

To conclude finally, on the note of Chanukah, which we have just celebrated. The events recalled by Chanukah seem rather strange. For there were in those days wars and battles, apparently fought in the natural way with actual weapons and military strategy, etc. Yet, the victory was on the side of the physically weak and few, led first by a Kohein Godol [High Priest], Mattisyohu, and then by his son, who defeated the mighty and many.

One would have expected that our Jewish people, whom the Torah describes as a "wise and understanding nation," would celebrate Chanukah in an appropriate way. Actually the miracles of Chanukah are symbolically celebrated by the lighting of a small candle, requiring it to be displayed outside, so that it should illuminate not only the Jewish home, but also the outside, and to do this in a steadily growing manner, by adding another candle, and yet another candle each night of Chanukah.

This is to symbolize and underscore that Jewish strength lies in the light of the Torah and mitzvoth [commandment], with which they not only illuminate their own life, but also illuminate the darkness of the world, and it is this that has become such a great and cherished mitzvah for Jews. To quote the Rambam [Maimonides], the great healer of both body and soul, and the Guide of the Perplexed (which is the name of one of his famous works), of his generation and of all posterity: the mitzvah of the Chanukah light is a very beloved mitzvah, and every Jew should observe it meticulously, in order to make known the miracle and give additional praise to G-d and express gratitude for the miracles which He has wrought for us (Hil. Chanukah, ch. 4:12).

Needless to say, although we kindle the Chanukah lights only eight days in the year, their lesson and message is a continuous one throughout the year, and reflects the special mission which every Jew has been given by G-d, the one G-d, in His one and only Torah. Hence it is also certain that G-d provides every Jew with the ability to carry it out in the actual daily life, in deed, words, and even in thought.

I cannot, of course, miss this opportunity of expressing to you my great pleasure and gratification for your cooperation and assistance to our Chabad work in your region. I do not mean it simply as "help," which would imply the assistance given of one to another, for I consider it as a partnership in which your interest is truly your own as well as of those benefiting from it.

May G-d grant that here too your cooperation should proceed in a growing measure, in the spirit of the Chanukah lights mentioned above.

Who's Who

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (commonly known by the acronym of his name, Rashbi) lived in the 2nd century c.e. He openly criticized the Roman government and was forced to go into hiding. He and his son hid in a cave and immersed themselves in Torah. Emerging after 13 years he founded an academy in the Gallilee. His esoteric teachings were recorded by his disciples in the Zohar, the most fundamental work of Kabala. On the anniversary of his passing on Lag B'Omer, tens of thousands gather at his tomb in Meron, in northern Gallilee.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Thursday is Lag B'Omer, the yartzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. The Rashbi, as he is known, was the first Jewish sage to reveal the esoteric teachings of the Torah in his Zohar, which eventually led to the development of Chasidut. The fundamental objective of all mystical teachings of the Torah is to reveal the underlying G-dliness of creation.

The essence of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's life is perhaps best expressed in a story related in the Midrash. When one of his disciples left the Land of Israel and became very wealthy, the other disciples were jealous. The Rashbi led them all to a valley outside Meron and cried out, "Valley, valley, fill up with golden dinars," whereupon the ravine was instantly filled with coins. The Rashbi told his students they could take as many as they liked: however, they should know that they would be taking away from their reward in the World to Come. The golden coins remained untouched.

The Torah is the source of all blessing, both material and spiritual. If we keep the Torah's laws, G-d promises us an abundance of blessing. During the exile, this direct, causal relationship is often obscured. But in the Messianic era it will be open and apparent.

Because the Rashbi was on such a high spiritual level, the exile did not prevent him from perceiving the world as it really exists. The gold coins gave his students a tangible demonstration of the Torah as the ultimate source of all blessing on the material plane.

This contains a timely lesson for our own times, on the threshold of Moshiach's arrival. By studying the Torah's mystical teachings, primarily Chasidut, we can also begin to perceive the underlying truth of existence. In fact, this is especially important now, as our Sages have likened our generation to the generation of the Rashbi.

Happy Lag B'Omer!

Thoughts that Count

In the seventh month, on the tenth of the month, you shall afflict shall be a Sabbath of rest...and you shall afflict yourselves, as a statute forever (Lev. 16:29, 31)

The fast of Yom Kippur is the most stringent on the Jewish calendar, for it is the only one mentioned in the Torah and not just in later Prophetic writings. Yom Kippur is the only fast we will continue to observe after Moshiach comes. Nevertheless, the possibility exists that we may actually be permitted to eat and drink on this holiest of days! If Moshiach is revealed during the Ten Days of Repentance (the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur), the seven-day feast celebrating his arrival will take precedence, even if it happens to coincide with Yom Kippur. This phenomenon already happened once before in Jewish history: Back in the days of King Solomon, the celebratory feast marking the dedication of the First Temple began on the eighth day of Tishrei and continued for seven days (Yom Kippur falls on the tenth of the month).

(Peninei Hageulah)

For in the cloud I will appear upon the ark-cover (Lev. 16:2)

This teaches that we must never despair even in the worst of the times, for G-d's Presence rested upon Israel precisely "in the cloud." No matter how dark or hopeless a situation appears we must never give up or become dejected.

(Rabbi Meir Shapira of Lublin)

He shall wear a holy linen coat. (Lev. 16:4)

The High Priest wore only linen garb in the Holy of Holies, rather than the gold clothing which he wore the entire year while performing his duties. This is because Israel built the golden calf, and even a reminder of that sin should not be brought into the Holy of Holies.

(Tz'ena Ur'ena)

It Once Happened

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (known by his acronym, Rashbi), was one the Jewish people's greatest Sages. He was a student of Rabbi Akiva and lived at the height of the Roman persecutions. Even among the greatest of our people, he was widely recognized as exceptional in piety and holiness. It was said of him that every woman should pray that her son emulate him, and that so exceptional was he, that his merit alone sufficed to protect his entire generation.

When it was decreed by the Romans that Rabbi Shimon be put to death for his anti-government remarks, he went into hiding together with his son, Elazar. They concealed themselves in a cave for 12 years, spending all their time learning Torah. When, at long last, the death sentence expired and they emerged from the cave, they had risen to such heights of holiness and divine comprehension that they saw the world in a different light from average person. Although Rabbi Shimon was great before his concealment, when he emerged from the cave he was greater by far. Before his stay in the cave he could respond to every question of his father-in-law Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair with 12 answers; when the 12 years of study had concluded, he could supply 24 answers.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai composed many volumes of Torah commentary, but he is probably best known for the Zohar, which is the basic work of Kabala. In accordance with Rabbi Shimon's wishes, the anniversary of his passing, which is on the 33rd day of the Omer, is marked by great celebrations, particularly at the site of his tomb in Meron in Northern Israel, where huge crowds gather from every part of the world.

It is somewhat unusual to celebrate on a yarzeit. One possible source for this ancient custom at Rashbi's tomb is based upon the fact that the Roman death sentence against Rabbi Shimon was annulled through a miracle. Since those killed by the Romans were denied burial, the celebration is marked at his tomb, indicating that Rabbi Shimon died a natural death.

The antiquity and continuity of these customs are evidenced by records in the diary of a traveler dating from 1522, "...On the fifteenth of Iyar a great caravan was formed in Meron; more than one thousand souls were there, for many came from Damascus with their wives and children, and most of the community of Safed, and the whole community of Levukim, which is a village near the cave where Rashbi and his son were hidden... and there we passed two days and two nights [coinciding with Lag B'Omer] celebrating and rejoicing."

In a later account by Rav Asher Zelig Margolies (1941) the pilgrimage to the tomb of Rashbi was described in detail: "It is impossible to describe the greatness of the day of joy and exultation with trembling which takes place in Meron on Lag B'Omer-one can actually see that it is a day of simcha for the upper worlds and the is actually a simcha (rejoicing) like that of the world-to-come. Some who are there sing out and rejoice, exult and delight in dances of holiness, with the joy of singing 'Bar Yochai' and other holy songs; others stand wrapped in sacred emotions, pouring out their souls in unceasing streams of tears near the holy burial sites of Rashbi and his son Rabbi Elazer...Here and there, groups are seen with children, dancing and clapping, holding the little ones on their shoulders and giving the [three-year old boys] their first hair-cuts. Distributing wine and cakes, calling out l'chaim and exchanging blessings"

In times gone by it was customary in many places in Europe for people to visit cemeteries on Lag B'Omer led by members of the local burial society who would check the condition of all the graves, noting which needed repairs. After the survey of the graveyard was completed, the townsfolk enjoyed some boiled eggs, cakes and liquor.

The town of Homil, which was famous as the home of the tzadik Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac, was a place which honored this custom. In Homil, only when the tables were arranged and piled with food would a carriage would be sent for Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac, who would first visit the cemetery and after deliver some words of Torah.

One year on Lag B'Omer, Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac passed through the cemetery and paused to read a certain tombstone. For several moments he stood deep in thought. Then he turned to one of the officials of the burial society and said, "In the Heavenly Court, they are demanding an accounting of all the marvelous things which are written about the deceased on this stone!" Then he added, "Go at once and bring me an ax!"

When the man returned with the ax, Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac ordered him to demolish the inscription on the stone. When the writing was no longer legible the rabbi returned to the waiting townspeople with the explanation: "I was delayed because I was doing a favor for a fellow Jew."

Moshiach Matters

Certain commandments only pertain to the land of Israel, and are not applicable outside of its borders. Despite the admonition of the Tzemach Tzedek (the third Lubavitcher Rebbe) to "make here the land of Israel," we should not feel that it is acceptable to languish in exile for even one minute more than necessary. Our goal remains the physical land of Israel and the ushering in of the Messianic era through the coming of Moshiach.

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