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The sounds of birds chirping in the morning and children playing outside in the afternoon sun is a sure sign that spring has arrived. This pleasant season brings with it the inevitable chore of spring cleaning.
Some Jews associate spring cleaning with cleaning for Passover. While others, concerning Passover cleaning, take to heart the teaching of Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch: "Dust is not chametz and your children are not the Passover sacrifice."
Cleaning for Passover doesn't have to include major spring cleaning. Though for some of us, the smells of Murphy's Oil Soap or Lestoil are just as bound up with Passover as say, charoset and horseradish.
But, whichever way you do it, the cleaning itself - getting down on hands and knees or climbing up on top of ladders - is closely tied to the theme of the Passover holiday itself.
According to Chasidic philosophy, bread and chametz (products made of grain that are not specially prepared for Passover) symbolize the egotism and haughtiness within each of us. Chametz puffs up like a haughty person's chest, swells like an egotistical person's head. Matza, on the other hand, is flat, low, humble. Even the fact that its flavor is bland, nearly tasteless, attests to its modesty.
Before Passover, when we are checking cracks and corners, looking behind breakfronts and inside briefcases for chametz, we are laboring at a job that doesn't require much thought. That gives us plenty of time to be introspective about whether we've been behaving like chametz or matza for the past year. And if we find that we are full of chametz, then pre-Passover cleaning time is the perfect opportunity to check the cracks and crevices of our own personalities and dig out these dreadful traits.
There are probably some people who can manage to do all the introspection necessary while doing just Passover cleaning and not spring cleaning. But, more likely than not, most of us need to do a bit of spring cleaning in order to make sure that our homes, and we, are truly clean and ready for Passover.
One final thought on Passover cleaning! Throughout the year, we somehow get by without this all-encompassing super-thorough cleaning. If guests are coming there's always a closet or junk drawer to throw everything into at the last minute.
But that's not good enough for Passover. For Passover we have to really get down to the nitty-gritty. There's no hiding when it comes to Passover.
Passover is the holiday when we celebrate and relive the Redemption of the Jewish people from our first exile in Egypt. That first Redemption is the prototype of all future Redemptions, including the final Redemption that we all await so eagerly.
As we clean for Passover this year, ridding our homes and ourselves of chametz/ego, let's get ready for the greatest guest of all, Moshiach. We've had lots of time to prepare for him and plenty of advance notice, so let's make sure we don't get stuck throwing things in junk drawers or clearing off the table at the last moment.
This week's Torah portion, Vayikra, focuses on the korbanot, the offerings brought by the Jewish people in the Sanctuary in the desert and afterwards, in the Temple in Jerusalem. It introduces this subject with the verse (translated literally): "When a man will offer of you a sacrifice to G-d of the animal." Now proper grammar would have the verse read: "When a man from among you offers...." But the verse is structured in this manner to teach that the offering is "of you," dependent on each person and no one else.
The word "korban" has its root in the word "karov," meaning "close." Bringing an offering means coming close to G-d. And the Torah teaches us that coming close to G-d is dependent on each individual. No external factors can stand in his way. Every person can come close to G-d. If he truly desires, he can reach the highest peaks.
Also implied is that the offering comes "of you," of the animal within the person himself. For each one of us has an animalistic side. This isn't necessarily something bad, for not all animals possess negative qualities such as cruelty or parasitism. On the contrary, most animals are pleasant creatures that are not harmful to humans or other beasts.
Even so, an animal is not considered a positive model for our Divine service. For an animal acts only to fulfill its own instinctual drives. It thinks of nothing more than satisfying its own needs and achieving gratification. Its selfishness lies not in the desire to take advantage of others; it just doesn't think of others. It is concerned with one thing: how to get what it wants and needs.
We each have a certain animal dimension to our personalities. There are times when we think only of ourselves and what we want. This is not necessarily bad, but it can lead to conflict when two people want the same thing, and it does not represent a developed state. One of the unique dimensions of a human being is that he can think and his brain can control his feelings and desires. But when a person allows the animal in him to control his conduct, he does nothing with this human potential. He will leave the world the same way he came in without having developed himself.
That is not why G-d brought us into being. He created us to make a change in the world and to begin by making a change in ourselves. Instead of just acting because we feel like doing something, our actions should be motivated by thought. We should act because what we're doing is right, because it follows G-d's intent in the world. Instead of always taking we should think of looking outward and giving. And this involves changing the animal in ourselves, bringing it closer to G-d. That's the spiritual service associated with bringing a sacrifice.
How is this done? Through thought. The animal in us is also intelligent. What does it want? To feel good. When it appreciates that giving can be more satisfying than receiving and that the greatest happiness comes from attuning oneself to G-d's will, it will also act in that manner. That's why we must continually expose ourselves to inspiring ideas and uplifting concepts. In this way, we will be motivated to look beyond our self-interest and seek goals that benefit mankind as a whole.
From Keeping in Touch, vol. 2 by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, published by Sichos in English
by Ben Goldman
The last time I saw Rabbi Shaya Gansbourg was on the second night of Chanuka, a few months ago. I had just completed my army service in the IDF, and my wife and I were on our last night in New York City after traveling abroad for several weeks. The next morning, we would be returning to our home in Israel.
It was a bitterly cold and quiet night in New York, but when I opened the door to the Chabad of Harlem, I was greeted with the warmth and jubilant laughter of several dozen children, all of whom had shown up with their parents for a Chanuka party being held by the rabbi and his family. The children excitedly busied themselves decorating donuts, building lego menorahs, and playing "spin the dreidel." Some kids danced, others chased each other through the legs of adults, and several posed for pictures with "Yehuda the Maccabee" - an orthodox Jew and U.S. army officer who has served multiple tours in Afghanistan.
At a certain point the menorahs were lit, and I joined hands with the rabbi as we danced in a circle while singing "L'shana haba'a b'Yerushalayim" - "Next Year in Jerusalem."
It is somewhat fitting that my last memory of Rabbi Shaya Gansbourg is from Chanuka, the holiday where we celebrate light being found in the most unlikely of places. For me, Chabad of Harlem was the epitome of this idea. But it wasn't just remarkable for its unlikely location, but also for the absolute potency of the light produced by Rabbi Gansbourg as a leader of the community. He was, in all senses, the candle that burned miraculously, despite all odds, and whose light reached corners both dark and distant.
In his eight years dedicated to the revival of the Jewish community in Harlem, Rabbi Gansbourg and his wife Goldie managed to open Chabad of Harlem, organize a chabad club on the campus of City College of New York, start a Jewish daycare, and punctuate all of Judaism's numerous holidays with an event. Chanukah parties like the one above were not the exception, but the rule.
And in the whirlwind of Rabbi Gansbourg's ceaseless activity, he changed lives forever.
When I first moved to Harlem four years ago, I was in many ways awash in the sea of impending adulthood without a life raft. I was in my final year of university and preoccupied with the development of my career; my interest in God was minimal, my observance nonexistent, and I was prepared, as so many other young Jewish Americans are, to abandon most of my heritage.
Rabbi Gansbourg changed this, not through indoctrination, but through example. Through his unassuming, modest one-room synagogue in Harlem, converted from a ground-floor apartment, he created a community that provided so much of what I found missing in the secular world - meditation, human bonding, unconditional acceptance, and a connection to something beyond oneself. Though I did not know it initially, what the rabbi had created was Jewish life.
What began for me as the occasional attendance at Friday night services developed rapidly into regular, almost perfunctory ritual, and within a matter of months, Shabbat evening and morning services were beating out bars, clubs and parties for my attention - even before I had adopted observance. I perceived something wholesome to the environment, something healthy and soul-enriching. I perceived something invaluable.
The world that Chabad of Harlem opened up to me was a beautiful one, but it was also a revolutionary one. Rabbi Gansbourg exposed me to a world where friendly faces, home cooking, and a little wine could produce an exponentially greater happiness than an American Express Black Card at the finest club in Manhattan. He created a world where job title could be checked at the door, and one could be appreciated for who they are, rather than what they do. It was a world where a person could reflect on himself, on life, and on G-d, and in the process learn more about the universe than any textbook could provide.
It was an alien world, and a fantastic one, and it was incredible enough to change the course of my life.
I am happy and unbelievably privileged to say that I knew Rabbi Gansbourg, who recently passed away, and I thank G-d everyday for having introduced the two of us - and for showing me this new world. I thank him for inspiring me to move to Israel, where I could pursue both career and spirituality, and where I later met my wife, who I love with all of my being, and with whom I have now started my own Jewish life.
And I thank Rabbi Gansbourg for what he taught me both in life and now in death; that the material world is fleeting, that ultimately the universe unknowable and the ways of G-d are mysterious, and that the only thing we can do is to live a good life, do what's right, be kind to others and walk as closely along the path that G-d set out for us as possible, because life is too precious to live in any other way.
Rabbi Gansbourg, thank you for everything. I will always miss you.
Ben Goldman is a writer, TV producer and filmmaker. Before moving to Israel, he worked for MTV and Comedy Central, and co-founded the community service organization Superheroes Anonymous. While in Israel, he has worked as a freelance reporter for the IBA English News, the Israel Now News, and served as Director of Video Operations for the IDF Spokesperson's New Media Unit.
On This Night
In this inspired picture book, all the steps of the Passover Seder are described in lovely rhyming verses. The evocative, full color illustrations in On This Night truly capture the childhood joy of this meaningful family gathering... and the feeling that, on this night, we are the ones coming out of Egypt all over again! Journey through the Seder, step by step, and even the youngest boys and girls will be prepared for this special night. Written by N. Steiner, illustrated by Wendy Edelson and published by HaChai Publishing.
I Will Write it in their Hearts
This is the seventh volume of the 38 volume set of letters of the Lubavitcher Rebbe ("Igrot Kodesh") that has been masterfully translated from Yiddish and Hebrew into English. The book is comprised of correspondence of the Lubavitcher Rebbe from the year 1951. Translated by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, published by Sichos in English.
Freely translated and adapted from a letter of the Rebbe addressed to all Jews
Rosh Chodesh Nissan, 5740 (1980)
Greeting and Blessing:
The central point of the redemption from Egypt - (as G-d indicated to Moses) "When you will lead the people out of Egypt..." is, of course, "...you will serve G-d on this mountain": to receive the Torah from Sinai, study it and observe its Mitzvos (commandments) in actual practice, for "the essential thing is the deed," and to do all this in complete freedom.
At the same time, each Torah-related action has an impact on the mental and emotional faculties of the person learning Torah and doing Mitzvos, refining him or her both in intellect and character, as Maimonides emphasizes in many places.
Since each and all of the Mitzvos have been given by G-d, who is Infinite, so are the teachings and effects of every Mitzva infinite in scope and dimension. And the more comprehensive and all-embracing is the Mitzva, the deeper, wider, and more variegated are the aspects stemming from it.
In addition to what can be learned from the Mitzva itself, there is also the lesson that can be derived from the day of the week that a Mitzva is done, which varies from year to year. While the general message always remains in force, the particular occurrence of the Mitzva in point of time underscores specific aspects of the Mitzva even more.
This is certainly true of the an all-embracing event as the Exodus from Egypt, which we are obligated to remember and to mention every day, twice daily, in our prayers, and in a particularly pronounced way during the days of Passover so as to permeate thereafter every day of the year.
In light of the above it is appropriate to note that this year the first day of Passover, as well as of Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the Month of Nissan (the "month of Redemption"), is on Tuesday, the third day of the week, the day which the Creator blessed twice with "good" - "Good to Heaven and good to the creatures." Hence, this year's Festival of Our Freedom, in addition to all its other teachings, prominently conveys the instruction that we ought to put in an extra measure of vitality and effort in both areas of Divine service, namely, "between man and G-d" and "between man and man" in our everyday life throughout the year.
One of the inner aspects of being "good to Heaven and good to the creatures" is that it is the most effective medium of unity between two extreme opposites: the Creator ("Heaven") and the created ("creatures"), as well as between the creatures themselves, where each individual has his own will and his own interests; but being good to each other brings about peace and unity between them, both sides gain a measure of completeness.
It follows from the above that what has been said about being "good to Heaven and good to creatures" means that these do not remain two distinct concepts, but they become (like) one and the same - as Rabbi Shneur Zalman taught that "love your fellow like yourself" is a "vessel" to "love G-d, your G-d."
Even where it appears at first glance that it is merely a matter of "good to Heaven," yet since it stems from "love G-d,"it must express itself in the fulfillment of His Mitzvos with true enthusiasm, including, especially, the "Great Principle" of the Torah, "love your fellow like yourself" - "good to creatures."
And conversely, inasmuch as the Mitzvos refine the person, his character, intellect and dispositions, as mentioned above, they are the instruments whereby to achieve the highest degree of loving G-d "with all your heart, and will all your soul, and with all your might," because the refined soul-powers become attuned and drawn to spirituality and G-dliness.
This is also one of the basic teachings of the Exodus, the purpose of which was to "serve G-d on this mountain," receiving the Torah, as also indicated in the first of the Ten Commandments: "I am G-d, your G-d, who brought you out of the land of Egypt."
Simply stated: After the Jewish people languished in Egypt for generations, slaves to Pharaoh not only physically but also spiritually - they changed themselves completely and attained true freedom; so much so that not only did they reject the "idols" of Egypt and the whole Egyptian ideology, but moreover they consecrated all their powers and the "great wealth" that they brought out of Egypt to the construction of the Sanctuary for the Divine Presence in their midst, which made peace between the whole of Creation and the Creator, making this material world a fitting abode for G-d, blessed be He.
May G-d grant that every one of us should have a "kosher and joyous Passover." In order that the joy of the holiday be complete, it is necessary to care for and bring joy to "everyone who is hungry" and "everyone who is needy."
Practicing love of one's fellow in the fullest measure will nullify the cause of the present Exile and will hasten the realization of the Divine promise "As in the days of your going out of the land of Egypt." It will be an eternal Redemption through Moshiach, and very soon indeed.
With esteem and blessing for a Kosher and joyous Yom Tov, and good tidings in all above,
Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (1196-1270), known as Nachmanides, was the foremost Jewish legal expert of his time. He was from Gerona, Spain, and was both a physician and a great Torah scholar. His biblical commentaries are the first ones to incorporate the mystical teachings of kabbalah. He was well-known for his aggressive refutations of Christianity. He declared that it is a mitzva (commandment) to take possession of the Holy Land and to live in it. He fulfilled this commandment, moving to the Holy Land during the Crusades after he was expelled from Spain.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
It is a Jewish custom that, when bringing a young child to school for the first time, we begin his Torah studies with the third book of the Torah, Vayikra - Leviticus. The book of Vayikra, the first portion of which we read this Shabbat, is also known as Torat Kohanim, for it mainly deals with the responsibilities of the Priests.
One might think that it would be more proper to begin a child's formal Jewish education "in the beginning," with the book of Genesis. Or, at least, to start out with the history of our people and thus, commence with the portion that discusses Abraham.
This, however, is not the case. The Midrash states that children are "pure" and the sacrifices (which the priests offered) are 'pure.' "Let the pure occupy themselves with the pure," says the Midrash.
It is interesting to note here at what age the child is considered "pure." For, in truth, there are three stages in the spiritual life of every Jew: 1) after the age of Bar/Bat Mitzva when the person is obligated to perform mitzvot (commandments); 2) when one is educated in the ways of Torah and mitzvot and begins observing them. (Though under no obligation, this prepares and trains the chid for the time when he will be obligated to perform them); and 3) when the child is still so young that, though learning about Torah and mitzvot, he cannot be expected to conduct himself in accordance with them.
It is at this last and youngest stage, particularly, that the child is referred to as "pure." And, it is at precisely at this early, precious and pure stage that one needs begin a child's Jewish education. Though he cannot fully comprehend what he is learning, and isn't even required to put his studies into action, his/her pure neshama (soul) should be involved in the "pure" Torah.
And G-d called to Moses; and G-d spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying (Lev. 1:1)
As explained by Rashi, G-d prefaced each exchange with Moses by calling out to him, indicative of His great love.
This love between G-d and Moses is symbolic of the open and loving relationship enjoyed by the Jewish people when the Holy Temple still stood and the Divine Presence rested in the Holy of Holies. This love has not diminished any during the exile; it has only became less open and revealed. The way to restore the relationship with G-d to its former glory is by expressing unconditional love for our fellow Jew. If the Jewish people will be united in brotherhood and unity, G-d's love for Moses will once again be fully expressed when the dead are resurrected and the Third Holy Temple is rebuilt.
(Likutei Sichot, Volume 27)
And G-d called to Moses (Lev. 1:1)
We learn about the various offerings and sacrifices to teach us that we must be willing to make sacrifices, both monetary and otherwise, to afford our children a proper Jewish education. Furthermore, a child's earliest and most precious years must be devoted to Torah study, without regard for later professional choices. For this reason, young children just beginning their Torah studies start with the book of Leviticus.
If any one of you bring an offering to G-d (Lev. 1:2)
Chasidic philosophy interprets this verse to mean that the personal offering each one of us brings to G-d must truly be "of us," from our innermost part. Yet a person might hesitate, thinking that a mere mortal can never bridge the gap between the finite and infinite. We must therefore remember that our relationship with G-d is, in actuality, dependent only on our initiative. Once that initiative is taken, nothing can stand in the way of communion between man and G-d.
(The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe)
With all your sacrifices you should offer salt (Lev. 2:13)
The sacrifices are symbolic of the revealed part of Torah, which is likened to meat; the salt alludes to the esoteric part of Torah that deals with more abstract and spiritual matters. Just as salt preserves meat in the literal sense, so too does learning the innermost aspects of Torah ensure that the revealed part will remain preserved.
Getzel Shlomo was his name. He was a pauper, one of those beggars who roamed the town of Harki, going from door to door, asking for alms. If anyone pitied him and handed him a coin, and even if they didn't, his only response was "Shma Yisrael," and the townspeople were sure he was incapable of uttering any other words. He was regarded as an imbecile, a half-wit, who occasionally passed through their lives like a shadow and then was thought about no more.
The begger's young son, Chaim Shmuel grew up, it seemed, with little help from his parents. When it was time for his Bar Mitzva, a local, kindhearted teacher taught him how to read and don tefilin with the blessings. When the boy reached the age of fourteen, he left Harki to strike out on his own to try to make his fortune in another town where he wouldn't be known as "The begger Getzel Shlomo's son."
Life was not easy for him, but he was honest and hardworking, and he eked out a living doing handy-work. After ten years, he married the daughter of a local villager and settled down.
During that time, Getzel Shlomo continued his daily rounds of the householders of Harki. And throughout all the years no one ever heard him say anything more than the two words, "Shma Yisrael."
Now, Getzel Shlomo was very old, and he sensed that he was about to die. He called the members of the Chevra Kadisha (the Jewish burial society) to come to him and hear his last request. The men entered the bare room where Getzel Shlomo lay on a wooden pallet.
"My friends, I would like to ask you the favor that you carry out my final wish and bury me in the poorest section of the cemetery at the beginning of a new row. I am very sorry to say that I have no money to pay for the burial, but at least I have saved you the trouble of bringing water to wash my body," and he pointed to the corner of the room where a barrel of water stood.
The Chevra Kadisha members were astounded. Getzel Shlomo could actually speak! They had obviously been wrong about him. He was not the imbecile they all had taken him for. Then, Getzel Shlomo handed one of the gravediggers a basket and said, "Please be sure to bury this with me."
The gravediggers gathered around the basket, curious to discover what it might contain. Looking inside, they saw a pile of papers. "Maybe it's Getzel Shlomo's literary works," one joked, and loud chuckles broke out from the others in the crowd.
When, a short while later, they returned to Getzel Shlomo's room, they found him lying with closed eyes, reciting his last prayers. He then arranged himself and drew his last breath.
The Rabbi of Harki, who always made it a point to attend all funerals, whether of the great or the small, asked that he be notified of the time of Getzel Shlomo's funeral. When the Rabbi arrived, the sexton showed him the basket of papers and told the Rabbi that the deceased had wished to be buried with them. Was it allowed? The Rabbi's astonishment could be seen on his face as he flipped through the papers. They contained a meticulous accounting of every penny Getzel Shlomo had collected over all the years. The tiny figures told how he had collected money and then distributed it to the poor of Harki. Getzel Shlomo had performed the demeaning work of begging to spare others from suffering the shame of begging.
The Rabbi looked up at the crowd and declared, "Getzel Shlomo is a hidden Tzadik and he must be accorded the honor which is his due." The Rabbi himself undertook to recite the Kaddish until the dead man's son could be located.
It was only after two years that Chaim Shmuel heard of his father's death and discovered that his father had been a hidden Tzadik. It was then that he returned to Harki together with his family. He continued working very hard to earn his daily bread, but he never complained of his difficult lot. And he never thought of capitalizing on the growing reputation of his saintly father.
One person, though, took a particular interest in Chaim Shmuel, and that was the Baal Shem Tov. Soon after Chaim Shmuel returned to Harki, the Baal Shem Tov instructed his followers there to take him under their wing. He informed them that the son of the Tzadik possessed a very lofty soul and was destined for great spiritual and material riches.
Under the loving tutelage of the Chasidim, Chaim Shmuel began to advance in his study of Torah. He also became very successful in business and it wasn't long before he became one of the greatest philanthropists in Harki, as well as a well-respected scholar.
The reward of the souls and their existence in the World of Souls is called the Garden of Eden by our Sages. After the World of Souls will come the era of Moshiach, which is part of this world. At the conclusion thereof, the great judgment and the resurrection of the dead will occur. This is the recompense that includes the body and the soul... This is the great principle that is the hope of all who look longingly to the Holy One, blessed be He. The people of the resurrection will exist forever, from the time of the resurrection of the dead, to the world-to-come, which is an everlasting world.
(Nachmanides - The Gate of Reward)