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With the arrival of spring, the thoughts of many turn to gardening. For those who have the talent and the perception, gardening does indeed evoke a time of innocence, a youthful obliviousness to the demands and distractions of an acquisitive and material world. To borrow a pun, gardening provides an opportunity for the most jaded, the most obdurate, the most detached - that is, the driven, go-getters devoted to buying, selling, achieving climbing, moving, shaking, etc - it gives them a chance to get back to their roots.
You can't impose your will on a garden. It just won't work. For one thing, there are too many variables. Soil conditions, weather conditions, insect conditions - even for a small garden too many conditions exist for the weekend warrior to combat. Rather, the successful gardener listens, planting according to subtle aesthetic variables. How much space do the petunias need? Will the violets thrive so close to the house? Will tomatoes attract too many insects?
Of course, one of the most vital gardening tasks is weeding. Weeding involves uprooting the undesirable. To weed properly requires insight, fortitude and discernment. Weeds disguise themselves, masking as grass and even flowers. One must be able to recognize a weed, be able to distinguish between a flower and a fake. And one must not only have the courage to dig deep - for weeds are unfortunately deeply rooted, one must also be willing to examine the garden again and again. A gardener must be as tenacious and persistent as a weed. Though rooted out once, a weed will come back, or try to, year after year. Weeding is not a one-time task, but requires a constant vigilance.
And without weeding, the beauty, the harmony, in a sense the very purpose of a garden - creation of tranquility, meaning and order - will be, if not destroyed, marred.
Each year in the spring of the Jewish people, we do some spiritual weeding as we prepare for the blossoming of our spiritual garden, that is, receiving the Torah. What are our weeds? What are the spiritual impediments to the mitzvot - the Torah's commandments? What acts, words or thoughts dissemble, interfere with our gardening?
Our Sages tell us to use the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot to do some spiritual gardening, to weed out the negative character traits that interfere with our zealous attachment to and zealous fulfillment of the mitzvot. We know that our mitzvot, our Divine service, harmonizes the world, reveals the G-dliness within, prepares the world for the perfection of the days of Moshiach.
Our negative character traits are the weeds and must be uprooted.
The emotional attributes are seven in nature - lovingkindness, discipline, compassion, endurance, humility, bonding and nobility. As each of the seven is further composed of all seven, there are forty-nine fundamental combinations. Each day of the forty-nine days, as we count the Omer, count from Redemption to Torah, we focus on refining and elevating one of the attributes.
It is a yearly task, for the negative aspects of our character are deeply rooted, often resprouting in different forms. Fortunately, though, our Sages gave us a "spade" with which to dig -Pirkei Avot - the Ethics of the Fathers. Reading a chapter a week on Shabbat afternoon, during the six weeks between the end of Passover and Shavuot, is like "weeding the garden."
This week we read two Torah portion, Tazria and Metzora. Metzora continues with Tazria's discussion of spiritual purity and impurity. Although not applicable today, after the destruction of the Holy Temple, the specific instructions how to purify ourselves after becoming spiritually impure will once again be followed when the third Holy Temple will be established, after the coming of Moshiach.
The first form of impurity to be dealt with is the plague of leprosy, a disease which was visited upon an individual because of the sin of slander. This leprosy bore no resemblance to the modern-day affliction with the same name, but was a Divine punishment sent to make an individual aware of his transgression and afford him the opportunity to repent. This leprosy could affect the person's skin, or even spread to his garments, his furnishings, or the walls of his house. The only authority qualified to determine whether or not a suspicious spot was indeed leprosy was a priest, who then bore the responsibility of effecting the leper's purification, by following the procedure outlined in the Torah.
Once the determination that a person was leprous was made, the individual was sent outside the camp of the Children of Israel, and made to dwell in absolute seclusion for seven days. After rending his garments, he was forbidden to cut his hair or wash his clothes, much like a person in mourning, until the leprosy was healed. Only the priest could pronounce the leprosy cured. The Torah then details the appropriate sacrifices which were to be brought, and the proper way of offering them. Only after the leper did this and immersed himself in a mikva was he allowed to rejoin the rest of society.
The leprosy which affected a garment took the form of either a red or a green spot. If, after two weeks, the leprosy persisted, even after the garment was laundered, it had to be burned. When the plague appeared on the walls of a house, the entire household had to be emptied of its vessels. If the leprosy did not disappear after a certain time, as determined by the priest, the stones of the house had to be removed, and the wall itself dismantled. In the most extreme cases, if the plague persisted, the entire house had to be destroyed. All these regulations pertained only to houses in the Land of Israel.
The affliction of leprosy followed a certain progression. Appearing first on the person's skin, it spread to his garments, vessels and house only if he did not repent of his misdeeds. G-d thereby granted the individual the opportunity to begin with a clean slate after each step, and only sent the next stage of the plague if he persisted in his evil ways.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
To Battle with Your Enemies
by Rabbi Itche Gasnburg
From the diary of Rabbi Gansburg o.b.m
Let us look back a little to the time of the Six Day War, that took place in 1967. The war was a pre-emptive strike by Israel fought against Egypt (who had been planning an attack), Jordan and Syria, with the support of Iraq (and the Soviet Union). With the help of Heaven and with wondrous miracles, the war ended within six days, having begun on the 5th of June and ending on June 10th. It was the triumph of the few against the many. At its conclusion, Israel had conquered the great expanses of the Sinai Desert, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem.
It was in the last few days before the war. There was a great tension constantly in the air. The whole country was in turmoil. The soldiers had been mobilized. I, meantime, kept up my work of travelling around the country speaking about Judaism and Chasidism, with programs called "Erev Chabad" (an "Evening with Chabad") taking place in the agricultural communities.
A journalist by the name of Dan Raviv knew me from when we were recording the program "Yom Bayishuv," and he liked my style of speaking. He held an appointment in the Army as Cultural Officer. In the days before the war he came to me with the request that I should also speak for the soldiers. So it happened that I addressed a number of groups of soldiers, up to and including the night before the outbreak of the war.
Mr. Raviv asked that I should come to speak for a group of soldiers in the late night hours of Monday 27 Iyar (June 4), and that I should bring along several more Lubavitchers. At the appointed time, a military vehicle came to pick me up, together with several colleagues, Rabbis Tzvi Greenwald, Chaim Rifkin. Yisrael Naparstak, Meir Friedman, and others. They drove us to a Kibbutz in the South, near Kiryat Malachi.
In the dark of night they lead us into a pitch black wooded area. Rabbi Greenwald spoke first for several minutes. Then the jeep drove up onto a mound about three feet high. That was like the "Speaker's Platform." It was completely dark all around. You could hardly make out the trees. They asked me to climb up onto the jeep. It was as if the words were descending from Heaven on an unseen audience. I began with the words of the Biblical verse that the Kohanim (Priests) were to deliver to armies of old that were about to enter battle, "Hear O Israel! You are drawing close today to do battle with your enemies. Do not fear and do not tremble, let your heart not be weak."
My talk lasted about half an hour, and I delivered it with all my heart. I wanted to encourage the soldiers, to infuse them with belief and trust, and to lift their spirits. When I finished I got down into the jeep, and we continued to a military tent that had been erected close by. There we met Lieutenant General Motti Gur, the Commander of the Paratrooper Brigade. I was told that it was his brigade that I had addressed. The evening came to an end and we agreed that the next night I would speak for a different group of soldiers.
When Mr. Raviv called me the next day, it was to tell me that our plans for me to give over words of inspiration to more groups of soldiers had been cancelled. War had broken out. Three days later the Jewish nation found out that the Paratrooper Brigade, led by Motti Gur, had conquered the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. Those were the same young paratroopers who had heard my words in that totally dark woodland.
A few days after the war, General Gur invited me and my family to be among the first to tour the newly recaptured Western Wall. Shortly thereafter I was among those who were involved in setting up a Tefilin Stand at the Wall that exists until today.
Chasidic Heritage Series
Two new works in the Chasidic Heritage Series brings the series to 30 volumes. Each book features an extensive introduction and summary, a vowelized Hebrew text facing the translation, footnotes and commentary and source references for further study. The first is Faith and Knowledge, a translation of a discourse delivered more than 200 years ago by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad and author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch Harav. The second is All for the Sake of Heaven, a translation of a discourse by the fifth Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneersohn. Published by Kehot Publication Society.
What Did Pinny Do?
A new laminated book from Hachai Publishing written especially for little boys before their traditional first hair-cut at age three. Written by Nechama Sittner, illustrated by Tova Leff.
5th of Iyar, 5721 
Greeting and Blessing:
This is to acknowledge receipt of your letters of the 1st [of] Iyar, 14th of Nissan, and the previous ones. No doubt you have, in the meantime, received my letter. I hope you will continue to have good news to report.
Needless to say, every additional measure of trust in G-d, and every additional effort in all matters of Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments] with joy and gladness of heart, will increase your personal contentment and also the success of your activities in behalf of others. This will also help you to understand the inconsistency of your writing that everybody seems to be against you, which cannot be true, in view of the fact that our Sages taught "All that G-d does is for the good." And when we speak of "good" we do not mean only the good in the hereafter, but in the here and now. As I have written before, with every obligation and duty, comes the ability to fulfill them, for "G-d does not deal despotically with His creatures," and does not impose on anyone anything which cannot be fulfilled.
I hope you have read the Pesach message carefully and have found it useful in clarifying your mind and approach.
Hoping to hear good news from you,
P.S. You do not mention anything about the dental situation, from which I gather that all is well.
With regard to the question of "a holy soul" I refer you to the beginning of Chapter 2 of the Tanya, where it is explained that the soul of every Jew is a part of G-dliness, mamash [literally]; and see also Chapter 4 of Iggeres haTeshuva there.
On the question of Moshiach, the Rambam [Maimonides] has clearly described everything pertaining to the Moshiach (Hilchos Teshuva 9:2. Melochim 11:4), his qualifications, ancestry etc. and that solves your problem.
You have been remembered, and will be remembered again at a propitious time, in prayer at the holy resting place of my father-in-law of saintly memory, with regard to all your needs materially and spiritually, including a greater measure of your trust in G-d and growing success in your activities to strengthen Yiddishkeit [Judaism], with joy and gladness of heart.
22 Iyar, 5721 
I received your letter of April 24th, in which you write about the apparent contradiction between the latest scientific attempt to penetrate outer space, especially reaching the moon, which seems to you to contradict the statement in the Torah, "The Heavens belong to G-d and the earth He gave to the children of man."
Actually it is no contradiction at all, if you consider the term "earth" not in the narrow sense as referring only to our globe, but in its proper sense as meant in this verse, which includes also the atmosphere and the entire physical universe with which mankind is concerned and directly affected by.
We must not confuse the terms "heaven" and "planets."
The stars, planets, moon, etc. are not called "heaven," since "Heaven" is something spiritual, whereas the planets are physical and belong in the physical universe.
The fact that G-d created the so-called heavenly bodies to serve our world, to give light, warmth, and energy to it, and placed them in the firmament of the sky at a certain distance from our earth, does not preclude man's attempt to learn all about them.
Similarly, when the Torah states that G-d placed the moon in the sky to give light to the earth, it does not exclude the possibility of man's landing on it at some future time.
The meaning of the verse, "The Heavens belong to G-d," etc. is in the sense that while G-d is everywhere, including the heavens; man was placed in the physical universe, and is part of it, and, therefore must make the most of it, as long as there is life on this earth.
There is nothing in actual scientific experiments and accomplishments that contradict the Torah, nor is there such a possibility since the Torah is Truth.
Judging by your writing and background, I firmly hope that you are conducting your daily life in strict accordance with the Torah, which is called Toras Chaim, the Law of Life, and the Mitzvoth whereby Jews live, and that you attempt to make steady advancement along this road, in compliance with the principle that "All things of Holiness should be on the upgrade."
Shlomtzion (Salome) Alexandra (139-67 b.c.e.) was the only Jewish queen of her people. She was the sister of the great sage Shimon ben Shatach. Her first husband, King Yehudah Aristobolus, died childless. She then married his brother Alexander Yannai in a levirate marriage. When Alexander Yannai died, Shlomtzion was coronated and reigned for ten years. She led Yannai's army in a successful war against Jordan. She brought peace and prosperity back to the troubled land with her fair reign. She established the first public Jewish school system. During her reign the grains grew to extraordinary size; they were kept to show future generations what piety could achieve.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Friday we celebrate the birthday of Rabbi Shmuel, the fourth Rebbe of Lubavitch, known as the Rebbe Maharash.
In one of his many writings, the Rebbe Maharash quotes an interesting Midrash on the attitude of the Jewish people when G-d will send Moshiach:
"It says in the Midrash on the Song of Songs that when Moshiach comes, he will say to them, 'In this month you will be redeemed.' But the Jews will protest that G-d told us we would be enslaved to the 70 nations [and we were not yet enslaved by all 70 nations].
"G-d will reply to them, 'One of you was exiled to the Barbary Coast, and one of you was exiled to Samatry, etc. So it is as if you were all enslaved to the 70 nations of the world. Therefore, in this month, you will be redeemed.'"
The Midrash quoted by the Rebbe Maharash touches a very tender spot. There will come a time when G-d is ready to send Moshiach to redeem the Jewish people and some Jews will protest that it's not the right time!
Unfortunately, this will not be the first time that such an occurrence has taken place in Jewish history.
For some commentators state that at the time of the Exodus from Egypt, some of our brethren protested to G-d, "But You said we would be enslaved for 400 years, and we have only been here for 210 years!" G-d explained to them that because the servitude had been so difficult, the 210 years counted as 400.
Can you imagine? They were being worked to the bone by the Egyptians, and yet, there were some who preferred staying in Egypt. Whether because we prefer the known to the unknown, or because they had become used to the Egyptian lifestyle, etc., they preferred Egypt to the Redemption!
It is time we stop making excuses for G-d or to G-d. As the Rebbe said so many times, everything has already been done. Let us not be act as our own prosecutors and place the blame the continued exile on a lack of unity, or mitzvot, or faith. Let us judge each other and the entire Jewish people meritoriously.
And let us cry out to G-d from the bottom of our hearts, "Ad Mosai -- how long?"
And the priest who is cleansing shall cause the man that is to be made clean to stand...at the door of the Tent of Meeting (Lev. 14:11)
The leper who is undergoing purification is allowed a privilege not extended to others who have become spiritually unclean: He was brought to the Holy Temple's Gate of Nikanor and allowed to stick his hand and foot into the inner Temple court, to participate in the offering of the sacrifice he had brought. What was so special about the leper, who had committed so grave a sin as slander against his fellow Jew? After the seven days of seclusion and repentance, the leper was now a baal teshuva, a penitent, and was considered free of all sin. A new "door" in life had opened for him, and thus he was permitted to stand in the very door of the Temple court.
(Der Torah Kvall)
When a woman conceives and gives birth... (Lev. 12:2)
Giving birth to a child is compared by the Prophet Isaiah (66:8) to the Redemption. Just as birth takes place in a day, the Redemption can come and the Jewish nation be "reborn" in a moment.
The Torah portion is called Metzora - "Leper" - though it deals primarily with the purification process of an afflicted individual. This teaches us that the affliction was not only a punishment for slander, but to cause one to repent. Accordingly, the leprosy was actually part of the purification process, for once detected one was prompted to change.
He shall slaughter the sheep in the place where the sin-offering and the burnt-offering are slaughtered (Lev. 14:13)
Even though the burnt-offering was of a much higher sanctity than the sin-offering, they were brought in the same place to avoid embarrassing penitents who might hesitate to publicly proclaim their transgressions; onlookers would not know which offering was being brought.
A Chasid of the Rebbe Maharash (Rabbi Shmuel, the fifth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch) was summoned before the Rebbe. The Chasid was a shochet living in Petersburg and had just arrived a few days earlier.
"I need you for a special mission," the Rebbe said as the Chasid entered. "I must have the official government transcript of the interrogation of the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism) during his imprisonment." The Rebbe then went on to describe the government library building in precise detail - the location of the archives, the exact room where to find the file, the placement of the bookcase, the exact shelf and file.
The Chasid left Lubavitch and returned to Petersburg. With feelings of trepidation he inquired as to the location of the government library, the watch schedule of the guards, and the various entrances to the grandiose building.
The Chasid waited for an appropriate time and slipped through the main gate. He entered the building and found the layout to be just as the Rebbe had described. He made his way through the various hallways, up the prescribed staircase, and into the great hall that held thousands of manuscripts. He found the exact bookcase, located the needed file and took it off the shelf.
Suddenly a government official appeared "Miserable vermin!" he sputtered in rage. "Who gave you the authority to enter this place and remove such highly classified information? Stealing from the government library is a grave crime. You will be sentenced to hard labor in Siberia."
"Who sent you here?" the official fumed. "Give me all the details or your end will be bitter. Who told you where to find this file? Only someone with inside information could have directed you here. Tell me the whole truth and I will minimize your punishment to the lowest extent."
The Chassid paled, and shook in fear. "I'll tell you everything," he said. "I won't hide anything. There is a village called Lubavitch, and a holy Sage lives there. He is called the Rebbe. He is a grandson of the individual whose file I hold. I am a follower of the Rebbe. He had asked that I do everything possible to obtain this file, as he is interested in the entire interrogation endured by his grandfather during his imprisonment. He described exactly where I could find the file."
Surprisingly, the official looked appeased. His anger vanished and his tone became almost conciliatory. "Well, that certainly changes things," he said quietly. "If Rabbi Schneersohn sent you - well then, I will set you free and not hand you over to the authorities."
Taking note of the official's respectful attitude, the Chasid seized the opportunity to ask for an explanation. "You must be acquainted with the Rebbe," he said. "Your tone changed drastically when I mentioned his name. Probably you are aware of his saintliness, his holy way of life."
"I have never met the Rabbi Schneersohn who lives now in Lubavitch. I do, however, remember his father when he attended the conference known as the Commission of Rabbis. The government proposed sweeping changes in the Jewish education, and the rabbis, with your rabbi among them, debated the issue at length.
"The Czar at that time enjoyed disguising himself in the clothes of a commoner," the official continued. "He would walk the streets and enter different gathering places to gather first-hand information. The conference was no different, and the Czar, disguised as a notable, appeared at some of the sessions.
"Minister Uvarov led the conference. It was he who harassed the rabbi for his steadfastness in not changing a single iota in the Jewish educational system. Though the rabbi used only Yiddish, he had interpreters at his command. At one point after the Rebbe had spoken and the interpreter translated the Rebbe's words into Russian, the Rebbe interrupted, 'You did not translate everything I said.'
"'Repeat once more,' Uvarov demanded sternly. 'Translate everything he said.' The interpreter repeated the speech and, once more, the Rebbe expressed displeasure. 'You missed something.'
"'What games are you playing with us?' Uvarov roared at the interpreter. 'Translate every word the rabbi said, without exception.'
"The interpreter turned white in fear. He stammered, 'The rabbi says that if the government will force the Jewish community to adopt the changes put forth by the Enlightenment and apostates regarding Jewish education, then a powerful revolution will rock Russia in 50 years.'
"The Czar immediately made a motion with his finger, and Uvarov, who recognized the Czar, ordered the Rebbe arrested and executed for treason. I was an ordinary soldier at the time, one of the many guards in the conference hall. For whatever reason, I was the guard chosen to carry out the Czar's instruction. Hardly had I taken the Rebbe out when he asked if I could render him a favor. Rabbi Schneersohn asked, 'Let me recite the confession reserved for those about to die.'
"I agreed and let the rabbi pray. Suddenly an order from the Czar arrived, commanding me to release the rabbi. I was hardly surprised; the Czar was known for his fickle nature. I released the rabbi and as he left, he blessed me. 'May you go up in rank,' he said kindly.
"Since then," concluded the official, "I have been promoted ever higher. I attained the status of general, and in my old and weakened state I was appointed as chief officer of the library. Now do you understand? Though you well deserve punishment for your gall, I shall set you free."
The officer took the file, replaced it on the shelf, and the Chassid fled for his life.
From Beis Moshiach, by Rabbi E.Lesches
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.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)