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by Rabbi Uriel Vigler
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a check to a friend. A few days later the friend called. Apologetically he asked me to cancel the check and write a new one as he had lost the original one. Of course, I agreed, but in the back of my mind I was thinking, "How do you lose a check? Is it so difficult to keep it in a safe place until you deposit it?" But I kept my mouth closed, cancelled the check and wrote a new one.
Two weeks later I received a check from someone. The following morning when I was ready to take it to the bank I discovered it was missing. I searched high and low. I searched my house, my car, my office. Finally, I had to concede it was truly lost. I called the person and asked him to cancel the check and write a new one. But interestingly, the thoughts going through my mind in this instance were vastly different from the thoughts I had when it was my check that had been lost. Instead of thinking, "How could you lose a check?!" I was telling myself, "These things happen. It was an innocent mistake. It's not a big deal. He just needs to write a new one..."
I contrasted these two events in my mind. The check I lost was for five times (!) the amount of the check my friend lost. So how was I able to completely absolve myself of responsibility while feeling disgruntled towards him?
By nature, we love ourselves, despite our flaws. We all have faults, we all have flaws. But somehow, those very same flaws that bother us in others are so easy to gloss over when it comes to ourselves.
When someone else double parks, you bet we're quick to judge. How inconsiderate! But when we double park, what's the big deal? It's just for a few minutes... !
When someone else's kid is throwing a tantrum in the supermarket - What kind of parent lets their kid do that in public? But when our child loses it, we tell ourselves, hey - kids will be kids.
"Love your fellow as you love yourself," the Torah instructs us. Practically, what does that mean? It means that the same way we are quick to excuse our own shortcomings, we should be quick to excuse faults in others. Instead of judging those who struggle with anger, mood swings, inflated egos, or grumpiness, we need to view them the same way we would view our own shortcomings. We love ourselves despite our flaws; we need to love others the same way.
We are currently in the period of Sefirat HaOmer, when we mourn the death of thousands of Rabbi Akiva's students. They died from a plague because "they didn't conduct themselves with respect toward eachother."
During this period we are given special powers to mend our character traits, and to fix things that require repair. We are given particular abilities to correct any conduct that involved a lack of respect for a fellow Jew. We can accomplish this through speaking with each other peacefully and in a friendly manner.
The precise wording of our Sages regarding Rabbi Akiva's students - "they didn't conduct (nahagu in Hebrew) themselves with respect..." - alludes to the fact that love for a fellow Jew should become a "minhag" (custom), i.e., as routine and common as a local custom. We should not require effort to act respectfully to each other!
Rabbi Vigler and his wife Shevy direct Chabad Israel Center, NYC.
This week's Torah portion, Emor, begins with a fundamental teaching about the education of children: "Speak to the priests...and say to them." Our Sages explain that this repetition alludes to the mitzva (commandment) and obligation placed on adults to instruct their children in the proper path. Parents, the Torah insists, must provide the next generation with the proper Jewish education.
But why is such a fundamental concept not mentioned until now, halfway through the Torah? Would it not have been more appropriate for this mitzva to be given immediately after the revelation at Mt. Sinai? Furthermore, why is this mitzva mentioned in connection with the priests?
In explanation, bear in mind that the Torah portion studied during any given week has particular significance for that time of year. Its selection is not arbitrary; its teachings are especially applicable at that particular time. The commandment to educate the young must therefore apply most specifically now, during the month of Iyar, a month primarily characterized by counting the Omer.
The essential concept of Sefirat HaOmer, counting the Omer, is education. The Jews were educated and refined as they counted the days before the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai, seven weeks after their exodus from Egypt. The release from bondage was, so to speak, the "birth" of the Jewish nation, which was then followed by a period in which they were educated for the great event to come.
This learning experience was not, however, in the fundamentals of Judaism; G-d had already said of Abraham, "For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, that they will keep the way of G-d." This process of refinement, achieved through counting the Omer, refers to an even higher degree of perfection.
Furthermore, this type of education has a special connection to the service of the priests, for their job was to bring the Jews closer to G-d through the sacrifices brought in the Holy Temple. Because the priests raised the sanctity of the entire Jewish nation, it is to them that the commandment to instruct the young was addressed.
We learn from this that the duty to provide our children - and every Jewish child - with a proper Jewish education involves more than teaching them just the basics of Judaism. We must also endeavor to instill in them the desire for perfection in the service of G-d.
Today, as we stand on the threshold of Moshiach's imminent arrival, this lesson is particularly apt, for it prepares us for that time when "the entire world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d, like the waters of the sea cover the earth."
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
A Dream Fulfilled
Sam Boymel, a Holocaust survivor who has been living in Cincinnati for over 60 years, paid a random visit to the local Yeshivas Lubavitch Boys High School this year.
The businessman and philanthropist "shepped nachas" from what he saw, and he returned to the Yeshiva on a weekly basis to see the students study and pray.
The memory of the yeshivas of Europe from his youth had remained indelibly in Mr. Boymel's mind, despite the passage of time. Born in 1925 in the Polish town of Turzysk, he grew up there with his parents Rachel and Zelig, and three sisters, Chasia, Reisel and Malka.
"The Germans came in June 1941 and put us in the Ghetto," writes Mr. Boymel, in a memoir submitted to Yad Vashem. "They took us to work on the railroad tracks, and with the assistance of the Ukrainians and Poles, killed many of the Jews in the Ghetto. I used to run out of the Ghetto to get food. One of the farmers who helped me was Petr Tokarsky (known as Petro) from nearby Rostov. He would give me bread and potatoes to take back."
In September 1942 only a few hundred Jews were still alive in the Ghetto. One morning the Gestapo, with the Poles and Ukrainians aiding them, surrounded the Ghetto and ordered everyone out to walk to Kovel.
Some Poles told them that mass graves had been dug for them. Recalls Mr. Boymel, "As we were getting near the graves my mother told me to run away. She tore my yellow star off, and I started running. I looked back and saw my mother and sisters shoved into the graves, still alive. I ran into the fields and hid until dark. I saw the Ghetto burning. I ran to Petro's house in Rostov. Petro saw me and hugged me, and I started crying. He said, 'My child, how did you get here?' He told me that everyone was killed, there were no survivors. Soon after I saw my Uncle Leibel there. Petro took us both to his barn. We hid in a space under the floor - it was about 4 feet deep. The cows and pigs were above us.
"At night Petro would remove the cover and give us food. After two months Ukrainian policemen came to the barn. Leibel saw them. He said, 'I know them, I went to school with them.' I urged him not to go out. He went out and tried talking but they shot him on the spot. I ran away. The Ukrainians burned the barn down thinking I was there. Later I found out that they had threatened Petro."
Mr. Boymel hid in the forest that night. The Germans had told the Poles and Ukrainians that for every Jew they turned in they would receive either 5 pounds of sugar or a bicycle. Everybody was looking for Jews - even children.
In the morning, a Ukrainian farmer found Mr. Boymel and called his neighbors. "As they were discussing what to do with me I ran away back to Petro's house. I was barefoot and cold, and asked him again for advice. He told me that I couldn't stay in his farm, as it was too dangerous for me. We walked several miles and he dug a deep hole and filled it with straw and leaves. I went into the hole and he covered me up.
"I stayed in that hole all winter. Once a week, I would walk to the farm and Petro would give me food, and I would stay with him for a few days. Than I would go back to hide in the hole. Petro would come every once in a while and give me food.
"In the winter of 1943 the Ukrainians were out in the forest cutting pine trees for Christmas. One of them fell into the hole. I was startled and frightened, but so were they. They ran away. I went back again to Petro. He told me that the Russian Partisans were around 40 miles away and suggested I seek refuge with them. Even though it was dangerous, it was better than the way I had lived so far. Petro offered to take me and we walked all night until we met a few partisans. I stayed with the Partisans from early 1944 and fought against the Germans."
Mr. Boymel was liberated by the Russians in 1945. He lived in a DP camp in Ferenwald, Ukraine, where he met and married his wife Rachel. Eventually the Boymels, with their baby, received visas to come to the U.S.
When the Boymels arrived, Mr. Boymel had only $7 in his pocket, the gift of American soldiers whom he had met. They were sent to Cincinnati. "I had never heard of Cincinnati," he recalls. He knew no English, and started out working in a butcher shop at $18 a week. Eventually he bought his own butcher shop, and then a "rest home" with eight beds that he and his wife cleaned out and renovated. Mr. Boymel went on to build an elder care and nursing home network.
The Boymels have made a career out of supporting youth and education-related initiatives in Cincinnati and Israel, that ensure Jewish continuity. These projects symbolically compensate for their childhood and youth taken from them by the Holocaust. Rather than wallow in self-pity or misery, they have used their experiences as a powerful force for goodness and positivity.
This past year, Mr. Boymel fulfilled a 60-year-old dream. "It has always been my dream to see a Yeshiva Boys High School in Cincinnati," says Mr. Boymel. "I can still see the Yeshivos of Europe before my eyes."
"I was driving down Section Road," explains Mr. Boymel, "and I could not believe my eyes. In front of me were 25 yeshiva students playing in a lot adjacent to the Yeshiva building. I stopped the car and went inside the building. What I saw almost made me cry. There were 50 or more students sitting in a beautiful Study Hall learning in the old familiar tunes that I had heard when I was younger. The pure innocent faces of today's young Yeshiva students learning Torah and Talmud bring back the wonderful memories of my youth and warm my heart.
"The Nazis (may their names be obliterated) destroyed all the Yeshivos in Eastern Europe. My mother made me promise - from her grave - never to forget where I came from. When I came to America, I vowed to rebuild what was lost in Europe.
"When I saw the Yeshiva boys, I realized that G-d has given me the opportunity to make my 60-year-old dream a reality. I am so impressed with the quality of learning and dedication of the staff of the yeshiva," says Mr. Boymel. "I see students here in the Yeshiva from all over the United States and the entire world. I feel now that Cincinnati has reached a new status with the Yeshiva here in town."
Seeing the students' sincerity and commitment to learning, Mr. Boymel began to support the Yeshiva. When a facility became available, he helped the Yeshiva purchase the building and property for the upcoming school year.
In December, Mr. Boymel made a special visit to the Yeshiva. He spoke to the students from the depths of his heart, telling his life-story and encouraging them to always be proud of their Judaism. The students were very inspired. His attitude that there is nothing beneath honest and hard work is a tremendous lesson and inspiration for today's youth. He is a role-model for the boys.
The Great Parade!
Get ready New York! A full-day Lag B'Omer celebration is themed on Jewish unity and pride. The Great Parade is based on the legacy of the Lag B'Omer parades held on Eastern Parkway since the 1940s. the Great Parade takes place Sunday, April 28/18 Iyar. Seating begins at 9:30 a.m. and the Parade kicks off at 10:00 a.m., proceeding down Eastern Parkway and ending at the Fair at noon. For more info visit thegreatparade.com. Similar parades around the world are being organized by your local Chabad-Lubavitch center. Contact them for details. Don't miss out!
Saying Mazel Tov?
Modern medical wisdom recognizes that good health depends on a patient's emotional state and mental attitude. It has been customary for Jewish women to adorn the birthing room and the crib with Psalm 121 (Shir Lama'alot). The Psalm declares our dependence upon the Creator for our safety and well-being, and His commitment to guard us at all times. To get a color print of the Psalm call LEFJME at (718) 756-5700 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or www.LchaimWeekly.org/general/art/shir-lamaalot.jpg.
6th of Shevat, 5731 
Blessing and Greeting:
I received your letter with some delay. In it you write about the uncertainty you feel regarding commitment to Yiddishkeit [Judaism], inasmuch as you think that life in accordance with the Torah and Mitzvos [commandments] is restrictive, and limits the individual in personal creativeness, particularly in the area of thinking and choosing for himself, etc., so that it is hard to reconcile such commitment with the idea of personal freedom.
Frankly, this attitude is somewhat surprising, coming from a thinking person. I suppose the difficulty here is due to the superficial understanding of the meaning of the "acceptance of the yoke of the Torah and Mitzvos," because the word "yoke" suggest restrictiveness.
In truth, however, there are many things in the daily life which a person accepts and follows without question, even if it be a highly gifted intellectual, with a searching bent of mind. Since you attend college, and have no doubt studied science, etc., you surely know that one does not go about starting everything in physics and technology from the beginning, by verifying everything through personal research and experimentation. For example, a person will board a plane without first having researched into aerodynamics, etc., to verify that it is safe to fly in it, and that it will bring one to one's destination at approximately the scheduled time.
Or take an example from the area of physical health. There are well-established things which are useful or harmful to one's health. A person will not go about trying to verify the utility or harmfulness of a particular drug though personal experimentation. Even if a person has a very strong inclination to do some research and experimentation, he will surely choose such areas which have not previously been researched.
This generally accepted attitude is quite understandable and logical. For inasmuch as experts have amply researched into these areas and have determined what is good and what is harmful for physical health, or have established the methods as to further technological advancement - it would be at best a waste of time to try to go over all those experiments from the beginning. On the other hand, there is no assurance that he may not make some error, and arrive at wrong conclusions, with disastrous effects, as experience has shown in some cases.
What has been said above in regard to physical health is also true in regard to spiritual health, and how the Neshomo [soul] can attain perfection and fulfillment. All the more so since spiritual health is generally related to physical health, particularly insofar as a Jew is concerned.
Now the Creator of man, Who is also the Creator and Master of the whole world, surely has the best qualifications that might be expected of any authority, to know what is good for man and for the world in which he lives. In His goodness, G-d has already provided us with complete and final results, having put us on notice that if a person will conduct his daily life in a certain way, then he will have a healthy Neshomo in a healthy body, and it will be good for him in this world as well as in the world to come. He has also left some areas where a person can carry on his own experimentation's in other matters which do not interfere with the rules laid down by Him.
In other words, it is quite certain that if a human being would live long enough, and would have the necessary capacities to make all sorts of experimentation's, without distraction and interference and without error, he would undoubtedly arrive at the very same conclusions which we already find in the Torah which G-d has given us, namely the need to observe Shabbos, eat Kosher, etc., etc. But, as mentioned above, G-d in His infinite goodness - and it is in the nature of the Good to do good - wished to spare us all the trouble, as well as the possibility of error, and has already given us the results beforehand, for the benefit of both the person who has the inclination and capacity to search, as well as for those who do not.
Continued in next issue
Elazar ben Shimon was the son of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. He spent 13 years of his life in a cave together with his illustrious father who was hiding from the Romans. During that time he helped his father author the Zohar. Rabbi Elazar is mentioned by name in the Mishna three times and a number of anonymous teachings are also ascribed to him. He passed away on 25 Elul. After his passing, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi wanted to marry his widow but she refused saying that her husband was superior to him in good deeds and perhaps also in Torah knowledge.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Sunday is Lag B'Omer - the 33rd day of the Omer period. It is the anniversary of passing of the great Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, known as the Rashbi.
One time, one of the Rashbi's (Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai) students went abroad and returned very wealthy. When Rashbi's other disciples saw this, they became envious and also wanted to go abroad so that they, too, could become wealthy. Rashbi took his students to a certain valley, according to some opinions a valley near Meron, and said: "Valley, valley, become full of golden dinars!"
As the valley filled up with golden dinars, he told his students that each of them could take as much as he wanted from the gold. But they should know that by doing this they would be taking from their share in the World to Come. The students, of course, took none of the gold.
When the Midrash relates this story, it doesn't refer to the incident as being of a miraculous nature. How can this be? Because for the Rashbi it wasn't miraculous. He was one of an elite few in every generation who are not affected by the fact that we live in a spiritual and physical exile.
In a similar vein, a story is told of a great rabbi who was informed that Moshiach had finally come. The rabbi immediately opened his window and sniffed the air outside. "No," said the rabbi, "the report is not true."
What a strange way to ascertain whether or not the Redemption has finally come, by sniffing the air! But this rabbi, a great tzadik, was not affected, in a spiritual sense, by the Exile. He was, in a sense, always living in the Garden of Eden and his surroundings were always permeated with the spiritual scent of paradise. So, he had to open the window and smell the air outside to note whether the outside, too, had been permeated with this special aroma.
May we all merit, soon, to join those righteous few in every generation who are always in a state of Redemption, with the true and ultimate redemption of all the Jewish people and the entire world.
They shall not make any part of their head bald, nor shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any gashes in their flesh... They shall be holy to their G-d (Lev. 21:5-6)
In ancient times it was the custom of idolatrous priests to alter their appearance, as a symbol of their status. Without these external markings their distinction would not be apparent, and everyone would know that they engaged in the same abominations as their fellow idol worshippers. By contrast (as if a comparison may be drawn!), kohanim (the descendants of Aaron) do not need any external signs of their exalted holiness. They are already holy, and are recognizable by their good deeds.
For any man in whom there is a blemish shall not approach (Lev. 21:18)
When Rabbi Jacob was appointed chief rabbinical authority of the city of Lissa he had many opponents. One day he approached their leader and asked him why he objected. "Do you think I am not enough of a scholar? Are you dissatisfied with my qualifications?" "Oh, no," the man replied, "it's just that you are too young. It doesn't look nice to have a person your age as our head." "In that case," the Rabbi replied, "you needn't worry. I promise you that it is a 'temporary blemish,' and that with every passing day it will lessen..."
Therefore shall you keep my commandments, and do them ("otam"); I am the L-rd (Lev. 22:31)
The letters of "otam" can be rearranged to form the word "emet," truth. From this we learn the importance of approaching mitzvot (commandments) truthfully, and not being deceived into thinking we have an unlimited amount of time to do them, as it states in Ethics of the Fathers: "Do not say, 'When I will have free time I will study.' " Rather, we should be aware that time is short, and "collect" as many mitzvot as possible in this world.
The prayers had been said and the festive meal celebrating the auspicious day of Rosh Hashana had been eaten in great happiness and anticipation of the blessings of a good new year.
The evening after Rosh Hashana, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai had retired for the night, but his sleep was disturbed by a frightening dream concerning his two nephews. In the dream his nephews stood, pale and frightened, faced with a deputation of Roman officials. The Romans demanded from them the enormous sum of 600 dinarim.
Bright and early the next day Rabbi Shimon headed for the home of his nephews. When he arrived they were busily involved in their business affairs. They were surprised by the arrival of their uncle; as a leader of his people he had little time for social calls. Rising from their seats they were anxious to make Rabbi Shimon comfortable, but their uncle had come with a purpose. Looking at his two nephews Rabbi Shimon said: "I think it is strongly advisable that the two of you become involved with the needs of the community. For example, you could perhaps undertake supporting the needy and the infirm. The two young men asked no questions. After all, their uncle was a great tzadik, recognized among all the Jewish people for his wisdom. They were happy to implement his idea, but they asked their uncle: "Where will we get the money to distribute? Our business is not earning much of a surplus yet."
His replied, "Take the money from your earnings and keep a strict record of all your disbursements. At the end of the year I will reimburse you for your expenditures."
They readily agreed, and Rabbi Shimon left feeling relieved that the arrangements had been settled.
Several months later, enemies of the young men informed upon them to the Roman government, reporting that they were operating a silk business without having first obtained a state permit. A group of armed Roman soldiers entered their home and announced to the shocked young men that they were under arrest. As they were being led away to prison in chains, they were given a choice. Either they could make a costly silk garment for the emperor, or pay a fine of 600 dinarim.
When Rabbi Shimon heard the terrible news he rushed to the prison and managed to speak to his nephews. He urgently inquired of them: "How much money did you distribute to tzedaka (charity) this year?"
They replied that they were not certain of the exact amount, but they had kept a careful record of every disbursement, just as he had instructed them. They told him where to find their notebook, and he located it easily. When he returned to them he said: "Give me six dinarim at once!" The rabbi offered no further explanation, and the nephews immediately gave him the money without question. Rabbi Shimon took the money and approached the guard with it, offering the six dinarim as a bribe. The guard accepted it happily and to their surprise, the young men were immediately released and allowed to return home.
One of his nephews turned to Rabbi Shimon and questioned him, "If the fine was 600 dinarim, how were you able to bribe them with only six? There must be more to this than you have revealed to us."
Only then did Rabbi Shimon tell them his dream and the explanation for his request that they give charity. "On the evening after Rosh Hashana I dreamed that you would be required to pay the Romans 600 dinarim. I asked you to give the same sum to tzedaka, a far preferable way to spend money than giving it to the evil Roman government."
The nephews were astounded by their uncle's story. "However, when I checked your accounts I saw that you were short six dinarim; therefore I asked you for the remaining sum. After you had completed payment you had the merit to be freed."
"But Uncle," they protested, "if you had only told us about the dream, we would have gladly given the entire sum to tzedaka at once, and been spared from suffering the entire incident!"
"That is so," replied Rabbi Shimon, "but had I told you in advance, you would not have given the money from a pure heart only for the mitzva (commandment), but only to spare yourselves from pain. It is only because you gave the money with pure intentions and without any thought of yourselves that you were worthy to be saved from punishment."
In the Torah we read, "You shall not desecrate My holy name, so that I may be sanctified among the Children of Israel." (Lev. 22:32) From this verse we learn the commandment to sanctify G-d's name, even sacrificing our very lives if need be. The Prophet Ezekiel refers to the exile of the Jewish people as a desecration of G-d's name. The ultimate sanctification of G-d's name, however, will take place when Moshiach comes and the entire world is redeemed, at which time "My great name will be sanctified...and all the nations will know that I am G-d."
(Likutei Sichot Vol. 27)