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Who was your favorite teacher? Which teacher made the biggest impact on your life? Let your mind wander over the years and through the classrooms, from nursery through higher education.
When we're young, we learn from all of our teachers because there is so much to learn, so many new concepts, so many exciting areas to explore. And, of course, because to us, the teacher knows [just about] everything. In our youngest years, our most memorable teachers are often those with the twinkliest eyes, the most creative ideas, the kindest demeanor.
As we get older, though, we expect more out of school, and more out of life. Teachers of the "easy" classes are almost never memorable. Our favorite teachers from our more mature years are usually not the ones in whose class we had a good time, but rather, the ones who pushed us, who made us work, maybe even helped us excel for the first time ever.
In the fourth chapter of "Chapters of the Fathers" (that we study this Shabbat afternoon), Ben Zoma asks, "Who is wise?" and answers with the statement, "One who learns from every person." Ben Zoma's proof is that King David declared, "From all those who have taught me I have gained wisdom." No lesser personage than King David learned something from every single one of his teachers!
We're not being told to harken back to our childhood when we learned from every teacher without exception or discretion. We are expected to do exactly what we did for the demanding teacher--work hard, strive toward something, eventually succeed and become all the better for it. In this instance what we're striving and working toward is the ability to learn from everyone.
As in most courses of worth, there are prerequisites. An important prerequisite to this course of action is to subjugate one's ego. After all, how can I possibly expect to learn from others if my ego keeps getting in the way, telling me that this teacher doesn't practice what he preaches, or that teacher doesn't really understand the subject very well, or he speaks in a monotone, or I learned it already from a better teacher, etc.
If we further define a wise person we come to some interesting conclusions. First, our Sages teach that just being willing to learn from everyone gives one the title of "wise." For with this healthy attitude we will ultimately become wise.
And who is a wise person? Not simply someone who learns. There are a lot of people who are "book smart" but we wouldn't necessarily call them wise, right? So having knowledge, even acquiring knowledge, is not really the definition of a wise person. A wise person is one who will look for something good he can learn from another person. Whether a piece of knowledge or good character trait to emulate, the wise person will find something even in a person who is of a lesser stature than himself. The ability to find in even the simplest person a good trait or insight is something that only a truly wise person can do.
"From all those who have taught me I have gained wisdom" brings an additional responsibility. Our pursuit of "knowledge" should truly be a pursuit of becoming a wise person - a wise person who finds the good in everyone, without exception. This, in turn, makes it infinitely easier to fulfill the mitzva (commandment) of ahavat Yisrael - loving another Jew. Each one of us is obligated, in order to properly fulfill the mitzva of ahavat Yisrael, to find the good in the other person. Ultimately, this will have the effect of enhancing our wisdom - wisdom as defined by the Torah and our Sages.
This week's Torah portion, Emor, contains the verse: "You shall bring the omer of the first of your harvest to the kohen [priest]." This refers to two types of mincha offering that were brought in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem: the omer offering, which was brought on Passover, and the "two breads" of Shavuot.
The omer offering officially allowed the new harvest to be eaten. Before the omer was brought, it was forbidden to eat from the new crop of grain. Even afterwards it was forbidden to bring offerings of new grain until after the "two breads" was offered on Shavuot.
There was, however, a difference between the two prohibitions. If an offering of new grain was brought before the omer, it was invalid. But if it was brought after the omer but before the "two breads," it was considered kosher "after the fact," even though it was originally prohibited.
There are many legal reasons for this distinction, but it can also be explained in terms of the inner spiritual significance of these two offerings:
The omer offering consisted of barley, which the Talmudic Sages deemed "foodstuff for animals." The "two breads" consisted of wheat, "the foodstuff of man."
The various offerings in the Holy Temple are symbolic of our offering up to G-d the different components of our soul. The omer symbolizes the offering of the "animalistic" part of us, the "animal soul." The "two breads" is symbolic of the elevation of the component that makes us "man," the "G-dly soul."
This helps explain why it was forbidden to eat from the new grain before the omer was brought: Before a person has worked on and refined his animal soul, he cannot even think about refining the world around him. Not only will he not have a positive effect, but he is liable to deteriorate even further. The first step is to subjugate oneself to G-d before turning outward.
After the animal soul has been refined a person can then proceed to the second step, i.e., the elevation of his G-dly soul. The offering of new grain was technically prohibited until Shavuot.
This also helps explain why one prohibition was absolute whereas the other was not. Subjugating the animal soul is a basic requirement in the service of G-d. Once a person has refined his lowest inclinations, the attempt to achieve higher spiritual levels only relates to perfecting that service. So even if a person "jumped the gun" and brought an offering of new grain before Shavuot, it was still valid "after the fact," as he already possessed the minimum level of sanctity.
Adapted from Volume 32 of Likutei Sichot
"I Will" Wall
by Katie Lepri
All it took was some pieces of ordinary plywood, a can of black chalkboard paint, and rainbow-colored chalk to create a wall of hope.
On a Monday in March, Chabad of the Grove erected a 25-foot-long chalkboard called the "I will" wall at Bet Ovadia synagogue along Coconut Grove's Main Highway facing one of the area's popular jogging paths.
"It's time to show that the world is a good place," said Rabbi Getzy Fellig of Chabad of the Grove, also known as Avenue J. The project was partially driven by the negative news in the headlines, including a deadly house fire that killed seven Jewish children in Brooklyn on Saturday.
White spray-painted capital letters on the left side of the installation read: "To make a better world." On the right side, lines of "I will ______" have been penned with the hopes, dreams and aspirations of joggers, school kids and passersby alike.
"I will help a poor person. I will adopt a dog (maybe). I will learn a new language," says some of the writing on the wall.
The chalkboard, which was Fellig's and Rabbi Eli Muchnik's brainchild, came to life after a successful experiment to engage people during the Coconut Grove Arts Festival.
During the festival, one of the chabad's rabbis handed out slips of paper asking people to pledge to do a good deed for their community.
Dozens of people took part.
"It was just doing something nice," Fellig said. "People really loved it."
The triumph of the good deed pledge materialized into the idea to create a massive interactive wall to turn people toward taking steps to make their worlds better.
"Once the idea was set, then we were Googling ideas on how to put the board up," Fellig said. The group stumbled across photographs of a similar project called "Before I Die" in North Carolina, which was part of a global art movement launched by artist Candy Chang in her New Orleans neighborhood in 2011.
"There's so much bad news out there," said Ben Temer, one of the members of the Chabad's young professionals group involved in the project. "We're hoping that we can shine the light on the positive things people want to do and raise awareness that there's good out there."
About 100 messages had been put on the wall by Wednesday.
"The 'I will' wall is about getting people to stop and think, what am I doing today, tomorrow and the following day to make the world a better place than it is today," Muchnik said in a news release. "There is so much good in people, inherit positive energy that exists within each of us, the proof is in the pudding, or the wall."
By 8 a.m. Tuesday, it was covered with individual insights from anonymous men, women and children.
"It was unbelievable," Fellig said. "There's just so many different types of responses."
On Wednesday afternoon, Fellig sat watching the wall. Cars zoomed past. Some stopped, including one man in his 50s. He drove past the site, made a U-turn and got out of his car to take a picture of the board. The man picked up a purple piece of chalk and wrote, "I will forgive Mr. Lewis."
"That's probably the coolest thing yet," said Fellig, who requested the Miami Herald to not publish more details about the man to protect his anonymity. "If it inspires someone or brings a smile to someone's face, then we achieved our goal."
There's no indication of how long the wall will stay up or how many more boards will be added. On Wednesday, three more pieces of plywood were painted and placed below the original board to encourage more people to engage.
"It's very surprising. I think it's wonderful to see that people are taking time out of their day to help each other out," said 14-year-old Benjamin Freeman, one of Fellig's students at the synagogue.
"It seems like everyone is trying to be a better person," Freeman said, his words hopeful. "I'm super proud of it."
Reprinted with permission from The Miaimi Herald.
Chabad of Silver Spring, Maryland, dedicated a new campus. The 6,000-square-foot building includes a large space for religious services and activities, as well as classrooms and administrative space.
Chabad of Nice, France, has opened a new center for youth. The building was dedicated in memory of Yoav Chatav who was murdered in the January attack in Paris on the kosher supermarket.
Daily Wisdom, an anthology of 378 lessons from the Lubavitcher Rebbe was the gold winner of the prestigious 2015 Benjamin Franklin Award. The Independent Book Publishers Association award is one of the highest awards in American independent publishing. Published by Kehot Publications, Daily Wisdom, adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Rabbi Moshe Wisnefsky, summarizes the weekly Torah reading with original insight culled from among 200 published volumes of the Rebbe's scholarly works.
Rosh Chodesh Iyar, 5741 
In response to the information about the forthcoming Annual Convention to take place on the weekend of Lag B'Omer - may G-d grant that it should be with much success in every respect.
No doubt the Convention will be duly inspired by the bright day of Lag B'Omer, the day connected with Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Rashbi). And since "action is the essential thing," the inspiration will surely be translated into actual deeds.
To be sure, who can compare to Rashbi, one of the greatest Sages and leading disciples of Rabbi Akiva? However, since the Torah, the Torah of Life (Toras Chayim), describes his actions, it surely indicates that every one of us, man or woman, should be inspired to act in the same spirit and direction.
Thus the Talmud relates that when Rashbi emerged from the cave in which he had been hiding for twelve to thirteen years, during the Roman persecution, he immediately inquired if there was anything that needed to rectified. When he was informed that such a situation existed, he spared no time or effort until he corrected it. And this, although the problem involved nothing more crucial than saving some Jews the trouble of going out of their way while crossing a certain area.
The instruction to us is clear: If one is obligated to go to a great deal of trouble to spare a fellow Jew a relatively minor physical hardship, how much more must we do to help Jews in spiritual matters which are of paramount importance to them and to future generations.
By the grace of G-d, we live in a land where no one has to hide in a cave, or even in the privacy of his own home, in order to observe Judaism and disseminate it among fellow Jews. Nevertheless, there are patches of deep darkness out-side, and turbulent winds threaten to erode the spiritual and moral values of the young generation. This is a situation which is worrisome, not only as regards the preservation of Judaism, but also regarding the preservation of basic moral standards.
In light of this situation, the quality of Torah education has never been more important than now. This applies not only that which the child receives in the educational institution, which must be of the highest standard in terms of purity and holiness. But it is just as important that the education which the child absorbs at home, from the general atmosphere and conduct that makes the home what it is, be at that same high standard. And this is largely dependent on the woman - the akeres habayis, "the foundation of the home," and the em habanim, "the mother of the children."
It has often been emphasized that the best way to deal with a problem is to prevent it from developing in the first place. Thus, it is necessary to spare no effort until each and every Jewish child, boys as well as girls, receive the maximum Torah education, both at school and at home. And, as mentioned, insofar as the home is concerned, the woman is the "Foundation of the Home," whom G-d has endowed with the privilege and responsibility - hence also the capacity - to permeate the home with the light and warmth of Judaism, Torah and mitzvot - to overflowing. This should reach the level that even the neighboring Jewish homes and the whole neighborhood becomes Jewishly brighter and warmer, in accordance with the Divine order, request and promise: "Make Me a Mikdash [a sanctuary], and I will dwell in their midst" - in the midst of each and every Jew, man, woman, and child.
Ben Azzai used to say: Do not regard anyone with contempt, and do not reject anything, for there is no man who does not have his hour and no thing which does not have its place. (Ethics 4:3)
There is no person who does not have his hour when circumstances favor him. Similarly, there is nothing which does not have its place which the Holy One has designated as its proper place. All creatures and every single detail of creation forms the totality and completeness of the world. Accordingly, one may not despise any person or any thing in the world.
(Maharal of Prague)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
We are currently in the Jewish month known as Iyar. In the Torah, Iyar is referred to as the second month, since it is the second month from Nisan. It is also called Ziv - the month of radiance (Kings I) - because the sun's radiance begins to grow. Iyar is also a month of healing, for the generation of Jews who came out of Egypt were healed this month from all their illnesses, as they prepared to receive the Torah. In fact, the word Iyar spelled in Hebrew letters is an acronym for the verse, "I G-d am your Healer."
The month of Iyar for the generation of the desert was, in essence, a foretaste of the Messianic Era when we will witness ultimate physical and spiritual bliss. According to the Midrash (Breishit Rabba) everyone will be healed of all their diseases. At the time of the Redemption, we are told, G-d will take the sun out of the special sheath in which He enclosed it.
These special rays of the sun which had previously been hidden are healing rays and will cure everyone of all their ailments. The blind, the deaf, and the mute, anyone who has any illness or disease, any blemish or disability, will be healed. Death itself will cease, as the Prophet Isaiah said, "Death will be swallowed up forever and G-d will wipe the tears from every face."
When will these miracles occur? There are two stages to the Redemption. The first stage is the one about which Maimonides writes, "The world will follow its normal course." This stage is a precursor for the second, later stage when we will see changes in the conduct of the world. The laws of nature will be changed to what they were originally intended to be, that is, as they functioned while Adam and Eve were still in the Garden of Eden. At this time we will see the actual fulfillment of our Prophets' words such as the wolf at peace with the lamb, etc.
It is in this second stage that we will witness the Resurrection of the Dead - the last of Maimonides' Thirteen Principles of Faith.
May the month of Iyar truly be a month of healing--spiritual, physical and emotional healing for the Jewish people and the entire world.
You shall not profane My holy name, so that I may be sanctified among the Children of Israel; I am G-d who sanctifies you (Lev. 22:32)
From this verse we learn the commandment to sanctify G-d's name, even sacrificing our very lives if need be. We are commanded to observe certain precepts at any price, including the forfeiture of our lives. These mitzvot (commandments) include the prohibition against idol-worship, not engaging in adulterous relationships, and the prohibition of murder. When a Jew gives up his life rather than commit any of these transgressions, G-d's name is publicly sanctified. Conversely, the desecration of G-d's name is taken just as seriously. 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)
This verse is followed by the commandment to proclaim the various festivals, as was done years ago when the Jewish calendar was set according to the testimony of eyewitnesses. Because the Jewish people are, in essence, sanctified, they have the power to determine when the festivals will fall, thereby imbuing them with holiness as well.
(Der Torah Kvall)
And you shall take...willows of the brook (Lev. 23:40)
The willow, one of the four kinds we take on the holiday of Sukkot, has neither fragrance nor taste. It symbolizes those Jews who have in their possession neither Torah learning nor good deeds. Their only merit is the fact that they are descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Maimonides teaches that even a willow that did not grow on the banks of a brook, say, one that was found growing in a desert or on a mountain-top, is kosher and may be used to perform the mitzva. Likewise, a Jew who did not grow up close to his roots in Judaism and was raised in a foreign culture, through no fault of his own, is also kosher, just by virtue of his being a Jew.
As Rachel lay on the coarse pallet of straw which now served as her bed she thought back to her life before Akiva. She had been a princess or almost so, the beloved daughter of the wealthy Ben Kalba Savua, and there was nothing she lacked, not the most beautiful dresses, nor the finest delicacies. But, she would not exchange her life with Akiva for even the most precious gem in the world. For her aspirations lay elsewhere - her husband would one day be a great Torah scholar. It didn't matter that her father cast her out of their home, or that people laughed at her and scorned her - she had no doubt that one day Akiva would be a leader in Israel.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door. Akiva rose to answer and saw on the threshold a man dressed in tatters. "Please, have pity on us. My wife has just given birth and I have no bed for her and the baby." Rachel leapt to her feet, looking helplessly around for something to give him. Sensing her confusion, he said, "Just a bit of straw would help a lot." She gathered a large pile of soft straw and handed it to the grateful man.
"You see, Rachel," whispered her husband, "they are even poorer than we are, but some day I will buy you a golden tiara engraved with scenes of Jerusalem, just like your friends wear." She smiled at him, happy with his loving thoughts.
The days went by and Rachel grew accustomed to her new status. Life was hard, but her thoughts never dwelt on the present; she waited for her dream of the future to be realized.
Akiva knew that his work was cut out for him. Forty years old, he was just now embarking on his education, just now beginning with the Hebrew alphabet. Was it possible for him to achieve the heights imagined by his wife? Akiva's thoughts were interrupted by an amazing sight, for there a bit to the side of the road was a huge rock with a large hole bored through the center. He stared at it wondering what kind of tool could have made the hole and for what purpose, when he noticed a small drop of water hitting the hole and then falling again into the depression. He watched as the process repeated itself again and again. Then, he realized that the soft, pure drops had bored the hole in the hard rock. He had stumbled upon the answer to his unspoken question; if water could make a hole in solid rock, then surely the holy words of Torah could work their way into his willing heart, even at the age of forty.
The traits that Rachel had perceived in her shepherd husband matured and his learning advanced, until he reached the stage where he attracted his own students. He was actually acquiring fame as a teacher of Torah and a scholar in his own right. Rachel had encouraged him to go away and immerse himself in further learning; it was hard to believe that 24 long years had passed. Akiva the shepherd had become Rabbi Akiva, the teacher of 24,000 students, the greatest of his generation. And the time had finally come for his triumphant return to home and his wife.
The huge crowd thronged around Rabbi Akiva and his disciples. Suddenly a woman emerged from the crowd and reached for the hem of his coat which she kissed. The students surrounded her and attempted to chase her away, but their teacher reprimanded them: "She is my wife! Know that what is mine and what is yours is all hers!"
Also amongst those gathered to welcome the tzadik was Ben Kalba Savua, the father of Rachel. He had suffered the pangs of regret during the many years since he had driven his daughter from his home. Now, the arrival of the tzadik of the generation would give him an opportunity to learn how to right the terrible wrong he had done her. Rabbi Akiva graciously admitted the old man into his presence and listened while he related the story, not knowing that this was his own father-in-law. As the man's story unfolded, Akiva realized who he was.
"If you had known that the poor, ignorant shepherd would one day become a great scholar, would you have acted differently?" inquired Rabbi Akiva.
"I promise you, if I had thought that he would know even one Torah law, I would have permitted the marriage!"
"Then know, that I am that shepherd, and it is only through the merit of your daughter that I have achieved this position!"
Rabbi Akiva was able to nullify the vow Ben Kalba Savua rashly made so many years before. The old man, in his happiness, gave the couple half of his great wealth.
Their dream realized, Rachel and Akiva felt the old pain of separation diminish, overwhelmed by the new joy of their reunion. Rabbi Akiva hadn't forgotten the promise he made many years before - he had achieved greatness; and in addition to the crown of Torah, Rachel wore a golden crown of Jerusalem.
One of the prerequisites for the Exodus was faith. Jews are natural believers, but faith must nevertheless be nurtured, for there are multiple rungs of faith. G-d is infinite and as much as we study and know, there is always more that remains beyond our experience and requires faith. Even Moses, a soul from the highest world, was required to eat matza, described as the "bread of faith." And even in the era of redemption, when the earth will be fileld with the knowledge of G-d, we will still work on cultivating faith, albeit on a level far superior to the present.
(The Rebbe, as quoted in Yalkut Moshiach UGeula by Rabbi Dovid Dubov)