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by Rabbi Uriel Vigler
Itchy eyes...runny nose...scratchy throat...in the springtime...
No doubt about it, it must be allergy season.
At first, I tried to ignore it. After all, I've never been one of those people who walk around with swollen, watery eyes from the first whiff of a springtime blossom. In fact, I've never experienced any pollen-related ill effects at all.
After several days of denial, I finally came to the realization that I have now joined the ranks of the 50 million Americans who suffer from pollen. I've managed to keep it under control with eye drops and Claritin, and in the process I've learned a whole lot more about seasonal allergies than I ever thought I would.
Apparently, many people's bodies mistakenly recognize pollen as a danger, rather than the benign substance it actually is. In response to this perceived threat, the immune system rallies to neutralize the invading allergen by releasing histamines into the blood. It's the histamines which cause the runny noses, itchy eyes and other unpleasant symptoms.
There is currently no known cure for allergies, just multiple ways to manage it, from over-the-counter nasal sprays to acupuncture to doctor-prescribed steroids. With an estimated 50 million sufferers, it is the country's most common disease and approximately $18 billion are spent on it each year.
All this, and what is the root cause? Misidentifying the enemy. Our body's inability to differentiate between a real threat and those cute little pollen particles, that only want to help invigorate floral growth, leads to chronic suffering for millions of people for a significant chunk of time each year.
What can we learn from all this?
Like our physical bodies, our souls also react to friendly and harmful substances, but we are the gatekeepers. It's our job to identify which things to keep out, and which to allow in.
Going to shul, studying Torah, keeping kosher, putting on tefillin, giving charity, lighting Shabbat candles-superb for the soul. Gossip, lying, cheating, slander-extremely harmful.
It's our responsibility to weed through all the opportunities and temptations that come our way, hand-picking the things we allow in, so that our souls remain healthy and strong.
And in this way we will fulfill the first commandment of this week's Torah portion "You shall be holy."
Rabbi Vigler co-directs Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side in New York City with his wife Shevi. From Rabbi Vigler's blog at www.chabadic.com
This week we read two portions, Acharei and Kedoshim. In the portion of Kedoshim we find the mitzva (commandment) of making and keeping honest measuring tools. This mitzva applies whether measuring weight, dry measure, or liquid. It is forbidden to make or have in your possession inaccurate measuring tools, even if you have no intention to use them.
After this mitzva is commanded, G-d declares, "I Am G-d your G-d who took you out of Egypt." What is the connection, between honest weights and measures, and the exodus from Egypt? Another question, why is it a sin to merely own them, even if you have no intention to use them?
Rashi explains that G-d took us out of Egypt so that we can be a paragon of honesty in business dealings. As well, just as G-d discerned in Egypt who is a first born and who is not; similarly He discern if someone falsifies his weights or is dishonest in business.
But there is a deeper reason. False weights and measures are the tools of the evil inclination. The evil inclination doesn't tell you to steal or rob. You would never go for that. First he says, "What is so bad about owning false weights, you would never use them." Then he goes a step further. "What is the big deal about using them, they are just a drop off." And step by step he drags you down until he's made a thief out of you.
Owning false weights and measures are the first steps. It is the beginning of dishonesty, though no action was done with them, they represent ill intent and bad choices, the prelude to dishonesty.
And this is where Egypt comes in. Though G-d decreed that the Jewish people would suffer by the hands of the Egyptians, each Egyptian had free choice to bring suffering upon or not to oppress the Jews. The Jewish people would have been oppressed without their involvement. It was each individual Egyptians bad choice or evil intent to heap suffering upon a Jew and that is why the Egyptian was ultimately punished by G-d.
It all begins with ill intent and bad choices.
After commanding us to use honest weights and measures, G-d declares, "I took you out of Egypt, the place of ill intentions and bad choices. I want you to be better than them. I want you to be a beacon of goodness and honesty. That is why I took you out of Egypt."
Honesty is the basis for the mitzvot and defines us as G-d's people.
To dispel dishonesty, we need to first dispel ill intent and bad choices. Get rid of bad influences and temptations. You will find it liberating, like a weight removed from your shoulders. Honesty in business and with your acquaintances, is how you influence them to want to be more like you and to follow in G-d's ways.
Additionally, by connecting honesty with the exodus from Egypt, G-d gives us a clear indication that honesty is a prerequisite to bringing the future redemption. May it come soon.
Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the teachings of the Rebbe, yitzihurwitz.blogspot.com. Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.
Souls on the Don
by Yanky Ascher
"My name is Yuri Zuzin," he began, "but you can just call me George."
"Did you always know that you were Jewish?" I asked.
"When I was 14 years old, some of my friends called me a 'jid' (kike). I never heard the word before, and didn't know why they were calling me that. So I asked my mother. She told me that we were Jews and that we should not feel bad about it. On the contrary, it is something special. That was about the extent of my involvement in Judaism during communism. It wasn't until after the fall of the Iron Curtain that I started coming to the synagogue."
"Is there a message you'd like to give the youth in the community?" I asked.
"Don't forget who you are and never be ashamed of it. We don't live in the Soviet times anymore."
"I was seven when Stalin died," said Oleg, a retired sports trainer. "I was never able to receive a Jewish education, but my mother made sure I knew that I was a Jew."
Oleg never knew who his father was and didn't want to ask. When told that he couldn't open a bank account without his father's name, he went home and decided to broach the subject with his mother. She began to cry. "That was the last time I ever asked," he said.
"In the 70's, my mother took ill, and we came to Rostov to get proper care. When the doctors told her that she'd have to have her leg amputated, my mother called me in. 'Oleg,' she said. 'I want you to cover your head and go to the synagogue. Pray for me.'"
"I did as she asked," he said, looking up at the Torah ark. "That was the first time I prayed here."
Oleg had no siblings. He married late and never had children. "I am the end of the line," he said, holding back tears.
Slowly, Oleg pulls something out of his bag. He unwraps a newspaper to reveal a Chumash. "This is not Tolstoy. You don't just read it. The Torah must be kept close. You need to live it."
"I thought I heard a helicopter approaching," she began, "but helicopters weren't common in Lugansk. The sound kept getting louder and louder, as the chopper hovered over my building."
June 2, 2014
"I woke in a panic. 'Thank God,' I thought. 'It was just a dream.' But it wasn't. Military aircraft began flying over our home. I could feel the walls shaking.
"When the fighter jets stopped flying overhead, we were able to hear the firefighting in different neighborhoods around us. Our quiet city had become a war zone, with the constant sounds of bombings and sirens. I was afraid. I thought about God. For the first time, I realized that I really believed in Him.
"When the tanks came and parked in the soccer field across the street from us, we knew it was time to leave. It's good we did because all the buildings that surrounded our home were bombed. So when our grandfather found a job opportunity in Rostov, we all packed our bags and crossed the border, leaving the country we once called home behind.
"Can we talk about something else?" Miriam asked.
"Sure," I said. "Can you share any happy memories from your childhood?"
Miriam thought for a moment.
"When I was in the first grade, my teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. 'I want to be a boss,' I said. But my teacher told me that a boss was not a profession. Later, I was visiting our synagogue, and there was a woman there who organized all the holiday events. 'That's it,' I thought to myself. 'That's my dream. That's what I want to be."
"It took a war and a difficult move, but today my dream has come true. I'm so happy that I was able to join the Jewish community here, and I'm excited to be working with our youth club, RoshTov. I found my place. I'm a very proud Jewish girl and every time we organize an event or celebrate a holiday, I get to share that with my community. What could be better?"
New Campus Approved
The Chabad Center in Berlin has been consistently growing since it was established two decades ago. Chabad of Berlin has a synagogue, an educational center, a kindergarten, an elementary and high school spread over the city. They recently purchased and had plans approved for a new 7,000 square-meter (75,300 square-feet) campus that will unite all Chabad schools under one roof. In addition, there will be a library, cafeteria, movie theater, concert hall, ballroom, sports center and outdoor playground and garden.
New Nursing Center
The Moscow Shaarey Tzedek Chesed Center recently dedicated a nursing center for the elderly, many of whom are Holocaust survivors. To date, it is the largest center of its kind in all of Russia, and provides dedicated and professional nursing care to about 2,000 elderly Jews free of charge.
Rosh Chodesh Iyar, 5731
To all participants in the "Evening with Lubavitch" in Philadelphia, Pa.
G-d bless you-
Greeting and Blessing:
I am pleased to extend greetings and prayerful wishes to all participants in the Evening with Lubavitch, and particularly to the honored guests.
Inasmuch as the event is taking place in the days of Sefirah ("Counting of the Omer"), it is well to reflect on the significance of this Mitzvo [commandment].
At first glance, the counting of days seems to be of no consequence, since the flow of time is beyond man's control. Yet, it is obviously very significant in that it lends emphasis to the period connecting the two most important events in Jewish history: Pesach - the liberation from Egyptian bondage, marking the birth of the Jewish people; and Shavuos - the Receiving of the Torah at Sinai, where the Jewish people became a truly free and mature nation.
Like all things with Torah, the Counting of the Omer has many aspects. To one of them I will address myself here.
Generally, the counting of things by the unit, rather than by approximation of the total, indicates the importance of the thing. The fact that each day, day after day for forty-nine days, a Brocho [blessing] is said before the counting further emphasizes the importance of this thing - in this case, the value of time. The Brocho we make expresses not only our gratitude to G-d for giving us the Mitzvo of Sefira, but also our gratitude for each day which He gives us. We must learn to appreciate the precious gift of each day by making the proper use of it. The tasks we have to accomplish today cannot be postponed for tomorrow, since a day gone by is irretrievable.
Secondly, while it is true that the flow of time is beyond our control, since we can neither slow it or quicken it, expand it nor shrink it, yet in a way we can directly affect time by the content with which we fill each day of our life. When a person makes a far-reaching discovery, or reaches an important resolution, he can in effect put "ages" into minutes. On the other hand, time allowed to go by without proper content has no reality at all, however long it may last.
Correspondingly, the Torah tells us that man has been given unlimited powers not only in regard to shaping his own destiny, but also the destiny of the world in which he lives. Just as in the case of time, the real length of it is not measured in terms of quantity but in terms of quality, so also in regard to a man's efforts. Every good effort can further be expanded by the vitality and enthusiasm which he puts into it. Indeed, the period of seven weeks connecting the abovementioned two greatest historic events in Jewish life illustrates the Torah concept of time and effort as indicated above. In the course of only seven weeks, a people which has been enslaved for 210 years to most depraved taskmasters were transformed into a "KinG-dom of Priests and Holy Nation," who witnessed the Divine Revelation at Sinai and received the Torah and Mitzvoth from G-d Himself.
"Lubavitch" teaches and exemplifies the principle of the predominance of form over matter, of the soul over the body. It is not the quantity-in terms of physical capacity and length of time-that is the essential factor, but it is the quality of the effort and the infinite capacity of the soul that determine the results.
I trust that the spirit of Lubavitch will stimulate each and all of the participants to ever greater accomplishments in all areas of Jewish life, both personal and communal.
With blessing for Hatzlocho [success],
What is Pesach Sheni?
The 14th of Iyar is Pesach Sheni, the Second Passover. When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, all those who weren't capable of offering the paschal lamb in its proper time on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Nisan (due to impurity or distance), would offer the Paschal Lamb exactly one month later, on the 14th of Iyar. It is customary to eat matza on the day of Pesach Sheni. There are also those who partake of matza on the evening following Pesach Sheni.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, wrote: "The theme of Pesach Sheni is that it is never too late! It is always possible to put things right. Even if one was ritually impure, or far away, and even in a case when this impurity or distance was deliberate - nonetheless it can be corrected."
Wednesday (May 10 this year) is Pesach Sheni.
It's never too late! We can always make up for a past misdeed, omission or failing through sincere desire and making amends.
It's never too late! What an inspiring and optimistic thought! There's always a chance to improve, to become better, to learn and do.
This is truly a motto worth memorizing (and hanging on the refrigerator). Rather than muttering about yourself or another person, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks," realize that it's never too late.
You didn't put on tefilin yesterday? Today's a new day and it's never too late.
You didn't light candles for Shabbat last Friday night? Do it this week; it's never too late.
You never went to Hebrew school, so you can't read Hebrew? Enroll in an adult education course; it's never too late.
You haven't yet enrolled your own children in Hebrew school (or Jewish summer camp)? Do it now, it's never too late.
You never knew that Judaism had so much to offer? Now that you know, do something about it, because it's never too late!
Akavya ben Mehalel said: "Reflect upon three things and you will not come near sin: Know from where you came, and to where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give an accounting..." (Ethics 3:1)
Reflect upon three things - all three together. If you reflect on only one, or some of them, not only will they be ineffective, but such a meditation could even cause harm. If you reflect only on the first, you will come to the conclusion that you are not to blame for anything. If you reflect only on where you are going you might mistakenly believe that there is no ultimate judgment and accounting. Therefore, we are told to also reflect on "before Whom you are destined to give an accounting." All three aspects of this mediation are dependent upon each other.
This Mishna teaches a person that he must have three entities in mind and when he does so, he "will not come to sin." Generally, a person thinks about two entities, himself and G-d, for "I was created solely to serve my Creator." We must be aware of a third entity, the world at large. The world was created by G-d for a Jew to use in service of Him, i.e., that a Jew should refine his body and his soul, and spread refinement in the world at large, transforming it into a dwelling for G-d.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 13 Iyar, 5751-1991)
Rabbi Shimon said: "... three who ate at one table and did speak words of Torah there, it is as if they had eaten from the table of G-d..." (Ethics 3:3)
Three together can recite "let us bless," the opening phrase of the zimun, and in this way they form a "pool" of blessing so that each person partaking of the meal can draw off water according to his needs. But this must be preceded by words of Torah which enable them to form this pool of blessing.
(Tzemach Tzedek's Or HaTorah)
The wife of the Baal Shem Tov was awakened with a start when she heard her husband cry out in the middle of a Shabbat nap. She ran to his side and shook him, asking, "What is the matter?" "Thank G-d you woke me up, because if you hadn't I might never have woken up again. Please call my students right now, so that I may relate to them the wondrous things which I just saw when my soul ascended to the Heavenly Academy."
When they arrived and stood around his bed, the Besht proceeded to tell this tale:
"Every Shabbat when I pray the Musaf prayer my soul rises to the upper realms, and there I can hear how Torah is being studied there. When I return to my body, I am able to transmit many of these teachings to you, my students, when we eat the third Shabbat meal.
"I have a certain friend, Reb Nachman Kassover, a great Tzadik, who passed on, and I miss terribly. I have tried many times to find him in the world of souls, but I never succeeded.
Today, when my soul ascended Above, I found myself in a part of the Heavens which I had never seen before. There I saw palatial structures which shone with precious diamonds and rubies. There were towers of sapphire and houses of study which shone like the sun. When I entered them, they were occupied with dazzling souls that sparkled like angels, and each of them was busy in his own realm of Torah study.
"I asked one angelic soul, 'To whom does all this belong?' And he replied, 'All of this is the glory of Reb Nachman Kassover.' I asked to see him, and before me was a soul that sparked fire and whose brilliance outshone anything I had ever seen. 'My dearest brother,' he said, 'these are the souls of those people I brought to the study of Torah and the ways of righteousness while I was on earth.' And he continued, asking me if I would like to remain there with him.
"'If you remain here with me, you will never have to experience the pangs of death, and you will enjoy the bliss of the Divine Presence. The decision is yours to make.'
"I thought for a moment, torn as to which decision to make. Finally I replied, 'I would like to stay, but I want to be buried in the Land of Israel.'
"'You are destined to be buried outside of the Holy Land,' he replied, 'for reasons I cannot reveal. But if you decide to remain here, many things will be revealed to you.'
"I stood there confused and unable to decide. If I remained, I would be deserting my wife, my son and daughter, and all of my students and disciples. How could I leave so quickly without even a last will and testament? No, I decided, I must return. Before I die I must prepare for my departure, not just abandon my loved ones.
"My good friend didn't want to take no for an answer. He continued to beg and plead with me to remain there with him. Finally, I couldn't stand it one more second, and I uttered a loud cry. This is the cry which woke you up. If you hadn't run to me and awakened me when you did, I would have lost my will to return and my soul would have remained Above."
The power of prayer is not completely understood by us, but in the words of one of the Rebbes of Lubavitch, "If you knew how the words of Psalms ascend to the highest Heavens you would never stop reciting them."
Through his holy vision, the Baal Shem Tov saw that a decree was made Above against a certain Jewish settlement. Summoning two of his companions, Reb Mordechai and Reb Kehos, the Besht set about to annul this terrible catastrophe.
Ascending to the upper realms, the Besht learned that this decree was firm and could not be rescinded. As his soul descended to earth, he passed by the "palaces" of many saintly individuals. These palaces represented the accumulated good deeds which awaited their soul when their earthly lives had ended. One palace in particular attracted his attention, for it sparkled so brilliantly. He approached it to see to whom it belonged, and discovered that it was the palace of a certain simple villager.
What, he wondered, had this man done to merit such a reward in the next world? It was the custom of this uneducated, but pious Jew to recite the entire book of Psalms five times every day as he went about his work.
When the Besht returned to earth, he traveled to the village of that man and asked, "If you knew that your reward in the World to Come could save an entire community of Jews, would you be willing to give it up?"
The unassuming fellow replied, "If I have a portion in the next world, I would certainly give it away to save my fellow Jews."
With that utterance, the decree was abolished, and for his total self- sacrifice, the simple villager won the admiration of all the Heavenly host.
Currently, we connect to G-d volitionally: in thought, speech and action we attempt to fulfill G-d's commands. In the times of Moshiach, the connection will be innate and automatic: as a matter of course we will be aware of and fulfill G-d's Will, because the mitzvot (commandments) will express not just the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people, but their unified essence.
(From Reflections of Redemption by Dovid Yisroel Ber Kaufmann o.b.m., to whom this column is dedicated)