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Devarim Deutronomy

May 12, 2017 - 16 Iyyar, 5777

1471: Emor

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The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

Text VersionFor Palm Pilot
  1470: Achrei Mos-Kedoshim1472: Behar-Bechukosai  

Do You Want to Want?  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  All Together  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

Do You Want to Want?

by Rabbi Mendy Herson

Israel's army liberated the Western Wall in 1967's Six-Day War

After 1900 years, the Jews had finally regained this peak of religious significance. Many of the soldiers were overwhelmed by emotion and began to cry.

They say that a vehemently atheistic soldier also began to cry. His comrades asked: "This is a HOLY - religious - site; what makes YOU cry?"

The soldier responded: "I am crying because I am not crying."

Very profound.

Depending on particular skill-set, we can sometimes appreciate a brilliant scientist's intellect, an ingenious artist's expression, etc. We can grasp, acknowledge and even be appropriately humbled, because we grasp what's before us.

But sometimes we don't 'get it'. Sometimes we can't really appreciate the profundity of what's unfolding before our eyes. We know it's there, because others see it; we're just not equipped to 'get it'.

We appreciate that there's something to be appreciated. We acknowledge that there's something to be acknowledged.

We want to want.

But that's as far as we can go right now.

It feels like the statement/syndrome that I hear often: "I don't believe, but I'd love to."

I want to want.

This seems like a spiritually primitive place but it's actually very profound. Acknowledgment that comes through the grasp of my skill-set is limited to that grasp. Acknowledgment/appreciation that comes from my LACK of a skill-set, is limited only by the extent of my heart and soul.

The religious soldier appreciated the Wall's presence using specific tools - knowledge, training etc - and his inspiration was commensurate to those tools.

The non-religious soldier used no tools. He just felt. He didn't really know what he felt, but he could appreciate that something special was going on. So he cried.

They were both humbled. But, on the humility spectrum, the non-religious soldier's seems deeper and more profound.

When it comes to our relationship with G-d, this humble place - "I want to want" - has distinct beauty; because it is ultimately only through humility that we embrace G-d's deeper existence.

'I want to want' is indeed low on the spiritual totem-pole, but that's exactly why it reaches so high within the Divine.

This Sunday is Lag B'Omer, a spiritually powerful day when we commemorate the life of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, one of Judaism premier mystics.

At the same time, it's a day associated with this [seemingly] spiritually primitive place of "I want to want".

Touching the spiritually profound through the humility of being spiritually-unsophisticated?


Rabbi Mendy Herson and his wife Malki direct Chabad of Somerset, Hunterdon & Union Counties in New Jersey. This is from Rabbi Herson's blog. Read more at

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion is Emor, which means "say." The Midrash on the first words of the portion, "Say to the Kohanim," explains, "The sayings of G-d are pure sayings." So Emor is a command to say something pure, emulating G-d. While we are generally taught not to speak about others, here the Torah is enjoining us to say something positive about another.

When we speak negatively about someone, we affect the person negatively. This is why lashon hara, evil speech, is so bad; it damages three people, the speaker, the listener, and especially the one being spoken about.

Similarly, speaking positively about someone, will affect that person positively.

But what can I saw that is positive about someone who is not behaving as he/she should?

There are two answers, both found in the Mishna known as Ethics of our Fathers.

The first is, "Don't judge your friend, until you are in his situation." In this approach, when you see your friend failing in a certain area, you should consider that his circumstance is what caused him to fall short. If he would have been in more favorable circumstances, he would not have failed in this area.

The problem with this approach is, that although you have found a way to answer away your friends failings, he is still a failure in your eyes. This, obviously, cannot be what "Emor" is teaching us.

The second is, "Judge every person favorably." In this approach, you focus on the positive. You recognize, that every person is given challenges, according to the greatness of his soul. The greater the soul, the greater the challenges and the greater the ability to overcome these challenges. In this way of thinking, you see the positive in your friend. Although there seems to be a negative, you choose not to focus on that. Eventually, if you practice this approach long enough, you will cease to see the negative and you will only see the greatness in others.

Now this is worthwhile saying. Imagine how this boost of true praise, will affect the person being spoken about. This kind of praise, can be the thing that strengthens him, to overcome his challenge. This is the kind of "saying," the name of our parsha is asking us to do.

Since I was young, I would always try to find ways to lift others spirits. Of course, I have said hurtful things too, which I regret. But over the years, I have trained myself to see good things in people, and compliment them.

Everybody has good and when you expose that good, you raise the spirit of that person. And there is nothing better than lifting the spirit of another person.

Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the teachings of the Rebbe, Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.

A Slice of Life

A Lag B'Omer Miracle
Translated by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton

In May of 1948, shortly after Israel declared statehood, the Jordanian army surrounded Jerusalem with their best trained, best armed forces and sealed it from all outside contact. Several futile attempts were made by the fledgling Israeli army to break the siege but they all failed tragically and after a while the Jews of Jerusalem were suffering from hunger and thirst.

Only a few hundred Jewish soldiers with light weapons were defending the Jewish quarter of the "old city" and everyone knew that at any moment the Jordanian high command would give the word, Jerusalem would fall into their hands and all its inhabitants would be massacred (as had happened in Kfar Etzion a few weeks earlier).

Nothing stood between the enemy and total victory.....almost.

Miraculously the few attempts the Arabs made failed. For instance just a few days before Lag B'Omer they sent an expeditionary force of two tanks followed by several tens of soldiers to wreak havoc in the city.

The small force of Jewish defenders with no anti-tank devices seemed helpless against this armored force rumbling unhindered through the streets until, suddenly, one of the Jewish soldiers bravely jumped from nowhere onto the first tank, lifted the hatch, which miraculously was unlocked, threw in a makeshift Molotov Cocktail and jumped off unharmed all under a hail of bullets. The tank crew made a hasty escape, the tank blew up blocking the road and the invaders retreated.

But everyone knew it wouldn't last long. Every day another Jew died from the incessant Arab mortar fire and the Jordanians had the most modern and well organized army and weaponry including artillery of all the 6 or 7 Arab nations attacking Israel - and they were motivated!

That Thursday would be Lag B'Omer when, almost 2,000 years ago, Rashbi revealed his deepest mystical secrets and declared it a day of rejoicing just before he passed away!

They had to make a fire and rejoice....but how!?

A fire at night (Jewish holidays begin at nightfall) would draw enemy artillery and everyone would be easy targets. Then someone had an idea! In Jerusalem it is the custom to light Shabbat candles 40 minutes before nightfall; there was no reason they couldn't do the same with the Lag B'omer fire! They would light it early while it was still light outside and then they could rejoice a little and do it quietly so as not to draw attention.

About 30 Chassidim showed up. They bought bottles of oil, several bags of old rags and even a few pieces of wood for the fire and made a 'parade', singing quietly, fearing every step, from the Synagogue of the Chassidim until the yard before the Shul of the Perushim.

There they quietly arranged their materials in a pile, lit the fire, formed a circle around the fire and resumed their stifled singing.

But then, something happened. Suddenly they weren't afraid....only happy! They sang louder, began clapping their hands, smiling, dancing and jumping with the joy of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

Before they knew it they were singing at the top of their lungs, drenched with sweat and dancing with their eyes closed. A half hour had passed! It was getting dark!

Suddenly the enemy cannons opened up and fire and explosions woke them from their ecstasy. Never had they experienced such a barrage of artillery! Destruction was everywhere. This was the attack on Jerusalem they had expected and dreaded. Each man ran to his home to his family.

Buildings were falling; bombs were bursting with horrific destructive force. Close to a hundred Jews, rushed to the safest place they knew - the Synagogue! There G-d would save them!

The one writing this true account, Rabbi Avraham Yonaton Gotlieb, recalls how one rabbi, Zev Isenbach, stood at the podium and read Psalm 91, 91 times begging G-d for mercy and protection. And it worked!

Another Jew, Rav Yosel Eichler, appeared in the Shul with a large bag on his shoulder and began distributing its contents, small loaves of bread dipped in oil, saying, "Don't forget that today is a holiday! This is for the joyous meal in honor of Rebbi Shimon!!"

After over an hour the bombardment stopped. Not one person had been injured and it was totally silent! The dreaded Jordanian attack never came.

Suddenly one of the Jewish soldiers who happened to be religious, ran in, waving his arms, "What did you do?! What did you do?! Did you light that fire and sing!? Was it you!?

He calmed down and continued. "You don't know what happened! The Jordanians retreated!! They must have been much closer than we supposed but when they heard your singing and saw the fire they became afraid! They figured the only thing that would make you so happy was that reinforcements with new weapons must have arrived and were about to attack them! So they ran away! One of the Arabs told us!

"That's why they fired all their cannons! Their commander ordered them to cover the retreat as they were pulling back to keep us away!! It was a miracle! A miracle from Rabbi Shimon!! If it wasn't for your singing they would have killed all of us for sure!"

On Friday, the day after Lag B'omer, both chief rabbis of Jerusalem; Rabbi Minzberg and Rabbi Chazan, raised white flags and entered the Jordanian camp with an offer to surrender Jerusalem. All women, children and elderly men were allowed to leave unharmed and even given protection as they left.

Translated from Iton HaMvaser, K'hilot #62 pg. 12. Rabbi Bolton is the head of the Ohr Tmimim Yeshiva in Kfar Chabad, Israel,

What's New

Lag B'Omer Parade

This Sunday, The Great Parade, in honor of Lag B'Omer, will take place in Brooklyn. Last year, over 35,000 children and their families participated. This year's celebration is slated to be even grander. Seating begins 9:30 am, Parade kicks off at 10:00 am, rides open at 12:30 pm. The Parade, replete with floats, musical entertainment, marching bands and clowns, takes place on Eastern Parkway between Brooklyn and Albany Avenues. For more info visit or call (718) 735-0220. Contact your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center to find out about Lag B'Omer activities in your area.

New Emissaries

Rabbi and Mrs. Aryeh Zev Eisenbach moved to Paphos, Cyprus, in time to open a new Chabad Center there where Jews from all over the world could celebrate Pesach together! The Paphos Chabad House is the sixth Chabad Center to open in Cyprus.

The Rebbe Writes

21st of Sivan, 5725 [1965]

You have undoubtedly received my regards through Rabbi -, who had also brought me your regards...

I acknowledge with thanks receipt of your letter of May 9th, also your works on your scientific research. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and trouble in sending me this material. Although the subject matter is entirely beyond my province, I trust that I will be able to glean some general ideas from your writings, and perhaps also some specific ones.

At the risk of not sounding very "scientific" to you, I nevertheless wish to express my hope that you will also apply your research work to good advantage in the service of G-d, in accordance with the principle, "Know Him in all thy ways." Indeed, the discoveries in the natural sciences have thrown new light on the wonders of Creation, and the modern trend has consequently been towards the recognition of the unity pervading Nature. In fact, with every advancement in science, the underlying unity in the physical world has become more clearly discernible; so much so, that science is now searching for the ideal formula which would comprise all the phenomena of the physical world in one comprehensive equation. With a little further insight it can be seen that the unity in Nature is the reflection of true monotheism in its Jewish concept. For, as we Jews conceive of monotheism, it is not merely the belief that there is only One G-d, but that G-d's unity transcends also the physical world, so that there is only one reality, namely G-d. However, inasmuch as Creation included all the souls, etc., there has been created a multiplicity and diversity in Nature - insofar as the created beings themselves are concerned, without, however, effecting any change in the Creator, as explained at length in Chasidus.

You ask me about my reference to the Rambam and where it contains in substance, though in different terms, the concept of the conscious and subconscious of modern psychology. I had in mind a passage in Hilchos Gerushin (end of chapter 2), in the Rambam's magnum opus, Yad Hachazakah. The gist of that passage is as follows: There are certain matters in Jewish Law, the performance of which requires free volition, not coercion. However, where the Jewish Law requires specific performance, it is permitted to use coercive measures until the reluctant party declares "I am willing," and his performance is valid and considered voluntary. There seems here an obvious contradiction: If it is permitted to compel performance, why is it necessary that the person should declare himself "willing"? And if compulsory performance is not valid, what good is it if the person declares himself "willing" under compulsion?

And here comes the essential point of the Rambam's explanation:

Every Jew, regardless of his status and station, is essentially willing to do all that he is commanded to do by our Torah. However, sometimes the yetzer (hara) [evil inclination] prevails over his better judgment and prevents him from doing what he has to do in accordance with the Torah. When, therefore, beis din [Rabbinical court] compels a Jew to do something, it is not with a view to creating in him a new desire, but rather to release him from the compulsion which had paralyzed his desire, thus enabling him to express his true self. Under these circumstances, when he declares "I am willing," it is an authentic declaration.

To put the above in contemporary terminology: The conscious state of a Jew can be affected by external pressures that induce states of mind and even behavior which are contrary to his subconscious, which is the Jew's essential nature. When the external pressures are removed, it does not constitute a change or transformation of his essential nature, but, on the contrary, is merely the reassertion of his innate and true character.

To a person of your background it is unnecessary to point out that nothing in the above can be construed as a confirmation of other aspects of the Freudian theory to the effect that man's psyche is primarily governed by libido, etc. For these ideas are contrary to those of the Torah, whose view is that the human being is essentially good (as the Rambam, above). The only similarity is in the general idea that human nature is a composite of a substratum and various layers, especially insofar as the Jew is concerned, as above.

I will conclude with the traditional blessing which I have already conveyed to you through Rabbi__: to receive the Torah with joy and inwardness, as a daily experience through the year.

All Together

What is Lag B'Omer?

Lag B'Omer is the 33rd day of the Omer period between Passover and Shavuot. It is the day on which a plague killing 20,000 of Rabbi Akiva's students stopped. It is also the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi), author of the Zohar. Before his passing he instructed his students to rejoice on the day of his passing. Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, one of the Kabalists, taught the great virtue of rejoicing on Lag B'Omer, and later the Baal Shem Tov and his followers strengthened the custom.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This coming Sunday is the 18th day of Iyar, which is the 33rd day of the counting of the omer. On that day we celebrate the holiday of Lag B'Omer. There are two reasons for this celebration.

The two Sages who are associated with Lag Ba'Omer, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, both emphasized the mitzva of ahavat Yisrael, loving your fellow Jew.

Rabbi Akiva said that a person should love another Jew as he loves himself, and he was a living example of his words. Unfortunately, as we see, his students did not learn from his example.

In his writings, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai highlighted the concept of unity by drawing attention to the verse, "How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to sit together."

During the Lag B'Omer parade in 1990, the Rebbe spoke about unity. Unity stems from shared roots. Two brothers may lead very separate and different lives, but they share the same parents, and their fundamental common identity remains.

As Jews, we all share a common parentage, that of our forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, and from them we can learn a great lesson about unity. Each of our forefathers had a different approach to Divine service, yet together they formed the unique spiritual heritage of our people. Difference does not have to cause division, and in fact, true unity comes from bringing two opposites together.

Because of a lack of ahavat Yisrael, a lack of unity, we lost our Holy Temple and were sent into exile. Thus, we see that increasing our efforts in this area is the route home, to our complete and total redemption with the coming of Moshiach.

Thoughts that Count

Ben Zoma said: "Who is wise? He who learns from every person, as it is stated: 'From all those who have taught me I have gained wisdom...' " (Ethics 4:1)

In order to learn, a person does not have to be a sage - every person should learn. A wise person is not merely one who learns, but rather one who sees something positive in every person, and from him, he learns that positive quality.

(Likutei Diburim )

He [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 man 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 Yochanan HaSandlar said: "Every assembly which is for the sake of Heaven will endure, but that which is not for the sake of Heaven will not endure." (Ethics 4:11)

The purpose of a gathering should not be to secure the victory of one's own opinion, for in this case, each member of the group will want his opinion to be accepted, and the truth will be ignored. Rather, the purpose of the gathering should be "for the sake of Heaven" - to clarify the matter and discover the truth. Then the purpose of the assembly will be successful.


It Once Happened

On Lag B'Omer it is customary for children to go out into the fields and play with bows and arrows. For adults, there is a custom of visiting the local cemetery on Lag B'Omer. In the town of Homil, every year on this day, all the Jews would pay their respects to the dearly departed: parents, Chasidim, Torah scholars and other beloved members of the community.

The Chevra Kadisha, or Burial Society, would also make its annual visit to the cemetery on the afternoon of Lag B'Omer. Notebook in hand, its members would make the rounds of all the graves and check on the condition of the tombstones. Anything requiring repair was duly noted.

Towards evening, their inspection over, the members of the Chevra Kadisha would gather together for a communal seuda (festive meal). It was always an inspirational event, dedicated to furthering the observance of "acts of true kindness" (as Jewish burial practices are called, as the dead cannot be expected to reciprocate).

It was also customary for the famous Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac of Homil (1770 - 1857, one of the greatest early Chabad Chasidim) to participate in the gathering, joining the Chevra Kadisha in their celebration. Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac, one of the greatest followers of the early Chabad leaders, would make a "l'chaim" and deliver some appropriate words of Torah.

Before he arrived, however, Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac would always conduct his own pilgrimage to visit the grave-sites of his predecessors. Year after year he would follow the same schedule, until one time, something most unusual occurred.

That Lag B'Omer it was already growing late when Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac began his rounds, accompanied by the cemetery caretaker. The setting sun elongated his shadow, accentuating his long white beard. At each grave the Rabbi whispered something audible only to him before moving on to the next one.

At the very end of the cemetery, in the newer section where the most recently deceased were interred, the rabbi paused in front of an obviously new marble monument. Bending down, he read the inscription to make sure it was the one he was looking for before nodding his head slightly.

"Quickly!" he suddenly turned and called to the caretaker. "Go back to town and bring an ax. A strong one, with a heavy blade." The caretaker did as he was told, and few minutes later he was back.

"Now I want you to obliterate everything it says here," the rabbi instructed him. "Take off all the words of praise, all the flowery eulogies and tributes. Leave nothing but the name of the deceased and the date he died."

The caretaker hesitated, frozen in place. But Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac was insistent. "Please, just do what I tell you," he implored him.

With trembling hands the caretaker lifted the ax and demolished the engraving, erasing the litany of good deeds the deceased had accomplished during his lifetime. When the deed was done, a look of satisfaction could be seen on the face of the rabbi. "Good," he told the astounded caretaker. "Now I can attend the seuda with the Chevra Kadisha."

The news of what had happened quickly spread throughout Homil. Indeed, the rumor reached the ears of the members of the Burial Society even before Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac arrived at their celebration.

"Thank G-d I was able to do an act of kindness for a Jewish soul," the rabbi announced as he walked in the door. It was obvious from the way everyone was looking at him that they were completely mystified by his behavior.

The rabbi sat down and made a blessing over a glass of spirits. "L'chaim - to life!" he wished the assemblage before launching into an explanation:

"A few weeks ago," he began, "a simple Jew passed away in Homil. His funeral was small and unassuming. Only a few members of his family were present, plus representatives of the Chevra Kadisha. Like many others, despite the fact that he wasn't particularly learned or saintly, he was a warmhearted Jew who had many mitzvot to his credit. On the other hand, he also occasionally faltered like everyone else. In other words, he was your average Jew.

After he died, his soul went up to the Heavenly Court, where his good deeds and bad deeds came under intense scrutiny. The judgment was about to be issued when, all of a sudden, an angel stood up holding a glistening white marble tablet. It was the tombstone that the deceased's children had erected over his final resting place.

"It seems that the man's children had decided to bestow upon their father - or upon themselves - a number of undeserved honors. The lengthy inscription described a lifetime of devoutness and piety, which, in reality, was only a fabrication. The Heavenly Court was disturbed by this miscarriage of justice.

"Today I did a very great favor for the soul of the departed," the rabbi concluded. "When I erased all of the undeserved words of praise, the Heavenly Court ruled that the man's soul could now receive the true reward it was legitimately entitled to."

Moshiach Matters

The laws of agricultural charity are located in our Torah portion of Emor, in the midst of a discussion about the holidays. Passover and Shavuot are on one side, and Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot on the other. They are placed in the middle of the holiday sacrifices to teach us that these laws - leaving the gleanings and the corner of the field - are equivalent to bulding the Temple. We must sweat and toil to produce the harvest, and yet leave the gleanings and corner simply because G-d commanded it. We must sweat and toil to build the Temple, without a thought of personal satisfaction. We must sweat and toil to change our natures, thus bringing Moshiach.

(From Reflections of Redemption by Dovid Yisroel Ber Kaufmann o.b.m., to whom this column is dedicated)

  1470: Achrei Mos-Kedoshim1472: Behar-Bechukosai  
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