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When Reb Pinchas Horowitz first became a disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch, the Maggid advised him to study with Reb Zusya of Anapoli.
Reb Pinchas went to Reb Zusya and told him of the Maggid's advice. Reb Zusya humbly replied that he could not understand why the Maggid would send anyone to study with him, but he would be happy to study with Reb Pinchas.
"What should we study?" Reb Pinchas asked.
"Whatever you are studying," Reb Zusya replied.
Reb Pinchas took out a volume of Talmud and began explaining the following passage: "When there are only nine people in the synagogue, there is an opinion that the ark can be counted to complete the quorum of ten necessary for prayer." The Talmud then asks: "Is the ark a person? For no matter how holy the ark is, it is people who are required to fulfill the quorum for prayer."
Reb Zusya interrupted: "What does The Talmud mean, 'Is the ark a person?' Everyone knows the ark is only an object."
Reb Zusya continued: "Maybe the intent is that a person can be an ark in which the Torah is contained, a veritable repository of knowledge, but unless he is a person, unless that knowledge is integrated with his humanity, there is a question if he can be counted among the community."
Reb Pinchas understood that this was the lesson the Maggid had wanted him to learn from Reb Zusya: not how to augment his knowledge, but how to use his knowledge to refine himself and change his character.
Judaism considers personal growth a lifelong task for each of us, 365 days a year for every year of our lives. Nevertheless, every year, a period of time is set aside when these efforts become the focus of our attention. This reflects the spiritual significance of Sefirat HaOmer, the 49-day period between Passover and Shavuot.
The Hebrew word "sefira" means "counting." Every night we count one of these forty-nine days. But sefira also means "shining." During these 49 days, we should endeavor to make our personalities shine.
According to the Kabala, the Jewish mystical tradition, we have seven fundamental emotional qualities. These qualities then interrelate, combining each one with another to form the full range of human feeling. Seven times seven equals 49, the number of days mentioned above. This is not coincidental, for the cultivation of our spiritual personalities during these 49 days involves the refinement of our emotions, eliminating their coarseness and directing them to G-dliness. As we work to upgrade our emotional potential, we prepare ourselves to relive the experience of the giving of the Torah on the holiday of Shavuot.
The ultimate experience of personal refinement will come in the Messianic Era, when "there will be neither envy nor competition...." For then the G-dly spark that is latent within every person will be revealed. At present, effort is necessary to look beyond our fundamental self-concern and appreciate the inner, spiritual core that exists within ourselves and within others. In the era of the Redemption, such an endeavor will not be necessary; it will be the way we naturally view things.
What can we do to hasten the coming of this era? Conduct ourselves at present in a manner that demonstrates our awareness of this inner G-dliness. When we show genuine love to another person, we are highlighting the G-dly spark that both we and the other person possess and are establishing a connection between the two. How more Messianic can one be?
Reprinted from Keeping In Touch by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, published by Sichos In English.
When the eve of Rosh Chodesh falls on Shabbat, as it does this week, we read the special Haftara known as Machar Chodesh, instead of the one connected to the weekly Torah portion.
It tells of the time when King Saul's son, Yonatan, felt that the life of David, his best friend, was in danger. Yonatan devised a plan whereby David would be absent from the Rosh Chodesh meal in the palace. He would ascertain from his father's reaction to David's absence if Saul truly wanted to kill David. The Haftorah states, "You will be remembered (or noticed) because your seat will be empty." Over Rosh Chodesh it became clear that Saul wanted to kill David.
Before explaining this episode, we must first explain the unusual custom of reading a special Haftara on a day which is not a holiday and when there is no "Maftir" or additional Torah reading. Why does the eve of Rosh Chodesh have a special Haftara?
Also, aside for the fact that the story in the Haftara begins with the words "tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh," there seems to be nothing in the story that links it to the meaning of the day.
So, there must be something very special about the eve of Rosh Chodesh that the Haftara is highlighting.
Rosh Chodesh is when the new moon appears. Before the new moon appears, it first has to completely disappear. The birth of the new moon brings with it a new light, a new spiritual energy. But in order for the new energy to enter the world, there has to be the total nullification of the moon.
This idea is symbolized by the words, "you will be remembered because your seat will be empty." "Because your seat will be empty," meaning, because of your self-nullification, that is why "you will be remembered," meaning, you will cause something positive to happen.
The Talmud tells us that "Jews are similar to the moon," and "in the future, they will be renewed like her (the moon)." Just as a new energy enters the world through the total nullification of the moon, so too, through our total self nullification - setting ourselves aside with self-sacrifice to do G-d's will - an amazing light is brought into the world. To explain:
Our purpose is to make this world into a dwelling place for G-d. We do this through refining ourselves and our place in the world so G-d will be able to dwell in it openly. This takes work, especially on one's self, first by forcing your ego to do what G-d wants, and then through transforming the ego, to the point that it wants to do what G-d wants. This is the work of the nullification of the self. This process brings amazing levels of G-dly light into the world, and it is the nullification of the self to G-d, that causes the light to come.
This exile that we are in is like the day before Rosh Chodesh. Slowly as the day goes on, the light of the moon gets smaller and smaller until it completely disappears. Then the new light comes. It is specifically our efforts in the darkest part of the exile that causes the light of Moshiach to enter the world.
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.
Send Me an Invitation
by Menachem Ziegelboim
It was the summer of 1972. Dr. Avrohom Goldensky made his final preparations for his trip back to Israel from the U.S. after a year of work on behalf of the Israeli Ministry of Transportation. A little while before returning to Israel, one of his friends suggested he have a private audience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Although Dr. Goldensky was an avowed socialist, he followed up on the idea and called the number he had been given to arrange an appointment to see the Rebbe.
Years before, Dr. Goldensky had been in a serious traffic accident and the doctors had been forced to amputate a portion of both his legs. Thanks to his determination, Dr. Goldensky had overcome his handicap and returned to his job at the Transportation Ministry, where he had worked for years.
The Rebbe's secretary gave him an appointment at 1:00 a.m., two days before his flight. When he entered the Rebbe's room, the Rebbe rose and helped him sit down. The Rebbe and the doctor began to talk, the Rebbe taking an interest in his work and asking him about the research he had done on Breslov Chassidic philosophy and other topics.
At the end of their meeting, the Rebbe suddenly changed the tone of the conversation and began to speak about his health. "It pays to stay on a bit in the United States," said the Rebbe. "You should see Dr. _____ for an examination." The Rebbe added that the cost of the visit would be his responsibility.
Then the Rebbe asked about his family and his only daughter, and asked Dr. Goldensky not to forget to send him an invitation to his daughter's wedding. Dr. Goldensky was taken aback and said that his daughter was still young and not ready for marriage.
Dr. Goldensky left the audience in great wonderment. This was his first encounter with the Rebbe and he was already interested in marrying off his daughter and he even decided he had to see a doctor! Yet, something inside him compelled him to listen to the Rebbe, so he postponed his flight.
The Rebbe personally made sure that Dr. Goldensky had an appointment with a top doctor. The doctor examined and x-rayed his patient, and when he finished, he left Dr. Goldensky shocked by the results. "It was a miracle you were examined now," he said, "for your spinal column is about to deteriorate due to your build. However, you don't have to be treated here. You can have it done in Hadassah Hospital in Israel."
The next day Dr. Goldensky went back to 770 in order to thank the Rebbe. When the Rebbe entered 770, he stopped to speak with the doctor, who reported to the Rebbe about his examination. Then the Rebbe said, "Since there will be a farbrengen (Chasidic gathering) on Shabbat, you are invited to stay for the farbrengen. I will remind you once again, don't forget to send me an invitation to your daughter's wedding."
Dr. Goldensky spent Shabbat in Crown Heights and even attended the Rebbe's farbrengen. Before leaving for Israel, the Rebbe blessed him with a good trip and asked him to keep in touch with Chabad in Jerusalem. Once again the doctor heard, "I am reminding you for the third time, don't forget to invite me to your daughter's wedding."
In Jerusalem, the doctor became friendly with Chabad Chassidim who brought him mezuzot for his home and helped him put on tefillin. Dr. Goldensky began taking an interest in Chasidic philosophy and established a weekly class. Many of his acquaintances, hearing him talk about the Rebbe's greatness, joined his classes.
Three years passed since his audience with the Rebbe. His only daughter was about to marry. He hadn't forgotten the Rebbe's thrice-made request, and was happy to send the Rebbe an invitation.
A short while later, Dr. Goldensky suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized. His Chassidic acquaintances came to visit. A few days later, he received a letter from the Rebbe, covering three and a half pages. The Rebbe blessed him in honor of his daughter's wedding and explained the significance of marriage according to Chassidic thought.
In the letter, the Rebbe strongly urged him to begin to fulfill the mitzvot - "for that is man's entire purpose."
"No doubt you will suspect, rightfully so, that my intent in writing the above is not for the sake of homiletics, and is certainly not for the sake of giving mussar, G-d forbid, but only as it pertains to actual deed. The main thing is the deed, i.e., actual mitzvot; not only understanding their value, but to actually perform them. That is the most important thing. It does not matter a great deal whether understanding is delayed and only comes after the actual fulfillment."
In the rest of the letter, the Rebbe elaborated extensively on the topic: "Knowing you and seeing your determination - despite the state of your health - in your relationships with the people around you - and quite the contrary: this has inspired you to overcome all the difficulties and to demonstrate that not only are you not inferior, G-d forbid, to the people around you, but able to compete with and even surpass them. In this you were successful, and with - and this is most important - a smiling countenance and with optimism. Therefore, I have no doubt that if you would truly decide to at least make an effort to encourage your daughter to establish her life (starting with her marriage) on the foundation of Torah and mitzvot, you will do all in your power to ensure that it will not be contradictory on your part, but on the contrary, you will provide a role model by changing your own life."
The Rebbe concluded, "It would seem proper to ask forgiveness for my mixing in to the private lives of you and your daughter in the way I expressed it. However, since the matter is so vital and so important and so serious, I do not have permission not to express my thoughts and hopes."
Dr. Goldensky spent a long time on the Rebbe's letter despite his ill health, poring over the letter from beginning to end. When he finished reading it he said to those around him, "The letter is extremely vital. I must fulfill everything it says..."
Those were his last words. Shortly after, Dr. Goldensky passed on. Later his family understood the Rebbe's unusual request about inviting him to the wedding. The Rebbe had seen what would happen in the days prior to the wedding, and knew that it would be the fitting time to encourage him more than ever. With words of resolve to fulfill Torah and mitzvot the doctor returned his soul to its Maker.
From Beis Moshiach Magazine
My Sometimes Feelings
It's wonderful when children feel happy, brave, or loving, but what happens when they feel sad, bored, or angry? With adorable illustrations and just a few lines of text, My Sometimes Feelings explores all kinds of emotions and encourages children to express themselves in healthy ways. Written by Leah Chana Rubabshi, illustrated by Amy Wummer and published by HaChai Publishing.
The Secret of Carlos Romanus
The Secret of Carlos Romanus by Esther Kosofsky is filled with adventure that will keep young readers turning pages. Moshe Levi is full of hope as he sets sail from Amsterdam on his very first business trip. His father is gone, and it's up to him to support his mother and his two younger siblings. When Moshe unexpectedly finds himself in Spain, a country in which Jews must pretend to be like everyone else, the young boy must rely on his wits and his bravery. Hachai Publishing makes Jewish history Fun-to-Read!
8th of lyar, 5731 
To the Students of the Girls Division of the Grammar School Lubavitch House, Stamford Hill London, England
Blessing and Greeting:
I was pleased to receive the special Pesach [Passover] edition of your school magazine "Schoolainu." I hope you will send me also the future editions.
On the basis of the teaching of the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism] that a Jew has to live in accordance with the times - the times and seasons of the Torah as reflected in our Jewish calendar, the present days of sefira [counting the 49 days between the second night of Passover until Shavuos] have a timely message for each and every one of us.
As you surely know, our Sages tell us that the origin of the counting of these days goes back to Yetziyas Mitzrayim [the Exodus from Egypt], when our ancestors, immediately after leaving Egypt, began to count the days and weeks to the great day of Mattan Torah [the Giving of the Torah, i.e., Shavuos]. For Moshe Rabbeinu [Moses] had told them that the whole purpose of their being freed from Egyptian bondage was in order that they should receive the Torah at Mt. Sinai, and they eagerly and impatiently looked forward to it, counting each day that brought them nearer to that great moment.
On the basis of this, G-d later made it a mitzvah [commandment] for Jews to count these days of the omer, which connect Pesach, the Festival of Liberation (from physical slavery) with Shavuos, the Festival of Mattan Torah (true spiritual freedom).
If our ancestors were so eager to receive the Torah even though they hardly knew anything about it, how much more so, after Mattan Torah, must Jews appreciate the Torah and mitzvos, especially we, in our generation, who know what the Torah and mitzvos have meant for our people throughout the past generations.
Needless to say, that the appreciation and love of the Torah and mitzvos must express themselves in the daily life, in accordance with the teaching of our Sages that "the essential thing is the deed." By this is meant that the daily conduct should be such that it is clearly seen to be the result of the teaching and instruction of the Torah (Torah-hora'a), including every aspect of the daily life at home and in the school, etc. Where there is a will and determination to this effect, hatzlocho [success] is assured, as our Sages tell us that "nothing stands in the way of the will."
May G-d grant that you should have good news to report in all the above, and that you should go from strength to strength in your advancement.
7th of Iyar, 5741 
Greeting and Blessing:
I duly received your letter of the 1st day of Rosh Chodesh Iyar and, as requested, will remember you for the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good.
There is surely no need to remind you that there is always room for advancement in matters of Torah and Yiddishkeit [Judaism], which is a must for its own sake, but is also the way to widen the channels to receive G-d's blessings in all needs.
The present days of sefira are particularly auspicious for such advancement, in preparation for the festival of Mattan Torah. In this connection, it is noteworthy that in counting the days of the omer, we do not use the ordinal numbers (second day, third day, etc.) but the cardinal numbers (two days, three days, etc.).
This indicates that the advancement in matters of Torah and mitzvos is not just a matter of rising to a higher level, but at the same time it implies retention of all previous achievements in a cumulative way. Thus we say "shnei yomim" [two days] rather than "yom sheni" [the second day] - the difference between two days and the second day.
With prayerful wishes for hatzlocho to you and yours,
SHIMON means "to hear." Shimon was the second son of Jacob and Leah" (Genesis 29:33). Among the many great sages named Shimon, was Shimon "the Righteous" who said, "The world stands on three things: (study of) Torah, service (of G-d) and deeds of kindness." (Chapters of the Fathers 1:2)
SHULAMIT (also pronounced Shulamis) means "peaceful." In Song of Songs (7:1) it was a name alluding to the most beautiful girl in Israel.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In this week's Torah portion, Shemini, we read of the death of two of Aaron's sons, Nadav and Avihu, after they brought a "strange" fire before G-d.
According to some commentators, the brothers brought an offering in accordance with the sacrificial laws as they had been practiced by our ancestors before the Torah was given by G-d to Moses. This, then, is what was strange about it.
Chasidic philosophy offers a unique explanation as to what was strange about the fire. A Jew's soul is likened to a flame, or, at times, a candle. Though placed in a body, it strives to reunite with its source, the G-dly flame. Nadav and Avihu's longing to be united with G-d was so great that they allowed their souls to leave their bodies, "consumed" by the G-dly fire.
However, the true purpose of the soul's descent into this world is not to leave the body and be reunited with its source. That union is meant to take place only when the soul has completed its mission. Rather, it descends to this world in order to transform and elevate its surroundings. If the soul leaves the body it cannot accomplish this.
Many stories have been told about great and holy people whose souls transcended this world and traversed other spiritual planes. They revel in the experience of enjoying the spiritual light and revealed G-dliness of these other worlds. But when the time comes for their souls to return to their bodies, they accede, knowing that this was the true purpose of their life to begin with.
Nadav and Avihu allowed their longing for G-d to supersede their mission in life - to bring G-dliness and holiness into this world.
Shimon HaTzadik... used to say: "The world stands upon three things - upon Torah, upon Divine service and upon acts of kindness." (Ethics 1:2)
This Mishna refers to the author of its message as Shimon HaTzadik - the Righteous. A truly saintly, righteous person is not satisfied with working upon himself only, but makes an effort to influence the world as well, as the verse states, "G-d is righteous and loves righteousness."
(Biurim l'Pirkei Avot)
Yose ben Yoezer of Tzreida said: "Make your house a meeting place of the Sages; sit in the dust at their feet; and thirstily drink their words." (Ethics 1:4)
Whereas Yose ben Yoezer's teacher aimed at perfecting the person himself, Yose ben Yoezer instructed his disciples to aspire to an even higher level - he taught how a person is to permeate even his house with love and awe of G-d.
(The Maharal of Prague)
Yose ben Yochanan of Jerusalem said: "Let your house be wide open; treat the poor as members of your own family..." (Ethics 1:5)
Rabbi Yose ben Yochanan continues the theme of perfecting one's house. In order for holiness to permeate one's home, it is insufficient to merely love Torah. The love of Torah must be combined with the love of one's fellow Jew, expressed in acts of kindness. However, this must be done in such a way that one's hospitality will not result in undesirable negative consequences.
(The Maharal of Prague)
The Ventimiglia stop, France - on the border of Italy. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn (who would later succeed his father and become the sixth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch) was on a long journey on behalf of his father, the Rebbe Rashab, which involved big projects on behalf of European Jewry. His schedule was packed. The following week he needed to visit Petersburg, Moscow, Smolensk, and Lubavitch in Russia, Kiev in the Ukraine, and meet with his father in the town of Menton in France.
In the dining car, the Rebbe saw a middle-aged Jew who was eating the non-kosher food that the dining car offered for sale. He appeared to be well-to-do. The man noticed the Rebbe and went over to him. He held out his hand in greeting and asked emotionally, "Are you the son or grandson of the Rebbe Maharash of Lubavitch?"
"Yes, I am his grandson; his son's son," replied the Rebbe, astonished by the question.
In an instant, the look on the man's face changed. His face reddened and his eyes filled with tears. He returned to where he had been sitting, called over the waiter, paid him, and left without finishing his meal. The man's behavior was a mystery to the Rebbe, who continued going about his business.
In the morning, there was a knock at the door of the Rebbe's compartment. When he opened the door, he saw the man from the day before. The man entered and before he opened his mouth, he burst into tears. His shoulders shook and his entire body trembled. He covered his eyes and sobbed.
The Rebbe stood there, waiting for an explanation for the visit, when the man asked him pleadingly to do him a favor. "Please lend me your tefillin!" he beseeched.
The Rebbe could not believe what he heard. A man who just yesterday had been eating non-kosher food and drinking non-kosher wine now wanted to put on tefillin! The Rebbe opened his bag, handed the man his tefillin, and left the compartment so the man could pour out his heart in privacy.
It was only the following day that the Rebbe heard the man's fascinating story. "My name is Y.M. I was born to a Chasidic family. In my childhood I was with my father in a private audience with the Rebbe Maharash. I will never forget the impression that audience made on me! The Rebbe's holy face, what he said ...
"However, like many young men, I was swept away by life's circumstances and became distant from a life of Torah. My father begged me to return but I, who was young with life ahead of me, thought I knew better. Religious life seemed antiquated to me.
"I joined a Russian organization whose goal it was to help unfortunate people. As a Jew, I ran the Jewish department of the organization. One day, we heard that the Russian government was planning on instigating pogroms in Jewish communities in Russia. We tried to come up with a plan to prevent it, but coming up with nothing, we decided to inform your grandfather, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who would surely take action to avert the decree.
"I was given this mission. In those days, the Rebbe took care of a number of important matters to improve the lot of Jews in the country, which is why he was in Petersburg. Within a short time, a friend and I were in a meeting with the Rebbe at a hotel where he was staying.
"The Rebbe received us warmly even though he definitely saw the changes in my appearance. We told the Rebbe what we knew and he gave us a plan of action. In the days that followed I went to the Rebbe many times to report our progress to him and to consult with him.
"One day, the Rebbe suddenly asked me, 'How long is it now that you have not put on tefillin? And if you think that you cannot tell me the truth, you should know that I know everything about you.' And the Rebbe began to enumerate all the details of my life. I stood there frozen before the Rebbe. I felt dizzy and I cried. For a few days I was too embarrassed to go back to the Rebbe, but after a while the Rebbe called for me and continued to give me things to take care of as before.
"After that, I tried to put tefillin on every day and to eat kosher food. After a long time, I went back to the Rebbe, this time in Lubavitch. The Rebbe gave me certain assignments and spoke to me a lot about my pathetic spiritual state. Among the things he said was, 'How long does a man wander? 50 - 55 years? Cravings need to have a limit!'
"After some time, I heard that the Rebbe Maharash passed away and I started veering off from the path of Torah observance that I had returned to until I again was no longer observing even the basic mitzva of kosher, as you saw.
"Yesterday was my 55th birthday. I sat in the restaurant and ate treif food with a good appetite. And then, I looked up and saw you. Before my eyes appeared the image of your grandfather and in my ears echoed his holy words from that private audience. At that moment, a change occurred in me. Today I am fasting. I greatly regret my life and all the things I did which polluted my soul," and the man burst into tears so great that it was difficult for the Rebbe to calm him down.
The Rebbe Maharash's words had their effect 30 years after they were said. Y.M. once again returned to a life of Torah observance.
Over 20 years later, the Rebbe was informed by a chasid from Amsterdam that Y.M. had settled in that city. He had become renown for his charitable acts and his financial support of Torah scholars. He was leading a life of wealth and serenity on a large estate that he had purchased. He had also founded a synagogue, and attended the prayer services and study sessions there. He continued all of this until his passing a few years later.
From the diaries of the Previous Rebbe
In the days of Moshiach, it will be normal for "our eyes of flesh to see G-d." To achieve this, we must distinguish between the impure and pure, between "the animal that may be eaten and the animal that may not be eaten." By making the distinction, by eating only kosher animals, we refine the physical. In so doing, we remove the coarseness that conceals G-dliness. The Jewish people were given the commandments to refine the world, to bring it to a state of Shemini, the eighth, the days of Moshiach.
(From Reflections of Redemption, based on Likutei Sichos vol 17, by Dovid Yisroel Ber Kaufmann o.b.m.)