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668: Emor

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L'Chaim
May 11, 2001 - 18 Iyyar, 5761

668: Emor

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  667: Achrei Mos-Kedoshim669: Behar-Bechukosai  

A Fork is...  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Rambam this week  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

A Fork is...

By Rabbi Yaakov Goldberg

There was a time when the Israeli government was involved in gathering Jewish children from primitive countries and resettling them in Eretz Yisrael (the Holy Land). First, however, the children were brought to refugee camps in Europe where they were supposed to make a transition to Western culture.

When the children were served their meals, in front of them was a full place setting - a plate, a cup, and silverware. The only problem was that these children had never seen silverware before and they didn't know what to do with them. Then, one boy picked up his fork and put a piece of paper in the prongs and started blowing on it. With this, he made a little harmonica. The other children saw and they all figured out what this fork must really be for - making a harmonica - and they all did the same thing.

Everything in this world was created and designed for a purpose. Yet a person can always invent his own way of using whatever he wants. But this is not the real purpose. The real purpose is revealed to us through G-d's Torah.

Torah in general, and Chasidic philosophy especially, describes the true objective behind everything in this world, for the world itself and for ourselves. The Sages say that the only reason gold was created was to be used in the Holy Temple. The fact is, gold has also been used for many other purposes: good functions, holy purposes, mundane things and even idolatry. Nevertheless, the Sages tell us that none of that is the real purpose of gold. Gold was created only for the Temple.

Many years ago, people in the religious community asked the Rebbe how he could instruct his Chasidim to broadcast Torah on the radio when radio is a vessel for so many negative messages. They felt that perhaps radio was a contaminated medium. The Rebbe expained that if something was created and exists in this world, then G-d wants us to have it for a purpose. That purpose is the making of this world into a dwelling place for Him. The radio was really only created for disseminating Torah and making the world a more holy place.

This is the true purpose for everything - that we make the world a fitting place for G-dliness to be seen by the physical eye. This should be immediately through the revelation of our righteous Moshiach.

Rabbi Goldberg is the dean of Hadar HaTorah Yeshiva in Brooklyn, NY.


Living with the Rebbe

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


A Slice of Life

In Search of Salek Beim

by Tzvi Jacobs

In April 1945 the Nazis gathered Jews from all of the work camps in Austria and marched them for ten days, with no food and no water. Whoever could not walk was shot. Just before the United States Army came upon the surviving Jews the Nazi soldiers fled, abandoning their "workers."

A U.S. Army captain slowly drove his Jeep through the breathing bones and ghostly bodies of the remnants of so many flourishing Jewish communities. The captain had seen the ugly side of battle for three years, but he was unprepared for this scene. He stopped in front of Zalman Beim and his two sons, 21-year-old Salek and 16-year-old Zushik, and spoke to them in Yiddish.

"I'm a Jew born in the United States. But my father was born near your hometown of Krasnow." He discovered that the Beims were relatives. The captain had a troop to lead but these dying men were his kin. He drove them in his Jeep to the hospital in Lambach, Austria, and wrote a letter on official U.S. Army stationery requesting that these three men be given the best medical treatment. Zalman was diagnosed with tuberculosis and his two sons suffered from typhus. The nuns at this Catholic hospital gave Zalman all of the available treatments but penicillin was not yet on the market. After two months, Salek and Zushik recovered and were discharged from the hospital. An Austrian officer, Colonel Anton Pokorny, took them into his own home and "adopted" them as part of his family. The two brothers worked at various day jobs and visited their father in the evening.

"Please don't let me die here with this tzelem (graven image) above my head," their father would moan at each visit.

After six months in the hospital and no significant improvement in their father's health, the brothers hired two ambulance scooters to transfer their father to a sanatorium in northern Italy that was known for treating tuberculosis. The two scooters reached the Italian border town of Bolzano and took two rooms for the night at an inn. For the first time in six months, Zalman laid on a bed without a tzelem hanging over his head.

"If I die in Italy, please promise that someday you'll remove my bones and bury them in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel, at the time known as Palestine)."

That evening, the soul of Zalman, the son of Yisrael, departed. The brothers saw to it that their father was given a kosher burial in Bolzano, with a small tombstone marking his gravesite. The two brothers no longer had a reason to remain in Vienna with their adopted family, and they went to Salzburg. The two boys kept in touch with the Austrian officer, their adoptive non-Jewish father, until he passed away in 1975.

On Monday, February 19, 2001, 77-year-old Salek Beim, now a married man and the father of four grown children and about a dozen grandchildren, followed a routine that he had been following more or less for about 30 years.

Up at 3:30 a.m., Salek studied from three Jewish books (Mishna, Tanya and Chumash), drove to a local morning service in Morristown, New Jersey, and set out the prayer books and prayer shawls for the rabbis and whoever was on his list.

Rarely did he ask anything for himself except that lately he needed help putting on his overcoat. However, on that morning, he asked for an aliya to the Torah reading.

On Tuesday, he repeated his usual routine. As always, he smiled and ribbed his younger congregants. "Oy, what's the use of complaining? You would think Hashem would give me a break," said Salek, or some variation of that theme. That afternoon, his son Dr. Danny Beim, took Sal for some tests and shortly after Sal's soul left his body.

During the week of shiva, Zushik shared with me the painful story of his family's Holocaust experiences. On the Thursday night after Zushik told this story, the phone rang at Sal Beim's home. "May I speak with Sal Beim?" an older woman with a European accent asked Mrs. Beim when she answered the phone.

"Sal is not here right now, but his brother Zushik is visiting from Israel," said Sal's widow, not wanting to shock anyone who didn't yet know of Sal's passing.

About an hour after Mrs. Beim received the phone call, I telephoned to say good-bye to Zushik.

"You wouldn't believe who Zushik has been speaking to on the phone for the past hour," the Beims' daughter Betty said.

It was Katya Pokorny, the daughter of the Austrian officer. For 30 years Katya had been looking for her Jewish adopted brothers, her only living family. Three years ago, Katya searched through her father's boxes and found an address book with Salek and Zushik's addresses in the United States and Israel, respectively. The phone numbers and addresses were old; the numbers had been disconnected and letters she wrote were not forwarded to any new addresses.

On Thursday evening, March 8, 2001, Katya's friend called her. "I found a phone number on the Internet for Salek Beim."

Katya called the Beim home, having convinced herself that they would want to hear from their non-Jewish Austrian "stepsister."

Zushik told me about the mini-reunion that had taken place over the phone just before I spoke to him. I recalled that that night was the seventh day of the Jewish month of Adar, the birthday and yartzeit of Moses. Surely this was providential.

I imagined that in the "World of Truth" Salek had been invited to attend a heavenly gathering. In my musings, Moses said to Salek, "L'Chaim, to eternal life, Reb Salek. May I give out your phone number? A righteous Austrian woman has been pleading for your number for 30 years..."

Tzvi Jacobs is the author of From the Heavens to the Heart. Contact him or read more of his stories at www.tzvijacobs.com


What's New

The Bat Mitzvah Club: Debbie's Story

Debbie Solomon is a reluctant big sister, champion swimmer and math class misfit. She has a whole circle of friends who can empathize with her dread over her upcoming Bat Mitzvah. Join Debbie at her first Bat Mitzvah Club meeting (her mother enrolled her as a "surprise"), on a special visit with her grandmother where she learns a family secret, and as she becomes obsessed with a research report assigned by her English teacher. As Debbie's Bat Mitzvah approaches, she is in for a real surprise! Written by Shayna Meiseles, created by Esther Frimerman (founder of the international Bat Mitzvah Club) and published by Kehot Publications.


The Rebbe Writes

13th of Iyar, 5730 [1970]

Greeting and Blessing:

I was pleased to be informed of the forth-coming auspicious day Lag b'Omer activities....

The story of Lag b'Omer, as related in the Gemoroh, is well known. Our Sages tell us that the disciples of Rabbi Akiva were stricken by a plague because they were not respectful towards one another. But on the thirty-third day of Sefirah [counting the Omer] - Lag b'Omer - the plague stopped.

As in the case of all stories of the Torah, which are also part of the Torah, meaning "instruction," the story of Rabbi Akiva's students contains a lesson for each and every one of us, particularly pupils, boys and girls.

To begin with: Since the Gemoroh testifies that they were "disciples of Rabbi Akiva," it is clear that they were worthy of this title. This means that they were dedicated to the Torah and Mitzvos with devotion, diligence and Mesiras Nefesh (self-sacrifice), as the great Tanna and exalted Sage had taught them.

It follows that their lack of respect for one another could not have been due to trivial matters, but was motivated by the high level of their spiritual standing as "disciples of Rabbi Akiva."

The explanation of their conduct is to be found in the saying of our Sages, of blessed memory, that people generally have different minds and different concepts. Each individual has therefore his own approach in serving G-d, studying the Torah and observing the Mitzvos with "Hiddur" [in an enhanced manner]. For example, one person may do it primarily out of love for G-d, another person may do it primarily out of fear of G-d, a third may do it primarily out of a sense of complete obedience and submission to the Will of G-d and so forth, though in actual practice, all of them, of course, fully and meticulously observe the Torah and Mitzvos in the daily life.

Now, being disciples of Rabbi Akiva, they were surely "men of truth," who served G-d with the utmost sincerity and devotion, which permeated their whole being. Thus, it seemed to each one of them that his particular approach was the right one, and anyone who had not attained his level was lacking in perfection.

Moreover, being disciples of Rabbi Akiva, who taught, "Thou shalt love thy fellow Jew as thyself - this is the great principle of the Torah," they were not content personally to advance from strength to strength in their own way of serving G-d, but they wished to share this with their friends and tried to influence them to follow their path. Seeing that the others were reluctant to accept their particular approach, they could not respect them to the degree that was to be expected of the disciples of Rabbi Akiva.

In the light of the above, we can see that the story of Lag b'Omer in the Gemoroh teaches us what should be the right conduct of each and every one of us, and the instruction is threefold:

  1. Serving G-d, studying the Torah and observing the Mitzvos, both the Mitzvos between man and man, and the Mitzvos between man and G-d, must be perfect with true inspiration and vitality, which permeate the whole of the person and his daily conduct.

  2. The above includes, of course, the great Mitzvah of V'Ohavto L'Reacho Komocho (love your fellow Jew as yourself), which must also be fulfilled with the utmost vitality and in the fullest measure.

  3. Together with the above, a person must look kindly and most respectfully upon every Jew who is fully committed to all the Torah and Mitzvos but differs only in the manner of worship, whether it is out of love, or out of reverence, etc.

A further instruction from the above is that even if one meets a Jew who has not yet attained the proper level of Divine service, the approach must still be that of respect and affection, in accordance with the teaching our Sages, "Judge every person favorably." It is necessary to bear in mind that the person lacking in commitment to Yiddishkeit may not be responsible, and that he simply may not have had the opportunity to receive the proper Jewish education. On the contrary, in such a case, one must pity such a person all the more, and it is necessary to make the utmost effort to help him come closer to Yiddishkeit, and to do so with love, respect and in a pleasant manner....

May G-d bless each and every one of you, in the midst of all our people Israel, that you should live and act in accordance with the spirit of Lag b'Omer, as mentioned above, and that you should do so with the utmost measure of true Ahavas Yisroel, with joy and gladness of heart; and that you should go from strength to strength in all your affairs, to hasten the realization of the words of the (Lag b'Omer) week's Sidra [Torah portion]: "I will break the bars of your yoke (in exile) and make you go upright ," - in fulfillment of the true and complete Geulo [Redemption], through our righteous Moshiach.

With blessing for Hatzlocho [success] and good tidings in the aforementioned,


Rambam this week

18 Iyar 5761

Prohibition 216: sowing grain or vegetables in a vineyard

By this prohibition we are forbidden to plant grain or vegetables in a vineyard. This form of kilayim (mixed seeds) is called "mixed seeds in the vineyard," and is contained in the Torah's words (Deut. 22:9): "You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed."


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

Today, Friday, is Lag B'Omer, a day that is associated with the disciples of Rabbi Akiva. Because they weren't respectful enough of one another they were afflicted with a terrible plague. On Lag B'Omer they were moved to correct their conduct, and the plague was interrupted. For this reason Lag B'Omer has ever since been celebrated as a day of rejoicing.

From this we learn the importance of strengthening our love for our fellow Jews. Treating one another with respect prevents undesirable things from happening, and causes us to merit G-d's blessings. When we base our lives on a foundation of love and kinship, G-d responds by granting us an abundance of goodness.

Lag B'Omer is also the day when Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai passed away. One of the greatest disciples of Rabbi Akiva, he declared Lag B'Omer to be the day of his rejoicing, as he had completed his Divine mission in the world: to reveal esoteric facets of Torah that had remained hidden up until his time.

For many years after the Torah was given its revealed aspects were sufficient, whereas the more mystical portions remained beyond our compre-hension. But with the passage of time, the Jewish people began to encounter difficult periods. G-d knew that in order for Jews to be able to withstand adversity and continue to observe Torah and mitzvot, an additional source of strength was necessary. He therefore granted Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai permission to reveal the Torah's more secret aspects.

(Generations later, when G-d saw that the Jewish people needed even more strength to withstand the exile, He sent the Baal Shem Tov to disseminate Chasidut, the innermost part of Torah, making it accessible to each and every Jew.)

As Jews, we are supposed to emulate G-d's behavior. Just as G-d revealed the inner secrets of His Torah as a kindness to His people, so too must we be willing to give of ourselves and expend any effort for the sake of another Jew. A token gesture of help is insufficient; all of our inner resources must be utilized when it comes to helping our fellow Jew, and offered with devotion and love.


Thoughts that Count

Say to the kohanim (priests)...and say to them: to a [dead] person he shall not become impure (Lev. 21:1)

According to Rashi, the Torah's wording is redundant in order to warn adult kohanim with regard to minors, i.e., they should be careful that their children not become impure. Another interpretation: The "adults" should make sure that the "minors" (the orphans left behind by the dead person) are still provided with their needs.

(Chatam Sofer)


Six days shall work be done; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of rest, a holy gathering (Lev. 23:3)

Said the Torah before the Holy One: "Master of the Universe! What will happen when the Jewish people enters the Land of Israel? Everyone will be busy plowing and planting, and what will become of me?" Replied the Holy One, Blessed be He: "I will give you a mate, the Sabbath, a day on which the Jewish people will be idle from their work. On that day they will gather in the synagogues and study halls and involve themselves in Torah."

(Midrash)


As he has inflicted a blemish in a man, so shall it be inflicted upon him (Lev. 24:20)

When a person is constantly finding blemishes and defects in others, it is a sure sign that he himself is full of faults...

(Kometz HaMincha)


Lag B'Omer (the 33rd day of the Omer)

According to tradition Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai passed away on Lag B'Omer, tremendously joyful on account of the Torah's secrets he had merited to reveal, which were written in the Zohar. Lag B'Omer thus came to be celebrated as a "yom hilula" (literally a wedding feast), a joyous occasion. Accordingly, even though it is customary to mark the anniversary of the passing of a righteous person by fasting, Lag B'Omer is a time of jubilation, for such was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's wish. We invoke his G-dly memory and pray that his light illuminate all of Israel.

(Sefer HaToda'a)


It Once Happened

As he approached Chernobyl the Chasid was in a happy mood. And why not? Silently he counted his blessings: a loving wife and children, a flourishing business, and soon he would be in the presence of his holy Rebbe, the famous Rabbi Mordechai of Chernobyl.

With these thoughts in mind he was enjoying the scenery when suddenly, he spotted a poor Jew trudging along with a bundle on his shoulders. Stopping the carriage he offered the traveler a lift, which was gratefully accepted.

For the first few miles both men were silent. But after a few minutes the poor Jew turned to the Chasid and asked him where he was headed. "To Chernobyl," the man replied, "to my holy Rebbe."

"Aha!" the traveler said with a smile. "So you're going to Mottele."

The Chasid was immediately offended. How dare this shabby-looking fellow refer to his holy Rebbe in such a familiar manner, as if they were intimates! On second thought, he decided to remain quiet.

"Are you one of Mottele's Chasidim?" the stranger persisted. "Yes," the man replied curtly in an attempt to end the conversation. "What chutzpa!" the Chasid thought to himself. Under other circumstances he would have put this impudent clod in his place, but he had no wish to ruin the journey further.

But the stranger was clearly in the mood to talk. "How do I know that you're really a Chasid?" he inquired. The Chasid was very surprised by the question and said nothing. "A man is measured by his deeds, and especially by his pocket," the stranger continued. "I'll tell you what - if you will pay me the 20 gold coins your Rebbe owes me, I will believe that you are a Chasid."

The Chasid was shocked. What kind of nonsense was this? "If you can prove to me that my Rebbe owes you the money I will gladly pay his debt," he blurted out. The stranger smiled and fished around in his knapsack until he found a piece of paper: a promissory note for 20 gold coins, signed by the tzadik of Chernobyl. The Chasid examined it carefully. Yes, it really did appear to be the Rebbe's signature, and try as he might he couldn't find any evidence of forgery. Nodding his head, he folded the note several times and placed it in his snuffbox. He then took out his moneybag, counted out exactly 20 gold coins and pressed them into the stranger's hand.

The rest of the journey was conducted in silence. On the outskirts of Chernobyl they reached a crossroads and the stranger asked to be let off. Before he climbed down from the carriage, he thanked the Chasid for his kindness and blessed him with success.

The Chasid watched the stranger walk off into the distance. Within minutes the man and his bundle were no bigger than a tiny dot that eventually disappeared over the horizon.

The Chasid took out the promissory note and inspected it even more closely, but again could find no fault with it. By that time, however, he realized that he had arrived in Chernobyl. With more important things to attend to he slipped the note back into his snuffbox and promptly forgot about it.

It was a busy Friday when he arrived, and Chernobyl was filled with hundreds of other Jews who had come to bask in the Rebbe's presence. Shabbat was spent in a state of spiritual elevation. To the Chasid, the opportunity to pray with the Rebbe and hear his words of Torah was nothing less than a foretaste of the Garden Eden.

When Shabbat was over the Chasid requested a private audience with the Rebbe. Oddly, the first thing the Rebbe asked him was whether he had any snuff with him. "Certainly," the Chasid replied, immediately proffering his snuffbox. As he opened it he saw the note he had forgotten about, and after a moment's hesitation handed it over to the Rebbe, who had noticed him pause.

"How did this come into your hands?" the Rebbe asked him. The Chasid related the whole unlikely story of the stranger who had claimed that the Rebbe owed him money, and was shocked when the Rebbe verified it as true. "As Divine Providence has led you two to meet, I can reveal to you that that stranger is one of the 36 hidden tzadikim in every generation in whose merit the world exists," he explained, adding that he had taken it upon himself to uphold him financially.

An involuntary shiver passed through the Chasid's body. A hidden tzadik had traveled in his carriage - and he hadn't known! He had even mistaken him for an impudent clod...

Noting his distress, the Rebbe eased his mind. "Don't worry, you've done nothing wrong," he reassured him. "If you were chosen to share in the mitzva of supporting a hidden tzadik, there is no doubt that it is a good sign."

From that day on, each year during his annual visit the Chasid gave the Rebbe 20 gold coins for the hidden tzadikim. And for the rest of his life he hoped to meet stranger again, but it never happened.


Moshiach Matters

It is recorded in the holy Zohar that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was told, "With your book [the Zohar] the Jewish people will go out of exile with mercy." This means that by studying the Zohar, along with the explanations of Chasidut, we will merit the true and final Redemption, very very soon.

(The Rebbe in a talk at a Lag B'Omer Parade, 5750)


  667: Achrei Mos-Kedoshim669: Behar-Bechukosai  
   
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