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Devarim Deutronomy

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817: Achrei Mos-Kedoshim

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Devarim Deutronomy

April 30, 2004 - 9 Iyyar, 5764

817: Achrei Mos-Kedoshim

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  816: Sazria-Metzora818: Emor  

Insignificant - Not  |  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

Insignificant - Not

We know instinctively what psychology tells us: once our basic needs are met, once we have food and water, shelter, clothing, what we seek most is significance. The despair, malaise, depression of the modern world can be attributed, in large part, to a growing sense of insignificance, a conviction that what we do doesn't matter and who we are has no meaning.

This pervasive feeling of uselessness probably has many causes. The very conveniences of life contribute to it. The more our things do for us, the less we have to do for ourselves. No one in his right mind would give up refrigerators, dishwashers, cars, planes, even computers. But by making the task of living easy, the machines have sometimes made the act of living difficult.

The speed of our world surely factors in. Faster, faster, faster, faster, faster - eventually crashes. Each new stimulation, thrill - the newest new thing - becomes boring. Slow journeys allow for reflection. Pre-fab planning is an oxymoron. If we're busy running - or driving - from one meeting, activity, program, event to another, when do we have time to look deep? If we're scheduled to the second and constantly checking calendars and Palm Pilots to see where we need to be, when do we appreciate where we've been and where we are?

And we talk too fast. Call waiting, call forwarding, voice mail, instant messaging and who know what else. We don't listen much any more, do we? Not to the person next to us in line or on the bus, not to the business associate on the other end, not to... not even to ourselves.

There's too much information. Everyone else is doing something and whatever we're doing, someone else is making news doing it better, faster and sooner. A bicycle rider gets a flat tire in Bangkok; it makes the front page and we feel slighted. The sensational becomes commonplace, and we who live ordinary lives - do we become less than commonplace?

As we learn more and more about less and less - the vastness of the universe, with millions, billions, trillions, quadrillions of galaxies, each with millions, billions, trillions, quadrillions of stars, each composed of millions, billions, trillions, quadrillions of molecules, etc. - as the world seems to shrink and the little niches of meaning get swallowed up, merged into conglomerates of sameness - one's insignificance can be crushing. The sense of being too small to matter, of being no more than a replaceable cog, rises like a noxious, swampy mist from the minutiae and trivia of life. It hovers beneath and between the moments of doing, when we don't think of who we really are.

Against this insignificance, G-d says, you matter. That the living G-d created you means you must be significant. And that significance is inherent. Of course, our actions count - mitzvot reveal G-dliness. But beyond that, the soul, a veritable part of G-d Above, remains attached and important to its Source. And beyond that, the body that houses the soul, G-d cares about that, too. Because we belong to Him.

That's what ultimately gives us a sense of significance, of being important. When we know someone cares, that our being here matters, that we belong to - and with - our spouse, our children, or parents - then we feel we have a place, a role to play.

And when we realize that G-d cares, when we recognize that G-d relies on us, when we know that G-d depends on us to do our part - our "little" mitzva - and that until it's done the entire universe hangs in the balance, immobile, because no matter how "small," in fact, G-d created all of creation only for this moment when we, with our thought, our words or our actions, turn slightly - when we feel the truth of Maimonides's words that the world is suspended and our next move will tip the scales - then we can see and accept the truth of what the Sages tell us, that we must approach each task, each relation-ship, each moment with the sense that, "the whole world was created for my sake."

What can be more significant than that?

Living with the Rebbe

The two Torah portions for this week are Acharei and Kedoshim. Acharei begins by mentioning the death of Aaron's sons, and continues with a discussion of the sacrifices. Finally, it ends with a list of prohibited sexual relations. The portion of Kedoshim is a summary of many of the essential principles of the Torah. Included among them is the famous dictum, "Love your neighbor as [you would love] yourself" (Leviticus 19:18).

To the average person, this commandment seems utterly detached from reality. How can one possibly be expected to love another person as much as he loves himself?

Chasidic teachings suggest that one view all Jews as if they were a complete person. Some Jews correspond to the head, others the body, and still others, the feet.

If you've ever had a headache, you'll readily admit that the pain affects not just your head, but your entire body. And an ingrown toenail can cause an inability to think or concentrate. The body, with all its organs and limbs, is a totally integrated system.

The Jewish people are an integrated body. Every Jew has a part of himself within his fellow Jew. In loving another Jew, he is actually showing love for himself.

A Chasid, Rabbi Shlomo Bayever, once related a story that the Baal Shem Tov told:

"I call as my witness heaven and earth, that when the Heavenly Court was judging a case involving a man having against him a serious charge, a man who was so simple that he only knew how to pray and recite Psalms, yet was exceptional in his love of his fellow Jew with all the faculties of his soul: in thought-always thinking thoughts of love of fellow Jews; in speech-speaking of love of fellow Jew; in deed-benefitting everyone to the best of his ability; sharing the sorrow of every Jew, man or woman, and rejoicing in their joy, that the verdict handed down by the Heavenly Court was that he is to have a place among the righteous scholars whom our Sages said were lovers of Israel."

The sigh of a Jew over the suffering of another Jew breaks all barriers, and the joy and blessings which one rejoices in another's happiness, is as acceptable by G-d as the prayer of the High Priest in the Holy of Holies.

A beautiful custom and practical way to foster love of a fellow Jew is to say each morning: I take upon myself the positive commandment of "Love your fellow like yourself." What a way to start the day!

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

A Slice of Life

Yechezkel Barnett and Ori Dreyfuss
by Yosef Dahne

The Flathead Valley of northwest Montana is a magnet for tourists seeking unspoiled American beauty, and with its majestic snow-capped peaks and shimmering lakes, it offers that in abundance. The area is populated by farmers, loggers, country folk and ex-hippies. But it is not exactly a hot spot for traditional Jewish observance.

Yechezkel Barnett, 23, a student at Brooklyn's Yeshiva Hadar Hatorah grew up in the Flathead Valley. Yechezkel's story is a study in contrasts and Jewish growth. He recalls growing up in a totally non-observant Jewish household.

"I didn't do anything Jewish throughout the entire year, not even lighting a Chanuka menora," Yechezkel recalls. But "I knew very strongly I was Jewish," and he used to get information about the Jewish holidays from his grandparents, along with a "Star of David" necklace that he used to wear.

Friends told him, "You're Jewish. Why don't you find out something about your Jewishness?" To which he replied: "I'd love to. I don't know how."

In his search for truth, Yechezkel explored Buddhism and Native American sweat lodges. But he recalls that he didn't look thoroughly into Judaism until friends told him, "You're Jewish. Why don't you find out something about your Jewishness?" To which he replied: "I'd love to. I don't know how."

So Yechezkel looked in the phone book and discovered a local group, called, appropriately enough, the Jewish Community of the Flathead Valley, and attended a Shabbaton with a visiting rabbi from Texas, who told him that it's never to late to have a Bar Mitzva. So Yechezkel, then known to friends and family as Brandon, studied the Hebrew alef-bet for six months and had his Bar Mitzva right after his 19th birthday.

It was a motley crowd of people who attended Yechezkel's very special Montana Bar Mitzva, including his parents and their biker friends (Yechezkel's parents being avid motorcyclists), Yechezkel's friends with skateboards, his friends from the sweat lodges, and all the while, Yechezkel recalls, you could hear the wagering being orchestrated at a horse auction going on next door. "Give me ten! Give me ten for the filly!"

It was a slow process of growth from there to the yeshiva. Yechezkel continued with his Buddhist meditation, but one morning, after completing his daily meditations, he looked up and saw his tallit bag on the shelf, and he says now, "I thought, 'Why am I not using that?'"

So, on the advice of his Texas rabbi, he began saying the Shema prayer morning and evening, and the Shemoneh Esrei and Aleinu prayers three times a day. And he began wearing a yarmulke on a regular basis. Even in Montana.

A year and a half later, he went on a Birthright trip to Israel, and went on to attend Hadar Hatorah, a Brooklyn-based Chabad Lubavitch yeshiva that is dedicated to young men who grew up with little formal Jewish education.

Recently, Yechezkel decided that it would be great to hold a special Purim celebration in his Montana home, so for this Purim, he organized a couple of other yeshiva students, and they sent along a list of Purim and holiday goodies, including a kosher Megilla, eight challahs, eight rolls of frozen gefilte fish, and 350 hamantashen.

"The whole experience was wonderful," says Yechezkel. One of the other students, Ori Chaim Dreyfuss, saw the event as a beautiful expression of outreach amongst Jews. "It's just an amazing circumstance. Chabad brings a Jewish experience where there wouldn't be one," Dreyfuss said. Another young yeshiva student, Shmuel Shuchat, who is skilled in the mechanics of how to read a Megilla, also went along to perform the reading.

Tanya Gersh, vice president of Bet Harim, the main Jewish organization in the area, says that the community was "super excited" at the news that Yechezkel and his friends were coming to celebrate Purim with them. "We don't have a rabbi and we don't have a synagogue, but we do have a kosher Torah and we try to get together for all the Jewish holidays," Gersh says. "We feel that he [Yechezkel] is a product of this community," she says. "We're extremely proud."

Gersh remembers Yechezkel in the community during his teen years. "It wasn't until he found his Judaism that he really blossomed," Gersh says. "He found himself."

For many in the Flathead Valley, Purim was the first time they ever heard a Megila read in a kosher manner. "I think it opened up another dimension" for many Jews in the area, said Gavriel Snyder, locally known as "Montana Bob," one of an extremely small number of observant Jews who live in the area. "I think it was fantastic."

"It was very emotional," says Yechezkel. "The whole place was just electric" in the moments before the Megila reading, he said.

Tanya Gersh was extremely impressed. "It was a really neat homecoming ... for 'Chezkel,'" Hersh said, using Yechezkel's nickname. "It was incredibly inspirational. Our community hasn't had such an inspirational event, I think, ever."

For more information on Yeshivah Hadar Hatorah, the world's first yeshiva for men with little or no prior Jewish education, contact the yeshiva at 718-735-0250 or visit them online at

What's New

Schneerson Square

The City of Los Angeles dedicated Schneerson Square on Pico Boul-evard, in the heart of West L.A. Named for the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the 47,000 sq. ft. campus houses schools that will educate 1,000 girls from pre-school through high school. The dedication coincided with the Rebbe's birthday, which has been marked by Congress and the White House as "Education Day USA" each year since 1980.

The Rebbe Writes

3rd of Elul, 5722 [1962]

Sholom u'brocho:

I am in receipt of your letter and, as requested, I will remember you and your children in prayer, especially that you should have the Jewish Torah Nachas [pleasure] from all your children, in good health and ample parnosso [livelihood] to ripe old age.

I trust that your home is conducted in a way that serves as an example and inspiration as to how a Jewish home should be conducted.

If the Tefillin and the Mezuzoth in your home have not been checked within the last twelve months, I suggest you should have them checked. No doubt your wife knows of, and observes, the good custom of putting aside a small coin for Tzedoko [charity] before lighting the candles.

With blessing,

24th of Tammuz, 5735 [1975]

Blessing and Greeting:

It is a considerable time since I received your letter with enclosures, including especially samples of the classroom work of your students.

Although this has not been acknowledged promptly, I want you to know that I appreciate very much your thoughtfulness in letting me see all this material.

May G-d grant that you should always have Hatzlocho [success] in your efforts to spread Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in general, and particularly in your work with children, who are the future of our people, as the saying goes.

With blessing,

21 Iyar, 5741 [1981]

To All Participants in the Publication
of the Small Edition of the Bilingual Tanya

Greetings and Blessing:

I was delighted to receive the new small edition of the bilingual Tanya [the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy, written by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. Though, of course, small in size, it has all the good features and also external beauty of its larger predecessor - in keeping with the teaching of our Sages in connection with the verse, "This is my G-d, and I will glorify Him." This is all the more important since the external Hiddur [beauty] of the Sefer [book] is conducive to the study and absorption of its contents.

I take exception, however, to the comment, "the project is now completed" - not to imply, G-d forbid, that the publication part of it is in any way incomplete. But this part is only a prelude to the essential part of the project, namely, to disseminate this sacred Sefer and its central message: to explain and show how the Torah and Mitzvos [commandments] are "exceedingly near to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, to do it" - as the author of the Tanya defines its objective on the very title page. This task - to see to it that the Sefer and its message reach every Jew, man and woman, since both are included in the above definition - is only in its beginning.

I wish each and every one of you much Hatzlocho in working towards the achievement of the said task. The present days of Sefirah [counting of the "omer"] and preparation for Kabbolas haTorah [receiving the Torah on Shavuot] with joy and with inwardness is particularly propitious to go from strength to strength in the said direction.

With esteem and blessing,

Rambam this week

11 Iyar, 5764 - May 2, 2004

Positive Mitzva 72: The guilt-offering adjustable to financial status

This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 5:1) "And if a person sins... he shall bring his guilt offering... but if he cannot afford..."

A person who is impure is forbidden to enter the Holy Temple or eat from sacrifices. Breaking an oath or taking a false oath are also forbidden. If a person commits any of these sins, he is commanded to bring a guilt offering. The Torah considers his financial status. A person who cannot afford an expensive offering is allowed to bring one which costs less.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

On Wednesday, May 5, we will be celebrating Pesach Sheini - the Second Passover.

Every year, on the fourteenth of Nissan, the Jews brought the Passover offering. This commandment was incumbent upon each Jew.

However, the Jews who were spiritually unclean, were forbidden to participate. They therefore complained, and cried out to Moses, "Why should we be different?" - How are we to achieve a similar level of closeness with G-d?

Moses, through Divine direction, informed them that, in fact, they would have a chance. On the fourteenth of Iyar they could bring the Passover offering.

This incident offers two lessons to us:

The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, explained that Pesach Sheini proves that it is "never too late"; we always have a chance to make amends, improve.

An additional lesson relates to the way in which Pesach Sheini came about. According to Midrashic literature, the laws concerning Pesach Sheini were already "written in the Heavens." A new law wasn't created; G-d was just waiting for the people to request it.

Why is this so important? It is similar to the Third Holy Temple, which is all "ready to go" and missing only that we cry out for it. It is similar, also, to Moshiach, who is "just waiting for the signal" from us.

But, we must also remember that our request cannot be made mechanically.It must have the same quality of earnestness that our ancestors exhibited when they requested Pesach Sheini.

Thoughts that Count

On the tenth day of the seventh month you shall afflict yourselves" (Lev. 16:29)

The Apter Rav, author of Ohev Yisrael used to say: "Were I only to have the authority I would annul all the fast days on the Jewish calendar with two exceptions. Those are the Ninth of Av, the date of the destruction of the Temple - for who can eat on such a day - and Yom Kippur (the tenth day of the seventh month), the holiest day of the year - for who needs to eat on such a day?"

You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18)

The Almighty loves every single Jew with the love elderly parents have for the child born to them in their advanced years.

(Baal Shem Tov)

And you shall keep My statutes, and My ordinances, which if a person will do them (otam) he shall live by them (Lev. 18:5)

The word "otam" - "them" - is spelled without the Hebrew letter vav. It is therefore the same letters as the word "emet," which means "truth." This hints to us that if a person lives his life according to truth, acts truthfully in all areas, speaks and thinks honestly, it is promised him that "he shall live by them." For clinging to truth is a special merit for long life.

(Degel Machane Efrayim)

Because the life of all flesh is in the blood. (17:11)

The blood is the "soul" of man and beast. G-d permitted us to eat only an animal's body, and not its soul. Since the blood of a beast is its soul, we do not want to take an animal's soul into our bodies. We must have an elevated consciousness in order to study Torah and perform mitzvot. That which a person eats turns to blood in his body and his mind is nourished by it.


It Once Happened

Moshe Shlomo never understood why, when he asked the Baal Shem Tov to bless him with children, the Rebbe ignored the request but blessed him instead that his business prosper and he be wealthy. "When the Baal Shem Tov (also known as the Besht) blesses me with riches," Moshe Shlomo would tell his wife Rivka, "it never fails to come true, for I am today a prosperous man indeed. Why, then, will he not pray that we have children?"

One day the Besht called the couple to him and said, "Why are you so sad? G-d has blessed you with many things. There are many good deeds that you can do with your money, as indeed you do." And with that, the Besht asked the couple if they wished to accompany him on a trip. Of course they agreed.

When they arrived in a small town near Brody, the Besht suggested that they walk around the town. They saw a group of children playing and the Besht asked one of the little boys, "What is you name?"

"Baruch Moshe," came the reply.

"And yours?" the Besht asked, turning to another child. "Baruch Moshe," came the reply again. "And yours?" he asked a third child. This child was also called Baruch Moshe. Each additional boy whose name the Besht asked was also called Baruch Moshe.

A little girl, sister of one of the boys, offered her name. "I am Bracha Leah," she said. Every other girl was also named similarly.

Moshe Shlomo and Rivka could not help showing their surprise. The Besht, however, did not seem in the least amazed. They continued along the village street, stopping each child they met to ask his or her name. The answer was invariably "Baruch Moshe" or "Bracha Leah."

The Besht went over to an old man sitting on a bench. "Can you explain to us why almost every child here is called Baruch Moshe or Bracha Leah?"

The old man smiled and began: "About 100 years ago, there lived in this village a butcher named Yitzchak who was full of Torah and good deeds. He had one son, whom he called Baruch Moshe. The child was sent to cheder, but it was soon evident that he was no scholar. Try as he might, nothing he was taught would stay in his head. Even private tutoring did not help. A year after his Bar Mitzva, Baruch Moshe left school to apprentice at his father's butcher shop. There he showed an aptitude he had never displayed in school.

"Years passed and Baruch Moshe married Bracha Leah. They lived a content life together and earned the respect of the community. When Baruch Moshe's parents passed away, he wanted to honor them by learning Mishna in their memory. But, try as he might, he could not learn even the simplest Mishna. He gave up in despair and instead just sat in the shul when the rabbi gave a class without even understanding half of what was being said.

"One day, a special phrase caught Baruch Moshe's attention. He heard the rabbi say that whoever teaches Torah to his friend's son can be considered as if he bore the child. These words caused him a special pang of sorrow. 'It is sad enough that we have no children of our own. It is doubly sad to know that I will never be able to teach other people's children, thereby gaining the privilege of calling them my own.' A deep sigh escaped Baruch Moshe's lips.

"The rabbi took him aside and said to him, 'Do not despair. You and your wife are still young. You may yet be blessed with children.'

"Baruch Moshe was overcome with emotion. 'I don't know if we will ever have children. And when you said that by teaching other people's children you can call them your own I felt doubly sad, for I am but an ignoramus. What will become of me?' And he burst into tears.

" 'Dear Baruch Moshe,' the rabbi said compassionately. 'My words were not meant only literally. You can be instrumental in teaching other people's children! By hiring teachers for the children of the poor and by subsidizing the schools so that they can accept more students, you are fathering these children spiritually.'

"Baruch Moshe's eyes lit up. This was certainly something in his realm. He rushed home to his wife and explained everything the rabbi had said. The next morning, Baruch Moshe went out and gathered all the poor children of the village whose parents could not afford to send them to cheder. He hired a special teacher for them, visiting them frequently to see if they were progressing in their studies. And he made generous donations to the existent schools.

"As the years passed, Baruch Moshe and Bracha Leah increased their support for the children's Torah study. I myself, as was all of my generation, was educated in the yeshiva founded by this wonderful couple.

"Baruch Moshe and Bracha Leah passed on 15 years ago. They did not leave behind any biological children. But they left behind literally hundreds of children whom they helped educate and who bear their name. We felt it our privilege to immortalize their memory by calling our children after our spiritual parents. And, each year on the anniversary of their passing, we all assemble together to say Kaddish for their noble souls."

After hearing this story, Moshe Shlomo and Rivka understood their task: they would educate Jewish children, knowing that with the support they extended they were "adopting" hundreds of children. They labored selflessly, never forgetting the example they had heard of Baruch Moshe and Bracha Leah.

Adapted from the Memoirs of the Previous Rebbe

Moshiach Matters

Pesach Sheini has its roots in the heartfelt cry of several Jews who saw the entire Jewish people preparing for the Passover sacrifice and protested, "Why should we be denied?" They couldn't offer the sacfirice because they were ritually impure. Yet their heartfelt cry brought about Pesach Sheini. Today, the entire Jewish people is impure; but we have the right to cry out, "Why should we be denied?" Furthermore, our demand for Moshiach can be presented with far more force than that of our ancestors. They were being denied the opportunity to offer one sacrifice and we are being denied the opportunity to offer all the sacrifices!

(The Rebbe, 15 Iyar, 5751-1991)

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