This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Emor (5766)
This week's section contains thirty-nine negative commandments and twenty-four positive ones, one of which is "Counting the Omer." The Omer was a bundle of barley from the new harvest brought to the Temple altar on the day after Passover in a complicated ritual. Although today there is no Omer and no Temple (until the Moshiach builds the third and final one), counting the forty-nine days from Passover to Shavuot ("Seven COMPLETE weeks" -- 23:15) still remains a commandment.
And in fact, with a bit of Chassidic soul preparation, it can become one of the most deeply personal commandments of them all.
The teachings of Chassidut explain in detail that these seven weeks correspond to the seven character aspects (or emotions) of G-d and of man (because man is made in G-d's image) and through this commandment we can link our personalities to that of the Creator.
As the Midrash ( Vayikra Rabba 28:3) puts it:
Said Rabbi Chiah: "When are these 'seven complete weeks' really complete? When the Jews do the will of G-d."
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains: Rabbi Chiah is implying that Jewish service of G-d can and should be with total emotional and intellectual involvement. But this is not yet COMPLETE. The goal of counting the Omer is to rise to even more complete and meaningful involvement (called B'chal M'odecha).
Does this make sense? How is this possible? How can it be that even total emotional and intellectual involvement isn't enough? What can be higher? Isn't it enough to believe in G-d? Or just to be religious and do the commandments?
To understand this, here is a story:
One week before Chanuka 1979, a well-known and distinguished Rabbi active in outreach in South Africa named Rabbi Shabsi Katz (of blessed memory) was entering the Lubavitcher Rebbe's office for Yechidut.
[A private audience with the Rebbe is called Yechidut by the Chassidim because it awakens and activates even the deepest of the five levels of the Jewish soul called Yechida.]
Most of what the Rebbe said was personal but at one point he asked Rabbi Katz if he knew anything about the condition of the Jewish prisoners in the South Africa penal system. Rabbi Katz did. He often visited prisons to help the prisoners. He answered:
"The conditions there are in many ways inferior to those in the U.S. but the South Africans do have respect for the Jewish holidays and allow the prisoners to observe them."
"What about Chanukah?" asked the Rebbe. "Do they allow the prisoners to light Chanukah candles?
"No," Rabbi Katz answered. "That is a problem. In fact I began working on it last year with no results. It's too late to do anything for this year because Chanukah is only a few days away but as soon as I get home I'll work on it for next year. I'll have to arrange a meeting with the … "
"But what about this year?" the Rebbe interrupted.
Rabbi Katz was just beginning to shrug his shoulders as though to say it was impossible when the Rebbe continued.
"When you leave my room, go to the front office and ask one of the secretaries to use the phone. Call the official in charge of the prisons in South Africa and ask for permission for Chanukah lighting . . . this year."
"But Rebbe," Rabbi Katz tried to protest, "it is now four in the morning over there and the chief of the jails is a very high official. He used to be a general in the army. I can't call him now! He'll be furious. I'll do it first thing in the morning."
But the Rebbe didn't agree. "Chassidim do not compromise with the truth. Not only that but when the general sees that you called him at such an hour, he will realize the importance of the matter."
The Yechidut ended, Rabbi Katz left the Rebbe's room went to the office, asked for permission, and lifted the phone. He realized that he dare not think even one normal thought or he wouldn't go through with it.
He didn't have the general's phone number so he called his secretary there, got the number, and requested that she call the general first and prepare him.
He opened a book of Tehillim (Psalms), read for a few minutes, closed his eyes for a second, said a prayer . . . and dialed.
The General answered. The Rabbi spoke apologetically.
"Hello General, this is Rabbi Shabsi Katz. Excuse the hour but it is urgent."
Surprisingly, the general spoke in a pleasant and friendly tone. "Yes. Hello, Rabbi. Oh, no problem. How are you? Yes, how can I be of help? It must be important."
Rabbi Katz felt that a miracle was occurring here and continued. "Err . . . I am now in New York by the Lubavitcher Rebbe who is concerned about the Jewish prisoners in South Africa."
"Yes?" the general was interested.
"The Rebbe wants the Jewish prisoners to light Chanukah candles. He knows that if they celebrate Chanukah in such a dark place as prison, it will put light, hope, and joy into their lives."
The general was impressed. He actually thanked the Rabbi for waking him and concluded:
"Rabbi, tomorrow is my day off but I won't take a vacation. I will send letters to all the jails in South Africa ordering that all prisoners be allowed to light their menorahs. Is that all right?"
Rabbi Katz thanked the general profusely and hung up.
Early the next morning he stood beaming with joy at the entrance of the Rebbe's headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, and when the Rebbe arrived, he gave him the good news.
The Rebbe smiled, thanked him for the news, and asked him to come to his office after the morning prayers.
Now, this was very unusual to say the least. Every instant of the Rebbe's time was precious (for example, the Rebbe received and answered more letters daily than any man in the world, even the president of the U.S.A.) and rarely did the Rebbe make such a request.
So, an hour later Rabbi Katz was again standing before the Rebbe figuring that the Rebbe wanted to thank him. But it wasn't so . . . there was yet another mission!
"Do you know" the Rebbe said seriously, "that New York is the only state in America that does not allow its prisoners to light Chanukah menorahs? I want you to contact the head of the prisons here and tell him that you just received permission for the prisoners in South Africa to light menorahs and there is no reason why it should be forbidden here."
"But Rebbe," Rabbi Katz protested, "I don't know anyone in New York. At least in South Africa I vaguely knew someone, but not here."
"This is no problem," answered the Rebbe. "Go to Rabbi Yaakov Yehuda Hecht and ask him for help. He knows everyone."
Again Rabbi Katz left the Rebbe's office for another seemingly impossible task. He located Rabbi Hecht, told him what he wanted but Rabbi Hecht solemnly replied.
"Sorry, nothing is open today. Maybe tomorrow I can help but today it's impossible. No one is in their offices."
But when Rabbi Katz told him the entire story, Rabbi Hecht picked up the phone and started calling one person after another until, at about the tenth call, he raised his eyebrows and smiled.
"Hello commissioner? Hey, am I lucky to get you! Rabbi Hecht here. How are you? How's the wife and kids? Thank G-d! Oh me? Thank G-d, I'm fine! Listen, I have a very important Rabbi from South Africa that has to talk to you!" And he handed the phone to Rabbi Katz.
The results were unbelievable. First of all it "just so happened" that they caught the commissioner in a good mood. And most important, he was really impressed. "Well," he said, "if in South Africa where there are so few Jews they light Menorahs then for sure we have to let them do it here. Rabbi, I promise you that from this Chanukah on every Jewish prisoner here can light candles!"
Rabbi Katz thanked the commissioner and Rabbi Hecht and ran back to 770 to inform the Rebbe of the second miracle.
He caught the Rebbe just exiting his room for the afternoon Mincha prayer and motioned that he had succeeded. Again the Rebbe requested to see him in private after the prayer.
Rabbi Katz was almost getting used to the unusual but this time the Rebbe had a different message; he wanted to reward Rabbi Katz with a gift. At first the Rabbi refused but finally he agreed: "I want a Tanya (important Chassidic book) from the Rebbe as a Bar Mitzvah present for my son."
The Rebbe told him to go again to the front office where there were waiting four gifts: A Tanya translated into English for his son, a regular Tanya for himself, a Chabad book called "Challenge" for the general in South Africa, and another called Aishet Chiel for the general's wife.
When Rabbi Katz returned to South Africa, the first thing he did was call the general to thank him for his help and to tell him that he had gifts from the Rebbe that he would bring him tomorrow.
But before he could finish his sentence the general announced, over the protests of the Rabbi, that he would be at the Rabbi's house to get the gifts in a few minutes. And, sure enough, shortly thereafter the general was knocking on Rabbi Katz's door.
He shook the Rabbi's hand and explained his haste. "When a man sits in New York and thinks about people on the other side of the world he never saw before in order to make them happy with Chanukah candles, well . . . that is what I call a true leader. And when a leader like that sends me something, I want to see it as soon as possible!"
This answers our questions. The forty-nine days represent meditating on and perfecting all the emotions that make up human personality by linking them to those of the Creator. (Kindness, power, beauty, etc.)
But the GOAL of it all is the fiftieth day when the Torah was given.
On this day was such a powerful revelation of G-d that the Jews actually died and had to be enlivened anew ( Talmud Shabbat 88b). In other words, complete renewal through the Torah.
Something like what happened to Rabbi Katz (and through him the two prison commissioners) in our story; he completely went above his "nature," even his Jewish nature, and changed both himself and the world around him to do the will of G-d.
That is the job of the Rebbe -- to bring people to go above nature, to arouse the Yechida of the soul.
And Moshiach will accomplish the same thing but on a global scale.
Therefore, the coming of Moshiach is compared to leaving Egypt and to the Giving of the Torah; all mankind will be freed from ignorance and selfishness and even the dead will rise.
It all depends on us to purify ourselves and do all we can to prepare the world for . . .
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