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Parshat Acharei-Kedoshim (5767)
This week we read two Torah portions. The first means 'After Death' and the second 'Be Holy'.
The Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chassidic Judaism, taught that every detail in creation and how much more so in every detail of the Torah, contains hidden positive messages about how to live properly.
But first glance this seems to be an exception.
After Death - Holiness doesn't seem to be a very positive idea and not a very Jewish one either.
Judaism teaches that life, not death, is holy and true holiness can be achieved only after birth in this physical world where G-d gave His Holy Torah and commandments and built His Holy Temples.
In fact death is no more than a monstrous lie which will eventually be wiped out when Moshiach fills the world with G-dliness and brings the Raising of the Dead.
So what can be the message of 'After death, holiness'?
To understand this, here are three stories.
The first two are about a holy Jew that lived some two thousand years ago by the name of Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa.
He was a great Torah Scholar but was most famous for his miraculous deeds.
For instance, it once occurred that he had no oil to illuminate the darkness in his home. It seems that he was so poor that he couldn't even afford the most basic necessities and oil was out of his price range. So he told his wife to fill the lamps with vinegar and light them. And it worked! The vinegar actually burned. But Rabbi Chanina was not surprised.
He commented, "The same G-d that made oil combustible can make vinegar combustible". (Talmud Taanit 25a)
Later the Talmud tells another story about him. Once there was a town that was plagued by a huge poisonous snake called an Arvad that would bite and kill any unfortunate traveler it caught on the road. The wise men, elders and hunters of the town tried all they could with no success and finally decided that the only chance they had was to bring Rabbi Chanina to pray that the snake would die.
But surprisingly Rabbi Chanina told the townsfolk to take him to see the hole of this awesome serpent and rather than praying or making mysterious motions and spells to kill him he removed one of his shoes and put his bare foot over the snakehole.
Needless to say, the serpent, happy that it did not have to search for prey, attacked and bit the Rabbi's easily accessible bare foot. But instead of killing him it had the opposite effect - the serpent itself died.
The Rabbi threw the dead snake over his shoulder and presented it to the amazed townspeople explaining that it really wasn't such a miracle.
"Serpents don't kill" he declared, "rather sins kill!"
The townsfolk replied "woe to the man who is bitten by the arvod and woe to the arvod who bites Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa" (Brachot 33a)
The last story is about a modern day Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa; the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Once a childless Israeli Jew who, like hundreds of thousands of his Israeli brothers and sisters, left Israel for 'greener pastures' (in his case New York) by the name of Yosef Gabai was advised by his friends to visit the Rebbe and ask for children.
Mr. Gabai, who at that time was not an observant Jew, figured he had nothing to lose and took their advice.
Every Sunday the Rebbe thousands of people would stand in line before the Rebbe's headquarters in Brooklyn to receive a dollar bill (to encourage them to, in turn, give charity) and a chance to face the Rebbe for a second or two.
When Yosef's turn came he almost froze in his steps… he never had experienced holiness before and here it was standing before him. But somehow he managed to blurt out his request, "Rebbe, I have been married for nine years and have no children."
The Rebbe gave him two dollars and replied, "This is a blessing for your parents."
Before he knew it he was standing outside with thousands of other Jews but he was bewildered and disappointed. Why didn't the Rebbe bless him and his wife? Why his parents?
The next day he had an urge to call home to his parents in Israel only to hear bad news.
His sister answered the phone and told him that a few days ago his father had suffered a severe heart attack and his mother, upon hearing the news had a nervous breakdown which affected her sense of balance and caused her too also be hospitalized in serious condition. The doctors were very pessimistic and all his brothers and sisters, also sensitive people, were on the border of hysteria.
Suddenly he remembered the Rebbe's blessing. "Don't worry!" he said comfortingly. "The doctors are all wrong! The Lubavitcher Rebbe told me that everything would be all right."
And sure enough that is exactly what happened. Just weeks later both his parents were miraculously released from the hospital and, at the time he told this story over twenty years later they were still healthy…and he and his wife were strong in their observance of the Torah and its commandments.
He sadly added, "The Rebbe must have seen that I was destined to be without children so he gave me parents instead." (Rabos Moftai pg. 222)
These three stories help understand our question.
True, death is the opposite of Judaism and holiness… But on the other hand, the only way we can truly appreciate holiness and life is when we experience the opposite. It's called 'a better type of light that comes from darkness'.
As in our stories; the greatness of the holy 'Tzadikim' was only seen when they transformed darkness to light and death to life.
That is the meaning of 'After Death… Holiness'. Only because we have experienced the horrors of exile for these past two thousand years can we really long for and appreciate the redemption.
As the Lubavitcher Rebbe announced time and time again, "Ours is the last generation of exile and the first of redemption" … "The time of redemption has arrived!"
We are about to witness the greatest miracles of all time; the arrival of Moshiach and transformation of all death, darkness and misery to life, light and joy.
We must do all we can to be ready and prepare the world for….
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