This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Emor (5763)
This week's section contains the commandment of counting each of the 49 days between Passover and Shavout. It's called Counting the "Omer" a sacrifice that was brought in the days of the Temple on the second day of Passover.
Since the destruction of the Temple some 2.000 years ago we no longer have this "Omer' sacrifice and consequently the obligation to count 49 days is only from the Rabbis.
But spiritually this commandment is as obligatory today as ever:
'Counting' (Sefer) is the same word for 'illuminating'; the 49 days correspond to the 49 different facets of the soul and the 'Omer' represents one's natural personality.
This approach is unique to the teachings of Chassidut, as this story will, G-d willing, illustrate.
It was early Sunday morning and Rabbi Kahn was just entering the grand Synagogue of the Lubavitcher Chassidim at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn when he heard someone call his name.
"Hey, Rabbi! Rabbi Kahn! Remember me?
He turned around to see a casually dressed fellow of about thirty years old with a long pony tail. He looked as though he hadn't slept all night; his eyes were sunken and an unkempt stubble covered his face.
Rabbi Kahn shook the young man's hand, but he couldn't place him.
"Remember me? I'm Yechezkel (false name) from Yeshiva X where you gave that Tanya class ten years ago?
Suddenly he remembered. Yechezkel was the genius of one of the "misnagid" Yeshivas where Rabbi Kahn used to give an 'underground' Tanya class.
The misnagdim are G-d fearing Jews that believe that the teachings of the Chabad Rebbes (Called Chassidut Chabad) are morally destructive and totally contrary to the spirit of Judaism. But despite the obstacles, the class drew over 20 participants each week. Many of the pupils there had either grown up in Chassidic families or had learned Tanya somewhere before and knew that the opposition was mistaken.
But Yechezkel the 'genius' refused to even step foot in the room.
In fact he would often appear after the lecture to ask 'stumper' questions in an attempt to make the Rabbi look foolish.
But eventually he developed a certain respect for Rabbi Kahn that led to him to even ask him if he could arrange for him to meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe privately .. What the Chassidim called 'Yechidut'.
Why not? As far as he was concerned he had already surpassed all the rabbis and teachers he knew. In fact he had a few Talmudic questions to ask that none of them could answer. Maybe this Rebbe had something to teach him.
The big night arrived. It was after two in the morning when he finally got in. Rabbi Kahn waited outside certain that Yechezkel would be a different person when he came out, but he was in for a surprise.
After almost an hour of silence he exited and without saying a word to Rabbi Kahn, simply left the building.
That was ten years ago and since then they had not been in touch.
"I'd like to take up the offer you made me ten years ago to learn Chassidut (the teachings of the Chabad Rebbes) if you still want to."
Of course Rabbi Kahn agreed and after a few sessions the young man finally opened up.
"Probably you want to know what happened back then in the Rebbe's office, don't you?' Yechezkel said.
"Well, first, I want to apologize to you for breaking off contact for so long all right?"
Rabbi Kahn smiled "No problem. But what happened? What did the Rebbe say to you?"
"Well" Yechezkel began "I went into that office that night with questions that none of the Rabbis in our Yeshiva were able to answer to my satisfaction and I wanted to hear if the Lubavitcher Rebbe was really such a phenomenal genius as everyone said.
"Well, it was even more surprising than I thought it could be. He answered all my questions in just minutes with clear and precise explanations. But then he asked me what Yeshiva I learn in and when I answered he replied that I had better change my place of learning to a place where they learn Chassidut.
Despite the fact that I had just been witness to his super human mind nevertheless I obstinately refused to even consider what he was saying.
He spoke to me for almost an hour and at one point he said "If someone learns Torah without any feeling of the 'G-d who gives the Torah' it might even happen that because he doesn't get the attention he craves he will get angry, depressed and do several small sins like (and the Rebbe gave examples) and then even bigger ones (giving more examples) and finally, G-d forbid, it's possible that he leave Judaism completely."
I left the room, returned to the Yeshiva, went to sleep and almost forgot the whole thing, but a few months later I happened to make a comment in public and someone caught me. "Hey, smart guy! You forgot a simple Tosefot!! 'I guess you aren't as smart as you think.'
That comment got me so angry and embarrassed that I didn't return to the study hall for several days. Before I knew it the anger turned into depression. I found myself sleeping all day and going out to the city at nights living like the gentiles until I just didn’t return permanently.
I got into business, little by little dropped all the commandments, married a non observant girl and we even had a few children and settled down to a 'normal' life.
But then, one day when my son was eight years old he came home from school crying with the news that some of the children had called him a dirty Jew. I told him to pay no attention to them but he wouldn't leave me alone. First he wanted to know what they meant; what is a 'Jew' and what is a 'dirty' Jew. Second he wanted to know why they called HIM that name.
I told him I would answer later, but the fact is I didn't know what to say. The next day on my way to work I happened to pass a newspaper stand and the 'Jewish Press' caught my eye. I thought to myself, "Hey, maybe there is something there that will help me" and I bought one. Inside the paper was an add with the picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe advertising that he was giving a public lecture (Farbringin) in just a few days.
So I wrote down the date and went. The place was crowded, packed full of thousands of people. But I squeezed in and to my amazement as soon as I began to pay attention to what he was saying he said If someone learns Torah without any feeling of the 'G-d who gives the Torah' it might even happen that because he doesn't get the attention he craves he will get angry, depressed and do several small sins like (and the Rebbe gave examples) and then even bigger ones (giving more examples) and finally, G-d forbid, it's possible that he leave Judaism completely."
I went to two more Farbringins after that at intervals of several months and without fail in each of them he said the exact same sentence. But this last time when the crowd passed before the Rebbe after the Farbringen to receive a small glass of wine (cos Shel Bracha) that he passed out I also stood in line and when my turn came the Rebbe smiled and said 'Nu Yechezkel, maybe it's time you began to learn Chassidut'.
That's why I decided to begin learning.
That is the point of this week's section when it describes this commandment that no longer seems to exist; we must never stop counting the Omer. A Jew must always draw thoughts of G-d and Torah in to his mind and his heart; it is the often the only thing that will protect us from ourselves.
And just as when we left Egypt over 3,000 years ago, we counted each day until we received the Torah so also should we count today every second.
Because before we know it we will all be dancing together with...
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