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Parshat Shemini (5765)

This week's section is called "Eighth" referring to the eighth and final day of the preparations for the opening of the Tabernacle in the desert.

In the writings of Kabbalah and Chassidut the number 'eight' signifies 'above nature'. When we consider that this implies being above even the spiritual worlds this section must have some very high lessons.

And sure enough we find near the end:

"I am G-d your L-rd; Make yourselves Holy and you will be Holy because I am Holy..." (11:45)

Holy doesn't mean just spiritual. Spiritual is part of the creation. Gentiles can be spiritual; all the religions of the world are spiritual. Holy means 'part' of the Creator… and only Jews can be Holy.

But on closer investigation this sentence about being holy seems to be redundant. Obviously if the Jews make themselves Holy they will be Holy! And why does it have to tell us that G-d is Holy? Isn't that even more obvious?

To understand this here is a story found in a new book called Rabot Moftai (pg 122):

Chiam Salominski was a dunce. That was the general consensus of his Bar Mitzva Class. In secular learning; math, history and biology, he was quite bright, well above average, but in Torah learning he was a dunce.

What could he do? He wanted so badly to please his father and learn Torah but it just didn’t 'go'. As soon as the teacher told everyone to open their Gemoras (Talmuds) Chiam began daydreaming. And at the end of every class he had no idea what had been said.

His father was a holocaust survivor from Poland that had been taken away by the Germans with his entire family when he was just a young man in his early twenties They were separated, scattered in various death camps and he finally ended up in Auschwitz where, despite the hunger, torture, disease and exterminations, miraculously survived.

He returned home to discover that his family had been murdered, his house had been occupied by Poles and he had no where to live.

So he moved to a relocation camp in Austria where after a year or so he met young Jewish lady who had also lost her family and they married. A year later their first child, Chiam, was born and a year after that they moved to America to the East Side in New York to begin a new life.

Chiam's father, despite all he had been through, was an observant Jew and even considered himself to be a Chassid; in Poland he was attached somewhat to the Rebbe of Sossov. He was determined that his son would also walk in the way of the Torah. He enrolled the boy in Torah academies and hoped he would be a Torah scholar - but he wasn't.

In fact, by the time Chiam reached the eighth grade he was at the bottom of the class. He managed to hide it from his father, but that was the bitter truth. There were children in that had memorized entire tractates of Talmud; hundreds of pages, while the only thing poor little Chiam knew was one small Mishna of several lines that he had been forced to learn as a punishment for bad behaviour. The rest was an opaque blur of words and ideas he couldn't really relate to. He was a Torah dunce.

The winter of 1960 was a monumental date for his parents; they had accomplished the impossible! They, charred embers saved from an inferno of destruction, were going to celebrate the thirteenth birthday of their son!

Chiam was going to be Bar-Mitzva!

Chiam worked day and night on the small portion he was to read and a few days before the big day his father came home with more joyous news. He had arranged a private audience with the holy Lubavitcher Rebbe for both of them!! The Rebbe would bless Chiam before the big day!!

At first Chiam was also overjoyed. He even told all of his friends in school about it. But one of them put a needle into his balloon.

"Hey, don't you know that the Lubavitcher Rebbe always asks the Bar-Mitzva boys something about what they are learning in the Talmud? Chiam, what are you going to do? Do you even know what Tractate we are learning? If I were you I wouldn't go."

Suddenly everyone fell silent.

Chiam was confused and broken. It meant so much to his father...he had to go. But on the other hand his friend was right. What would he do if the Rebbe asked. And he was sure to ask! He asked EVERYONE! The thought of how embarrassed his father was going to be began to break his heart.

The day arrived. Chiam's father was dressed in his best suit and so was Chiam. The taxi-ride to the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, although it was less than a half-hour, seemed to take forever. Finally they entered the Rebbe's headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, asked one of the young men there what to do and took their place in line before the Rebbe's door.

Just after midnight their turn came.

They entered together. Earlier, one of the Chassidim told his father that it wasn't proper to shake the Rebbe's hand or to sit down even if the Rebbe asked, and sure enough when they entered the first thing the Rebbe did was extend his hand and tell his father to sit.

They remained standing. Chiam still remembers the sound of his knees knocking against the Rebbe's table as he stared transfixed at the Rebbe's kind face.

The Rebbe spoke seriously for several minutes to his father in Yiddish. His father offered an envelope containing a donation but the Rebbe told him to please speak to the secretaries about that and then turned to Chaim whose poor knees were knocking so hard he almost couldn't stand. But as soon as the Rebbe began speaking they stopped.

He asked if he understood Yiddish and Chiam replied yes. Then the Rebbe, without asking him what tractate he was learning asked him a Torah questions. Chaim winced, he was short of breath. But the Rebbe repeated the question and suddenly Chiam said the answer! Then the Rebbe asked another question and another and Chiam knew ALL the answers!! Each and every one!!

All the questions the Rebbe asked were on that one and ONLY Mishna that Chaim knew!

It was a miracle. How could the Rebbe possibly have known? No one but Chiam knew! But one thing was for sure; Chiam felt like the Torah genius of New York! He answered with such joy and certainty that for the first time in his life he felt that the Torah was his!!

When they went outside and the door closed behind them Chiam's his father turned to him, tears of joy running down his cheeks, lifted him and hugged him with all his might for several minutes. He was so overcome with emotion that he could not speak. In fact the scene was so unique that the Chassidim crowded around, thinking that perhaps the Rebbe had given them some special message to pass on to mankind.

And really he had: that if you see the good in every creation, especially every Jew, the results are miraculous.

Chiam was so encouraged that he eventually became the principal for secular learning in one of the Chabad elementary schools.

Now we can understand our sentence.

"If you make yourself holy you will be holy"

G-d is telling the Jewish people that if you make yourself holy; see and encourage ONLY the goodness and holiness in others [as the Rebbe did with Chiam] then 'you', namely all those you have encouraged, will actually become holy.

Of course the Rebbe did it with supernatural powers. He brought them 'down' to the level that even Chiam the 'dunce' could appreciate which is truly the level of 'above even the spiritual' (spiritual things usually remain 'out of the world').

But it is also very relevant to us.

For instance, once when I was visiting the Rebbe in Brooklyn on the holiday of Succot I went with some other Chassidim to a Jewish old-folks home to cheer the people up. We sang and danced and everyone was happy. Among the Chassidim was Rabbi Mendel Futerfass; an older, very lively Chassid who spent many years in Siberian exile and was famous for his positive attitude.

He struck up a conversation in Yiddish with one of the old lodgers there, a non-religious fellow who was in a wheel chair and didn't look very happy. Rabbi Mendel asked him how old he was and he answered grudgingly, "Ninety" (which probably wasn't much older than Rabbi Mendel).

But Rab Mendel suddenly opened his eyes wide, moved his head back in amazement and exclaimed, "What do you say! Ninety! What do you say! That is really amazing! Oh ho! Ninety years old! That is really something!!"

He did it with such genuineness (I watched the whole thing) that with each sentence he said the old man sat up straighter, his eyes became clearer and he looked five years younger until finally, when Rab Mendel finished, he stood and began clapping his hands and singing a joyous song.

This will be the job of Moshiach: to bring out the holiness, the happiness above nature, in each of us. And the reason he will be able to do it is because "I (G-d) am Holy"

Namely G-d wants to be revealed in this world as He was on the Eight day of the inauguration of the Tabernacle...and as He will be in the entire world with the revelation of the Third Holy Temple.

It all depends on us to see ONLY the goodness and holiness in everything and do all we can to bring...

Moshiach NOW!!

Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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