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Parshat Behar

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"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter Parashat Behar 20th of Iyar, 5776 | May 28, 2016 Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik Rabbi Bentzion Shafier A Fi


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Parashat Behar
20th of Iyar, 5776 | May 28, 2016

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Bentzion Shafier
A Fiery Shabbat

וצויתי את ברכתי לכם

And I will command My blessing for you… (Vayikra 25:21)

It was Thursday night when Chaim’s wife received a phone call from her sister. “I am very sorry, but my husband is very tired and would rather stay at home this Shabbat.” The plan had been for Chaim’s sister-in-law and her family to stay at Chaim’s home over Shabbat, but that was soon to change.

“But I already cooked all the Shabbat food!” Chaim’s wife said. After mulling over the matter, a mutual conclusion was reached. “I have a great idea,” said Chaim’s wife. “We will come to your house so we can spend Shabbat together, and I will bring all the food I have already prepared. This way you and your husband can remain relaxed and comfortable in your own house and you will not need to cook.” As this idea was agreed upon, Chaim and his family made their way over to their relatives on Friday afternoon.

Shortly after Chaim stepped foot into his sister-in-law’s house, his eye caught sight of a book lying on the coffee table. While Chaim was known for his superb diligence and devotion to Torah learning and spent most of his available time doing so, something about the book intrigued him. Picking it up, he looked at the title, “Who by Fire.” The book tells of how Chaya Malka Abramson rescued her three children and grandmother from a raging fire which engulfed her apartment. Boldly, Mrs. Abramson repeatedly entered her apartment and successfully rescued her entire family. But she herself was left with burns over 85 percent of her body. Her journey tells of a tumultuous experience, yet highlights her unwavering emunah in the face of untold hardship and adversity.

As Chaim picked up this book, he began to read. And then he read some more. And then some more. Throughout the entire Shabbat, his eyes were transfixed to the page and the book remained at his side.

When it was finally time to daven Mincha on Shabbat afternoon, Chaim headed to the Beit Midrash and took a seat. Looking around the large Beit Midrash, he was struck by an odd scene. Nearly everyone was staring at him. Not thinking much about it, Chaim quietly continued to daven and avoided the strange looks he was receiving.

By the time davening came to a close, Chaim was quite curious. Walking over to his friend, he said, “Would you happen to know why everyone is looking at me?” “You didn’t hear?” “No,” said Chaim, “what happened?” “I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but last night, your house caught on fire. Apparently the boiler which was located in the basement exploded and started a fire. Your house is no longer in livable condition.”

Hearing this news, Chaim stood still. He could only wonder what would have happened had he and family remained at home for Shabbat, let alone invite their relatives over as well. But even more than that, Chaim now understood why he had picked up Chaya Malka Abramson’s book and read it from cover to cover. Hashem was clearly sending him a message.

Sometimes we wonder why we must undergo a certain experience or why something happens the way it does. While we may not always be privy to knowing the exact reason for it, other times we will. But either way, one thing is for certain: there is rhyme and reason to everything. Nothing is coincidental. Hashem is always micromanaging global and personal events in the world and looking after our best interests and well-being. That itself should serve as our greatest source of comfort and relief. We are never alone in life.

Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky
The Ashes of Lag Ba’Omer: Never Give Up

I remember my son coming home one day from kindergarten, whereupon I asked him, “So what did you learn today?” “We learned about Lag Ba’Omer!” “And what did you find out?” I continued to prod. “We learned that R’ Akiva had twenty-four thousand students and they all died for thirty-three days between Pesach and Shavuot. On Lag Ba’Omer they stopped dying, and so we celebrate.” And then my son looked at me. “Abba, I don’t understand; why are we celebrating? They are all dead.” Good question.

Let’s go slow now. Twenty-four thousand students die for thirty-three days and on the thirty-third day we proclaim a holiday because they are all dead. That’s like saying that someone invested $24,000 in the stock market, and every day he lost a thousand dollars. So what happens on the twenty-fourth day? He makes a party because he didn’t lose any more money. But wait a minute; he doesn’t have any money left. That’s not much of a celebration.

What then is Lag Ba’Omer really all about?

The Pri Chadash (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 493:2) offers a very cryptic answer: “Maybe the celebration is because of the next five students of R’ Akiva.” When all twenty-four thousand students died, R’ Akiva found another five students to whom he taught all that he knew and disseminated the Torah. But there is one problem with this answer: what does that have to do with Lag Ba’Omer? There is no evidence that he started teaching these five students on Lag Ba’Omer.

Let’s turn to the life story of R’ Akiva. Akiva is forty years old and is ignorant and unlettered. He is also a shepherd, which is not the fast track to a successful career. Nevertheless, Rachel, daughter of the wealthy Kalba Savua, sees something special in Akiva, and goes on to marry him with the condition that he agrees to study Torah for twelve years. Hearing of such a fine offer for a shidduch, Akiva replies, “I have to think about it; I do not know if I am ready to sit and learn Torah for so long. Besides, I cannot read.”

But then Akiva comes across a rock upon which droplets of water are falling and eroding the surface. And then he says to himself, “If little drops can bore a hole in hard rock, certainly Torah which is compared to iron can penetrate my soft heart.” Akiva then returns to Rachel and says that he accepts her offer.

Scurrying over to her father, Rachel says, “Mazel tov; I’m engaged! I’m marrying Akiva!” All Kalba Savua can think at this point is, “Akiva, Akiva, Akiva? Who’s Akiva?” “You know,” says Rachel, “Akiva, the shepherd.” “Who? That ignoramus! Absolutely not! If you go through with this, I will not provide you with even a penny. I vouch that you will receive no benefit from any of my money!”

“How did it go with your dad?” asks Akiva. “Don’t worry,” says Rachel, “we are getting married anyway and you are going to yeshiva.”

Akiva is now in yeshiva learning Aleph-Beit with three year old children. Just imagine what it must have sounded like. “Shimi, what does a Patach sound like?” “Patach – Aleph – A; Patach – Beit – Ba; Patach – Gimmel – Ga.” “Very good, Shimi!” “Okay, Akiva, your turn.” “Tzeirei – Aleph –Ai; Tzeirei – Beit – Bei… Can I get a candy?” It must have been a little bit humiliating. But Akiva perseveres and learns how to read slowly but surely. He goes from Chumash to Navi to Mishnah to Gemara and more. Twelve years later, he is Rabbi Akiva and has amassed twelve thousand students. Now it is time to return to his wife.

Traveling home, he hears his wife wishing that he would only return back to yeshiva and learn for another twelve years. And sure enough, without a moment’s delay, R’ Akiva turns right around.

Twelve years later, R’ Akiva has accumulated another twelve-thousand students. Finally returning home after twenty-four years with twenty-four thousands students, R’ Akiva praises his wife for her unparalleled dedication to his growth in learning and famously coins the phrase, “What is mine and yours is hers.”

Kalba Savua soon hears news that a great sage has come to town. Having been disheartened for the past number of years since he alienated his own beloved daughter, Kalba Savua wishes he could annul his vow. Wandering over to this great rabbi, Kalba Savua says, “Rabbi, what can I do? I proscribed my daughter from benefiting from my estate.” “Why would you do that?” asks R’ Akiva. “Because she married a forty-year-old ignoramus who didn’t know how to read. But I regret doing so. Is there anything I can do?” “Well, would you have made the vow if this husband would have gone off to seriously study Torah and develop into a real talmid chacham?” “No.” “What if he would have become a sage like me?” Pause. “Akiva? That’s you?” And then they embrace.

At this point, life is good. Rabbi Akiva is sixty-four years old and has thousands of students along with a wonderful wife and large bank account. He is enjoying his golden years. His students continue to flourish and develop into towering Torah personalities. They are the cream of the crop in terms of Torah knowledge and prowess. They are transforming Torah and galvanizing the Jewish people. If the story would have finished here, it would have been a happy ending. But it does not.

One day, Rabbi Akiva is approached. It is unfortunate news. “Rabbi Akiva, we are sorry to tell you this, but your student passed away.” “Which one?” “About seven hundred of them.” The next day, the same news is related. And then again. And again. And again. For thirty-three days, R’ Akiva hears tragic news about his dear students.

This was R’ Akiva’s life’s work, and it was collapsing right before his eyes. Running from sick bed to funeral to shiva house, the pain and loss experienced every day was relentless. Thousands of students, who had formed the repository of Torah knowledge, were dying.

And then one day, as Rabbi Akiva stands at the funeral of his 23,999th talmid, he hears the news. “Your last student just died.” It is now all over. His whole life is in ashes. There is nothing left.

Would we have faulted R’ Akiva if he would have given up at this point? Would we have blamed him for saying, “I am a broken old man who has lost everything. I quit. I am going to sit and learn by myself from now on”? But that was not R’ Akiva. He went on to rebuild his entire life and the life of the Jewish people with five students.

Where did he draw the strength to move on? How was he able to keep on fighting?

After seeing his life fall apart, R’ Akiva picked himself up, brushed himself off and said, “Let’s start over.” Just picture what it must have felt like to stand up in front of tens of thousands of students and then teach five students in the back of a little classroom. It must have been very difficult. But R’ Akiva surged forward.

And who was one of those five students? R’ Shimon bar Yochai. And on the last day of his own life, Lag Ba’Omer, he revealed the hidden light of the Zohar to the world. The strength of Lag Ba’Omer was that R’ Akiva got up after watching his life completely collapse around him. He began anew with five students. And it was those five students who went on to change the world.

Many people give up on life. They have dreams and visions, but then something happens, and they give up. But those who have the power to pick themselves up from tragedy and destruction and continue on with what they believe in draw their strength from Lag Ba’Omer. That is the power revealed on this day. Where there is life, there is hope. You can be on your deathbed, and still change the world.

At what point do we give up? At what point do we say it is too late? At what point do we tell ourselves, “I cannot pick myself up from the ashes and move on”? On Lag Ba’Omer morning, when we look outside and see those fires which have been reduced to ashes, we are reminded of R’ Akiva’s life. And then we remember that there is no such thing as giving up. I am never too old, it is never too late and I do not dwell on the many lost opportunities which have slipped away. I can look at my life now and say, “I can become anybody I want and I can make any choices I want. It doesn’t matter what I have done until today. Today is the first day of the rest of my life. Today I can begin becoming anyone that I want. I can finish my journey to Har Sinai and experience that unbelievable spiritual moment that will transform me and the rest of the Jewish people.”

Lag Ba’Omer is the day when we muster the strength to become the people we want to in the face of all tragic odds. We are reminded of R’ Akiva, of R’ Shimon bar Yochai and of those once-upon-a-time flames which have now been burnt to ashes. And then we courageously say, “I will never give up.”

A Short Message From
Mrs. Orit Esther Riter

I once heard a very enlightening comment from a Rav relevant to this time of year. “If you harbor any negative feelings toward another Jew or don’t see eye to eye with someone else in Klal Yisrael, save it for the day after Shavuot.” Throughout the days of Sefirat Ha’Omer, we are meant to work on character building. By properly doing so, we stand the chance of having those unpleasant feelings we have for another slowly but surely dissipate, and by Shavuot, be completely gone.

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