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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Behar

Parshat Behar

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Behar Edition                                                                        Print Version                                                                    
20 Iyar, 5782 | May 21, 2022

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rebbetzin Chaya Sora Gertzulin
Mystical Fires

Mikrah – coincidence. But we know that there are no coincidences in life. That all is b’yad HaShem – in HaShem’s hands. In fact, our rabbis teach that the word mikrah alludes to that very idea.

The Hebrew letters of mikrah, mem, kuf, reish, hay, can be rearranged to form the phrase rak m’HaShem – meaning only from G-d. (rak- reish/kuf, mei’Hashem - mem/ hay). While it may not always be visible to us, there is a reason and purpose for all that transpires. Rak m’HaShem – It’s all part of HaShem’s master plan.

Lag B’Omer. The day the devastating plague ended, and the students of Rabbi Akiva ceased dying. Years later, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai passes away on Lag B’Omer. Coincidence or not?

Following the horrific loss of so many thousands of Rabbi Akiva’s students, there was a fear amongst the nation of how will he chain of Torah learning continue. With so many gone, who will be the next generation of Torah leaders?

Rabbi Akiva started teaching once again. Amongst his new students was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai together with his son Rabbi Elazar. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, also known as Rashbi, (an acronym of the first letters of his name) lived during the hard times of Roman rule. Once, while conversing with other Torah sages, Rabbi Shimon criticized the Roman leaders. Unbeknownst to him, his words were overheard and repeated to the Roman authorities.

Rashbi made it onto the Roman’s “Most Wanted List”. He was viewed as an enemy, and a death sentence was decreed upon him.

In fear for his life, Rabbi Shimon and his son hid out in a cave. Miraculously, a carob tree grew outside the cave, and a stream flowed alongside it. Rashbi and his son subsisted on the fruit of the carob and the water from the stream. Gifts from HaShem.

They spent their days and nights fully immersed in Torah study. It was during this time that Rashbi authored the Zohar, a book of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah. Zohar means “shining light”, for it revealed many Torah secrets, shedding light and understanding to whomever studied its holy words.

After twelve years in the cave, Eliyahu HaNavi, the Prophet Elijah appeared to them, bearing news that the Roman emperor had passed away, and the decree against Rashbi was lifted. It was time to emerge from hiding, and re-enter society.

As they traveled home, they came across a farmer who was busy tending to his field. Coming from so many years of living a pure, spiritual existence, they couldn’t comprehend how one could be involved with the mundane aspects of life. Rabbi Shimon glared at the farmer; it was as if daggers of fire emanated from his eyes. Fires that “zapped” whatever they were focused on, totally consuming them.

A Heavenly voice called out to Rabbi Shimon, "Do you want to destroy My world? Go back to the cave. The world cannot exist with your holiness".

Rabbi Shimon and his son returned to the cave for another year. Besides being immersed in Torah study, it was a year of working on acceptance and love for every man. A year of concentrating on the lessons of Rabbi Akiva, to “love your fellow as yourself”. It was only then that the father and son were ready to emerge from the cave a second time.

It was an Erev Shabbos, and they encountered a man carrying two bundles of hadassim, myrtle branches. When Rabbi Shimon inquired as to its purpose, the man replied that it was in honor of the Shabbos. One bundle for the commandment of "shomor" - to keep the Shabbos holy, and the second for "zachor" - to remember the holy Shabbos.

Rabbi Shimon lifted his head upward and proclaimed, "HaShem, look at Your beloved people. Look how they prepare for and treasure the holy Shabbos."

To this very day, Am Yisroel has a special love for the Holy Shabbos. I think of the busy bakeries, groceries and flower stands on Fridays. Men, women and children carrying their Shabbos “bundles”, all desiring to beautify their Shabbos tables.

Like Rabbi Shimon, we too can say to HaShem, “Look how precious the mitzvos are to Your children”. The plague which consumed Rabbi Akiva’s students ended on Lag B’Omer. Rabbi Shimon’s yahrtzeit is on Lag B’Omer. No coincidence at all. 

We have come full circle. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai emerged from the cave with a new appreciation for his fellow. The ability to see the “tzelem Elokim”, the Divine spark within each and every soul. To connect to others with love, appreciation, acceptance and tolerance.

Rabbi Shimon lived his life according to the teachings of his beloved Rebbi, Rabbi Akiva. Through his words and actions, Rabbi Shimon brought tikun, merit and repair, to the lives of the many students of Rabbi Akiva who perished.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai spent his last hours on this world teaching Torah, surrounded by his students. The sun began to set. The light in the room began to dim. With his last vestiges of strength, Rabbi Shimon continued teaching. As the room was getting darker, the students wrote faster and faster, not wanting to miss any of his holy words.

It was then that a miraculous fire appeared outside Rabbi Shimon's home, illuminating the room with its mystical light. Rabbi Shimon's students were able to continue writing, enabling them to keep his holy teachings alive midor l’dor, for future generations.

But then, just as it came, the fire left, and the soul of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yocahi returned to its Creator.

At the kever, the burial place in Meron, there is an arch with the words "Ki lo sishochach mipi zaroh, For it (the Torah) will not be forgotten from His children” (Devarim 31:21). A promise made by Rabbi Shimon, that regardless of any difficulties or challenges, the Torah will never be forgotten. Indeed, this passage is connected to Rabbi Shimon, with the last letters of each word spelling out the name Yochai.

Every year, come Lag B’Omer, thousands make the trip to Meron to commemorate Rabbi Shimon’s yahrtzeit. He lived his life seeing the beauty in each and every individual. Perhaps, it is in that merit, that Jews from all walks of life come together, and celebrate as one.

Before his death, he instructed his students to see his yahrtzeit as a Yom Hillula, a day of celebration. He referred to his passing as “his happiness”. He felt fulfilled as he was preparing to face his Maker, for during his lifetime, he came to understand the depths of Torah wisdom.

Last year on Lag B’Omer, a terrible tragedy took place. It shocked every Jewish heart. The lights of forty-five precious souls were snuffed out in Meron. While we cannot understand or comprehend HaShem’s ways, their loss should not be in vain. Let’s take upon ourselves the teachings of Rabbi Akiva, and learn from the life of Rashbi, to see the beauty of each and every Jewish soul.

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein zt”l
Where is Hashem?

I once walked into a first grade classroom, and was quick to spot one girl who appeared very out of place. It wasn’t hard to notice how she was disorganized, unkempt and unclean. I soon learned also that she came from a dysfunctional home with askew family dynamics. She wasn’t being taken care of as needed. Her classmates too clearly knew it, as attested to by their social and physical distancing in conversation and from where she sat in class. But my purpose in this class was not to work with this particular student, but rather to speak to the entire class. So I began.

“Let me ask you girls a question. Where is Hashem?” I instructed them to take out a piece of paper and jot down their answer. I knew that if everyone would blurt out what they thought that they’d influence each other’s responses, and I wanted them to think for themselves.

There were twenty-two girls in the class. Twenty-one of them wrote, “Up there,” a reference to Heaven. The twenty-second girl was this girl, the one who everyone stayed away from and you knew was struggling in her personal and family life. She wrote, “In there.” Interesting, I thought to myself, wondering what exactly she meant.

By now, I knew her name was Miriam. I gently approached her desk, her small, round face looking up at up at me in curiosity. “Miriam …” I began. “Yes, Rabbi Wallerstein,” she said softly. “You wrote on your paper, ‘In there.’ What do you mean Miriam? Where is Hashem?” Without pause, she took her finger and pointed it toward her chest. “In there,” she said. I stopped saying anything or moving for a few seconds, touched by her sincere and pure gesture. Composing myself, I went on.

“But Miriam, everybody said that ‘Hashem is up there.’ Why do you say that Hashem is ‘In there’? She remained steadfast in her opinion. “No, Rabbi Wallerstein. He’s not up there; He’s in there. And I know because I feel Him.”

In all my years of teaching, no one but this little girl ever said, “In there.” Everyone’s initial reaction is to point upward and contend that G-d is in Heaven. Why did this little girl answer differently?

I soon realized why. She is alone in the dark and there is no one out there for her. And when you feel that way, you come to the truth that G-d is not up there, as if He is foreign and aloof to you and your problems. He is right there with you, in your heart.

Our responsibility as parents and teachers, brothers and sisters, friends and communities, is to bring this truth and understanding to others that Hashem is in there. Hashem is in you. Not up there or over there, but in here.

And there is not a person in our world today who cannot do this for someone else.

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein zt”l
The Bouncing Check

A man approached me some time ago asking for tzedakah. He had been a very well-to-do man, but unfortunately lost it all after a plunge in the stock and real estate markets, and now, he was in dire need of being supported himself. He had no money to pay his mortgage, let alone put sufficient food on the table for his family.

But before he went into his pitch, he had something to say. “Rabbi, I want to tell you something incredible that happened to me the other day.” “Alright,” I said, “I’m all ears.”

“Every year before Purim, there is a man who comes to me asking for money. He has a very large family, and sadly, his house burned down, he is out of a job, and his wife and two of his children are sick. Knowing this, every year over the course of a decade, I’ve given him $500 to help carry him through the holidays of Purim and Pesach.

“Last week, he came to me, asking his annual request. But I didn’t have what to give him. I don’t even have what to give my own family. As he sat down, I knew I didn’t have the heart to turn him away and not give him anything. I began taking out my checkbook, knowing that my checking account had absolutely no money in it. But I still wrote out a check for $100 and handed it to him. I just couldn’t say no. The man graciously took the check, but when he looked at it and noticed the significant decrease in amount given, grew silent. ‘I wish I could give you more,’ I said, ‘but I’m just not able to do so right now.’  Nonetheless, he thanked me and left.

“Minutes later, it got me to. ‘I’m crazy,’ I told myself. ‘Where am I going to get $100 from? I can’t afford food and clothing for my own family! I just wrote a check that’s going to bounce.’ I made up my mind that I’d go the following day to the bank and ask the manager if the bank could cover the check for just a short while, while I scramble the money together.

“But, the next day, I got tied up and by the time I was ready to go to the bank, it had already closed. And then I forgot about it. Totally. Days went by and it completely slipped my mind that I had ever written this man a check altogether.

“Three days later, I remembered. Growing anxious, I ran over to the bank, hoping that the man hadn’t cashed the check already. But the chances of that were slim, as he certainly needed the money right away and wouldn’t wait any longer than the next available opportunity.

“I slipped my credit card into the ATM machine and there, to my surprise, it displayed on the screen: $214. ‘That’s odd,’ I thought to myself. ‘How do I have any money in my account? Where did this come from?’ Looking through the details of the account, the original source of this deposit came up as ‘Miscellaneous’ for $314, after which the $100 check hit, leaving me with the current balance of $214. That explained the math, but I still had no idea where the $314 originated from. What was this ‘miscellaneous deposit’?  

“I felt as if it was a miracle. Here I was, writing a check with no money in my account, and it came through. Hashem covered it. I immediately headed to the bank manager and asked if she could tell me who deposited this $314 in my account. “Let me look it up,” she said.

“After a few clicks and taps on the keyboard, she swiveled her screen around toward me and said, ‘Sir, you have a life insurance policy and you earn an annual rate, anywhere in the range of 314 to 390 dollars. You’ve been getting this for years.’ The $314 for the life insurance had hit my account just a few days before I wrote the check, but I had no idea. I thought I was giving away money that I didn’t have, when all the while I really did have it, plus more.

“It never occurred to me that I’d be getting this money,” he finished telling me, “because I never noticed it. I used to have millions, as you know, and this was just a drop in the bucket. But now it meant so much. And in addition, I now had another 200 dollars with which I could provide my family with our Purim and Pesach needs. Hashem took care of it all.”

Now, you’re likely wondering, what does this story mean? Should I now start writing checks out of accounts where I don’t have money and expect G-d to take care of it? The answer is no. If you do, your check will bounce from here to Heaven. And the reason not to is because you’d likely be doing it because you read this story and feel inspired to give generously, under such dire circumstances, like this man did.

But this man didn’t have a story beforehand. He didn’t do it because he wanted to look good. He didn’t know this story would be told about him. He did it because he genuinely felt for this other man and his family and wanted to help.

There is power in your emunah and bitachon. True belief in something is not flimsy and ethereal. It is solid and concrete. It is real and ready to be put into action. It is not simply thinking the right thought or talking the right talk. It is walking the walk and living that way through and through.

This man wrote the check and signed it. He lived what he thought and felt in his heart, and that is the takeaway. When you are rock-solid in your belief and remain unshakeable in the face of uncertainty, then writing a check – even when have no money in your account – comes as smoothly and naturally to you as writing your name. It’s no gimmick. It's real, through and through.  

That’s what it means to live with G-d. And if we want, we can all live with G-d in such unbelievably real ways. It’s all up to us.

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