A story about the sons of the tzadik, Rabbi Yisroel of Ruzhin. The Ruzhiner Rebbe was a famous leader in the history of the Chasidic movement who had thousands of Chasidim. He was perhaps most famous for living in extravagant affluence. (Why he did so is a whole other discussion.) 

When he passed away, his children divided the inheritance, and among of the most valuable items that had belonged to their father were his tefillin, which actually originally belonged to his own great-grandfather, the Mezritcher Maggid (the successor to the Baal Shem Tov). Obviously, each of the Ruzhiner Rebbe’s sons wanted those tefillin for himself—and so they decided that each of them would write a note listing what they were prepared to give so as to get the tefillin, and then put those notes in a sealed envelope. Whoever was willing to give up the most would get the tefillin. 

Just before they opened the envelope, they changed their mind and decided to do a lottery instead. And as it turned out, son Dovid Moshe—who later became the Chortkover Rebbe—drew the winning ticket and got the tefillin. However, after the lottery, Dovid Moshe’s older brother was curious to know what each of the brothers had written on their original notes. So they opened the envelopes—and discovered that Dovid Moshe, who had ultimately won the tefillin, had written that he was prepared to give up his entire inheritance just so that he could get the Maggid’s tefillin. Then, they all understood why he had won the lottery. 

The story doesn’t end there. Two years later, Rabbi Dovid Moshe’s older brother, who had become the Sadigurer Rebbe, was sitting among his Chasidiim and speaking, and among other things, he remarked that he was jealous of his brother Rabbi Dovid Moshe who prays with the Mezritcher Maggid’s tefillin. 

Well, two of his Chasidim there got up and confessed that immediately after the lottery, they had seen how their Rebbe (Rabbi Dovid Moshe’s older brother) had so strongly desired the Maggid’s tefillin—and so they had gone ahead and secretly removed the original parchment scrolls from inside the tefillin and replaced them with other kosher ones. But now, they were going around with the parchments for the past two years, not knowing what to do—and they were afraid to tell their Rebbe because they knew that they had done something very serious and that he’d rebuke them for it. When their Rebbe heard this, he told them to bring them the parchments, and instructed them to not tell anyone about it. 

At the next opportunity, he went with those same two Chasidim to visit his brother, the one from whom the parchments had been stolen. So now, the Sadigurer Rebbe arrived in Chortkov—and the following morning, he joined his brother, the Chortkover Rebbe, for the morning Shacharis prayers in shul. He went into his brother’s room and saw how on the desk, there was another pair of tefillin in addition to the Maggid’s tefillin. He then watched how his brother approached the desk, picked up the Maggid’s tefillin—and then sighed and put those tefillin back down on the desk and put on the other pair of tefillin. 

He asked his brother, “Why don’t you wear the tefillin you got as an inheritance?” His brother replied that throughout the two years that the Maggid’s tefillin were in his possession, he had not put them on even once—because every time he picked them up to put them on, he felt that he was not worthy to wear them. So he left them on the desk and would wear other tefillin. 

Now, the older brother said, “That’s not the case, brother! It’s not that you are unworthy of wearing the Maggid’s tefillin—it’s that you don’t feel the holiness of the tefillin… because their holy parchment have been removed! And now, I’ve come to bring the parchments back to you.” (Sipurei Chasidim, Moadim pg. 249.) 


The Torah tells us that, on the last day of his life, “Moshe wrote this Torah and gave it to the Kohanim, the sons of Levi, who carry the Ark of G-d’s Covenant” (Devarim 31:9). That means that when Moshe Rabbeinu finished dictating the Torah as we know it (and as G-d dictated it to him, of course), he handed it over the Tribe of Levi—because the mission of the Tribe of Levi was to teach the Torah to the Jewish Nation. They were the people’s rabbis, as Moshe Rabbeinu himself stated in his parting blessing (Devarim 33:10): “They shall teach Your ordinances to Jacob, and Your Torah to Israel.” And so Moshe Rabbeinu handed them the Torah so that they could teach the people directly from it. 

But the Jewish Nation didn’t exactly love the idea that they hadn’t gotten a Torah scroll themselves. 

Rashi (Devarim 29:3) says: “On the very day that Moshe gave the Torah scroll to the sons of Levi… all of Israel came before Moshe and said to him: ‘Moshe Rabbeinu! We also stood at Sinai and accepted the Torah, and it was [also] given to us! Why, then, are you giving the members of your Tribe control over it, so that someday in the future they may claim, “It was not given to you—it was given only to us!”’ And Moshe rejoiced over this matter and it was on account of this, that he said to them, ‘This day, you have become a people!’, [meaning] ‘It is today that I understand that you cleave to the Omnipresent and desire Him.’” 

When Moshe Rabbeinu saw how the Jewish Nation reacted to the fact of only the Tribe of Levi getting a Torah scroll and not them, he was thrilled—he saw that they weren’t fighting over material things like meat or money but rather, over the Torah, with each of the 11 other Tribes wanting the Torah. And thus, in the merit of that complaint, Moshe Rabbeinu in fact provided a Torah scroll to each of the Twelve Tribes, not just Levi. (Midrash, Devarim Rabbah 9:9; see Likutei Sichos Vol. 24, pg. 207, et al.) 


My friends, we’re now standing just before the Yizkor prayer, in which we remember our parents. And to our great chagrin, most family feuds among inheritors are over matters of money—because of such issues, family members fight and hang out in courtrooms for years. 

However, it is incumbent upon us to remember that when it comes to the spiritual legacy of our fathers and mothers, there is no fight. Each one of us can carry on the customs of our parents. If there was a certain holiday that was precious to them, and they observed it with special traditions, then it is incumbent upon us to continue those traditions. If our mother would light Shabbos and holiday candles, then we, her children, can continue that custom. 

And when we fight to keep our traditions, then no less than Moshe Rabbeinu himself testifies on us that “this day, you have become a people!” 

Good Yom Tov!


King Saul’s Rivalry with King David

This week, we read a Haftorah that was not chosen according to the usual protocol . Typically, the Haftorah reflects the theme of the Torah portion; on special occasions such as holidays, we read a Haftorah which reflects the holiday. The only exception is a day like today, where the Haftorah is chosen based on the Day After.  Tomorrow is  Rosh Chodesh, so we read the  story from the prophets that begins with the word, Machar Chodesh – Tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh.. (See Bamidbar 5739, Sichos Kodesh v. 2 p. 674.)

The story is part of the saga of King Saul’s rivalry with King David.

After the young David killed Goliath, he experienced a string of successes which brought him widespread popularity. Saul became extremely paranoid, worrying that David would usurp the monarchy, and began a protracted attempt to have him assassinated. Nothing David did was enough to prove his loyalty; ultimately indeed, Saul was killed in battle and David became the reigning monarch.


The Book of Shmuel relates that G-d commanded King Saul to annihilate the nation of Amalek. These were the quintessential anti-Semites; when the Israelites left Egypt, they immediately came and attacked, despite the fact that the Israelites had no plans of conquest for them, and had no plan of even entering their territory. They were just always ready to attack a Jew. Now, G-d instructed King Saul to annihilate them once and for all.

King Saul waged a successful war against them, but he made two mistakes; he was instructed to kill even the livestock, but that he failed to do, and he also didn’t kill their king, Agag, because he felt bad for him.

G-d was upset with Saul’s decision and sent the prophet Shmuel who asked him. Why did you not carry out the word of G-d? . The response was disappointing; King Saul said that he had planned to carry out his instructions, but the people had wanted those changes. He had submitted to public opinion.

That decision made Saul lose the monarchy. You see, during the single night that he allowed the Amalekite king to remain alive, he managed to impregnate a woman with his progeny, and the nation of Amalek was able to continue. Generations later, the Jewish people were put in grave peril in Persia when the king agreed to annihilate them all—and it was a result of that decision; Haman was a direct descendant of Agag.

King Saul wanted to show mercy to Agag, and ended up (almost) bringing calamity upon the entire Jewish people.


However, my friends, let’s conclude on a positive note:

The Jewish people are compared to the moon and its fluctuations. The moon is at times bigger and at times smaller, but we are always confident that it will shine again. The day before the new month is a particularly dark time; not even a sliver of the moon is visible. But we know, with confidence, that its rebirth is just around the corner. It will reappear the next day, and once again reach its full brightness. So, there is no reason to be discouraged even from a particularly difficult moment for the Jewish people; if things seem particularly gloomy, and we all wonder what the future will bring, it just means that a new stage of illumination is imminent. (Toras Menachem v. 39 p. 380, v. 19 p. 126).


Jewlarious Jokes 5/26/2023





A Heart That Remembers

In two weeks we will be celebrating the holiday of the Giving of the Torah, when the Jewish Nation received the Written Torah and on top of that, the “Oral Torah”—the part of the Torah that was forbidden to write down but rather, which had to be committed to memory. And at the Giving of the Torah, every Jew from young to old was recruited for that sacred mission. 

But how indeed do we do that? What are the methods and techniques of not forgetting the Torah? If you forget a friend’s name, chances are that someone can remind you. But about “one who forgets one word of his studying,” the Mishna (Ethics of the Fathers) has some strong things to say. So let’s review some of them. 


In the Recitation of the Shma that we say every day, the Torah commands us to teach the Torah to our children. But the phrase that the Torah uses is not vilimadeta, “and you shall teach” but rather, vishinantom. While that also means “and you shall teach,” the root word of vishinantom is shanein, which means both “repeat” and “sharpen.” It refers to something you repeat again and again. So why does the Torah use this phrase? Because in order to remember the Torah, every father needs to “sharpen” it and repeat it to his children again and again. 

The Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin 99a) tells us that “one who studies but doesn’t review is like one who sows but doesn’t reap.” That means that without repetition, all the person’s studying was in vain and that ultimately, he will forget everything. (Just ask anyone who went to medical school.) 

Now, there were Talmudic Sages who had various personal customs when it came to study repetition. For example (Tractate Brachos 38b), Rabbi Chiya would review his studies every 30 days.  There were other Sages who would even review everything new that they learned 40 times! And Hillel the Elder, one of the most famous Sages, said (Tractate Chagigah 9b), “Who can be called a ‘servant of G-d’? One who repeats his studies 101 times.” 


Hillel himself launched a new technique on how to remember the Torah he had studied: He would review the thing he heard from his master in the exact way his master had said them. Now, Hillel was a disciple of Shmaya and Avtalyon, who were the two leaders of the Jewish Nation in that era. But what is most interesting about them is that they were both converts to Judaism. 

Because they did not have a Jewish background, they weren’t brought up with the natural pronunciation of the Hebrew letter Hey. Instead, they would say Aleph. It’s sort of like someone today who didn’t grow up going to Jewish school and doesn’t quite know how to pronounce the letter Ches and says Hey instead—so he says “Hallah,” not “Challah.” 

So when Hillel would review a law in his master’s name, he would “impersonate” his master and express the words the wrong way, only because that’s how his master had said them. Why? Because, as the Talmud also says (Tractate Eduyos 1:3), “one must quote his master verbatim”— and when you mimic your master and say what he said exactly as he said them, then you won’t forget them. 

And so Chasidim throughout the generations had the custom of imitating their masters, whether in manner of speech, dress, or even handwriting, gait and so on. For example, Chabad Chasidim don’t sway too much in prayer, because the Rebbe always stood still during prayers and virtually didn’t move. 


Stories are a good technique to help us remember things we learn from the Torah itself. The Torah wasn’t given to us to be a dry book of rules, with each line containing one law after another after another. Rather the Torah was written in the form of a story. 

For example, the Torah wanted to emphasize the gravity of “brotherly hatred”—so instead of writing how serious and prohibited fraternal strife is, the Torah tells us the story of Joseph and his brothers. And here we are, 3,000 years later, getting emotional all anew every time we read the story of how Joseph was sold by his very brothers. They’ve made endless movies, plays and books of the story, and the story has succeeded in doing what hundreds of hours of lectures and speeches would never do. 

Or, for example, the Torah wanted to sharpen the seriousness of the sin of idol worship. The fact that the Jewish Nation heard “You shall not make for yourselves any graven image…” at Mt. Sinai didn’t have much effect on them. But it is specifically when the Torah tells us of the Golden Calf fiasco, and all the negative results that flowed from it, that the gravity of the sin of idol worship penetrates the bones of every Jew. 


Another method of remembering that we learn from the Torah itself is the Ta’amei HaMikrah, the Cantillation Notes.  

The way we read the Torah is not to just recite it, but rather, to chant it. If you look at any Chumash—you won’t find it in the Torah scroll itself—you’ll notice one or two little symbols above each Hebrew word. These symbolize specific combinations of notes. The Revi’i symbol, for example, is six notes that first rise a bit and then fall. The Mercha symbol is two or three notes. By reviewing the Chumash text and memorizing the symbols, the Torah reader remembers which symbols to sing for which words when he reads the actual Torah scroll text.  

One of the main reasons for this system is so that when you essentially turn the entire Torah text into one giant song, it’s easier to remember. And as we see clearly, a prayer that is commonly sung is remembered by everyone—like the Aleinu prayer we say at the end of prayers, or the first paragraph of Birkas HaMazon, the Grace after Meals prayer. What you sing, you remember. 


As everyone knows, memory problems exist more among men than women. 

Us men will forget what we ate for breakfast in the morning and where we’re supposed to go. Women, on the other hand, remember everything—even what you want them to forget, they remember. This is especially true when a couple gets into a fight—the wife will remind her husband of all his transgressions from the day he came into existence, while he just stands there, suddenly completely powerless. And even if he’s right, he suddenly doesn’t remember any details that would allow him to defend himself and make his case. 

So now we can ask: Why do women not forget anything—remembering details upon details? 

Some top psychologists say that since women are more emotional, every life experience is an emotional experience (or at least more of an emotional experience), affecting their hearts.  

Men, however, could have the very same experience—but they only think about it at the moment it occurs. They don’t get emotionally involved. With women, there’s that emotional connection to the event—and when you’ve got an emotional connection to an event, whatever it may be, it makes its mark on the heart, and so you never forget it. 

And that brings us to this week’s Torah portion of Bechukosai. 


The Rebbe frequently quoted Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Rebbe of Chabad, who said that the root word of “Bechukosai” is also chakika, which means “engraving”—as in etching words into stone. According to the Alter Rebbe, the Rebbe would note, the lesson is that just like an engraved letter becomes an inseparable part of the stone, so too must the Torah become engraved in our hearts until it becomes inseparable from our personalities. 

But how do we accomplish that? How do we cause the Torah to be engraved within us? That happens when we connect to the Torah in an emotional way. As long as our Torah study is merely intellectual, it’s all fine and good—but it never becomes part of our existence. But when our Torah study is an emotional experience, then it becomes something we never forget. 

And that’s something that everyone knows from personal experience.  

If you’ve ever visited the Kotel, the Western Wall, and got really emotional while there, it’s an experience that you won’t forget. Or, if you come across a concept that you strongly connect to emotionally, one that really speaks to you, you’ll remember it for decades to come. 

Nowadays there are a good number of organizations that try to attract youth intellectually, by reaching their minds with classes and lectures, etc. But what’s important is to connect Judaism with a Jew’s feelings.  

From the standpoint of knowledge, the young generation would seem to know a lot more about Judaism than its parents knew about Judaism—but what’s missing is the emotional connection to the Torah of Israel, and to the Nation of Israel. 

We have plenty of intellectualism. What we really need is to raise kids with Jewish feeling. 

And so the Rebbe’s approach was specifically through the “Mivtzoyim,” the Mitzvah Campaigns like going around and putting tefillin on Jewish men, etc. Because something that a person does connects to him in a more emotional way than something that he only learns. And even with learning and study, by the way, the Sages say that this should be “in the place [meaning, subject] that his heart desires”—because then he will love what he’s learning. 

And what we love, we don’t forget. As the Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin 106b) tells us, “G-d desires the heart.” 

Good Shabbos!



Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, recounts the story of Chinese scientists who were tasked with unraveling the mystery of how China and the Far East had once led the civilized world for centuries, only to be overtaken by the West in the last 500 years. These researchers were puzzled as to how a nation that had invented so many ground-breaking innovations like the compass, paper, printing, porcelain, gunpowder, and more, could have regressed so dramatically. Their inquiry led them to ponder how the West managed to emerge as the world’s superpower.

Initially, the researchers hypothesized that the West’s superiority was due to their possession of superior weapons, namely more advanced guns. However, they later shifted their focus to the possibility that the Western model of governance was more effective. Lastly, they considered the notion that the West’s economic policy was more successful than that of China and the Far East.

But upon further investigation, the Chinese scientists concluded that the Western civilization’s success is not simply due to their advanced weaponry, superior government or economic policies, but rather rooted in their culture, specifically the Tanach, or the Bible. The philosophy of capitalism, democracy, human dignity, freedom, and above all, responsibility for the poor, that are integral to the Western civilization’s success, all have their basis in the teachings of the Bible. It is this foundation that underpins a successful and healthy society in the West.

For instance, the Tanach teaches that poverty should not be considered a natural occurrence and that it is our duty to do everything possible to assist those who are less fortunate, whether by helping them find employment or providing other forms of aid. This compassion and sense of obligation towards the pauper, stranger, orphan, and widow is what creates a healthy and prosperous society.

The concept of helping others is not only present in the Tanach, but also in Sefiras HaOmer, which is currently being observed. During this period, Jews count the days between the Omer sacrifice, which was offered on the second day of Passover and consisted of one omer of barley flour, and the holiday of Shavuos (Pentecost), when the Shtei HaLechem offering, consisting of two loaves of bread made from an omer of wheat flour, was brought.

What’s the difference between wheat and barley? The Rebbe says that this is something that even little kids know—”wheat is people food and barley is animal food.”

Now, there is a concept called “all fat for G-d,” that we should give our best and most valuable possessions to serve and honor G-d. This idea can be traced back to the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible. When they both brought offerings to G-d, Abel brought the best and most precious items he had, while Cain did not. As a result, G-d accepted Abel’s offering but not Cain’s. In the same way, when animal sacrifices were brought to the Temple, the fat was burned on the altar as the best part of the sacrifice, signifying that we should always strive to give our best to G-d.

So, the Rebbe raises a question: why would the Omer sacrifice, which is brought to the Beis Hamikdash on Pesach, consist of barley, an animal food? Doesn’t it go against the idea of bringing the best to G-d?

The Rebbe explains that barley represents the animal soul, the nefesh habahamis, that exists within every person. The purpose of the Counting of the Omer is to refine and elevate the animal within us, and to transform us from animal-like beings to more spiritual, human beings who are in touch with our G-dly soul, the nefesh elokis. This transformation is symbolized by the Shtei HaLechem, the offering of two loaves of bread made of wheat flour that is brought on Shavuos, representing human food. (Hisvaduyos 5748 Vol. III pg. 85.)

Now, what distinguishes humans from animals? There are many differences. For instance, animals walk on all fours, while humans walk on two legs. Animals cannot talk, but humans can. However, when we delve a little deeper, we realize that a fundamental difference is that, as a general rule, animals are primarily concerned with themselves. Their entire goal and mission are to survive and take care of themselves, their offspring, and sometimes other members of their species.

I don’t intend to disparage animals, G-d forbid, especially not dogs, who are renowned for their loyalty to their owners, sometimes even putting themselves in harm’s way to protect them. We’ve all heard stories of heroic dogs like Lassie who saved their owners from danger. However, upon closer inspection, we see that these brave dogs were ultimately helping themselves by protecting their source of care and affection.

In contrast, the idea of feeling an ethical obligation to aid someone who is a complete stranger, based solely on a desire to help others, is a uniquely human trait. Consider, for example, the act of donating to aid victims of a natural disaster in a foreign land, with no expectation of ever meeting them or receiving recognition for the assistance. This kind of altruistic behavior is something only a human is capable of.

The defining difference between human beings and animals is that while animals only care about themselves, humans have the ability to forget about themselves and help others. This is because humans are created in the image of G-d, and just as G-d gives to His creations, humans have a natural tendency to give to others.

Therefore, during the Sefiras Haomer, it is important to control our animalistic tendencies and remind ourselves that there are others in the world who need our help. We must elevate ourselves from the level of the beasts within us and strive to be more in touch with our G-dly soul.

Now, during the period of Sefiras HaOmer, we take on the customs of aveilus, mourning. We don’t schedule weddings, we don’t get haircuts, and more. Why? Because during this time, thousands of years ago, something terrible happened: the disciples of Rabbi Akiva perished.

Rabbi Akiva lived in the Roman era, about 2,000 years ago. He had 24,000 students, and tragically, they all died during a short period between Pesach and Shavuos. So during this time, we mourn their loss and reflect on the tragedy that befell the Jewish people.

The question is often asked: what exactly led to the sudden and tragic demise of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students during the period between Pesach and Shavuos? According to the Talmud (Tractate Yevamos 62b), their deaths were a result of a lack of respect for one another. However, this explanation begs the question: what was so egregious about their behavior that it warranted such a severe punishment?

Perhaps the answer can be found in the same story, in the format in which it’s brought down in the Midrash:

“Rabbi Akiva says, ‘I had thousands of students from Givat to Antiporos, and they all died in my lifetime between Pesach and Shavuos, and ultimately there stood seven students for me, and these are: Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Nechemya, etc.’ I said to them, ‘The first died only because their eyes were constrained in Torah to one another—[but] you shall not be so.’ They immediately stood, and the whole Land of Israel was filled with Torah.”

In other words, despite their extensive Torah knowledge, the students of Rabbi Akiva kept it to themselves, unwilling to share with others. Even in Torah scholarship, one can behave in a way that is contrary to being human. If a person learns Torah only for themselves and begrudges others from benefiting from it, they have not yet achieved the level of being truly human. Rabbi Akiva’s instruction to his new students, “You shall not be so,” immediately prompted a change, and the whole Land of Israel was filled with Torah.

Rabbi Akiva’s new students were the Rebbe’s shluchim. They understood that it was forbidden to keep the Torah for themselves; rather, they had a responsibility to go out and share the Torah with other Jews—and what the first 24,000 students didn’t do, those seven students successfully did.

And so their names remained inscribed on the heart of the Jewish Nation for generations on end.


Jewlarious Jokes 5/05/2023

Rabbi Adler was out for a leisurely Sunday afternoon ride on his bicycle, when he came upon Little Moishie Goldberg from his shul trying to sell a lawn mower. “How much do you want for the mower, Moishie?” asked the Rabbi.

“I just want enough money so I can buy a bicycle,” said Moishie. After a moment of consideration, the Rabbi asked, “Will you take my bike in trade for it?”

Moishie asked if he could try it out first, and after adjusting the seat and riding the bike around a little he said, “Rabbi, you’ve got yourself a deal.”

The Rabbi took the mower and began to try to crank it. He pulled on the string a few times with no response from the mower. The Rabbi called Moishie over and said, “I can’t get this mower to start.”

The boy said, “That’s because you have to swear at it to get it started. That’s what my Dad does.”

Rabbi Adler said, “I am a Rabbi, I don’t even know how to swear.”

Moishie looked at him happily and said, “Just keep pulling on that string. It’ll come to you!”





The Inner Temple of the True Jew

In 1901, a German Jew named Hermann Burchardt decided to tour the world and the most far-flung Jewish communities in existence. He loved researching exotic tribes and also loved photography, and being of a wealthy family, he could afford it all.

Before he left Germany, he learned how to speak Arabic and Turkish. He then traveled to Damascus, where he bought a villa that he would use as a base for his regional travels. He then set forth.

In the course of his visit to Yemen, while traveling through the middle of the desert, he was sidetracked by one of the most isolated communities of the Jewish Nation. It was the Jewish community of Sanaa, the capital city of Yemen. Burchardt settled in and camped out with the Sanaa Jewish community for almost a year. He got to know them, recorded their customs, heard their life stories, and wrote it all down in his daily diary.

But what was most important of all, and in an apparent historical first, were his photos. He captured the portrait of the Jews of Sanaa. He wrote a long essay on the Yemenite community, and along with extensive photos, he sent it to a Jewish newspaper in Germany.

The sights that appeared in the pictures ignited the Jews of Europe. Even though they knew that there were Jews in Yemen (20 years prior, in 1881, a lot of Yemenite Jews had moved to the Holy Land), still, to see photographs of Jewish communal life in Yemen, a place that was the most absolutely removed location from European influence, caused tremendous excitement in Europe. In those years, Jews were searching for the most authentic Jew, and many were asking themselves, “Are we truly living in the ways of the Tanach?” And now, to suddenly see Jews dressing and looking like they were from the world of 2,000 years ago, people started wondering if Jews might have really looked like that before the onset of the Diaspora; could these be the Jews of the Tanach?

So these European Jews wanted to clarify the customs of the Jews of Yemen—to examine their prayer books, to determine if their Tanachs and ours were the same, and so on. And indeed, it turned out that the Jews of Yemen have a tradition dating back to the era of the Destruction of the First Temple—and thus, in a certain way, they are more authentic than other Jewish communities.

But we can ask the question: Why indeed did the Jews of Europe really ask themselves if they were the continuation of the Jewish Nation? What was really bothering them?

Well, for starters, the white hues of Europe’s Jews don’t exactly evoke Avraham Avinu, whose origin was the region of ancient Iraq. But it runs deeper than that. And that brings us right to this week’s Torah portion.

In this week’s Torah reading, we read the portions of Achrei Mos and Kedoshim. And in the first part of Achrei Mos, the Torah tells us the precise order of service in the Beis Hamikdash on Yom Kippur.

In the Torah reading, the Torah goes into great detail, and detail on the detail, how exactly the Yom Kippur service was carried out in the Temple. The Kohein Gadol (High Priest) would have to wear flaxen clothing on that day, and would need to immerse himself in the mikvah each time he changed his outfit. He had to sacrifice two goats—one as a sin offering and the other as the famous “Sa’ir La’Azazel.” Then the Kohein Gadol would enter the Kodesh HaKodashim (Holy of Holies), where he would offer up Ketores (incense)—and thus, on the holiest day of the year, the holiest person in the Jewish Nation would enter the holiest place in the world to atone for the Jewish Nation and to secure for them a good year.

And then came the Destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 C.E. It’s completely impossible to describe the magnitude of the destruction that the Jewish Nation experienced with the loss of the Holy Temple.

We can imagine what military destruction looks like, or what political or national destruction look like, but what happened here was much more serious. How was a nation that was built entirely around the Beis Hamikdash and its regular sacrifices supposed to now carry on its spiritual life without it? Who would atone for the nation’s sins without the Kohein Gadol, the Beis Hamikdash, the Sin Offering and the Goat to Azazel? How do we continue our connection with G-d without all this?

There was the same kind of destruction, the same kind of demoralization, among the Jewish People after the Destruction of the First Temple. However, the difference there was that they still had Prophets. Yirmiyahu and Yechezel spoke the Word of G-d to them; they still had a direct line to G-d.

But with the Destruction of the Second Temple, what we had was a spiritual catastrophe. Ever since, other nations and religions that had access to the Tanach have studied the path on which the Jewish Nation has traveled and the way in which they have served G-d since the Destruction—and have failed to reconcile the text of the Tanach with the traditions of the Jewish Nation in exile. They argue, “You are not the real Jews! Where is the Holy Temple? Where are the sacrifices? True, you don’t live in the Holy Land—so bring sacrifices wherever you live! How can you have atonement without the sacrifices? How can you have a connection with G-d without offering incense? That’s where the search for the historically authentic Jew comes from—perhaps there, in the middle of the desert, they would find the Jew whose life more closely resembles that which is described in the Tanach. Perhaps there in Sanaa they do sprinkle blood on the altar; perhaps there they still burn incense.

But what the nations of the world don’t understand is that with the Destruction of the Temple, in a certain way, a wonderful thing happened.

As the Rebbe explained many times, “Our degradation is our reconstruction.” That means that as a result of the Destruction, the bond between the Jewish Nation and G-d went from the national level to the individual level.

For example, after the Destruction, Yom Kippur reveals to us that every Jew is a Kohein Gadol, every synagogue is a Temple, and every prayer is an offering of incense. The one thing that a Jew needs to atone for his or her sins of the previous year is to do teshuvah, to repent.

As the famous Talmudic Sage Rabbi Akiva said, “Fortunate are you, O Israel, for it is your Father in Heaven before Whom you become pure and Who purifies you,” and, “The mikveh [hope] of Israel is G-d: Just as a mikvah purifies the impure, so too does G-d purify Israel” (Talmud, Tractate Yoma 8:9).

After the Destruction, the Jewish Nation became personally closer to G-d. Now, it was no longer possible to rely on the Kohein Gadol to do the work for us; now, each individual takes responsibility for his or her actions and his or her future.

The Rebbe says in a Sichah: “In the spiritual Beis Hamikdash that is found inside each Jew… when Yom Kippur comes, every Jew—the Kohein Gadol in his own Beis Hamikdash—needs to do all the services of the Beis Hamikdash without relying on someone else” (Likutei Sichos Vol. II, pg. 411 et al).

So, going back to the Yemenite Jews of the 1900s, it was ultimately determined that the Jews of Yemen were acting exactly like all the other Jews throughout the world were acting. No, they didn’t have a Beis Hamikdash and they weren’t offering sacrifices. Okay, maybe they were wearing slightly different clothes and behaved slightly differently—but ultimately they acted like Jews always acted in every other community throughout the world: They put on tefillin like everyone, prayed three times a day, studied Torah, ate kosher and celebrated the holidays exactly like the Jews of the shtetls of Eastern Europe did.

As a matter of fact, a sure sign by which to recognize an authentic Jewish community is that they keep the same customs that every Jew throughout the world keeps. In other words, if you find some community somewhere that offers sacrifices and brings up incense, it’s a sure proof that they are not the continuation of the Jewish Nation.

And so, my friends, what we learn from this is that every Jewish home is a Beis Hamikdash. And as a general rule, the husband is the king and the wife is the Kohein Gadol. It is she who lights the candles in the home like the Kohein Gadol lit the menorah in the Beis Hamikdash. And the one who is able to achieve pardon, forgiveness and atonement for all, even for the king, is only Kohein Gadol…



Everything in Judaism is perfect, and we see it in our calendar too.

The Jewish calendar is actually based on the moon. The Torah instructs us to count months and set the holidays based upon it: Passover on the 15th of Nissan, Yom Kippur on the “tenth of the seventh month”—and that all depends on the moon.

At the same time, G-d instructs us to celebrate Passover specifically in the month of “spring”—it must be in the springtime. And that’s where the problem starts: If the Jewish calendar is solely based on the moon, then every Jewish year slides back 11 days. Passover would be earlier every year, with Passover falling on the 20th of April this year, on the 9th of April next year, the year after that towards the end of March, and the following year in the middle of March, and so on. At that rate, we’d end up celebrating Passover in the thick of winter—and then it would get even earlier in the year! Thus, to ensure that Passover always falls in the springtime, there’s the concept of the leap year: Every two or three years, when Passover would otherwise fall too early, we push the holiday up a month by adding a second month of Adar.

That’s the reason we celebrated Passover at the end of April last year—since the year was a leap year, we added a whole month and thus ensured that Passover would fall in spring, not winter. In other words, the Jewish calendar equates the moon and the sun. It may be a calendar based on the moon, but it adjusts itself to the sun too.

Now, why is this of such importance to the Jewish People to the point that reckoning the Jewish calendar is the first mitzvah given to the Jewish People?

The sun and the moon symbolize the relationships between G-d and the Jewish Nation. The sun represents G-d and the moon represents the Jews. Now, the moon’s source of light is the sun itself—the moon itself has no light source and its entire existence is the fact that it is a reflector of the sun. That’s why we need to listen and get in line with G-d — so that we can collect the light of the “sun.”

And that’s why we address G-d in the masculine form.

Just as bringing a child into the world requires a male and a female, with the male being the giver and the female being the receiver, so too in our relationship with G-d, G-d is the male. He is the sun, the giver, the transmitter, the male, while we, the “Congregation of Israel,” are the moon, the taker, the receiver, the female.

That’s why we are collectively referred to in the feminine form—including the men. And that’s why the Jewish Nation is called “G-d’s Wife”, upon which the entire Song of Songs is based.

And since G-d chose us as His “wife” at the Exodus from Egypt, the first thing He gave us was the daily schedule.

Every man knows that in the house, the wife runs the calendar—she tells him where they’re going out at night, what time they’re leaving and when they’re coming back. It’s all up to her.

In like manner, G-d gave the Jewish People the Mitzvah of determining Rosh Chodesh; “You decide when we’ll meet, you decide when Passover and Yom Kippur will fall—you’re the decision-makers.” Every holiday is an encounter between the Jewish Nation and G-d, with the “wife” the one controlling the social calendar.

As the Midrash tells us: “The Ministering Angels convene around G-d and say before Him: ‘Master of the Universe! When is Rosh Hashanah?’ And He says, ‘You ask Me?! Let’s you and I ask the Earthly Court.’”

The sun and moon don’t just symbolize the relationship between the Jewish Nation and G-d, but also the relationship between husband and wife.

The husband is the sun, the transmitter, while the wife is the moon, the receiver. There’s an intrinsic difference that must be recognized so that we can successfully work together.

You have to admit that men and women are different. For example, a mom with a high fever will still get up in the morning, dress the kids, feed them, send them off to school and then go back to bed.

The guy, on the other hand—if he gets a drop of temperature above normal, let’s say 100 or 101, he immediately informs everyone not to touch him, he feels like he’s about to die, and calls into work right away that he won’t be in for a week. For him, the entire universe has ground to a halt.

Another example is shopping. When a guy goes shopping for shoes, he prays in his heart that the first pair he tries on will be the right one so he can pay right away and get out of there.

The wife, on the other hand, will sit in the store for hours measuring every shoe there is. Then, when she gets home, she measures some more, only to decide that she’s going back to the store to return the shoes because they weren’t the right ones in the first place.

Two different universes: The husband doesn’t remember what he ate yesterday, while the wife remembers the bad food they served at a wedding 20 years ago.

Now, marriage is like the calendar—built around the moon and only occasionally brought into line with the sun. So too in family life—the home is based on the woman, the anchor of the home and the manager of its spirit. Occasionally the sun and the moon must align!


What the Ark of the Covenant can teach us.

In everyone’s favorite movie of all time, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones searches for the biblical Aron, the Ark of the Covenant, so that the Nazis don’t get to it first and use its supernatural power to control the world.

The idea for the movie was based on a true story recorded in the Tanach.

During the era of Eli the High Priest, when the Aron was in the Mishkan in Shiloh, the Jewish Nation was locked into a prolonged war with the Pelishtim (Philistines) and was unable to defeat them in combat. Then they remembered that during the era of Yehoshua, several hundred years earlier, the Aron would be carried in front of the camp and cause them to win every battle—and now, since they were in a very tough situation, they decided, without Eli’s permission, to bring the Aron out of the Mishkan in Shiloh and take it to the battlefront.

When the Aron was brought to the front lines, the entire crowd roared with enthusiasm—“and the earth shook,” as the Tanach tells us. They all believed that the Aron would save them. Even the Pelishtim, who had also heard the news, were very shocked—and so they organized a hasty draft and bolstered their ranks to win the battle, and in the fighting the next day, the Pelishtim won! Not only that, but Eli’s two sons Chofni and Pinchas were killed in the fighting—and the Aron fell into Pelishti hands.

So the Pelishtim took the Aron back to their territory—but wherever the Aron was kept, it sowed retribution. Disease and death broke out wherever the Aron went.

At first, the Aron was brought to the temple of Dagon, a false god, in the city of Ashdod. But when havoc erupted because of its presence, they sent it over to Gass, another Pelishti city. But there, too, the Tanach tells us that “G-d’s Hand was a very great upheaval in the city, and it smote the people of the city from children to adult.”

So then, we are told, the Aron was dispatched to the Pelishti city of Ekron—but then, “the Ekronim cried out, saying, ‘They released upon me the Ark of the G-d of Israel to kill me and my nation!’” The people of Ekron were terrified.

Well, after seven months, the Pelishtim decided to return it to the Jewish Nation. The Aron was brought to the Jewish city of Beit Shemesh—but there, too, even among Jewish people, calamity broke out. The Tanach tells us, “And the people of Beit Shemesh were smitten for they had seen the Ark of the L-rd.” What had happened is that the Beit Shemesh people had actually removed the cover of the Aron and looked inside (like the German “High Priest” does in Indiana Jones), and were therefore stricken (Metzudas Dovid).

Ultimately, the Aron was brought to the house of Jew named Avinadav, where he and his son Elazar protected the Aron, as Shmuel I, chapters 5-7 tells us.

And that brings us to the Haftarah that we read for this week’s Torah portion of Shmini.

In the Haftarah, the Aron has been resting safely in the House of Avinadav for 20 years—until King David comes along and begins his reign in Jerusalem and decides to bring the Aron up from the House of Avinadav to Jerusalem.

King David comes along with a brand-new wagon, puts the Aron on the wagon—and marches at the head of a procession of 30,000 men accompanying the Aron back into Jerusalem with song and dance. But then, at the last minute, it looks like the Aron is going to fall off the wagon. Uza, Avinadav’s son, grabs onto it so that it doesn’t slip off, and a great calamity happens—“and G-d’s Wrath flared against Uza,” and he dies immediately on the spot.

The Aron had struck again.

King David himself laments the tragedy and says, “How will I bring the Ark of G-d to me?” He decides to not bring the Aron directly to Jerusalem but rather, to “park” it for a time in the house of a Levite by the name of Oved-Edom the Giti.

Uza died, the commentators tell us, for several reasons: 1. The Aron was meant to be transported by hand, not on a wagon; 2. Only Levites were permitted to physically handle the Aron, and Uza was of the Tribe of Yehudah; 3. It was forbidden to make direct physical contact with the Aron—it could only be touched once it was covered in its packing cloths.

However, while the Aron was in the house of Oved-Edom, a “revolution” took place—“And Gd blessed Oved-Edom and his entire house.” The blessing, we are told, manifested itself in the form of Oved-Edom’s wife, and all her daughters-in-law, giving birth to male children and not only that, but G-d also blessed them with wealth and with everything good. When King David heard about that, he decided again to bring the Aron up to Jerusalem—but this time, the right way. This time, the Levites carried the Aron the way it was meant to be transported (Shmuel II:6).

The Mechilta tells us something interesting about this story: “[The Nation of Israel] said, ‘This Aron is punitive! It struck the people of Beit Shemesh, it struck Uza!’ And so G-d made it that the Jews would know that the Aron was a source of blessing, as the verse states, ‘And the Aron dwelt in the house of Oved-Edom, and G-d blessed Oved-Edom.’”

Essentially, G-d wanted to show that the problem here was not the Aron; He showed them that the very same Aron can also bring great blessing, as it did to the house of Oved-Edom, and that it all depends on our behavior.

The Ark isn’t the only thing that has two sides to it depending on our behavior. We find the same concept with the Ketores, the sacred Incense that was offered up each day in the Mishkan and later, in the Beis Hamikdash.

One side of Ketores is expressed in this week’s Torah portion. In this week’s Parshah, we read about the Chanukas HaMishkan, the Dedication of the Tabernacle. The Torah tells us that in the middle of the great celebration, “Aharon’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu, each took their firepan and put fire in it and place incense upon it, and brought before the L-rd a strange fire that had not been commanded them. And a fire came forth from before the L-rd… and they died before the L-rd” (Vayikra 10:1-2). What basically happened there is that Nadav and Avihu brought unauthorized Ketores and as a result, lost their lives.

In the Book of Bamidbar, in the Parshah of Korach, we read a similar story: 250 men who joined Korach claimed that they wanted to be Kohanim Gedolim (High Priests), too—why just Aharon?

So Moshe Rabbeinu suggested to them, “Do this: Take firepans for yourselves… and put fire in them and place incense upon them tomorrow before the L-rd, and the man whom the L-rd shall choose shall be the holy one; you have taken too much upon yourselves, sons of Levi!” Moshe Rabbeinu also warned them, “For the one He chooses will survive, and the rest of you will perish” (Midrash Tanchuma 5, Bamidbar Rabbah 18:8, quoted by Rashi, Bamidbar 16:6). And indeed, that is what happened in the end: “And a fire came forth from the L-rd and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who had offered up the incense” (Bamidbar 16:35).

The very next day, after the grim event, the Jewish Nation was already complaining against Moshe and Aharon: “You have killed the people of the L-rd!” (Bamidbar 17:6)—because of you, they all died. And as a result of that complaint, another epidemic broke out immediately among the Jewish Nation—and then, Moshe says to Aharon, “take the firepan and put fire upon it from on the altar and set incense, and walk quickly to the congregation and atone for them.” And that’s what Aharon did: “And Aharon took… and he ran to the midst of the congregation and set the incense… and he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped.”

The Rebbe points out something wonderful: “Why [was the plague stopped] with incense?” Because the Jews had been complaining and rumbling against the incense, saying that it was poison—Nadav and Avihu died because of it, and the 250 men of Korach were burnt to death because of it. So G-d said, ‘You’ll see that it will stop the plague, and that it is sin that is the cause of death.”

With the incense, too, it was easy for the Jewish Nation to blame something else other than themselves and their own behavior. And so G-d showed them that it was not the incense that was the problem but rather, on the contrary—the plague was stopped by the incense.

Yet another place we find this concept in the Torah is right after the Exodus from Egypt.

In Beshalach, right after the Splitting of the Reed Sea, we are told that the Children of Israel arrive in a place called Refidim, where there is no water to drink. Immediately, we are told, the Jewish Nation complains. They complain to Moshe Rabbeinu, “Give us water and we will drink!” and they immediately start whining, “Why did you bring us up from Egypt…?” And then, we read: “And G-d said to Moshe, ‘Pass in front of the congregation, and take in your hand the stick with which you struck the river, and go… and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come forth from it.”

Rashi says something very interesting: “What are we taught by ‘with which you struck the river’? Because the Jewish Nation was saying about the stick that it’s only for punishment—the Pharaoh and Egypt were stricken with several plagues by it, both in Egypt and at the Reed Sea, and so we are told, ‘with which you struck the river’—for them to see now that it’s even for good!” (Shmos 17:5).

This is the same story again—here, the Jewish Nation blamed the stick for only bringing about punishment, but G-d showed them that Moshe’s stick can save the entire nation from drought. As the Rebbe quotes from the Midrash, Moshiach will come with Moshe’s staff.

So the lesson, my friends, is this: sometimes it seems that something only brings bad news—only punishment, problems, trouble, or worse. But if we put in effort, even just a little, it’s likely that we’ll merit discovering that the “Arons,” the “incense” and even the “stick” in our lives all bring about redemption and solution, too.

That’s especially true for our personal lives. Sometimes something will happen to us that we’re sure is some sort of divine punishment—for example, we lose our job. But if we’re patient, we very well may notice that in the end, it was the fact that we lost our job that motivated us to start our own business—and succeed far more that previously.

Or, for another example, a person may fall and suffer a serious injury, and be depressed about it—only to realize later that the treatment of that injury uncovered a completely unrelated condition that was far worse, and it was the slip and fall that saved her life.

Let us hope and pray, my friends, that very soon—as the Midrash says—the same staff that Moshe Rabbeinu used to bring forth water from the rock be in the hand of Moshiach, and that with that staff, he take us out of exile, speedily in our days, amen! (Toras Menachem Vol. 27, pg. 330.)



In this week’s Parshah, all we read about from beginning to end are the Korbanos, the sacrifices. But when we read the Haftarah, we read the very opposite.

In this week’s Haftarah, the Prophet Jeremiah says in the name of G-d that at the time of the Exodus from Egypt, G-d did not ask of the Jewish Nation to bring sacrifices—but rather, to merely listen to Him. (Yirmiyahu 7:22).

Now, while sacrifices are not mentioned in the Ten Commandments—the Book of Vayikra, known as the “Book of Sacrifices,” mentions sacrifices almost immediately after mentioning the Exodus from Egypt. How can the Prophet say that G-d didn’t ask for sacrifices from them?

Commentators explain that the entire goal of the sacrifices was to aid the Jew in doing teshuvah, in repenting, and getting closer to G-d. When a Jew brings a sacrifice, and he witnesses the kohanim taking the fat and the blood of the animal and burning them on the altar, it’s a very sobering and startling experience. One might even call it shocking—which is exactly the idea. The sacrifices were supposed to shake you, and make you think about life and death, which then leads to the person resetting his priorities in life. And that’s what teshuvah is. So the sacrifices were a teshuvah motivator.

The Ramban (Vayikra 1:9) explains that they are meant “so that a person should think… that he sinned against his G-d… and it would be fitting for his blood to be spilled and his body to be burned if not for the kindness of the Creator, who instead took a substitute.”

So what the Prophet is saying is that sacrifices without teshuvah is something that G-d didn’t ask for—and indeed doesn’t want at all.

When the Second Temple was destroyed, the Jewish Nation in that era felt that they had lost everything. Until then, every ritual revolved around the Beis Hamikdash—with the Beis Hamikdash destroyed, they didn’t know how they could possibly atone for their sins and become close once more to G-d.

Avos D’Rabbi Nasan tells us the following story: “Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai once departed Jerusalem and Rabbi Yehoshua followed him, and he saw the Beis Hamikdash destroyed.”

Rabbi Yehoshua was the closest disciple of Rabbi Yochanan. “Rabbi Yehoshua said, ‘Woe to us over this that it is destroyed! The place at which the sins of Israel were atoned!’ Rabbi Yochanan said to him, ‘My son, do not let it trouble you. We have an atonement that’s like it. And which? It is acts of kindness, as the verse states, “For kindness I desired, and not a sacrifice.”’”

“For so we find with Daniel,” Rabbi Yochanan continued, “who was busy with acts of kindness… and what were the acts of kindness that he was busy with? He would prepare the bride and make her happy, escort the dead, and give a coin to a pauper, and pray three times a day, and his prayer was willingly accepted.”

This reflected the general aproach of the Sages of his era. When the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, Jews could no longer physically bring sacrifices, because the physical temple was destroyed. But the Sages didn’t give up, and they perpetuated the concept of the sacrifices spiritually, expressing it through several mitzvos.

One such mitzvah, perhaps the most famous one, is tzedakah: charity. Tzedakah is the the same concept as a sacrifice. A person worked for his money and invested blood and sweat, and instead of using that money to buy food for himself and his family, he instead chooses to donate it to charity. In other words, he is sacrificing his very fat and blood to G-d.

Hosting guests is another spiritual form of sacrifice. The Talmud (Tractate Menachos 97a) tells us that “when the Beis Hamikdash stood, the altar would atone for a person—but now that the Beis Hamikdash no longer endures, a person’s table atones for him.” Why? “Because he gives a piece of bread to guests”— meaning that when a person invites guests and feeds them at his table, it’s considered a sacrifice in G-d’s Eyes.

Another form of sacrifice today is fasting. The Talmud (Tractate Brachos 17a) says, “when the Beis Hamikdash stood, a person would sin and bring a sacrifice, and they would not bring of it but its fat and blood and it would atone for him. And now, I sat in fasting and lessened my fat and blood; may it be Your Will before You that my lessened fat and blood be as if I sacrificed them before You.”

In other words, by fasting, a person sacrifices a bit of his fat and blood for the sake of heaven, and that’s considered a sacrifice. The Rebbe explains that it doesn’t even need to be a full day’s fast. If a person delays his lunch by one hour, that’s also a sacrifice and is also considered a korban.

This brings us back to our opening topic: Prayer—which is also a form of sacrifice. This is because there is another interpretation to the word “korban,” which can mean not just “sacrifice” but also “a drawing-close.” The entire goal of the korban was to get close to G-d. How does one get close to G-d? The Sages say, “The prayers were established corresponding to the regular sacrifices” (Talmud, Tractate Brachos 26b).

The goal of prayer is not just to ask G-d to win the Lotto. The inner goal of prayer is to be in G-d’s Presence.

When a person goes on vacation with his family, he doesn’t go to get something specific from them; he goes for the simple reason of being together with them. (It’s like Chasidim who travel to their Rebbe—not just to get the Rebbe’s blessing for their needs but simply to be in the Rebbe’s presence, the greatest pleasure they could have.)

The same is true of prayer—it’s an opportunity to get close to G-d. And that’s what a korban is.

But the most important korban that a Jew can bring to G-d nowadays isn’t just bringing himself or herself closer to G-d, but bringing another Jew closer to G-d—to bring another Jew to shul, or to invite another Jew to the seder. These are the sacrifices that bring about “a pleasant scent unto G-d,” “a spirit of contentment before Me”—because these are the things that bring G-d true nachas.