GOOD MORNING! Our hearts go out to the victims and their families of the bombings in Boston and the explosion in the fertilizer factory in Texas. Tragedies should not only arouse our compassion and desire to help, but should be cause for introspection into our own lives, character and actions. The Almighty is sending us messages on many levels. What can we improve within ourselves in our service of the Almighty and how we treat our fellow human beings?
One email particularly caught my attention. A blogger, Ruth King, asked, "When the murderers who are responsible for the deadly explosions in Boston are apprehended, will anyone dare suggest that they get an independent state in the heartland of Massachusetts?" Perhaps the Boston Marathon bombing will give the world a bit of empathy for what Israelis have been going through and are experiencing.
For those who might think that Israel "deserves" the bombings that it receives because of its settlement policies, may I suggest watching this video -- http://tinyurl.com/GlickLondon -- of Caroline Glick, a senior contributing editor at the Jerusalem Post, addressing a conference on the issue of "Israel is Destroying Itself With Its Settlement Policy."
One last point in response to the anonymous phone caller who checked 7 dictionaries. He informed me that not one of them defined atheist as "one who has evidence that God doesn't exist" or an agnostic as "one who has evidence that one can't know if God exists". If one "denies or disbelieves in the existence of a supreme being" (actual dictionary.com definition), then he is doing it out of intellect or emotion. He either has evidence ... or is making an emotional leap to a conclusion.
On a new note, Lag B'Omer is next week!
Q & A: What is Lag B'Omer and How is it Celebrated?
According to Jewish cosmology, the day begins with nightfall. That is why all holidays start at night after the stars can be seen. Saturday night, April 27th, begins the holiday of Lag B'Omer. You may have seen advertisements for picnics from synagogues and JCC's.
Lag B'Omer is the 33rd day of the Omer, the period between Pesach and Shavuot. On this day the plague which was killing Rabbi Akiva's disciples stopped. It is also the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar, the Kabbalah, the book of Jewish Mysticism. Tradition has it that the day of his demise was filled with a great light of endless joy through the secret wisdom which he revealed to his students in the Zohar.
In Israel there are huge bonfires across the country. From Pesach onwards the children gather fallen branches and old tires and build pyres often 20 and 30 feet high. Then as the sky grows dark, they are lit and the sky is filled with flames -- and smoke. (I have often wondered what the reaction is to the pictures from the US and Russian Spy satellites.)
The fires are symbolic both of the light of wisdom Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai brought into the world and as a "yahrzeit candle" to the memory of his passing. Haircuts and weddings take place on this date and there is much festivity including dancing, singing and music.
Why the name Lag B'Omer? Every Hebrew letter has a numerical value. An aleph = 1, a bet = 2 and so forth. The two Hebrew letters lamed (30) and gimmel (3) = 33. So Lag B'Omer means the 33rd day of the Omer. [The word "Omer" literally means "sheaf" and refers to the offering of the barley sheaf in the Temple on the second day of Pesach marking the harvesting of the barley crop. From that day until Shavuot (the anniversary of the giving of the Torah and the Festival of the Harvest) is called the period of the Counting of the Omer. It is a time for reflection upon how we view and treat our fellow Jews and what we can learn from the tragedies that have befallen us because of unfounded hatred for our fellow Jews.
For more on Lag B'Omer, I direct you to AishAudio.com as well as Aish.com/h/o for articles including -- Kabbalah and Lag B'Omer, The Mystery of Lag B'Omer, Whispering Flames: The Fire of Lag B'Omer, Lag B'Omer: Remembering Rabbi Shimon.
Torah Portion of the Week
This week's portion sets forth the standards of purity and perfection for a Cohen; specifies the physical requirements of sacrifices and what is to be done with blemished offerings; proclaims as holidays the Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.
It reminds the Jewish people to provide pure olive oil for the Menorah and designates the details of the Showbread (two stacks of 6 loaves each which were placed on the table in the portable sanctuary and later in the Temple once a week upon Shabbat).
The portion ends with the interesting story of a man who blasphemed God's name with a curse. What should be the penalty for this transgression? Curious? Leviticus. 24:14.
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based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states:
"And you shall count from the day after the day of rest, from the day that you brought the wave offering of the Omer, seven complete weeks they shall be" (Leviticus 23:15).
Why do we have the emphasis on counting the days of the Omer until Shavuot?
The Torah gives us a mitzvah to count the days from the second day of Pesach until the holiday of Shavuot ("Shavuos" in the Ashkenazie pronunciation). The root of this commandment, wrote the Chinuch (a book, now available in English, that gives an understanding and details of each of the 613 mitzvot) is that the essence of the Jewish people is the Torah. The Israelites were redeemed from Egypt in order to accept the Torah at Sinai and to fulfill it. The counting of the days from the exodus from Egypt until the day of the accepting of the Torah is an expression of the importance of the Torah for the Jewish People. Just as a person who is enslaved and knows that he will be liberated on a certain day will count each day until he finally gets his freedom, so too, we count the days until we receive the Torah. Counting the days shows that our entire being has a strong desire to finally reach the end of the time we are counting. (Sefer HaChinuch 306)
The greater your appreciation of the Torah, the more you will study it. Realizing how important the Torah is for us as a nation and for each of us individually, we will have great joy and pleasure when we devote ourselves to studying and mastering it. Every year when we count the days between Pesach and Shavuot, we once again repeat this message daily for forty-nine days.
CANDLE LIGHTING - April 26
(or go to http://www.aish.com/sh/c/)
Guatemala 6:00 - Hong Kong 6:29 - Honolulu 6:36
J'Burg 5:23 - London 7:58 - Los Angeles 7:14
Melbourne 5:20 - Mexico City 7:39 - Miami 7:32
New York 7:28 - Singapore 6:49 - Toronto 7:55
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down 'happy.' They told me I didn't understand the assignment, and I told them they didn't understand life.
-- John Lennon
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Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Copyright © 2015 Rabbi Kalman Packouz