Food For the Soul
On April 26 (14 Iyar) “Pesach Sheni” (Second Passover) occurs. It marks the day when someone who was unable to participate in the Passover offering in the proper time would observe the mitzvah exactly one month later. It is customary to mark this day by eating matzah and by omitting Tachanun from the prayer services. (Consult Chabad.org for further details.)
How did it come about? Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum writes: “There was a group of Jews who approached Moses with a problem. They’d been ritually impure on Pesach and had missed out on offering the Paschal sacrifice; was there anything Moses could suggest? G-d told Moses to give them a second chance. One month to the day after Pesach we celebrate Pesach Sheni when all those who’ve been missing or unable to observe the festival the first time around get a makeup opportunity.
Pesach Sheni has become a sort of holiday celebrating life’s second chance. In the words of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, and elaborated on many times by the Rebbe, Es iz nitoh kein farfalen – it’s never too late. You can always make good on the mistakes of the past. G-d is always willing and waiting for us to express sincere regret and be welcomed back into the fold.”
Although not every mistake can be fixed, adds Rabbi Greenbaum, ”everything can be amended.” [For example], “The pain you caused in your relationships was real, but, by your committing to start again and do everything you possibly can to change, you have the opportunity to build a whole new relationship, founded on bedrock of shared commitment and new growth.
G-d never promised that we won’t fall off, but he will help us climb back on again. The past is my signpost to the future and the lessons I’ve learned from my earlier stumbles will protect me as I search for my new path through life. All it takes is resolution, courage and a lot of really hard work.”
Counting the Omer
The Torah writes: “And you shall count for yourselves from the morrow of the Shabbat, from the day that you bring the omer [offering] that is raised, seven complete weeks there shall be until the morrow of the seventh week you shall count fifty days (Leviticus 23:15-16). These verses command us to count seven weeks from the time that the omer, the new barley offering, was brought in the Temple, i.e., from the sixteenth of Nissan. We begin our count on the second night of Passover (the night of the second Seder in the Diaspora) and continue until Shavuot, which is the fiftieth day after the offering. We actually count forty-nine days, for our Sages had a tradition that the Torah’s use of the word fifty meant until the fiftieth day.
It is a mitzvah for each individual to count the days of the omer by themselves. For more information, visit Chabad.org
Mind Over Matter
Be in the driver’s seat
The Torah portion, Acharei-Mot, means “after the death” and it refers to the death of Aaron’s two sons, Nadab and Avihu, who had entered into the Holy of Holies without any authority to do so, and brought with them “strange fire,” an incense mixture of their choosing. While this action was borne of a genuine desire to connect with and to serve G-d, their actions were met with instant death. The commentaries explain that while their motivation was closeness to G-d, their behavior ignored the requirements and directives that G-d had given them. They acted emotionally—not rationally—and their behavior literally consumed them, resulting in their deaths. In this Torah portion, we need to understand how emotions drive thoughts, and thoughts drive emotions. Be not a slave to either, but integrate them so that you can be in the driver’s seat.
From an article by Hanna Perlberger
The goal is for the world to discover itself. To discover that its beauty is endless and its wisdom unfathomable, because it is the ultimate expression of the mystery of the divine. Which is why the mitzvahs of the Torah are absolutely crucial to this venture. When you wrap tefillin on your head and arm, you are unveiling that mystery within yourself. When you make your consumption of food sacred by keeping kosher, you are unveiling that mystery in the world that feeds you.
So it is with every mitzvah—all connect you and your world to a higher, divine purpose. To its true meaning.
From an article by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Have I Got A Story
Average or normal?
A wise rabbi once wrote that we mustn’t confuse “normal” with “average.” Since there are people out there who, tragically, may have lost a leg, this would mean that the “average” person has something like 1.97 legs. But that isn’t quite “normal.” A normal person has two legs. When Torah teaches us to be holy and distinctive, it is reminding us to be normal, not average.
For Jews, “normality” is spelled out quite distinctly in the Parshah Acharei Mot (Leviticus 16:1-18:30). Our moral code, the forbidden relationships, who may marry whom and who may not—all come from this Parsha.
We read this same chapter every year on Yom Kippur afternoon. And every year in every Shul around the world someone asks the very same question. “Why on Yom Kippur, Rabbi? Was there no other section of the Torah to choose besides the one about illicit sex? Is this an appropriate choice to read in Shul on the holiest day of the year?”
Fair question. So the Rabbis explain that this is, in fact, the ultimate test of our holiness. The most challenging arena of human conduct, the one that really tests the mettle of our morality, is not how we behave in the synagogue but how we behave in our bedrooms. To conduct ourselves appropriately in public is far easier than to be morally consistent in our intimate lives.
Old-fashioned? You bet. In a world of ever-changing, relative morality the Torah does indeed seem rather antiquated.
Man-made laws are forever being amended to suit changing times and circumstances. When a new super-highway is built, traffic officials may decide that it is safe to raise the speed limit. Should there be a fuel shortage, these same officials may decide to lower the speed limit in order to conserve the energy supply. Human legislation is constantly adapting to fluctuating realities. But G-d’s laws are constant, consistent and eternal. Divine legislation governs moral issues. Values, ethics, right and wrong, these are eternal, never-changing issues. Humankind has been confronting these problems since time immemorial. From cavemen to Attilla the Hun to nuclear superpowers, the essential issues really have not changed very much. Questions of moral principle, good and evil, have been there from the very beginning. Life choices are made by each of us in every generation. These questions are timeless.
So we read that adultery was forbidden in Moses’ day and it still is in ours. So is incest. But it wouldn’t shock me at all if the same forces motivating for new sexual freedoms soon began campaigning for incestuous relationships to become legal, G-d forbid. And why not? If it’s all about consenting adults, why deny siblings? Given the slippery slope of our moral mountains, nothing is unthinkable any more.
Ultimately, morality cannot be decided by referendum. We desperately need a higher authority to guide us in the often confusing dilemmas of life. In Egypt and Canaan lots of degenerate behavior was acceptable, even popular. In the Parshah, G-d tells His people that He expects us to march to a different beat. We are called upon to be a holy nation, distinctively different in this, the most challenging test of our morality. It doesn’t matter what is legal or trendy in Egypt, Canaan, America or Scandinavia. We have our own moral guide, our own book of books which requires no editing or revised editions for the new age. Because right is right and wrong is wrong and so it will always be.
Average can be rather mediocre. Just be normal and retain your Jewish uniqueness. It may not be easy. It may not be politically correct. You probably will not win any popularity contests. But you will be faithful to the eternal truths of life. And in the long run, you will be right.
Adapted from an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman