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Shabbat schedule - Friday - Shabbat, May 20 - 21, 2016

Halachic Times
Earliest Tefillin (latest of the week): 4:36 AM
Latest Shma (earliest of the week): 9:08 AM
for all halachic times, see

Torah Reading: Emor: (Leviticus 21:1 - 24:23)
Haftorah: Ezekiel 44:15 - 31

Shabbat Candle Lighting: 7:54 PM
Shabbat ends: 9:01 PM

Friday night we count 28 days of the Omer

Pirkei Avot: Chapter 3

(For more on the significance of Pirkei Avot, see here)

Latest Kiddush Levana: Shabbat, May 21, 5:21 & 17/18 PM

Torah for the Times
By Rabbi Heschel Greenberg




Priestly Obligations

The Book of Vayikra (Leviticus) is directed primarily to the Kohanim-the Priestly family. It delineates the obligations the Kohanim have when they perform the service in the Bais Hamikdash. It therefore also details the laws concerning sacrifices and other rituals that were performed by the Kohanim.

This week’s parsha discusses some of the restrictions Kohanim have with regard to the dead. A Kohain was not permitted to come in contact with the dead, with the exception of his closest relative, who are enumerated at the beginning of this parsha.

We must try to understand why the Kohain was prevented from coming in contact with the dead. Isn’t helping to bury the dead a great Mitzvah? Isn’t it referred to in the Talmud as Chesed shel Emes, an act of altruistic kindness because one does not expect to receive anything in return from the deceased?

Why is it then that the Kohain, the man who is expected to excel in the observance of the commandments and be a role model for others, is precluded from engaging in this important Mitzvah?

Contradicts Kohain’s Role in Temple

The simple answer is that coming in contact with the dead causes a person to become ritually impure. This bars him from participation in the Temple’s services or partaking of consecrated food. Since those are the primary roles of the Kohain, the Torah commanded him not to compromise his purity and impede his ability to perform his role as Kohain.

On a somewhat deeper level, the distance a Kohain must place between himself and the dead is based on the notion that life is an expression of the Divine. Nowhere in nature do we find an expression of G‑d more than in life itself. This is particularly true with regard to human life inasmuch as each person is imbued with a soul, a veritable part of G‑d (See Tanya chapter 2). When that soul departs from the world, a part of G‑d departs with it and leaves the world with less holiness. Since a Kohain is the paradigm of holiness and connectivity to the Divine it is crucial that all of his interactions with the world not detract from his role of revealing G‑dly light in the world.

The Absoluteness of Death Overstated!

One may take this a step further by way of an introduction. Death is not the natural state of existence. When G‑d created the world He intended for Adam and Eve to live forever. That changed only after Adam and Eve partook of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Death was superimposed on the world at that point. This decree will not be reversed until the Messianic Age, in the period of the Resurrection of the Dead.

Once death was introduced to the world, it became hard for us to relate to the reality of eternal life; it is so counter intuitive to us mortals. In order to impress upon us that death is not absolute, G‑d commanded the Kohain, the priest who channeled G‑d’s presence in the world, to in some way “ignore” death. This was intended to symbolize that not only does G‑d transcend death, for G‑d is without beginning and without end, but that even we are inherently above and beyond death.

Rebbe’s Letter

This insight was delivered poignantly by the Rebbe in a condolence letter to a prominent Israeli leader, Ariel Sharon, when he suffered the loss of a child in a tragic accident:

To Mr. Ariel Sharon,

Greetings and blessing!

I was deeply grieved to read in the newspaper about the tragic loss of your tender young son, may he rest in peace. We cannot fathom the ways of the Creator. During a time of war and peril you were saved—indeed, you were among those who secured the victory for our nation, the Children of Israel, against our enemies, in which “the many were delivered into the hands of the few, etc.”—and yet, during a time of quiet and in your own home, such an immense tragedy occurred! But is not surprising that a created being cannot comprehend the ways of the Creator, who infinitely transcends us. Indeed, we are hardly surprised if a small child cannot comprehend the ways of a great, venerable and elderly sage, even though it is only a finite gulf that separates them.

Obviously, the above does not come to minimize the hurt and pain in any way. Despite the vast distance between us, I wish to express my sympathies.

At first glance it would appear that we are distant from one another not only geographically, but also—or even more so—in terms of being unfamiliar, indeed unaware of each other, until the Six-Day War (as it’s come to be known), when you became famous and celebrated as a commander and defender of our Holy Land and its inhabitants, and as a person of powerful abilities. G‑d, blessed be He, shone His countenance upon you and granted you success in your activities—indeed a victory of unexpected proportion.

But on the basis of a fundamental, deeply rooted Jewish principle—namely, that all Jews are kindred—the fame that you received served to reveal something that existed even before, i.e., the interconnectedness of all Jews, whether of the Holy Land or of the Diaspora. It is this interconnectedness that spurred me to write the above words to you and your family.

Another factor that motivated me to write this letter is the tremendous inspiration that you aroused in the hearts of many of our Jewish brethren when you put on tefillin at the Western Wall, an act which merited great publicity and echoed powerfully and positively into the various strata of our nation, in places both near and far.

An element of solace—indeed, more than just an element—is expressed in the ritual blessing, hallowed by scores of generations of Torah and tradition among our people:

“May the Omnipresent comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

At first glance, the connection between the mourner to whom this blessing is directed and the mourners of Jerusalem’s destruction appears to be quite puzzling. In truth, however, they are connected. For the main consolation embodied by this phrase is in its inner content, namely: The grief over Zion and Jerusalem is common to all the sons and daughters of our people, Israel, wherever they may be (although it is more palpable to those who dwell in Jerusalem and actually see the Western Wall and the ruins of our Holy Temple than to those who are far away from it; nonetheless, even those who are far experience great pain and grief over the destruction). So too is the grief of a single individual Jew or Jewish family shared by the entire nation. For, as the sages have taught, all of the Jewish people comprise one integral organism.

Another point and principle, expressing double consolation, is that just as G‑d will most certainly rebuild the ruins of Zion and Jerusalem and gather the dispersed of Israel from the ends of the earth through our righteous Moshiach, so will He, without a doubt, remove the grief of the individual, fulfilling the promise embodied by the verse, “Awaken and sing, you who repose in the dust.” (Yeshayahu 26:19) Great will be the joy, the true joy, when all will be rejoined at the time of the resurrection of the dead.

There is yet a third point: In regard to Zion and Jerusalem, the Romans—and before them, the Babylonians—were given dominion only over the wood and stone, silver and gold of the Temple’s physical manifestation, but not over its inner spiritual essence, contained within the heart of each and every Jew—for the nations have no dominion over this, and it stands eternally. So too, regarding the mourning of the individual, death dominates only the physical body and concerns of the deceased person. The soul, however, is eternal; it has merely ascended to the World of Truth. That is why any good deed [performed by the mourner] that accords with the will of the Giver of life, G‑d, blessed be He, adds to the soul’s delight and merit, and to its general good.

May it be G‑d’s will that henceforth you and your family should know no hurt and pain, and that in your actions in defense of our Holy Land, “the land which G‑d’s eyes are upon from the beginning of the year to the end of the year,” (Devarim 11:12) and in your observance of the mitzvah of tefillin—and one mitzvah brings another in its wake—you will find comfort.

With esteem and blessing.

This powerful letter underscores the relationship of the death of one individual Jew and the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. Death and destruction do not truly apply to either.

Every time a Kohain stands on the outside of a cemetery in compliance with this commandment he gives testimony that death and the Bais Hamikdash are mutually exclusive entities. It is a constant reminder that with the revelation of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Third Bais Hamikdash, followed by the Resurrection of the Dead, death will be wiped off the face of the earth, as the prophet Yeshayahu declares (Yeshayahu 25:8): “He will eliminate death forever, and My G‑d, the L-rd will erase tears from all faces.”

The Three (Now Two) Methods to Counter the Evil Inclination

There is a practical ramification of the above.

The Talmud (Berachos 5a) discusses the tools we must use to counter the influence of our Yetzer Hara-evil inclination. The first two methods are Torah study and reciting the Shema. If that doesn’t work, the Talmud counsels, reflect on your mortality.

Chassidic commentators ask why is the reflection on death not mentioned first if it is guaranteed to work.

Two answers are given:

First, it can lead to depression. It should therefore only be used as a last resort when everything else fails.

Second, Torah study and reciting the Shema are inherently good things; they are Mitzvos. Reflecting on death, in and of itself, has no value.

In light of the above, a third answer can be provided. As we stand poised to enter into the age of eternal life, the third option will no longer be feasible. It is therefore mentioned last to underscore its inferiority as a method; it is a method that will become obsolete. In these last days of Galus, our focus has to be on the first two, positive, methods of Torah study and the Shema. Only in days bygone, when we were far from the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash and the Resurrection of the Dead, was the third approach frequently necessary and effective. Now that option has lost much of its “appeal” and instead the positive approach is preferred.

Moshiach Matters:

On the verse, "Remember the Sabbath to sanctify it," Rashi writes: "Take heed to remember the Sabbath constantly, so that if you encounter something special [such as a delicacy, in the course of the week], set it aside for Shabbat." The same applies to the future Redemption, referred to as "the Day which is entirely Sabbath and repose for life everlasting." Even when we are still in the weekdays of the exile, we should constantly keep in mind and prepare for the Redemption.