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Haftarah: Yirmiyahu 16:19-17:14

MAY 23-24, 2008 19 IYAR 5768
Day 34 of the Omer

Lag Ba'Omer will be celebrated on Friday, May 23.


"Any tithe of cattle or of sheep, any that passes under the staff, the tenth one shall be holy to Hashem" (Vayikra 27:32)

The Mishnah (Bechorot 9:7) describes the procedure for taking ma'aser (taking 10%) from newborn animals. All the newborn animals of that year are placed in a corral with a little door opening. As the animals come out one at a time, the owner counts up to ten and the tenth one is marked with red dye and he announces, "This one is ma'aser." This procedure is followed whether the owner has ten or 1000 animals.

Rav Avraham Pam z"tl tells a story which gives us a clear understanding of this misvah and the misvah of charity in general. Once, Rabbi Eliezer Gordon, the Rosh Yeshivah of Telshe in Europe, approached a wealthy industrialist seeking a donation for the Yeshivah. The man was shocked when the Rabbi asked for five hundred rubles. "Rabbi, do you know how much five hundred rubles is? I can give you fifty or maybe one hundred, but five hundred? How can you ask for so much? The Rabbi answered, "Are you familiar with the procedure of taking ma'aser from animals?" The man answered that he was. The Rabbi asked a simple question, "Wouldn't it have been simpler for the owner of the animals to count all the animals and deduct ten percent? It seems so inefficient to count ten at a time." The rich man was at a loss for an answer.

The Rabbi explained, "If the Torah required to take off ten percent at one time, it might seem like a huge burden to comply with if there were many animals. Instead, the Torah requires the man to stand at the door as the animals pass through. He says, 'One for me, two for me, three for me…eight for me, nine for me, and one for Hashem.' The procedure starts again, 'One for me, etc.' After a while the owner will feel even a little bit ashamed of taking so much for himself and giving so little to Hashem. That will motivate the man to give with a happy heart in gratitude for how much he has for himself." The Rabbi finished off by saying, "My friend, Hashem has blessed you with great wealth, factories, real estate and shipping lines. Look how much you have. So why can't you give five hundred rubles back to Hashem?"

By people contemplating how much Hashem has given them, they will find it much easier to part with some of those blessings to help the less fortunate. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

"If you behave casually with me" (Vayikra 26:21)

When describing the decline of the Jewish Nation after they sinned and were exiled from their land, the Torah uses the word ??? a few times, which means coincidence. Whenever the Jewish people say that the punishment which befalls them is only a natural occurrence, a coincidence, Hashem has to resort to stronger methods in order to show us that He is the cause of everything. Just like a father first chastises his son with a slight tap, and if there is no response has to resort to stronger methods, so too Hashem, who is our Father, "talks to us" and wants us to get the message before it becomes harsher. Whenever we hear of tragedies in our community, fighting in the land of Israel or other calamities, we must realize it is not natural, it is a message. Each one must take the message to heart and apply it based on his or her own way of life, to try to improve and find favor in the eyes of Hashem. Even when we see the weather drop 40 degrees in one day, or the stock market go up (hopefully) or down many hundreds of points from day to day, theses are happenings meant to show us that there is no natural occurrence which doesn't have a Creator masterminding His plan. Let's keep our eyes open! Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


It is customary to study Pirkei Abot (Ethics of the Fathers) during the six weeks between Pesah and Shabuot, one chapter every Shabbat.

"Rabbi Yonatan said, 'Whoever fulfills the Torah in poverty will ultimately fulfill it in wealth" (Abot 4:9)

Aren't there many poor Torah-observant Jews who remain impoverished all their life? Likewise, aren't there many non-observant Jews who enjoy a lifetime of affluence?

This Mishnah is not referring to a reward for the poor who observe Torah or a punishment to the wealthy for not observing. It is refuting a misconception some people have about Torah-observance.

Many non-observant affluent Jews claim that the poor Torah scholar is observant only because of his impoverished state. Since he is not occupied by business, he has much time to study Torah and follow its precepts. Moreover, not having money, he is unable to enjoy many of the amenities which would cause him to be distracted from Torah. If he were tempted with gold and glitter, he would immediately abandon Torah and pursue a modern lifestyle. In their own lives, they say in their defense, their affluence and the temptation it brings has hindered their Torah observance.

Rabbi Yonatan is telling us that this is an erroneous philosophy. Neither poverty nor affluence is a rationale or excuse for one's observance or non-observance. The person who fulfills Torah in poverty, does so because of his strong Torah convictions, and even if he becomes rich, he will continue to be Torah observant. The rich man who forsakes Torah is not doing so due to his affluence, and even if he should, G-d forbid, be stricken with poverty, he will not observe Torah even then. Torah observance depends on the individual - neither poverty nor affluence is a reason or excuse.

Alternatively, our Sages say, "Ein ani ela beda'at - the greatest poverty is lack of knowledge" (Nedarim 41a). Thus, the opposite is also true that real affluence means one who has an abundance of knowledge. Hence, the Mishnah is telling us that if one studies Torah diligently even though he has difficulty comprehending it, ultimately he will see the beauty of Torah. On the other hand, the one who reaches heights in the study of Torah and discontinues studying, will end up being poor in his Torah knowledge, since he will forget the Torah he has studied and understood. (Vedibarta Bam)

Answer to Pop Quiz: He must pay the full value plus 25%.

A quick tip to boost the power of your prayer. Hazal tell us (Masechet Baba Kama Daf 92A) that Hashem loves the tefilot of one Jew for another so much that anyone who prays on behalf of a fellow Jew with similar needs will have his prayer answered first. A special service has now begun to provide people with names of others who find themselves in a similar predicament. You can call with complete anonymity and get the name of someone to pray for and give the name of someone that needs our prayers. The name of the service is Kol Hamitpalel. Categories include: Marriage; Income; Health; To have children etc.

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