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Haftarah: Yehezkel 36:16-38

MARCH 21-22, 2014 20 ADAR II 5774


"And they brought before Hashem an alien fire that He had not commanded them." (Vayikra 10:1)

In our perashah we learn about the importance of honoring and respecting our Sages. On the opening day of the new Mishkan, the two sons of Aharon Hakohen were put to death by Heaven. Rashi explains "that they died because they rendered a halachah decision in the presence of their teacher, Moshe."

The Ben Ish Hai asks: How can our Sages say the reason they died was because they rendered a decision in front of their Rabbi, if the Sages themselves enumerated other sins and the verse quoted above states a different reason, that they brought a foreign fire? He explains there is no contradiction. Even though there were other sins, if Nadab and Abihu had not dishonored Moshe, his merit would have saved them from being punished. However, after they blemished his honor, his merit was no longer able to protect them. Thus they were punished for the other sins as well. Therefore, it is considered as if they died because of the disrespect to Moshe Rabenu.

A true story is told by Rabbi Yechiel Spero which brings home the point. Rabbi Leibish Mintz was a brilliant Rabbi. He was appointed as the Rav of a city in Poland. One day a rumor spread that the Rabbi, who had a wealth of general knowledge, had at one time studied in non-Jewish schools. There were some people who were uncomfortable with this information and began to distance themselves from the Rabbi. They went to other Rabbis for their questions, but left him with the job of dealing with government officials when necessary; since he knew how to "speak their language," he would be useful in that regard.

There was an incident when an epidemic broke out in town and the government forbade any large gatherings, to avoid the spread of disease. Some members wanted to make a big wedding and have many people. The Rav backed the government and forbade the large wedding.

That Rosh Hashanah as the congregation prepared themselves to hear the Shofar, the Rav stepped up to the tebah to be the makri (in Ashkenaz tradition, this is the one who calls out the sounds of the shofar for the blower to follow). However, one of the members stood in his way and would not move. "For our shofar blowing we need a makri who doesn't speak Latin like you!" The Rav was stunned. He continued, "When we need someone to call out the sounds for a gentile god we will call you, but for Hashem we need a loyal Jew!" The Rav scolded the man and then the man slapped the Rabbi in the face! A riot ensued, the police were called, and they had to escort the Rabbi out with police protection. A few days later, he left the town in utter shame and embarrassment. The name of the town was Oswiecim, Poland, or as we know it, Auschwitz.

Perhaps we are convinced that we would never, ever slap a Rav across the face. But there are countless stories of individuals who have made disparaging remarks against big Rabbis. The more honor to the Rabbis, the more blessing there is. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

"And do not defile your souls with any vermin which crawls on the earth, for I am Hashem Who brought you up from the land of Egypt" (Vayikra 11:44-45)

Normally, when the Torah reminds us that Hashem freed us from Egyptian servitude, it uses the term "hamosee - Who brought you out." Here, however, the Torah says "hama'aleh - Who brought you up," to teach us that abstaining from forbidden foods, and especially from the forbidden species of vermin, has an uplifting effect on a Jew.

The Sages (Yoma 39a) gave a homiletic interpretation of the previous verse "oc o,nybu - and you will be defiled by them [if you eat them]." The defilement referred to is that the heart would be blocked, as it were, resulting in insensitivity to spiritual concerns.

On the other hand, someone who is careful about what he eats will have an open heart and find it easier to develop a benevolent outlook toward his fellow man. This is the "bringing up" that Hashem spoke of in our verse, an elevation of the spirit from the pride, selfishness and cruelty that characterized the Egyptian mentality. May we be privileged to carefully watch what we eat so that our souls are elevated to get closer to Hashem. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


Keeping fit is an obligation mandated by the Torah. Good diet, exercise, and avoidance of harmful habits such as smoking cigarettes are all behaviors leading to the fulfillment of this requirement. Of course, overindulgence in physical fitness is not what is intended.

A good way to stay in shape is by bicycling. Cyclists usually alternate between two types of training regimens - the solo training program to improve and develop breathing, strength, and cardiovascular health, and the group ride to practice going the distance and keeping up with others who share the same passion for the bike. Each has its advantages and drawbacks.

There are definite plusses to training alone. You can choose which skills to target and which health benefits to emphasize, and you can work at your own pace. On the minus side, when training alone there is no external impetus driving you to push your limits.

The advantage of group training, on the other hand, is that each member must conform to the pace and route of the other riders, and is pushed to perform at higher and higher levels of exertion. The disadvantage of a group ride is that the group may not be strong enough to support the individual growth of each cyclist participating in the ride.

Training decisions regarding matters of spiritual growth and perfection of character traits are much more crucial than any choice a biker may need to make. Maimonides says that human beings were created with a natural tendency to be drawn after the behavior patterns and mores of those with whom they have social contact. If you belong to a group which is on a high plane of observance and fear of Heaven, the "group ride" is recommended because it will naturally foster positive progress towards perfection. If, on the other hand, you are surrounded by those who are not interested in growth, then isolation, the "solo ride" - even at home on a stationary trainer - is preferred. (One Minute With Yourself - Rabbi Raymond Beyda)

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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.

Call to 646-279-8712 or email (Privacy of email limited by the email address)

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