This week we begin by wishing a very hearty mazel tov -for the third time this year- to our good friends Yonina and Ephraim Stern who – in about an hour or so- will be walking their very beautiful and very fine daughter Ayelet down the aisle where she will be marrying Dovi Fink, he the son of Chava and Dr. Yosef Fink. So happens that Dovi’s zeyda, Moshe Fink –A’H- befriended the Oisvorfer in 1969 when he was a shy freshman over in Scranton, PA.
And this coming Sunday, our very good friends and next door neighbors Terri and Andrew Herenstein will be walking their beautiful and accomplished daughter Tali to the chuppah where she will be marrying Noah Kolatch, son of Mindy and Jonathan_Kolatch. We can’t wait! Big mazel tov wishes to Tali’s grandparents on both sides, Mr. and Mrs. Ira & Fran Herenstein of Woodmere, New York and to Mr. & Mrs. Don & Elanor Kirschner of Chicago Il. It was Don and his family who taught the Oisvorfer, way back in the late 1970’s, how to sing Shir Hamalois to the tune of ”it’s a small world after all…“ and this tune has now been passed down to another generation.
Raboyseyee and Ladies:
The koihen godol (high Priest) and the virgin-
Shoin, if you are planning a bar mitzvah for a son or grandson and if you are paying a bar mitzvah teacher a few thousand dollars (prevailing rates are as high as $4,000), parshas Emor, which we will read this coming shabbis, is an excellent investment. It so happens that portions of this parsha are read again on the second day of Pesach, on Rosh Hashono and on the first two days of Sukkis. If your son happens to enjoy laining, you can mamish amortize the cost over the many readings. And for the shabbis tish, you should know that we read portions of Emor over and again because it, like parshas Re’eh, sets forth the instructions for our observance of the Jewish Holidays. In case you’re wondering why we don’t read Emor on the upcoming Yom Tov of Shovuos, that’s taka an excellent question and one addressed by the heylige Gemora (Megilah 30B) and the RAN ober all that for another day.
Driving home from dinner this past Sunday evening, the eishes chayil pointed out how full and beautiful the moon was. Shoin, for a brief moment…….ober it wasn’t meant to be, if you chap. The Oisvorfer responded azoy: avada it’s beautiful, tonight is the 15th of the month of Iyar and earlier today it was the 14th of Iyar, also known as Pesach Shayne (second Pesach). A few weeks back, we mentioned that Pesach Shayne was approaching. It did and was instantly gone. And how did we mark a Yom Tov that mamish gets a Toirah shout out? By doing absolutely nothing! Zicher a far cry from the way we observed Pesach but one month back. The entire Pesach Shayne celebration took place in shul where the Yiddin who came to minyan Sunday morning were in for a Pesach Shayne treat. No tachnun (a prayer of supplications which is normally not said on holidays) was recited and shoin everyone was giddy. And just like that the observance of Pesach Shayne was over and done.
Last week we broke down sefira observance and concluded that it has all but disappeared. In our times, efsher due to what we call a hefsid miruba (huge financial losses) to the caterers, party planners, musicians, photographers, florists, bridge toll takers, and so many others, sefira observance is down to a very manageable 16 days (from Rosh Chodesh until Lag B’oimer). Business is business! Ober this week we’ll take a look at what happened to Pesach Shayne, whose observance was seemingly marked way back in the Toirah days but has in our times, as stated above, mamish virtually disappeared. Ober why?
On the other hand, Lag B’Oimer, a holiday that gets no Toirah mention whatsoever and was somehow added to the calendar but sometime in the second century was not just marked, but was celebrated all over the world with great fanfare. Today, Yiddin marked the 33rd day of the Oimer by partying, reveling, bbq-ing, celebrating, making and attending weddings, setting bonfires, shooting their bows and arrows, and over in the holy land, observances included- depending on where one lives and which chasiddus he /she may follow- a day off from school, a day in the park, a trip up north to the great city of Meron where one can attempt to get close to the kever (burial place) of the RASHBY, bonfires, haircuts, and farshiidne (strange) other minhogim mostly made up in the last few hundred years and some more recently.
Ober why is this taka the case? What happened to Pesach Shayne? In fact, a better question might be: what the hec is Pesach Shayne? Shoin, lommer lernin (let’s learn). The heylige Toirah will set the dramatic scene. On the first anniversary of yitzyas Mitzrayim (Exodus), the Yiddin were prepared to celebrate their first Pesach as a free people. The RBSO had previously decreed that they should eat matzoh and moror (bitter herbs) in commemoration of the great event, and, most importantly, that the Yiddin should all partake of the korban Pesach (sacrificial lamb). How those very specific instructions morphed -in our times- into multi course meals, Pesach at hotels, unlimited buffets, wine bars, ice sculptures, tea room, omelet stations, pan cakes, pizza, sushi, waffles and French toast for eight straight days, ver veyst, and that for another day. Veyter…
Ober, on the eve of the second Pesach, Moishe was approached by a group of distraught men who stated and then asked azoy (Bamidbar 9:7). “We are unclean because of the dead body of a man; why are we being held back so that we cannot bring the offering of God in its appointed time among the children of Israel.” They were in Gemora parlance ‘Tomei L’Meys’ (impure from touching a dead person). Many married people, nebech do this daily, if you chap. In any event, we are taught that a person who touches a dead body can’t bring a sacrifice. Purification is a condition precedent. Shoin, Moishe didn’t know or maybe forgot the answer and asked the RBSO for guidance. Said the RBSO that anyone who was tamei due to contact with death or who was on a distant journey at the time of the Pesach offering (14th of Nisan), was then obligated to offer the Pesach lamb one month later, on the 14th of Iyar. And those celebrating Pesach Shayne (the Second Passover) must eat the meat of the sacrifice together with matzoh and moror, exactly as on a regular Pesach.
Many years back, the yeshiva rebbes taught us that nowadays, we are all considered tamei (ritually impure). Oib azoy (that being the case), shouldn’t we all be marking Pesach Shayne by eating the korban Pesach along with some matzo and moror? Ober Raboyseyee, the answer is mamish so poshit: Bazman hazeh (in our times), because, many years back, we were very bad boys, spoke a ton of loshoin horo and practiced unlimited amounts of sinas chinam, we no longer have a Beis Hamikdash (Temple) and therefore no one is able to bring a korban Pesach as proscribed in the heylige Toirah. We are taka all impure. Thus the laws of Pesach Shayne have little practical effect in day to day Jewish life. However, there is a minhag (custom) to eat some matzoh on the 14th of Iyar to mark the date of Pesach Shayne for ourselves and for future generations meaning that our kinderlach should know that there was once such a holiday. Some hold that one may go out for Chinese or even for sushi instead, ver veyst. Did you eat your matzo today? A nechtiger tug!
Ober some taka ask azoy: why wasn’t this mitzvah of the “makeup sacrifice” given concurrently with the mitzvah of the first Pesach? In Toirah time, we find this incident taking place mamish one year later. Why did the RBSO wait until these men complained to Moishe before He gave the Yiddin this second bite at the korban Pesach, or, this second chance at fulfilling the mitzvah? Ober says the medrish so gishmak mamish azoy: the RBSO wanted to teach us all a valuable lesson. When it comes to mitzvah observance, should we find ourselves in a position where we cannot for some reason properly observe or fulfill the requirements as planned or scheduled, we should taka feel badly and we should investigate how to rectify the missed opportunity. Moreover, because the Yiddin, while complaining to Moishe were mamish desirous of performing this mitzvah, the RBSO added it to the roster of His mitzvois. Says Rashi azoy: “How great these impure people must have been! They were able to initiate the revelation of a new law of Toirah.” And (not from Rashi but from other informed sources) we get this wisdom: There is yet another lesson in the “second chance Pesach.” The RBSO seemingly also gives second chances to achieve spirituality. And there is no such thing as never being given a second chance at being close to the RBSO. Gishmak.
And for the shabbis tish…..said Reb Noson of Breslov (Likutey Halachos, Birkas HaPeiris 5:15) azoy: every Jew should come to the tzaddik and say, “I’m impure. I know I’m overall bad. Still why should I be held back? Why should I not come close to the RBSO, to learn the heylige Toirah, to daven, and to do teshuvah? Am I hopeless?” The RBSO can always help, even those who are very distant from Him. And said the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn) azoy: the lesson of Pesach Shayne is that it is never too late to rectify a past failing. Even if a person has failed to fulfill a certain aspect of his or her mission in life because s/he has been “contaminated by death” (i.e., in a state of disconnection from the divine source of life) or “on a distant road” from his people and the RBSO, there is always a Second Pesach in which s/he can make good on what s/he has missed out.
And before we look in on Parshas Emor and given that today was Lag B’oimer (literally the 33rd day of the Oimer), avada we should not let this great day go by without epes mentioning a few words about its origins. Chances are better than good that all you know about this day is that we may, after a few weeks of a shtikel mourning period, listen to music, make and attend weddings and get haircuts, ober, do any of you Oisvorfs recall what happened on this day? Why is this day so special? Nu, as a public service to the dedicated weekly readers and because your rebbe taught you very little about this day other than holding on to your bow and arrow, let’s quickly review Let’s meet Rebbe Akiva.
Says the heylige Gemora (Yevamos 62b): Rebbe Akiva had twelve thousand pairs of students and avada most anyone will tell you that a pair = two and 12,000 pairs = 24,000 talmidim. Shoin. All agreed? Not! In another version found in Medrish Rabba, (Bereishis 61:50), the word “pairs” does not appear, suggesting that he had twelve thousand students in total. Were they pairs or paired up, ver veyst? Did a later version of the medrish, worried what people might think about the boys being paired up, redact this word? Ver veyst? It would not be the first time a sefer was redacted or modified to suit someone’s views.
And who was Rebbe Akiva and how did he build such a big yeshiva? Was it tuition free? Other incentives? Rabbi Akiva came from a family of converts. Until about 40ish, he was a complete Am ho’oretz (ignorant Jew), like many of you, nebech. Later in life, he admitted that earlier in life, he abhorred the scholars of his time. Ober he fell in love with a girl named Rochel and wanted to marry her. Her father, quite a wealthy man, wasn’t very pleased with the idea that his tuchtur (daughter) would marry a lowly Shepherd (which he was) and an am ho’oretz nuch der tzi (to boot). He disowned them both. The fact that Yaakov Oveenu and that Moishe Rabaynu were both in the same profession didn’t at all impress him. Ober love conquers all and Rochel loved Akiva and Akiva loved Rochel, mamish. They made a nice pair. She inspired him to learn Toirah and become educated, and what wouldn’t a nice fellow do for a girl, especially one from money? Some say that Rochel’s father Kalba Savua, was the wealthiest Jew of his time.
Akiva enrolled at the Yeshiva of Rebbe Eliezer where, while pondering the world’s problems, he observed a stone that had been worn away by the drops of water that were constantly falling on it. From this episode he figured out that were he to apply himself, even at age 40, very slowly, each drop of heylige Toirah would eventually enter his farshtupta kup (stuffed head). And it did. Roll forward some years: Rebbe Akiva, with a reputation as the greatest scholar of his time and with tens of thousands of students under his tutelage, returned to his eishes chayil and guess what? The shver, previously obstinate about the shidduch, now embraced his daughter and son-in-law and mistama left them a large yirusha (inheritance). Eventually most, but certainly not all in-laws come around. Moreover and ever since, parents, teachers and others tell those late bloomers and converts that it’s never too late to start learning and absorbing the heylige Toirah. And they all lived happily ever after; inspirational mamish.
Nu, nice a guy as rebbe Akiva was and learned as he was, his 12 or 24,000 talmidim were seemingly not as nice. As the story goes, the RBSO got angry with them and they all died in the days and weeks between Pesach and Shavuois. How did they die? Said Rebbe Nachman: they died by suffocation, from a croup-like illness. Is that what happened? Ver veyst. The Gemora then cites a source from the tanna’im that the students perished during the sefira period, in between Pesach and Shavuois. Interestingly, later the Gemora writes that they died from illness, ober from another reliable source (the heylige Gemora Yerushalmi), it appears that they may have died in the Bar-Kochba revolt. Which is it? Ver veyst! The bottom line: they were all dead! Interestingly enough there is mamish no mention about Lag Ba-omer in this context, implying that the deaths occurred throughout the entirety of the sefira period. Secondly, this passage makes no indication of any practices of mourning to be observed to mark this tragedy. Ober, the tradition as we know it somehow took hold and what was once possibly but a fable, is avada now fact.
We are taught that they stopped dying on the 33rd day of the Omer or what we call lag b’omer. That day is today and therefore on this day we celebrate in some pretty weird ways. And on the days leading up to today, we remember the students who all perished by observing some of the customs more typically associated with mourning. Sadly the dying resumed on day 34, nebech. Why many stop mourning today, ver veyst.
But Rebbe Akiva wasn’t going down without a fight; he started up again. He attracted new students. Which parent would send their kids to a yeshiva where 24,000 or 12,000 couples died, ver veyst? Shoin; the Oisvorfer merely repeats medroshim. Who made them up? Ver veyst? One of his foremost students was Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai (RASHBY), the author of the Zoihar (holy book of mysticism), which deals with the mystical teachings of the Toirah and is the basis for Kabolo, whose secrets, some say, will one day bring about the coming of Moshiach. Madonna did not bring about the coming of the Moshiach, not yet. Shoin, Rebbe Shimon too died on Lag B’oimer and to remember him on this day, some people light bonfires and sing songs in his honor. They rejoice his passing?
Although the death of a great sage is usually not marked with rejoicing, rather with sadness, we treat Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai differently. Why? Because the heylige Zoihar –and of course you all recall that we don’t ever argue with the Zoihar- in Parshas Ha’azinu teaches us that on the day Rabbi Shimon passed away, a great light of endless joy filled the day. Why? Because of the secret wisdom he revealed to his students. That secret wisdom was written down and recorded in the holy Zoihar. The happiness on that day was to him and his students like that of a groom while standing under the canopy at his wedding, or maybe later that night, if you chap. On that day, the sun did not set until Rebbe Shimon had revealed all that he was permitted to. As soon as he was done, the sun set, and his soul returned to its Maker. Because of the happiness back then, we celebrate with happiness now as well. Chassidic masters tell us that the final day of a righteous person’s earthly life marks the point at which “all his deeds, teachings and work” achieve their culminating perfection and the zenith of their impact upon our lives, whatever that means. Based on these teachings, each Lag B’Oimer, we celebrate Rebbe Shimon’s life and the revelation of the esoteric soul of Toirah.
In Israel, people flock to his grave in the city of Meron. There is dancing, singing, rejoicing, some free parking, drinks, and bonfires are lit. In fact, everything goes down in Meron on Lag B’Omer except for taking a shower; seemingly this is verboten. Some in Meron are more machmir (stricter) and don’t shower but once weekly. Many people wait until their son is three before cutting his hair, and on Lag B’omer of his third year, they travel to Meron to cut the boy’s hair. What’s wrong with a more local barber, ver veyst? There is also a custom that children play with bows (“keshes” in Hebrew) on Lag B’omer.
A reason given for this is that in all the days of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai’s life, a rainbow was never seen. A rainbow is a sign that the world was due for a flood of the proportion of that in Noiach’s time. However, because the RBSO promised Noiach that such a flood would never be brought again, the RBSO lets us know when we are deserving of such punishment by placing a rainbow in the sky. The word for “bow” in Hebrew is the same as the word for “rainbow,” therefore children play with bows and arrows to remember Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai. Others suggest that we play with bows and arrows because the students of Rebbe Akiva deceived the Romans by carrying bows and arrows to pretend that they were hunting, when in fact they were studying the heylige Toirah, which the Romans had forbidden. Others stam azoy enjoy playing with their bows and arrows, if you chap. And the bottom line? Some say that we mark this as a happy day because on this day, the students of Rebbe Akiva did not die. Is this a good enough reason to make bonfires, have outings and be joyous? Ober would anyone you know be out celebrating when thousands perished over the days between Pesach and Lag Bo’Omer? Does logic not dictate that you would instead be out helping to bury the dead, paying shiva calls and comforting their families? It does!
Hey, isn’t this the same Rebbe Akiva who made a guest appearance and was quoted by Rashi in last week’s parsha? Wasn’t it just last week that Rashi and many others pontificated on the great mitzvah of Viohavto lerayachco komoicho (thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself)? Indeed it is, and said Rashi azoy: zeh klall godol batoirah (Rebbe Akiva says that loving your neighbor (unless she’s married) as yourself, is a klall godol baToriah (an important Toirah principle). Seemingly for his students, the klall godol was baToriah – only in the Toirah, though not in real life. And therein lies the lesson.
Shoin, here we are on page five,,,,,,,,,,,let’s quickly look in on the parsha and examine one of its many gems. Among the topics covered in this week’s parsha, the longest in Sefer Vayikra which contains 124 pisukim and 63 mitzvois -mamish more than 10% of all the mitzvois found in the heylige Toirah mitzvois- we will learn that the koihanim (Priests) are an exalted group of people. Avada anyone who goes to shul knows that a koihen is distinguished from other Yiddin. He has exclusive rights and privileges. Only he can receive the first Aliya and only the koihen can duchin (bestow the priestly blessing). In the past, and again one day in the future, should the Moshiach make an appearance and the Beis Hamikdash be rebuilt, the koihen will again become eligible to receive teruma (tithes) and a share of the sacrifices. He is considered more Holy than others though not as holy as the Koihen Godol who was viewed as the holy of holies. Ober like most freebies, it came with a price and quite the hefty one.
As a condition of enjoying Koihen benefits, the RBSO placed special restrictions on their love lives and especially so on their selection of life partners. In other words, the heylige Toirah placed very specific restrictions on whom a koihen may and may not marry. There are even more restrictions on the Koihen Godol (high Priest) as we will read below. Koihen restrictions center around two areas – marriage restrictions and spiritual impurity. The restriction against spiritual impurity prohibits the koihen from contact or association with a corpse. Ober why should the heylige Toirah care who a person falls in love with and marries? Nu, the answers will efsher surprise you. Lommer lernin.
Says the heylige Toirah (Vayikro 21:7) azoy: A koihen may not marry a ge’rusha (divorcee), chalalah (woman of defective koihen status), zoinah (woman who previously violated certain sexual prohibitions), giyores (convert) or chalutzah (a Levirate widow). What and who is a ‘zoina’? Seemingly a zoina is a prostitute and refers to a Jewish woman who had forbidden sex. Seemingly, the forbidden group includes adultery, incest, or relations with a goy (non-Jew). That’s the bad news. The good news: He is not required to marry a virgin. Nu, geloibt der abishter!
Ober what to do if the Koihen mamish falls in love, cannot control his desires and marries one of the forbidden mydlich (girls)? What should the poor Koihen do if the benefits she is providing, if you chap, far outweigh any lost benefits he may have been receiving as a koihen? Limoshol, in our times, without the Beis Hamkidash standing and without people bringing daily korbonis (sacrifices) from which he would have received a portion, is the kihuna worth hanging onto given the choice between love and any special kovid (honor)? When all the koihen in our times has, are a few extra aliyas in shul, ober when the girlfriend or forbidden relationship efsher offers both an Aliya and a yirida, if you chap, what to do? How do we handle the koihen who gave into his base desires and decided to buck the system? And one final question: what happens to a koihen who lives with, but does not “marry” a shiksa? Can he still “duchin (partake in bestowing the priestly blessings)?
Nu, halachic decisors will tell us that if he does marry any on the restricted list, the children of that union, should they have any, will likewise become chalalim, they are automatically downgraded. Sons born do not have priestly status, and daughters may not marry kohanim. Shoin: A Koihen who enters into such a marriage loses the entitlements of his priestly status while in that marriage. Moreover, he is not permitted to forgo his status and marry a woman prohibited to him (Vayikro 21:6-7). That’s the bad news. Ober all is not lost and the koihen can be restored. Should he tire of living with his forbidden wife, upon termination of the marriage, he is seemingly fully restored and may re-assume his function and duties as a full Koihen. In other words: it’s only a temporary suspension. The bottom line: the koihen may not marry any of these no matter how good looking, how much joy she gives him, how much money she comes from or any other unique talents she may possess and is willing to use, if you chap, that would drive him to want to enter into this marriage and forfeit other benefits. Ober there is some good news for him as well. Though the Oisvorfer is not equipped to paskin (give authoritative halachic rulings), from his research and from a few who have spoken to him on this subject, it does appear azoy: As living with a hot shiksa, is not a prohibition specific to Kohanim, it does not prevent him from duchining. Does anything disqualify him or does the fact that he was able to chap a hot shiksa give him total immunity? Shoin! For the koihen to be totally disqualified, he will have had to either commit murder (even unintentionally), worshipped idols (the RBSO hates that), or, transgress Kohain-specific prohibitions.
And for good measure, the Koihen, once divorced, may not remarry his ex-wife, not that there’s a big calling for such unions. Ober zicher not unheard of. Grada some years back the Oisvorfer met an individual and asked how many children he had. The response was six. “I have three from my first wife and three from my second.” He then went on to add that both wife number one and wife number two were the same. He was not a koihen.
And we close with this last thought. We know that an ordinary koihen may marry a widow ober the Koihen Gadol (big kahuna) may not marry a widow. Ober taka why not? Simply stated, that’s what the RBSO ordered; no questions asked! Ober listen to this amazing pshat. Says the Daas Zekeinim m’Baalei haToisfus, something that will blow your socks off. On Yom Kippur, the Koihen Gadol mentions the (normally) unmentionable Holy Name of the RBSO while standing in the Kodesh HaKodoshim (Holy of Holies). He does so 10 times. But….should he, be thinking ill of a particular person during any those mentions, that person will likely die during the coming year.
And listen to this even more amazing thought from the same source. It is possible that during this spiritually charged time when the Koihen godol is davening and mentioned the RBSO’s name, his mind may wander and he might be thinking of a particular girl that he wants to marry. Ober…she is already married to someone else. Shoin, he could daven for the husbands untimely passing and chap the almono (widow). In other words, he might be davening for the husband of the girl he wants to die so that he can marry her. Ober the RBSO knows everything including the thoughts of the koihen. The RBSO, understanding human emotions, and in order to prevent this from happening, decreed that he must marry a only a virgin rather than a widow, so that such narishe (silly) and maybe even wicked thoughts will never enter his mind. Shoin, when it comes to mydlich (girls), no one is above suspicion!
A gittin shabbis!