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From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin‏

Fifty Percent | From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin Parsha Shemini

He really didn’t want to come. He feels people are staring at him, judging him, and looking down on him because of his situation. I managed to convince him it would be meaningful to share this special day with fellow community members and that people were not viewing him in the way he thought they were. The people he would be around were not aware of any differences in his life in comparison to theirs.

Reluctantly, he came to the synagogue to hear the Megillah last Wednesday evening for Purim. Right after the Megillah, he came to me and said, “I want to go home.”

I led him downstairs to the Purim festivities that were in full swing and told him, “Don’t worry, I will take you home in a little while.”

He was overwhelmed by the huge crowd, and I sat down with him, brought him some food and we had L’Chaim together. Knowing his financial difficulties, I had prepared, in addition to what I help him with weekly, a special larger amount for Purim. I folded the gift and put it directly into his pocket. Without looking at the amount, or counting it, he said to me, “Rabbi, I know of a Jewish couple who have lost their home and are struggling, can I give them half of this gift?”

I was taken aback by this response. Here is an individual I have known for a long time. I met him when he was homeless on the street. He has struggled for many years to get the simplest of his needs fulfilled, and yet, his first response when being gifted with an amount that could certainly take some of the pressure off of his situation, was to offer fifty percent of it to other people who are in need.

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Approximately thirty years ago a station wagon (the kind you could fit ten kids in and resembled a tank) drove up to Chabad House. A Chassidic family entered my office looking like they had come from Jerusalem, Mea Shearim, Israel (a very staunch, Chassidic community). They were asking if there was any extra Shmurah Matzah for Passover they could purchase. The father of the family spoke perfect Yiddish and perfect English. When I asked him where he was spending Pesach he said he was going to a farm outside of Spokane to be with his mother. I was looking at him quizzically and he said, “Rabbi Levitin you don’t recognize me?”

I had a glimmer of recognition as he continued, “In 1973 you came to Spokane and gave a lecture, I was a college student with long hair and very limited knowledge of Judaism. We had a private conversation after your lecture and you offered to provide me with a pair of Tefillin. I accepted your gift and six months later I went to Israel to do advanced studies at Hebrew University. I began to seriously explore Judaism and went to Yeshiva and got involved in Chassidic life, married and settled in Jerusalem. My mother is elderly and I am going to lead a Seder for her and some of her friends at the farm I grew up on outside of Spokane.”

Then he said in Yiddish, “A bisl kimcha de pischa.” (The traditional charitable gift for those in need before Passover. “Kimcha” means “flower” “Pischa” means “Passover”), and gave a gift to the needy fund for Passover.

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Miamonides, Hilchot Matnot Aniyim (The Laws of Gifts to the Poor) Chapter 10-1 says:
“We are obligated to be careful with regard to the mitzvah of charity to a greater extent than all [other] positive commandments, because charity is an identifying mark for a righteous person, a descendant of Abraham, our patriarch, [Genesis 18:19] states, ‘I have known him, because he commands his children… to perform charity.’ The throne of Israel will not be established, nor will the true faith stand except through charity as [Isaiah 54:14] states, ‘You shall be established through righteousness.’ And Israel will be redeemed solely through charity, as [ibid. 1:27 states, ‘Zion will be redeemed through judgment and those who return to her through charity.’”

“A person will never become impoverished from giving charity. No harm no damage will ever be caused because of charity, as [ibid. 32:17 states, ‘And the deed of charity is peace.’ Everyone who is merciful evokes mercy from others, as [Deuteronomy 13:18] states, ‘And He shall grant you mercy and shower mercy upon you and multiply you.’ The entire Jewish people and all those who attach themselves to them are as brothers, as [Deuteronomy 14:1] states, ‘You are children unto G-d your lord.’ And if a brother will not show mercy to a brother, who will show mercy to them?”

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 Tanya, authored by the Alter Rebbe obm (the first Rebbe of Chabad), the chapter we learn on 20 Adar II (30th of March), chapter 37, says:

“In light of the above, where it was explained that the advantage of the ‘active’ mitzvot lies in their elevating effect on the body and vital soul, we can understand why our Sages so greatly extolled the virtue of charity, declaring it equal to all the other mitzvot together.

In all of the Talmud Yerushalmi charity is called simply ‘The Commandment,’ for such was the idiomatic expression commonly used to refer to charity: ‘The Commandment,’ because charity is the core of all the mitzvot of action and surpasses them all.

For the purpose of all these mitzvot is only to elevate one’s vital  (animal) soul to G-d, since it is this vital soul that performs them and clothes itself in them, so as to be absorbed into the blessed Ein Sof – light clothed in them.

Now, you will find no other mitzvah in which the vital soul is clothed to the same extent as in the mitzvah of charity.

For in all other mitzvot only one faculty of the vital soul is clothed (e.g., the faculty of action in the hand donning Tefillin or holding an Etrog); and even this one faculty is clothed in the mitzvah only while the mitzvah is being performed.

In the case of charity, however, which one gives from the proceeds of the toil of his hands, surely all the strength of his vital soul is clothed in (applied to) the effort of his labor, or in any other occupation by which he earned this money which he now distributes for charity.

Thus when he gives to charity this money to which he applied all the strength of his vital soul, his entire vital soul ascends to G-d. Hence the superiority of charity over other mitzvot.”

As we prepare for Passover, let us remember those who are in need. The gift of “kimcha de pischa” is an ancient tradition of providing financial support to those less fortunate.


Have a good Shabbos.

Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin

“Rabbi, Let me Tell You a Story about the Rebbe…”

I am still under the effect of what happened two weeks ago. Upon my arrival to New York, early Thursday morning March 10th, as is my custom, I walked outside towards the line of taxis at the curb to travel to the graveside of our Holy Rebbe obm in Queens. It is usually my first stop when I get to the city, as there is always a Minyan to join, a library full of holy books to learn from and a men’s Mikvah with which to prepare myself.

As I approached the line of taxis at the curb, a young gentleman stopped me and asked to borrow my cell phone. He noticed my hesitation, and said, “I just arrived from Eretz Yisrael (Israel) and my phone has died.” Noticing his Kippah, I extended my phone to him. After making his call to find out if someone was picking him up, we chatted for a few minutes and he shared with me that he lives in Lakewood, New Jersey, and has been married for eight years, but has not yet been blessed with children.

I commented, “If I may suggest, as you know, prayers at the graveside of a Holy person will oftentimes aid in ones needs.”

I continued to tell him that the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s graveside is in Queens, which he knew, and that people from all over the world travel there day or night for prayer and contemplation.

He looked at me, paused in thought, and said, “Rabbi, I will go to the Rebbe’s graveside.”

 I followed with a suggestion that his wife should accompany him too. He again paused and then said, ‘Rabbi, we will both go.”

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 I proceeded to continue my journey. When I got into the next available taxi, I said to the driver, “Can you please take me to the Holy Rebbe’s graveside on Springfield Blvd.?”

He replied, “Rabbi, I know exactly where you want to go.” (Most taxi drivers at Kennedy Airport know, by now, how to get to the graveside.)

As we pulled away from the curb and started the20 minute journey together, the cab driver shared with me (in brief) his life history.

He was Jewish, had two grown, observant, unmarried daughters who were professionals living in the upper west end of Manhattan. He and his wife had divorced years ago, and I could sense his sadness.

In the middle of the trip he turned to me and said, “Rabbi, let me tell you a story about the Rebbe.”

“When I was a young student in Queens, college over 40 years ago, I was contacted by one of the Rebbe’s secretaries to assist in creating video       recording of the Rebbe’s Farbrengen (public talk). This was the first time the Rebbe’s Farbrengen’s would be appearing via television, not just telephone, or voice recordings. The Rebbetzin (the Rebbe’s wife) would hear the Farbrengen via the telephone loudspeaker. I suggested we could create a way for her to have a private viewing, via video, of the Rebbe’s Farbrengens instead."

“After I initiated the suggestion, the Rebbe was overjoyed as, of course,   was the Rebbetzin. The Rebbe’s secretary told me that the Rebbe had referred to me as “the miracle man” and gave me and my future generations a blessing.”

As we pulled up to the graveside, I said to him, “Come inside and join me in the synagogue.”

He walked in with me, took out a yarmulke he had with him in his taxi, and I offered to put on Tefillin with him.

He said, “Rabbi, I haven’t put on Tefillin for many years.”

I responded, “It’s ok, I will help you.”

He said the Shema and said, “I have Tefillin at home.”

I then suggested that I would take him into the Rebbe’s graveside area and he could say a few prayers privately. As we walked out of the synagogue towards the graveside, he broke down in tears and he said, “Rabbi, I was wanting to come here many times, but I am alone and wasn’t sure…”

I responded, “Well, Hashem brought us together this morning for a reason.”

I waited outside until he was done with his prayers. When he walked out I said, “Now I am going to lead you to the Rebbetzin’s graveside. I know the Rebbetzin will smile that her “miracle boy” is paying her a visit.”

As we stood by her graveside he again became emotional.

We walked back into the synagogue, in the outer chamber there are videos of the Rebbe at different Farbrengens that play on a large TV screen. The video that was playing at that moment was of Purim 1972. The man, upon seeing that video exclaimed, “That’s my video!”

What are the odds that of all the days for this interaction to take place, it coincides in the days leading up to Purim?

We embraced, and exchanged our email addresses so we could keep in touch (which we already have!) and I received this email from him the next day:

“My Dear Friend Rabbi Levitin,

Please let me thank you again for coming into my cab today, and inviting           me inside. You walked me into the warm and bright sunshine from Hashem, and the Grand Rebbe, of Blessed Memory, who I am sure, was smiling to see his “miracle man” once again. When I walked into the first  room where my video was on display, it made me so proud. A deed I did almost 40 years ago is still used to demonstrate in sight and sound what it was like to be in the same room. A deed I alone did, and only I can take credit for this video which will live on for eternity.

Now I must live every day so that I might be worthy of the Blessing           [bestowed] on me.

I hope all is well with you and your family.

I am forever grateful…”

What are the odds that I was to speak with another man about the Rebbe for just the amount of time it would take for me to get into the taxi of this particular gentleman?

Divine Providence

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Tonight at sundown, Wednesday March 23rd, begins the holiday of Purim.

The following are some of the traditions of the Purim holiday.

· Listen to a Megillah reading tonight and a second reading during the day tomorrow.

· As a sign of Jewish unity and friendship we send GIFTS OF FOOD to each other.

· GIFTS OF MONEY – to at least two needy people.

· Participate in a PURIM FESTIVAL MEAL.

 

L’Chaim to all of you, and have a wonderful Shabbos.

Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin


From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin For Parsha Vayikra

Where is My Calf?!

          Growing up on the farm in Bellflower, California in the mid 1950’s, was a happy and exciting time for the young girl. Her parents had purchased the farm and its distribution plant years after they had emigrated to America from Europe. They were survivors of the Holocaust. After being freed from Auschwitz at the tender age of 18, the girl’s father met a young Jewish nurse while convalescing at an Army hospital in Germany. They arrived in Los Angeles, having been sponsored by family living in the area, and were married. The young man worked hard in a tie factory until he had saved up enough money to buy the farm.

            Raising cattle on the farm was the daily business. One spring a new calf was born and the young girl took a fast liking to it; she became very attached. The girl (Now a great-grandmother!) remembers vividly the day the Shochet (ritual animal slaughterer) arrived to the farm. She came home from school that day and her precious calf was no longer in it’s pen.

            That evening, the family dined on a lovely meal of veal. The young girl kept pressing her parents for the whereabouts of her calf, until finally the contents of the dinner fully dawned on her. “Is this my calf!!?” She cried to them, throwing the food on the floor and stomping out of the room.

 

The young girl grew up to be my loving wife, Shlucha, exceptional mother and grandmother, Mrs. Chanie Levitin.


 

Vayikra

            Parshas Vayikra begins with G-d speaking to Moshe, “When a man among you brings an offering to G-d you should bring your offering from domesticated animals – from cattle or from flocks.”  “He is permitted to slaughter the animal before G-d, the priests should catch the blood, he should skin the burnt offering and cut it into its prescribed pieces. Then the priest should make all of the animals parts go up in smoke on the Alter, with the specific intent that it is a burnt offering which was slaughtered specifically as a fire-offering, a pleasant aroma for G-d.” (Chumash Vayikra -chapter 1).

Rashi elucidates, “A fire offering – When he slaughters it, he should slaughter it with intent for the fire. Pleasing – it is a source of contentment before me – as I said that the offering should be brought and My will was done.”

Toras Menachem from the Chumash

When reading verse 9, Rashi was troubled by the question: Why are sacrifices in particular described as causing a spirit of contentment to God?

In order to answer this question, Rashi felt it necessary to pinpoint the essential quality of animal sacrifices, in contrast to the other mitzvos of the Torah:

            With his comment “It causes Me a spirit of contentment that I spoke and My will was carried out.” Rashi teaches us that there simply is no reason why G-d demanded the slaughter and burning of an animal, other than for the sake of fulfilling the Divine Will. And this represents the unique quality of sacrifices, why they cause G-d pleasure, so to speak, more than the other mitzvos of the Torah, because we could not possibly carry out such a suprarational act as burning an animal for any personal motive or gain. Rather, this mitzvah is done simply to carry out G-d’s Will. Therefore, G-d derives particular satisfaction from this mitzvah, as it is totally devoid of secondary motives.

            At first glance, however, this does not appear to be a quality which is unique to the sacrifice, for we find many other mitzvos of the Torah which defy logic: a category of commands known as chukim. What then is the distinction between a sacrifice, which defies logic, and any one of the chukim which also do not make sense?

            Rashi indicated his solution to this question by his exact choice of phrase (“I spoke and My Will was carried out”) which totally depersonalizes the mitzvah, stressing G-d’s involvement, and apparently ignoring man’s participation. With this emphasis, Rashi wished to stress that a sacrifice is totally for G-d’s benefit and not for man’s, and it is for this reason that is elicits a particularly great degree of Divine pleasure. Even though man performed the mitzvah, the only matter of importance here is that “My Will was carried out”; and even though man is commanded to offer the sacrifice, G-d is only concerned that “I spoke,” and it is irrelevant who was spoken to. For a sacrifice is unique in that it is a mitzvah performed exclusively for G-d.

            And this expresses the distinction between sacrifices and the other suprarational commands, the chukim: While the specific details of each chok (sing. chukim) do indeed defy logic, the general concept of giving a person suprarational commands does have a logic behind it. As Rambam writes in his commentary to Vayikra 19:19, that the observance of chukim is indeed for the person’s benefit, as the blind observance of laws, even when they do not appear to make sense, cultivates a person’s attributes of fear and subservience to G-d.

            So while a person cannot appreciate the benefit of the particular details of any given chok, he is aware that, in general, the observance of chukim does benefit his character.

 

            Rashi’s innovation here is that, in the case of sacrifices, even this reason is absent. The suprarational act of burning an animal is not carried out to promote the character traits of fear and subservience, but simply to achieve that “My Will was carried out.”

This explanation of sacrificial offerings, though not presently in practice, by the Holy Rebbe helps us to connect with G-d on a level which transcends our emotions and intellect.

May we all merit the rebuilding of our Third and Eternal Temple in Jerusalem.

Have a beautiful Shabbos.

Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin

Here's My Story - Mr. Dudu Fisher

Dear Friend, 

I am pleased to send you this week’s (Vayakhel) edition of Here’s My Story

A famed Israeli cantor, Dudu Fisher played the role of Jean Valjean in the musical Les Miserables in Tel Aviv, in New York and in London, where he performed for Queen Elizabeth. He was interviewed in July of 2015.

Colorhttp://myencounterblog.com/wp-content/uploads//2016/03/164.-Vayakhel-5776.pdf

Black and White: http://myencounterblog.com/wp-content/uploads//2016/03/164.-Vayakhel-5766-BW.pdf

Warm wishes for a good Shabbos, 
Rabbi Levitin 

Here's My Story - Mr Van Der Walde

Dear Friend,  

We are pleased to send you this week’s (Parsha Vayak'hel) edition of Here’s My Story.   

Mr. Lukas Van Der Walde currently lives in Spokane, Washington where he was interviewed in June of 2014.  I want to personally thank Rabbi Yisroel Hahn, the shliach in Spokane, Washington, for coordinating this interview.

Rabbi Hahn called us last year to tell us about Lukas. On Pesach of 2014, he sent out 8 groups of volunteers to personally distribute 3 shmura matzohs to every Jew living in Spokane. When the rabbinical students met Lukas, something ‘clicked’ as he put it in his own words. He began reliving the yechidus he had with the Rebbe 43 years ago! 

The words of the Rebbe have had a profound effect on him. Today he never misses a davening on Shabbos afternoon, comes to many of Rabbi Hahn’s classes, puts on tefilin every day, has put up mezuzas throughout his home, and dedicates some time every day to study Torah.  Amazing!

Color
http://jemedia.org/email/newsletter/My_Encounter/4-11-15.pdf 

Black and White
http://jemedia.org/email/newsletter/My_Encounter/4-11-15-BW.pdf

Wishing you all a beautiful Shabbos!

Warmly,
Rabbi Levitin 

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