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Here's My Story - Dr. Hanoka‏

Dear Friend, 

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

Dr. Yaakov Hanoka (1936-2011) was a specialist in solar energy that held 57 patents in the field and was the founder of Evergreen Solar Inc. He was interviewed in Brooklyn, New York in March of 2008. 


Black and White:

Warm wishes for a good Shabbos, 
Rabbi Levitin 

Here's My Story - Mrs. Sharfstein‏

Dear Friend, 

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

Mrs. Chana Sharfstein is a noted author, educator and tour guide. During March of 2014 her daughter, Zlata Ester, passed away at the age of 53. Mrs. Sharfstein published Zlata’s Story, a book describing the experiences of a mother raising an autistic daughter. She was interviewed in the My Encounter Studio in April of 2014. 


Black and White:

Warm wishes for a good Shabbos, 
Rabbi Levitin 

Parsha Kedoshim

“You shall be holy, for holy am I.” (Lev. 19:2)

She hadn’t been in Seattle for nearly 20 years. Avivah was originally from Oregon, she was part of the “first wave” of young people in the 70’s who became active in the Chabad movement here in Seattle. She made Aliyah (emigrated to Israel) and had come back to visit the northwest in the late 90’s. When we heard she was back in town, Chanie and I had her to our home for Shabbos meal. We had a delicious meal, sharing words of Torah and singing Chassidic songs, it was a wonderful sharing of the Shabbos spirit. In the middle of all of the festivity, Avivah turned to me and said, “Rabbi Levitin, I don’t recognize you!”

I was taken aback.

She continued, “I remember when I first met you, way back when, you         werevery intense!”

Chanie chimed in, “Was intense?!” (Clearly she felt I had retained most of    my intensity!)

Avivah said, “I find you much more laid back and relaxed than you were before; you are much easier to talk to and converse with now.”

Her words made me ponder the changes I had gone through in the many years since becoming an emissary for the Chabad movement.


“You shall be holy, for holy am I.” (Lev. 19:2)

The concept of holy is difficult for many people. It is difficult to feel like one has the capacity to be holy. Holy is reserved for G-d. How can we compare ourselves to G-d? This doesn’t seem right, or even possible.

In preparation for receiving the Torah at Mt Sinai, Moshe was instructed by Hashem to convey the following to the people, “And now, if you hearken well to Me and observe My covenant, you shall be to Me the most beloved treasure of all peoples, for Mine is the entire world. You shall be to Me a kingdom of ministers and a holy nation.”

Iyov 31:2 says, “A part of G-d above.” The Alter Rebbe expands on it to add the word “truly” in his statement “The soul is truly ‘a part of G-d above’,” thus emphasizing that our soul is truly a part of the Divine. The Rebbe further describes, “Just as a child is derived from its father’s brain, so too is the soul of every Jew derived from G-d’s thought and wisdom. (Tanya, ch2).

Rambam, in Hilchot De’ot (The Laws of Personality Development) Chapter 1, (quoting Deuteronomy 28:9) “And you shall walk in His ways...  Just as He is called “Holy,” you shall be holy. In a similar manner, the prophets called G-d by other titles: “Slow to anger,” “Abundant in Kindness,” “Righteous,” “Just,” “Perfect,” “Almighty,” “Powerful,” and the like. [They did so] to inform us that these are good and just paths.  A person is obligated to accustom himself to these paths and to try to resemble G-d to the extent of his ability.”

The Neshama (soul) that we all have enables us, when activated, to emulate G-d and be holy. Engaging in our material world and performing the       G-dly commandments, implementing the mitzvahs between man and G-d and man and man such as honoring your parents, treating your workers properly and conducting ourselves in a moral and refined manner in regards to intimacy and relationships (which are enumerated in this weeks Parsha, Kedoshim) hallows the physical and temporal realities of life.

From the Hayom Yom, Adar Sheini 29, “My father said a t a farbrengen: G-d created the universe and all physical objects (yeish mei’ayin), something from nothing. Jews must transform the “something” into “nothing,” transform the material into spiritual. The avoda of turning the physical into spiritual and making the physical into an instrument for the spiritual, is a personal obligation. Every single person, individually, is required to do this.”

The Gemara (Talmud), Zevachim 19a1, relates an incident pertaining to the positioning of the priestly belt: “Rav Ashi said: ‘Huna bar Nassan told me: “One time I was standing before King Izgedar (A Persian King), and my belt was girded in an elevated position. And King Izgedar himself pulled it down to a more suitable position and said to me, ‘It is written in regard to you (the Jewish nation), you shall be to Me a kingdom of Kohanim and a holy nation.’ When I came before Ameimar and related the incident, he said to me the verse, “And kings will be your nurturers, was fulfilled in you.”” Commentary says, “This verse (Isaiah 49:23) foretells that kings of nations, in the Messianic Era, will lovingly tend to the needs of the Jewish nation. The assistance rendered by King Izgedar to Huna bar Nassan was, in some small way, a portent of the total fulfillment of that verse’s prophecy.”

One’s efforts in an attempt at holiness are expressed beautifully in the Gemara, Yoma 39a1, “The Rabbis taught in a Baraisa: The verse states, ‘You shall sanctify yourselves and you shall become holy.’ If a person sanctifies himself a little, he is sanctified a great deal.” Rashi elucidates, “One who endeavors to purify himself receives help from Heaven to do so.” The Gemara continues, “If he sanctifies himself down below, he is sanctified above, if he sanctifies himself in this world, he is sanctified in the world to come.” On this, the famous Sidduro shel Shabbos (I 1:3:2) elucidates, “To become holy, a person must sanctify himself “down below,” meaning that the road to holiness does not begin with sublime thoughts or the study of lofty ideas. First a person must sanctify himself in the “lowly” things, such as his personal behavior, morality and appetite. Once someone has turned himself into a decent, moral person, he can aspire to assistance from Above.”

Maximizing our inherent G-dly potential in a non-intensive, but naturally flowing, manner of fusing the spiritual and the material is the purpose of our reality. There is a tremendous spiritual opportunity inside all of us to achieve a harmonious life of purpose and joy.

Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Levitin

Parsha Acharei | Counting

Pola was very ill and was not able to come to the synagogue to listen to the Shofer on Rosh Hashanah. Her beloved husband, Israel called me and asked if I would come to their home to blow the Shofer for her, as we lived a few blocks away from them in the north end of Seattle at the time.

I arrived at their home in the late afternoon on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Pola stood, even though she was very weak and it was difficult for her; she wanted to be sure she was giving the proper respect to the Shofer blowing, I told her it would be alright if she stayed seated due her to fragile condition, but she insisted. After the blowing, we spoke for a few moments about her hometown in Poland and life before the War. Pola was a leader, a “take charge” kind of personality, and was true to her traditional upbringing.  She always stood when I visited her to express her respect for my position as a Rabbi, even though it made me a bit uncomfortable, she would always hold eye contact, and listen intently when speaking with someone to make sure they knew her attention was fully on them.

Before I left that afternoon, she looked intently at me, even deeper than her customary way, and I knew in that moment that this would be the last time I would see her.

She died shortly after.

Pola and her husband Israel were Holocaust survivors. They married after the war and came to Seattle to rebuild their lives. They enriched our community along side many other survivor families whose children and grandchildren are still in our area today.

Reb Israel, after his wife’s passing once said to me, “De yoran lofen und de teg, zeinen lang vie de golus.” (The years are running, and the days are a long as the exile.)


On May 7th we will commemorate the 71st anniversary of VE Day. The end of the War in Europe and the liberation of hundreds of thousands of our brethren from the concentration camps they were forced into, after millions had been brutally murdered by Nazi Germany.



          On May 7th 1945 it was the 39th day of the Counting of the Omer.


From the Chumash: “Hashem spoke to Moses saying: ‘Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: ‘When you shall enter the Land that I give you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring an Omer from your first harvest to the Kohen… You shall count for yourselves – from the morrow of the rest day, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving- seven weeks, they shall be complete. Until the morrow of the seventh week you shall count, fifty days.” (Leviticus 23:9&23:15)

The Rambam elucidates in Hilchot Temidim Umusafim, chapter 7:22, “It is a positive commandment to count seven complete weeks from the day the Omer is brought… It is a Mitzvah to count the days together with the weeks. One should count at the inception of the newday. Therefore one counts at night.”

Sefer haHinnuch, Mitzvah 306, further explains “the Precept of Counting the Omer”: “At the root of the precept, by way of the plain meaning, lies the reason that the entire main element of the life of Jewry is nothing other than the Torah. On account of the Torah, heaven and earth –and Jewry –were created; as it is written, If not for My convenant day and night, I would not have set the ordinances of heaven and earth (Jeremiah 33:25). This is the principal element and the reason why they were rescued and went forth out of Egypt –so that they would accept the Torah at Sinai and fulfill it. As the Eternal Lord said to Moses, ‘this shall be the sign for you that I have sent you: when you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve G-d on this mountain’ (Exodus 3:12). The meaning of the verse is as though it said: ‘Your taking them out of Egypt will be a sign for you that you will serve G-d on this mountain’; in other words, that you will receive the Torah, as this is the great principal purpose for whose sake they were to be redeemed, and this is the ultimate good for them; and this is a greater matter for them than the liberation from servitude. Therefore the Eternal Lord made their emergence from slavery a sign for Moses of their [eventual] acceptance of the Torah: For a less important, subsidiary matter is always made a sign or token for a matter of main importance.

Now, for this reason –because it is the main core of the Israelites’ life, and for its sake they were redeemed and rose to all the distinction that they attained –we were commanded to count [the days] from the morrow after the festival day of Passover till the day the Torah was given –to show with our very souls our great yearning for that distinguished day, for which our heart longs as a servant eagerly longs for the shadow (Job 7:2), and constantly counts [and reckons] when his longed-for time will come when he will go out to freedom. For counting shows about a person that all his hope of deliverance and all his desire is to reach that time.”

In the Hayom Yom for Iyar 1, written by our Holy Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn obm, “At a farbrengen during the days of sefira (at some time in the years 5651, 5653, 1891-1893) someone said to my father, “The Alter Rebbe’s chassidim were always keeping count.” My father took a great liking to the saying and he commented: “That idea characterizes a man’s avoda (service to G-d). the hours must be ‘counted hours,’ then the days will be ‘counted days.’ When a day passes one should know what he has accomplished and what remains yet to be done… In general, one should always see to it that tomorrow should be much better than today.”

Further in the Hayom Yom, Cheshvan 17: “Time must be guarded. It is urgent to ‘accept the yoke of Torah.’ Every bit of time, every day that passes, is not just a day but a life’s concern. Days go by, as the Talmud says (Yerushalmi Berachot 1:1), ‘A day enters and a day departs, a week enters etc, … a month etc, … a year etc, …’ My father quoted the Alter Rebbe: ‘A summer day and a winter night are a year.’”

When Torah records the physical passing of Avraham Avinu (Abraham, our father), in Genesis 25:7, “Now these are the days of the years of Avraham’s life which he lived…” The Seder Olam adds, “Avraham had lived his life fully; not one day was wasted.”


The counting of the Omer imbues in us a heightened appreciation and awareness of the potential of every moment in time; Living life to the fullest in our relationships to G-d and to our fellow man with a sense of growth; Being attentive and fully present in all moments that Hashem has blessed us with.

Remember what Reb Israel said, “The years are running.” Let us all make the best of the time Hashem gives us.

 Have a beautiful Shabbos!
Rabbi Levitin

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