Thursday, April 26, 2018



   In 1944 Binyamin Wertzberger, a sixteen-year-old Hungarian Jew, was sent to a Concentration Camp where he was forced to drag heavy train tracks with his bare thin hands. His entire family, including a brother and two sisters perished during the war.
   On one occasion, when he was waiting in line to receive his pitiful food rations, a Nazi asked him if he had any dreams of making it to his Jerusalem? Wertzberger remained silent.
   The Nazi taunted him - "Maybe your ashes will merit to get there through the chimneys of the concentration camp."
   Wertzberger was beaten, humiliated, starved and forced to work in the most difficult circumstances, but he never forgot the Nazi's words.
   Following the Death March, he as one of the few who arrived at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria. On May 5, 1945, the camp was liberated by the US army.
   After a long journey, he made it to Israel where he married and raised a family. His children learned in yeshivos and lead a life of Torah and Mitzvos.
   When he retired, he went to the offices of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation[2], and offered to work for them. At first they were hesitant, but he insisted that he would do anything they wanted.
   He was given the job of cleaning the stones of the Kosel. He wakes up at 5 AM every day to do so.
   In his words: "When I stand near the holy stones, I feel like I'm taking revenge on that Nazi officer. This is my Jewish revenge."[3]

The ‘minor holidays’, Pesach Sheni and Lag Ba’omer, are four days apart. Although the significance of these days are very different, there is an equal message that both impart, which is particularly vital to our generation.
In the year 2449 from creation, the second year following the exodus from Egypt, the Jewish Nation in the desert, was instructed by Hashem to offer the Korbon Pesach on the fourteenth of Nissan.
There was a group of people who were ritually impure and therefore forbidden/exempt from offering the Korbon Pesach. They were unhappy with their exemption and complained to Moshe that they too wanted the opportunity to offer the unique Korbon. Hashem replied by instructing Moshe about the concept of Pesach Sheni, the second Pesach. Those who were impure or distant, and therefore unable to bring the Korbon Pesach on the fourteenth of Nissan, could do so one month later, on the fourteenth of Iyar.
We live in a generation which struggles with feelings of meaningless, despair, and giving-up. Part of the challenge of living in a blessed affluent society, if the struggle to feel that there is meaning in our actions and the lives we lead.
The false persona displayed on social media of perfect happy lives, leads people to think that there is something wrong with them for having a more mundane and less extravagant life. Why doesn’t my vacation/spouse/house/children/job/life look like my friend’s/neighbor’s/sister-in-law’s life appears on his/her Facebook page? Although it is altogether superficial, it leads to great discontent and inner turmoil.
Regarding religiosity too, people feel that if they cannot reach the greatest levels quickly, or if they struggle constantly in certain religious areas, or have fallen into sinful behaviors, they are damaged goods. They feel they are beyond rectification and that G-d views them disdainfully. It’s easier to just give up and stop struggling.
The powerful message of Pesach Sheni is that of second chances. In the middle of its discussion of the laws and procedures of the Yom kippur service performed by the Kohain Gadol, the Torah states: “And he will atone for the Sanctuary from the impurity of the B’nai Yisroel and from their transgressions, all of their sins, and so he shall do for the Tent of the Meeting, השכן אתם בתוך טומאותם - who resides with them in the midst of their impurity.”[4] Rashi[5] explains that the pasuk is teaching us that the Shechina resides with Klal Yisroel even when we are impure.
Hashem doesn’t seek or desire perfection; but the yearning to grow and to maintain the struggle for growth.
Rabbi Yaakov Meir Schechter shlita explains[6] that every generation has a "צו השעה" a directive for its time, a particular divine mission incumbent upon it to grapple with. He explains that our generation’s challenge is to overcome feelings of worthlessness and despair.
Rav Shechcter quotes Rav Yehuda Horowitz of D’zikov who noted that after World War One, there was a noticeable and palpable decline in simchas hachaim – satisfaction and happiness for life, that seemed to settle on the world. People no longer appreciated or attached value to their own efforts and spiritual accomplishments.
Therefore, it has become our mission to challenge those notions, and to help people recognize their own value and greatness. Our mission is to offer chizuk – to first strengthen ourselves, so that we can strengthen others. Especially in times of confusion and spiritual struggle, it is incumbent upon us to recognize our greatness and how beloved we are in the eyes of Hashem, even in our darkest moments. It is only with that perspective that we will be able to forge on, and never give up on our efforts to constantly grow.
That is part of the reason the Torah taught by Rav Nachman of Breslov seems to resonate so much in our time. Rav Nachman’s constant message was about the inner greatness and holiness within every Jew.[7] That concept is so desperately sought out and needed to be heard, because so many feel their lives and their davening and mitzvos are meaningless and devoid of higher purpose. 

Lag Ba’omer has a deep connection with the esoteric parts of the Torah. On the day of his departure from the world, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai revealed to his students a collection of secrets of kabbalah.
Kabbalah discerns hidden holiness, not apparent at face value. It sees beyond the surface and ascribes meaning and ‘divine energy’ to everything in existence.[8] 
The fires of Lag Ba’omer symbolize the eternal light of hope, even in the darkest and most bleak of times – physical and spiritual. It was Rav Shimon Bar Yochai who promised that the Torah will never be forgotten from the Jewish people[9]. 

The Torah commands, “Kedoshim tihiyu – You shall be holy”[10]. Those two words contain the mantra of a Jew – to strive for holiness and to lead a life beyond the mundane.
Parshas Achrei Mos begins with a discussion of the service of Yom Kippur, and how the Kohain Gadol achieved atonement for the nation for all its sins. It is not a coincidence, that the commandment of Kedoshim follows the Yom Kippur avodah, or that Parsha Acharei Mos and Kedoshim are read together during non-leap years. Being holy is not ‘all or nothing’. If one sins and acts in an unholy manner, he has not perpetually destroyed himself. Following the repentance process of Yom Kippur, one can attain holiness, often achieving greater levels than he had before his falling and failing.
This is clearly seen from Aharon Hakohain who reached his greatest levels as the Kohain Gadol after he had unwittingly led the nation to commit one of its most egregious sins – that of the Golden Calf. It was after that devastating failure, which caused Aharon himself to feel that he was no longer worthy for the position, that he became the symbol of the divine Service for perpetuity.

Rav Nachman taught[11] אם אתה מאמין שאפשר לקלקל, תאמין שאפשר לתקןif you believe that you are able to distort, then you must belief that you are able to rectify.”

That is what we ‘taste’ in the matzah we customarily eat on Pesach Sheni, and that is what is reflected in the fires we celebrate on Lag Ba’omer: The inner inextinguishable light that continues to shine despite the thickest darkness.

“You shall be holy”
“Who resides with them in the midst of their impurity”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] Based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Acharei Mos-Kedoshim 5772
[2] the organization that maintains and upkeeps the plaza in front of the Kosel
[3] Based on an article by Menachem Cohen for, July 19, 2010
[4] Vayikra 16:16
[5] Quoting Yoma 57a and the Sifra
[6] Kuntrus Tzav Hasha’a
[7] True understanding of Rav Nachman’s writings requires time, effort, and understanding of many lofty concepts. Many only learn his ideas on a more superficial level. Still, the most important component is to feel that sense of chizuk in a proper and healthy framework.
[8] This is why studying kabbalah without the proper holy framework is dangerous and strongly censured by the Sages. One must be proficient in all areas of the ‘revealed Torah’ before he can begin to comprehend the esoteric portions of the Torah without distorting and convoluting its deep messages.
[9] Shabbos 138b
[10] Vayikra 19:2
[11] ליקוטי מוהר"ן (תנינא קיב)


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