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Behar 5776

Behar (Leviticus 25:1-26:2 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING!  When is life so miserable, so painful, so meaningless that you pull the plug and let your loved one die? What if one has Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS) and can only move his eyelid?

Recently, I read the story of Dr. Rahamim Melamed-Cohen in "The Hero Within" which appeared as an article on and is a chapter in Sara Yocheved Rigler's delightful book God Winked -- Tales & Lessons from my Spiritual Adventures. The following is drawn from her writing.

At age 57 came the onset of ALS which progressively paralyzed his body over the next 18 years. Six years into the disease his lungs were affected by the paralysis. The medics arrived as he stopped breathing, resuscitated him, rushed him to the hospital. The decision: put him on the respirator ... or let him die?

There are those who would argue, what purpose has his life? He has no independence -- he has to rely upon others for everything. What joy would he have? What meaning? What contribution to humanity?

His wife, Elisheva, made the decision to have him put on a respirator rather than letting him die.

Did she make the right decision? How has his life worked out? How does he feel about his life?

While he could still speak clearly he gave lectures on education methodology. His activities include: email correspondence, meeting with people, counseling, administering a yeshiva, praying three times a day, going to synagogue on Shabbat, attending theater and weddings -- and he has written 8 books -- most of them by using a computer that types by tracking his eye movements!

How does he feel about his life? Initially, he wasn't sure that it was the right decision to put him on the respirator. Now, he asserts, "If they had let me die, I would have missed the best and most important years of my life." "These are the most beautiful and happiest years of my life."

What does he think is his purpose in life? "I feel that I have a task: to give to other people encouragement and strength." "I think I understand better than most people how to appreciate the important things in life, and to ignore those things that aren't important." Our Torah heritage teaches that we come in to this world to do tikkun (to repair the world, rectify it). Dr. Melamed-Cohen believes, "My person tikkun is my effort to fulfill mitzvahs (the Almighty's commandments) as much as possible, to exert a beneficial influence on people, and to bring people closer to faith in the Creator."

What has he learned from his daily struggle? "Before, I didn't believe that I have such inner strength. I learned that every human being has sparks that he can transform into a burning flame."

Why do people with terminal illness or serious disabilities give up? Dr. Melamed-Cohen believes that: 1) they expect life to be easy 2) they have not been taught to stand up to challenges 3) they behave according to societal expectations.

Does he believe that his life is an exception for people with ALS? "Maybe I am special, but the principles can be applied to other people as well. Not everyone has to produce so much, but everyone can fulfill his life in his own way. Rather than always talking about 'death with honor,' why not put the same effort into sustaining 'life with honor'? They can do this by encouraging patients and by bringing them volunteers to help them. Instead of prodding them to finish their lives, prod them to live their lives."

His goal for the future? "I want to stay alive for many more years and not miss out on even one moment of my life. I want the opportunity to actualize the true me, to enjoy others and to be enjoyed by others, and to convey the message of optimism and that life is holy."

What does he advise those who feel that they can't go on with their lives because of something they are lacking -- a spouse, children, a good job, money...? "Don't despair, be optimistic, and work on joy in your heart. No matter what you're lacking, think of what's possible to do in your present situation."


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Torah Portion of the week

Behar, Leviticus 25:1 -26:2

The Torah portion begins with the laws of Shemitah, the Sabbatical year, where the Jewish people are commanded to not plant their fields or tend to them in the seventh year. Every 50th year is the Yovel, the Jubilee year, where agricultural activity is also proscribed.

These two commandments fall into one of the seven categories of evidence that God gave the Torah. If the idea is to give the land a rest, then the logical plan would be to not plant one-seventh of the land each year. To command an agrarian society to completely stop cultivating all farm lands every 7th year, one has to be either God or a meshugenah (crazy). No sane group of editors would include such an "insane" commandment in a set of laws for the Jewish people; only God could command it and ensure the survival of the Jewish people for following it.

Also included in this portion: redeeming land which was sold, to strengthen your fellow Jew when his economic means are faltering, not to lend to your fellow Jew with interest, the laws of indentured servants. The portion ends with the admonition to not make idols, to observe the Shabbat and to revere the Sanctuary.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"And you shall blow the shofar on the tenth day of the seventh month, on the Day of Atonement shall you sound the shofar throughout all your land. And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants; it shall be a jubilee for you, and you shall return every man to his possession, and you shall return every man to his family" (Leviticus 25:9,10).

What lesson for life can we learn from this verse?

The Sefer HaChinuch teaches a lesson regarding coping with suffering from the commandment to blow the shofar in the fiftieth year, the yovel (Jubilee year). The reason for this is that on the yovel the servants were set free. When a master had a servant for a long period of time, it was difficult for him to lose the helping hand. The shofar was blown for the master to realize that he was not the only one to free his servant. Rather, the same was happening to everyone else who had servants. The knowledge that others are also suffering in the same way makes it much easier to accept hardships.

There are many difficulties in life that people subjectively make worse for themselves because they feel that they are the only ones who are suffering. The more you realize that each person has his own life-problems, the easier you will find it to cope in a positive way with your own. While not everyone will have the same problems as you do, everyone does have hardships and tests. Gain greater awareness of the suffering of other people and you will be able to put your own suffering in a perspective that will decrease the pain.


Candle Lighting Times

May 27
(or go to

Jerusalem 7:02
Guatemala 6:09 - Hong Kong 6:44 - Honolulu 6:50
J'Burg 5:07 - London 8:54 - Los Angeles 7:39
Melbourne 4:53 - Mexico City 7:52 - Miami 7:48
New York 7;59 - Singapore 6:49 - Toronto 8:30

Quote of the Week

If logic tells you that
life is meaningless
and not worthwhile,
don't give up on life --
give up on logic



In Loving Memory of
Stephan Igra
Chaim Leib ben Yitzchak
In Loving Memory of
Roslyn Kurlansky

her children


In Loving Memory of
my wife, Maddi

Marty Patrick

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