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Shmini 5778

Shmini (Leviticus 9-11 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING!  How many mitzvos can one fulfill in getting a haircut? I imagine there are many readers whose initial response would be, "Who cares?" .... or, if they were a bit more refined in their phrasing, they might ask, "Why should this be a question that I would be interested in knowing the answer?"

I will let one of the great Kabbalists, philosophers and explicators of our heritage, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato explain. In his sefer (Torah book) Mesilas Yesharim (Path of the Just), he writes, "Our Sages, of blessed memory, have taught us that people were created for the sole purpose of taking pleasure in God and from the radiant splendor of His Presence; for this is the true joy and the greatest pleasure of all pleasure that exists.

"The place where this joy may truly be enjoyed is the World to Come, which was expressly created to provide for it; but the path to obtain this pleasure is through this world. As our Sages of blessed memory have said, 'This world is like a corridor to the World to Come' (Pirke Avos, Ethics of the Fathers, 4:21).

"The means which enable a person to reach this goal are the mitzvos (commandments) which the Almighty commanded us... and the place for fulfilling the mitzvos in only in this world.

"Therefore, people were placed in this world first so that by these means they would be able to reach the World to Come. As our Sages said, "'Today for performing the mitzvos, tomorrow for receiving their reward.' " (Talmud, Erevin 22a).

In short, we were created for pleasure. The ultimate pleasure is not the physical pleasures of this world, but the spiritual pleasures in the next world. The means to earn that pleasure is through embracing and fulfilling the mitzvos. Not only do the mitzvos help us perfect our character and bring us closer to the Almighty in this world, they are rewarded with unimaginable pleasure in the World to Come.

So, if our goal is pleasure and doing the mitzvot is the means -- it really becomes an interesting and intriguing question, "How many mitzvos can one fulfill in getting a haircut?" since we would want to do as many mitzvos as we can! The prophet Isaiah (60:21) said, "The Almighty desired, for the sake of increasing the Jewish people's righteousness, that the Torah be made great and glorious" -- that there be many mitzvos which we can do!

Understand, our job is not to just "rack up" as many mitzvos as possible by rote. Our goal is to understand the mitzvos and perform them with proper intent which allow them to impact our neshamos (souls) and as I wrote above, to perfect our character and bring us closer to the Almighty.

There are 613 major categories of mitzvos -- 248 positive (do's) and 365 negative (don'ts) -- in three areas: 1) Between a person and God 2) Between a person and others and 3) Between a person and himself. Some can be fulfilled through action, some through action and intent, some just through intent (for example, you wanted to give charity, but the person refused to take your money). There are mitzvos that make obvious sense (mishpatim -- laws) -- not to kill, not to rob... There are mitzvos that on the surface do not seem to make sense (chukim --decrees) -- not to wear a garment made with wool and linen, to let the whole land of Israel lie fallow every 7 years.

It makes tremendous sense to know what the mitzvos are, how we fulfill them and how they impact us. Three recommended books: 1) Concise Sefer HaChinuch: A Summary of the 613 Mitzvos -- Rabbi Asher Wasserman 2) The Mitzvot: The Commandments and Their Rationale -- Rabbi Abraham Chill 3) The Concise Book of Mitzvoth -- Chafetz Chaim.

And how many mitzvos can one fulfill in getting a haircut? 17! Just a few: not to cut one's hair or shave one's beard like the idol worshippers did; to have in mind to honor the Shabbos to look presentable when you get a haircut; to pay the barber when he finishes -- or at least not past sunset of the same day. If you have your haircut at night, to pay the barber before the end of the night. Showing honor and respect for oneself and God. Just as one would wash the statue of a king to show respect to the King, one should likewise maintain and honor one's body which houses the soul that the Almighty placed with in it and express gratitude to the Almighty!


Torah Portion of the week

Shemini, Leviticus 9:1 - 11:47

Concluding the 7 days of inauguration for the Mishkan (Portable Sanctuary), Aaron, the High Priest, brings sacrifices for himself and the entire nation. Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aaron, bring an incense offering on their own initiative, and are consumed by a heavenly fire (perhaps the only time when someone did something wrong and was immediately hit by "lightning").

The Cohanim are commanded not to serve while intoxicated. The inaugural service is completed. God then specifies the species which are kosher to eat: mammals (those that have cloven hoofs and chew their cud), fish (those with fins and scales), birds (certain non-predators), and certain species of locusts. The portion concludes with the laws of spiritual defilement from contact with the carcasses of certain animals.

* * *

Dvar Torah
from Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.

The Torah states:

"The sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, each took his fire-pan, put fire in them and placed incense upon it; and they brought before God an alien fire that He had not commanded them" (Lev. 10:1).

Rashi cites the statement of Reb Yishmael in the Talmud that the transgression of Nadab and Abihu was that they drank wine before entering the Sanctuary. This statement appears remarkable. The Torah explicitly says that their sin was they brought an "alien fire". How and why does Reb Yishmael give another reason, which seems to contradict the Scripture?

Nadab and Abihu were extraordinarily great men, so much so that Moshe said that he considered them greater than himself and Aaron (Rashi, Lev. 1:3). If they drank wine before entering the Sanctuary, it was not because they were out partying. Rather, they knew that in the Sanctuary they would have a spiritual experience. They believed that by drinking wine they would attain a state of mind more conducive to a spiritual experience. After all, the Psalmist says, "Wine makes glad the heart of man" (Psalm 104:15). By relieving a person's tension, wine enables one to have greater joy, and joy can enhance a spiritual experience. It was for the intensification of the spiritual experience that they drank wine.

Why, then, were they so severely punished? Because one should not seek to enhance a spiritual experience by artificial means. Intense spiritual experiences should come as a result or prayer, Torah study, meditation with contemplation on the Infinite -- and doing the mitzvos -- not by altering the metabolism of the brain with a chemical. Nadab and Abihu's attempt to enhance the experience by drinking wine was introducing "an alien fire" into the Divine service.


Candle Lighting Times

April 13
(or go to

Jerusalem 6:31
Guatemala 5:58 - Hong Kong 6:25 - Honolulu 6:32
J'Burg 5:36 - London 7:36 - Los Angeles 7:06
Melbourne 5:39 - Mexico City 7:36 - Miami 7:25
New York 7:15 - Singapore 6:51 - Toronto 7:41

Quote of the Week

Twenty years from now you will be
more disappointed by the things
you didn't do than by
the ones you did do.
--  Mark Twain



In Loving Memory of Our Father
Herbert Schnider
(Chaim ben Yosef)

on the anniversary of
his yahrtzeit, 25 Nissan 5764

In Honor of Our Mother
Muriel Schnider

Dr. Stuart & Elizabeth Schnider
Robin Polansky,
Marissa & Meredith Schnider

With Deep Appreciation to

Dr. Ira & Sandra Kaplan

Columbia, MD



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