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"Another story about how hard it was to be Jewish in the Soviet Union before Glasnost," you comment upon noticing the title of this article. Not quite.
You see, described in the colorful and descriptive language of Chasidic philosophy is an "iron curtain and partition" which separates a person from G-d.
The Soviet "Iron Curtain" of pre-Glasnost infamy was not a physical barrier like the Great Wall of China. But it tried, and to some extent, succeeded in damaging minds and souls. The iron curtain described by Chasidic philosophy is similar in that it impairs the Jewish soul. Yet, its distinction is that it is self-imposed. It is created not by government policies or ideals, but rather by misdeeds and transgressions.
Shattering this iron curtain can be accomplished, according to Chasidut, "by means of contriteness of the heart and bitterness of the soul" over the sins one has committed, i.e. teshuva--returning to one's roots--repentance.
Teshuva, according to Jewish sources, is as easy as one, two, three: 1) Admit to the sin; 2) Regret the act; 3) Make firm decisions about the future.
Not so easy, you say? This is true. There are stories of genuinely great people who spent their whole lives trying to awaken the proper feelings needed for sincere teshuva. And there are numerous other stories of much simpler folk who specially sought out the advice and counsel of a rebbe or other spiritual giant to direct them on the correct path.
Yet one story in particular describes just how simple teshuva really is--or should be:
A person came to the tzadik Reb Yisrael of Ruzhin, and pleaded:
"I have sinned and I want to do teshuva."
"If so," asked the Rebbe, "why don't you?"
The man answered sadly, "I don't know how to."
"And how," replied the rebbe, "did you know to sin?"
"I just did it, then afterwards I realized I had sinned," he answered.
Responded the tzadik: "You should do the same now. Return, and the reckoning will automatically be straightened out."
These days leading up to Yom Kippur are the most appropriate time of year to be involved in understanding and actually "doing" teshuva. For, on the day which would be Yom Kippur for all future generations, G-d Himself forgave the Jewish people and accepted their teshuva for the sin of the Golden Calf. Thus, this day's spiritual energy is associated with teshuva and forgiveness. Think about it. By "just doing teshuva," none of us will have to spend Yom Kippur behind the Iron Curtain.
The Torah portion of Vayeilech teaches us about the commandment of hakhel. During the times of the Holy Temple, the Jewish People made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem every seventh year to hear the king read the Torah aloud, "that they may hear and that they may learn and fear G-d."
At that time, the kohanim, or priests, surrounded the city of Jerusalem. With golden trumpets they signaled that it was time for everyone to assemble at the Holy Temple. In fact, this musical alarm was so important that, "any kohen who did not have a gold trumpet did not seem to be a kohen at all."
This curious comment needs further explanation. To understand what was meant, let us examine what exactly the kohen's job in the Temple was.
The kohanim were responsible for serving in the Temple, and performed many of the tasks associated with the worship there. Sounding the golden trumpets in the outskirts of Jerusalem was, however, only the preparation for the commandment of hakhel, and not part of the mitzva itself. What, then was so important about this, that a kohen who did not participate was not considered a "real" kohen?
One of the most important and central services performed by the kohanim in the Temple was the burning of the ketoret (incense). Maimonides explains that the purpose of the incense was to dispel any offensive odors and make the Temple smell pleasant.
As with all aspects of Torah, this is understood on many different levels. It is explained in the Zohar that the kohanim were not merely interested in converting unpleasant smells to pleasant ones; the inner purpose of the ketoret was to dispel the foulness of the Evil Inclination.
The ketoret was composed of various inedible substances, among them chelb'na (galbanum), a particularly foul-smelling resin. The Talmud teaches that this ingredient symbolized all that was lowly and inferior. The task of the kohanim was to take the lowly and mundane and utilize it in the service of G-d. Their job was to elevate even the most mundane aspects of life and infuse the physical world with holiness.
This fundamental service of the kohanim found its most emphatic expression in the preparation for the commandment of hakhel. For seven long years prior to this day, the kohanim had been busy in the Temple elevating the physical world. Now it was their turn to elevate the entire Jewish People to a higher spiritual level.
To a certain extent, this was the "test" which determined a kohen's mettle. If he took his G-d-given task to heart, he would run to assemble his fellow Jews, and thereby prove that he was of priestly stock. If, however, he lazily remained at home, he "did not seem to be a kohen at all."
In a broader sense, every single Jew is also a kohen, as it states, "And you shall be a nation of kohanim (priests)." It is every Jew's task in life to go out into the world and "sound the trumpet," arousing his fellow Jews to reach spiritually higher and higher.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
THE REBBE'S MOTHER
This Shabbat, the sixth of Tishrei, marks the anniversary of the passing of Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, mother of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita. What follows is a very brief biography of her amazing life and a short selection from her memoirs.
Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson was born on the 25th of Tishrei, 1879 in Nikolaiev, a city near Odessa. In 1900 Rebbetzin Chana married the renowned scholar and kabbalist, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneerson. They had three sons, the eldest of whom is the Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita. The second son, Dov Ber, was killed by the Nazis and her youngest son, Yisroel Arye Leib passed away in Israel in 1952.
In 1907 the couple moved to Yekatrinoslav (presently Dnepropetrovsk), where Rabbi Levi Yitzchok had been appointed to the prestigious post of Rav of this major Jewish community. For all practical purposes he was the spiritual leader of the entire Jewish population of the Ukraine.
Throughout the 32 years that her husband served as Rabbi of Yetkatrinoslav, Rebbetzin Chana stood at his side, assisting in his holy work. The Rebbetzin had a good rapport with the members of their sophisticated congregation, and she communicated especially well with Jewish university students, in whom she took special interest, befriending them and trying her best to imbue them with the spirit of Torah.
In 1939 Rabbi Levi Yitzchok was arrested because of his energetic work to preserve religious observance; a year later, he was exiled to a small village in the Republic of Kazakhstan. When Rebbetzin Chana learned of her husband's location, she joined him, paying no heed to the difficulties and danger involved.
Rebbetzin Chana made a valuable spiritual contribution to her husband, one from which the entire Jewish people benefitted. Her son, the Rebbe, shlita, described this special contribution: "In the remote Russian village where my father was exiled, there was no ink available. After my mother was permitted to join him, she gathered various herbs in the fields, and by soaking them made a sort of ink, which enabled my father to record his original Torah commentaries. My mother devoted her energies to this task despite their lack of even minimally sufficient amounts of bread and water."
Rabbi Levi Yitzchok passed away in exile in 1944. In 1947 Rebbetzin Chana succeeded, with tremendous difficulties, in emigrating from the Soviet Union. At the same time, she also managed to smuggle out her husband's writings at great danger to herself. Later that year she arrived safely in Paris where she was reunited with her eldest son, whom she had not seen for twenty years. The two travelled by ship to New York, where the Rebbetzin lived for the last seventeen years of her life.
Rebbetzin Chana passed away in the late afternoon on the Shabbos between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, 1964. At the time that Rebbetzin Chana returned her pure soul to her Creator, her chair in the women's section of the main Lubavitcher shul (at "770" Eastern Parkway) inexplicably caught fire and burned.
From the Rebbetzin Chana's memoirs about Yom Kippur in exile in Kazakhstan:
"On Yom Kippur, the three of us--my husband, a Roumanian Jew, and I--enclosed ourselves in our room. It is hard to set down on paper the emotions and the spiritual states that we experienced on that day.
Suddenly, we became aware of strange eyes peering at us through the window. Our guest and I were frightened to open the door, but as soon as the Rav realized what was going on, he went over to the door and threw it open wide. Our unexpected guest turned out to be a young Lithuanian Jew, also in exile.
Here, in exile, this young fellow worked as a wagon-driver. He related to us that while driving his wagon, he had caught a glimpse of the Rav and was struck by his appearance. Since this had occurred during the week before Yom Kippur, he had decided to find out who this person was and where he lived, so that he could try to be in his presence on the holiday. The lad felt that if he could be privileged to be with the Rav on this holiest of days, it would ease the weight of his sorrows and be a balm for his soul. Somehow, our young visitor had managed to locate us.
Half an hour later we heard a knock on the door. We opened it to find a frightened woman who, like the young wagon-driver, yearned to be in the Rav's presence on this day. It seemed that she and her husband had been exiled here from Nikolaiev, and while her husband refused to pray anymore, she herself felt a greater need to pray now than she had ever felt in the past. Not allowing the grueling fast to deter her, she trudged a distance of four kilometers in order to reach our house.
Reprinted from A Mother in Israel.
The International Campaign to Bring Moshiach has printed special t-shirts and baseball shirts with the message, "Moshiach is on the way." To order a shirt send $7 plus $1 shipping (payable to LYO) per shirt to: Moshiach Shirt, 1408 President St., Bklyn., N.Y. 11213. Specify size (children: 2-4, 6-8, 10-12, 14-16, adults: s, m, l, x-l) and style (baseball or t-shirt).
Hundreds of Russian immigrants to Israel were married recently in traditional chupahs organized by Chabad Centers throughout Israel. The special Chabad Center for Russian Immigrants in Nazereth Ilit had the largest number of couples marrying, so many, in fact, that they were allowed to close down a section of the highway in order to accommodate the thousands of well-wishers and relatives.
NEW CENTER IN SOLON
A new Chabad Center opened this past month in Solon, Ohio. The Solon Jewish Center will be directed by Rabbi Zushe and Miriam Greenberg; it will be the first synagogue in Solon's history. Among their first activities--Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services, of course!
SEARCHING IN THE NEW YEAR
Freely translated from a letter of the Rebbe
The days immediately preceding and following Rosh Hashana are the time dedicated to sincere introspection and a careful and honest examination of the record of the outgoing year, with a view to the proper deductions and resolutions which are to regulate one's personal daily life, as well as that of his home, and all his affairs in the year to come.
Moreover, these are exceptionally propitious days, days permeated with the core of the Psalm: "Search my inwardness; Thy inner essence, G-d, do I seek" (Ps. 27:8). They call and demand:
Search for the innermost and the profound within you; seek out also the inwardness of everything around you, the soul of the universe; search for and bring to light the G-dliness that animates and pervades the world!
Both aspects--the honest self-appraisal and the search for the inner essence of things--are interrelated and interdependent.
In evaluating the results of the outgoing year, one is very prone to err by taking into account only the external, both in himself and in the environment. In doing so, one is on equally treacherous grounds in regard to setting the pattern of daily living in the year to come.
To forestall this misleading approach, these auspicious days sound their message and challenge:
Do not sell yourself short! Do not underestimate your capacities and abilities!
For no matter what your spiritual "stock-in-trade" is, your "visible assets"--the existing possibilities that you have to conduct your life in accordance with the teachings of our Torah; no matter how formidable is your strength of character and your ability to cope with a frustrating environment, and with undaunted perseverance to follow your path of Torah and mitzvot--
Much greater and richer are your "hidden reserves" of powers to create new possibilities, and of inner qualities giving you the ability to overcome obstacles and to shape your life and the life around you to be in harmony with Truth and Goodness.
In order to reveal and apply these powers, however, it is necessary that you search for and release your potential forces. But you are promised: "You will discover--because you will search with all your heart and soul" (Deut. 4:29).
What has been said above is more especially and more fully applicable to those who occupy positions of spiritual leadership and influence, from the rabbi of the community down to the individual parents who set the pace of the spiritual life of their household and family.
All too often do we see them stymied by doubt and fear, afraid to use, what seem to them, a strong word or excessive demand lest they might alienate, instead of attract.
To them these days address themselves with this message and challenge:
Search inwardly: seek deeply and you will unravel the innermost treasures of those whom you would lead and inspire; evaluate them not externally, but according to their inner resources, according to the capacity of their soul, the veritable spark of G-d-liness from Above.
For with the right approach and by indefatigable effort you will be able to uncover and activate in everyone his inner spiritual resources, so that they begin to animate his daily life.
What are 'kapparot'
Literally, kapparot means "atonement." Customarily on the eve of Yom Kippur, a man or boy takes in hand a rooster, a woman or girl takes a hen, and passes the fowl over the head three times while reciting a special prayer. The chicken is then ritually slaughtered and often given to the poor to use for their pre-Yom Kippur meal. The purpose of kapparot is to invoke sincere repentance through the thought that a similar fate as that awaiting the fowl might be due us for our sins, but through G-d's mercy and our true repentance it is averted.
We are now in the midst of the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. During these awesome days we perform many mitzvot and customs whose purpose it to inspire us to understand our frailties as human beings, our reliance upon our Creator for everything, and the need to sincerely regret our previous inappropriate actions and resolve to improve in the future.
An interesting story is told about one of these customs.
In many synagogues and shuls on the eve of Yom Kippur, plates and containers are put out for various charities. As people enter and leave the synagogue, they drop a few coins into the containers. The larger or busier the shul, the more noise is made by the clanging and jingling of the coins as they are dropped in. And, of course, during these solemn days, more charity than usual is given.
In the Baal Shem Tov's shul, there was constant noise from the rattling of coins, so much so that some of the people found their prayers sorely disturbed. One person approached the Baal Shem Tov and asked him if it might not be possible to abandon this disruptive custom.
"Heaven forbid," cried the Baal Shem Tov in horror. "It is this very jingling and clanging of the coins that is our deliverance during these awesome days. It confuses the Adversary on High who is spending his time trying to convince the Alm-ghty that we are not worthy of being forgiven."
On Yom Kippur, we solemnly intone the ancient words: "Repentance, prayer and charity, annul the harmful decree." It is not only the noise made by the charity, then, as the Baal Shem Tov mentioned, but the actual giving of the charity that is so important. Let us all remember this in these days before Yom Kippur.
My best wishes that all of you, dear friends and readers, be sealed for a good and sweet year, and that we all celebrate Yom Kippur together in true joy and happiness in the Holy Temple together with Moshiach.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
The story of Chana, the Haftorah of Rosh Hashana, is a story of devotion and of love, of service and of sacrifice. It is the story of the woman who taught the world what it means to pray--that one prays not with one's lips, but from one's heart.
"Marry another woman that you may have children," Chana said to her husband, Elkana. "And when G-d sees my pain, perhaps I, too will be given a child." So, Elkana took a second wife, Penina. And she bore many children, but Chana had none.
With time, Chana might have resigned herself to her state, and found solace in her loving husband and her service of G-d. But Penina knew of the longing that burned deep within Chana and resolved that longing not be extinguished. And so, Penina tormented her endlessly.
In the morning, Penina rose early to prepare her children for school. "Chana," she called, "Why are you not up yet? Don't you have to wash and dress your children?"
At noon, Penina stood at the door, awaiting her children's return. "Chana, aren't you going to come too, to welcome your children home?"
At dinner, when Elkana served the main course, Penina once again called attention to her young.
There was not a day that Chana was not confronted with her barrenness. She sat silently at the table, the tears welling in her eyes, observing the lively tumult about her and the obvious pleasure Penina took in tending to her children, and she could not eat. Elkana, sensing her agony, served her the choicest portion, handing it to her lovingly, but it remained untouched.
Each year, Elkana and his family traveled to Shilo. Along the way, they stopped, and Chana and Elkana encouraged others to join them in their pilgrimage. Each year they took a different route, exhorting everyone they met to come along, until eventually, entire villages from all over the land of Israel journeyed with them to sacrifice and give thanks to G-d in Shilo.
It was autumn, they were in Shilo again. Elkana called his family together to share with them the sacrifice. As always, the best went to Chana. And she alone took no part in the joyous celebration. Gently, Elkana said to her: "Chana, why do you cry? Why is your heart saddened today? Does not my love mean more to you than the love of ten children?"
But the days when that love could have contented her were long past. In her mind, she saw only Penina, who made even the most mundane aspects of motherhood seem sublime. So, when everyone had finished the meal, she returned to the House of G-d, and standing before the Ark, she prayed.
"G-d, you have created everything in this world for a reason. You have given me eyes to see, ears to hear, a mouth to speak. Why have You given me a womb, if not to carry a child?
"Look at all the hundreds of people I have gathered to stand before you here. Shall I not have even one to call my own? Look at my despair, and give me a child, like other children, a happy child, a healthy child. No more do I ask for myself. But if it be Your will, then send me a child who will be a great leader, a sage and a holy man, as were Moses and Aaron, and I will dedicate his life to You."
For what seemed like an eternity, she stood before the wall, her body shaking and racked with tears, her lips moving but her voice hardly more than a whisper. In those days, prayers and supplications were said aloud, and Eli, the high priest, was suspicious of her behavior.
"Woman, are you drunk?" he called. "Go away from here, for it is improper to stand before G-d in a state of intoxication."
"No," she answered, "I have poured myself no wine today. It is my heart that I have poured out before G-d in my anguish."
"Then go in peace," Eli replied, "and may G-d grant you your prayer."
So they returned home. That year, Chana bore a son, and she named him Shmuel. When Shmuel was two, she took him with her to Shilo. She stood before Eli and said, "I am the woman who prayed to G-d in my sorrow. Beside me is my son, the answer to that prayer. And now may he be given into the service of G-d for the rest of his life."
And she sang a song of thanks to G-d, she returned home, and Shmuel remained with Eli in the House of G-d. Though she visited him again each year, from that day on he was no longer only hers. She sacrificed her son to G-d, as Abraham had done before her. She sacrificed him not on an altar of stone, but on the altar of her heart, and her sacrifice was forever.
She had other children later, two more sons and two daughters, but we know her only as the mother of Shmuel the Prophet, the son she gave away.
Reprinted from Aleph, a publication of the Chabad House of Ithica, NY.
And they will say on that day, "Is it not because my G-d is not in the midst of me" (Deut. 31:17)
This verse does not refer to one who denies that there is a Creator in the world; rather, it refers to one who believes that G-d exists, but that "G+d is not in the midst of me." He imagines that G-d exists on so high a plane that He does not deign to intervene in our puny concerns. G-d is an active participant in our lives and oversees every detail of our daily lives. Our behavior should reflect our awareness of this.
"...because my G-d is not in the midst of me, that these evils have overtaken me" (Deut. 31:17)
The Baal Shem Tov used to say that if one sees something bad in someone else, it is a sure sign that an element of the same negative trait exists in the person finding fault. It is as if one is looking into a mirror, and will see only that which is reflected. Rabbi Dov Ber, the second Lubavitcher Rebbe, added his interpretation on this verse: "Because my G-d is not in the midst of me--because my own face is dirty and my own connection to G-d and holiness is flawed, have these evils overtaken me--that is why I find fault in others.
Assemble the people together (Deut: 31:12)
Even a newborn was obligated in the commandment of hakhel, the once-in-seven-year assemblage of all Jews to hear the reading of the Torah. We learn from this that a Jewish child's education begins right after his birth, even before he learns to speak or go to school.
The year of shmita, in which the Land of Israel must lie fallow, is the seventh year in the cycle and immediately precedes the year of hakhel. The shmita year brings with it peace and unity, it is a year in which the external differences separating Jews recede into the distance. It is only fitting that assembling all the Jews for the public reading of the Torah take place after a period in which rich and poor are on equal footing, and peace reigns in the Jewish nation.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Chasidut, was once asked: "Who is greater, Moses or Moshiach?" He answered, "Moshiach. Moses is compared to a physician without experience, whereas Moshiach is compared to a veteran and experienced physician."