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Throughout the year we make a point of having various "tune-ups." Before a long automobile trip we must check at least the water, air pressure in the tires and oil. As winter approaches, home-owners in cold-weather climates make sure the heating system is running properly. And every six months a reminder to have your teeth cleaned and checked comes from the dentist.
The month of Elul, which begins this coming Sunday, is customarily the time for a mezuza and tefillin tune-up. During these weeks preceding the holy days of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Succot and Simchat Torah, we try our best to increase and strengthen our observance of mitzvot. Through doing this, we hope, we will tip the "scales" of justice to our side. Having our mezuzot and tefillin checked is one of the many ways to help tip the scales.
Today, many beautiful covers can be bought for the mezuza scroll. Silver, glass, Lucite, wood, metal, hand-crafted ceramic, even Wedgewood and Lenox make mezuza covers. But it is the parchment inside that is of the greatest importance. Just imagine that car you want to tune up for the trip. Maybe it's a BMW, Porsche or Infinity. If the body is in perfect condition, that's great. But if the motor isn't working, what good is it? And if the motor is a complete fake or not there at all, it's even worse.
That's why it's important to make sure that the beautiful mezuza cover has a working mezuza inside. Make sure when you purchase your mezuzot (or tefillin) that they come from a reputable store or scribe. Then, have them checked for wear and tear each fall, or at least twice in every seven years, as Jewish law requires.
The mezuza is not a charm or amulet and should not be considered as one. Yet it does offer protection. As explained in the Kabbala, the mezuza provides G-d's protection from the time we leave the house until the time we return home.
Wouldn't it be nice if the all-American Jewish dream would be expanded to include not only two cars in every garage but also a proper mezuza on every door?
This week's Torah portion of Re'ei is always read at a time associated with the month of Elul, either on the Shabbat on which the month of Elul is blessed or on Rosh Chodesh Elul as in the present year.
Re'ei begins with the verse, "Behold, I am giving before you today the blessing..." This verse refers to the fact that the blessing, and the revelation of G-dliness that accompanies it, is coming from Above. Indeed, each of the words of this verse emphasizes that approach:
Behold: Seeing implies the establishment of a deep and powerful connection. Thus our Sages state, "hearing does not resemble seeing," and they forbid an eyewitness from acting as a judge. Once someone has seen a misdeed committed, he will never be able to conceive of a redeeming virtue for a defendant. In contrast, when a person is told about an event, he is allowed to serve as a judge and indeed, all trials depend on listening to such testimony.
What is the reason for such a difference? When hearing, one approaches a concept step by step, gathering all the particulars. This resembles an ascent upward. In contrast, when seeing, one is brought into direct contact with an event as a totality all at once. Only afterwards, does one focus attention on the particulars. This reflects the approach of revelation from Above.
I--"Anochi": This refers to G-d's essence in a most uplifted and magnified manner. In our verse, the Hebrew word "anochi" is used rather than the more common "ani." "Anochi" communicates a greater sense of pride and magnitude than "ani."
Am giving: The fact that G-d is giving clearly implies a gift from Above.
Before you: "lifneichem" in Hebrew relates to the word "p'nimiyut"--inner dimension. This emphasizes the approach of revelation from Above. For we begin by focusing on our own personal inner dimension, our inner being, and then proceed to the external dimensions. In contrast, proceeding from the externals to the internal is more a process of elevating what is here below to Above.
Today: This reflects the concepts of light and revelation, for the day is the time of light. It also is associated with a dimension of eternality, as our Sages state, "Whenever the word 'today' is used, [the influence] is eternal and forever." And this is possible because it involves a revelation from Above which does not take into consideration the nature of the recipient.
Blessing: Blessing obviously refers to an influence from Above.
The occupation of the month of Elul, however, is a totally different type of work. For in Elul, our spiritual workout focuses on elevating ourselves through our own initiative and not through a "gift from Above."
Where, then, is the connection between our Torah portion and the fact that we read it on Rosh Chodesh Elul?
The truth is that since in Elul we take stock of the entire year that has passed, we must correct any deficiencies in either of these two areas. We must put tremendous effort into elevating ourselves and our surroundings through our own initiative as well as making ourselves a worthy receptacle for G-d's inspiration and blessings from Above.
Adapted from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
by Zalmon Jaffe
Michoel Cohen, my grandson-in-law, has many good textile customers in Bangladesh. A year ago, just several hours after Michoel arrived there, there were serious disturbances resulting in the president declaring a state of emergency and indefinite curfew. With great difficulty he managed to leave the country, without, of course, being able to conduct his business. A few months later, when things were quieter, Michoel arranged to go again to the Far East. While he was in Hong Kong a terrific cyclone hit Bangladesh causing floods and storms that devastated the whole area. Many hundreds of thousands of people had died and five million people were homeless. Needless to say, Michoel did not visit Bangladesh on that trip.
A month later, Michoel's customers contacted him, and informed him that the country was getting back on its feet and that quite a considerable amount of merchandise had been accumulated. They were anxious to sell and ship these goods to England as soon as possible.
After his two previous experiences Michoel decided that he would not fly to Bangladesh unless he received a blessing from the Rebbe. About ten days before his projected departure Michoel contacted the Rebbe's office, explained the circumstances, and asked for a blessing from the Rebbe. No reply was forthcoming.
Michoel had a flight for Sunday at 10:30 p.m. from London. Early in the morning he phoned the Rebbe's office and asked them to please mention his request again since the matter was now urgent. The secretary said that as the Rebbe would be distributing dollars that day it would be difficult for him to ask the Rebbe.
Meanwhile, Michoel travelled down from Manchester to London. Though he checked in at the airport he would not get on the plane without the Rebbe's blessing. He spoke to his brother-in-law, Dovid Jaffe, in Crown Heights who said he would try to help.
At 9:00 p.m there was still no answer. It was getting late, there had been a report that another cyclone had hit Bangladesh. There was no blessing forthcoming from the Rebbe.
One-half hour before the flight, Michoel phoned his father-in-law (my son), Avrohom in Manchester, to inform him that he had checked out and would be staying overnight in a local hotel. After five minutes of idle talk Avrohom's second line rang. It was Dovid calling. Dovid had gone into the line of people waiting to see the Rebbe and asked the Rebbe himself for the blessing.
The Rebbe intimated that matters were turbulent there. The Rebbe's secretary and Dovid indicated that Michoel's customers in Bangladesh said it was now safe.
The Rebbe handed a dollar to Dovid and told him to inform Michoel that he should have a successful journey. The Rebbe then presented an additional dollar for Michoel, saying, "This is for the shaliach (emissary) in Bangladesh" and Michoel should give the dollar to him.
Dovid's mouth opened wide in surprise. The Rebbe noticed Dovid's puzzled expression and added, "There is someone who is busy with Lubavitch work there." To Dovid it seemed inconceivable that amongst the 114 million Muslims in that country Michoel would be able to find even one Jew. And for the Rebbe to suggest, moreover, that he would find someone doing Lubavitch work seemed incredible.
By a wonderful "coincidence" Michoel was still chatting with Avrohom on the other line when Dovid called. Michoel rushed back to the check-in desk. His baggage was reloaded onto the plane which duly left right on time with Michoel, very luckily, aboard.
For two days Michoel searched for a Jewish person--never mind a Lubavitch shaliach--to whom to present the Rebbe's dollar. It seemed to be an utter impossibility. On the third day, however, as Michoel emerged from the elevator, a Jewish-looking gentleman was running along the corridor toward the elevator. Michoel stopped him. Yes, indeed, he was Jewish.
This gentleman, I shall call him Walter, lived in a hotel in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh. He returned to the U.S. twice each year to spend Rosh Hashana and Passover in his home town of Charlotte, North Carolina.
Amazingly, Michoel met Walter not in Dhaka, but in a different hotel in the town of Chittagong which was two hundred miles away!
Michoel found out that Walter was quite friendly with Rabbi Yossi Groner, director of Lubavitch of the Carolinas and lives in Charlotte. When Rabbi Groner arrived there Walter was one of the first to welcome him. Was this the person to whom the Rebbe referred? Was Walter doing the "work of Lubavtich" in Bangladesh?
After a few questions Michoel ascertained that some families from the U.S. visit Dhaka occasionally and stay for a few months or more. Walter arranges classes in Jewish studies for the children of these families and uses Jewish educational material faxed to him by Rabbi Groner!
Three years ago Rabbi Groner sent a report to the Rebbe and mentioned that there was someone from Charlotte who spent most of his time in Bangladesh and was busy with "Lubavitch work" there. And today, three years later, the Rebbe knew Michoel would be fated to meet Walter and so gave him a dollar to present to him.
Reprinted with permission from the 23rd installment of "My Encounter with the Rebbe" by Zalmon Jaffe.
It started out 14 years ago with 500 people and has grown to an annual event for NY metro area Jews with over 10,000 people. The Jewish Renaissance Fair, sponsored by the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, New Jersey, is a full day of Jewish fun and excitement for the whole family. Located on the College's 15-acre campus at 226 Sussex Turnpike, the fair boasts live entertainment, including singer Avraham Fried and "Shlock Rock," a working shtetel complete with artisans and a petting farm, food, mitzva bumper boats and lots more. The fair is on Sunday, Sept. 6. Rain date is Monday, Sept. 7. Tickets are available at the entrance, through Ticketmaster, or at locations throughout NY and NJ. For more info call (201) 267-9404.
NEW IN ENGLISH
In an effort to make the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita, available to the English-speaking public, Sichos in English was founded over a decade ago. Recently, it began publishing three new series: Seek Out the Welfare of Jerusalem, about Jerusalem and the Holy Temple; Timeless Patterns of Time on the holidays; and From Exile to Redemption about Moshiach and the Messianic Era. To receive copies of any of the above call Sichos in English at (718) 778-5436 or write to them at 788 Eastern Parkway, Bklyn, NY 11213.
THE COMMON DENOMINATOR
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
In the human organism there are common functions in which all organs of the body participate in a common effort; and there are specific individual functions pertaining to individual organs. In the latter case, the individual organ must make a special effort to fulfill its particular function, while the common functions are carried out much more easily.
What would happen if a particular organ surrenders its individuality and particular function, applying its energy solely towards the common functions?
At first glance it would seem to benefit thereby, in saving much effort and in the ability to increase its share in the fulfillment of the common functions of the body, together with the rest of the organs. Yet, needless to say, the results would be disastrous both for the individual organ and for the organism as a whole. For the individual organ would lose its identity and essence which are predicated precisely on its ability to perform a particular function. Failure to exercise this particular function would, moreover, lead to its atrophy and eventually, complete uselessness in the fulfillment of the common functions as well. As for the organism as a whole, its deprivation of the particular function and the eventual loss of the limb, would be injurious to the whole body, and even fatal--if the organ in question is a vital one.
This analogy can truly be applied to the individual in society, to a minority group within a state, and to a nation within the community of nations. It is certainly true in our case, both on the national level, as a people, and in regard to every Jew individually.
The Jewish people, of whom it has been said long ago "for you are the fewest of all people" (Deut. 7:7), is a small minority among the nations of the world, and the individual Jew is a minority in his environment; even living in the midst of his own people, there are places, sad to say, where the Jew living Jewishly, i.e., in accord with our holy Torah and the observance of its precepts in his daily life, is in the minority.
What is the specific function of our people, and of the Jew as an individual?
It is, of course, easier to ascertain the individual function of any particular organ in the body than the function of a people in the community of nations. However, in the case of the Jewish people, which is unique in its extremely varied experiences and long history, the answer is not difficult to find. By a process of simple elimination, we can easily ascertain what factors have been essential to its existence and survival, and thus determine the essential character and function of our people.
An objective, unprejudiced survey of the long history of our people will at once bring to light the fact that it was not material wealth, nor physical strength, that helped us to survive. Even during the most prosperous times under the united monarchy of King Solomon, the Jewish people and state were materially insignificant by comparison with such contemporary world empires as Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia. That it was not statehood or homelan is clear from the fact that most of the time, by far, our people possessed no independent state and has lived in the Diaspora. That it was not the language is likewise clear from the fact that even in Biblical times Aramaic began to supplant the Holy Tongue as the spoken language; parts of the Scripture and almost all of our Babylonian Talmud, Zohar, etc., are written in that language. In the days of Saadia and Maimonides Arabic was the spoken language of most Jews, while, later, it was Yiddish and other languages. Nor was it any common secular culture that preserved our people, since that changed radically from one era to another.
The one and only common factor which has been present with Jews throughout the ages, in all lands, and under all circumstances, is the Torah and mitzvot, which Jews have observed tenaciously in their daily lives.
To be sure, there occasionally arose dissident groups that attempted to break away from true Judaism, such as the idolatry movements during the first Temple, the Hellenists during the Second, Alexandrian assimilationists, Karaites, etc., but they have disappeared. Considered without prejudice, the Torah and mitzvot must be recognized as the essential thing and essential function of our people, whether for the individual Jew, or in the relation of the Jewish people to humanity as a whole.
Hence the logical conclusion: the policy of imitating the other nations, far from helping preserve the Jewish people, rather endangers its very existence, and instead of gaining their favor will only intensify their antagonism.
The essential factor of our existence and survival is our adherence to the Torah and the practice of its precepts in our everyday life. Let no one delude himself by taking the easier way out, nor be bribed by any temporary advantages and illusory gains.
The secret of our existence is in our being "a people that dwells alone" (Num. 23:9), every one of us, man or woman, believing in the One G-d, leading a life according to the one Torah, which is eternal and unchangeable. Our "otherness" and independence of thought and conduct are not our weakness but our strength. Only in this way can we fulfill our function imposed on us by the Creator, to be unto G-d a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation," thereby being also a "segula" [treasure] for all humanity.
Why do we begin blowing the shofar on the first day of Elul?
According to Rabbi Moses Maimonides, blowing the shofar is a means of stirring the Jew to repentance. Also, by blowing the shofar for a month before Rosh Hashana we "confuse" the Heavenly Accuser as to when Rosh Hashana is and thus, he will not be able to level his allegations against the Jewish people.
This Shabbat is actually the last day of the month of Menachem Av while Sunday is the first day of Elul.
In addition to being the name of a Jewish month, the word Elul is an acronym for five verses from the Bible which are connected to the five different types of service, each identified with our new month. The Rebbe enumerated these five verses at a gathering last year on this Shabbat:
Prayer--"I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine." For it is through prayer, the "duty of the heart" that our relationship with G-d is enhanced and intensified.
Torah study--"It chanced to happen and I set aside for you a place." This verse describes the Cities of Refuge to which a person who killed unintentionally can flee. But is also refers to Torah study for "the words of Torah provide refuge."
Deeds of Kindness--"A person [gives presents] to his friend and gifts to the poor." In this verse the concept of deeds of kindness is clearly expressed.
Teshuva--"And G-d your L-rd will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants." For the service of teshuva--returning to G-d wholeheartedly, is primarily the service of changing one's inner self, the feelings of one's heart.
Redemption--"And they said, `We will sing to G-d' " This phrase is taken from the Song of Redemption sung at the Red Sea.
The first three services are identified with the three pillars of man's service. These services must be permeated by the service of teshuva and by the service of redemption and thus, they will be endowed with a boundless quality that surpasses the limits of a person and the world at large.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
Reb Mordechai Liepler's son fell seriously ill and the doctors were not encouraging. "A virus appears to have infected his bone marrow and his bones are withering away," they diagnosed. "We know of no cure."
Reb Mordechai immediately dispatched a letter to the Mittler Rebbe explaining the desperate situation. He calculated that it would take five days for the letter to get to Lubavitch, and five days for the Rebbe's answer to return. Thus, he expected to receive an answer in ten days.
Ten days were up and Reb Mordechai stood outside waiting impatiently for the postman.
"Sorry, nothing for you today," called the postman as he passed by, shaking his head. Reb Mordechai met with the same disappointment on the following day as well.
However, on the third day, the postman had some news. "Yes, I have a letter for you, but I am in a terrible rush today and don't have time to look for it," he called hurrying on.
Reb Mordechai ran after him, pulled at his bag and searched frantically for the long-awaited letter.
"What's your rush today?" he asked as he fumbled through the envelopes.
"One of the Czar's relatives living in our district fell ill and a royal physician was summoned all the way from Austria. Today, he is scheduled to return to Vienna and it is my duty to arrange a carriage for his journey," explained the postman.
Just then, Reb Mordechai found the letter and opened it quickly as the postman busied himself straightening out his bag.
"I received your letter," the note from the Mittler Rebbe stated. "I see that help will come to you from far and near." Added on the bottom of the letter was a note of advice. "Do not stint on money."
The information I just received from the postman may be that very assistance the Rebbe foresaw, thought Reb Mordechai. "Where is that doctor now?" he asked the postman.
Upon receiving the address, Reb Mordechai set out immediately towards the house. Evidently, he was not the only one who had heard of the doctor's arrival. Many people were standing on line in the courtyard hoping to be allowed a consultation.
Being a prominent and well-respected figure, Reb Mordechai was pushed through the crowd and managed to gain access to the doctor. Describing his son's severe condition, Reb Mordechai begged the doctor to treat him.
"I'm sorry, my time is very limited and I must be on my way back to Vienna," came the curt reply.
Reb Mordechai recalled the Rebbe's advice. "I will pay you one thousand rubles for your trouble," he offered. This sum of money persuaded the doctor to delay his departure, and he accompanied Reb Mordechai to his home.
"Your son has an infection which has spread to his bone marrow. Though this disease is considered incurable here in Russia, a new medicine has recently been developed in Austria. I may by chance have a sample in the case of medication I brought along with me. If I do, summon a local doctor and I will instruct him regarding its application."
Sure enough, the medicine was found and in due time, Reb Mordechai's son recovered. Thus, the Rebbe's words proved exact. Help came "from near and from afar." The doctor arrived "from afar." The appropriate medication was found in his case, "from near," and were it not for the advice not to spare money, the doctor would not have come.
The phrase "Ba'alei Cheshbon" refers to people who take stock of their behavior, confronting themselves and trying to improve. Literally, the term means, "owners of accounts." Reb Shmuel Gronem used the following parable to illustrate the relevance of the term's literal meaning.
At the close of a fiscal year, a merchant was having a business meeting with his accountant. Pouring over the books, the accountant described how the yearly balance was very poor. Indeed, the business was bordering on bankruptcy.
Caught by surprise, the unfortunate businessman collapsed in shock and was revived with great difficulty.
Why did he faint and not the accountant? The accountant knew the sorry state of the businessman's affairs much better than he did. Nevertheless, his knowledge was abstract, for the account belonged to someone else. In contrast, the businessman was "the owner of the account." It was his financial future that hung in the balance.
"Such an approach," Reb Shmuel Gronem explained, "also applies in regard to improving our behavior. We shouldn't look at our faults abstractly, but rather see them as problems which affect us."
Reprinted with permission from "My Father's Shabbos Table" by Rabbi Y. Chitrick.
You are children of G-d, your G-d" (Deut. 14:1)
The Baal Shem Tov deeply loved simple folk. He would frequently remark that love of the Children of Israel is love of G-d; when one loves the father one loves the children.
From when the sickle begins to cut the upright corn (Deut. 16:9)
Once a group of Chasidim complained to their Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, that their spiritual advisor was being unduly harsh. The Rebbe told the spiritual advisor privately later, "It is sure that one must eradicate ego and pride without mercy, as it says, 'From the time the sickle is first put to the standing corn'--one must put the `sickle' to the `standing corn' of egotism. However, this is only in regard to oneself. Concerning others, the Torah clearly states, `do not swing the sickle on your neighbor's grain.'
For the sake of this thing [charity] He will bless you. (Deut. 15:10)
"I am aware of the hardships of these times, that the means for livelihood have declined... nonetheless, it is not right to close the hand which openly gave with benevolence toward all, essential necessities for the needs of the innocent destitute whose eyes are lifted to us. When the poor need bread for the mouths of babes, and wood and clothes against the cold, and the like, then all these take precedence over any fine clothes and family-feasts, meat and fish, and all the delicacies of man and any members of his household. The rule 'your life takes precedence' does not apply in such a case, because all these are not really essential to life, as are the needs of the poor."
(Rabbi Shneur Zalman in Tanya: Iggeret HaKodesh)
The Talmud states, "One who buys a Hebrew slave is like one who buys a master over himself," for the purchaser is required to satisfy the slave's needs and even provide some luxuries before meeting his own needs. Since every Jew is like a "Hebrew slave" to G-d, it is understood that it isn't enough that G-d is required to fulfill all his material and spiritual needs, but even more than this: G-d is required to fulfill the prayers and requests of the Jewish people, that they can no longer stand the situation of exile!
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)