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There once lived a farmer, a slave, and a baker A blacksmith, a tailor, a busy shoemaker As they did their jobs, they all liked to chat, They talked about this, and they talked about that.
"I once saw the King," the farmer did say, "I went to the palace, I waited all day. The palace guards checked in the royal guest book, Let me in for one minute to take a quick look."
"Lucky you!" sighed the slave, "If I had been you "I'd have asked for my freedom--yes, that's what I'd do!" "And I," said the baker, "need royal permission To fix and enlarge my bakery's kitchen."
Said the blacksmith, "If I could get in to the King, I'd ask for new tools--it's a very small thing." "I am old," wheezed the tailor, and I'd ask our Sire, If he'd give me money, so I could retire."
The shoemaker thought, then he said rather loudly, "I'd give our great monarch some shoes to wear proudly! Imagine how famous my shoe store would be, If the King liked a fine pair of shoes made by me!"
Just then the farmer, the slave and the baker, The blacksmith, the tailor, the busy shoemaker, Looked up, and just could not believe their own eyes. "The King's passing by!" they exclaimed with surprise.
"Let us run," they all said, "while the King is nearby, "To submit our requests, and to hear his reply!" So they each asked the King, and when they were done, His majesty granted each wish--one by one.
G-d is our King, and in Elul, He's near, He's out in the field with a listening ear. Just ask and He'll answer; He's waiting to hear. Don't let this great chance pass you by, or I fear You'll regret it--for Elul comes just once a year!
By Dina Rosenfeld, reprinted with permission from "The Moshiach Times".
The Rabbis of the Talmud differed in opinion as to when a couple may divorce. According to Shammai, such a drastic step may be taken only "if he finds some unseemly thing in her," as it says in this week's Torah portion, Ki Tetzei--i.e., that the marital bonds were broken and adultery had been committed. Hillel took a different approach. If marital life becomes so unpleasant that husband and wife are at cross purposes (Hillel uses the example of a wife deliberately burning her husband's meal), divorce is permitted. Rabbi Akiva was even more lenient in his ruling, and permitted divorce on weaker grounds.
The relationship between the Jew and his world is often likened to that of husband and wife. Just as Divine Providence determines one's spouse, it also determines one's situation and particular set of chal-lenges. Divine Providence places each Jew into precisely those circumstances where he can carry out his G-dly mission in life--transforming his corner of the world by allowing G-dliness to illuminate everything.
Here, divorce has another meaning. If a person is not at all satisfied with his lot in life and seeks to change his environment, that too can be considered a "divorce." But if it is only through Divine Providence that each of us is given influence over a certain limited area, when are we permitted to "divorce" ourselves from the status quo and pursue another course of Divine service?
Shammai believed that an individual is obligated to put up with even the most harsh and trying circumstances in life, saying that it is precisely in those challenges that his mission lies. Only on the condition that these circumstances present an "unseemly thing," that is, become incompatible with a Torah way of life is it permissible to "divorce" oneself from the present situation and move on to another.
Hillel taught that merely seeing that one's efforts are not bearing fruit is cause to change direction and move on to new challenges. If persisting in one's course of action reaps no benefit, drags the person down spiritually and only leads to a "burnt dish," why persist?
Rabbi Akiva taught that it is permissible to change track even if only because a more attractive one beckons. As soon as a person loses interest in what he is doing and thinks that he will be better able to serve G-d in another context, it is permissible for him to make the change, for indeed we are supposed to serve G-d with love and joy.
The actual ruling was according to Hillel's opinion. If a person is truly successful in imbuing his surroundings with holiness, and his only complaint is that he finds his present environment unsatisfying, this is not enough reason to abandon his present course. Life's obstacles and hurdles are not necessarily pleasant. G-d may want that individual to succeed in just those areas he finds most difficult. Only a total lack of a sense of purpose, a "burnt dish," is sufficient cause to change.
This is the strict interpretation of the law. But it is far preferable that we try to act according to its spirit as well. No matter where we find ourselves or with whom we come into contact, and no matter how difficult the challenges placed in our path may be, we must always seek to bring holiness into the world, for that is the mission of every Jew.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
SINGING TO A DIFFERENT BEAT
by Deena Yellin
It is late on a Thursday night, in a candle-lit cafe in Greenwich village. A lone singer with his acoustical guitar performs before an attentive crowd. Some fans tap their feet on the wooden floor in sync with the rhythmic beat, others sway from side to side in their chairs, and one bold fan has a camcorder in hand. The scene is only one of many like it in a city swarming with activity, but a closer look reveals that this audience is unusual, even by New York standards. Despite the differences among them, they share one common interest--the powerful music of Peter Himmelman.
Himmelman is an up and coming composer and singer whose music is best described as a combination of folk and rock. Some reviewers have compared him to Cat Stevens, Bruce Springsteen or his own father-in-law, Bob Dylan, while others refer to him as a "singing poet," or "the greatest mystical-folk-rocker of his generation." A native of Minneapolis, he now resides in Los Angeles with his wife and two-year-old son. He has appeared on the David Letterman show and has released four albums. But what is most fascinating about the 31-year-old singer and writer of poetic folk-rock music is his attachment to Judaism.
For one thing, he refuses to perform on Shabbat or Yom Tov, and he limits his traveling to weeknights, so that he can spend Shabbat with his family, no doubt unusual and somewhat risky habits for a musician on a concert tour. In keeping with Jewish tradition, he keeps his head covered, even during performances. And though he calls his music secular, the spiritual references in his lyrics ring clear. In "The Love of Midnight" he sings to a rock beat, "When the bearers of injustice are making amends/ When the ghosts of all sinners will finally be cleansed/ When we throw down our guns refusing to fight/ I will love you with the love of midnight," a veiled reference to the Messianic era.
In concert, Himmelman provides a unique performance. He intersperses anecdotes and philosophical commentary along with jokes and songs prevalent throughout the performances. The room turns silent as Himmelman relates the background of "this Father's Day," a song he wrote after his father's death. When the final chords of the song have faded, an older gentleman sitting near the stage expresses gratitude to Himmelman for singing that song. "My father's been gone for 20 years," he says. "You just brought him back."
Himmelman makes no secret of his Judaism. On the cover of his album "Synesthesia" (Epic Records), he defines the title, the state of sensory reversal wherein one hears colors and sees sounds, as what occurred at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given. One of his albums is titled "Gematria," hinting perhaps, at the deeper meanings found in his lyrics. On the back of his latest album, "From Strength to Strength," he explains the blessing "may you go from strength to strength" and emphasizes that "all circumstances which we may find ourselves in are filled with purpose, none are random or coincidental."
Himmelman was not always this deeply religious. Growing up it the Twin Cities, his Judaism consisted of going to Hebrew school and watching his mother light Shabbat candles. He doesn't dismiss these experiences as insignificant. "You could always tell which kids had mothers who lit Shabbat candles even if they had ham afterwards... it made an impression on them." But he was curious about G-d, a curiosity that remained unexplored, since G-d was a taboo topic in his home, and Judaism at the local temple left him cold. "There wasn't anything spiritual to it. Instead of discussing tangible things that affect you on a personal level, a small mitzva that can actually do something to change the world, they spoke in these grand terms about things like stopping world hunger."
It wasn't until years later that his questions about G-d were answered by Rabbi Simon Jacobson of New York, a Lubavitcher chasid, who deeply moved him and became his mentor. Himmelman had found his way back to his Jewish roots. "At the time I was just a regular rocker. I always felt Jewish, but I used to play on Yom Kippur. The Rabbi started talking about things that struck me as harking back to certain feeling I had when I was a kid, things about G-d." Himmelman maintains that notions about religion and G-d are discouraged in today's society, particularly in the music business, and are supplanted by the worship of pop-culture.
In today's music world it takes courage to be sincere, contemplative and offer music with spiritual content. Himmelman has that courage.
Condensed and reprinted with permission from Jewish Action, winter '91.
Rabbi and Mrs. M.M. Pevzner
Rabbi Menachem. M. Pevzner of New York has assumed the post of Chief Rabbi of St. Petersburg (Leningrad), Russia. His arrival enhances the 60-year presence of Lubavitch in that city. Currently, Lubavitch runs a day school under the auspices of Ezras Achim, a Brooklyn-based organization dedicated to helping Jews in the former U.S.S.R. materially and spiritually. Over 200 children attended the Lubavitcher day camp this past summer. Rabbi Pevzner's grandfather served as dean at some of the underground yeshivot that Lubavitch ran under the communist regime in the '30s and '40s.
Adapted from a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
The month of Elul, as is well known, is the month of honest self-assessment of the outgoing year, and, at the same time, the month of preparation for the new year--which is, clearly, also the purpose of the honest stock-taking; i.e. not only to try to make good one's deficiencies, but also to know, and to resolve with proper determination, the right path of future daily conduct henceforth. And this will make the coming year a good and sweet one spiritually, hence also a good and sweet year materially.
In the month of Elul itself, the 18th (Chai) Elul comes as a special reminder, with encouragement and exhortation, in the said two aspects of self-assessment and preparation. Its message is: With this day begins the last 12 days of the year; hence the self-searching must now be more intensive and embrace all the months of the year--each day corresponding to a month, the start being Chai Elul. Moreover, according to our Rebbes, the day of Chai Elul must infuse vitality (chai--life) into all details of the Divine service of the entire month of Elul and in its two general aspects of assessment and preparation.
One may wonder what has "vitality" to do with such a thing as an honest self-assessment which deals with "hard" facts. The connection is as follows: There is the well-known instruction that just as one must not forget one's shortcomings in order to rectify them fully, so must one not forget one's good qualities, in order to utilize them to the fullest degree.
In order that this should be accomplished in the proper way--and to the greatest possible degree--the assessment must be done with real vitality.
Whereas an honest assessment of one's shortcomings might sometimes induce discouragement, or worse, despair, an honest evaluation of ones achievements might lead to complacency and to the conclusion that one has already attained a state of perfection.
However, the sign and effectiveness of vitality is in growth, and not the growth of a vegetable, which remains in the same place (and situation), but of a living creature--moving from one place to a better place. Growth is indicated not only by changing location, but also by growing through personal change, a change in one's nature, habits and entire being from good to better and better still.
This is the true vitality of Jew who has been commanded to refine and change his character attributes.
The capacity to attain all the above has been given to every Jew, or, using the quotation above, to "all of you," from "the heads of your tribes" to "the hewer of your wood and the drawer of your water."
For the vitality of every Jew derives from, and is bound up with, the Source of Life, as is written, "And you who are attached to G-d, your G-d, are all of you living this day--by virtue of your attachment to G-dliness, the Source of life and vitality, through the Torah, the Torah of Life, and the mitzvot whereby Jews live.
Moreover, it is a matter of common experience that everything done with vivacity can be achieved with greater success and more completeness. And--what is no less important--such activity makes the proper impact on others inspiring them with the same spirit, for the best influence is a living example.
May G-d grant, that everyone, man and woman, take full advantage of the great opportunity of the last days of the year and those following, all the days of the coming year--to act with true vitality in fullest measure, as above.
And in the merit of it everyone, in the midst of all our Jewish people, should be inscribed for a good and sweet year, for good life and for peace,
Unto the coming of our Righteous Moshiach, and the fulfillment of the divine prophecy: "The strength and glory of the Righteous shall be uplifted," very soon indeed.
What are some special ways to prepare for Rosh Hashana, the "Day of Judgement?"
The entire month of Elul, in which we now find ourselves, is a month of account-taking for our deeds of the past year. We increase our good deeds and try to be more meticulous in our observance of those mitzvot that we already perform.
The special date of the 18th of Elul, or "Chai" Elul. The 18th of Elul was the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, and the birth, 50 years later of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad Chasidic philosophy.
Each year, the Rebbe speaks to the children returning from the overnight camps of Gan Yisroel and Camp Emunah. Last year, the Rebbe spoke to them on the day before Chai Elul and discussed these two great giants.
He explained that both the Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Shneur Zalman were renowned for their efforts to teach Jewish children about Judaism. In particular, in regard to the Baal Shem Tov, it is always mentioned that before he became well known, he served as a teacher's helper. In this capacity, he would remind the young children in his charge to begin their day thanking G-d that they were, indeed, alive that day. This is accomplished by reciting the "modeh ani" prayer, through which, as the very first act of the day, a Jew acknowledges G-d.
In this manner, a child not only makes a statement of thanks to G-d, he trains himself to feel genuine gratitude for all the good things which G-d has given him. And from that point on, through every moment of the day, a Jewish child increases his appreciation and awareness of G-d's goodness. For indeed, G-d gives graciously and generously.
The Rebbe went on to explain that this is particularly true in the month of Elul, when--as Rabbi Shneur Zalman teaches--G-d makes Himself accessible to the Jews as a king in the field. G-d does not tire, but renews constantly all the good which He grants to every child and adult. And in particular, He grants Jewish children success in studying G-d's Torah and fulfilling His mitzvot in a beautiful and conscientious manner, inspired by the love of G-d and the fear of G-d.
Though the above thoughts were addressed to children, they apply equally to all of us. For each one of us has the "child" within.
May we merit, this year once more to hear a talk from the Rebbe addressed to the children returning from camp, but with the difference that this year it will be in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
One of the Alter Rebbe's chasidim suddenly fell ill while sailing down the Dnieper on a business trip. He decided to leave the ship at the next port, Shklov, and seek medical attention. He went to a well-known doctor who answered him in grave tones, "I'm afraid you have contracted a rare disease for which, as of yet, no cure has been found. I suggest you return home immediately." The chasid, however, decided to go see his Rebbe before going home. "If my days are numbered, at least I will have seen the Rebbe before I die," he thought, and set out for Liozna.
When he related the doctor's words to the Rebbe, he was surprised to hear the Rebbe's reaction, "Rubbish! You are only suffering from malaria!"
"But Rebbe," the chasid protested, "one of the symptoms of malaria is recurring shivers and chills, neither of which I have."
"Nu, so you will shiver!" the Rebbe said. No sooner had the Rebbe uttered those words when the chasid began trembling and remained there until he fully recovered. Once he regained his strength, he set out back home, passing through Shklov to see the doctor whom he had previously consulted.
"How could you have frightened me so, telling me that I had some incurable disease? You see, thank G-d, all I had was case of malaria and now I am alive and well."
"Indeed," replied the doctor, "you had malaria. However, there are two variants of this disease. One is a serious, but uncomplicated illness characterized by chills and shivers for which treatment is available. The other, more severe case is typified by a gradual loss of energy. For this, there is no cure. You most certainly had the more severe type of malaria. I am amazed at your recovery. What happened?"
The chasid told the doctor of his visit to the Alter Rebbe. "The only explanation I have," the doctor responded, "is that his blessing transformed the disease from one type to the other."
The Alter Rebbe explained the verse, "You know the secrets of this world" as follows: The "secrets of the world," the explanations for the events that transpire over the course of our lives, are known only to G-d himself.
He then told the following story: A Jew earned his livelihood as an agent of local shop owners. His job was to buy merchandise in a distant city and transport it back to his town.
Once, on his way back to town, his carriage, loaded with merchandise, got stuck on a muddy road. Despite the combined efforts of the wagon driver and himself, the carriage would not budge.
The Jew was devastated. "What shall I do? All the merchandise will become ruined by the mud! How will I ever be able to pay back this loss?" he wailed.
Just then a wealthy man happened to pass by. He readily lent a hand to the two struggling men, but try as they could, they couldn't budge the wagon. In his concern for the agent, the rich man lifted his hands helplessly.
"Dear G-d," he sighed. "I would gladly help this man with my money. However, what is really needed here is pure physical strength, and that I do not have.
At the same time, a short distance away, another incident took place. A hefty, muscular man, who earned a meager livelihood by doing heavy physical labor, was on his way home from work. Suddenly, he heard a commotion and sounds of wailing down the road.
"Somebody is in trouble, I must go help," was his natural reaction. He followed the sounds and came across a heartbreaking scene. A poor family was being led off to prison, surrounded by guards. Without hesitation, the strong man began pulling the guards away.
The guards protested, "Hey, what are you doing? We have nothing against these poor people. The local poritz has instructed us to place them in prison because of years of unpaid rent. If you prevent us from carrying out the sentence, he will send more soldiers."
"How much do they owe?" inquired the man.
The guards stated an enormous sum. The man juggled the few coins he had in his pocket and heaved a sigh. "Dear G-d, You know that if any measure of physical effort could help, I would offer it without question. However, it seems that only money can save this family, and that I do not have."
The Alter Rebbe concluded the story saying: "Many of us would have preferred for G-d to have reversed the circumstances and thus, allowed both individuals to be helped. However, this is precisely the meaning of the verse: 'You know the secrets of the world'--only G-d knows."
Reprinted with permission from My Father's Shabbos Table, Rabbi Y. Chitrick.
When you go forth to war against (literally "above") your enemies (Deut. 21:10)
When you go forth into battle with complete trust in the G-d of Israel, secure in the knowledge that G-d stands by your side to assist, you are automatically "above" your enemies as soon as you embark on your mission.
That which comes out of your lips shall you keep and perform (23:24)
The sentiment of the modeh ani prayer thanking G-d for restoring the soul to the body and recited immediately upon awakening in the morning, should carry through the rest of the day as well. One should always conduct oneself with this fundamental fact in mind.
And he may write her a bill of divorcement (Deut. 24:1)
Why is the Biblical "bill of divorcement" ("sefer k'ritut" called a "get"? Because the letters of the word "get," gimel and tet, are never found next to each other in any word of the entire Torah--the Five Books of Moses, the Prophets, or the Writings!
Remember what Amalek did to you (Deut. 25:17)
Why does the Torah use the singular form of the word "you" instead of the plural?
The early chasidim explained: Amalek, or the Evil Inclination, gains a stronghold only in an individual who is stand-offish and reclusive from the rest of the Jewish People. He who considers himself part of the larger whole and stands in unity with his brethren cannot be harmed by Amalek.
The ultimate state of fulfillment that will be manifest in the Era of the Redemption and in the Era of the Resurrection, i.e., the revelation of [G-d's] Infinite Light... in this material world, is dependent on our deeds and service throughout the era of exile.