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"May you and yours be blessed with health and happiness throughout the coming year." "May the blessings of health, peace and contentment be yours." "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good, sweet year."
At this time of year, wishes to friends and family for the upcoming year abound. And our wishes usually contain what we hope we will have in our own lives, health, happiness, prosperity. We are, in essence, blessing our friends and hoping that G-d will hear our blessings and fulfill them.
That's what we want from G-d. But what does G-d want from us?
The Jewish people were commanded to offer to G-d two lambs each day, one in the morning and one in the evening. The whole world and everything in it belongs to G-d, so why does He need our lambs? Is He maybe "hungry" that He needs two lambs every day?
G-d commanded us to bring sacrifices because He wants us to remember Him every single day--and not just when we need Him. The Midrash (Tana D'Bei Eliyahu) records G-d's clarification of His position in this area. "I am not lacking anything," He tells the Jewish people. "My children, what do I ask from you? Only that you should love one another and respect one another."
We ask G-d for health. All He asks is that we love each other.
We ask G-d for good jobs. All He asks is that we respect each other.
We ask G-d for emotional strength to get through hard times. All He asks is that we honor each other.
We ask G-d for children whom we can be proud of. All He asks is that we be kind to each other.
Day after day, year after year, we present our lists of requests of what we want from G-d and what we want G-d to give to our loved ones.
Like a child let loose in Toys 'R Us, we want this and that, and can't we get one of these and two of those?
And like the ever-patient parent, G-d says to us, "You are all my children. I would be happy to fulfill all of your requests. All I really need to see is that you treat each other with love and respect. That you are sensitive to each other's needs and that you care for one another."
Is this not what our parents wanted from us? Isn't it what all parents want from their children? "Don't give me the cards, the presents, the box of chocolates. Just be nice to each other. Just behave yourselves," our memory tapes replay. "Don't fight. Look, you made him cry! You don't have to like her, but you do have to be nice to her because she's your sister, she always was and she always will be!"
"My children, what do I ask from you? Only that you love one another and respect one another."
Sisters and brothers, may we all be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet year, a year of health and happiness and the ultimate happiness of the arrival of Moshiach, NOW.
The Torah portion of Nitzavim is always read the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana. "You are standing today, all of you, before the L-rd your G-d," it begins, and the theme of Jewish unity, as preparation for the New Year continues. "Today" refers to Rosh Hashana, and "standing" refers to the way the Jewish People approach the Day of Judgement, upright and secure that we will be judged favorably, for we stand as one and are unified in the mitzva of loving our fellow Jew.
It is this special unity which gives the Jewish people the strength to endure, and it is the vessel in which G-d's blessings are fulfilled. The Midrash likens this to a bundle of straw: each one, individually, is weak and can be easily broken, but once the straw is gathered into a bundle and bound together it is impossible to make it bend. So it is with the Jewish people. When we are bound together with each other, "the leaders of your tribes...till your water carriers," we stand powerful and secure in the face of our enemies.
The Jews are also powerfully united with G-d, as it says, "a portion of G-d is with him." But if such is the case, how is it possible for any bad to befall the Jews? This only occurs if the individual Jew himself causes a tiny rift in that bond with G-d and allows external factors to enter. It is this self-induced damage in the relationship between G-d and His people which brings about a lack of unity and makes the Jews vulnerable to harm. When peace and unity reign the Jews are impervious to attack.
Maintaining this unity also guards against these tiny cracks appearing in the individual's relationship with G-d. A person is not always able to perceive his own shortcomings because of his self-love. A true friend, however, can lovingly help his friend become aware of these shortcomings and encourage him to overcome his deficiencies.
This is one of the reasons Rabbi Dov Ber of Lubavitch encouraged his followers to acquire a friend for this specific purpose--to encourage and inspire each other. He explained that when two Jews unite to improve themselves and their relationship with G-d, their two G-dly souls are fighting only one Evil Inclination, and it is far easier to emerge victorious.
If this was true several generations ago during the lifetime of Rabbi Dov Ber, it is so much more applicable in our own times, when we have fallen that much lower spiritually. How much more important it is for us to maintain that unity, for we need all the help we can get to fight the negative influences in the modern world.
Unfortunately, tiny cracks in the Jews' bond with their Father are more likely to appear during times of relative affluence. The threat of persecution was not as harmful to our Jewishness as are the temptations of affluence and comfort. It is much easier to deteriorate spiritually in a prosperous climate than when the outside world threatens our very physical existence.
We must therefore not only maintain our adherence to the Torah but we must also strive to perform mitzvot with a special love and devotion. Doing mitzvot in this manner gives us the strength and determination to guard against anything which threatens our eternal bond with G-d, both from within and from without.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
THE CALL OF THE SHOFAR
by Goldie Goldblum
Boruch Yosef, barely thirteen, faced the hospital reception desk on one of the holiest days of the year. "My name," he announced, in the high-pitched voice of a Bar Mitzva boy, "is Mr. Klein. I called yesterday and asked if you could have a list of Jewish patients ready for me."
The receptionist shuffled some papers. "Oh, that's impossible, uh, Mr. Klein. When you called, I thought you were a little older." Not to be put off so lightly, Boruch Yosef said, "I have been visiting patients in this hospital for almost a year. If you are unfamiliar with my activities, please speak to the chaplain."
Without another word, the list was handed over, and Boruch Yosef proceeded to divide up "his" patients. On this Rosh Hashana there were five elderly men on the fourth floor, and one on the ninth. Boruch Yosef made a mental note that maybe he'd skip the man on the ninth.
He bypassed the elevators and began walking up the steep stairs. By the time he reached the fourth floor (Geriatrics) he was panting. Forget the ninth floor! He consulted his list. His first patient, Sidney Jacobs, was just two doors away. As it turned out, Sidney was sleeping, but Boruch Yosef was able to blow the shofar for Mrs. Jacobs in the lounge.
The next patient was Erwin Goldfinger, who regaled Boruch Yosef with army tales , possibly embroidering a little to further widen Boruch Yosef's eyes. When the shofar was blown, Erwin fell silent, and sniffed quietly. "Fine boy, fine boy," he muttered.
The next three visits were uneventful, and Boruch Yosef headed for the stairs. He looked up at the flights rising above him, steep steps painted a hideous hospital green, and inwardly apologized to Mr. Fried, on the ninth floor.
His list stated that Mr. Fried was over 70, and was in critical condition. Boruch Yosef's conscience didn't let him rest. Maybe this Rosh Hashana would be Mr. Fried's last. And because he didn't like the look of the nasty, rattling steps, perhaps Mr. Fried would not hear the shofar.
It was enough. He slowly climbed up to the ninth floor. From previous visits, he knew that it housed the I.C.U. and that to visit it he would have to get permission at the nurses' station.
The woman in charge said that Mr. Fried had been in a coma (What's a coma? he wondered) for several weeks, but that visitors were certainly welcome. She escorted him to the room.
Mr. Fried was connected to all kinds of wires and gadgets. Sitting in one corner was an elderly man, half asleep over a "machzor" (holiday prayer book). Boruch Yosef softly asked if he would like to hear the shofar. The man's eyelids dragged open and he nodded his head. He explained to Boruch Yosef that his friend, Mr. Fried, had been "asleep" for three weeks, and was unable to hear the shofar.
Boruch Yosef's father had given him this shofar for his Bar Mitzva, knowing how his son visited the hospital on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Now, Boruch Yosef touched its unusual surface and marvelled at how a mere ram's horn could make such a powerful, moving sound.
He carefully recited the blessing and was not at all fazed when Mr. Fried cried out, "amen!" He raised the shofar and blew the required sounds, oblivious to the doctors and nurses rushing in, oblivious to Mr. Fried's friend's crying, oblivious to Mr. Fried sitting up, listening to the shofar blasts. When he finished, he quietly slipped out of the room, and went home.
The following year, Boruch Yosef was besieged by callers requesting him to blow the shofar in the small shuls near his home. Each one offered him a nice monetary incentive, and each time, Boruch Yosef flatly refused. One tiny shul, quite far from his neighborhood, however, admitted that they had no funds, but could offer him some homemade cake and a glass of tea. To this shul, Boruch Yosef said yes.
It was not surprising that Boruch Yosef, still a short lad, caused a mild ripple of laughter in the shul. Boruch Yosef ignored the laughter, and concentrated on the task at hand. With closed eyes, he put his lips to the shofar and blew. Afterward, there was no laughter. They hadn't expected his seriousness, his attachment to the mitzva, this crowd of elderly Jews. He had surprised them.
One man came forward. His creamy talis gave him the dignity of an eagle. His yellowed fingers tapped on the rail of the bima. "Young man," he rasped,
"Do you remember me?"
Boruch Yosef shook his head and smiled, looking like one of hundreds of yeshiva boys. Obviously, this was a case of mistaken identity.
"Well, young man, I have not forgotten you. Last year I also had the pleasure of answering "amen" to your blessing."
Boruch Yosef looked puzzled. "Sir, last year I did not blow the shofar in a shul."
The man smiled. "But you blew it for me. I am Mr. Fried."
Reprinted from The Yiddishe Heim.
MOSHIACH IN RUSSIA
"Moshiach is on the Way" at the White House in Moscow.
In strategic points throughout Russia, signs announcing the imminent arrival of Moshiach were put up. A joint project of Ezras Achim and The International Campaign to Help Bring Moshiach, the two groups also organized a rally in Red Square with over 2,000 campers from the 30 Gan Israel day and overnight camps in the C.I.S.
HAVE SHOFAR WILL TRAVEL
With shofars in hand, Lubavitcher chasidim throughout the world will walk to hospitals, jails, nursing homes, army bases and college campuses from Johannesburg to Tel Aviv, Melbourne to Paris, and Hawaii to Rhode Island. In the New York area, the Lubavitch Youth Organization is sending out teams of young people to hospitals, jails and nursing homes to sound the shofar. The sick, the elderly and the confined will be able to hear the shofar, thereby linking them with their brethren around the world. L.Y.O. is also sending close to two hundred young chasidim on foot to cover facilities within a ten mile radius of the Lubavitch community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. L.Y.O. is also sending rabbinical students to the Allenwood Prison in Montgomery, Pennsylvania, as well as the Federal Penitentiary in Danbury, Connecticut, where, in addition to sounding the shofar, they will conduct full holiday services.
THE ANNIVERSARY OF CREATION
Adapted from a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
On the eve of Rosh Hashana I extend my prayerful wishes to my brethren, every Jew and Jewess in the midst of our people Israel, the time hallowed traditional blessing of "Shana tova umetuka"--a good and sweet year.
The celebration of Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the year, has been ordained by our Torah to take place on the anniversary of the Creation, but not on the first day of Creation. It has been made to coincide with the sixth day of Creation, the day when Man was created.
The significance of this day is not the fact that a new creature was added to Creation, a creature one plane higher than the rest of the animal kingdom, as the animal is superior to plant, and plant to mineral.
Rather, the significance lies in the fact that the new creature--Man--was essentially different from the others. For it was Adam who recognized the Creator in and through Creation, and, what is more, brought about the elevation of the entire Creation to that recognition and thus, to the fulfillment of its Divine design and purpose. Such recognition and appreciation of the Creator is the ultimate purpose of the Creation.
One of the main distinguishing features which set Man apart from all other creatures is the free choice of action which the Creator bestowed upon him. Man can use this special Divine gift in two opposing directions. He may, G-d forbid, choose the way leading to self-destruction and the destruction of everything around him; or, he can choose the right way of life, which would elevate him and the Creation with him to the highest possible perfection.
To help us recognize and choose the right path, we were given the Torah, which is Divine and eternal, hence, its teachings are valid for all times and in all places. It is not possible for man to make this choice unaided, merely by virtue of his intellect, for the human intellect is limited. The intellect can only serve to discover and bring forth that inner absolute intuition and faith in things which lie beyond and above the realm of the intellect--the faith and intuition which are the heritage of every Jew, therewith to illuminate his entire being and to guide him in his daily living to a life inspired by Torah and mitzvot.
On Rosh Hashana every man and woman stands not only before the Divine Judgement, but also before his or her own. The verdict of a person's own judgement, with regard to the future, must be that he takes upon himself to fulfill his duty which is the fulfillment of the call: "Come, let us worship, bow down, and kneel before G-d our Maker." This call for absolute submission to G-d was first sounded by the first person, Adam, on the day of his creation, which was the first day of Rosh Hashana.
Such submission can be attained only through leading a life inspired and guided by the Torah and abandoning the opposite destructive path.
Let no one think: "Who am I and what am I to have such tremendous powers of building or destruction?"
We have seen, to our sorrow, what even a small quantity of matter can do by way of destruction, through the release of atomic energy.* If such destructive power is concealed in a small quantity of matter, how much greater is the creative power entrusted to every individual to work in harmony with the Divine purpose. This is particularly true since Providence has provided the special abilities and opportunities to allow us to attain the goal of our creation: the realization of a world in which each creature shall recognize that "You did create him, and every breathing soul shall declare: 'G-d, the G-d of Israel, is King, and His reign is supreme over all.' "
* This letter was written in 1954.
What is Tashlich?
On the first day of Rosh Hashana, following the afternoon prayers, we go to a body of water--for water symbolizes kindness, preferably one with fish which have ever-open eyes--and recite the Thirteen Divine Attributes of Mercy. We then shake out our pockets or the corners of our garments, symbolically throwing our sins into the water. One who is not within walking distance of water on Rosh Hashana can fulfill this custom in the days before Yom Kippur.
We would like to wish the Rebbe, shlita, and the entire Jewish people our sincerest blessings for a k'siva vachasima tova, l'shana tova u'msuka--to be inscribed and sealed for a good, sweet year.
May the year be:
A year of long life, revealed wonders, traveling with the Heavenly Clouds...wonders in everything, the building of the Holy Temple...Great Wonders, the true and complete redemption...victory...the revelation of Moshiach..."The nations shall walk to your guiding light"..."This one will comfort us"...true freedom...an abundance of good (Rambam)...the salvation of the Jewish people...being inscribed and sealed for a good year, the harp of Moshiach...learning Moshiach's teachings...the King Moshiach...revealed miracles...the end of exile..."Humble ones, the time of your redemption has arrived," (Yalkut Shimoni)..."Jerusalem will dwell in open spaces...the Rebbe's 90th year...the ingathering of the exiles...a quick and full recovery...happiness, when the King Moshiach will be revealed..."A new Torah will come from Me."
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
It happened in 1648. The infamous Hetman Bogdan Chmielnicki led his wild hordes of Cossacks against the Jews and Poles of the Ukraine, and he almost succeeded in exterminating all Jewish communities along the Dnieper River. Barbaric cruelties, surpassing even the Crusaders', were the daily bread of these devils. In Kiev, scores of Jewish men, women and children barely escaped with their lives. They hid in forests and swamps, constantly in fear of sudden death from the long sabres of Chmielnicki's Cossacks. Only at night, under cover of darkness, did these unfortunate fugitives dare to creep out in search of food for their families.
Rabbi Meyer of Shivotov, which was once one of the largest communities near Kiev, was the spiritual leader of this group of refugees. He had lost his wife at the hands of the Cossacks, and his thirteen-year-old son Hershel was his only consolation. Gifted with a beautiful voice, which made its listeners laugh or cry at the will of its master, Hershel assisted his father greatly in keeping up the low spirits of his companions. More than once, his magical songs held them back from surrendering to the merciless hands of the Cossacks or from committing suicide.
Such a large group of people cannot hide for long without rumors of their whereabouts spreading. They were forced to withdraw deeper and deeper into forests and swamps to escape the oncoming hordes of Chmielnicki's Cossacks. Unwittingly, however, they entered the hunting grounds of Chmielnicki's rival, a man of no less cruelty: Booyar, the leader of the Tartars. But there was one story told about this abnormal maniac that threw a somewhat human light upon him. He was the obedient son of an old nomad woman who controlled him with a wink of her eye.
Finding themselves suddenly trapped from the rear, Rabbi Meyer's group of refugees began to say Viduy, the confession of sins and last prayer, in anticipation of death. Coming from the midst of their suppressed cries and prayers, Hershel's voice was suddenly heard saying Kaddish, praising G-d at this last moment while they were facing the naked swords of the Tartars. As if by magic, the tumult died down. The faces of the Jews lit up, and the cruel savagery, the murderous gleam disappeared from the eyes of the Tartars who crowded around their helpless victims. Their raised hands dropped; spellbound, they listened to the boy who, fully aware of the seriousness of the situation, had put all his powerful emotion into his voice.
Booyar looked out of his tent and witnessed this strange scene. Foaming wildly, brandishing his sword, he stormed forward. He was ready to kill his own men for being fooled by the wretched Jews. Coming closer, he saw that Hershel was the cause of his men's unusual conduct. Booyar grasped the boy's hair with his hand and lifted his sword to chop his head off. In midair his arm was caught by the thin but powerful hand of an old woman. Turning around wildly, Booyar was confronted by his mother. "Do not kill these people, son," she said. "They are under my protection. This boy will sing for me until we reach Constantinople. There you can sell him and his people at a high price." After some hesitation, Booyar gave in.
Thus Rabbi Meyer and his people were saved from certain death. They were dragged along for many months, until the Tartars reached Turkey. Many thousands of refugees from Spain and Portugal had come to this country during the reign of Suleiman II and his Jewish adviser, Don Joseph of Naxos. They had built a beautiful synagogue in Constantinople and had organized one of the most powerful congregations of that time.
It was Rosh Hashana when Booyar brought his victims to the market. All the Jews had gathered in the synagogue, which was right near the marketplace. Many non-Jews in the market looked curiously at the wretched figures of these slaves-to-be. But they had little faith in the Jews' ability to do hard work; they preferred the strong and healthy-looking natives brought by ship from afar.
Under the stress of traveling in captivity, Rabbi Meyer and his men had lost track of time. They did not even know that this day was Rosh Hashana. While they were standing in the marketplace, stared at and ridiculed by the idle onlookers, they suddenly heard the sound of the shofar coming from the nearby synagogue. Rabbi Meyer and his people began to cry as Hershel started the "Unesane tokef" prayer. His voice rose above the noise of the market and soared up to the Gates of Mercy.
The crowd of Jews gathered in the big synagogue heard Hershel's prayers. They rushed out into the marketplace, and saw the boy and the poor Jews held for sale by the Tartars. At the command of their rabbi, they hurried home to gather all their valuables and funds. They succeeded in redeeming their brethren. Saved from a terrible fate, Rabbi Meyer and his group joined their liberators in the synagogue. Together they followed Hershel's jubilant voice, thanking G-d for His help at the height of their misery.
From The Reunion, a collection of short stories, by Gershon Kranzler.
And the L-rd your G-d will restore your captivity and have mercy upon you (Deut. 30:3)
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said: How beloved is the nation of Israel unto G-d, for the Divine Presence accompanies the Jewish people no matter where their exile leads them. G-d Himself will return together with His people when He leads them out of the exile with the coming of Moshiach.
To love the L-rd your G-d...and to cleave unto Him (Deut. 30:20)
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, author of the Tanya, used to say in the midst of his devotion: "Master of the Universe! I do not want your Garden of Eden, nor am I interested in the World to Come. I desire only You alone!"
If any of you are dispersed at the outermost parts of heaven, from there will the L-rd your G-d gather you (Deut. 30:4)
No matter how far a Jew may be from Torah and Judaism, G-d promises to gather him back into the fold of the Jewish people when Moshiach comes. When a Jew is spiritually brought back from "the outermost parts of heaven," it hastens Moshiach's coming and brings the Redemption closer.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita)
See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil (Deut. 30:15)
One should not perform good deeds in order to live; one should live in order to perform good deeds.
(Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk)
The Baal Shem Tov wrote in a letter that on Rosh Hashana of the year 5507 (1746), his soul ascended to the heavenly realms, where he was granted the privilege of entering the palace of Moshiach. "I asked the King Moshiach, 'Master, when are you coming?' And he replied: 'When your wellsprings [teachings] will be disseminated outward.' "
From this reply it is apparent that the Baal Shem Tov's teachings--Chasidut--are closely connected with the coming of Moshiach. Chasidut is the vessel for the great light of Moshiach.