By being "less," we become "more" | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | A Call To Action
The Rebbe Writes | What's New | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Happened Once | Moshiach Matters
Adapted, in part, from an article by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg
We all tend to have ego problems.
For some it is a lack of self-worth and esteem -- our egos are too small.
Many more suffer from an over-inflated ego -- our egos are much too large.
The majority of us, however, display an intriguing combination of the two: We tend to lack self-confidence some of the time, while at other times our egos rage out of control.
Think about the current as well as the past "hot spots" around the globe and you will likely conclude that the overwhelming majority are or were caused by people with colossal ego problems.
Consider now, if you will, the "trouble spots" in your personal life.
Once again you'll be unpleasantly surprised at how many of them are ego-related.
The "me generation" as well as the "meek generation" are not contemporary phenomena.
Throughout the course of history man has wrestled with his sense of self.
It's just that recently rather than being chagrined at our egocentricity and narcissism, we unabashedly display it for all to see; rather than sheepishly concealing our insecurities, we have transformed them into what we regard as sparkling cocktail conversation.
In point of fact, both our "highs" as well as our "lows" are driven by one force -- we are all too wrapped up in our own selves.
What is needed here is a modicum of demureness and self- effacement; something that will enable us to become thoroughly engrossed in that which is greater than our own individuality and self.
The Hebrew language has a unique term for this demeanor: It is called bitul.
Roughly translated it means self-abnegation.
Essentially it means being enveloped by and wrapped up in something greater than our puny selves. It may be collective humanity; it might well be the world as a whole; it surely should also include our relationship with G-d.
When confronted by negativisms, we would do best to submerge ourselves in the marvels around us.
An uncomplimentary remark or even an insult will cease to shake us to the core when we begin to realize that something much greater than ourselves is at the core.
The desire to eclipse and tower above all others dissipates when we realize that there already exists an entity that eclipses and towers above all others.
Furthermore, when we forgo our egos for the bigger picture, we take on the dimensions and qualities of that greater cause.
By being "less," we become "more."
Jewish teachings explain that on Rosh Hashana we crown G-d as our King, accepting His rulership and authority over us.
In Chasidic thought, the appointment and coronation of a king is associated with developing inner bitul, nullifying oneself to G-d.
How much more so must we strive to develop bitul for the appointment and coronation of the King of Kings.
Appointing a Jewish king was one of the three commandments incumbent upon the Jews when they entered the land of Israel after their 40 year sojourn in the desert.
The other two commands are to destroy the nation of Amalek and to build the Holy Temple. All three are interconnected.
Appointing a king, via self-abnegation, in turn allows a person to "drive out" Amalek from his being -- to free himself from pride, egotism and other undesirable character traits.
Such personal refinement allows him to proceed further and transform his person, his home and his surrounding into a "sanctuary in microcosm," in which the Divine Presence can rest.
This serves as a catalyst for change in the world at large.
For bringing the Divine Presence within the world hastens the time when the Divine Presence will again be revealed, and not merely in microcosm.
At that time, "the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean bed."
May this take place immediately.
This week's Torah portion, Nitzavim, definitively describes the Jew's relationship with G-d and His Torah. "And you shall obey His voice...for He is your life, and the length of your days."
The Torah not only enables a Jew to imbue his life with holiness and promises sublime reward in the World to Come -- it is his very life.
In order to understand this concept, let us use the human body as an analogy.
The life-force of a human being -- that which animates the physical matter of which man is composed -- is found to the same degree throughout the body, equally present in the heel as in the head.
Although the head is the center of the soul's higher faculties -- intellectual understanding, the senses of sight and hearing -- no one limb is more animated by this force than another. Every part of the physical body is equally alive.
The same principle is also true of the Torah and its far-reaching influence.
Every detail of a Jew's existence -- from the most exalted to the most mundane -- derives its life-force from the Torah, inasmuch as the Torah addresses all the minutiae of daily life and imbues them with G-dliness.
This is clearly demonstrated by the type of reward G-d promises for observing the Torah: "If you will walk in My statutes...I will give you rain in due season...and the earth shall produce its yield."
The reward for learning Torah is not only spiritual benefit, but tangible, material reward as well, expressing the fact that the Torah addresses both the spiritual and physical nature of the Jew, covering the full spectrum of his existence.
The Torah's description of the Messianic Era, with its wondrous manifestations of G-dliness and extraordinary phenomena, is therefore more clearly understood in this light.
"[In the Messianic Era] the land of Israel will produce [fully baked] loaves of bread and [ready-made] articles of silk," we are promised.
But why will such remarkable material developments be necessary, if, as we are taught, when Moshiach comes the entire world will recognize the G-dliness within creation, and the sole pursuit of the Jewish people will be the study of G-d's Torah?
Simply put, it is through these miracles involving physical phenomena that the underlying unity of G-d's creation with His Torah will be most openly revealed.
When these miracles will be actualized in our everyday, physical lives, the truth that the Torah is "our life and the length of our days" will be obvious to all.
Adapted from a talk of the Rebbe, Parshiot Behar-Bechokotai, 5751
Sounding of the Shofar
by Rabbi Eli Hecht *
One of the highlights of the Rosh Hashana service is the sounding of the shofar.
The shofar's message: remember the Al-mighty Father, the King who created heaven and earth. The shofar's blast is part of the King's coronation.
Thirty years ago I attended a little yeshiva, a Jewish school, in Brooklyn. The student population had a large group of children who were post-World War II babies.
Some boys were born in the displaced person camps in Europe, while others were infants during World War II.
When the week of the Jewish New Year came around, my Jewish schoolteacher, a Holocaust survivor, told our class the following story that happened in the death camp in Auschwitz in 1944:
It had been decided that there were too many Jewish children between the ages of 12 and 15 still alive in the death camp. A massacre of children was planned for Rosh Hashana. So, on a hot, sunny afternoon the army of timid, trembling, staring children, barefoot, clad in rough, striped prison uniforms, were ordered to march.
They would walk past two stakes stuck into the ground.
One was shorter, the other taller. The child whose head reached the top of the taller stake was safe. The smaller children were doomed for the gas chambers.
When Rosh Hashana arrived, the spirit of defeat and death was felt by all. Early in the morning the rabbi kept walking from one group to another giving hope. Somehow he had been able to smuggle into the camp a small shofar. Quitely he recited prayers and blew the shofar.
The children isolated in the special barracks -- the death-house -- also heard the sound of the shofar.
They sent word that they, too, wanted to hear the shofar.
Let the rabbi come to them with the shofar, they pleaded. The adults were divided in their opinions. Entering the death-house involved terrible danger. The execution was planned for the evening hours. The bells would ring when the barracks doors closed for the last time. It was growing late. To go in there was entering the devil's pit.
But the rabbi who blew the shofar did not hesitate. He stole into the death house.
Twelve hundred children sat on the floor of the barracks. Their faces burned with the fire of self-sacrifice; they were prepared to hand themselves to their executioners. But not before they would hear the shofar.
"Rabbi, speak to us before blowing shofar," the children begged.
The rabbi spoke words that he never would be able to repeat.
He recalled the greatness of martyrs, the sacrifices of the millions of Jews who had perished in these terrible and tragic times. "The cruel Nazis are the worst of all nightmares," he said.
Yet, strangely, the children did not feel that their death was as tragic as the rabbi said. They knew that they were going to die, but their death was at a pure and innocent age.
They had done nothing wrong. Yet they accepted G-d's will. This is something that would never, ever be explained. The oldest of the children said:
"We children are going to our deaths on our New Year. We are returning our lives to our Creator; our belief is stronger than ever. Our New Year's gift to G-d is accepting his will. We have been chosen for this task because of our purity -- this in spite of our lack of understanding.
"We thank the rabbi for risking his life in coming here and giving us a last chance to hear the shofar. We pray that you survive this horror. Tell children all over the world to be strong and to love G-d so our deaths won't be in vain."
As the rabbi blew the shofar the alarm began ringing and wailing, joining the shofar. An eerie sound was heard in heaven that day. The cry of the ram's horn was disturbed by the bells of hell.
The rabbi ran for his life as the doomed children's barracks were sealed.
This Rosh Hashana I'll be in the synagogue with my congregation listening to the shofar.
I will remember the wishes of the tender children who would not hear the shofar and make sure that today's children listen to the shofar carrying its special message.
My children and I will also visit hospitals and old-age homes to sound the shofar for those who cannot attend the synagogue.
Let our children learn and practice their time-honored religion. See to it that they attend services.
* Rabbi Eli Hecht is director of Chabad of South Bay, a synagogue and school in Lomita, California.
Hear the Shofar
One of the integral mitzvot of Rosh Hashana is to hear the shofar sounded.
The shofar -- ram's horn -- serves as a reminder to G-d of our ancestor Abraham's devotion in his willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac.
When G-d saw Abraham's loyalty He ordered Abraham to substitute a ram, instead.
The shofar sounds like a cry from the heart, and as the prophet said, "Can the shofar be blown in the city and the people will not tremble."
From a letter of the Rebbe
In the Days of Selichot, 5726 (1966)
In addition to the perennial qualities which each festival, Rosh Hashana included, brings with it from year to year, there are certain qualities which are associated with certain years, and which, therefore, are of particular significance in the year of their occurrence.
The approaching year -- may it bring good and blessing to all of us and to all our people Israel -- has the distinction of being a "post-shemitta [Sabbatical] year."
As such it is characterized by the additional special mitzva of Hakhel ("Gather together"), which is described as a "solid pillar and great honor to our faith" (Sefer HaChinuch).
During the time of the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple), it was required to gather the people -- men, women, and children, including the very little ones -- into the Temple, in order that they hear certain selected Torah portions, which were read by the king.
This had to take place at the first opportunity in the new year (namely, Succot, when Jews came to Jerusalem on their pilgrimage).
Since the Temple was destroyed this mitzva is no longer practiced -- until it will be restored again, may it be speedily in our time. However, the Torah and mitzvot are eternal, so that also those mitzvot which were to be practiced only during the times of the Temple, by virtue of their eternal spiritual content, have a special significance in their appropriate day or year, which has to be expressed and fulfilled in an appropriate manner (e.g. prayers at the time of day when the sacrifices were offered in the Temple, etc.)
The mitzva of Hahkel had two features which, at first glance, seem to be contradictory:
On the one hand, it was required to "gather the people, men, women and small children and the ger (stranger) in thy gates" -- indicating that everyone, regardless of his or her station in life and intelligence can and must be a participant in the event; and on the other hand, it was required that the portions of the Torah be read to them by the most august person of the nation, the king.
One explanation is the following:
The Torah was given to us in order that it permeate and vitalize each and every Jew without exception -- man, woman, child and stranger -- so thoroughly, and to such an extent and degree, that one's entire being, in all its aspects, senses and feelings, will become a Torah and mitzvot being.
And in order to attain this end, most deeply and fully, the Torah was read on that occasion by the king, whose awe-inspiring quality filled the audience with an overwhelming sense of awe and subservience, to the extent of complete bitul -- self effacement.
The significance and instruction of the mitzva of Hakhel to each and every one of us is, to avail ourselves of the opportune awe- inspiring days of Tishrei, to gather our fellow Jews -- men, women, and children, including the very little ones -- into the hallowed places of prayer and Torah, in an atmosphere of holiness and devoutness; and gather them for the purpose which was the very essence of the mitzva of Hakhel, as stated in the Torah: In order that they should listen and should learn, and should fear G-d, your G-d, and observe to do all the words of the Torah (Deut. 31:12).
Particularly it is the duty of everyone who is a "king," a leader, in his circle -- the spiritual leader in his congregation, the teacher in his classroom, the father in his family -- to raise the voice of the Torah and mitzvot, forcefully and earnestly, so that it produces a profound impression and an abiding influence in the audience, to be felt not only through the month of Tishrei, nor merely throughout the year, but throughout the seven years from the present Hakhel to the next; an influence that should be translated into daily life, into conduct governed by the Torah and mitzvot, with fear of Heaven, and, at the same time, with gladness of heart.
May it please the One Above, Whom Jews crown on Rosh Hashana as the "King of Israel" and "Sovereign Over All the Earth," to bless each man and woman in carrying out the said task, in the fullest measure, and this will also speed and bring closer the time when the mitzva of Hakhel will be fulfilled in all its details, in the Holy Temple, with the appearance of Moshiach, speedily in our time.
NEW CANDLE LIGHTING CALENDAR
The new Shabbat candle lighting calendar for 5755 (1994/1995) is available from the Lubavitch Women's Organization Candle Lighting campaign.
For your own calendar, which contains candle lighting times for major U.S. cities, send a SASE envelope to: 603 Lefferts Ave., Bklyn, NY 11203.
As in previous years, the Lubavitch Youth Organization has arranged for volunteers to sound the shofar in prisons, hospitals and nursing homes on Rosh Hashana, thus allowing people who might otherwise not be able to fulfill this mitzva to do so.
Chabad-Lubavitch Centers throughout the world organize similar programs for people who are unable to hear the shofar in the synagogue.
STUDENTS FROM TURKEY
The Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, New Jersey, recently said good-bye to a group of fifteen students from Istanbul, Turkey whom they hosted for six weeks this summer.
The program was initiated by one of the students who had heard of Chabad-Lubavitch and wanted to spend time studying in a yeshiva environment.
The Rabbinical College was happy to comply and brought a special staff member to the yeshiva especially for the group. The young men studied Torah from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. each day and spent Shabbat in various locations including the yeshiva, Deal, N.J. and Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
We would like to wish 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, with blessings from every letter of the Hebrew Alef-Beis.
And also with him that is not here with us this day. (Deut. 29:14)
When a Jew enters into a covenant with G-d by keeping His Torah and mitzvot, every Jew, of every generation past and present, is present at his side.
One need not therefore be concerned that the Jews are "the least of the nations," for our eternal bond with G-d, in the cumulative sense, is truly monumental and awesome.
Gather the people together, men, women and children (Deut. 31:12)
Rashi asks: Why were the children included? To bring reward to the parents who brought them.
G-d helps parents raise their children to be G-d-fearing and upright to the same degree that they put their efforts into the task.
And call heaven and earth to witness against them (Deut. 31:28)
They, the Jewish people, will be My witnesses, testifying that I created heaven and earth. For it is through the Jews that the world comes to know that G-d is the Creator and that He constantly oversees His handiwork.
The Jews of the tiny shtetl near the town of Ushamir suffered terribly under the heavy hands of the dictatorial manager of the lands they leased.
He worked them to the bone, though nothing they did ever pleased him.
Things were bad enough in normal times, but when he decided to vent his rage, life became completely unlivable, for the manager would cut their salaries without a second thought.
This manager was, sad to say, actually a Jew.
No one knew where he had come from or what his past was, but as far as the present was concerned, it was a known fact that his tie to Jewishness was in his origin only, and even that was a burden to him.
It was the week before Rosh Hashana and the tzadik, Rabbi Mordechai Dov of Hornistopol arrived in the town of Ushamir for Shabbat.
It was his custom during the month of Elul to travel through all the nearby towns and villages to arouse the hearts of the people to the worship of the Creator and urge them to return to Him in full repentance.
Hundreds of Jews from all the neighboring settlements streamed to Ushamir to spend Shabbat together with the great tzadik.
Among those who came were many Jews from the nearby shtetl. After Shabbat, the people were given an opportunity to speak to the tzadik to receive his blessings.
The residents of the next village decided amongst themselves that this would be a chance to tell Reb Mordechai Dov about the manager.
With great sorrow the tzadik listened to their heartbreaking story.
He was particularly distressed when he heard that the man was a Jew. "Wait till tomorrow, and we'll see what is possible to do," the tzadik told them.
The next day, right after the morning service, Reb Mordechai Dov told his attendant to get the carriage ready for a trip.
The tzadik ordered the carriage driver to turn the horses in the direction of the neighboring village. The inhabitants of the village who were at that very time preparing to return home, were very surprised.
In great haste, they, too, jumped into their wagons and followed the tzadik. A veritable caravan of wagons set out, the carriage of Reb Mordechai Dov leading the way .
When the caravan reached the shtetl the tzadik inquired where the manager lived, and instructed his driver to proceed there.
When the villagers saw the caravan with the tzadik in the lead, they emerged from their homes and stood outside in anticipation. All the while, the tzadik was very withdrawn, saying nothing.
When they saw from afar the large and beautiful mansion which was the residence of the land manager, all the people drew to a halt. "What is the tzadik going to do?" they wondered. "What will he say to that wicked one?" they asked one another. "Perhaps with the gaze of his holy eyes, he will turn the manager into a pile of bones," they thought, hopefully.
Standing on the porch, watching the scene, in all his glory, pipe in mouth, stood the land manager, his entire appearance reeking of arrogance.
Yet, as the caravan approached his house, one could see the questioning look of wonder cross his face: What was the meaning of this procession?
Reb Mordechai Dov asked that his carriage halt just in front of the house. Behind him stretched a long line of wagons as far as the eye could see. The tzadik lifted his eyes and beheld the beautiful mansion. He noticed that the manager was studying him intently. The tzadik looked in his direction with a steady and unwavering glare.
Reb Mordechai Dov got down from the carriage and walked toward the mansion. The others, eyes focused on the tzadik, didn't budge. Reb Mordechai Dov reached the door and after a few seconds, the door opened up from inside.
The tzadik and his attendant entered the house.
Only a few minutes passed and the tzadik and his attendant left the house, climbed up on the wagon and departed.
What happened inside, the people heard later from the attendant who reported that from the moment the manager had opened the door and until they departed, not one single word was spoken!
With a small nod of his head the manager motioned for them to enter and pointed to a chair for the tzadik to sit on.
He, then sat opposite them.
The tzadik put both hands on the table, straightened his back and lifted his pure eyes, to look directly into eyes of the evil dictator.
At first, the manager returned his gaze with a hard, defiant look. But gradually as the seconds turned into minutes, his glance began to soften.
The gaze of the tzadik, however, which had started off soft and merciful, gradually became deeper and harsher.
Then, the eyes of the manager grew moist; a large tear rolled down his cheek. At that moment the tzadik rose from his seat, and without a word walked to the door. The manager remained motionless in his seat, as if nailed to his place, unable to even accompany his guest to the door.
That day the tzadik remained in the village.
Everyone who had not been in Ushamir that Shabbat now was able to receive the tzadik's blessing.
Towards evening, when the house in which the tzadik was staying had emptied of all the people, a bowed figure was seen approaching the house. It was the manager.
He entered the house in an agitated state, as if pursued by demons. For the next two hours he was closeted with the tzadik.
That Rosh Hashana a new and unexpected worshipper appeared in shul. It was of course, the manager.
For the holiday, he stood practically motionless, wrapped in talit and praying, and weeping copious tears.
From that day on, the estranged and despotic man who the manager had previously been, changed into a true repentant and a friend of his fellow Jews.
"On Rosh Hashana, my soul ascended to the palace of Moshiach, and I asked Moshiach, 'Master, when are you coming?' And he answered me, 'By this you will know: when your teachings are publicized and revealed in the world and your wellsprings are spread forth...'"
(The Baal Shem Tov)