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The theme of G-d as Parent and Ruler dominates Rosh Hashana.
The Baal Shem Tov taught that the love G-d has for each one of us is analogous to and surpasses the love a father has for an only child born in his old age.
Rosh Hashana is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. Thus, it corresponds to the rebirth of humanity and we reestablish our relationship as children of G-d on these day.
The sounding of the shofar is connected to this central motif of Rosh Hashana, that of G-d as our Divine Parent.
To better understand this we look to another parable of the Baal Shem Tov:
An errant prince, an only son, traveled far from the palace. After many years had passed, the prince yearned to be reunited with his father, the king. However, by the time he returned to his native land, he had forgotten his mother tongue. From deep within his soul a cry emerged, a cry that -- no matter how estranged the child -- a father could understand.
This fervent broken-hearted plea, of "Father, it is I, your only son, help me!" broke through the barriers separating father and son more eloquently than any words the prince might have uttered. At this moment, the king embraced the errant son.
For thousands of years the Jewish people have wandered in exile. At times, we even seem to have lost our means of communicating with our Father. We are very much like the proverbial prince, who when facing his father the king could only cry.
We are in pain not only because our self-created barriers separate us from G-d. But also because even when we wish to return we encounter all sorts of seemingly insurmountable obstacles born of the national and spiritual exile of our people.
The shofar represents the wordless cry of the only child within each of us. Chosen because of its simplicity, it symbolizes the incorruptible nature of the soul connected to the essence of G-d, Himself.
Transcending the conventional modes of communication, the shofar's shattering wail arouses in us an awareness of the most powerful bond uniting Father and child. No matter how far we may feel we've strayed throughout the year, no matter how muted or inadequate our ability to communicate with G-d, the shofar of Rosh Hashana enables us to reconnect in a more fundamental and powerful way than previously envisioned.
The "Great Shofar" sounded by G-d signaling the Messianic Age, will pierce all barriers and penetrate beneath the surface of our very beings. When G-d sounds the Great Shofar we will be able to express, completely and openly, the fundamental child/parent relationship we intrinsically have with G-d. The shofar of Redemption will usher in a time when the love between G-d and the Jewish people -- concealed throughout our trial-ridden exile -- will be fully revealed.
May we all be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet year. But even before the New Year may we all find ourselves in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem with the revelation of our righteous Moshiach, and he will redeem us.
In this week's Torah portion, Nitzavim, G-d makes a covenant with the Jewish people just prior to their entering the land of Israel. After enumerating the troubles that will befall them in exile if they sin, G-d promises that He will ultimately bring them the true and complete Redemption.
A closer study of these verses reveals that G-d's pledge of Redemption actually contains two distinct promises: One, that every single Jew will eventually do teshuva (return to G-d). The second, that as part of the Final Redemption, "The L-rd your G-d will circumcise your heart, and the heart of your seed, to love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul."
The sequence of these promises, however, is problematic.
Maimonides explains that the first step in the process of Redemption is repentance: "The Torah has promised that when Israel does teshuva at the end of the exile they will be redeemed immediately." But if the Redemption will have already occurred, what can possibly be added by this "circumcision of the heart"? Furthermore, what does the phrase itself really mean?
In order to understand, we need to examine the two ways a Jew can remain distant from Torah and mitzvot: The first occurs from within, when the heart itself becomes "opaque" -- impervious to G-dliness. The second factor is external, the result of outside negative influences, as our Sages stated, "The eye sees, and the heart desires."
The first factor is entirely within the person's ability to control. Every Jew has the power to open his heart to G-d; all he needs to have is the will. This is the mitzva of teshuva, which every person must do for himself. The second factor, however, is entirely up to G-d. A person cannot will himself not to be tempted by things he finds alluring.
This, then, is what is meant by the "circumcision of the heart" that will take place after the Redemption:
Once the Jewish people will have done teshuva to the best of their ability, G-d will "circumcise" our hearts, i.e., the connection between what our eyes see and our subsequent desire to sin will be severed. In this second stage of the Messianic era, the very possibility of external influences exerting a negative pull will be permanently abolished.
Moreover, this "circumcision" will serve to uncover the innate and essential love every Jew has for G-d, enabling us "to love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul" without impediment, either internal or external. Thus we will reach a state not only of physical Redemption, but of spiritual Redemption from everything that once obscured the true, underlying G-dly reality.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 29
Getting a New Suit
by Eliot P. Kaplan, PhD.
My life is very different from that of last Rosh Hashana. For one thing, I won't be wearing what had been my favorite suit. I lost it back in February. I was traveling from Denver to S. Francisco one Friday night, and in my rush to catch the plane I left my suit by the seats at the boarding gate. Although I called the airline a number of times, I never heard from them. As I look back a year later, I still can't believe I lost that suit...
Since last September my life and priorities have shifted.
Appropriately enough, I began at the New Year; the Jewish New Year, that is -- Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. At the urging of a friend, I decided to attend the High Holy Days' services at Chabad Lubavitch in Princeton with Rabbi Dubov.
I admit that my first reaction was not particularly enthusiastic. After all, I wasn't a big "shul goer" anyway, and I was sure I'd feel out of place in what I expected would be a room full of "seasoned Chasidic veterans." Besides, I had heard how "pushy" Lubavitchers could be, and I didn't want to have to deal with that.
My friend assured me that it would be nothing like that; in fact most of the people who attended services with Rabbi Dubov had a Hebrew school background similar to my own, and there were even some people who had little or no background in Judaism. My friend assured me that from personal experience, the rabbi had been welcoming without being "pushy."
Although still unsure, I decided to check it out. To my surprise, I discovered services there to be just as my friend had described them.
I found a lot of "regular" people from the Princeton area. Most of the congregants were dressed in a relaxed manner; a few were even in jeans. My sense was that no one except the rabbi had any major background in Judaism. I was relieved when the rabbi cordially welcomed me, without asking embarrassing questions as to my current or historical Jewish observance.
While the Rosh Hashana services were obviously traditional, I felt a warm comfort that I had not sensed in other "traditional" services I had attended in the area.
As Rabbi Dubov prayed and led the congregation, I could feel his deep commitment and involvement with the prayers. Although I had to read the English to understand what he was saying, I felt his heartfelt words carry me as they reached upward to Heaven.
After the High Holy Days, I have continued to stay involved by coming to Shabbat services and even taking some one hour evening classes. Going to services has helped me reconnect with myself after the hectic work week. Saturdays have become a time that I now give to myself as a "breather." From someone who wouldn't even consider going to a synagogue on Saturday, I now look forward to my time there.
The classes have also been very helpful, and the rabbi's sharing has been neither pushy nor patronizing. While as a kid, I disliked my required time in Hebrew school, the rabbi's insights have drawn me into the wonders I never knew existed in Torah. In a relaxed fashion we have delved into various topics from holiday customs to Talmudic law. I find it fascinating to hear how the words of Torah are not only relevant historically, but in our everyday lives as well.
Over time, I see more and more how Torah contains within it a wealth of wisdom, understanding and knowledge that is more than just intellectual. I am discovering that the Torah and mitzvot really offer a framework in which to live life with joy, meaning and direction.
When I scheduled the flight for that Friday night out of Denver, I did so about four months before I got involved in my renewed interest in Judaism. When February came around, I never bothered to change my flight plans, and although I figured that in the future I would schedule my trips to better observe Shabbat -- since these plans were already made, I'd just follow through with them this one last time.
When I realized that I had left my suit behind, my first reaction was, "Uh-oh! G-d must be punishing me for traveling on Shabbat."
With the help of continued classes, however, I now see it all quite differently. One of the things that I've learned is that "G-d does everything for the good -- everything -- and although my limited perspective may not always understand G-d's Divine plan, it is always for the good."
Now when I think of how I lost the suit, I see it as G-d's gentle but humorous way of showing me that the old life, the old way of doing things, doesn't fit anymore. In His own way, He was just reminding me, "It 's time to get a new suit!"
Dr. Kaplan is a psychologist in Edison, New Jersey
Reprinted from the Chabad Times, Mercer County
Listen to the Shofar
One of the special mitzvot of Rosh Hashana is to hear the shofar sounded. You can call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center for the approximate time of the shofar service.
Also, remember to dip an apple in honey and ask G-d for a good, sweet year before eating it!
THE FUNCTION OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
In the Days of Selichot, 5717 (1957)
With the approach of Rosh Hashana, and the introspection that it calls forth, both in terms of one's own world and in relation to the world at large, a good starting point would be some reflection on the physical organism, "the world in miniature" (microcosm).
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 when 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 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 also in the fulfillment of the common functions.
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, and 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 peoples" (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.
continued in next week's issue
HOLIDAY PROGRAMS IN JAIL
The Jewish Prison division of the Lubavitch Youth Organization has organized holiday programs in various jails throughout the tri-state area. In some prisons, volunteers actually stay near the institutions and conduct Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services for the Jewish inmates there. In other locations, volunteers visit the facilities before the High Holidays bringing educational materials, traditional holiday foods, and holiday cheer.
NEW BUILDING FOR CHABAD
The Chabad Center of Northwest New Jersey has just opened the doors of their newly constructed building at 11 Norman Road in White Meadow Lake. The Center serves as the base for their adult education classes, Hebrew school, daily minyan, Shabbat services and junior congregation as well as containing a library and recreation center for children. For more information and High Holiday service schedule call (201) 625-1525.
SHOFAR IN THE PARK
Tzivos Hashem, together with Congregation Derech Emunah in Greenwich Village, is sponsoring a hands-on shofar making workshop in Washington Square Park on the eve of Rosh Hashana, Sunday Sept, 24. The traveling shofar factory is free of charge. For times and more info call (212) 242-6425.
An ancient Jewish custom performed during the days between Rosh Hashana is the custom of Kapparot. A special prayer is recited while holding a live chicken. The chicken is then ritually slaughtered, koshered and donated to a soup kitchen or similar charity. To find out where you can perform the Kapparot ceremony call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
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 (translated to English):
May this year be:
A year of "Arise and have mercy on Zion," uplifted in matters of Moshiach and the Redemption...faith in G-d and Moses His servant...traveling with the Heavenly clouds... Revealed Wonders; Wonders in Everything... the building of the Holy Temple...trust; Great Wonders... the true and complete Redemption; Dignified Wonders.. victory... the seventh generation is the generation of Redemption; "those who rest in the dust will arise and sing" and he will lead them... the revelation of Moshiach; He will redeem us... "The nations shall walk in Your guiding light": "This one will conform us"; true freedom; an abundance of good (Rambam); The king shall live; being inscribed and sealed for a good year... the harp of Moshaich; learning Moshiach's teachings; the coming of Menachem who will comfort us... the King Moshiach; revealed miracles... a double portion; the end of exile;"Humble ones, the time of your Redemption has arrived"; "Jerusalem will dwell in open space"; Your servant David will go forth; the ingathering of the exiles... acceptance of his sovereignty by the people; Rebbe -- Rosh B'Nei Yisrael; peace... a new song...Moshiach's shofar... unity of the Torah, unity of the Jewish people, unity of the land of Israel; Resurrection of the Dead..."A new Torah will come from Me".
So that the generation to come of your children that will rise up after you, and the alien that will come from a far land...will say (Deut. 29:21)
This awesome prophecy refers to the last generation of Jews at the End of Days, in the era of the Redemption, whose knowledge of Torah and Judaism will unfortunately be the same as a total stranger's.
(Rabbi Chaim of Brisk)
The anger of G-d burned against this land... and G-d rooted them out of the land in anger... and cast them into another land (Deut. 29:26-27)
The curses and punishments enumerated in this section of the Torah are merely warnings, not promises that G-d must fulfill. Their purpose is to arouse the heart of man to choose good over evil so that they will never come to pass.
G-d will circumcise your heart... in order that you may live (Deut. 30:6)
When G-d will circumcise your heart, the pleasure and delight that you will take in Torah and mitzvot will be as keenly felt as the pleasures of the physical body; you will love the Torah as much as you value your very life.
The Eve of Rosh Hashana
As a young boy, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, asked his father, the Rebbe Rashab, what he was supposed to be doing on the day before Rosh Hashana.
"We recite Psalms the whole day long and feel remorse for our misdeeds of the past year, so that by the time evening falls and the new year begins, we are free of all our bad habits," his father replied.
Apple and Honey
On the first night of Rosh Hashana the apple, dipped in honey, is eaten after the HaMotzei is said on the challah. The brief prayer, "May it be Your will that You renew for us a good and sweet year," is said after the blessing over the apple (Baruch Ata Ado-noy Elo- haynu Melech HaOlam Borei P'ree Ha'eitz) but before eating the apple.
On the second night of Rosh Hashana, immediately after Kiddush over wine and before washing the hands for the meal the blessing shehecheyanu is recited over a new fruit and then eaten.
(The Book of Chabad-Lubavitch Customs)
The story is told of a simple Jew who kept a tavern in a distant village many weeks journey from the nearest Jewish community. Rarely did he see the inside of a synagogue; most years, he could not even make it for the High Holidays services. One year he decided to make the trip with his wife to the Jewish community for Rosh Hashana.
When he entered the synagogue on the morning of Rosh Hashana, it was already packed and the service was well underway. Scarcely knowing which way to hold the prayer book, he draped his prayer shawl over his head and took an inconspicuous place against the back wall.
Hours passed. Hunger was beginning to gnaw at his innards, but impassioned sounds of prayer around him showed no signs of abating.
Visions of the sumptuous holiday meal awaiting him at his lodgings made his mouth water in anticipation. Still the service stretched on.
Suddenly, as the cantor reached a particularly stirring passage, the entire congregation burst into tears, their heart-rending cries virtually setting the synagogue walls atremble.
Why was everyone weeping? Then it dawned on him. Of course, they, too, are hungry. They, too, are thinking of the elusive meal and the endless service.
With a new surge of self-pity he gave vent to his anguish; a new wail joined the hundreds of others as he, too, bawled his heart out.
But after a while the weeping let up, finally quieting to a sprinkling of exceptionally pious worshippers. Our hungry tavern- keeper's hopes soared, but the prayers went on. And on. "Why have they stopped crying?" he wondered. "Are they no longer hungry?"
Then he remembered the delicious "cholent" his wife had prepared back at his lodging. Everything else for the holiday meal paled in comparison. He distinctly remembered the juicy cut of meat she had put into the cholent when she set it on the fire the day before. And though the tavern-keeper was an utter stranger to the ins and outs of the Rosh Hashana prayers, he knew a thing or two about cholent: the longer it cooks, the more sumptuous the cholent. He'd glanced under the lid on his way to shul this morning, when the cholent had already been going for many hours. He'd sniffed approvingly. But give it another few hours and ahhh... A few hours of aching feet and a hollow stomach is a small price to pay considering what was developing in that cholent pot with each passing moment.
Obviously, that's what his fellow worshippers were thinking as well. No wonder they had stopped crying. Let the service go on, he consoled himself, the longer the better.
On and on the service went. His knees grew weak with hunger, his head throbbed in pain, his throat burned with suppressed tears. But whenever he felt that he simply could not hold out a moment longer, he thought of his cholent, envisioning what was happening to that piece of meat at that very moment: the steady crisping on the outside, the softening on the inside, the subtle blending of flavors of the cholent. Every minute longer, he kept telling himself, was another minute on the fire for the cholent.
An hour later, the cantor launched into another exceptionally moving piece. As his tremulous voice painted the awesome scene of Divine judgement unfolding in the heavens, the entire shul broke down weeping once again. At this point, the dam burst in this simple Jew's heart, for he well understood what was on his fellow worshipper's minds. "Enough is enough!" he sobbed. "Never mind the cholent! It's been cooking long enough! I'm hungry! I want to go home!"
The Jewish people have been scattered throughout the world so that we may come in contact with the sparks of holiness which await redemption in every corner of the globe. And the holier the spark, the deeper it lies buried. Thus the more painful the exile, the more challenging its trails, the lowlier the elements it confronts us with -- the greater its rewards. Every minute of exile represents more sparks of holiness redeemed, and its every further descent brings deeper dimensions of the Divine purpose to fruition.
But there comes a point at which every Jew must cry out from the very depths of his being: "Enough already! The 'cholent' of our history has been cooking long enough! We want to come home!"
May we all be home, in the Third and Eternal Holy Temple, this very Rosh Hashana.
The sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashana reminds us of the great shofar which will sound with the coming of Moshiach.
(Rav Sa'adiah Gaon)