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"Closed for Inventory" the sign reads. We all know what that means. The company is taking stock, counting how many widgets and thingamajigs they've sold, how many they still have, what losses or damages they have incurred. And, depending when a particular company's fiscal year starts and ends, that's when inventory is taken. Once all this has been done, correct information is available when filing reports with banks, insurance companies, and the government.
This coming week starts inventory time in Jewish life. It's the beginning of the month of Elul, the month preceding the High Holidays. And, typically, the month contains many customs to put us in the mood for introspection and jolt us out of our lethargy or complacency.
The alarm clock of Elul is the shofar, blown every morning except for the eve of Rosh Hashana. The prophet Amos said, "Can the shofar be blown in the city and the people not tremble?" In ancient times, the shofar was a call to war. Aside from its yearly use on Rosh Hashana and at the closing service of Yom Kippur, it is also the one sound Jews have longed for endlessly, for it will herald the arrival of Moshiach.
That many of us hear the shofar sounded and do not tremble does not denote a lack of power on the part of the shofar to influence us but rather, unfortunately, our insensitivity to its message: "Wake up, you sleepers from your sleep and you slumberers from your slumber. Search your deeds and return in penitence." The shofar is the "air raid siren" for the soul, though we must attune ourselves to it.
Greeting card companies do a burgeoning business during Elul, though the idea of Jewish New Year's cards have their basis in custom, not commercialism. Jewish custom has it that when we see or write to friends and acquaintances, we wish them a "good year," or that they be "written and sealed for good." This greeting is to remind us, and others, that these are days of judgement, when the reckoning of our Heavenly Account is taking place. And just as we ask for mercy for ourselves, we should also ask for G-d's kindness and compassion for our friends and relatives.
Lastly, Elul is the time when we especially try to increase and enhance our performance of mitzvot. As thoroughly and scrupulously as we would examine the stockroom and look at each shelf when taking inventory, we must do similarly with our Jewish inventory. We're supposed to consider what losses and damages others have incurred at our expense, whether we really have all the good deeds in store that we think we have or tell others we have, what mitzvot we need to stock or restock for the coming year. And, thankfully, when taking Jewish inventory, we don't have to close up shop.
This week's Torah portion, Shoftim, speaks about the cities of refuge a person would flee to if he accidentally killed someone. There, the unintentional killer would dwell, protected from the wrath of the victim's relatives, until the High Priest who served in the Holy Temple passed away.
But not only unintentional killers sought refuge in these cities; even someone who committed murder intentionally was expected to flee there as well. The court would then convene and issue its ruling on the death. The cities of refuge offered protection, if only temporarily in some cases, to anyone who had caused a loss of life.
After the destruction of the Holy Temple and the dispersion of the Jewish people, the cities of refuge ceased to exist in the physical sense. Yet the Torah is eternal, and its lessons apply in every generation. In our times, therefore, the concept of "cities of refuge" finds expression in the spiritual dimension.
Our Sages taught that "the words of Torah absorb." In other words, the Torah itself is the refuge in which all may seek asylum. In the spiritual sense, "killing" symbolizes the act of committing a sin, causing a spiritual death to the G-dly soul, for the Torah's 613 mitzvot are the "ropes" that bind the soul to G-d. Transgressing the Torah's commandments damages those ties and threatens to cut the soul off from its G-dly source.
We learn from this week's Torah portion that it is never too late to repent, no matter how grave a transgression has been committed. Even the person who deliberately sinned can do teshuva (repentance) and seek protection in the refuge of Torah.
In one sense, nowadays we have a distinct advantage over our forefathers who lived during the times of the Holy Temple. In those days, repentance alone was not enough to atone for a sin. The unintentional killer had to remain exiled in the city of refuge until the death of the High Priest, and the intentional murderer (as defined by the Torah) received capital punishment. Yet after the destruction of the Temple, teshuva alone can atone for even the gravest sin.
Years ago, when Jewish courts had ultimate authority, a judge could only rule on what he himself had seen. G-d, however, can look into the heart of man and judge whether or not his repentance is sincere.
In the same way, the month of Elul, during which we take account of our actions of the previous year, is a "city of refuge" in time, offering us the same opportunity to clear the slate and merit a good and sweet year to come.
Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
"Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings You have established strength..." King David's Psalms relate. Students of a third grade class in the Beth Rivkah School in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, were each asked to write a story about the Rebbe to be compiled in a booklet entitled, "Our Rebbe." What follow are a sampling of those stories.
The Shaliach Mitzva Money
by Tziporah Elberg
We planned to go to Israel for Purim in the year 5752 . In that month the Rebbe had his first stroke. Every year when we went to Israel we used to ask the Rebbe for a bracha [blessing] and we got shaliach mitzva money [money to give to charity upon arrival at one's destination] from the Rebbe.
That year we couldn't go to the Rebbe and get a bracha and shaliach mitzva money and so my mother was a little worried. My mother thought to write a letter to the Rebbe and ask him for a bracha and put it in a book of the Rebbe's teachings. In the end she decided not to write it on paper but wrote it in her mind instead. And she had bitachon [faith].
At the end she got a bracha. How? She went to the store on Wednesday afternoon, the day that we were supposed to go to Israel. In the last store my mother went to, she got a dollar bill in her change that said [in Hebrew] "Dollar from the Rebbe -- shaliach mitzva." This was the bracha for my mother. She travelled with full bitachon that everything would be "o.k."
My Mother and Father go to Yechidus
by Chana Lewis
Before my parents got married they went to the Rebbe for yechidus [a private audience]. But they weren't the only ones. My Bubby and Zaidy came along. When they walked in the Rebbe stood up for my Zaidy because my Zaidy is older than the Rebbe. The first thing the Rebbe asked my Zaidy was [in Yiddish], "Where do you come from?"
My Zaidy answered, "I am from Poland and I have been in Russia." The Rebbe smiled a big smile and said, "I have also been in Russia."
My Zaidy started to tell the Rebbe about himself. Before he could finish the Rebbe said, "I know, your daughter wrote to me about you."
The Rebbe gave my Bubby and Zaidy a dollar and a bracha and told them to give tzedaka on the day of my mother's wedding. My Bubby told the Rebbe, "I understand, holy Tzadik. Thank you holy Tzadik."
Later on after the yechidus, my father asked my mother, "When did you write to the Rebbe about your father?"
And my mother answered, "About six or seven years ago!"
by Shoshana Brocha Thaler
On the Thursday night before my sister's Bas Mitzva, my mother sat with my father and made a list of what we had to do on Sunday. My mother mentioned that my father should take my sister to the Ohel [the Rebbe's resting place] just before the party. Since my father was very tired and it was very late he seemed to have forgotten about Gimmel Tammuz and said, "Why do we have to take her? We didn't have to take the other girls. (My two older sisters)?" Then my father remembered that they could not go to 770 [World Lubavitch Headquarters] on the day of her birthday to get a dollar. My mother also said that my sister wasn't going to get a Bas Mitzva Birthday letter directly from the Rebbe. But my parents cheered each other up and continued the preparations...
The next morning, after davening [praying], my mother began to move furniture and arrange the tables. She had to take the drawers out of a desk and put them in a different room. Everyone has at least one such drawer where all the papers are piled up. Well, ours was overfull, and when my mother finally put everything back there was an envelop left in her hand. When she looked down and saw the address from 770 she was shocked because we keep all our letters from the Rebbe in a very special place, not in an old desk drawer! My mother sensed that something very unusual was about to happen and it did! (Now we know these stories are not so unusual after all!) When my mother opened the letter what do you think! It was a letter to a Bas Mitzva girl! In fact, it was the very letter that was sent to my other sister just 4 1/2 years before! So my sister got her letter and, we believe, directly from the Rebbe himself!
We now all know that the Rebbe will provide. We just have to continue to ask him and keep a connection with him and we will be answered as soon as possible.
A Miracle from the Rebbe
by Chani Zalmanov
My great-grandmother's foot was hurting very much. The doctor said they had to operate. My great-grandfather asked the Rebbe what to do and the Rebbe said not to operate. The foot was still hurting so at the farbrengen [Chasidic gathering] my great-grandfather went over to the Rebbe and said that they must operate because she was in a lot of pain.
The Rebbe took a piece of cake and gave it to my great-grandfather and told him to give it to my great-grandmother. My great-grandfather did that and the next morning my great-grandmother couldn't remember which foot was hurting. Since then my great-grandmother has no problems with her legs, thank G-d, kein ayin hora.
Get Ready for Rosh Hashana, NOW!
Jewish law enjoins us to begin preparing for a holiday 30 days before the holiday. In general terms, this refers to studying the laws concerning the holiday. However, the Rebbe has customarily reminded us to begin, 30 days before the holiday, to prepare the material necessities of those less fortunate than us. This means making sure that every Jew has food and clothing to be able to celebrate the upcoming holidays with a joyous heart. In simple words, give tzedaka now to organizations that specifically take care of the material needs of our fellow Jews.
Free Translation from Hebrew
Rosh Chodesh Elul, 5735 
To the Sons and Daughters of Our People Israel, Everywhere, G-d bless you all!
Greeting and Blessing:
The month of Elul, bringing the current year to a close, is -- as is well known -- the Month of Divine Mercy and Grace. It is also the time for every Jew to make a soul-searching self-evaluation (cheshbon hanefesh) in regard to the outgoing year -- of all the achievements and failures and missed opportunities; it is the month of Teshuva (Repentance) -- regret for the past and good resolutions for the future, by way of preparation for the coming year, with a view to making certain that the new year will be a better one in every respect.
The auspicious nature of the month of Elul is explained by the Alter Rebbe, author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch, by means of the parable of the "King in the Field":
When a king is about to return to his royal city, the inhabitants of the city go out to meet the king and to welcome him in the field. Then everyone who so wishes may come out to greet the king, and the king receives everyone graciously and shows a friendly face to everyone... Later on, when the king proceeds to the city, they follow... So in the month of Elul. G-d makes His countenance to shine on you, which refers to the emanation of the Thirteen Attributes, that it be in a manner of face to face.
Thus, the month of Elul is a time of (great responsibility as well as of) great opportunity, since this is the time of the year when G-d causes His Thirteen Attributes of Mercy to shine forth, making it possible for every Jew -- regardless of how the situation was in the past -- to attach oneself to G-d with heart and soul, in a way that induces action, expressed in a substantial increase (in quantity and quality) in the study of the Torah and in the fulfillment of its mitzvot.
May G-d grant that each and all of us should take the fullest advantage of this auspicious period in all that has been said above,
And reflect with a soulful reflection, to the extent of it permeating and guiding the daily conduct, on the words of David, the Sweet Singer of the Songs of our People Israel, in the Psalm that we begin to recite on Rosh Chodesh Elul, twice daily:
"G-d is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?... my oppressors and enemies have stumbled and fallen; if an army besiege me, my heart shall not fear... now my head is raised... teach me, O G-d, Your way... hope unto G-d, be strong and let your heart be fortified and hope unto G-d..."
And G-d our King since the days of old will work salvation in the midst of the earth, including that in the radiance of the countenance of the King the Source of Life everyone will be blessed with a good and sweet year, both materially and spiritually,
With esteem and blessing for being "written and sealed for good, for a good and sweet year".
The culmination of the writing of a new Torah scroll for the Syosset Jewish community took place recently at the Chabad-Perlmutter Center in Syosset, Long Island. With pride and pomp, participants in the completion ceremony paraded in front of the Chabad Center led by the Center's director Rabbi Shmuel Lipszyc.
This Friday is the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul.
In addition to being the name of a Jewish month, the word Elul is an acronym for five verses from the Bible which are connected to the five different types of service, each identified with our new month.
The Rebbe enumerated these five verses :
Prayer -- "I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine." For it is through prayer, the "duty of the heart" that our relationship with G-d is enhanced and intensified.
Torah study --"It chanced to happen and I set aside for you a place." This verse describes the Cities of Refuge to which a person who killed unintentionally can flee. But it also refers to Torah study for "the words of Torah provide refuge."
Deeds of Kindness -- "A person [gives presents] to his friend and gifts to the poor." In this verse the concept of deeds of kindness is clearly expressed.
Teshuva -- "And G-d your L-rd will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants." For the service of teshuva -- returning to G-d wholeheartedly, is primarily the service of changing one's inner self, the feelings of one's heart.
Redemption -- "And they said, `We will sing to G-d' " This phrase is taken from the Song of Redemption sung at the Red Sea.
The first three services are identified with the three pillars of man's service. These services must be permeated by the service of teshuva and by the service of redemption and thus, they will be endowed with a boundless quality that surpasses the limits of a person and the world at large.
"The Torah is acquired by forty-eight things...and one who quotes a matter in the name of the one who said it" (Ethics 6:6).
A Jew must strive to perceive "the One Who said it" in whatever he sees around him. In such a way does he uncover the G-dliness in creation and bring redemption to the world.
"Great is Torah, for it gives life to those who fulfill it" (Ethics 6:7).
Just as the branches of a tree draw their nourishment and sustenance from the trunk, so do Jews draw their life-force and derive their vitality from G-d. "You who cleave to the L-rd your G-d, are all of you alive." There is no better way to cleave to G-d than through learning His Torah.
(Maharal of Prague)
"Whatever the Holy One, Blessed be He, created in His world, He created only for His glory" (Ethics 6:11).
All of creation, including the highest celestial spheres, were created solely for the sake of the Jewish people and are thus dependent upon our behavior and actions. Recognizing this will impel us to strive even harder to perfect our service of G-d.
(Biurim L'Pirkei Avot)
In a village, not far from Kovna, there lived a G-d-fearing, Jewish innkeeper. He would have been quite happy, except that his daughter Sarah was of marriageable age, and the chances of finding her a worthy husband in this distant village were scarce. However, the innkeeper put his trust in G-d.
Sarah, who was very attractive, helped her parents at the inn. One day, the young son of the country squire chanced to pass by the inn. The moment his eyes fell on Sarah, he liked her. He called on her to serve him one drink after another, and the more he drank, the more he liked her. When he was pretty well drunk, he said to her, "Will you marry me?"
Sarah ignored his marriage proposal. But when he kept on telling her that he was serious, she told him, politely but firmly, that she was Jewish and would never marry out of her faith. For his part, the young squire said that he would return and insisted that he would definitely marry her.
When the young squire returned home and told his father that he intended to marry the innkeeper's daughter, the old nobleman could not believe his ears. Though the father tried to dissuade his son, the young man remained adamant. The squire, who had pampered his spoiled son all his life and catered to all his whims, once more gave in. But on one condition: the girl had to convert.
Happily, the young squire raced back to the inn and told Sarah the "good" news that his father had consented to the marriage. There was, of course, the small matter of conversion, but once done, she would live a life of luxury.
Sarah was horrified. She told the young squire that she would never marry him under any circumstances and ran from the room. She decided not to say anything to her father in the hope that this was a passing whim.
The young squire was used to getting what he wanted. Like his son, the old squire's pride was hurt to think that a poor Jewish girl was turning down the marriage proposal of an elegant and handsome nobleman! The old nobleman sat down at his desk to write a letter to the innkeeper.
In the letter, the squire stated that his son had graciously consented to marry the innkeeper's daughter. If the innkeeper refused, the lease on his inn would be revoked, all rent owed would be due and the innkeeper and his family would be driven off the estates forever.
The young squire rushed to deliver the letter with a few of his friends. En-route, a tremendous rainstorm broke out and they were soaked to the bone. They stopped at the closest inn until the storm subsided. At the inn, the boisterous company began drinking and offered a round of toasts to the young squire. "Drink, " they said. "Once you marry that pretty Jewish girl, the innkeeper's daughter Sarah, you will have to behave...." Laughter followed.
All this time, there sat quietly in a corner, a middle-aged man reading a book. He was Rabbi Yosef, the teacher of the two sons of the innkeeper from this small village. His ears soon caught the boisterous conversation of the company and the mention of Sarah, the daughter of the neighboring innkeeper. He listened intently as the young squire read out loud the letter from his father to Sarah's father.
When the young squires fell into a drunken sleep, Rabbi Yosef closed his book and traveled quickly to the next village where he immediately alerted Sarah's father as to the situation at hand.
"Rabbi Yosef," Sarah's father moaned, "What is your advice?" "Sarah must get married immediately. There is no time to wait." "But with whom will she go to the chupa? There is not one Jewish man of marriageable age in this village," the innkeeper lamented.
"In that case, there is no other way," the teacher said. "Please understand, I would never dream of making such a proposal. I am not young man, I am a widower, and Sarah deserves someone worthier. But, as a temporary arrangement, I am prepared to be the groom. Of course, once the danger is over, we will go to the rabbi and arrange for a proper divorce."
The innkeeper was filled with gratitude to Rabbi Yosef, who realized the danger he was getting into. The innkeeper asked Sarah what she thought.
"What can I say, father? Rabbi Yosef is ready to risk his life for us. I do not know if I have a right to accept such a sacrifice," she replied.
"Then, all is settled," said Rabbi Yosef. "We have no time to lose."
All of the Jews in the village were awakened and asked to prepare something for the wedding feast. The following morning when the young squire and his companions arrived at the inn, they were amazed to find that they came right in the middle of the wedding feast.
"What welcome guests!" the innkeeper called to the new arrivals. The young squire was flabbergasted. He had come too late; Sarah was already married. He and his friends quickly made their exit.
Rabbi Yosef stood up. "My friends," he said, "we must be truly grateful to the One Above for this wonderful salvation. We celebrated this wedding to save Sarah from a calamity. Now that the danger has passed, I am ready to arrange for a divorce so that Sarah is free to marry the man of her choice."
The innkeeper once again thanked Rabbi Yosef for his selflessness and thanked the guests for their wonderful cooperation. "Well my daughter, remove your bridal veil, for we are going to the Rabbi," he said to Sarah.
"I am prepared to venture into town with my new husband, but not for a divorce," Sarah replied. "The fact that G-d has brought us together and made us husband and wife, I am sure this marriage was made in Heaven. I could not have chosen a more devoted and loyal partner, who risked his life for me!"
Shouts of "Mazal Tov!" rang out, and, "Now we can truly celebrate!"
The following year, Rabbi Yosef and Sarah were blessed with a son who grew up to be a great tzadik and wonderworker. He was known as the famous Rabbi Leib Sarah's, so called in honor of his pious mother Sarah.
The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G-d (Maimonides). A businessman is involved in his occupation all day long. Even his times of rest and sleep are devoted to regaining energy that will enable him to redouble his involvement in his occupation. Even when he sleeps he dreams about his business. This is how Torah will be studied in the time to come.
(The Rebbe, 5745-1984)