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It's that time of year again in the USA, Labor Day, the first Monday of September, is the day when the worker is honored and when the work ethic that was an integral part of the founding of the United States is glorified, too.
Judaism has much to say about workers, work ethics, and various other aspects of labor.
Right from the beginning, in fact, "in the beginning," we learn about the importance of the worker and his work. Almost immediately, G-d put Adam -- the very first person -- into the Garden of Eden and gave him the responsibility "to work it and guard it."
From that moment forth, we have been expected to work for our upkeep, all the while remembering that ultimately everything comes from G-d and that our labor bears fruit if G-d's blessing is in our work.
The understanding that part of our purpose on this earth is, in fact, to work with the mundane aspects of the world and use the world's physicality to serve G-d, has tremendous ramifications on our G-dly service.
A lack of appreciating the potential for holiness of everything in the world has led some seekers of spirituality to a life of aesthetics and denial of the ultimate G-dly purpose of elevating this physical world.
According to Chasidic philosophy, this lack of appreciation of the G-d's intent for us to be actively involved in working and elevating the mundane world was one of the failings of the Jews after leaving Egyptian slavery and sojourning in the desert. When the time approached for the Jewish people to enter the Land of Israel, a land that G-d had promised them was a land flowing with milk and honey and everything good, they asked Moses to send spies to check things out anyway. The spies, leaders and princes of their tribes, returned with an unfavorable report citing giants and mighty armies.
The underlying reason for the spies' negative report, and the Jews' eagerness to accept it, was due to a reason totally beyond fear of a might greater than theirs. For, could not G-d -- Who had performed the miracles of the plagues, the splitting of the red sea and given them the Ten Commandments -- dispose of a few giants or mighty armies?
The reason lay in the fact that the entire time that the Jews were in the desert, all of their physical needs were taken care of for them miraculously. This left them with nearly unlimited time available to study the Torah and perform mitzvot. But when they would enter the land of Israel, they would firstly have to conquer the land.
Afterward, they would have to be involved in tilling, sowing, reaping the land, trade and commerce, and all manners of mundane activity. Wasn't a life of totally spiritual pursuits, they reasoned, far superior to a life where one had to be involved, at least partially, in mundane affairs?
But this one crucial point is exactly where their reasoning failed. For, had G-d wanted the world to be populated by creatures who were uninvolved in the material world, he would have populated it with angels, or not created a physical world to begin with. But G-d created a physical world, populated it with physical human beings who have physical needs, and commanded us to "work it and guard it," to take the physical and make it spiritual through mitzvot, to take the mundane and use it for holy purposes. We do this by making a blessing on the bread grown by the sweat of our brow and using the energy derived from that bread to study Torah or help a little old lady across the street. If we have extra bread, we share it with someone else. That is holiness, that is spirituality, that is Judaism.
Consider taking time over this long weekend to find out what else Judaism has to say about the strongest Union around, the union between the physical and the spiritual.
This week we read two Torah portion, Nitzavim and VaYeilech. The Torah portion of Nitzavim is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana. Indeed, its very first verse reveals its appropriateness: "You are standing this day, all of you, before the L-rd your G-d." "This day" refers to the Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashana.
On Rosh Hashana every soul, great and small alike, stands before G-d, as it states, "Your heads, your tribes, your elders and your officers...your little ones, your wives...from the hewer of wood to the drawer of water."
Why do we stand before G-d? "So that you may enter the covenant of the L-rd your G-d." When all Jews stand before Him as a complete and unified entity, we become worthy of entering into His covenant on Rosh Hashana.
A covenant is designed to preserve the feeling of love that exists between two people. They establish a covenant at a time when their love is strongest, so that it will never weaken. This bond connects them to each other and ensures that their love will last forever.
So too is it with G-d's love for the Jewish people. His love for us is strongest on Rosh Hashana, as the previous month was devoted to removing our sins.
But how do we arouse G-d's desire to establish a covenant with us? By being united with one another. How are we to accomplish this, given the differences between individuals? This can be understood by the following analogy:
The human body is composed of many different limbs and organs. Some are more important, like the head; others are simpler, like the foot. But the head, no matter how important, needs the feet in order to move. The body achieves perfection only when all its limbs act in harmony.
In the same way, even the most important Jews ("your heads") require the simplest ones ("the drawer of water") in order to comprise a complete entity. And it is this unity that arouses G-d's desire to make a covenant with His people.
Our job is to achieve this unity between "head" and "foot." Every Jew must work on himself until he can recognize his fellow's unique qualities. It is beyond our capacity to judge a person's true worth. Even if one considers himself a "head" and the other fellow a "foot" (as it is human nature to inflate our own self-worth), the "head" still needs the "foot" in order to comprise a complete being.
Let us concern ourselves with correcting our own flaws and not heed the perceived flaws of others. Doing so will ensure that there is no time to look at others' imperfections!
In this manner we will achieve both self-perfection and perfection as a nation, and G-d will grant the entire Jewish people a good and sweet year.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, vol. 2
by Yoval Segev as told to Meir Mordechai
I was born on a Kibbutz where I spent the first ten years of my life. When I was ten years old my family moved to Givatayim.
My father was not a religious man, but he was a warm and enthusiastic Jews. For years he was in charge of conducting the seder for the whole kibbutz and he continued to hold a traditional seder for the whole family after we moved to the city. I was recruited into the Israeli army at the age of 17.
I remained in the military, in the air force, until I was 22 years old. Eventually I decided to seek other pastures and became one of the nation's pioneers in the field of irrigation. We developed the much- copied hydroponic system of farming.
In time I was appointed director of the export department of a giant Israeli firm dealing in these products, and was sent as its representative to Australia. My job was to teach the Australians these new methods, as well as to further our business interests there.
My wife and I moved to Australia, to a small town. We were the only Jewish family for miles around. In truth, it seemed as if we were the only Jewish family in the universe, so far were we from any of Australia's big cities. And yet it was precisely there that the desire to strengthen our connection to Judaism was kindled. I began to make Kiddush on Shabbat and my wife started lighting Shabbat candles.
In the meantime we had joined a discussion group. People from all over the world were members. It was an intellectual crowd, and we used to discuss deep philosophical topics and explore the meaning of life.
Whenever a "religious" subject arose, we, the only Jews, were asked to explain the Jewish point of view. It was embarrassing because we had no idea what Judaism had to say about souls, or about whether or not angels really existed.
My ignorance of such things really disturbed me. One day during a visit to one of Australia's larger cities we met up with a group of Lubavitch yeshiva students who had come from Melbourne to do Jewish outreach work. I asked them to tell me what Judaism said on a wide variety of topics, and began to enumerate them.
One student, Eli Kay, said he would be happy to answer all my questions, but explained that it would take time. The first evening we spoke we stayed up well past 3:00 a.m.
That first visit was the turning point in our lives. In those few hours not only did I get my first introduction to the concept of reincarnation and angels, but I learned what being a Jew really means. What made me special? What were my obligations? Why did I have to keep the Torah's mitzvot? I remember asking Eli how many mitzvot I needed to observe in order to be considered a "good" Jew. Eli answered by saying that I would be a Jew even if I never kept a single mitzva, just by virtue of my being born of a Jewish mother; at the same time he explained that the more mitzvot a Jew observes, the better.
We found ourselves very intrigued. The time had come to start going to shul on Shabbat. The next stage was walking to shul instead of taking the car. Making our kitchen kosher came next, followed by our firm commitment to keep Shabbat in its entirety. One mitzva brings another in its wake.
A year later we attended a retreat in Melbourne sponsored by Chabad. After traveling for a full day we found ourselves the guests of a family with ten children, kein yirbu, a wonder in our eyes. But that was only the beginning. The next ten days afforded us a glimpse into Chasidic life that we had never experienced before, this time from the inside. It made a deep and profound impression upon us.
Our next move was to sell our house and move to Melbourne. We lived amongst the Lubavitchers and eventually travelled to the Rebbe, an experience that is impossible to describe in mere words.
When if was finally my turn to receive a dollar form the Rebbe's holy hand I asked him where we should live, in Israel or in Australia. The Rebbe told me to consult with knowledgeable friends and I did. After much consideration we resolved to remain in Australia for another two years, after which time we would reconsider. When the two years were up we spent another three years in Australia. Then the time had come to move on and go back to Israel.
Over the course of the years my wife and I had acquired an extensive knowledge of alternative forms of healing. (My wife was primarily involved in the treatment of emotional problems, whereas my field of concentration was more in the realm of therapeutic massage, Shiatsu, reflexology, and maintaining the body's natural balance of energy.) We decided that upon returning to Israel we would open our own institute to treat the problems of dyslexia and the underlying anxiety that causes it. In my treatment of patients I try to put what I had learned in Chasidic philosophy about positive imagery to work. The Rebbe has always emphasized the great benefit that having good thoughts brings, and spoke about the tremendous damage that can be caused by its opposite, G-d forbid. Thank G-d, my wife and I have been very successful and have helped hundreds of people with our method of applying these teachings.
Standing now as we do on the threshold of the Final Redemption it is more important than ever to think positively, primarily by spreading the Rebbe's message of Redemption.
Reprinted from Beis Moshiach
Send Rosh Hashana Cards!
No this isn't a reminder from your mother, or even advertising for Jewish card companies. It's simply a Jewish tradition at this time of year to wish friends and family, in writing and verbally, that they be "inscribed and sealed for a good year." Even when writing a simple letter or ending a regular conversation, one closes with the above blessing.
First Day of Selichot, 5713 
On the threshold of the New Year, may it bring blessings to us all, I send you my prayerful wishes for a good and pleasant year, materially and spiritually.
Rosh Hashana marks the beginning of a new year--5714--since the Creation, a new date in the cycle of time, and everyone hopes and prays that it will also be the beginning of a new year in one's personal life, one that is "good and sweet" materially and spiritually.
It is significant that the anniversary of the Creation is not celebrated on the first day of Creation, but on the sixth, the day when Man was created. Although all other things making up our vast universe -- the inanimate, vegetable and living creatures -- preceded the Creation of Man, as is related in the Torah, in the first chapter of Genesis, nevertheless it is on the anniversary of Man's creation that we celebrate Rosh Hashana, and on this day we say, "This is the day of the beginning of Thy works!"
Herein lies a profound lesson for every one of us:
Man, the microcosm ("small world") contains within him all the "Four Kingdoms" into which the macrocosm, the universe at large, is divided.
In the course of his life, man passes through the stages of inanimate, vegetable and animated existence until he reaches maturity and begins to live a rational and spiritual life of a human being. Even then, in his daily life, he may experience a varied existence, as reflected in his deeds and actions.
Part of the time he may be regarded in the category of the inanimate; at other times he may vegetate, or live an animated existence; but a true human being he is when his activities give evidence of his intellect and spiritual qualities.
Moreover, the name "Adam - man" is justified only then, when also those areas of one's life and activities which correspond to the animal, vegetable and even inanimate "kingdoms" are sublimated, elevated and sanctified to the level of human quality.
Rosh Hashana, and the Ten Days of Repentance introducing the New Year, is the time for self-evaluation and mature reflection on the profound lessons of these solemn days:
Just as the world, all the world, begins its true existence, an existence befitting the purpose of its creation, from the day Man was created, who immediately after coming to life proclaimed the sovereignty of the Creator to all the universe: "Come, let us worship, let us bow down and kneel before G-d our Maker" inspiring the whole universe with this call (Zohar I, 221b; Pirkei d'Rabbi Eleazar, ch. 11), thereby making all the universe an abode for the Divine Presence and carrying out the inner purpose of the Creation,
So each and every individual must realize that his whole essence and purpose consists in the predominance of the true human element of his being and the 'humanization' of the inanimate, vegetable and animal parts of which he is composed.
It is not enough, not enough at all, if part of his time and effort correspond to the behavior of a true human being; it is absolutely necessary that the 'man' should inspire, sublimate, elevate and sanctify all his component parts, including the animal, vegetable and inanimate, in order that they, too, respond to the call, "Come, let us worship, let us bow down and kneel before G-d our Maker." Such a life in accordance with the commands of the Creator, a life in accordance with the Torah and mitzvot which G-d, our Maker, has given us, and only such a life, justifies one's own existence, and justifies thereby also the Creation.
With the traditional blessing of K'tiva vaChatima Tova, [may you be inscribed and sealed for good]
READY FOR ROSH HASHANA?
If you're looking for a place to have a truly meaningful experience during the upcoming High Holidays, call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center to find out what pre-holiday educational programs, services and even holiday meals are being offered. Your local emissaries will be happy to help you.
The all-new Tzivos Hashem Superphone is up and running. Simply by dialing (718) 467-7800, one can dial a Jewish story, Children's Torah Mystery Minute, a Torah thought, a Moshiach Message, a Message from the Rabbi, international Shabbat and Holiday candle lighting times or the correct date for a Jewish birthday or yahrzeit.
MOSHIACH RESOURCE CENTER
A center has been established by a group of the Rebbe's emissaries from throughout North America to facilitate dissemination of the Rebbe's message that we are standing on the threshold of the Redemption. In addition to publishing a weekly fax which contains insights into the topics of Moshiach and Redemption, the center currently offers publicity material for the Jewish holidays highlighting the holidays' connection to the Redemption.
This week's Torah portion, which is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana, speaks about the mitzva of teshuva--returning to G-d in repentance. "And you will return to the L-rd your G-d and listen to His voice and everything He has commanded you this day... with all your heart and all your might."
What exactly is involved in the mitzva of teshuva, our primary occupation in these days preceding and including the High Holidays?
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi explains the essential nature of teshuva. It is not fasting, verbal recital of one's transgressions or tormenting one's body.
Teshuva is simply returning to G-d through abandonment of sin!
But what, exactly, is abandonment of sin? Rabbi Shneur Zalman explains this entails resolving in one's heart that he will not return to the folly of the past--which is actually rebellion against the King of Kings--and he will never again transgress a command of the King.
According to Rabbi Shneur Zalman, abandonment of the sin goes even a step further. It means that one must resolve not to transgress any mitzvot in the future! It means accepting upon oneself the yoke of G-d's Kingship.
Such a move is necessary because when one transgresses a mitzva he is actually causing a weakening in two areas: 1) in general he has thrown off of himself the yoke of Heaven and 2) at the time of his transgression he has blemished his soul. When one accepts upon oneself the yoke of heaven, he corrects the general and personal weakness caused by the sin.
May we all be truly successful during these "Ten Days of Repentance" to return fully to G-d and may that be the last push needed to have G-d return us all to the Holy Land and the Third Holy Temple with the return and revelation of Moshiach.
Rabbi Meir said: "Whoever occupies himself with the study of Torah for its own sake--lishma--merits many things; and not only that, but the entire world is worthwhile because of him." (Ethics 6:1)
The word "lishma" literally means "to its name." Torah's name, stemming from the root hora--instruction, signifies "teaching." Study Torah that it may teach you. Open your heart and mind to its inspiration. Let it form the pattern of your life.
(Rabbi I. Bunim in Ethics from Sinai)
Ten things were created on the eve of Shabbat at twilight: 1) the mouth of the earth [that swallowed Korach]; 2) the mouth of the well [that supplied water to the Jews in the desert; 3) the mouth of the donkey; 4) the rainbow; 5) the manna; 6) the rod [of Aaron]; 7) the shamir [worm]; 8) the writing script [of the Ten Commandments]; 9) the manner of writing; and 10) the tablets of the Commandments... (Ethics 5:8)
The Oral Torah relates that every kind of taste could be discerned in the manna. If someone wanted to enjoy a specific food, so did his manna taste, even if he said not a word but only thought his wish. It was completely digested and absorbed, leaving no waste matter to be evacuated. They could eat it all day if they wished -- it would not harm them. Righteous people found their manna easily at their doorsteps; those not so virtuous had to go out a bit to gather their measures; and the downright wicked had to search far afield for their quotas.
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: "Each and every day a Heavenly Voice goes forth from Mount Choreb..." (Ethics 6:2)
Our souls exist on several planes simultaneously. This Heavenly Voice reverberates, and is "heard" by our souls as they exist in the spiritual realms. And this causes our souls as they are enclothed within our bodies to be aroused to teshuva-repentance.
(Likutei Sichot, vol. 9)
The time for morning prayers had passed, and all the other congregants had filtered out of the shul, ready to begin their daily tasks. Only one Jew lingered, wrapped in talit and tefilin, buried deep in his own thoughts. In truth, he hadn't even begun the prayers, so entangled was he in the doubts that had haunted him for months. Now, the black depression -- created by his own evil inclination -- had so overtaken him, that he couldn't extricate himself. His mind wandered from one question to another; no foreign idea was barred entrance to his mind. And so, the morning passed imperceptibly, and the Jew slid further and further into the dark pit he had created for himself.
Suddenly he was roused from his trance by the touch of someone's hand on his shoulder. He looked up, and to his utter surprise, the Baal Shem Tov (known also as the "Besht") stood gazing down at him. "Do you think that by thinking and questioning G-d's ways you will find the answers? Don't you recall the words of King David who said, 'For I am ignorant and know not; in simplicity I followed You and I am with You always.'
"A Jew must totally submit himself to G-d, serve Him and follow His commandments, and for no other reason than because the orders come from his Creator, not because of his own philosophical conclusions. When you begin by accepting the 'yoke of Heaven,' then, and only then, will you achieve true spiritual enlightenment. And you, too, will conclude as did King David, 'I am with You always.' First perform the mitzvot, the Divine instructions for life. Then you may think about them and delve into them to the best of your limited human ability."
The Jew sat spellbound by the Baal Shem Tov's words, which entered and cleansed his heart.
"This is my advice to you," the Besht continued. "Put aside your intellect; forget it and just begin doing. Accept the fact that G-d is our King and then put all of your strength into doing mitzvot -- do them without thinking too much. If you follow my instructions, I promise that you will surely attain true wisdom and understanding."
As suddenly as he had appeared, the Baal Shem Tov disappeared and returned home to Medzibozh. The startled Jew was trembling from head to toe, but he lost no time in praying the morning service with a fervor that he had never before experienced. The depressing thoughts and doubts which had been his steady companions for months had vanished.
The Jew was left to puzzle the hows and whys of the Baal Shem Tov's sudden appearance and equally abrupt disappearance. "How did the Besht know exactly what I was thinking, exactly what was troubling me?" he wondered. "It must be just as he told me, not everything is according to human logic; there are many things which lie outside our ken. And certainly the ways of G-d are among those things."
That very same day the Jew packed up his belongings and made the trek to Medzibozh. There he became one of the Baal Shem Tov's most devoted students.
Every night, after reciting the last blessing of the bedtime prayers, the tzadik, Reb Yitzchok of Drohovitz, lay his head on his pillow, closed his eyes, and fell fast asleep. Why was this night different? Why did his soul refuse to ascend to the celestial realms? He couldn't figure it out, but tossed and turned in his bed; sleep refusing to come to him.
What is one to do in such a circumstance? Why, any pious Jew, and certainly a tzadik like Reb Yitzchok of Drohovitz would take stock of the day's events -- an "accounting of one's soul" -- for perhaps there was something in his speech, his deed or even his thought which contained a spiritual blemish. And so, Reb Yitzchok sat up in his bed and began pondering his day, minute by minute, word by word and thought by thought. And then, it came to him in a flash! Of course, that was it!
That afternoon, he had overheard a conversation in which the Baal Shem Tov had been maligned by a certain Jew. Reb Yitzchok was about to reprimand the speaker, but then, for some reason unclear to him now, he refrained and was silent.
Reb Yitzchok knew what he must do. He quickly jumped from his bed and put on his clothes. He saddled his horse and rode through the night, never stopping until he dismounted in Medzibozh in front of the Baal Shem Tov's shul.
As Reb Yitzchok entered the shul, the morning service was in progress. He stood there for a few minutes contemplating the scene, when a strange thing happened -- someone called his name. He was being honored by being called up to the Torah. "Funny," he thought, "no one knows me here, I wonder why I am being called," but he stepped forward to the bima.
When the prayers ended, Reb Yitzchok had no chance to beg forgiveness. The Baal Shem Tov strode up to him, hand extended and said quite simply, "Yisroel forgives you from the bottom of his heart."
"Moshiach will come in order to cause the righteous to return in repentance."
(Zohar III, 153b)
When Moshiach comes, such a sublime level of Divinity will be revealed that ... even a tzadik [a completely righteous person] will be aroused with feelings of teshuva (repentance). We are not speaking of teshuva of the ordinary kind: this is not relevant to a tzadik, for he has had no taste of sin.
(Likutei Torah of Rabbi Shneur Zalman)