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Whether it's a t-shirt suggesting "Visualize Whirled Peas" (Get it? "Visualize world peace"), or a bumper sticker with a '60s peace sign announcing: "An idea whose time has come," everyone wants peace.
People have always wanted world peace. But the desire and drive to make peace a reality continues to intensify. And this heightened yearning for world peace comes at a time when the possibility seems even more remote, when weapons of war and terrorism have become ever more sophisticated and deadly.
As we approach the holiest day of the year, our thoughts -- though rightfully turned inward toward personal improvement -- are still juxtaposed with consideration of the world in which we live.
But maybe, just maybe, the two are intimately intertwined. For, as the Talmud teaches, every person is a miniature world. And the fact that the first person was created as a lone individual, unlike the other creations which were created in multitude, teaches us about the power and importance of each individual.
So, this Yom Kippur, as we contemplate our miniature world and the world at large, let us contemplate a practical idea as to how we can help bring about world peace.
Esoteric Jewish teachings relate the following story, which might prove very helpful in our quest for peace, not only in the world at large, but in our own communities, family units and within ourselves.
It once happened that Rabbi Abba was sitting in the gateway to the city of Lod, and saw a fatigued person approach from the road. The stranger entered a ruin, sat down beneath a tottering wall and fell asleep. Rabbi Abba observed a serpent approach the slumbering stranger, but suddenly an animal emerged from the ruin and struck the serpent down.
When the sleeper awoke and saw the dead serpent close by, he rose to leave. As he walked away, the wall collapsed directly upon the place where he had slept. Rabbi Abba approached him and asked, "Tell me of your behavior. For G-d has wrought two miracles on your behalf. And not for naught did you merit them."
The stranger said, "Never did anyone inflect harm upon me without my effecting a reconciliation with him, and extending him my immediate forgiveness. If it happened that I was unable to effect an immediate reconciliation, I did not sleep till I had forgiven him, and I never paid attention to any harm he inflicted on me. Also, from that day I sought ways to extend him favors."
Rabbi Abba thought, "He is indeed worthy that G-d should perform miracles on his behalf." Rabbi Abba wept and said, "This man's conduct is even greater than that of Joseph. For Joseph was dealing with his own brothers, and it is normal that he would have been merciful toward them. Thus, this person's interaction with his fellowman excelled even over Joseph.
May we all be completely successful this year in actualizing the dream of the entire human race for all time, a world truly at peace, led by Moshiach.
This Shabbat is known by two names:
- Shabbat Shuva, derived from the opening words of the Haftorah that is read in synagogue, "Shuva Yisrael--Return, O Israel," and
- Shabbat Teshuva, as it falls out in the middle of the Aseret Yemei Teshuva, the Ten Days of Repentance. This name is also connected to the Haftorah, the theme of which is likewise the return to G-d.
The two names of this Shabbat reveal a timely lesson.
The word "shuva -- return" is the command form of the word "lashuv -- to return."G-d commands us to return to Him in teshuva.
"Teshuva," by contrast, is a noun denoting the action itself, the actual return to G-d.
The name "shuva" relates more to the One who is issuing the command than the person being addressed.
"Shuva" alludes to a situation in which the command has already been issued, but not yet carried out. The command itself imparts a measure of strength but does not ensure that it will necessarily be fulfilled in the future.
The name "teshuva," on the other hand, implies that the action has already been taken, i.e., teshuva has already been done. In that case, however, why do we continue to refer to this Shabbat as Shabbat Teshuva?
The answer is that the act of teshuva consists of both the command to return to G-d and its subsequent implementation.
"Shuva" teaches us that even after a Jew has done teshuva, he still needs to work on himself to an even greater degree. No matter how much teshuva a person has done, it is always possible to rise higher; hence the directive, "Return, O Israel unto the L-rd, your G-d."
In fact, our teshuva must be "unto the L-rd, your G-d." Thus it is understood that there is always room for improvement -- for an even deeper and infinite teshuva -- as G-d Himself is Infinite.
This is the lesson of Shabbat Shuva: A Jew must never content himself with his previous Divine service and spiritual advancement. He must never think that because he has worked on himself a whole week he is now entitled to "rest" because it is Shabbat. No, today is "Shabbat Shuva!" Even after one has done teshuva, more work is required! For the service of teshuva is continual and without end.
Adapted from Hitva'aduyot 5744 of the Rebbe, volume 1
by Charles Perkel
I was born on the first crest of the post WWII baby boom. My parents were aspiring actors who had been in the military during the war. They were the children of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and they shared a leftist and secular view of the world that left little or no room for religion.
I spent much of my adolescence and young adulthood demonstrating for world peace, civil rights, and workers who were treated unfairly. I was arrested in one of the first "sit ins" in the north, in a protest against racial discrimination.
If there was a cause dear to the left I was involved in it; I wished to end all the inequities in society and establish a "classless" society.
I got a series of blue collar jobs and joined the Communist Party. Through the party I met and married my gentile wife, Bobbi. I quit the Communist party when I realized that we spent most of our time undermining the labor unions we were supposed to be helping. I also became tired of defending a corrupt, oppressive and anti-Semitic Soviet Union and calling thugs "revolutionaries."
I became the chairman of a local union, and chairman of the Labor Caucus for the California Democratic Party. I also found myself increasingly concerned with being a Jew and joined reform synagogues. Bobbi, who had rebelled against her Catholic upbringing, did not object, but she did not convert either.
After ten years as a labor official I was exhausted by political infighting and a spiritual emptiness which I did not understand. I went to work for the international Union which transferred me to Cleveland. But as a social democrat I found I was too "conservative" for the political culture of my union. Pretty soon I also found myself out of a job and seriously ill with colitis.
After losing my job and my colon, I returned to college, finally graduating with a master's degree in social work. Bobbi also returned to college and earned a master's degree in education. We had both regretted not finishing college; now we had finished, yet we still felt incomplete. We had educations, new careers, a home and two children whom we loved, but something was still missing.
After belonging to reform synagogues for 15 years I realized that I had great difficulty believing in G-d, even though I desperately wanted to believe. G-d must have heard the prayer I didn't hear myself, because He sent guidance my way even though I did not know how or where to ask for it.
Several months earlier my son, Ben, announced that he wanted to go to the Orthodox after school program ("YABI") near our home. Bobbi and I agreed, though we thought it strange that he wanted to do something so "old fashioned."
One day we received a phone call asking us to meet with the director, Rabbi Avraham Bensoussan. We agreed to meet with considerable apprehension. To our relief, we found in Rabbi Bensoussan a warm and caring man who was concerned about our son and sensitive to our feelings. Rabbi Bensoussan explained that although our son was showing a great attraction to Judaism, he was not Jewish, since his mother was not Jewish. Taking great pains to consider Bobbi's feelings, the rabbi explained that if Ben wanted to continue his Jewish education he would need to begin the process of conversion. Based on the position of the reform movement we thought our children were Jewish. We now learned that according to Jewish law they were not; we had been misled.
A conversation with our son revealed that he truly desired to convert and we agreed to support him. Ben began wearing tzitzit. When I mentioned it to family members, I learned that my father had done the same until his grandmother had died. But, I still could not conceive of faith as something accessible to the worldly, middle-aged man I had become. I found the idea of returning to observant Judaism very attractive. Nonetheless, I asked myself, could I believe in a faith that was the polar opposite of the secular and materialist philosophy on which I had been raised? Could I accept as fact that a Divine being whom I could not comprehend was the actual arbiter of human destiny? I was not sure I could believe all this, although I wanted to very much. I was afraid to mention these questions to my wife, since she had refused to even consider conversion during the many years we had belonged to reform synagogues. What would she possibly think about the religious questions her secular, iconoclastic, and very unorthodox husband was asking himself?
During this time, Bobbi was undergoing her own spiritual search. I found out later that she, too, had been afraid to mention this to a spouse she saw as opposed to "superstitious religiousity."
One day, as part of my job, I was transporting an abandoned infant to a foster home in Grafton, Ohio. Suddenly my car inexplicably slipped onto a gravel shoulder. When I attempted to steer the car back onto the highway it flipped over and careened across four lanes of traffic, spinning upside down and crashing into the embankment on the other side of the highway. I emerged from my totally destroyed car with no injuries. This was also true of my small passenger, even though she had hung upside down during the crash and had fallen out of her car seat upon impact!
The greatest miracle of all was that when I stepped out of that wrecked automobile I knew for a fact that there is a G-d who is in charge of the universe. My spiritual crisis, my lack of faith, my difficulty believing, all seemed as incomprehensible as G-d's existence had just moments earlier.
I shared this thought with my wife, assuming she would think I was crazy. Instead, she shared with me her own similar though less dramatic spiritual experiences.
In the course of the next few months, my wife studied and accepted each of the 613 mitzvot. My son continued to learn. Rabbi Bensoussan assisted my wife as she learned and as she made our home kosher. Then my wife and son, now Sara and Avraham, went before a Rabbinical court and each converted to authentic Judaism.
At that moment our whole family began a voyage of discovery which I believe will never end. Our daughter, Maggie, who initially felt betrayed by her family's turn toward "religious fanaticism" discovered her own Jewish soul. She too eventually came before a Rabbinical Court to embrace authentic Judaism. She hopes to attend the Chabad Seminary for young women in Tzfat.
I do not want to leave the impression that our lives are now stress and problem free. On the contrary, we struggle daily to learn and to apply all that we are learning.
I often face the fact that though I am 49 years old it is a struggle for me to pray in Hebrew. I have just begun to learn basic Chasidic philosophy, and I am often daunted by the prospect of converting the massive amount of spiritual impurity in my past into sparks of holiness.
Nonetheless, I am deeply grateful that G-d has allowed my family the opportunity of preventing the extinction that the Holocaust almost accomplished. If we carefully make use of this opportunity, my children and their children and their grand children can gather the sparks that otherwise would have disappeared.
EAT on the eve of Yom Kippur
On the eve of Yom Kippur we eat two meals, and wash the hands for bread at both meals. One meal is eaten before the afternoon prayer service (mincha) and the second is eaten after the afternoon service. It is customary to bless one's children after the second meal.
IN JUST ONE MOMENT
Freely translated from a letter of the Rebbe
There is a unique quality and preeminence of teshuva [lit. return, colloquially, repentance] in that it enables a person to rectify completely all that should have been achieved throughout the past, in matters of Torah and mitzvot -- "with one 'turn ' and in one moment."
On reflection, it can easily be seen that, all things added up, the world contains more quantity (materiality) than quality (spirituality), and more by far. Indeed, the more corporeal and gross a thing is, the greater is the quantity in which it is found. Thus, for example, the world of inanimate, (inorganic) matter is much greater in volume than the vegetable kingdom, and the latter is quantitatively greater than the animal kingdom, which, in turn, surpasses by far, in quantity, the highest of the four kingdoms, mankind (the "speaking" creature).
Similarly, in the human body: the lowest extremities, the legs are larger in size than the rest of the body, and the latter is much greater in bulk than the head, wherein are located the organs of speech and the senses of smell, hearing and sight, as well as the intellect, etc., which animate the entire body and direct all its activities.
On further reflection, a person might also become disheartened, G-d forbid, wondering how is one to fulfill adequately one's real purpose in life on this earth, which is, to quote our Sages, "I was created to serve my Creator" -- seeing that most of one 's time is necessarily taken up with materialistic things, such as eating and drinking, sleeping, earning a livelihood, etc. What with the fact that the earliest years of a human being, before reaching maturity and knowledgeability, are spent in an entirely materialistic mode of living.
The answer is, first of all, that even the so-called materialistic preoccupations of the daily life must not become purely materialistic and animal-like, for we have to be always mindful of the imperative, "Let all your doings be for the sake of Heaven," and "Know Him (G-d) in all your ways."
This means that also in carrying out the activities which are connected with the physical and material aspects of life (which, as mentioned, take up the greater part of a person's time), a human being must know that those material aspects are not an end in themselves, but they are, and must serve as, the means to attain to the higher, spiritual realm of life, namely, G-dliness. In this way, he permeates all those materialistic-physical aspects with spiritual content, and utilizes them for spiritual purposes. Thus, all these mundane, and in themselves trivial matters, are elevated to their proper role, perfection and spirituality.
But in addition to the above, there is also the unique effectiveness of teshuva, which has the power to transform -- "with one 'turn' and in one moment" -- the whole past - the very materiality of it into spirituality.
Time is, of course, not measured simply by duration, but by its content in terms of achievement. Thus, in evaluating time there are vast differences in terms of content, and, hence, in real worth, of a minute, an hour, etc.
Suffice it to mention, by way of example, that one cannot compare an hour of prayer and outpouring of the soul before G-d with an hour of sleep. And to use the analogy of coins, there may be coins of identical size and shape, yet differing in their intrinsic value, depending upon whether they are made of copper, silver or gold.
With all the opportunities that G-d provides for a person to fill his time with the highest content, there is the most wonderful gift from "G-d who does wonders" of the extraordinary quality of teshuva, transcending all limitations, including the limitations of time, so that "in one moment" it transforms the whole past, to the degree of absolute perfection in quality and spirituality.
The Almighty has also ordained especially favorable times for teshuva, at the end of each year and the beginning of the new year, together with the assurance that everyone, man or woman, who resolves to do teshuva -- he, or she, can accomplish it " in one moment."
Transforming the quantity of the materiality in the past -- into meritorious quality, spirituality and holiness; and at the same time preparing for the future, in the coming year and thereafter, in a proper manner, through Torah and mitzvot in the everyday life, thereby elevating himself (or herself) and the environment at large to the highest possible level of spirituality and holiness, thus making this material world a fitting abode for G-d, blessed be He.
One of the unique points about Yom Kippur is the special service of the Kohein Gadol--the High Priest, who performed the Yom Kippur service on that day by himself.
For the part of the High Priest's service which was performed in the two outer halls of the Holy Temple, he wore gold clothing. The part of the service performed inside the Holy of Holies, however, was performed in plain white clothing.
Although the physical Holy Temple was destroyed -- and we eagerly await its rebuilding -- the spiritual Sanctuary within every Jew -- his Holy of Holies -- remains totally intact. Thus, each individual Jew is personally responsible to perform the special service of the High Priest on Yom Kippur.
The High Priest wore gold clothing for a large part of his special service to remind us that we should use the most precious and beautiful materials available in serving G-d; we should perform mitzvot in a beautiful and enhanced manner.
The white clothing of the High Priest, worn in the Holy of Holies, is a reminder though, that it is not enough to only do those mitzvot that involve us in material matters. Those mitzvot that are purely spiritual in nature, such as prayer and Torah study, must also be performed.
At the end of his service, the High Priest said a short prayer that the year should be a good year materially for himself, his tribe and all the Jewish people throughout the entire world.
This, too, is part of the service of every single Jew on the holiest day of the year and in the Holy of Holies of his heart. Each Jew on Yom Kippur should also pray for a good year not only for himself and his family, but for the entire Jewish people.
All of the Prophets prescribed teshuva, and the Jewish people will be redeemed only through teshuva. The Torah has given assurance that Israel will do teshuva--at the end of its exile--and will be redeemed immediately, as it says (Deut. 30): "It will be when all these things have happened... you will return to G-d... and G-d will return your captivity and will gather you from among all the nations where He dispersed you."
(Maimonides, Hilchot Teshuva)
The Sages have said of the virtues of teshuva: "Where those who do teshuva stand, perfect tzadikim cannot stand."
(Talmud Brachot 39)
Great is teshuva for it transforms willful transgressions into meritorious acts.
(Talmud Yoma 81)
Whoever does teshuva, is regarded as if he had gone up to Jerusalem, built the Sanctuary, built the altar, and offered upon it all the offerings prescribed in the Torah.
(Vayikra Raba 7)
So great is the strength of teshuva that when a person reflects at heart to do teshuva, he rises immediately to the highest Heaven, to the very presence of the Throne of Glory.
(Pesikta Rabati 44)
Rabbi Eliezer said, "Repent one day before your death." Whereupon his disciples asked Rabbi Eliezer, "Does a person know on what day he will die?" He said to them, "All the more so--let him repent today lest he die tomorrow, so that all his days might pass in teshuva."
(Talmud Shabbat 153)
The day before Yom Kippur the air in the city of Lubavitch was already permeated with the holiness of the day. Reb Shmuel, a respected scholar and chasid, sat in a corner of the shul swaying in prayer when the door swung open and a peddler entered the room. He threw himself down on a bench and tossed his pack on the floor. Reb Shmuel inquired, "How are you, brother?"
"Oy," sighed the man. "The exile is dark and terrible. Just today I was walking past the mansion of Squire Lobomirsky. Everyone knows his evil reputation. Whenever I pass that place, I walk as fast as I can to get away from it. Suddenly, some one cried out, 'Hey, Jew!' My blood ran cold. Thank G-d, it was only the squire's servant, who wanted to buy a scarf from me. He told me about a Jewish family imprisoned in the squire's dungeon. They owe him rent, and if they don't pay by tomorrow, they'll all be killed. If only I had that money...what a terrible and dark exile."
By the time the man had finished his tale, Reb Shmuel had left the shul; soon he was knocking at the gates of the squire's mansion. "I must speak with His Excellency," he said to the guard. He was allowed to enter and he proceeded to the room where Lobomirsky sat. When the squire saw the Jew, he was infuriated: "How dare you enter my house! What do you want, Jew?"
"I want to know what is the debt of that poor, unfortunate family you have imprisoned."
The ruthless landowner's eyes lit up with the thought of lining his pockets with the money. "Let me think about it," he smiled slyly and began to calculate: "Well, there's the debt, then there's all the money I put out to feed the whole brood, then there's the penalty payment; there's also the money required to cancel their hanging -- it would have provided good entertainment." At the end of his "calculations," Reb Shmuel was faced with an exorbitant sum.
"Somehow G-d will help me raise that sum," Shmuel replied to the smirking Lobomirsky.
It was getting late. Reb Shmuel went from door to door, telling everyone about the plight of the imprisoned family, and although they were as generous as possible, they themselves were poor. When he had finished his rounds, Reb Shmuel had a pitifully small sum in his hands. "This will never do," he thought to himself. "I must do something else, and fast."
He was walking aimlessly, thinking of his next move, when he looked up and found himself in front of a tavern. The sound of loud, drunken voices emerged from within, and Shmuel was seized with the thought that just perhaps his money was waiting for him inside, if only he could figure out how to get it. As soon as he entered, he was sickened by the smell of liquor and stale smoke. A group of card players looked up, surprised to see a Chasidic Jew in their midst. "What do you want, Jew?" "I am here on a mission of mercy. The lives of an entire family hang in the balance. I must raise a large sum of money." One of the players replied, "Well, if you can down this beaker of vodka, I just might give you this money," and he pointed to a towering stack of gold coins. Reb Shmuel was never much of a drinker, but what choice did he have? He downed the vodka, and true to his word, the card player handed over the money. In quick succession, the other players offered their winnings if he would drink two more huge cups of vodka.
Reb Shmuel's eyes were beginning to cross, but the glimmering piles of coins steadied his resolve. An hour after he had entered the tavern, he staggered out with his pockets bulging and stumbled in the direction of the squire's mansion.
The squire couldn't believe his eyes, but he greedily accepted the gold and released the grateful family who had barely escaped death.
Reb Shmuel could barely put one foot in front of the other; his eyes no longer focused, but, he still remembered the holy day. He managed to get to the shul, where he promptly collapsed in a heap. The worshippers were dressed in their white robes, looking so much like the ministering angels. They were startled to see Reb Shmuel snoring away, dressed in his weekday clothes which showed evidence of his tavern experience. "What could have come over him?" they wondered.
Reb Shmuel lay asleep throughout the evening of prayers which marked the beginning of the holiest day. His snoring provided a constant accompaniment to the heartfelt prayers rising from the congregation. The prayers ended, Psalms were recited, and the shul emptied out. Reb Shmuel slept on.
At the first morning light, the worshippers returned to the shul for the long day of prayers. Reb Shmuel was beginning to stir. They watched curiously as he opened his bleary eyes and stood up. Walking straight to the bima, Reb Shmuel banged on the wood with his fist, and in a booming voice, exclaimed: "Know that G-d, He is the L-rd; there is none other then Him."
The congregation fell into confusion. What was Reb Shmuel doing reciting the words of the Simchat Torah prayers?! Why, didn't he realize that today was Yom Kippur? Suddenly the rabbi rose and turned toward the congregation: "Leave Reb Shmuel alone. He has far outpaced us. With the great deed he has done, his atonement is complete, and he is waiting for us at Simchat Torah!"
If Moshiach should appear during the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, it is conceivable that we will eat and drink on Yom Kippur if it falls during the seven-day dedication of the Third Holy Temple. This was the case with the First Temple, whose dedication began on the eighth of Tishrei, and the people of that time ate and drank on Yom Kippur.
(Sefer HaSichot of the Rebbe, 5749)