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"You can't even tell where the damage was," the French weaver says, handing you the bill of $65 together with your jacket that had only a pea-sized hole but in a very noticeable spot. This highly skilled expert has magically rewoven the fabric and the garment literally looks "good as new."
In these last days before Rosh Hashana, when we are considering the past and looking toward the future, we are presented with the concept of teshuva -- a return to our G-dly source and a return of our soul to its original, pristine state.
Teshuva is about how a sullied soul can come clean. It's the directions as to how the tears and snags of the "garments" of the soul (as thoughts, speech and actions are termed by Chasidic thought) can be mended or even rewoven. Teshuva's effect is so great that something which has been "damaged" can be transformed into "good as new."
How can teshuva have any real effect? In his book, Teshuva, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz answers this question: Concerning a sin committed in error (and one is held responsible for even such a sin as though he had committed it deliberately), the Baal Shem Tov explains that when a person repents he places himself on another level of consciousness: "What I know now I was previously unconscious of." One rises to a higher level, in which sins are seen as mistakes. That which was previously considered an action performed in full awareness is now viewed as having been performed in ignorance.
The very highest level of teshuva, though, is the one in which deliberate sins are transmuted into virtues, when every transgression one has committed is reckoned as though it were a mitzva. To reach this very high level of teshuva, the individual must reach a point in his life equivalent to the edge of time and world. He must change the very essence of himself so drastically that all the facts of his existence, all thoughts or actions, assume an entirely different meaning. He shifts into another field of being. One of the expressions used to depict this sort of teshuva is "to turn inside out like a seal," the seal consisting of an embossed emblem whose negative face is inscribed when pressed. This extreme transformation requires the most drastic action that the individual can undertake: teshuva which is done out of love of G-d and not out of fear.
All forms of teshuva, however diverse and complex, have a common core: the belief that human beings have it in their power to effect inward change. Many factors conspire to distance one from the Creator, education and habit among them; habit, in turn, has many causes. One cannot extricate oneself all at once from both the inward and outward consequences of one's actions. For this reason, one transgression creates a situation in which a second seems logical, natural, virtually inevitable. A way of life remote from religious observance not only makes such observance difficult, but also by its own inner logic makes it progressively more difficult. Yet, despite these behavioral laws, there remains teshuva: the ever-present possibility of changing one's life and the very direction of one's life.
According to the Talmudic Sages, this possibility of altering reality after the fact, which is one of the mysteries of all being, was created before the world itself. Before the laws of nature came into existence, principle even more fundamental and more exalted was proclaimed: that change -- teshuva -- is possible.
The opening verses of Nitzavim, the first of this week's two Torah portions, begin: "You are standing this day, all of you, before the L-rd your G-d, your heads, your tribes, your elders...all the men of Israel...from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water."
Concerning these verses, the Midrash states that the Jewish people is likened to a bundle of straw. Each one individually is weak and can be easily broken, but once the straw is gathered into a bundle it is impossible to make it bend. So too is it with the Jewish people. When we are bound together and stand united we are powerful in the face of our enemies. Indeed, Jewish unity is the vessel for containing G-d's blessing, as we say in our prayers, "Bless us, our Father, together as one."
In truth, there is no power in the world that can dominate the Jewish people. But if such is the case, how is it possible for any bad to befall them? This only occurs if the individual Jew causes a tiny rift in his bond with G-d that allows external factors to enter. It is this self-induced damage in the relationship between G-d and His people which brings about a lack of unity and makes the Jews vulnerable to harm. When peace and unity reign, the Jews are impervious to attack.
How does the tiny breach first emerge? When a Jew's attention to mitzvos are gradually left by the wayside.
Thus the first step in fortifying our spiritual defenses is to make sure that this initial fissure is never allowed to form. How? Through Jewish unity.
Human nature is such that a person is often unaware of his own shortcomings. "All sins are concealed by love." Indeed, our self-love prevents us from being objective. We cannot perceive even great flaws, how much more so the smaller ones. However, when Jews come together, each one can see the shortcomings of his neighbor. A good friend's gentle admonition can cause us to correct our ways, thereby strengthening our fortifications against the Evil Inclination.
This is one of the reasons the Mitteler Rebbe (Rabbi Dov Ber, the second Chabad Rebbe) encouraged his followers to acquire a friend for this specific purpose: to encourage and inspire each other along the path of Torah and mitzvot. He explained that when two Jews unite to improve themselves and their relationship with G-d, their two G-dly souls are fighting only one Evil Inclination, and it is far easier to emerge victorious.
If this was true generations ago, how much more so is it applicable in our own times, when the darkness of exile has intensified.
By maintaining our Jewish unity we will remain invincible, as it states, "You are standing this day, all of you. "
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Volume 2
by Moshe Litvin
About two months after my mother's passing, I was still having bouts of terrible sadness. Especially on Mondays. That was the day she died. There were times I didn't even realize it was Monday. Only later, when I would note how sad I was, would I remember that it was Monday.
One day I was sitting at my desk and the phone rang. It was a Children of Chernobyl donor whom I had known for a long time. But I hadn't spoken with her since my Mom passed away. Her phone call interrupted my morning's reading.
Let me explain: Since my Mom's passing, I had begun each day by downloading the Rebbe's teachings from Chabad in Cyberspace and reading at least one article. I had taken this on in honor of my Mom, but it also proved a great comfort to me. This particular morning I was reading L'Chaim.
The woman at the other end, Judy from Detroit, asked me how I was, and I told her that my Mom had passed away. She offered her condolences in such a warm and genuine way that I struggled to fight against the tears so as to be able to continue the conversation. It was quite a struggle.
At the end of the conversation she again expressed her sadness at my loss, and this time I was unable to control myself. I rushed off the phone, berating myself for not being able to control my emotions. I closed the door to my office, and I quietly wept for a few minutes.
I was frustrated with myself and felt that I should be more in control, better able to constrain myself and function at my job -- a job that involves the saving of children's lives.
I decided to return to my reading in the hope that it would calm me. I picked up the L'Chaim and began reading the letter from the Rebbe:
"To begin with a blessing, may G-d grant that henceforth you and all your family should have only goodness and benevolence -- in the kind of good that is revealed and evident.
"At the same time, you must make every effort to regain the proper state of mind, despite the pain...
"The Torah, taking into account the human nature/feelings, in a case of bereavement, and the need to provide an outlet for the natural feelings of sorrow and grief, prescribes a set of regulations and periods of mourning.
"At the same time, the Torah sets limits in terms of the durations of the periods of mourning and appropriate expression, such as shiva [the first seven days], shloshim [thirty days], etc...
"And since the Torah says that it is not proper to overdo it, it does no good for the neshama [soul] of the dear departed. On the contrary, it is painful for the neshama to see that it is the cause for the conduct that is not in keeping with the instructions of the Torah...
"When the time comes for the soul to return 'home,' it is essentially a release for it as it makes its ascent to a higher world, no longer restrained by a physical body...
"The soul is free to enjoy the spiritual bliss of being near to Hashem [G-d] in the fullest measure. That is surely a comforting thought...
"To allow oneself to be carried away by these feelings [of grief] beyond the limits set by the Torah...would mean that one is more concerned with one's feelings than with the feelings of the dear neshama that has risen to new spiritual heights of eternal happiness.
"Thus, paradoxically, the overextended feeling of grief, which due to the great love for the departed one, actually causes pain to the loved one, since the neshama continues to take an interest in the dear ones left behind...even better than before.
"One thing the departed soul can no longer do, and that is, the actual fulfillment of the mitzvot, which can be carried out only jointly by the soul and body together in this material world. But this, too, can at least be partly overcome when those left behind do a little more mitzvot and good deeds -- in honor and for the benefit of the neshama..."
I was totally shocked. And then delighted. And then tremendously comforted. The Rebbe had come to me exactly in my time of need. If the cries of a broken heart yield a response from above, clearly the response had come.
I ran to show one of my colleagues at work the letter and to tell the story of what had just happened.
I read the letter again and then again. The certainty I felt that the Rebbe had entered the room to comfort and instruct me at precisely the time that I needed it was unshakable, and any doubting voice within me retreated in the face of my conviction.
I thought about how not only were the timing and preciseness of the letter remarkable, but also the manner in which it had come. Because of my limited Hebrew and non-existent Yiddish, I am often frustrated at how much of the Rebbe's writings are inaccessible to me. And now -- though this is only conjecture -- the Rebbe had sent the letter to me, where he knew I would find it, and in the language I understood.
I thought about what I had learned that a way to continue one's relationship with the Rebbe is through the daily study of his writings. But it had not occurred to me that this study would allow not only a general connection with the Rebbe and his teachings, but also provide the precise manner through which the Rebbe would communicate with me at the exact time I needed it.
But, as I said, this was only conjecture, and there is miracle enough in what actually occurred without my having to add the abundant miraculous associations that my mind and heart brought forth.
In those moments, I felt as close to the Rebbe as I ever had, and certainly I felt that the Rebbe was as close to me as ever. As I sat there, steeped in thought and feeling, again I was interrupted by the phone. This time it was my wife. "Hi," she said. "It's Monday and I just wanted to check in and see how you're doing."
"Monday?" I said laughing. "Of course it's Monday. But, it's been a wonderful Monday, just wonderful. And then I read her the Rebbe's letter.
Reprinted from Chabad Magazine
Special penitential prayers, "Selichot," are recited in the days before Rosh Hashana starting on Saturday evening after midnight. On the remainder of the days they are said early in the day before the morning prayers. A solemn yet festive mood permeates synagogues throughout the world at the Saturday night Selichot services. Call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center to find out exact times of the services.
18th of Adar II, 5725 
Insofar as I have heard about your husband from visitors from London, I am surprised to read your description of his present state of discouragement. Surely he knows that it is not only a matter of world outlook for a Jew, but one of the very foundations of the Jew's faith, that G-d's Providence extends to everyone individually, and in every aspect of one's individual life. How much more so where it is not only an individual matter, but is related to the parnasa [income] of the whole family. At the same it should be remembered that G-d's Providence is a benevolent Providence; that G-d is the Essence of Goodness and desires to do good, for, "It is in the nature of the good to do good." Therefore, it is easy to see how right King David was in the holy Tehillim [Psalms] when he said, "G-d is with me, I shall not fear," "G-d is my shepherd, I shall not want," etc. It is only necessary to reflect upon this frequently and deeply, and all anxiety and worry will be dispelled at once.
Needless to say, trust in G-d does not mean relying solely on miracles. For the Torah demands the Jew to do everything possible in the natural order of things in matters of parnasa, etc., except that he should at the same time remember success and blessing comes from G-d. And so it is written in the Torah, "G-d will bless you in all you do."
If the above is true in every case and at all times and places, it should certainly be obvious to Jews in our own times, since every one of us has seen G-d's kindness, especially Jews who had a miraculous escape from the dangers of the second World War. How can one allow himself to be so confused by the Yetzer Hara [evil inclination] as to be so overcome by anxiety or worry?
Of course there are times when things do not go as expected or as desired. But the Torah has already forewarned us to regard such times as temporary trials and tests of one's faith in G-d. As a matter of fact, the stronger remains one faith in G-d even under adverse circumstances, the sooner it will become clear it was all a matter of a test. But this faith should not be merely a matter of lip service, but must have the full force of conviction. And this is not hard to achieve, if one reflects on what has been said above, and frequently, calmly and objectively.
I trust that the above lines will suffice and that you, on your part, will also be a source of encouragement and confidence to your husband. May G-d grant that you should have good news to report in the spirit of Purim on which we celebrate the reversal of the Jewish position from sadness to gladness and, in the words of the Megila, "For the Jews there was light, joy, gladness and honor."
P.S. You may, of course, show this letter to your husband, if you think it will serve a useful purpose. The important thing is that the message of the letter should be effective, and that you should soon be able to report about an improvement in your husband's state of mind, to go about his business with confidence and joy, and this will be the first step to an improvement in parnasa.
10th of Menachem Av, 5714 
I have received your letter in which you described your habits which are not according to the Torah and also your conduct, etc.
It is surely unnecessary to emphasize that all this depends on yourself and that you must make a determined effort to overcome your bad habits. At the same time you must never be discouraged if you find the going hard and sometimes without success, for discouragement is one of the very tricks of the Yetzer Hara in order to weaken the fighting spirit of the Yetzer Tov [good inclination]. It is one of the favorite -- and most effective -- weapons of the Yetzer Hara, especially among young people. So never become discouraged and never think the battle lost, but keep on fighting; be on guard to overcome a bad habit as soon as it seems to tempt you.
For a tikun [rectification] I suggest you learn by heart a few kapitlach Tehillim [chapters of Psalms], a few Mishnayot, and after learning it well from the Tanya learn also by heart the following:
From kapital [chapter] 41 until page 112 second line -- lifnei hamelech, from time to time reflecting on the contents of it and reciting it when you are not otherwise engaged in learning. This will help you in your battle to improve yourself and G-d will help you.
Jewish inmates are not forgotten at Jewish holidays and other times. In the tri-state (NY, CT, NJ) area, the Lubavitch Youth Organization sends scores of volunteers to facilitate pre-Rosh Hashana and Rosh Hashana programs. At some of the Federal and State Correctional Institutions visited before Rosh Hashana by LYO volunteers, prisoners attend lectures, are treated to holiday foods, hear the shofar sounded, and are Jewish educational materials. At other facilities, volunteers are present through out the holidays to lead services and give classes. They stay in nearby hotels. In additional, a monthly periodical, Reach Out, is sent to Jewish inmates throughout North America. Nationally, the Florida-based Aleph Institute organizes prison visitations and other programs for the High Holidays.
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This Shabbat is an auspicious one. It is the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana, and therefore the last Shabbat of this year, 5757. The date of this Shabbat is the 25th of Elul.
The 25th of Elul is the date of the first day of creation of the world. The creation of the world is mentioned in the beginning of chapter 5 in Ethics of the Fathers and at the end of chapter six. We complete our study of Ethics for this year by studying both of these chapters this Shabbat.
The fifth chapter begins with a description of creation, as it says, "The world was created by ten utterances." The sixth chapter ends with the whole purpose of creation: "Everything which the Holy One, blessed be He created was created for His glory."
From this we realize two things. First, we have a task set before us. Each and every one of us was created for the purpose of glorifying and sanctifying G-d. We do this by observing His Torah and mitzvot in a public and open way.
The verse doesn't just say that man was created for this purpose, but "everything which He created" was created for this purpose. Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shemtov, the founder of the Chassidic movement once stated that we can learn a lesson on how to serve G-d from everything we encounter. By realizing and understanding the lesson that has been set before us, that which we have learned the lesson from has been elevated because it has served its purpose on this earth. By teaching us a lesson in Divine Service, it has played a part in the glorification of G-d.
As the year draws to a close, let us resolve in the coming year to open our eyes, look around us, and reveal the hidden lessons that are all around us, and at the time let us pray fervently for the time when all G-dliness is revealed, with the coming of our righteous Moshiach. May it be speedily in our days.
Our patriarch Abraham... (Ethics 5:3)
Just as a father bequeaths his estate to his descendants, Abraham bequeathed his spiritual legacy to every Jew. This legacy gives us the strength to withstand the challenges we face in our Divine service.
(Sichot Parshat Chukat)
Ten miracles were performed for our forefathers in Egypt... (Ethics 5:4)
Pirkei Avot is intended to teach us pious conduct. What is the lesson learned from the above statement? When the Jews in Egypt witnessed the miracles performed on their behalf, they became aware of their true identity. Although they were in exile, they knew that they were servants of G-d rather than the Egyptian's slaves. Although we are still in exile, we are G-d servants, answerable to Him before any other authority.
There are four types of temperaments: He who is easily angered and easily pacified, his loss is cancelled by his gain... (Ethics 5:14)
The Talmud teaches: When any person gives way to anger, if he is wise, his wisdom leaves him; if he is a prophet, his power of prophecy leaves him. And even if greatness was decreed for him from Heaven, whosoever becomes angry will be degraded. Conversely, says the Talmud, among those whom the Holy One loves are a man who does not become angry as a rule, and one who will overlook irritating causes for retaliation.
(Talmud, Pesachim 66b, 113b)
To make the people of Israel meritorious there are special verses recited each week upon completing the study of Pirkei Avot. The Hebrew word for "make meritorious" can also mean "to refine." The goal of Torah and mitzvot is to refine the Jewish people, and this is especially true of Pirkei Avot, which teaches us to lift our conduct above the limits of human wisdom.
The Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, was surrounded by a shining constellation of Torah scholars and Tzadikim. These men, many of whom were considered great enough to be Rebbes in their own right, were drawn to the Alter Rebbe to learn how to perfect their G-dly service and to develop their character traits to the highest levels.
One such person was Reb Shmuel Munkis, [1758-1848] a beloved Chasid, known for his humor and wit. Of course, he was no empty joker, but a very deep personality, who could abide no falsehood, whose own ego was completely nullified to perform the will of his Creator. Reb Shmuel was one of the few chosen by the Rebbe to be his personal emissary. Reb Shmuel's greatness was recognized by all. Even the gentiles considered him a holy man. When it was noticed that those fields where Reb Shmuel mediated yielded a bountiful harvest the gentile farmers tried to find ways to get Reb Shmuel to come to pray in their fields.
During the month of Elul, a maggid (traveling preacher) came to Reb Shmuel's town. The townspeople saw his letter of introduction which referred to him as a great Tzadik, who also gives up his own comforts to travel from town to town only to arouse and inspire Jews. Being G-d-fearing people, they immediately invited him to speak and inspire them to serve G-d better.
The maggid began his speech. Over and over again, he accused his audience of committing terrible sins. His entire speech was filled with accusations and descriptions of the terrible punishments awaiting them because their evil behavior had aroused G-d's anger. Only if they would wholeheartedly repent would they possibly have a chance to be spared. The townspeople were utterly broken by the maggid's harsh words, and they cried bitterly, fearing the awesome punishment.
After his speech, the maggid, satisfied with himself, retired to the room that the community had arranged for him.
A short while later, Reb Shmuel entered the maggid's room. He carried with him a long knife and a stone with which to sharpen it. Reb Shmuel closed the door behind him and then bolted it. Without saying a word, Reb Shmuel began to sharpen his knife.
A few tense moments passed. Finally the maggid broke the silence and asked in astonishment, "Sir, could you please tell me what are you doing?"
Without glancing up from the knife he was sharpening, Reb Shmuel answered, "As the honorable, great maggid knows, we are very simple people in this town. Perhaps, it is because of our unintentional sins that we have never merited to have a great, righteous, G-d-fearing scholar in our midst."
Not knowing what to make of this answer, the maggid replied, "Yes, that is true. Nevertheless, what does that have to do with sharpening the knife?"
Reb Shmuel answered simply, "We were taught by our parents that before Rosh Hashana, one is supposed to pray at the graves of the righteous."
Still unsure of what Reb Shmuel's point was, the maggid asked, "What is correct. But why are you sharpening that knife?"
"Oh, that is very simple," explained Reb Shmuel. "The nearest grave site of a righteous person is very far from our town. For some of us it is extremely troublesome and difficult to make such a long journey."
With these additional words, the maggid began to feel uneasy. He started sweating and ventured, "But you still have not explained why you are sharpening your knife in this room!"
Reb Shmuel answered, "Quite simply, I am sharpening my knife here because the townspeople want a very righteous person buried in this town."
Now the maggid had not even a shadow of a doubt as to what Reb Shmuel's intentions seemed to be. The maggid stammered, "But I am not completely righteous. I have also done some small sins, such as ..."
Reb Shmuel dismissed the maggid's revelation, saying, "Honored maggid, you are still a very righteous and learned person. As for the sins that you mentioned, I did not even know that they were transgressions."
The maggid trembled and stuttered, "But I did some transgressions that were much more serious, such as ..."
Concerning this revelation, as well, Reb Shmuel shrugged, arguing, "But to us you are still a Tzadik; for us, you are quite good enough."
This strange dialogue continued for some time with the maggid, mentioning more and more severe transgressions and Reb Shmuel telling him, "But you are still acceptable to us, since you are far better than we are."
Finally, the maggid admitted to some extremely serious transgressions and that he was not really the great Tzadik that his letter of introduction and credentials claimed him to be. In essence, he was saying, "I am an impostor."
Now, Reb Shmuel no longer played the simpleton. After putting away the knife, he began chastising the maggid for causing the Jews of the town so much pain and sorrow. After making sure the maggid fully understood how one is to talk to and treat another Jew, Reb Shmuel unbolted the door and let the maggid go on his way, much the wiser and more sensitive than before.
Reprinted from Early Chasidic Personalities: Reb Shmuel Munkis, by Rabbi S. D. Avtzon - available from Sichos in English - firstname.lastname@example.org
Speedily cause the scion of David Your servant to flourish, and increase his power by Your salvation, for we hope for Your salvation every day. Blessed are You L-rd, who causes the power of salvation to flourish
(From the Shemona Esrei prayer said 3 times daily)