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by Tzvi Freeman
This year, the 18th of Elul (September 9th), is the Baal Shem Tov's 300th birthday. Since the Baal Shem Tov loved every Jew and had such an impact on all of our lives, it's only right that we all give him a great birthday present. And since he liked Jews to be joyful, we definitely must make celebration part of the gift.
So here are my suggestions:
Gift #1: Celebrate Your Fellow Jew
Unlike other greats who were concerned with a single aspect of Jews or Judaism, the Baal Shem Tov took on his shoulders "the whole Jew." For the sake of their material welfare, he convinced them to move from the cities where they had taken refuge during the Cossack Revolt and resettle the farmland. For their children, he arranged teachers to come to their homes. For their souls, he told stories and handed out jewels of wisdom, reawakening the spark within them.
The Baal Shem Tov loved to speak with any Jew. It didn't have to be on a philosophical matter, a matter of concern to the community, or a "how come I haven't seen you at the minyan lately?" conversation. The Baal Shem Tov enjoyed asking, with love and sincere concern, "How goes your day? Are you managing? Is your family healthy?" When the answer would come, "Thank G-d," or "the Alm-ghty provides," the Baal Shem Tov would glow with pleasure.
The Baal Shem Tov appreciated a Jew for being just what he was, and he used that as a most powerful tool to bring out the best in everybody.
So celebrate your fellow Jews. Whether poor or affluent, close or far, ask them how they're doing. If they kvetch, listen. If they have a problem, see what you can do about it. If they are happy, celebrate with them.
And if someone asks you about yourself, don't forget to say, "Thank G-d, the Alm-ghty provides."
Gift #2:Celebrate the Children
One of the Baal Shem Tov's first directives to his inner circle was to provide teachers for the simple folk's children. He himself took a position as teacher's helper in a small town.
The Baal Shem Tov later called those days the best of his life. As he picked up the children from their homes, helping them to say the morn-ing blessings, teaching them "Shema" and telling them stories from the Torah, he said he could feel the "great delight caused Above and the jealousy of the angels for these holy little ones."
One of the closest disciples of the Baal Shem Tov would say that he strived to kiss the Torah scroll with the same reverence that his teacher kissed the children when he brought them to school.
So celebrate the children. Tell them about the Baal Shem Tov and about how precious he says they are. Celebrate every small mitzva they do. And then let's all invest in them, as the Baal Shem Tov and his inner circle did, body and soul. Because, as the Baal Shem Tov said, the children are the foundation of the nation.
Gift #3: Celebrate the Inner Torah
Certainly the Baal Shem Tov's most radical step was to make the inner soul of the Torah accessible to every Jew. His stories and nuggets of wisdom are, in fact, metaphors for the most profound wisdom of the Kabala.
Some of his own inner circle felt that the secrets of the Torah were too precious to reveal to the masses. But the Baal Shem Tov understood this as the elixer that would revive the Jewish soul and empower us to survive.
More than that: The Baal Shem Tov was preparing the entire world for the time when "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters fill the sea." In a famous letter he describes how he ascended through the heavenly spheres until reaching the chamber of Moshiach and asked him, "When will you arrive?" The reply: "When the wellsprings of your wisdom have spread to the outside."
And now it's up to us. The wellsprings are in our hands. So, since it's a birthday party, let's celebrate them. We'll quench our thirst with them and savour them, share them and pour them out to others, let the whole world see the depth of wisdom behind the Torah and the Jewish soul.
Until the entire earth will be only one big celebration, hand in hand, heart to heart "to know G-dliness alone."
At the end of this week's Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, we are commanded to "Remember what [the nation of] Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt... You must not forget."
We are also commanded by G-d to remember the holy day of Shabbat: "Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it."
The commandments to remember Amalek and Shabbat apply in every time and in every place. Thus, to fulfill our obligation, more is required than an occasional reflection on these concepts. Our awareness of Amalek and of Shabbat must be so all-encompassing that it fills our entire beings.
When the Jews learned of these mitzvot, however, they were perplexed. They couldn't understand how it was possible to incorporate both remembrances at the same time. Aren't the concepts of Amalek and Shabbat antithetical?
When a Jew remembers Shabbat, he reminds himself that G-d created the world and continues to sustain it each moment. Remembering Shabbat brings him to an awareness of G-d's sovereignty over the entire universe.
Remembering Amalek, by contrast, leads to a vastly different perception. The nation of Amalek recognized G-d as the Creator of the world and its Supreme Ruler, yet intentionally rebelled against Him. When we remind ourselves of Amalek and his rebellion, it causes us to want to destroy him - a concept that is antithetical to G-d's Kingship over the world and His ongoing involvement in creation.
Consequently, how can G-d expect us to keep both Amalek and the Shabbat day in our minds simultaneously?
To explain, the spiritual source of Amalek and Shabbat is in the realm of holiness, despite the wicked behavior that Amalek manifested. If G-d hadn't endowed Amalek with the power to rebel, he would never have been able to do so. How is the Divine source of Amalek revealed? By nullifying what he stands for and obliterating his name. When we remember Amalek, his roots in the realm of holiness are brought to the fore, and our remembrance of Amalek no longer stands in contradiction to our remembrance of Shabbat. In truth, both remembrances serve the function of revealing G-dliness.
Remembering the Shabbat leads to a revelation of G-d's unity, reminding us that G-d not only created the world but continues to involve Himself in its day-to-day existence. By contrast, the revelation of G-dliness that occurs when we remember Amalek is achieved by nullifying his intention to rebel against G-d.
Thus, although the thrust of each remembrance is in an opposite direction (one leading toward sanctity and the other toward punishment), they are both means by which G-d's Divine Presence is revealed. Each remembrance is but a different method of introducing sanctity into the world.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 19
by Dena Gorkin
My father, Reb Yehuda ben Reb Aharon Eliyahu Greene was a great fan of Chasidic stories. At the Shabbat table, he always enjoyed recounting anecdotes of Reb Zushe, the Berditchever, the Baal Shem Tov and, of course, our beloved Rebbe. In honor of my father's third yartzeit I present to you my father's favorite "Rebbe Story."
They were a couple who had married in their early thirties and hoped to start a family right away. But years passed, and it appeared that G-d had planned otherwise. After several miscarriages and a battery of tests, the despondent pair began to believe that they might remain childless.
With his hopes nearly dashed, the husband poured out his heart to a close family friend, explaining that even top specialists felt that theirs was a hopeless case. The friend suggested asking the Rebbe for help.
With the aid of the wife's father, the couple put their story into a heartfelt letter to the Rebbe. They carefully described their situation and asked the Rebbe for his blessing.
Two years later the woman sat in an obstetrician's office. "I think I'm pregnant," she declared.
With a compassionate smile, the doctor replied: "I'm afraid that's impossible. The lab work from your previous doctor is not encouraging. Excuse me for a moment while I phone him to discuss this report."
With these words, the doctor left the room. The woman's curiosity got the better of her and she strained to catch a glimpse of the report. Across the front page in a large firm scroll was written: "THIS WOMAN WILL NEVER CARRY A FULL TERM PREGNANCY."
The woman slipped out of the office and found her husband in the waiting room. She whispered something to him and returned to the doctor's inner office. The doctor had already seated himself back at his desk and was studying his patient's chart intently. As she entered the room, he raised his eyes to see her standing in front of him with a small child, not more than a year.
"Allow me to rephrase what I said, doctor. I think I am pregnant with my second child. I'd like to introduce you to my daughter," said the woman with a broad, victorious smile.
"...But how...?" was all that the incredulous doctor could manage.
"Oh, I know what the report says," continued the young mother. "But a very great Rabbi in New York gave us his blessing, so that report doesn't matter anymore." Indeed, the Rebbe had advised them to check their tefilin and mezuzot, both of which had some flaws. The Rebbe had, of course, also given them his blessing.
Three more children were destined to be born into this family, and the couple by then well into their forties, threw themselves devotedly into the task of raising them. They were proud of their children, and of being part of the Rebbe's miracle.
My father would always conclude this story with a broad smile. "The doctors decided my wife and I could not have children," he would proclaim. "But the Rebbe knew better."
Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
BESHT 300 CELEBRATIONS
Chabad House of Cleveland will begin participating in the world-wide celebration of the 300th birthday of the Baal Shem Tov (known also by the acronym Besht) with a Shabbaton over the weekend of Sept. 11 -13. The scholar-in-residence will be Rabbi Manis Friedman who will delve into the inspiring teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. The event is being co-sponsored by various local Jewish organizations of greater Cleveland. For more info call (216) 382-1878. Jewish organizations around the world are teaming up with local Chabad-Lubavitch Centers to implement educational programs throughout the year in honor of the Baal Shem Tov's 300th birthday. Call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center for more info.
FLIGHT 36 BREAKS 1600 MARK
Twenty-five children from the contaminated regions of northern Ukraine arrived in Israel recently and brought the total number of children evacuated by the Chabad Children of Chernobyl program to 1,619. The flight carried a seven year old boy who was orphaned only two weeks earlier when his mother passed away from cancer. "The situation is tragic, but at least the mother knew that her son would be well-cared for and not placed in one of the infamous Ukrainian orphanages or left to wander the streets" said Rabbi Yosef Aronov, chairman of Chabad Youth in Israel. Once in Israel the children live in specially created CCOC campuses in the Chabad-Lubavitch village of Kfar Chabad and receive daily medical care.
One of the foremost contemporary expositors of Jewish Mysticism and noted translator of the Talmud, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz will lecture at the Lubavitch Center in Richmond, Virginia, on Sunday, September 13. Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored more than two dozen books and is the head of the Israel Insititute for Talmudic Research. For more information call 804-740-2000.
13th of Elul, 5731 
To the Administration of Chabad House
I was gratified to be informed about the forthcoming dedication of a Sefer Torah [Torah Scroll] in the Chabad House, which will take place on the auspicious day of the 18th of Elul, the birthday of the founder of general Chasidus, the Baal Shem Tov, and the birthday also of the founder of Chabad Chasidus, the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi], author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch.
Needless to say, the observance of this double birthday has the central purpose that their way of life, work and teachings should continue to illuminate the daily life of each and every one of us. Both the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe, who expanded the Chasidic teachings in a systematic way, brought the Chasidic experience to Jews of all backgrounds, made the embodiment of the three loves, love of G-d, love of the Torah and love of Israel, the cornerstone of their system, with emphasis on the fact that the said three loves are completely interlocked and integrated.
This system and way of life quickly began to spread and gain many followers, in an ever-growing measure in quantity and quality, from generation to generation to the present day, which has clearly demonstrated how viable and vital it has been for the Jewish people, for the individual as well as for Klal Yisroel [the entire Jewish people].
I have used the expression "illuminated" advisedly, since this does not necessarily mean the creation of new things, but to illuminate existing things which have not been fully appreciated, or which have been altogether overlooked. Thus, the primary contribution of Chasidus is that it illuminates the Torah and Mitzvos, and their inner aspects, Pnimius HaTorah, and shows each and every one of us the way to bring them within our personal daily experience.
The above is particularly important in relation to the young generation, who are still at the threshold of independent life and have untapped resources of energy and dedication to face any challenge, to accept the truth and nothing but the whole truth, rejecting all compromise - in their search for the genuine article.
As for the teacher and mentor, while he must do his best to help those whom he teaches and guides to make the utmost progress, he also reckons with the capacity of the students. However, since it is the task of each and every Jew to follow the Torah way of life, with dedication and inspiration, as illuminated by the teachings of Chasidus - it is clear that this task, which has been given to every Jew as a duty and privilege by G-d, the Creator and Master of the world, is within the capacity of each and everyone, since G-d does not expect the impossible.
May G-d grant that the dedication of the Sefer Torah in the Chabad House should symbolize the dedication of the Sefer Torah in each and every Jewish home in the community, and strengthen adherence of the Torah and Mitzvos in the daily life, not only on special occasions or special days, but in accordance with the well-known commandment in the Shema -"And you shall teach them diligently to your children and speak them when you sit in the house or when you walk in the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up."
I send my prayerful wishes to each and every one who is associated with the work of the Chabad House, for Hatz-locho [success] in all above, and in a growing measure and, with the approach of the New Year, to be blessed with a Kesivo vachasimo Tova [to be inscribed and sealed for good], for a good and pleasant year materially and spiritually.
14 Elul Av 5758
Positive mitzva 62: Salt being brought with every offering
By this injunction we are commanded to offer salt with every offering. It is contained in the words (Lev. 2:13): "With all your offerings you shall offer salt."
The 18th of Elul (corresponding to Wednesday, September 9 this year) is the birthday of Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the general Chasidic movement. It is also the birthday of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, one of the foremost disciples of the Baal Shem Tov's successor and the founder of Chabad Chasidic philsophy.
The uniqueness of the 18th of Elul this year is that it marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of the Baal Shem Tov.
One of the main teachings of the Baal Shem Tov was to always remember G-d and to mention His name constantly.
The obligation to remember G-d constantly and thank Him begins as soon as a Jew wakes up in the morning. Before he does anything else, he must say "Modeh Ani-I give thanks before You, Living and Eternal King, for having mercifully returned my soul to me. Your faithfulness is great."
The lesson of Modeh Ani, that everything we have comes from G-d and we must constantly thank Him, is connected to another important teaching of the Baal Shem Tov: G-d did not merely create the world once, thousands of years ago. He constantly recreates everything anew, every single moment, and gives it new life.
The purpose of this "continual creation" is to allow us to appreciate G-d's kindness. At this very moment, G-d has "taken the trouble" so to speak, to recreate each one of us. When a person realizes that G-d is giving him life and everything he has, every second of the day, he will want to constantly thank Him.
The above teachings have a special connection not only to the Baal Shem Tov but to his birthday on the 18th day of Elul as well. For the Hebrew word "chai-life" equals 18. Thus, the 18th of Elul, Chai Elul, helps us add "life" and enthusaism to our appreciation of and feelings of thanks for our Creator.
May we merit this very Chai Elul to experience true and eternal life as G-d intended it to be with the complete revelation of Moshiach and the commencement of the Redemption.
When you go forth to war against your enemies...and you shall take him captive (Deut. 21:10)
In the war against the Evil Inclination, it is insufficient to merely conquer and subdue it; one must also "take him captive" and utilize one's negative impulses to serve G-d. In truth, there is much to learn from the Evil Inclination, whose G-d-given role is to constantly attempt to cause man to sin. We would be well advised to emulate its dedication in fulfilling G-d's will. (The Baal Shem Tov)
But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated woman as the first born, and give him a double portion (Deut. 21:17)
The "son of the beloved" refers to the first Tablets, given when the Jews were righteous. The "son of the hated woman" alludes to the second Tablets, which were given after the Jews sinned but returned to G-d. As we see here, the penitent receives "a double portion" of reward. Indeed, the first Tablets contained only the Ten Commandments, whereas the second set were accompanied by Jewish laws and the Torah's allegorical portions. (Ohr HaTorah)
...Similarly you shall do with all of your brother's lost things (Deut. 22:3)
When one helps his fellow man by returning a lost object (either in the material or spiritual sense), he merits spiritual benefit for himself and an elevation of his own soul. As our Sages declared: "The poor [recipient of charity] does more for the master than the master does for the poor man." (Sefat Emet)
But you shall surely let the mother go, and the young you may take for yourself (Deut. 22:7)
What is the reward for observing the mitzva of driving away the mother bird from the nest? If you have no children, G-d declares, I will grant you offspring. Furthermore, observing this commandment hastens the coming of Moshiach and the arrival of Elijah the Prophet. (Midrash Rabba)
Baruch and his wife, Rivka, were followers of Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chasidic movement. When they had been married for a year and were still not blessed with a child, they went to see the Baal Shem Tov during the month of Elul to ask for his blessing.
At his birthday celebration on the 18th of Elul, the Baal Shem Tov blessed Baruch and Rivka, saying that within the year they would have a son. The young couple remained with the Baal Shem Tov in Miedzibosz for the High Holidays. Before departing for home they were privileged to have an audience with the Baal Shem Tov once again. When the Baal Shem Tov repeated his blessing, Rivka fervently promised that she would consecrate her son to the dissemination of Torah and the Chasidic way of life as taught by the Baal Shem Tov.
Rivka was quite a learned women and decided to intensify her Torah studies. She asked Devora Leah, her learned sister-in-law for guidance as to prayer and study during her anticipated pregnancy.
Six months later, Baruch went to Miedzibosz again to inform the Baal Shem Tov that his wife was pregnant. The Baal Shem Tov wished him "mazel tov" and gave him certain instructions to convey to his wife. Baruch left for home in a blissful frame of mind.
On the 18th day of Elul that year, the Baal Shem Tov displayed an extraordinary elation. He personally led the prayers, which he chanted joyously. It was clear that the Baal Shem Tov was observing the day in an even more festive manner than was customary for his birthday. During the repast which followed the prayers, the Baal Shem Tov told his disciples:
"Today, a new soul descended to earth, a soul which will illuminate the world with the revealed and esoteric teachings of the Torah, and will successfully disseminate the Chasidic way with selfless dedication, preparing the way for the arrival of Moshiach."
On the 25th day of Elul the Baal Shem Tov arranged a feast. Three days later, on Shabbat, he again gave a discourse and was in an extremely elated frame of mind. All of this represented a mystery to his disciples.
What the Baal Shem Tov's disciples witnessed in those days was nothing less than their Rebbe celebrating the birth of Baruch and Rivka's first child, Shneur Zalman, his circumcision, and the critical third day after the circumcision. Moreover, the various discourses which the Baal Shem Tov delivered on those occasions were connected with the newborn's destiny.
For Yom Kippur that year, Baruch came to the Baal Shem Tov. He had been cautioned not to tell anybody about the birth of his son. Again, before leaving for home, he received from the Baal Shem Tov a set of instructions concerning the child, and the careful watch which was to be kept over him at all times.
The following year Baruch came, as usual, to the Baal Shem Tov for the High Holidays. The Baal Shem Tov inquired about the little boy in great detail, and repeated his admonition to take special care of the child.
After Sukot, when Baruch was ready to leave for home, the Baal Shem Tov again counseled him to shelter the boy, and not to boast about his cleverness nor even to repeat ingenious comments Shneur Zalman might make.
Another year passed. Once again Baruch made his annual pilgrimage to Miedzibosz. Baruch reported to the Baal Shem Tov that, upon returning home from Miedzibosz after Sukot the previous year, his had wife told him that there was a noticeable change in Shneur Zalman. His speech and vocabulary, which were already extraordinary, had considerably improved. They had discovered that the young child had an amazing memory, and whatever he heard once, he never forgot. The Baal Shem Tov gave Baruch further instructions concerning the child. Baruch requested permission to bring Shneur Zalman to the Baal Shem Tov on his third birthday for the traditional first haircut and the Baal Shem Tov agreed. He told Baruch that Shneur Zalman should be brought by his mother and his aunt Devora Leah, on the 18th of Elul, after the morning prayers.
Arriving home, Baruch found that his son had made further strides during his absence from home. Little Shneur Zalman could now recite many Psalms by heart, and his memory and mental grasp were astonishing.
As prearranged, Rivka and Devora Leah brought Shneur Zalman on his third birthday, to the Baal Shem Tov. The Baal Shem Tov cut off a few locks of hair, leaving peyot (side locks) according to custom, and he blessed him.
All the way home, little Shneur Zalman kept asking his mother who the elderly Jew was who had cut his hair. "That was Zaide," was her reply. Little did he then know that some day he would come to regard the Baal Shem Tov as his "grandfather" in a very real sense, namely, as the Rebbe of his Rebbe, the Maggid of Miezricz. However, the Baal Shem Tov, for reasons best known to himself, kept himself out of direct contact with Shneur Zalman. He did not permit Baruch to take his son with him on subsequent visits to Miedzibosz and he enjoined Shneur Zalman's teacher from telling him anything about the Baal Shem Tov until he was 15 years old. "Shneur Zalman is not destined to be my disciple," the Baal Shem Tov said. "He belongs to my successor."
Adapted from Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Kehot Publication Society
From a letter of the Baal Shem Tov to his brother-in-law, Rabbi Gershon Kitov: "I ascended level after level, until I entered the chamber of Moshiach... I asked him, 'Master, when are you coming?' He replied, 'This is how you will know. When your teachings are known in the world and your wellsprings have spread to the outside...' "