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To keep body and soul together, the human being needs air, water, food, clothing, shelter - in that order. Without air, G-d forbid, a person would expire in a matter of minutes. He may survive a few days without water, a few weeks without food. The need for clothing and shelter are less immediately apparent, but without them man would ultimately succumb to an environment often hostile to his life and health.
Not incidentally, this order also describes the relative accessibility of these resources. Shelter is the most toilsome and expensive of human needs to acquire. Clothing less so, food yet less so, water even cheaper and more available. Finally, air, the most crucial resource of them all, is the most bountiful and the most effortless to attain.
"Though summer still lingered and day was bright and sunny, there was a change in the air. One smelled already the Elul-scent; a teshuva-wind was blowing. Everyone grew more serious, more thoughtful... All awaited the call of the shofar, the first blast that would announce the opening of the gates of the month of mercy." So describes the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the onset of the month of Elul in the shtetl of Lubavitch.
As the last month of the Jewish year, Elul is a time for sober review of the achievements and failings of the closing year; a month of trepidation on account of the approaching "Days of Awe" of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, when "all inhabitants of earth pass before the Divine Judge as a flock of sheep." Elul is a time of teshuva: a time of regret, forgiveness and reconciliation; a time of return to pristine beginnings to rediscover one's true self and the spark of G-dliness at the core of one's soul.
Thus, the idiom "a change in the air," "Elul-scent," and "teshuva-wind" in the above quote from the Previous Rebbe are not mere poetic figures of speech, but also express a truth about the month of Elul and the spirit of teshuva that pervades it. The effort to cut through life's accumulated debris of failings and inequities and touch base with the untarnished purity at the core of one's soul, is a round-the-year endeavor. But in the month of Elul, we enter into an atmosphere of teshuva.
In Elul, teshuva is not a factor of cataclysmic "moments of truth" or something to be extracted from the depths of the prayer book. It is as plentiful and accessible as air: we need only breathe deeply to draw it into our lungs and send it coursing through our veins. And with Elul comes the realization that, like air, teshuva is our most crucial resource, our very breath of spiritual life.
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The Torah portion of Ki Tavo is always read close to Chai (the Eighteenth) of Elul, the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov - founder of Chasidut in general and Rabbi Shneur Zalman - founder of Chabad Chasidut in particular. In fact, Ki Tavo and Chai Elul share the common theme of ahavat Yisrael, loving our fellow Jew.
Ahavat Yisrael is a fundamental precept of Chasidut, as revealed by the Baal Shem Tov. It is also the "heart" of Chabad Chasidut, as we see from Rabbi Shneur Zalman's treatment of the subject in chapter 32 in Tanya (32, lamed-beit in Hebrew letter equivalent, spells lev - heart.)
Ahavat Yisrael is also stressed in the beginning of this week's Torah portion: "And it shall come to pass when you come into the land...and take possession of it and dwell therein...you shall take the first of all the fruit of the soil [bikurim]...and you shall come to the priest...and rejoice in every good thing which the L-rd your G-d has given you."
Comments Rashi: "This teaches that the Jews were not required to bring the bikurim until they conquered and divided the land." Until all of the Land of Israel was possessed by the entire Jewish people, those who had already received their portion of land were not required to bring the bikurim offering.
A question is asked: If the apportionment of land was gradual, and those who received their portion were permitted to immediately cultivate it, why did they have to wait until everyone had received his portion? Why couldn't they offer their first fruits as soon as they were able?
The answer is that the mitzva of first fruits must be observed with joy and gratitude, rejoicing in the land of Israel and its produce, as it states, "And rejoice in every good thing which the L-rd your G-d has given you." As long as even one Jew remained who had not yet received his portion of land, the happiness of all Jews was incomplete. For how can any Jew take pleasure in G-d's generosity, knowing that his fellow Jew cannot participate? In truth, a Jew is truly joyous only when all his brethren are equally blessed.
Consequently, until their happiness was complete, the Jews could not offer their first fruits, as bringing them is an expression of perfect joyousness. All Jews are interconnected with one another; they thus had to wait until every single member of the Jewish nation had received his allotment to be able to rejoice fully.
This is the epitome of true ahavat Yisrael. The love Jews have for each other is so all-encompassing that the happiness of one Jew is dependent on the happiness of another. If even one Jew is lacking, it impacts the entire Jewish people.
May our efforts to love every single Jew without distinction bring the Final Redemption, and with it, the opportunity to again observe bikurim in the literal sense.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 9
TWELVE YEARS LATER
A visit to the Chernobyl reactor and the nearby abandoned town of Pripyat highlighted a fact-finding mission by Chabad's Children of Chernobyl's Director Yossie Raichik and Medical Liaison Jay Litvin that included visits to area families and to cancer hospitals in the Zhitomer and Chernigov Oblasts of Ukraine, two contaminated regions close to the reactor.
During their visit to the abandoned city of Pripyat, located only 3 kilometers from Chernobyl, they discovered a macabre memorial to the deadly potential of nuclear energy gone awry.
Empty streets and apartment buildings; decaying playgrounds and overgrown entry-ways; fading signs hung over the city's once bustling restaurants, cultural center and TV repair shop; and the vacant plaza in front of the statuesque Communist Party headquarters stand as decaying symbols of Chernobyl's deadly effects.
Tours of regional hospitals revealed decrepit operating rooms with cracked and broken surgical tables. Medicines are in short supply and patients are required to purchase what little is available.
"Skyrocketing rates of disease were verified by all medical personnel," said Raichik, "but even worse were the near barbaric health care facilities and the paucity of medical supplies and medicines available to treat these children.
"Dr. Gissa Goldjena, head of the cancer hospital in Chernigov, told me that chemotherapy was available, but rarely given," reported Jay Litvin. "She explained that chemotherapy is very expensive and few people can afford the medicines on their average salary of $40 per month. When I asked what happens to these people, she lifted her hands in a gesture of futility and told me that they are sent home to die."
According to Dr. Goldjena, cancer patients are not told of their diagnosis. "In this part of Ukraine it is like being given a death sentence," she said. "What's the point?"
Hospital patients need to purchase not only medicines, but also all food and medical supplies, including bandages and syringes. Many go without medical care because they cannot pay.
In the Zhitomer oblast, Raichik and Litvin visited an oncology center that will soon receive a mammography machine donated by Chabad's Children of Chernobyl.
"The rate of breast cancer in these regions is about five times higher than before 1986, the year the reactor exploded," said Raichik. "These hospitals have no way to screen for breast cancer and even their standard x-ray equipment is over 30 years old."
The increased susceptibility of Jewish women to breast cancer further prompted the organization to provide a means for early detection and more accurate diagnosis.
During visits to families in Kiev and Chernigov, Raichik and Litvin encountered poverty, sickness, desperation, and despair.
"Family life seems to have crumbled," said Litvin. "Of the families we visited, only one had a father living in the home. Many women care for both their children and their elderly parents on an average income of $40-$50 per month. They live in tiny, bare apartments."
The mothers told the CCOC representatives that they worried for the health of their children following Chernobyl, and that doctors did not provide the required treatment.
"We are told that our children need good and plentiful food, vitamins and medicines, but we can barely find them or afford them," said Leena K., a 37 year old Kiev mother whose daughter was leaving Israel the next day while she stayed to care for her 73 year old invalid father who lay in the next room.
Against this background of radiation, poverty, sickness, and despair, Litvin and Raichik joined twenty-one children and their families at the Kiev airport on Thursday morning, July 15. Among them was a boy who was in utero at the time of the Chernobyl disaster and now, at the age of thirteen, weighs only 60 pounds and has grown to the height of an average eight-year-old. Another had recently undergone lymphatic surgery, and third had barely recovered from fouled emergency room care of his latest asthma attack.
One mother had been in Chernobyl teaching in the local school at the time of the disaster. She was pregnant with the daughter she was now sending to Israel. Another family had been vacationing in the lush forests surrounding Chernobyl. One boy had been an infant in Gomel, a city in Belarus that took the worst of the fallout and now has the highest rate of thyroid cancer in the world. And many younger children were being sent to Israel to escape the contamination that continues to poison food and water throughout northern Ukraine and southern Belarus.
"As the plane took off from Kiev, headed towards Israel, I offered prayers of thanks," said Raichik. "While the problems suffered by the people of Ukraine are nearly impossible to fathom, we were able to bring another 21 children to safety and to offer them hope for a healthy and productive future. I was happy for the ones we were saving; worried for the thousands left behind."
This 44th flight brought the total number of children evacuated by Chabad to Israel to 1,794. Once in Israel the children live on special campuses in Kfar Chabad where they are provided medical care, nutrition, and education.
BAAL SHEM TOV STORYTELLING FESTIVAL
Ascent of Safed (Israel) is offering a special seminar to coincide with the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chasidism, from August 27-30. The weekend will feature stories of the Baal Shem Tov and his teachings. For more information about this or other seminars contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 972-6-921-942.
JEWISH RENAISSANCE FAIR
The 21st annual Jewish Renaissance Fair will be held on Sunday, Sept. 5 at Liberty State Park in New Jersey. The fair begins at 11:00 with concerts featuring Dedi, Shlock Rock and Uncle Moishy throughout the day. The fair also includes carnival rides, Wacky Olympics, Torah mini-golf, storybook hay-ride, Noah's Ark Petting Zoo, Moscow Circus Performing Poodles and more. Rain date is Sept. 6. For more info and rates contact the fair's sponsors, the Chabad Center of Northwest N.J. and the Rabbinical College of America at 973-731-0770 or www.jewishfair.com
Translated and adapted
Chai (18) Elul, 5737 
To the Sons and Daughters of Our People Israel, Everywhere -
These are the concluding days of Elul, the month of soul-searching and honest self-appraisal with respect to the outgoing year. These days are also devoted to preparation for the New Year - may it bring all the good to all our people Israel.
It is obvious that this effort should, first of all, be applied to ensure that the outgoing year should be a complete one - namely, that it be both complete (not lacking) and perfect.
The ability to achieve this perfection is given by means of Teshuva Shleima (complete return to G-d), particularly in the last twelve days of the year, each day corresponding to a month of the outgoing year - to make good any past deficiency as well as insufficiency.
It is also self-evident that the resolutions which one makes for the coming year should likewise be perfect, which is to say that one should not be content to strive only for the most necessary and minimal, but for the highest and fullest measure, in all areas of human activity - in thought, speech and deed.
Understandably also, the degree and quality of perfection which is required of a person grows together with the person. For, as a person rises in stature, a correspondingly superior perfection is expected of him, since the perfection which accorded with his previous state is no longer good enough for his higher state. Thus, from time to time, as a person grows older and wiser, the quality of perfection in all his activities must rise in a corresponding measure.
It has often been pointed out that man's mission in life includes also "elevating" the environment in which he lives, in accordance with the Divine intent in the entire Creation and in all its particulars, by infusing holiness and G-dliness into all the aspects of the physical world within his reach - in the so-called "Four Kingdoms" - domem, tzome'ach, chai, and medabber (inorganic matter, vegetable, animal, and man).
Significantly, this finds expression in the special Mitzvos which are connected with the beginning of the year, in the festivals of the month of Tishrei:
The Mitzvah of the Succah, the Jew's house of dwelling during the seven days of Succos, where the walls of the Succah represent the "inorganic kingdom";
The Mitzvah of the "Four Kinds" - Esrog, Lulav, myrtle and willow - which come from the vegetable kingdom;
The Mitzvah of Shofar on Rosh Hashanah, the Shofar being a horn of an animal;
And all of these things (by virtue of being Divine commandments) are ele-vated through the medabber, the "speaking" (human) being - the person carrying out the said (and all other) Mitzvos, where-by he elevates also himself and mankind -
Both in the realm of doing as well as of not doing - the latter as represented in the Mitzvah of the fast on Yom Kippur.
Thus, through infusing holiness into all four kingdoms of the physical world and making them into "vessels" (and instruments) of G-dliness in carrying out G-d's command - a Jew elevates them to their true perfection.
It also follows that just as in regard to his personal perfection, which is expected to rise in harmony with his rising state, so also in regard to the four kingdoms he is expected (and given the ability) to raise, from time to time, the state of perfection to which he elevates them (as explained above) - both quantitatively and qualitatively - in the manner of doing the Mitzvos (where there can be grades of performance, such as acceptable post facto; good to begin with; according to unanimous opinion; with hiddur [excellence], etc.) and their inner content.
Taking into account the assurance that G-d does not require of a human being anything beyond his capacity, it is certain that everyone, man or woman, can achieve utmost perfection in all aforesaid endeavors, "in one instant," since the person so resolved receives aid from G-d, for Whom there are no limitations.
May G-d grant that the efforts to achieve utmost perfection in the outgoing year, and the good resolutions to achieve perfection in all the above mentioned matters each day of the coming year, should bring down upon everyone G-d's blessings in all needs, material and spiritual, also in complete measure,
And - very soon indeed - the complete blessing, the true and complete Redemption through our Righteous Moshiach.
In memory of Yosef Yitzchak ben Shlomo Shneur Zalman yblc't
15 Elul 5759
Positive mitzva 49: the service of Yom Kippur
By this injunction we are commanded to perform the service of Yom Kippur, that is, all the sacrifices and confessions ordained by the Torah for the Day of Atonement, to atone for all our sins. It is described in Leviticus 16:1-34.
This Monday is Chai (the 18th of) Elul, the "birthday" of the greater Chasidic movement and of Chabad Chasidut in particular.
The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the path of Chasidut, was born on Chai Elul. On that date 26 years later, Achiya Hashiloni began to teach him Torah "as it is studied in Gan Eden." Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Chasidut, was also born on Chai Elul.
As the Previous Rebbe explained, Chai Elul introduces an element of chayut, vitality, to our Divine service during Elul, the month in which we correct and make amends for past misdeeds. In the merit of our repentance, G-d grants us a good and sweet year. By infusing our service with vitality, Chai Elul helps us do teshuva with enthusiasm, not just by rote or out of habit.
Superficially, vitality and teshuva may seem contradictory. Vitality is associated with joy, whereas repentance is associated with bitterness, regretting past actions and resolving to do better. Those these seem to be opposite emotions, in Elul we feel both, and at the same time!
Every mitzva we do should be performed with joy, for by observing that mitzva, we fulfill the will of G-d. As teshuva is a mitzva like any other, we experience joy for having been given the privilege.
However, Chasidut gives us another reason to be happy while doing teshuva, by explaining how bitterness and joy can exist simultaneously.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman describes this in the Tanya as "weeping on one side of the heart, and joy on the other side." When we do teshuva, we rage against our Evil Inclination and of failure to withstand temptation. Yet at the same time we are happy, for we know that we are becoming closer to G-d.
Chai Elul (and by extension, Chasidut) thus transforms the entire month of Elul into a labor of love and joy.
Cursed is the man who will make an engraved or molten image (Deut. 27:15)
This is the only curse about which the Torah uses the future tense; all others enumerated in the "Reproof" are in the present. The reason is that when it comes to idolatry, thought is considered the same as action. Planning to make an idol is thus just as contemptible as actually making one. (Rabbi Shimshon of Ostropolye)
And all these blessings shall come upon you, and overtake you (vehisigucha) (Deut. 28:2)
At first glance the word "vehisigucha" is redundant. If "all these blessings" are fulfilled, isn't it obvious that their recipient would be "overtaken" by them? Rather, the Hebrew word is related to hasaga, attainment or comprehension. It sometimes happens that a person is blessed with wealth, yet he lacks an understanding of how to use it properly. "Vehisigucha" is thus a separate blessing, that the person have the wisdom to utilize G-d's abundance correctly. (Rabbi Sh.Y. Taub of Modzhitz)
Because you did not serve the L-rd your G-d with joy and gladness of heart...therefore will you serve your enemies (Deut. 28:47-48)
When a person serves someone he feels close to and loves, his tasks are performed with joy and alacrity. A lack of joy in the service of G-d thus implies that the person serves a distant Master from Whom he is estranged, G-d forbid. (Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin)
Human nature is such that when a person searches for a lost object, he is unhappy until he finds it. Divine service, by contrast, is different. It states in Chronicles (16:10): "The heart of those who seek G-d shall rejoice." When a person looks to find G-d, he is happy even while he searches. (Rabbi Bunim of Pshischa)
"Why did your parents merit such outstanding sons?" Chasidim once asked Reb Yehuda Leib, brother of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman (the founder of Chabad Chasidism). The sons to which they referred were the Alter Rebbe, Reb Yehuda Leib himself (head of the Rabbinical Court in Yanovitch), Reb Mordechai (head of the Rabbinical Court in Arsha) and Reb Moshe (head of the Rabbinical Court in Rodnia).
"By virtue of our mother's exceptional character, her love of Torah, and fear of G-d," replied Reb Yehuda Leib. "Let me relate an incident which reflects her unique personality.
"Our father, Reb Boruch, was a businessman whose affairs required that he travel occasionally. On one of his trips outside Russia, he brought back a gift for our mother, an expensive, fashionable overcoat.
"At that time, we were being tutored by a private teacher who came to our house. Shortly after father's return, Mother noticed that our teacher was not as enthusiastic and motivated as usual. Sensitive to what was happening, Mother tactfully asked him about the change in his disposition.
"'My wife has been upset lately. She complains that I do not give her presents like Reb Boruch gives you,' answered the teacher.
"Immediately, Mother went over to the closet in which the costly overcoat hung. She took it out and handed it to the teacher. 'Please give this to your wife. I hope she will be pleased. I have only one concern, that you study with my sons with joy and enthusiasm.'"
Reb Zusia of Anipoli was once studying with his son. Suddenly, the son saw his father shudder. "What happened?" he asked anxiously.
"Why, even the walls have trembled!" Reb Zusia explained. "A soul from the highest heavenly realms has passed by our house."
"Will I merit to see that soul?" the son asked.
"Yes," answered Reb Zusia, and the two resumed their study.
A while later, a man carrying a bundle came into the house. Reb Zusia interrupted his study and conversed with the man. When he left, Reb Zusia and his son continued studying for a while longer.
As they closed their books the son looked at his father questioningly, "When will the person who possesses that holy soul come by?"
"But he has!" replied Reb Zusia. "The man with the bundle was that very person." That man was the Alter Rebbe.
Before Reb Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk embarked on his journey to the Holy Land, he went to receive a farewell blessing form Reb Yaakov Yosef of Polona. The Alter Rebbe, who was then a young man, accompanied him.
Reb Yaakov Yosef had been present at Reb Menachem Mendel's first meeting with the Baal Shem Tov. "Do you remember the story the Baal Shem Tov told you?" Reb Yaakov Yosef asked. "In that story, he implied that you would journey to the Holy Land," he continued.
"Yes, and I am on my way there."
"The Baal Shem Tov also implied that you would come to me for a blessing."
"That is the purpose of my visit."
"That story also implied that you would be accompanied by a young man whose greatness will be acknowledged everywhere."
Reb Menachem Mendel presented the Alter Rebbe before Reb Yaakov Yosef. "This is he," he declared.
The official records of the Chevra Kadisha ("Holy Society") in Liozna record that the Alter Rebbe was granted membership to this association at the age of thirteen. Appended to his name is the title, Rav Tanna Upalig, implying that his scholarship was on the level that entitled him to challenge other Torah opinions.
A butcher once brought a cow's lung to the Alter Rebbe to verify whether it was kosher or not. The Rebbe studied the issue for hours. In the meantime, night had fallen and the butcher had dozed off on the bench in the corner. When he awoke some time later, he was surprised that the Rebbe was still involved in deciding this question.
"Rebbe," he said respectfully, "the loss involved in proclaiming the animal treif is hardly worth your precious time."
"If you would hear the animal begging me to proclaim her kosher, you would not make such a statement," answered the Rebbe.
From From My Father's Shabbos Table by Rabbi Yehuda Chitrik
It is well known that the Messianic Era, and especially the time of the Resurrection of the Dead, is the fulfillment and culmination of the creation of the world, for which purpose it was originally created. (Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, ch. 36 of Tanya)