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Two souls met each other at the half-way point between heaven and earth. One was descending into this world to be enclothed in a body. The other was ascending, having completed its mission here.
"What's it like down there?" asked the first soul warily.
"Well, for three kopecks you can buy the strings for tzitzit (the fringes on a four-cornered gar-ment)," replied the ascending soul.
"Wow, imagine that!" exclaimed the first soul, awed at the relatively inexpensive price of acquiring mitzvot. The soul began plummeting even more quickly, without fear or hesitation.
"Don't be so eager," the se-cond soul called out after it. "Just wait until you see how hard you have to work to get that money!"
Thank G-d, it's not nearly as tough as it used to be to make a living. Most of us live lifestyles that would have been considered opulent in the days when tzitzit cost three kopecks. What our great-grandparents considered luxuries are today's necessities.
Most of us needn't be worka-holics to have money to spend on mitzvot. Loose change can be dropped into a tzedaka box. A dollar can buy a box of a dozen Shabbat candles. For $6 you can purchase a decent bottle of kosher wine over which to recite the "kid-dush" on Shabbat. Thirty dollars will get you a kosher mezuza parchment. (To put things in per-spective, the Sunday paper costs a dollar, a CD will set you back at least $12.95 and for a ball game you have to shell out almost $20.)
Unlike our great-grandparents, most of us can hardly claim that doing mitzvot will take food out of our mouths. These amounts of money are not an issue.
What our great-grandparents lacked in money, they made up for in unwavering commitment, enthusiasm and faith. They also inscribed in their minds and on their hearts the words contained in the first ruling of the Code of Jewish Law: Do not be embarrassed by scoffers. They weren't concerned with what the neighbors would say. For all these reasons and more, even when they really didn't have the three kopecks, they somehow found the money rather than neglect the opportunity to perform a mitzva.
If those two souls were to encounter each other in our times, the soul returning from its sojourn on earth would not comment on how hard it is to earn money to do mitzvot. Perhaps the conversation would go something like this:
"What's it like down there?" asks the first soul warily.
"Well, for only $10 you can buy a really nice bottle of kosher wine to use for kiddush on Shab-bat," replies the ascending soul.
"Wow, imagine that!" exclaims the first soul, awed at the relatively inexpensive price of acquiring mitzvot. The soul begins plummeting even more quickly, without fear or hesitation.
"Don't be so eager," the second soul calls after it. "Just wait until you see how hard it is to convince your body that it's important to make kiddush on Shabbat let alone break your teeth on the Hebrew!"
Do a mitzva. Your soul will surely appreciate it, and so will you! You'll both"be glad you did.
The first of this week's two Torah portions, Nitzavim, speaks about the mitzva of teshuva. "And you shall return to the L-rd your G-d and obey His voice according to what I command you this day...with all your heart and with all your soul."
The Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidut, elucidated on the meaning of repentance in Igeret Hateshuva. Teshuva, he wrote, does not mean fasting or mortification of the body. Nor does it entail merely confessing our transgressions. The simple definition of teshuva is "the return to G-d through the abandonment of sin."
How do we "abandon sin"? "A person must wholeheartedly resolve that he will not repeat the folly of rebelling against G-d's sovereignty, that he will never again disobey the King's commands, both positive and negative mitzvot."
The "abandonment of sin" is thus synonymous with the re-acceptance of the yoke of heaven. When a person accepts G-d's kingship, it prevents him from committing any and all sins, not just the particular sin he has already committed.
When a Jew resolves to do teshuva, it's not enough for him to renounce a singular transgression. He must promise to keep all of G-d's commandments, positive observances and negative prohibitions alike.
Take, for example, a Jew who has committed the sin of lashon hara (slander). Is regretting his misdeed and resolving to never again speak negatively about others sufficient? No! True teshuva requires that his acceptance of the yoke of heaven be felt so sincerely and deeply that it precludes him from committing any sin in the future.
The reason for this is that when a person sins, the damage it causes is two-fold. In the general sense, by acting contrary to G-d's will, the individual has rebelled against G-d and thrown off the yoke of His authority. Yet on a more personal level, his individual G-dly soul has been impaired.
When a Jew accepts G-d's kingship and rededicates himself to the totality of Torah and mitzvot, he rights both wrongs at the same time. His teshuva goes beyond correcting his individual failure, and nullifies the underlying potential for transgression at its source.
The Torah enjoins us, "And you shall return to the L-rd your G-d," demanding that we accept G-d's authority in all facets of our lives. Rather than making amends for individual transgressions, genuine teshuva requires that we rededicate ourselves to obeying all of G-d's commands, with renewed acceptance of the yoke of heaven.
Based on Shiurim Besefer Hatanya, chapter 1
by Jay Litvin
The video on the bus silenced the squeals and yells of the children and I took advantage of the quiet to visit one of my favorite places: the parade of thoughts marching across my inner terrain.
My son continued to hold my hand as we rode, and I enjoyed the warmth and softness of his little hand in mine. We were on a kinder-excursion from Rehovot to Jerusalem. Of the many parent activities held for these tykes throughout the year, one day is reserved especially for fathers and their sons. It was time for the grand ceremony where each of the six-year-olds would receive his own prayer book and Chumash (Five Books of Moses). I was amazed to see that each father had, like me, taken the day off from work to make the trek.
After a few speeches, the boys were called one by one to the podium to receive their holy books. This took more time than expected because each father (including me) had his son pause-and-pose for his cherished photo. The fathers beamed and each child stood proud and erect.
When the ceremony was over the music began. We hoisted our sons on our shoulders and danced. We handed our cameras to the father in front of us so that we would have a picture of our sons and ourselves in this special moment. It was, to say the least, tricky: You have your son on your shoulders. You're holding his feet so he won't fall. The line of dancing men and boys is moving in front of and behind you. The father behind you taps you on the shoulder and hands you a camera and asks that you take a picture. To do this you have to somehow release the grip on your son's little feet and find a way to balance him so he won't fall off. Your son's response is, of course, to grab you tightly by the head around the same eyes you need to take the picture. And, in case you're having trouble visualizing this procedure, it requires that you turn around and dance backward while taking the picture of the dancing father/son combination behind you. It is a move requiring great skill, but we all managed to do it.
When the dancing finally ended, our sons ran to receive their special "kid-safe torches" for the torch-lit procession. With the torches lit, we formed a sort-of-line and began to march through the Old City to the Kotel (Western Wall), singing all the way. It was a proud but tricky walk because no father could see where he was going. Each of us had our attention focused directly and only on our sons and their supposed-to-be-safe torches.
We marched with unified pride as tourists and passersby stopped to smile at the cute little boys.
Arriving at the Kotel in time for the setting sun, the boys lined up, their faces dramatically lit by torchlight, and recited Torah verses. Cameras clicked. Videos whirred. Torch wars were negotiated. Fathers were tired. And with great relief someone announced that the boys would now eat while the fathers prayed the evening service.
As I began to pray, the sudden quiet once again caused a retreat to my inner thoughts. I felt a growing affection for this group of men and their sons. This was and would be my and my son's community for years to come. These boys would be his classmates throughout his school years. I would know these dads for years and their sons would be a major influence on the development of my own child. I began to imagine the collection of photo albums and videocassettes that would accumulate in my home and theirs during the coming years. My albums would contain snapshots of all of their kids, and theirs would have photos of mine. These boys would share thousands of school hours as the years passed. We were bound and woven into each other's lives. The maturation of each boy would profoundly affect that of all the others.
I looked up from my prayer book into the faces of the fathers who surrounded me and knew that each of them carried in their hearts the same love and concern for their son as I did for mine.
I imagined that each of us was praying our hearts out for our boys - that they be safe and healthy, grow smart and strong, become G-d-fearing Jews and loving chasidim, that we all would merit to dance at their weddings and to someday hold their children on our laps.
Without intention, I found the breadth of my prayers widen. I began to ask the Al-mighty that He watch and protect not only my son, but also each of these boys. I asked that all us - each father - be provided the wisdom to raise our children properly, to instill in them good, healthy character traits, to recognize and nurture their special talents and abilities, to accept and cherish their weaknesses and limitations. I asked that each father be granted the ability to transform his love into compassion and patience, his hopes and expectations into wise guidance and careful instruction. I entreated the Al-mighty to bestow His blessings upon all of us and each of us.
As often happens when I pray at the Kotel, I felt my prayers penetrate the stones and I was rewarded by that very singular joy that occurs when one feels that he has been truly heard.
I opened my eyes to see each father praying intently. I wondered if we were, at that moment, all sharing these same thoughts. Or if, perhaps, I had simply drifted alone to visit my own inner world of hope and yearning.
It didn't much matter, really.
Soon we were back on the bus. It was dark now and we were all tired. Within minutes my son was asleep, his little head resting against my shoulder. I looked around to see thirty little heads resting comfortably and exhausted on the shoulders of thirty tired fathers.
And before I, too, fell asleep, I again felt my son's hand in mine and took a moment to enjoy the weight of his head on my shoulder and the steady rhythm of his breathing in sleep.
It was a good trip. If you'd like, I could show you the pictures. Most of them are in focus.
Jay Litvin is public relations director and medical liaison for Chabad's Children of Chernobyl and lives in Rehovot, Israel with his wife and children. He and his family made aliya to Israel five and a half years ago from Mequon, Wisconsin.
CELEBRATION OF FREEDOM
This summer, ten Russian couples were married in a tradtional Jewish ceremony at the Bris Avrohom Center in Hillside, N.J. Many of the couples had been civilly married in Russia but were denied the right of a religious wedding, The wedding provided a dramatic symbol of their new freedom. In the past 14 years, hundreds of couples have availed themselves of this special service of Bris Avrohom.
Aleph d'Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, 5710
June 15, 1950
This is in reply to your question regarding the significance of the custom during the marriage ceremony that the bride makes seven circuits around the groom under the Chuppah.
The answer to this question, it seems to me, has to cover the following sub-questions: 1) The significance of the circuit, 2) its repetition seven times, 3) the bride circling around the groom and not vice versa, 4) the bride then joining the groom, standing by his side within the circle.
I trust that the following may give you a satisfactory answer.
It is stated in the Zohar (Part III, 7:2) that marriage, which is a union of two distinct persons, is in reality a union of two halves of the same soul. Each one, when born, possesses but half (*) of that soul which becomes one and complete only in wedlock, through Chuppah and Kiddushin [sanctification].
This is why marriage is one of the greatest soul-stirring experiences of the bride and groom, for their respective souls have found at last the other half. Something of this joy is experienced, by way of illustration, at the re-union of two close relatives or beloved friends who had been separated for decades.
To a certain extent, therefore, the marriage marks the beginning of a complete and full life, while the pre-marital life of either the bride of groom may be considered in the nature of a preparatory period.
The union of the two parts of the same soul is not a union of two identical halves which make one whole. But they complement each other, each of them enriching the other with powers and qualities which hitherto were not possessed by him or her. For the "masculine" and "feminine" parts of the souls have basic differences, reflecting, broadly speaking, the character differences of the sexes. One such difference is what our Sage called "the nature of the male to conquer," i.e., the propensity of the male to conquer new provinces (in business, profession, science, etc.) outside his home. This quality is generally not found in the female. On the other hand, the woman is called in our sacred literature the "Foundation of the House," for within the house her personality and innermost qualities are best expressed and asserted (Psalms 45:14).
It has been mentioned earlier that marriage, in a sense, marks the beginning of a full life. The wedding ceremony reflects this by an allusion to the beginning of all life. The Blessings of Betrothal (Birchoth Hanesuin) also begin with a reference to the creation of the first man, the first woman, and their wedding.
Ever since the Creation of the world, human life has been based on the seven-day cycle. G-d created the world in six days and hallowed the seventh as a day of rest. Man was then commanded to work for six days of the week, but to dedicate the seventh as a Sabbath unto G-d. When a Jew is about to set up a home and begin a full life, it is fitting that this basic principle of a happy life should be symbolized during the wedding ceremony. Hence the "Seven Days of Feasting," and the "Seven Blessings" (Sheva Berachot). This brings us also to the seven circuits of the bride around the groom.
Bearing the above in mind, as well as the earlier introductory remarks concerning the basic character differences between the male and female, the ceremony of the seven circuits which the bride makes around the groom suggest the following explanation:
The groom, who takes the initiative (**) in bringing the union to fruition, is initially the center of the new Jewish home. He is the first to take his place under the Chuppah. When the bride is led to the Chuppah, she proceeds to make a circle around the groom. This symbolizes the delineation (in space) of their own world within the outer world, with her husband-to-be as its center. She continues to make circuits one after the other seven times, symbolizing that she, the "Foundation of the House," founds an edifice that would be complete on the first day of each and every week to come as on the second, third, etc., to the end of all times and seasons, a lasting and "eternal edifice" (with the infinity of the "cycle"). Her own contribution to this sacred union is also implied in the fact that she makes the circuits around the groom.
Having completed the seven circuits, she stand besides her husband-to-be in the center of the circle, for after the preparations for the building of their home, both of them, the husband and the wife, form its center. From here on, throughout the entire ceremony both the bride and groom form the center of the holy ceremony, like king and queen surrounded by a suite of honor. Their lives become united into One full and happy life, based on the One Torah given by the One G-d.
With all good wishes and kindest personal regards,
*) This does not mean, of course, that it is half a soul in every respect, but in the sense that in some respects, viz. the setting up of a home, an individual is but a "half," and his soul is likewise a "half."
**) This is expressed, e.g. by the saying of our Sages that "it is the custom of the man to seek a wife." During the marriage ceremony this is symbolized by the fact that the groom declares "Harei at, etc," (Be thou betrothed unto me, etc.) while the bride remains silent.
In memory of Yosef Yitzchak ben Shlomo Shneur Zalman, yblc't
22 Elul 5759
Positive mitzva 53: appearing before G-d in the Sanctuary in Jerusalem on the three Festivals
By this injunction we are commanded to appear before the L-rd during the Festivals. It is contained in the words (Deut. 16:16): "Three times a year shall all your males appear before the L-rd your G-d." The commandment is not binding on women.
Since the beginning of the month of Elul we've been doing teshuva, getting rid of negative baggage and "cleaning up our act" before Rosh Hashana. But this Saturday night we're going to really get down to business, as Jews around the world go to the synagogue to recite Selichot. These special penitential prayers are the next stage of our preparation for the High Holidays.
Chasidic philosophy makes the following distinction: During the month of Elul, we concentrate on improving our thought, speech and deed. But when we say Selichot, we focus on an even deeper level of the soul and correct the emotive powers themselves.
Though it sounds serious, Chasidim have always approached Selichot (like everything else!) with a sense of joy, rather than sadness and gloom. We look forward to the opportunity to reach even higher levels of holiness and sanctity.
The Rebbe Rashab, quoting Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidut, explained one of the lines in the Selichot thusly: "The needs of Your people are great, and their knowledge is narrow and limited." Our needs are many precisely because our knowledge is limited. If our knowledge were "wider," our needs would be fewer.
The pursuit of luxuries, adds the Rebbe, can even diminish the "regular" measure of blessing a person would otherwise receive. Because our "knowledge is limited" we demand too much, over-inflating our importance and assuming that G-d "owes" us. Our "needs" tend to multiply when we put too much emphasis on material rather than spiritual concerns.
Nonetheless, the Rebbe concludes, "Our request from G-d is that He fulfill all the needs of His people, even though what we ask for stems from a deficiency in knowledge. And may every single Jew lack for nothing."
And you will return to the L-rd your G-d (Deut. 30:2)
Teshuva, repentance, is one of the Torah's 613 commandments. It states in the Talmud: "A person who says, 'I will sin and repent, I will sin and repent,' is not assisted in repenting from Above." Logically, a person would have to commit at least one sin in order to repent. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, the first "I will sin and repent" is purely for the sake of fulfilling the mitzva. But by the second repetition there is no excuse. (Peninei Kedem)
If your outcasts will be at the edge of the heavens, from there the L-rd your G-d will gather you (Deut. 30:4)
When a Jew sins, at that moment he becomes a "vessel" for the forces of evil from which his desire to sin originates. His soul becomes "scattered" and "outcast" among the various chambers of uncleanliness. It thus becomes necessary to "gather" him up, and restore him to the realm of holiness. (Torah Ohr)
That you may live and multiply, and G-d may bless you (Deut. 30:16)
This refers to the three things for which everyone prays: life itself, children, and physical sustenance. (Degel Machane Efraim)
Behold, while I am still alive with you this day, you have been rebellious against G-d; how much more so after my death (Deut. 31:27)
The Talmud relates the story of Rav Zeira, who lived in a town with many wrongdoers. After he died they all became righteous, as there was no longer anyone whose merit would protect them. Moses, by contrast, knew that the Jewish people would not improve their behavior after his death. Years before, when Moses was up on Mt. Sinai receiving the Torah, the Satan had fooled them into thinking he was dead; the result had been the Golden Calf. He therefore realized that the Jews would continue to rebel after his actual passing. (Minchat Yehuda Al HaTorah)
One day during the month of Elul, Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev was making his way home from shul. On his way, he encountered an individual known for his many transgressions and aimless life-style. Reb Levi Yitzchak stopped him and said: "I am envious of you. These are days of repentance. If you repent wholeheartedly, all your transgressions will be transformed into merits!"
The man was not moved. "Hah!" he laughed aloud. "In that case, by next year, you will be even more envious of me. I have the whole year ahead of me to accumulate transgressions, then I'll have plenty of time to convert them into merits."
"Let me tell you a story," said Reb Levi Yitzchak. "Once a poritz (Polish landowner) was traveling and was caught in a heavy rainstorm. Both he and his horses were soaked to the bone and were anxious to find shelter. The poritz said to himself, 'Not far away an inn of mine which I have leased out is located. I'll head there to dry up and rest till the storm passes.'
"The poritz hurried over to the inn and directed his horses to the stable. However, the sight that met him was far from inviting. The roof was full of holes. The beams themselves swayed dangerously in the wind. He left the unfortunate horses inside, though it was hardly drier than the stormy outdoors.
"'Well, at least I'll get dry myself,' the poritz consoled himself as he waded through the puddles to the inn's entrance. Imagine his disappointment upon finding the condition of the inn no better than the stables. In a rage, he called for the innkeeper. 'How dare you neglect this property so? Originally, you were given a property of value and now, this place is a disaster.'
"The embarrassed innkeeper turned red with shame. 'I had a hunch that you would eventually come here,' he stammered, 'but I didn't reckon it would be this soon.' "
Reb Levi Yitzchak concluded his story and walked home.
Soon after Rosh Hashana, the sinner fell ill and realized that his end was near. He implored Reb Levi Yitzchak to visit him and guide him in repentance. Indeed, the man repented fully before he died.
One of the followers of Reb Levi Yitzchak possessed a unique skill which was eagerly sought after by lumber merchants. He was able to assess the worth of forest trees after a cursory examination. His talent was valued highly, since a lumber merchant often had to decide very quickly whether or not to purchase a forest.
Once, a wealthy lumber merchant attempted to hire this chasid, offering him a handsome salary. "Where is your business located?" asked the broker.
"In a town near the forest-filled districts of Siberia."
"That town is far-removed from the Jewish community. How will I educate my children?"
"That is no problem. You may hire a teacher for them at my expense."
"As you know, I am a chasid and require a mikva to immerse in very morning."
"I will build a mikva on the premises."
"What about a minyan?"
"I have eight Jewish men working for me there. You and your children's teacher will make ten."
"I would like to consult my Rebbe before making any kind of commitment. I will give you an answer in a few days."
The chasid arrived in Berdichev and requested an audience with the Rebbe. The attendant told him that the Rebbe was in the middle of judging a halachic question concerning a chicken. When he finished, the audience could be arranged.
The chasid waited outside. Soon, he overheard the Rebbe speaking, "What a shame, little chicken. You had it so good in your owner's coop. You were fed hearty food, tasty millet seeds and crumbs. However, you were greedy for more, so you wandered outside in search of stray food, nibbling on anything you found. What came of your efforts? You swallowed this needle and it pierced your stomach. Now I am obligated to declare you treif - unfit to be eaten."
Listening to the Rebbe, the chasid realized that his words contained lesson for himself as well. "I no longer need to take the Rebbe's time," he told the attendant. "I already have my answer."
From From My Father's Shabbos Table by Yehuda Chitrik
We must anticipate that G-d will hasten the Redemption by some strategy or other, whether by virtue of the tremendous anguish we have suffered, or by some other means. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning of "... in its time, I will hasten it"- that is, G-d will hasten the period of "in its time" itself. (The Chofetz Chaim on Awaiting Moshiach)