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When the sign reads "Closed for inventory" we all know what it means. The company is taking stock, counting how many widgets and thingamajigs they've sold, how many they still have, what losses or damages they have incurred.
You'll find "closed for inventory" signs posted at various times throughout the year depending on when a particular company's fiscal year starts and ends. And once inventory has been taken, the company has all of the information it needs to file reports with banks, insurance companies, and the government.
We now find ourselves in the "inventory" month of the Jewish calendar, Elul. This month is filled with customs that help us get into the mood for introspection and jolt us out of our lethargy or complacency.
The alarm clock of Elul is the shofar, blown every morning except for the eve of Rosh Hashana. The prophet Amos said, "Can the shofar be blown in the city and the people not tremble?" Aside from its yearly use on Rosh Hashana and at the closing service of Yom Kippur, it is also the one sound Jews have longed for endlessly, for it will herald the arrival of Moshiach.
That many of us hear the shofar sounded and do not tremble does not denote a lack of power on the part of the shofar to influence us. Rather it means that we need to sensitize ourselves more to its ancient message: "Wake up, you sleepers from your sleep and you slumberers from your slumber. Search your deeds and return in penitence." The shofar is the "air-raid siren" for the soul, we just need to attune ourselves to it and recognize its message.
Greeting card companies do a burgeoning business during Elul, though the idea of Jewish New Year's cards have their basis in custom, not commercialism. Jewish custom has it that when we see or write to friends and acquaintances, we wish them a "good year," or that they be "written and sealed for good." This greeting is to remind us, and others, that these are days of judgement, when the reckoning of our Heavenly Account is taking place. And just as we ask for mercy for ourselves, we should also ask for G-d's kindness and compassion for our friends and relatives.
Lastly, Elul is the time when we especially try to increase and enhance our performance of mitzvot. As thoroughly and scrupulously as we would examine the stockroom and look at each shelf when taking inventory, we must do similarly with our Jewish inventory.
We should consider what losses and damages others have incurred at our expense (knowingly or unknowingly). We should weigh the good deeds that we've been storing up throughout the year and try to add more to them in the next few weeks. We should consider trying to stock new mitzvot or restock some old ones for the coming year.
Proper inventory is important for businesses. It's important for the business of being a Jew, too.
Many mitzvot are delineated in this week's Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, including the commandments to return a lost article, aiding a fallen animal, and the prohibition against wearing a mixture of wool and linen (shatnez). The portion also contains the mitzva: "When you build a new home, you must place a guard rail around your roof." Let us explore the inner meaning of this commandment.
In a broader sense, building a new home connotes the beginning of a new chapter in one's life, the commencement of a new form of Divine service. Accordingly, the old guard rails and safeguards which were adequate protection up until now no longer suffice, and new ones must be established. The fact that one has thus far been able to withstand temptation has no bearing on the future. When a person embarks on a new path, he encounters situations and circumstances with which he is entirely unfamiliar. Thus, in order to ensure his safety, it is necessary that he set up stronger "fences" around his behavior and demand even greater stringency of himself when it comes to mitzva observance.
This scenario is played out within the context of the Jew's daily existence. Every morning the Jew begins his day with prayer, followed by a period of Torah study. Before going off to work, he must set for himself the proper "guard rails" to ensure that "he not bring blood upon his house" and that "no one fall," i.e., that his business dealings are conducted according to Torah law.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, said, "A Jew has to live with the times." He meant that a Jew must live with the weekly Torah reading. Each portion of the Torah contains halachot (Jewish laws), mitzvot and stories that are especially relevant to the week when it is read. We "live with the times" when we derive practical direction and guidance from the weekly portion and apply it in our own personal lives.
We are now in the Hebrew month of Elul. The Previous Rebbe once stated: "Every Rosh Hashana a Jew must do something to enhance his observance of positive mitzvot, be more cautious when it comes to the negative ones, and improve his behavior."
This applies even if one's previous conduct has been more than exemplary, for as an entirely new light comes down into the world on Rosh Hashanah, each person must accordingly demand and receive more of himself, erecting new "guard rails" in consonance with the new level of illumination.
Adapted from Volume 2 of Likutei Sichot
Mezuzas, Enjoy Them by the Bag Full
By Steve Hyatt
Several months ago I took a Shabbos walk through my neighborhood. It was fall and the leaves on the trees were turning and the mountains were ablaze in a cornucopia of color. As I walked along the quiet streets of Salem, Oregon, my mind drifted back to thoughts of my friends at Chabad of Delaware. For you see this was the one year anniversary of my move from Delaware to Oregon.
I found myself reflecting on how these wonderful people had helped me begin a journey of self-discovery and Jewish learning that was unparalleled with anything I had experienced in my first 45 years of life. As I strolled along at a leisurely pace I inventoried the many adventures and discoveries I had made along my three-year trek.
I smiled at the thought of saying the Kiddush on wine the first time on Shabbat. I remembered how frightened I was to start the blessing. I was sure I would forget everything I had practiced all week long. But I soon found I had nothing to fear. I thought about building my first suka and how proud I was to eat my first meal in it. Though in reality it had only been a few years, I could hardly remember a time when I didn't pray the three daily services. A contented smile slowly appeared on my face as I remembered walking into my home one Friday afternoon seeing my wife standing in the dining room next to the Shabbat candles, two challas and silver Kiddush cup. I remember thinking that this was a sight unseen in a Hyatt or Lobenstein household for at least 40 or 50 years.
However, of all the steps I've taken along this journey, the most significant may have been the easiest to overlook.
Two years ago on Simchat Torah, Rabbi Chuni Vogel (of Chabad of Delaware) had suggested that I make a mitzva pledge to put mezuzot on the door posts of my home. Back then I was a little shy about my Jewish observance and I was reluctant to put one by my front door. But these Chabad Rabbis are nothing if they are not persuasive and several weeks later I put a mezuza on the door post of my front door.
When it came time to move to Oregon, Rabbi Vogel gave me a huge hug goodbye, the telephone number of Rabbi Moshe and Devori Wilhelm of Chabad of Oregon and a bag full of mezuzot. He smiled and told me to feel free to put these on the door posts of the rooms of my new home.
When Linda and I moved into our new home the first thing we did was put the mezuzot up throughout the house. Other than the bathrooms, every door post sports a hand-written parchment encased in a simple acrylic mezuza cover. I even put one on the private entrance to my office at work. So why of all the wondrous events over the last few years is this one of the most significant?
Upon reflection, I see the mezuza and the doorposts within our home as spiritual portals, ones we enter and exit dozens of times each day. And each passage through presents another opportunity to pause, reconnect and reconsider our spiritual role and responsibility in G-d's world. I have found that no matter how stressed or preoccupied I am as I step through the entrances to the rooms in my home and touch each mezuza, time appears to stand still. For one brief moment I step out of the secular intensity of my life and bask in the spiritual illumination of G-d's love and reassurance.
Suddenly my problem at work doesn't seem so earth-shattering, the disagreement I just had with my next-door neighbor seems silly and I can't even remember why I was so frustrated with missing that last putt on the golf course.
The simple act of walking through the door to my bedroom and gently touching the mezuza transforms my state of mind, calms me down and rejuvenates me. I feel connected to my people, my heritage and my G-d. How can something so simple have such an enormous impact?
But then, why ponder the mystery. It is not for me or anyone else to determine why G-d commanded us to put mezuzot on the door posts of our homes. It's a mitzva so we do it. But it is clear to me that this simple mitzva has enhanced my life beyond comprehension.
But don't take my word for it. If you haven't done so already, call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center and ask about getting a mezuza for your home. Put one up and see how it makes you feel. I guarantee that you won't be satisfied with just one. Within a month you'll be calling back and asking for a whole bag full!
Ed.'s note: During Elul, the month preceeding the High Holidays, it is customary to ascertain that the mezuzot on one's doors are still "kosher," i.e., the letters on the parchment have not faded or cracked with age. If one doesn't have mezuzot on one's doors, what better time than now to affix them!
Tzivos Hashem, the largest Jewish children's organization in the world, is sponsoring hundreds of "Shofar Factories" in preparation for Rosh Hashana. Reservations for this exciting, hands-on Judaica craft workshop have been made by JCCs, schools and synagogues throughout the tri-state area and the New England states. At the workshop, children actually make their own shofar from a ram's horn and learn about the significance of the special mitzva of sounding the shofar on Rosh Hashana. Many of the over 3,000 Chabad-Lubavitch Centers world-wide are sponsoring similar workshops. Call your local Center to find out more.
22nd of Elul, 5730 
I received regards from you through your husband, who also told me of your present frame of mind. And while this is quite understandable, it is necessary to bear in mind that the ways of G-d are inscrutable, but always good, since He is the Essence of Goodness, and it is in the nature of the Good to do good - however difficult it may sometimes seem to comprehend. Yet it is not at all surprising that a human being should not be able to understand the ways of G-d. On the contrary, it is quite easy to see why a human being should not be able to understand the ways of G-d, for how can a created being understand the creator?
We must, therefore, be strong in our trust in G-d and let nothing discourage us or cause any depression, G-d forbid. As a matter of fact, the stronger the Bitochon in G-d and in His benevolence, the sooner comes the time when this becomes plain even to human eyes. You should therefore be confident that G-d will eventually fulfill your heart's desires for good, as well as that of your husband, to be blessed with additional healthy offspring.
Your husband's activities and contribution to the strengthening and spreading Yiddishkeit [Judaism], as well as your share in it, will stand you in good stead to hasten that time.
Inasmuch as we are now in the auspicious month of Elul, I trust you surely know the explanation by the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman], author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch, of the significance of this month. He explains it by means of an illustration of a king returning to his residence, when all the people of the city turn out to welcome the king in the field. At such a time, everyone may approach to the king, even dressed in work clothes, etc., to present a personal petition to the king, while the king accepts each petition graciously and grants the request. Such is also the period of the month of Elul - a time of special Divine grace and mercy.
May G-d grant that this be so also with you and all yours, in the midst of all our people Israel.
Wishing you and yours a Kesivo veChasimo Tovo [to be written and sealed for good],
Rosh Chodesh Elul, 5736 
This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 17th of Menachem Av etc. I will remember you in prayer for the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good in the matters about which you write.
As I have mentioned it before to you, strengthening Bitochon [trust] in G-d, in addition to this being a basic tenet of our Torah, also increases and speeds G-d's blessing in all needs. At the same time, the Bitochon minimizes, and indeed dispels, all anxieties and worries.
With regard to matters relating to the community, Chinuch [Jewish education], etc., you should discuss them with Askonim Yirei Shomayim [G-d-fearing communal leaders], who are familiar with the local situation - as I have also advised you this in the past.
Wishing you and yours a Kesiva vaChasimo Tovo,
13th of Teveth, 5723 
I received your letter, in which you ask what occupation to choose.
Generally speaking one should choose a line in which one has either knowledge or connections or both. If there is any doubt, it has been said in such a case that "help comes with a multitude of advice," i.e. from talking things over with as many qualified people as possible. The important thing is that the choice made and the actual effort put into its materialization should come together with the fullest trust in G-d, whose benevolent Providence extends to everyone, and this will ensure the success of it.
22nd of Elul, 5723 
I received your letter in which you write about your birthday in this month.
I send you my prayerful wishes for a happy and successful year, materially and spiritually. Above all, it is important for you, considering your age, to make every possible effort to strengthen your devotion and diligence in the study of the Torah and the fulfillment of the Mitzvos. Every Jew has been assured that if he sanctifies himself a little by his own effort, he is sanctified a great deal from above.
Let me know your full Hebrew name and your mother's Hebrew name, as also in the case of your brother for whom you request a blessing, and I will remember you both in prayer.
Hoping to hear good news from you and wishing you a Kesivo veChasimo Tova.
11 Elul 5760
Positive mitzva 96: defilement through the carcass of animals
By this injunction we are commanded concerning the spiritual uncleanliness of an animal carcass, and all the provisions relating thereto. It is derived from the words (Lev. 11:24): "By these you shall become unclean."
It is customary during the entire month of Elul to sound the shofar daily,except on Shabbat. The shofar is not sounded on the eve of Rosh Hashana but it is sounded on both days of Rosh Hashana. However, in a year such as this year, when the first day of Rosh Hashana occurs on Shabbat, the shofar is only sounded on the second day of the holiday. The shofar is also sounded during the final service of Yom Kippur.
What is so special about the sound of the shofar? The sound of the shofar gives us two distinct messages: It is the sound of trumpets announcing the coronation of the king and it is a signal, like an alarm, reminding us to consider our past deeds and return to G-d in sincere teshuva (repentance).
Why was the shofar, a rather crude musical instrument, specifically chosen to give over these two messages? Even in ancient times, finer musical instruments producing more refined sounds existed.
The shofar is made from a ram's horn. Even when the horn has been hollowed out, cleaned and polished, it is still more similar to a horn than a fine musical instrument.
The preparation for Rosh Hashana, and its inauguration through the sounding of the horn of an animal, teaches us a profound lesson. Although people are intelligent creatures and our intellect is one of the things that separates us from other living creatures, intellect cannot be the be-all and end-all. When it comes to accepting G-d as our Ruler, we must do so with the submissiveness of an animal. Our return to G-d, too, is more easily accomplished by setting aside our cold, calculating intellect and relying, instead, on our warm, simple, more primitive emotive qualities.
When you go forth to war against your enemies...and have taken them captive (Deut. 21:10)
In the spiritual "war" against the Evil Inclination, it isn't enough to merely subdue it; it must also be "taken captive" and utilized in our Divine service. There are many positive lessons to be derived from the Evil Inclination, among them alacrity and devotion. In the same way the Evil Inclination is completely dedicated to fulfilling its mission to cause us to sin, so too should we show the same commitment and enthusiasm in serving G-d.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
And the firstborn son is hers who was hated (Deut. 21:15)
The "firstborn son" is an allusion to King Moshiach and his ultimate sovereignty in the Messianic era, as it states in Psalms, "I have found David My servant...also I will make him my firstborn," while "hers who was hated" refers to Leah, the mother of Judah, from whom Moshiach is descended: "And when L-rd saw that Leah was hated, He opened her womb."
But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated as the firstborn, by giving him a double portion (Deut. 21:17)
The "son of the beloved" is symbolic of the first Tablets of the Ten Commandments, which G-d gave to Moses before the Jewish people sinned with the Golden Calf. The "son of the hated" refers to the second set of Tablets, which were given after the Jews repented and became baalei teshuva. The first set of Tablets contained only the Ten Commandments, but the second set contained a "double portion" - not only the Ten Commandments, but all of the minutiae of halacha (Jewish law), Midrash and Aggada.
You shall not watch your brother's ox or his sheep go astray... you shall surely help him to lift them up again (Deut. 22:1-4)
When a person helps his neighbor and returns something the other has lost (either physical or spiritual) the benefit is mutual, as our Sages stated: "The advantage extended to the benefactor by the poor man is greater than the advantage extended to the poor man by the benefactor.
There was a custom in the town of Berditchev that whenever a man passed away, his tefilin were given to the Chevra Kadisha, the Burial Society. The tefilin would be sold, and the money used to support the Society's activities.
One day a simple Jew passed away in Berditchev, an average fellow with nothing extraordinary about him at all. The Burial Society arranged for the funeral and the man was interred. In fact, no one would have paid too much attention to his demise if not for the highly unusual visit paid by the tzadik, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, to the Society's office after the funeral.
Indeed, the tzadik's request surprised everyone when he asked if he could see all of the tefilin in their possession. Tefilin, it should be noted, are nothing to be taken lightly. A tzadik of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's stature would never don "ordinary" tefilin; no doubt he would order a pair from only the most G-d-fearing scribe, and make sure they were written with every possible stringency. The secretary of the Burial Society was taken aback, but said nothing.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak began to inspect the tefilin until he had looked at several dozen pairs. His face was filled with concentration. Suddenly, he gave a deep sigh of contentment as he found what he was looking for. Yes, he said with great satisfaction, holding aloft a particular pair. These were the ones he wished to purchase, and he would wear them every day.
The secretary of the Buriel Society could no longer contain himself. "But Rebbe!" he said, "those tefilin belonged to a simple Jew. What is so special about them? Why would you even want to buy them?"
The tzadik explained:
"Surely you've heard of the famous tzadikim Reb Zushe and Reb Elimelech. The two brothers would often disguise themselves as ordinary wayfarers, and arouse their brethren to return to G-d. They had a standard method of operation: Wherever they lodged they would conduct an ostensibly private conversation that was sure to be overheard by their host.
"What did they talk about? One brother would confess all the sins he had on his conscience, and the other would explain how he could repent and do teshuva. The host, who would be listening, would be immediately ‘reminded' that he too had done the exact same transgressions, and his heart would be opened. Filled with longing to correct his misdeeds, he would then approach the brothers and ask them for spiritual guidance.
"It happened once that the brothers stayed in the home of a local villager. That evening, Reb Zushe suddenly began to weep. ‘Dear brother,' he began, ‘do you know what I've been thinking? It just occurred to me that I have never had my tefilin checked by a scribe. Not even once since my Bar Mitzva! What if my tefilin have become defective? What if they were never kosher to begin with? Maybe I have never fulfilled the mitzva correctly in my entire life! Just think of it, a Jew putting on tefilin every day, but not actually performing the mitzva because his tefilin are faulty.'
"The villager, who had been listening in the next room, thought his heart might stop beating from the shock. Why, he too had never had his tefilin checked since his Bar Mitzva! ‘Oh my goodness!' he thought, as the dreadful possibility that his tefilin were defective dawned on him. With fear and trepidation he waited to hear the other guest's reaction.
"Reb Elimelech chastised his brother and began to explain the necessity of having kosher tefilin. ‘You mustn't wait another second!' he advised him. ‘Open your tefilin now and see what's inside.' At that, the villager walked into the room and bashfully admitted to being in the same predicament. He handed his tefilin over to Reb Elimelech.
"Without hesitating, the tzadik opened the compartments of the tefilin and the villager gasped. The small black boxes were completely empty of any parchment. The poor Jew clutched his head. ‘Master of the Universe!' he cried. ‘In my entire life I have never once fulfilled the mitzva of tefilin!'
"Filled with contrition to the depths of his soul, the villager begged his guests for guidance. The two holy brothers, recognizing his sincere remorse, decided to help him correct the spiritual flaw his actions had caused. Reb Zushe immediately inscribed new parchments for him to place in his tefilin, and of course, being a great tzadik, wrote them with the loftiest spiritual intentions in mind. These tefilin possessed such sanctity that the villager was able to make up for his years of omission by donning them every day.
"The simple Jew who just recently passed away," Rabbi Levi Yitzchak concluded, "was none other than that villager, and these wonderful tefilin are the ones that Reb Zushe personally inscribed. So now you know why I wanted them so badly..."
The Talmud (Nida 61a) states: "The mitzvot will be nullified in the World to Come." This is not to say that we will cease to put on tefilin, or work on Shabbat, G-d forbid; a world that is one with G-d will obviously be in complete conformity with G-d's will. But the very notion of a "commandment" or a "connection" will be superfluous. Our minds do not "command" our bodies to do their bidding, nor are our bodies "connected" to our minds by virtue of the fact that they do their bidding. Body and mind constitute a single entity; the will of the mind is the will of the body, which the body naturally and spontaneously actualizes. (The Week in Review Vol. 11. #49)