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636: Ki Tavo

637: Nitzavim-Vayeilech

September 22, 2000 - 22 Elul, 5760

637: Nitzavim-Vayeilech

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Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

  636: Ki Tavo 

Two Heads are Better Than One  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Rambam this week  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

Two Heads are Better Than One

As we approach Rosh Hashana, the "head" of the year, we are reminded of the adage "two heads are better than one." We're not referring to the fact that the Jewish New Year is celebrated for two days. Rather, as this is the season when Jews customarily greet each other with good wishes for the coming year, two heads - people - extending blessings are surely better than one.

"Have a good, sweet year," "Shana Tova," "May you be blessed with a healthy, happy year." These sentiments are offered when we bump into an acquaintance, call a relative or send New Year's cards. Judaism encourages us to keep those blessings coming not only before, during and immediately after Rosh Hashana, but throughout the entire year, as well.

How important the concept is of blessing others can be learned from the beginning of the Torah. The first letter of the first word of the Torah is the Hebrew letter "beit." Would it not have been more appropriate, one might ask, for the Torah to begin with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, "alef"? However, to emphasize the importance of the concept of blessing, the Torah begins with the letter "beit," the first letter of the word "bracha," or blessing.

Just as the Torah begins with the letter beit, signifying blessing, so too, should a Jew - a living Torah - "begin with a blessing." Simply stated this means that we should try to begin or at least incorporate into our conversations and correspondence good wishes and blessings to others.

The Chasidic masters used to say, "When two Jews meet, their meeting should provide a benefit for a third Jew." As stated before, "two heads are better than one!" It can and should be part of our routine, in these days before Rosh Hashana and throughout the year, that when we encounter a friend or acquaintance, we figure out how our meeting can assist a third person. Perhaps you know someone who needs a job and I know of a job opening. Maybe I have a friend who is not feeling well and to my, "May so-and-so have a speedy recovery," you can answer a hearty "Amen." Or you just might know a nice (single) Jewish man and you can ask me if I possibly know Ms. Right.

Let no one underestimate his or her ability to so profoundly help another person while expending so little effort. For, as we approach the New Year for the world and the anniversary of the creation of humankind on Rosh Hashana, we are reminded that each person is obligated to say, "The world was created for me." Far from being a call to selfishness and egotism, the obligation to view the world as being created "for me," sensitizes us to the far-reaching affects that our conduct can have and that our deeds will affect the entire world.

May we all be blessed materially and spiritually, and may we usher in the ultimate Redemption, NOW!

Living with the Rebbe

This week we read two Torah portions, Nitzavim and Vayeilech. The portion of Nitzavim begins, "You are all standing together this day before G-d... the leaders of your tribes, your elders, your officers, all the men of Israel, your children and your wives, to pass into G-d's covenant."

What is the intent of a covenant? When two people feel a powerful attraction to each other but realize that with the passage of time the attraction could wane, they establish a covenant. The covenant maintains their connection even at times when on a conscious level there might be reasons for distance and separation.

This portion of the Torah is read every year on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana, because on Rosh Hashana, the covenant between G-d and the Jewish people is renewed. For on Rosh Hashana, we "are all standing... before G-d." The essential G-dly core which every person possesses rises to the forefront of his consciousness, and the fundamental bond between G-d and humankind surfaces. On this basis a covenant is renewed for the entire year to come, including the inevitable occasions when these feelings of oneness will not be experienced as powerfully.

The Torah states that this covenant is being established when "you are all standing together," and proceeds to mention ten different groupings within the Jewish people. Implied is that the establishment of a bond of oneness with G-d is also mirrored by bonds of oneness within our people. For the same spiritual potential that motivates our connection to G-d evokes an internal unity which bonds our entire people together.

The essence of everyone of us is a soul which is a Divine spark, an actual part of G-d is within us; that is why we are bound to Him.

We all share this infinite and unbounded spiritual potential equally. That is why we are bound to each other. And that is why the covenant is established as we stand together. For as we center on the inner motivation for our relationship with G-d, we realize that a spiritual reality is all-encompassing and joins us with each other.

In our prayers we say, "Bless us our Father, all as one." Standing together as one generates a climate fit for blessing. Standing before G-d "as one," on Rosh Hashana will lead to a year of blesssing for all humankind in material and spiritual matters.

From Keeping in Touch, published by Sichos in English, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

A Slice of Life


The Chabad House in Umhlanga
By Mia Roth

Two years ago my two grandchildren and I were strolling along the beach at a holiday resort on South Africa's North Coast called Umhlanga. We had a family flat a block away from the beach and were enjoying the summer sun.

At that time, Judaism played a very small part in the lives of my grandchildren, my daughter's two children. My daughter had had a leg amputated when she was twelve years old. It made her adolescence a difficult time for her and when she married Jimmy, a non-Jewish boy from down our street, although initially upset, I eventually accepted the fact that this was part of the fallout from her disability.

A year later my grandson was born. I arranged for his his brit mila (circumcision). Three years later, my beautiful granddaughter was born and shortly thereafter the whole family moved from Johannesburg to a very pretty town, two hours from Umhlanga. There were no Jews in the town and for the first twelve years of his life, my grandson had no Jewish instruction.

But that all began to change one summer morning. As my grandchildren and I strolled along the beach, I noticed a large sign that said, "North Coast Chabad." Though I later found out that the sign had been in this conspicuous place for many years, I had never noticed it before. Why I saw it that day I don't know.

"David," I said, "Go see if the Rabbi is at home."

"What for?" asked David, quite reasonably. "What shall I say to him if he is home?"

"Just go and see," I answered.

Off David went, reappearing minutes later. Behind him was a rather roly-poly figure, dressed in black, looking a bit confused. I was confused as well. What did I want to say to him? Nothing in particular, it seemed. I introduced the two children and myself and then we said goodbye and went home. In the end, I think he was as perplexed at the encounter as I was. I told my daughter that we had met a rather nice rabbi that day and my granddaughter added that she liked his smile. That was our first meeting with Shlomo, Rabbi at North Coast Chabad.

A few months later, in my Friday afternoon phone conversation with my grandchildren, my granddaughter asked me to bring her a prayer book. Naturally, the next time I went to visit, I brought her a prayer book. This was a rather inexplicable request on her part. She had no knowledge of Hebrew at all and was only six years old, so she could barely read English, never mind Hebrew. Every evening after this, she insisted that her mother read to her from the prayer book at bedtime. Given her newfound interest, I went to the Chabad bookshop and bought a few more books.

It was now two years later and David was going on thirteen. Of course, I would have liked him to have celebrated his Bar Mitzva in a fitting manner, but it seemed unlikely that this would happen. He had had no formal Jewish education and there were no Jews where they lived. I did not want to put pressure on my daughter, but mentioned now and then that it would be rather nice if "such a thing as a Bar Mitzva would come to pass."

One day I got a phone call from my daughter. Rabbi Shlomo and two young Lubavitch students came all the way to their town to pay them a visit. My daughter had said "hello" to Rabbi Shlomo in Umhlanga a week or two before and he expressed wishes to visit her. Shlomo managed to win over not only my granddaughters with his lovely smile, but the whole family, including my son-in-law. Of course, it was not only the charm of his personality that won them over, but the Lubavitch way of not condemning anybody and accepting the situation for what it is and proceeding from there.

Before long, Rabbi Shlomo had David learning the blessing to be recited at the Torah. Suddenly it looked as if David would have a Bar Mitzva after all! When Shlomo ascertained that my granddaughter had never been named at the Torah, he suggested the name Ariela - a name she liked immediately. The following Shabbat we went to shul and Ariela received her name.

Two months before the Bar Mitzva, Jimmy got an offer to work in Australia and the family emigrated. The only person they knew in Australia was Jimmy's sister and her family. Coincidentally, a good friend of his sister was the secretary of the local Jewish day school. The next thing I heard, both children were attending the school! This meant that the family had to rent a house nearby. Coincidentally this house happened to be across the park from the shul run by another Lubavitcher, who welcomed them with the same warmth as Shlomo, though, as my Ariela pointed out, Shlomo's smile was still the best.

I continued my Friday afternoon phone calls to my family, only this time to Australia. About three weeks after their arrival, my daughter phoned me on Friday afternoon. My phone call, which was usually about an hour later, was at an inconvenient time, she explained. They had begun going to Friday night services and my call would make them miss the start of the service!

The Bar Mitzva finally took place on a Shabbat two months after their arrival in Australia. The Friday night meal was a small family gathering augmented by the presence of my oldest son who came specifically for the occasion. Jewish friends cooked, attended, and helped to make it a special event. We had a kiddush after services on Shabbat and all went well. When I left to go back to South Africa three weeks later, my daughter's last request was that the next time I came I should please bring a few mezuzot. She only had two to put up and their new house has five outside doors. Ariela overheard this conversation and made me promise to bring one for her bedroom door, as well.

We really have come a surprisingly long way in a very short time. The interesting aspect of this story is that it followed its own imperative. There was no pushing, thanks to the attitude of the Lubavitch Rabbis, which was so crucial.

From the the Lubavitch Women's Organization Convention Journal.

What's New


A poor farmer and his wife are blessed with six years of wealth. What is their secret to making the six years last a lifetime? In this inspiring story of generosity, a thread of kindness stretches on forever. A Thread of Kindness, based on a Midrash, is masterfully retold by Leah Shollar and beautifully illustrated by Shoshana Mekibel. This latest release from HaChai Publishers is sure to be enjoyed by young and old.

The Rebbe Writes


In the Days of Selichoth 5725 [1965]
To the Sons and Daughters of Our People Israel,
Everywhere, G-d bless you all!

We are at the threshold of a Shemittah Year (the seventh and sanctified "Sabbatical" year in the cycle of years); may it be a good one for all of us, amidst our people Israel.

One of the central teachings of Shemit-tah is conveyed in the order of the verses and words by which the Torah defines the institution of Shemitta, namely: "When you will come into the land... the earth shall rest a Sabbath unto G-d. Six years shalt thou plant they field," etc. (Lev. 25:2-3)

The order in the text seems to be reversed, for the six work years precede the Sabbatical rest year, and not vice versa. Hence, the text should have first mentioned the six years of planting, and then decree the resting.

However, order in Torah is also Torah ("instruction"). The arrangement in the text mentioned above, relating to Shemittah, is significant and instructive in that it teaches the proper approach to life. It is expressed as follows:

When one "comes into the land" and desires to establish his way of life, which involves "working the soil," it is necessary to bear in mind that first and foremost, as an idea and as a goal, is "Sabbath unto G-d"; not the "earthly" and material, but the spiritual and sacred. This approach will ensure one against being submerged by the material and mundane aspects of life. Moreover, bearing constantly in mind the above idea and goal will transform the six drab working years; they will lose much of their drabness and become more refined and meaningful. Furthermore, the change and elevation of the six years will raise to a higher plane also the seventh year: from a "Shabbos unto G-d" to a "Sabbath of Sabbaths" unto G-d (v. 4), with a dedication and solemnity of a higher order.

Similarly, in the daily life there are those aspects which have to do with material preoccupation (to earn a livelihood, etc.) and "common" necessities, such as eating and drinking, etc. - all those aspects wherein there is "no preeminence in man over animal." But there is also the area of "earthly rest" - of breaking away from the mundane living. Here, too, the teaching of Shemittah is that it is necessary to begin the day with the idea and approach that, although it may be necessary later in the day to engage in "mundane" activities, the essence and purpose of these things are - to attain a "Sabbath unto G-d." In this way, even the mundane aspects will attain refinement and real content, while the aspects of holiness and G-dliness will be intensified and elevated to a higher order. This is the way to attain a complete and harmonious life.

Standing on the threshold of the Shemittah Year, we pray that the Alm-ghty help each and everyone, man and woman, to begin the year with the above-mentioned approach: That not the material, but the spiritual is the essence and goal in life; that "the earthly," the material has a raison d'etre only if it is permeated with the idea of "the earth shall rest a Sabbath unto G-d"- which is when the material serves and fulfills the higher aspirations of holiness and G-dliness. It is only then that all the days in the year, and all the activiities of each day, will reflect "the preeminence of man over animal" and give evidence that man was created in the Divine "image and likeness," living accordingly; while those moments and periods which are characterized as "Shabbos" will in turn rise to the sublime heights of "Sabbath of Sabbaths."

Then will surely also be fulfilled the Divine blessing that goes with Shemittah - "And I will command My blessing upon you" (v. 21) - in a supernatural way.

Rosh Hashana is the day to make the firm and lasting resolution to implement the above appoach. It is the day when the first man was created in the Divine image and likeness; the day when he gained mastery over all of Nature and elevated all Creation to the recognition of the Sovereignty of the Creator with the call, "Come, let us worship, and bow down, and kneel before G-d our Maker" (Ps. 95.6);The day when we pray for the realization of G-d's Kingdom on earth, "reign, in Thy Glory, upon all the world... and let everyone who has a breath in his nostrils declare, G-d, the G-d of Israel, is King, and His Kingdom rules everything!'"

With the blessing of Kesivo Vachasimo Toivo [to be inscribed and sealed for good]

For a happy and pleasant year blessed with the joy of children, life and ample sustenance

Rambam this week

25 Elul 5760

Positive mitzva 108: the law of the "water of sprinkling"

By this injunction we are commanded to observe the regulations relating to the "water of sprinkling," which under certain conditions causes an unclean person to become clean, and under other conditions causes a clean person to become unclean. It is derived from the Torah's words (Num. 19:9-21): "And a man that is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, etc."

A Word from the Director

Throughout the ages it has been customary to give more tzedaka (charity) during Elul than at any other season of the year. And there's a very good reason why:

The month of Elul is a time when we return to G-d in teshuva. When we genuinely repent of our misdeeds, G-d forgives us our transgressions.

The mitzva of tzedaka has the power to hasten the atonement of sins. After we have already done teshuva, we increase the amount of tzedaka we give to "speed up" the process. This principle applies throughout the year, but it is especially pertinent during Elul, the period of introspection and preparation for Rosh Hashana.

Rosh Hashana is the Day of Judgment for all humankind. As every person truly wishes to be found worthy, we increase our performance of good deeds during Elul, the final month of the year.

However, good deeds alone are not enough to ensure that we will be exonerated. Human beings are tiny and insignificant in comparison to G-d. Realistically speaking, how valuable can the sum total of all our good deeds be, no matter how numerous, when it is G-d Who sustains us and gives us the opportunity to do them?

In truth, in order to be acquitted on the Day of Judgment, we need to be the recipient of G-d's "tzedaka"! For it isn't by virtue of our actions that we are found worthy on Rosh Hashana; it is only because of G-d's kindness and mercy that He judges us for good.

A basic principle in Judaism is that G-d behaves towards us according to our actions, measure for measure. When we share our wealth with our fellow person, both material and spiritual, G-d responds in kind by granting us an abundance of blessings.

When we give more tzedaka during Elul, G-d responds with "tzedaka" on Rosh Hashana. The scale of judgment is tipped in our favor, and He inscribes us in the Book of Life for a good and sweet year.

In the merit of our good deeds - and especially the mitzva of tzedaka - each and every one of us will be found deserving, and G-d will inscribe us together with all the righteous.

Thoughts that Count

And the L-rd your G-d will circumcise your heart (Deut. 30:6)

Elsewhere in the Torah it states (Deut. 10:16), "And you shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart," i.e., that the individual Jew must perform the "circumcision" himself. How do we reconcile these two verses? The first stage of the "circumcision," i.e., removing the "obstruction" that separates the Jew from G-d, must be initiated by the individual. The second stage, however, of completely transforming the heart to good, can only be accomplished with G-d's help.

(Ohel Torah, quoting the Kotzker Rebbe)

But the word is very near to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it (Deut. 30:14)

This teaches that it is in every Jew's power to bring the Torah closer to him. It is only dependent on our will, that we observe it with our "mouth" and "heart."

(Sefat Emet)

Gather the people together, men, and women, and children...that they may hear and learn and fear the L-rd your G-d, and take care to do all the words of this Torah (Deut. 31:12)

According to the Minchat Chinuch, the mitzva of Hakhel (the commandment for all Jews to assemble in Jerusalem on Sukkot following the Sabbatical year, to hear the king recite the Book of Deuteronomy) is incumbent on every Jew from birth. From this we learn that a child's Jewish education must likewise commence from birth.

(Likutei Sichot)

Teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths (Deut. 31:19)

Do not think that you have completely fulfilled your obligation by writing a Torah scroll (or having one written) at the same time your children are being educated in a non-Jewish environment. The main purpose of writing a sefer Torah is to actually teach it to your children - "put it in their mouths."

(Avnei Ezel)

It Once Happened

There was once a wealthy Jew who lived on the outskirts of town, having intentionally built his mansion there so the poorer villagers would not disturb him. His attitude was instilled in his family, and they too shunned their less fortunate brethren.

At the same time, the wealthy miser had a great love for Torah study. To indulge his love of learning, he built a beautiful study hall on his property, and every day would mingle with the Torah scholars who came to study there.

One day a scraggly-looking stranger appeared in the study hall. It was obvious that he was learned, but what no one knew was that he had once been rich himself. After losing his fortune he had begun wandering from town to town, with one cardinal rule: he would never ask for food. If someone offered him a meal he would accept it, but he would never be the one to initiate the request.

The wanderer was very weak when he entered the study hall. Three days and nights had already elapsed without food passing his lips. Surely someone would invite him home and feed him...

The stranger joined a group in the midst of a lively Talmudic discussion. Everyone was astounded by his erudition, especially the miser, who enjoyed conversing with intelligent people. The hours passed, and soon it was time for lunch. By the time the poor man was invited to the home of the miser to continue their discussion, he was almost delirious from the prospect of eating.

The miser went to wash his hands but did not ask the poor man to join him. A sumptuous meal was served, but only a single portion. The stranger was shocked. After taking a bite of bread and eating a slice of succulent roast, the miser returned to their previous conversation. "Now, what were we discussing?" he asked, oblivious to his guest's discomfort.

By that time the stranger was having difficulty not fainting. He was about to break his pledge and ask for food when with his last ounce of strength he stood up, apologized, and stumbled outside.

When a few minutes passed and he did not return the miser went to the window, and was surprised to see a large crowd gathered in front of his house. "What happened?" he asked. "What's going on?"

"A pauper just died in the street," he was told. "From the looks of it, he seems to have starved to death."

The miser was stricken to the core. Only now did he realize how base and cruel he had been. Overcome with remorse, he closed himself in his room and wept till he fell asleep from sheer exhaustion.

In a dream, the pauper appeared to him and said, "Know that because you caused my death, it was decreed that you should pass away immediately. But because I pleaded for mercy on your behalf, I have been permitted to reveal to you how you can make amends." The miser agreed to do whatever he was told.

"Tomorrow you must tell your family that you are leaving on a business trip for one year. After you have left town you must change your appearance, dress in rags, and return to your own study hall. There you must stay for an entire year, learning Torah, praying and doing teshuva, repenting, for your misdeeds. When you need to eat, you may only appeal to your own household. But you must never reveal to them your true identity."

The miser was thankful for the reprieve and did exactly as he was told.

Funny how one's perspective was different on the other side of the fence... When the miser knocked on the door of the mansion and asked for a crust of bread he was sent away. He knocked again, only to be beaten and cursed. It wasn't until he announced that he would not leave the premises that they relented, and handed him some crumbs of bread.

The miser rejoiced over this meager offering as if he found a great treasure, and two days later returned for more. As time passed the family came to regard him as a harmless lunatic. The children looked forward to his visits so they could pull his beard and pour water over his head. The miser suffered these indignities in silence, aware that he alone was to blame for his children's mischief.

At the end of the year the former miser put on the same clothes he had been wearing when he left and returned home. The first thing he did was to arrange a feast for all the important personages in town, and he expressly invited all the poor people to participate. In front of everyone he related the story of what had happened to him, and with tears in his eyes announced that henceforth his home would be open to all. Every day, he would feed as many poor people as showed up on his doorstep.

That night he had another dream in which the dead pauper appeared to him, but this time he was smiling. "Happy is your lot for having achieved a complete repentance," he informed him. "And you should know that you have also brought rest and repose to my soul."

Moshiach Matters

What is a person to do to be spared the pangs of Moshiach? Let him engage in Torah [study] and acts of loving-kindness!"

(Sanhedrin 98b)

  636: Ki Tavo 
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