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You find the recipe, read it over, and scan your pantry to make sure you have all of the ingredients you'll need. Then you glance at your watch to see if there's enough time to complete the baking project.
You've done the preliminary preparations. Now it's time to gather the mixing bowl, measuring spoons and cups and other supplies and start the actual process of creating a culinary delight.
But, imagine baking a cake without those preliminary preparations. You take out the mixer, spatula, measuring spoons and cup. You start reading the recipe. One by one you add the ingredients.
Oh no! There's only one egg left in the carton and you need three. What can you substitute? You decide to borrow eggs from a neighbor and hope that the half-mixed batter with the baking powder already added will survive.
When you're finished, you get ready to spoon the batter into the cupcake tins.
Oops! There aren't any cupcake liners. Scrap the idea of cupcakes; you'll make a cake instead. You look at your watch skeptically, knowing that cakes require more baking time than cupcakes.
If you've been there and done that, you certainly know that a little bit of preparation and thoughtful planning can save time and aggravation in the long run.
There is a Jewish custom to wish each other in correspondence and in conversations: "Ktiva vachatima tova - may you be written and sealed for good" starting from the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month Av (this Saturday).
You may well be wondering, "Isn't this Shabbat a little early to start preparing for Rosh Hashana? After all, it's over 6 weeks until the New Year!"
In answer, the upcoming Jewish month of Elul, which begins in just a little over two weeks, is the month when we prepare ourselves spiritually for Rosh Hashana and the entire year to follow. By the middle of the current month, the month preceding Elul, we need to prepare ourselves for Elul! From the fifteenth day of Av we do the preliminary preparations and beginning in Elul we do the actual preparations for the new year.
So, far from being way too early, now is a good time to begin making sure we have all of the right ingredients for the new year!
When Jewish people bless each other (for the upcoming year), it is an expression of "ahavat Yisrael" - love and concern of one Jew for another. When wishing another person well is done with warmth and sincerity, out of a deep feeling of love, it is an even stronger demonstration of the mitzva to "love one's neighbor as oneself."
And the love and concern for another Jew expressed in our wishes for a "ktiva vachatima tova" hasten the realization of G-d's blessings for the coming year.
To get the "recipe" just right for the coming year, plan ahead. If we start now with preliminary preparations, we'll be surprised at how smoothly and efficiently we'll be able to approach the New Year.
In this week's Torah portion, Va'etchanan, Moses addresses G-d: "O L-rd G-d," Moses opens his prayer, "You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand..." With these words, Moses establishes that it wasn't until his generation that G-d began to reveal His greatness in the world.
The Zohar asks how this can be possible. Many years before, it points out, there was a great tzadik (righteous person) named Jacob, who was one of the three Jewish Patriarchs. In fact, Jacob is called "the chosen" of the Forefathers, and he merited to see many G-dly miracles. So how could G-d have first begun to show His greatness only in Moses' time?
The Zohar answers its own question: "That which Moses had, was had by no other human being: many thousands and tens of thousands of Jews, etc."
In Jacob's time the Jewish people was very small in number, far fewer than the several million who existed in Moses' generation. From the "seventy souls" that went down to Egypt at the beginning of the exile, by the time of the Exodus they had already multiplied to 600,000 men between the ages of 20 and 60, not counting women and children and men in other age groups, .
It was not until Moses' generation, when the Jewish people had become "great" also in number, and stood together in unity and oneness, that the true "greatness" of G-d was manifested.
This contains a practical lesson for the Divine service of every Jew: Every individual, regardless of age, must do everything he can to strengthen Jewish unity and make the Jewish people more cohesive. Every person must strive to increase his love for his fellow Jew, and connect himself to as many Jews as possible.
This is one of the reasons we preface our daily prayers with the words "I hereby accept upon myself the positive commandment of 'You shall love your fellow as yourself.'" Before we ask G-d to fulfill a personal request, we identify and connect ourselves to the totality of the Jewish people.
Indeed, it is then that the "greatness" of the Jew is expressed. A single Jew is not alone, nor is a single Jewish family or Jewish community. Every Jew is connected to every other Jew, and to all Jews throughout the generations.
As the Zohar explains, the process of showing G-d's "greatness," initiated by G-d in the generation of Moses, will reach its culmination with the coming of Moshiach, who will redeem not only the Jewish people but also the entire world. At that time we will experience wonders and miracles far greater than those witnessed during the Exodus, and indeed, incomparable to anything experienced in history.
Adapted from a talk on 7 Menachem Av 5740
Won Over By Love
by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton
When I first arrived in Israel over 25 years ago, before I got married, I learned in the Yeshiva in Kfar Chabad for a year.
Now, everyone knows that Chabad encourages outreach. So early every Sunday morning I would catch a long passenger train filled with Israeli soldiers that stopped in Kfar Chabad, and put tefilin on as many passengers as possible, and then get off at the last stop to catch the train back.
It so happened that early one Sunday morning Rabbi Mendel Futerfass, the head of the Yeshiva, saw me rushing out the door and asked me where I was going.
Reb Mendel was over sixty years old, very impressive looking and had recently been released from over five years of hard labor in one of Stalin's Siberian prison camps.
When I told him I was going to put tefilin on soldiers in a train, without hesitating he said, "I want to go too."
I figured he was just being nice so I said, "Fine, Reb Mendel, G-d willing we'll go together some time, but now I'm in a hurry."
"Good!" he answered, "Let's go!"
I was already late and it was a ten minute run, but he just said (and kept yelling at me all the way there), "You just run and don't look back, I'll make it, just don't look back!!"
So I half-heartedly ran and miraculously I made it in time. But I figured that Reb Mendel didn't have a chance (he also had trouble with his legs so it was hard for him to run).
The next thing I knew, he was pulling himself up the steep steps after me into the coach, and the train pulled out!
How he did it I never really figured out, but needless to say he was really out of breath, and as the train began moving he just motioned to me to give him some tefilin and begin without him. So I gave him one of my four pairs, entered the first car and "went to work."
The way it usually worked was that at first a few people would politely refuse until someone broke the ice and agreed, and then there would be a flood of takers.
But this time I was in for a surprise.
As expected, the first man said "no." So did the one sitting next to him.
But the third man, a short, stocky, middle-aged, balding, beady eyed, bull necked, mean-looking fellow got angry...really angry.
In Israel there are a lot of people that really hate Judaism and religious Jews...and he was one of them.
His face became red like an apple, and the veins stood out on his neck. He squinted his eyes in hatred, leaned toward me to the edge of his seat, like any instant he would spring, and began hissing a string of menacing Israeli threats such as:
"T'oof MiKan Oh Ashbor l'cha et HaPartzuf!" (lit. Bug off or I'll break your face!) with appropriate Israeli gestures and motions.
I took the hint, forced a smile, and moved on.
Then someone in the middle of the car wanted to put on tefilin, then another, and before I knew it all three pairs were in use.
Suddenly I remembered...Reb Mendel!
I had completely forgotten about him. Certainly he had caught his breath by now and would enter any minute. I had to save him from that bull-necked monster! Who knows what he might say (or do!!).
I whipped around in time to see that (gevalt!) the worst was happening!
The first two men had refused him also, and Reb Mendel was beginning to lean over to speak to.... him!
I tried to catch Reb Mendel's attention but to no avail.
"Our friend," reading a newspaper, saw Reb Mendel from the corner of his eye and began to twitch with rage.
Then one of the soldiers behind me called out, "Nu, Rabbi, how do I take off the tefilin!" Then another, "Hallo! My turn, I want to put on!"
I quickly turned to them, removed the tefilin from one and put it on the other, when suddenly the unmistakable high-pitched voice of Reb Mendel pierced through the noise of the crowd:
"I love you! You are my brother! Come, put on tefilin! I love you!"
I shot a look over my shoulder and saw that Reb Mendel was reaching over the first two men, grabbing the arm of the amazed "beast" and was preparing to slide tefilin on it.
Again the soldiers called me back, so I had to stop watching, and take care of the next set of passengers.
I finished as fast as I could, and when I looked back toward where Reb Mendel was, I beheld one of the most amazing sights I'd ever seen in my life:
The same fearsome "wild man" that wanted to destroy me moments earlier was now rocking slightly back and forth, reading the Shema from a small page, with tefilin on his arm and head. Reb Mendel was looking lovingly at him with the most angelic look on his face, like a mother hen at one of her chicks.
He had literally conquered him with love.
Rabbi Bolton is the head of Yeshiva Ohr Temimim in Kfar Chabad, Israel. This article first appeared in his weekly internet newsletter.
More than 300 pairs of Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbinical students are currently touring over one thousand small towns and cities throughout the world. These students volunteer to spend their summer vacations bolstering Jewish awareness in far-flung corners of the globe. Traveling in pairs and armed with Jewish educational material, books, and religious items, these young men reach every segments of the Jewish community. Initiated over five decades ago by the Rebbe, the program has become known as the Jewish "Peace Corps." Students visit cities throughout North America as well as Aruba, Barbados, Finland, Guadeloupe, Iceland, Norway, Turkey, the Virgin Islands and small cities throughout the former Soviet Union.
Saying Mazel Tov?
Modern medical wisdom recognizes that good health depends on a patient's emotional state and mental attitude. For centuries, it has been customary for Jewish women to adorn both the birthing room and the cradle with Psalm 121 (Shir Lama'alot). The Psalm states our declaration of dependence upon the Creator for our safety and well-being, and His commitment to guard us at all times. To get a free, color print of the Psalm write to LEFJME-Expectant Mother Offer, 312 Kingston Ave. Bklyn, NY 11213 or call (718) 756-5700.
The following letter is freely translated
15th of Av, 5740 
"The Seventh Year, a Shabbos Unto G-d"
To All Campers: Boys/Girls
G-d Bless you All
Greeting and Blessing:
I was pleased to receive the reports about your Camp life and activities, and I take this opportunity also to acknowledge the letters and requests for a blessing.
May G-d grant each and all of you the fulfillment of your hearts' desires for good and blessing.
I am confident that you have made, and are making, good use of the camp season in the fullest measure, to strengthen your health of body and soul, with the soul ruling the body. And the way to keep the soul healthy and strong is through learning Torah and doing Mitzvos, by which Jews live.
Inasmuch as by Divine Providence this letter is written on the 15th of Av, you surely know of the significance and message of this day, of which our Sages of blessed memory said, "From this day on (as the evenings grow longer), it is time to add the nights to the days in the study of Torah, for which G-d adds life to all who do it."
If this has been said of any year, it is especially true of this year, which is the "Seventh Year, a Shabbos Unto G-d," when Jews are expected to come even closer to G-d. And what brings a Jew closest to G-d is the Torah and its Mitzvos.
There is yet a third point, namely, that the summer season of this year has a special importance as a period of preparation for the coming year, may it be a good and blessed one for all our Jewish people, which will be a year of Hakhel [gathering]. I trust you also know the significance of Hakhel.
In light of the said three points, I trust that each and every one of you is doing all you can to advance from strength to strength in the study of our Torah and in the fulfillment of its Mitzvos, with an extra measure of devotion and diligence. And G-d will surely bestow His blessing on each of you and all of you together, that you should have Hatzlocho [success] in all above. In addition to the essential thing, which is obedience to G-d and fulfillment of His Mitzvos for their own sake, this also widens the channels and vessels to receive G-d's blessings in all needs, materially and spiritually.
With blessing for much Hatzlocho, and good tidings in all above.
15th of Av, 5735 
Greeting and Blessing:
I was pleased to receive just now, through our mutual friend Rabbi Sholom Ber Lipskar, the material and pictures in connection with the dinner. Although I had received previous reports, it is quite different when one also receives photographs and visual evidence of the happy and inspiring atmosphere that prevailed at the affair.
May G-d grant that the said happiness and enthusiasm should be reflected also in the day-to-day activities and events in the life of all participants, particularly those who are the moving spirit behind all this.
May G-d grant that this should be so also among all Jews, both those in Eretz Yisroel [the Land of Israel], of which the Torah says that "G-d's Eyes are on it from the beginning of the year to the end of the year," as well as in the Diaspora, especially in the United States, where the largest Jewish community, in quantity and quality, lives.
Since we are now over the period of the Three Weeks, and have reached the auspicious days of the 15th of Av, of which our Sages relate that in olden days there was not a more joyous and festive day than the l5th of Av, because of various happy events with which this day was associated - may G-d grant that this joy and festivity should be renewed in our time, and Jews everywhere should enjoy lasting prosperity both materially and spiritually. For Jews the emphasis is, of course, on the spiritual, and advancement in matters of Torah and Mitzvos is also the way to receive a growing measure of G-d's blessings in material affairs as well.
And having entered the period of the Seven Weeks of Consolation, may we soon see the ultimate consolation of the true Geulo [Redemption] and the restoration of the Beis Hamikdosh [Holy Temple] through Moshiach Tzidkeinu.
With blessing for good tidings in all above, as well as in your personal affairs,
18 Av 5761
Prohibition 308: cutting or cauterizing signs of leprosy
By this prohibition we are forbidden to cut out or cauterize signs of tzara'at [the Biblical plague translated as leprosy, but unlike the modern disease] so as to change its appearance. It is contained in the Torah's words (Deut. 24:8): "Take heed in the plague of leprosy."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
It states in the Talmud that starting from the Fifteenth of Av, which falls out this Shabbat, a Jew should increase the time he devotes to nighttime Torah study. As a reward for our additional learning, G-d extends our lives and grants us additional years.
Our Sages explained that the Fifteenth of Av is the date on which the nights begin to be slightly longer and the days shorter. Generally speaking, the daylight hours are reserved for work; at night, people have more free time to spend as they please. The shorter the day, the more hours are left over at night - and nighttime is especially conducive to learning Torah.
The length of the days and nights on earth is a variable; it changes in accordance with the movement of the sun. The days grow shorter and the nights longer on the Fifteenth of Av when the sun's orbit begins to change.
The Talmud, however, provides us with the true reason for this planetary phenomenon: to enable the Jew to spend more time learning Torah! For the sake of the Jew, G-d alters the course of the sun in the sky, a cosmological change of fantastic proportions!
How important it must be to G-d that we increase our study of His Torah, to the point that He moves heaven and earth on our behalf!
Consider the immense size of the earth, and the sun, which is 170 times as large. Ponder the sun's tremendous power and energy, and the vast treasures that are hidden in the depths of the earth. How many billions of people populate our planet? How many animals, plants and inanimate objects? Just try to estimate the volume of water that covers the earth, or the number of stones and rocks that form its crust. In comparison with G-d, of course, all these things are insignificant.
When we are mindful that the entire universe is orchestrated by G-d for our sake, we will learn His Torah with eagerness and enthusiasm, and express it in actual deed.
Let me go over, I pray You, and see the good land that is beyond the Jordan (Deut. 3:25)
The Torah portion of Va'etchanan, literally "and I besought the L-rd," contains the Ten Commandments. According to our Sages, Moses prayed no less than 515 times to be allowed to enter the Land of Israel. The connection between the two is that when the Jewish people keep the Ten Commandments, it hastens the time when Moses' request will be granted in full, and all Jews will enter the Land of Israel with Moshiach.
Let me go over...and see the good land (Deut. 3:25)
Why did Moses ask to "see the good land"? If G-d would permit him to enter the Land of Israel, wouldn't he automatically "see" it? The point, however, is that a person should always pray to be shown only the positive aspect of things. With these words, Moses was asking to see the inherent goodness of the Land of Israel.
Go up to the top of Pisgah...and behold with your eyes (Deut. 3:27)
Had Moses actually entered the Land of Israel it could never have been conquered or destroyed. Even the "air" that Moses could see from a distance always retained its holiness, even after the destruction of the Holy Temple, as our Sages said, "The air of the Land of Israel makes one wise." Moses' looking at the land caused a lasting spiritual impression.
(Der Torah Kvall)
And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall speak of them (Deut. 6:7)
If you will teach your children Torah, "you will speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way," i.e., you will always have something in common to talk about. By contrast, if your children are taught only secular wisdom to the exclusion of Torah, they will sit at your table like strangers, and you will struggle to find a topic of conversation.
Many years ago in Tel Aviv, a distraught stranger appeared on the doorstep of Rabbi Aharon of Belz (who lived in the Holy Land in his later years). There was no doubt that the stranger was not a traditional Belzer Chasid. When the Rebbe's shamash explained that it was not the usual time for visitors, the man declared that he would not leave until he was admitted. After a brief consultation with the Rebbe, the shamash let him in.
From the other side of the closed door, the shamash was shocked to hear the Rebbe raising his voice. He could not imagine what could have prompted the saintly Rebbe, who was the epitome of refinement, to employ such a tone of voice when speaking to another Jew. The whole thing was very curious.
A short time later the door to the Rebbe's room opened and the man walked out. His eyes, which he kept averted on the floor, were swollen and red from crying. Without uttering another word he was gone.
Not long afterward, the synagogue on Ibn Gabirol Street acquired a new attendee. The gentleman in the light-colored suit and beret showed up every morning and took the same seat. His first day in shul, he had asked someone to find him a volume of Tractate Brachot. Opening the Gemara to the first page he had then asked, "And where is Rashi's commentary?" The helpful congregant had pointed out the small letters on the inner margins.
Taking the huge tome with him into a corner, the stranger had sat a long time staring at the text. For the first few days he hadn't even turned the page, a look of intense mental exertion on his face. The man was strangely quiet, almost inanimate. Every day around noontime, after several hours of study, he would close the volume and leave.
Over the next few weeks the man gradually found his voice. One could tell that he understood what he was learning, and indeed, was enjoying himself. The man always studied the Gemara with Rashi's commentary. One finger was always on the text; another was always on Rashi's explanation.
Over the course of time the other congregants grew accustomed to the stranger, who by now sported a beard. They referred to him as the "baal teshuva," someone who had recently returned to religious observance, but despite their attempts the man seemed uninterested in emerging from his shell of isolation and loneliness.
And so the situation continued for many years: ten, 15, maybe even 20...
Eventually it came to the attention of the Belzer Rebbe's shamash that the mysterious gentleman who sat and learned Gemara in the Ohr HaTzafun synagogue was none other than the visitor who had insisted on seeing the Rebbe so many years before. In the end, the man revealed his secret:
His name was Levi Yitzchak; he had been named after the famous Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, from whom he was descended. Born in Russia, he had attended cheder as a child. But after the Bolshevik Revolution his parents had been forced to send him to Communist schools, where every last vestige of Judaism had been uprooted from his heart.
Years ago he had come to Israel, where he expected to live out his life much as he had. One day, however, seemingly out of the blue, he found himself thinking about his late parents. Their memory soon became an obsession; no matter what he did, he could not rid himself of it. The disparity between his present lifestyle and his early childhood was just too great; his conscience bothered him night and day.
The more he sought relief, the more it eluded him. Things got so bad that he seriously considered suicide, G-d forbid. Then one night he had a dream, in which an elderly Rabbi appeared to him. The next morning, he was even more agitated. Wandering the streets of Tel Aviv he had entered synagogue after synagogue frantically searching for his nocturnal visitor, but to no avail.
Some time later he happened to visit the study hall of the Belzer Rebbe. When he saw the holy tzadik he recognized him as the same Rabbi about whom he had dreamt. That very day he had insisted on speaking with him and had poured out his heart, including his plan to do away with himself. "I've already forfeited the World to Come," he had wept bitterly, "and in this world I can find no peace."
Upon hearing these words the Rebbe had raised his voice and thundered, "What are you saying? G-d forbid that you should do such a thing. G-d forbid, do you hear me?" After a long talk the Rebbe had put his holy hand on Levi Yitzchak and said, "The tikun [correction] for your soul will be to study Gemara with Rashi's commentary - a lot of Gemara with Rashi. Now go home and begin a new life."
Levi Yitzchak had followed the Rebbe's advice, and his peace of mind was soon restored. And ever since, not a day went by that he didn't learn Gemara with Rashi.
How do we prepare for redemption? By opening our eyes and understanding the unique time in which we live. By acknowledging that the events that unfold each day are part of the process leading toward the meaningful life of redemption. By learning about G-d and spirituality so that we may live according to His will. This isn't always easy. As we wrestle with a difficult past and an unfamiliar future, it may seem more comforting to cling to the lives we know. But the thirst for redemption is coupled with another trait that all humans share: hope. Hope for health and prosperity. Hope for justice and virtue. Hope for freedom from the darkness.
(Toward a Meaningful Life by Simon Jacobson)