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   679: Devarim

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683: Shoftim

684: Ki Seitzei

685: Ki Savo

686: Nitzavim

L'Chaim
September 7, 2001 - 19 Elul, 5761

685: Ki Savo

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  684: Ki Seitzei686: Nitzavim  

Reality Versus Perception  |  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

Reality Versus Perception

by Yehudis Cohen

A person sees things through his own set of "lenses" which are created by his life experiences, environment and education.

A case in point: There are well over a thousand boys and men in the community where I live by the name of "Mendel." My seven-year-old son is one of them. Upon moving recently to a different part of our neighborhood, one less densely populated by Chabad-Lubavitch families, I was intrigued to note that our new neighbors were calling Mendel what sounded like "Mandela" (and my younger son was "Smiley" not "Shloime").

I was amused that when we said "Mendel" they heard "Mandela." Sure enough, one afternoon, I overheard our next-door-neighbor inform Mendel, "You know, you have the same name as a great black leader, Nelson Mandela."

In the heart of our neighborhood, part of the life-experience of all of the residents, Jew and non-Jew alike, is that many boys and men are named "Mendel." But at the fringes of the neighborhood, this is not part of the experience and thus Mendel is Mandela to some.

As ludicrous as it must have seemed to our neighbor that we would have named our son Mandela, it was easy for him to conceive of such a name viewed through his lenses.


The Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chasidism, teaches that everything we see and hear can and should serve as a lesson for us in our Divine service.

This Shabbat is known as "Shabbat Selichot," for on Saturday evening we begin reciting special penitential "selichot" prayers each day until Rosh Hashana. Rosh Hashana initiates the Aseret Y'Mei Teshuva, the Ten Days of Repentance, which culminates on Yom Kippur-the Day of Atonement.

For many of us, the names of the distinctive prayers and special days at this time of year conjure up images of morose moods, contrite conduct and plenty of sighs. When it comes to understanding repentance, for instance, many of us have grown up with a decidedly non-Jewish approach to this fundamental Jewish concept.

So, we shouldn't be surprised if our initial reaction to the next few weeks on the Jewish calendar is based on some rather ludicrous assumptions. We're seeing penitence, repentance, atonement, through our own lenses- created by our own life-experiences, environment and education. But that doesn't mean that what we're seeing is authentic.

If we are open to new experiences, then we will see things for what they really are, otherwise we will end up making ridiculous assumptions about reality.

Reality: The word "teshuva" is commonly translated as "repentance." Actually it comes from the Hebrew meaning "return." In fact, within the word teshuva itself we find directions on how to do teshuva: tashuv-return-and the Hebrew letter "hei" which stands for Hashem, G-d. We are returning to G-d, to our source, our essence. Teshuva has the power to literally erase our sins, to correct the blemishes and defects caused by those sins.

Over the next little while, when someone says "Rosh Hashana," "Yom Kippur," "teshuva," hear the reality of what they are saying. Take off your glasses and hear "return to my source, to my essence."


Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion, Ki Tavo, we read: "This day the L-rd your G-d commands you to do these statutes and ordinances." Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, explains, "Every day they should seem new in your eyes, as though on that very day you were commanded regarding [Torah and mitzvot]."

The portion continues with the verse, "You have set apart the L-rd this day to be your G-d and to walk in His ways...and the L-rd has set you apart this day to be His own treasure."

From this we learn that the "setting apart" of G-d to be our G-d, and His "setting apart" of the Jews to be His people, is also a daily and ongoing occurrence.

Each and every day G-d chooses the Jewish people, individually and collectively, as His "treasure," and as the verse continues, "in praise and in name and in glory...a holy people to the L-rd your G-d." G-d glories and takes pride in the Jewish people, each of whom is described as "the work of My hands to be praised." G-d "boasts," as it were, about every Jew, through whom His Name is glorified and exalted in the world.

And as stated above, the delight G-d takes in the Jews and the Jews in Him, is "new" each and every day, as fresh as if the Torah was just revealed on Mount Sinai.


The Torah portion of Ki Tavo is always read in the month of Elul. As everything in Torah is exacting and nothing occurs by coincidence, it follows that the above must somehow be connected to the special service of this month, preparatory to Rosh Hashana.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidim, explained that in Elul, G-d is likened to a "King in the field." Outside the strict protocol of the royal palace, everyone is granted an opportunity to approach the King, speak with Him directly and present Him with our requests. Moreover, during Elul, G-d "greets everyone with a smiling countenance and shows a pleasant demeanor to all."

For this reason, "You have set apart the L-rd this day to be your G-d and to walk in His ways...and the L-rd has set you apart this day to be His own treasure," is particularly relevant now, when every Jew has this special opportunity and capacity for connecting to G-d and glorifying His Name. And because G-d shows us a "smiling countenance" and a "pleasant demeanor," it makes all of our Divine service easier and more successful.

Adapted from a talk on 14 Elul 5740


A Slice of Life

Every Action Counts
By Mordechai Kaler

I am a 16-year-old student at the Yeshiva of Greater Washington in Maryland. This past summer I decided to volunteer at the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Greater Washington. In the beginning I wasn't very comfortable about spending my days in a nursing home. But that would all soon change.

One job of the volunteers is to ask the residents if they would like to go to the daily services. Most residents are receptive; even those who choose not to attend are generally pleasant about it.

There was one man, however, who would get very angry when asked. One time he even cursed one of the volunteers. The volunteer was extremely upset so I decided to go to speak with the resident.

"The volunteers are only here to help and there is no reason to curse at them," I told the man firmly but respectfully. The resident asked me to wheel him to his room and when we arrived there he told me to sit down. "I want to tell you a story," he said.

He had grown up in a prominent religious family. Everyone had been murdered by the Nazis except for him and his father. In the concentration camp that they were in, someone had smuggled in tefilin shel rosh-tefilin worn on the head. Every morning the men would sneak a chance to put on the tefilin, even if for just a second.

"The day before my Bar Mitzva, my father had heard that a man had a whole pair of tefilin (the tefilin worn on the head and the tefilin worn on the arm). That evening, the man who had smuggled in the tefilin was killed by the Nazis. My father," the resident continued, "after hearing of the man's death, went to the man's bunk to get the tefilin so that I would be able to put on a complete pair of tefilin for my Bar Mitzva. On his way back to his bunk, my father was seen by a Nazi and shot, right in front of me. Somehow, I managed to take the tefilin and hide them."

The resident paused and then said to me, "How can you pray to this G-d, a G-d that would kill a boy's father right in front of him. The father who went to get tefilin so that I could pray to Him?" The man then turned to me and said "Go to my dresser and open the drawer." I did as I was told and I saw an old, worn black bag. The man told me to bring him the bag. I brought it to him and he opened it and showed me the contents. It was the pair of tefilin that his father had died for. "I keep these to show people that this is what my father died for, these dirty black boxes and straps. They were the last thing my father ever gave me," he said.

I left a few minutes later, totally speechless. I went home. I didn't eat supper and barely slept that night. But when I woke up the next morning I put on my tefilin I prayed and then went to the Hebrew Home.

When it was time to bring the residents to services I avoided that man's floor totally. Then I was notified that we were one short of a minyan and one of the residents needed to say "Kaddish." I went up to all the residents and none would attend. I had no other choice but to ask the man.

The man was in his room. I asked him if he would attend services as there was a man who needed to say Kaddish. I expected him to say "no," but instead he asked, "If I come will you leave me alone?" His reply took me by surprise. I said, "If you come I will leave you alone."

I don't know what made me ask him this question, but then I asked him if he would like to bring his tefilin. I was ready to apologize when he said, "If I bring them will you leave me alone?"

I told him, "yes." The man took his tefilin and I took him down to the synagogue. He asked me to wheel him to the back so that it would be easy for someone to wheel him out as soon as the services were over. I did as he requested and showed him how to put on his tefilin. Then I left to do some other work.

When services were over I returned to help bring residents back to their rooms. I walked into the synagogue. The only person left in the entire room was the resident I had brought in, still sitting in the back in his wheelchair with his tefilin on. Tears were pouring down his cheeks.

"Should I get a nurse or a doctor?" I asked him. He did not respond. Instead, he said over and over again, "Tatti (Father), Tatti, it feels so right." He was staring down at the tefilin on his arm.

After he calmed down I brought him back to his room. He told me that during that hour he felt as if his father was back with him.

Every morning after that, when I got off the elevator on his floor, he was waiting, holding his tefilin, ready to go down to services. One day I got off the elevator and he wasn't there. I asked one of the nurses where he was. She told me gently that he had been taken to the hospital and they had just received word that he had died. I was taken aback and asked her to repeat what she had just said.

Time passed and I was notified that I would be given an award by the Jewish Home for my work as a volunteer. After the ceremony a woman came up to me and said, "Thank you, you saved my father's life."

I had no idea who this woman was. "I'm sorry, but I must have forgotten who you are," I told her.

"We never met, but you knew my father," she said. She told me her father's name and I immediately recognized her as the resident's daughter. She told me that before her father passed away, he asked his daughter to bring him his tefilin. He said he knew he would soon be passing on and he wanted to put his tefilin on and pray one last time. Soon after that he went into a coma. His daughter told me, "You truly saved him and made his last moments comfortable." The man died with his tefilin on as he was reunited with his Tatti.

We never know what kind of an effect we will have on another person. But we do know that every little thing we do counts.


What's New

Get Well Soon

Little Eli would love to visit all the people he knows who aren't feeling well and try to help cheer them up. But germs and hospital rules and doctor's orders get in his way. Will Eli ever be able to do the mitzva of Bikur Cholim - visiting the sick? Get Well Soon, the newest release from HaChai Publishing, is part of a series of books that teach about important mitzvot that young children can do. Written by Dina Rosenfeld and delightfully illustrated by Rina Lyampe.


The Rebbe Writes

20th of Elul, 5720 [1960]

Greeting and Blessing:

I received your letter of Rosh Chodesh Elul, and the previous two, which you wrote in Eretz Yisroel [the Land of Israel] and where you mention that about in the middle of Elul you expect to be back in -. I will be glad to receive word from you of your arrival.

You write that you are putting on Chabad Tefillin and ask if you should also pray Nusach [order and text of the prayers] Chabad. Perhaps you know the tradition among Chassidim that the founder of Chabad compiled his Siddur [prayer book] after carefully examining sixty different Siddurim, until he ascertained and perfected the Nusach Chabad. It is surely a good thing for you to use this Nusach. However, it should be accompanied by a firm resolution to follow this Nusach consistently. For, while it is possible to change from Nusach Ashkenaz to Sefard, and from Sefard to Ari, which is the Chabad Nusach, it should not be changed in the other direction. Therefore once you accept the Nusach Chabad, you will have to abide by it, and it is certainly a good thing to do so.

You refer again to the old problem of self-control, etc. As I have repeatedly written to you, one of the best ways to cope with the problem is to completely dismiss from your mind the whole matter. This means that you should not even dwell on it in an effort to combat it for concentration on the problem and how to overcome it is the opposite of dismissing it from your mind completely.

So whenever the thought occurs to you, you should at once turn your attention to any other thing, preferably to a matter of Torah and Mitzvoth. For, as you know, even a little light dispels a lot of darkness, and certainly a lot of light dispels so much more darkness.

May you have good news to report about this, and about all your other affairs.

Wishing you a Ksivo vachasimo tovo [may you be inscribed and sealed for good],

With blessing,


22nd of Elul, 5730 [1970]

Blessing and Greeting:

I received regards from you through your husband Dr..., 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, 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, 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 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 Ksivo vaChasimo Tovo,

With blessing,


Rambam this week

19 Elul 5761

Positive mitzva 109: immersion in a mikva (ritual bath)

By this injunction we are commanded to immerse in the waters of a ritual bath, thereby cleansing ourselves of any of the kinds of (spiritual) uncleanness with which we were affected. (This law applies only to a person who wants to become clean; it is not obligatory.) It is contained in the words (Lev. 15:16): "Then shall he bathe all his flesh in water."


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Shabbat afternoon, we study two chapters of Ethics of the Fathers, chapters three and four. In chapter four our Sages counsel us to be "humble of spirit before every man."

As we are now in the midst of Elul, when our thoughts are focused on amending our ways before the New Year, this advice is especially timely. But how are we to implement our Sages' words? What can a person do to achieve humility?

In truth, there are two ways. The first involves reflecting on how we are not complete as lone individuals. Perfection is only possible as part of the sum total of the Jewish people, who are described as a "single upright body." In the human body, each and every limb performs a unique function without which the body cannot survive. For example, by providing it with mobility, the foot complements and completes the head. So too is it with the "body" of the Jewish people. No matter how high a level we may attain, we are always incomplete without our fellow Jews. Reminding ourselves of this truth will cause us to feel humble and indebted to others.

The second way involves turning inward, concentrating on our various flaws and inadequacies. This approach will also lead to humility, but by emphasizing the negative, it will also make us feel sad. According to Chasidic philosophy, sadness is counterproductive. A Jew must always strive to serve G-d with happiness and joy. Thus this second method must be reserved for very rare occasions, such as when a person feels completely incapable of conquering his Evil Inclination and must resort to other means.

In general, however, the first approach is the easiest way to be "humble of spirit before every man." When we realize that we are deficient on our own, we will automatically feel humble with regard to others.


Thoughts that Count

And it shall be, when you come into the land...you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the earth, which you shall bring of your land that the L-rd your G-d gives you (Deut. 26:1-2)

One of the reasons for the mitzva of bikurim, first fruits, is that bringing the first of the land's produce to the Holy Temple negates the mistaken notion that the fruits are the result of the farmer's efforts and agricultural acumen. The mitzva reminds him that all of the earth's bounty is ultimately dependent on G-d's blessing, and nothing else.

(Akeidat Yitzchak)


All these blessings shall come on you, and overtake you (Deut. 28:2)

What does it mean that the blessings will "overtake you"? That they will come to you in the same place you were before: i.e., that you will not wander astray, off the path of Torah and mitzvot, in your pursuit of wealth and success.

(Chashva Letova)


And all people of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the L-rd, and they shall be afraid of you (Deut. 28:10)

Through you, the Jewish people, the nations of the world will acquire fear of G-d. Because "you are called by the name of the L-rd," it will influence the people around you, and they will come to fear Him.

(Butzina D'Nehora)


Because you didn't serve the L-rd your G-d with joyfulness and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things, therefore shall you serve your enemies (Deut. 28:47-48)

How great is the importance of happiness in our Divine service! From the wording of the text we understand that the punishment of "serving your enemies" comes not because of a deficiency in observance or any actual defect in service, but simply because of a lack of joy. Indeed, the emotion of joy is so powerful that it produces a reciprocal response from Above, causing G-d to nullify strict judgment.

(The Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman)


It Once Happened

Every year when the month of Elul rolled around, we children knew that Father would soon take out his special shofar and tell us the story that always left us open-mouthed in wonder.

The story took place in 1914, in the days of the First World War. Like thousands of young men across Europe, our father, Isaac G., was conscripted into the army and stationed in Bessarabia, where he served as a telephone operator.

He was very lucky not to be on the front. Nonetheless, he sometimes had to run into the middle of the battlegrounds to deliver phone messages.

Father's coworker in the army was a Czechoslovakian soldier, a non-Jew who was very respectful and polite. He actually helped Father observe Shabbat by taking over for him on Saturdays. In this way, Father was able to preserve the sanctity of the Sabbath throughout his military service.

With Rosh Hashana fast approaching, Father's main concern became procuring a shofar for the holiday. As you might imagine, this was not so simple an endeavor. After much efforts he was able to obtain a ram and slaughter it, and with his own hands fashioned a shofar from its horn. When he was finally able to produce sounds from it there was no end to his joy.

The war ended. Thank G-d, Father emerged unscathed. Now, however, he faced another challenge, that of returning home. The roads were filled with weakened and exhausted soldiers. Everyone was going somewhere, but there was no reliable transportation. The trains had stopped running. The only method available to most conscripts was their own two, tired feet. Father decided that he would go home through the town of Bunhad, where he had been born and where his parents still lived. From there, he assumed, it would not be too difficult to continue on to his own home in Koshitza.

The journey took him through a forest. But no sooner was he surrounded by trees than he heard a blood-curdling scream and was attacked by a band of robbers. Brazenly they took his knapsack with his meager supply of food. When he recovered from the shock he bent down to retrieve his shofar, which had fallen out of the bag, and continued walking.

It was a windy and bone-chilling night. A light snow fell, covering the paths and making them hard to find. Father's already weakened body shivered in the cold, made worse by his gnawing hunger. He knew that his only chance was to make it to civilization before he froze to death.

Father trudged along, somehow. Then, suddenly, he found himself facing a second band of robbers! With nothing else to steal they decided to take his clothes. He was left naked and trembling, both from the cold and the humiliation. Clutching the shofar (which the robbers had rejected as worthless) to his chest, he burst out in a plaintive wail. But eventually he picked himself up from the snowy ground and continued walking.

A short time later he found a piece of fur and wrapped it around himself for the slight protection from the elements it offered. But on the outskirts of Bunhad his strength gave way. He collapsed to the ground in a dead faint.

His next memory was being in bed in his parents' house. The first thing he saw when he opened his eyes was...his shofar.

Father was suffering from pneumonia, compounded by dehydration and starvation. Most of the time he was semi-comatose, only rarely opening his eyes a crack. From the few words he managed to absorb he gathered that a miracle would be necessary for him to recover.

A whole slew of neighbors and relatives came and went, trying to encourage his parents. But they sat by his bedside weeping and inconsolable.

One day, on the advice of a friend, his parents decided to move Father's bed into another room. "He who changes his location, changes his mazal," the acquaintance insisted. Although Father's eyes remained closed, he was aware of his surroundings. Unable to express himself, his only wish was that his shofar be moved along with him. Sometime later, when he willed his eyes to open, he was overjoyed to find that the shofar had been placed right in front of him. His parents must have somehow sensed his unspoken desire.

A few weeks later the miracle occurred. Little by little, Father recovered his strength and began to respond. Eventually he was back on his feet and able to return home.

"Do you see this shofar?" Father would ask us every year. "It was witness to everything I went through - the war, the forest, the pneumonia. I am fully convinced that my life was saved only in its merit."

It was this shofar that Father always sounded on Rosh Hashana, in the great synagogue in our town. And with every blast - tekiya, terua and shevarim - we would live anew his remarkable story.

Adapted from the book Chutim Shel Eish


Moshiach Matters

Waiting for Moshiach, anticipating his coming, is not simply a virtue but a religious obligation. Maimonides thus rules that whoever does not believe in-and whoever does not await (eagerly looking forward to)-the coming of Moshiach, in effect denies the whole Torah, all the prophets beginning with Moses. In the popular formulation of his Thirteen Principles of the Faith (the hymn of Ani Maamin) this is put as follows: "I believe with complete faith in the coming of Moshiach. Though he tarry, nonetheless I await him every day, that he will come."

(Moshiach, by Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet)


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