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We are on the threshold of a New Year, a year that bids farewell to the Jewish Sabbatical (Shmitta) year and welcomes in the Hakel (Ingathering) year.
In Temple times, during the Hakel year, the entire Jewish people would assemble in Jerusalem during the Sukot holiday to hear the king read the fifth book of the Torah, Deuteronomy (D'varim).
Within this holy book are contained the sacred words that Jews throughout the ages have recited- living with them as a constant reminder of what we believe and dying with them as an affirmation of that belief: "Shema Yisroel Ad-nai El-heinu Ad-nai Echad-Hear Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One."
On the upcoming holiday of Rosh Hashana, Jews will assemble in synagogues throughout the world. We will listen to the sounding of the shofar and recite prayers of supplication, praise and thanksgiving. Among those prayers will be the ancient words of Shema Yisrael.
Ten days later, on Yom Kippur, at the close of the final prayers of the holy day, Jews will call out together in unison "Shema Yisrael."
It was related by a relative of Mordechai and Tirtza Schiwascherder, who together with two of their daughters Ra'aya and Hemda and one of their sons Avraham Yitzchak, were murdered in Jerusalem in the Sbarro pizza shop terrorist bombing, that right after the blast, one of the children cried out to Mordechai, "My face is burning." Mordechai told the child to scream "Shema Yisrael." A survivor of the bombing who was nearby recalled, "As they were burning they screamed 'Shema Yisrael' for some time and then became silent."
This upcoming Hakel year is a year of Jewish unity and togetherness. In ancient times, when millions of Jews gathered in the holy city of Jerusalem, it is told that they never once said, "There is not enough space." Jewish teachings explain this means that despite the fact that conditions were crowded and the holy city was teeming with people, no one complained. Everyone felt that he had "space"; each individual of the millions of individuals congregated there was given "space" by his neighbor. Perhaps that sense of "space" came from every Jew trying to accomodate his neighbor rather than concerning himself with his own needs and comfort level.
This year when we gather in our synagogues, within our communities, as families, or even simply when an individual gathers together his personal emotional, spiritual and intellectual faculties, let's do it with the idea of enabling our neighbors to have their "space." And let's do it with the words of "Shema Yisrael," the ultimate affirmation of our faith and Jewish unity permeating our every action. If we live with this reality, then surely Moshiach will come and usher in the time when there will be true peace and no longer will anyone have to die with these words on their lips.
May we all be inscribed and sealed for a year of good health, livelihood and personal and universal Redemption.
Toward the end of this week's Torah portion, Nitzavim, Moses summarizes his parting message to the Jewish people: "For this commandment, which I command you this day, is not concealed from you nor is it far off... But the thing is very close to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it." In other words, it is not too difficult to love G-d and observe His commandments; in fact, keeping Torah and mitzvot is "very close."
In truth, this is an astounding claim. How could anyone maintain that keeping the commandments is easy? According to human nature, a person's inclinations are physical and materialistic. How can these natural desires be transformed so simply into a spiritual love for G-d?
The Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, offers an explanation in his seminal work of Chabad Chasidic philosophy, the Tanya. The key to this "closeness" is the fact that every single Jew already possesses a hidden love for G-d in his heart. Rather than creating something new, all that is necessary is to uncover and awaken this inherent love. As it already exists, it is literally quite "near," and can be revealed with only a modicum of effort.
However, while it may be relatively easy to achieve the emotion of love for G-d, what about the practicality of keeping the Torah's 613 commandments? Isn't this the very antithesis of "easy"?
The answer is found on the introductory page of the Tanya, where the Alter Rebbe writes that he "will explain, with the help of G-d, how it is indeed exceedingly close, in a long and short way."
On the one hand, an enormous amount of effort is required to contemplate G-d's greatness to reveal one's innate love for Him until it affects the daily conduct. However, although this may seem to be the "long" and circuitous route to achieving this goal, it is also ultimately the "shortest" and most reliable method. When a Jew meditates upon G-d's greatness, the love and awe he arouses are permanent and lasting, imbuing all of his Torah and mitzvot with vitality and enthusiasm.
Of course, a Jew may also take the "shorter" route, relying on his intrinsic but hidden love for G-d, without resorting to intellectual contemplation. However, such an approach will ultimately prove to be "longer" and more arduous if it remains an abstraction, removed and disconnected from his daily existence.
By studying Torah and contemplating G-d's greatness, a Jew acquires a deeper and more lasting understanding, enabling him to keep Torah and mitzvot more easily.
Adapted from Vol. 34 of Likutei Sichot
by Gershon Beck
The 18th of Elul is marked on the Jewish calendar as a date to rejoice and rejuvenate. It is the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chasidut in general as well as the birthday of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidism.
The 18th of Elul is also the the birthday of my father. Having the same birthday as these two great luminaries is no coincidence. In fact, one of the principle teachings of Chasidut is that everything that happens in this world is by Divine Providence. Thus, nothing happens in this world unless it is ordaind by G-d. The following story about my parents illustrates the concept of Divine Providence quite well.
My Father and Mother were involved with helping our brethren in the Soviet Union even before Perestroika. One summer my parents took a tour to the Scandinavian Countries as well as the then Soviet Union. After spending some time in Finland, they went by train from Helsinki to Lenningrad. Dad and Mom brought quite a few Jewish religious articles with them including Jewish books, tefilin, a talit (prayer shawl) as well as other illegal items.
Dad asked another Jewish man on the tour if he would take a few of the items and put them in his suitcase. Dad's reasoning was that sometimes the Russian border guards search belongings at the border. If the items were divided up, there would be a greater possibility of some of the items getting through. The other man refused to take any items. Dad and Mom had no choice but to take everything with them. When the guards came on the train at the border, they were not searched, though the man who did not wish to take any of the items was searched thoroughly! That's Divine Providence.
There were other interesting events as well. When Dad and Mom got to the family's home with whom they had been in contact, a young teenage boy thanked my father for the calendar. At first Dad didn't realize what he meant. Then he remembered that he would send the family kitchen items wrapped up in "paper" that was actually a Hebrew Calendar. The authorities, who checked all items coming into the country, never thought to check the paper in which an innocent kitchen item was sent!
Being involved and concerned with fellow Jews is not new for my parents. They have been active members of Chabad in Phoenix for over two decades. Mom has been involved with the Chabad Ladies Auxiliary, visiting nursing homes where she plays music for the people to lift up their spirits, delivering wine for Passover, calling people to remind them about classes and meetings as well as folding flyers till late hours when a Chabad mailing needs to get out.
Rabbi Zalman and Tziporrah Levertov (the Rebbe's head emissaries in Arizona), have often told me that they look at my parents as Pioneers. "Your parents were here helping when we first arrived," Reb Zalman has often said. "Those were crucial times and the people there in the beginning really helped put things in motion."
The fact that my parents settled in Phoenix and become more involved in Judaism there is also an illustration of Divine Providence.
My family moved to Phoenix in 1977 from Seaford, New York. My father had been working for a radio station in New York City for about 14 years. He had worked for many years on a rotating shift and wanted to begin observing Shabbat. The firm he worked for wasn't too happy about it and about a year later my father was forced to leave the company. During that last year in New York, my younger sister, Malka Perl began attending the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County. One of the teachers who instilled in her the warmth of Torah was a Chabad Rabbi.
When my parents decided to move to Phoenix my sister wanted to continue her Jewish education. She enrolled in the Hebrew High School and my two younger brothers were enrolled in the Phoenix Hebrew Academy Day School. This was a big step for our family since my older brother and I had finished high school in the public school system and were hardly involved with anything Jewish.
When we first settled in Phoenix, we lived about three miles from the shul. My younger siblings did not want to go because their teachers would know that they had come by car. They began nudging my parents to move within walking distance of the shul. About six months later my parents bought a home one mile from the shul. Now our family was walking to shul, making kiddush on Shabbat and discussing the weekly Torah portion at the Shabbat meals. In time, my older brother Eli and I started slowly to get more involved in Judaism and studying Torah.
My father says today that when he left his job 25 years ago, who knew where it would lead too. New York is one of the centers of Jewish life, yet our family became closer to Torah in the desert (the school my sister went to was called "Ohr Hamidbar - the light in the desert"). Judaism teaches that even "ordinary" people are able to discern Divine Providence. We just need to open our eyes and see G-d's hand in the world.
Happy Birthday to our holy Rebbes. Happy Birthday to my dear Father. May you have many happy occasions to celebrate with your wife, children and grandchildren. Let's hope that today will be that day when Moshiach builds the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. May we soon witness that great day. It will be some party.
The article in L'Chaim #680 by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton entitled "Won Over By Love" should have included the website of Rabbi Bolton's weekly newsletter, which is www.ohrtmimim.org/torah
Shofar Sho Good
The main mitzva of the holiday of Rosh Hashana (Monday evening, September 17 through Wednesday evening, September 19) is to hear the shofar sounded. Many Chabad-Lubavitch Centers around the world, in addition to regular Rosh Hashana services, will be holding special shofar sounding ceremonies during the day on Tuesday and Wendesday. They will also be organizing communal "Tashlich Services," for Tuesday afternoon at local rivers, ponds or lakes. For more information about these or any other holiday programs call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center (see www.LchaimWeekly.org/general/shluchim.html).
In the days of Selichoth, 5716 
To My Brethren, Everywhere
G-d bless you all,
Greeting and Blessing:
As the old year draws to a close and the new year draws near, every person draws up a "balance-sheet" for the year gone by, which guides him in his resolution for the forthcoming year.
In order that such a "balance-sheet," and the resolutions based on it, be as close to the truth as possible, one must be wary of overestimating one's virtues and accomplishments. But neither should one exaggerate one's deficiencies and failings, for a depressing mood, not to say despondency, G-d forbid, is one of the serious obstacles on the road to self-improvement.
It is possible, however, that even without exaggeration the "balance-sheet" may reveal that the liabilities' side is quite substantial, perhaps even outweighing the assets' side. But even in such a case there should be no room for despondency. For together with the feeling of sincere repentance and a firm resolution to change for the better-which must be the necessary outcome of such self-searching, there is an encouraging feature in the general conduct of man, which should be borne in mind at this time. It is, that every positive and good action- positive and good in accordance with the definitions of our Torah, the Law of Life-is indestructible and eternal, being connected with, and stemming from, the Divine "spark" that is in man, the Neshama (soul), which is eternal; while any negative and destructive action, being connected with, and stemming from, the Nefesh Habahamis (animal soul) and evil inclination in man, which are essentially limited and transient, is likewise of a temporary and transient nature, and can and must be corrected and completely wiped out through sincere and adequate repentance.
Bearing this in mind, every one, regardless what his personal "balance-sheet" reveals, will find encou-ragement and renewed hope in the future, knowing that his good deeds in the past year are eternal, as is the light and benefit which they have brought into his own life, into his family and all our people, since all Jews are closely related and form one whole.
In light of the above, moreover, this helpful feeling is further enhanced in that it is of a universal nature. All good actions unite to make this world as a whole progressively better. Even when a religious and moral relapse seems very much in evidence, with many yet to become wiser and more religious, the world as a whole is essentially becoming more purified with every passing year, every day and every minute, for no instant passes without many good deeds.
No matter what the state of affairs seems to be at any given moment, eventually the good must triumph and the evil be eradicated, as this is the avowed will of the Creator and Master of the Universe. Eventually everyone must repent, and G-d "who forgives abundantly" will accept repentance, "for none shall be rejected by Him."
Through sincere repentance for the past and good deeds in the present and future, everyone has the ability to make the coming year, a year of very great accomplishments indeed, and G-d, "who desires repentance," helps to carry out such determined resolutions.
And on the scale of Divine justice on the forthcoming Rosh Hashanah, such determination will ensure still further the repentor's acquittal and his being inscribed for a happy and pleasant new year.
With the blessing of Kesivo VaChasimo Toivo [may you be inscribed and sealed for good],
Chai -18 - Elul, 5712 
To All My Brethren, Wherever You Are,
G-d Bless You All, Sholom u'Brocho:
I send you herewith my prayerful wishes for a happy and pleasant New Year, may it bring blessings to us all.
At the end of this Shemittah (Sabbatical) Year, and on the threshold of the New Year, we are reminded of the great Mitzvah, which is "a strong pillar and a great credit to our religion" (Sefer Hachinuch)-the Mitzvah of Hakhel, when all the people, men, women, and children, gathered during the Festival of Succoth at the holy place in Jerusalem-may it be rebuilt by our righteous Messiah, speedily in our time-to hear selected portions of the Torah, portions inspiring to piety, love and appreciation of the Torah, the observance of the Mitzvoth, particularly the Mitzvah of Tzedoko [charity].
Although at all times we are commanded to bring up our children in the way of the Torah and Mitzvoth, the Mitzvah of Hakhel, coinciding with this season, impresses upon us our duties towards the children with especial force and timeliness.
Therefore, let every Jewish father and mother, every Rabbi and leader, every communal worker and person of influence, heed the call of the Mitzvah of Hakhel: to gather the masses of Jewish children and bring them to...Torah-true educational institutions and ensure their existence and growth; in order that all Jewish children, boys and girls, be brought up in the spirit of piety and love for G-d, love for the Torah and Mitzvoth, love for one another.
In the merit of this, the Alm-ghty will favor us and enable us very soon to fulfill the Mitzvah of Hakhel in the Beth Hamikdosh [Holy Temple] in Jerusalem, rebuilt by our Righteous Messiah, Amen.
With blessings to you and from you for a Happy and Pleasant Year, Ksivah Vachasimah Toivo,
27 Elul 5761
Prohibition 244: stealing money
By this prohibition we are forbidden to steal money. It is contained in the Torah's words (Lev. 19:11), "You shall not steal."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
We would like to wish the entire Jewish people our sincerest blessings for a k'siva vachasima tova, l'shana tova u'msuka - to be inscribed and sealed for a good, sweet year, with blessings from every letter of the Hebrew alef-beit.
You are standing this day all of you...every person of Israel (Deut. 29:9)
The Torah uses many different words to refer to Jews; the name "Israel" is the highest of all these descriptions, connoting magnitude and significance. The verse teaches that all Jews are in this category, i.e., exalted and essentially worthy.
And it shall come to pass ("vehaya"), when all these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse (Deut. 30:1)
Our Rabbis explain that the word "vehaya" is an expression of joy. A Jew must always strive to serve G-d joyfully, regardless of whether he encounters blessing in life or (G-d forbid) the opposite. As our Sages declared, "A person is obligated to bless G-d for [apparent] evil in the same way he blesses Him for good."
It is obvious that punishment and suffering can arouse the heart to teshuva (repentance). But how can blessing do the same? The Baal Shem Tov offered an analogy of a subject who rebels against his king. What does the king do? Instead of punishing him he appoints him minister, allows him into the royal palace and gradually increases his rank until he is second in command. The greater the king's beneficence, the more the recipient is ashamed of having rebelled against such a merciful ruler. The king's loving-kindness thus leads him to a higher level of repentance than had he been punished.
Then the L-rd your G-d will turn your captivity (Deut. 30:3)
Rashi notes this means that "[G-d] will literally take hold with His hand every person... as it states, 'You shall be gathered one by one, Children of Israel.' " As we know that the Redemption will come about through repentance, the Torah clearly promises that every single Jew will ultimately return to G-d in repentance, as it states, "For not even one will be banished."
The month of Elul was drawing to a close. Everyone was getting ready for Yom Tov, and the "scent" of the High Holidays was already in the air. The marketplace was overflowing with all kinds of merchandise and produce, including the special fruits that are traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashana like pomegranates.
The Jewish section of town was bustling with activity as homes were swept from top to bottom and new clothes were fitted and sewn. At the same time it was serious business, as residents prepared themselves spiritually for the coming year. More attention was paid to praying with a minyan, refraining from gossip and in general, improving behavior.
Inside the Baal Shem Tov's study hall the final preparations before Rosh Hashana were also underway. Prayers were recited with increased devotion, and all thoughts were focused on returning to G-d in repentance.
One evening, a few days before Rosh Hashana, the Baal Shem Tov's disciples were getting ready to pray the evening service. All that was missing was the Baal Shem Tov himself, who had yet to arrive. At precisely the appointed hour the Baal Shem Tov entered the study hall, but instead of opening his prayer book he remaining standing, lost in thought.
Of course, no one dared mention that it was time to pray. The minutes ticked by and still the Baal Shem Tov seemed distracted, as if he were in another world. His holy face was suffused with intense emotion. However, the Baal Shem Tov's students were already used to such things.
When the Baal Shem Tov suddenly roused himself almost an hour later and opened his prayer book, his countenance was virtually shining with joy. That evening, the Baal Shem Tov prayed with unusual intensity and longing. It was obvious that something of very great magnitude had occurred.
After the service the Baal Shem Tov explained:
"Not very far from here," he began, "lives a Jew who grew up in a traditional Jewish home. But as he grew older, he began to associate with the local peasants. Slowly he abandoned the Jewish path till he was virtually indistinguishable from the gentiles and completely estranged from his roots.
"Many years passed. The man left the province where he was born and went to live in a totally non-Jewish environment. As time passed, he forgot everything about the Jewish way of life, its prayers and its customs. Before he knew it 30 years had elapsed.
"Tonight," the Baal Shem Tov revealed, "this Jew happened to be visiting a Jewish town on business. As soon as he entered the village he could sense the commotion, and this aroused his curiosity. When he asked a passer-by what was going on the man answered, 'Everyone is getting ready for a holiday we call Rosh Hashana. According to Jewish tradition, it is the day on which man was created and the whole world is judged.'
"For some reason this explanation struck a chord in the heart of the assimilated Jew. Maybe it was the exclusionary 'we' that emphasized the huge chasm that separated him from his brethren, or perhaps the mere mention of the Day of Judgment. In any event, the man's soul was inexplicably awakened, and he was flooded with memories of his childhood.
"As he wandered through the marketplace he was suddenly stricken by the horrifying realization that he had exchanged a life rich in meaning for an empty existence. At that moment he looked up, and was surprised to find himself standing outside the main synagogue. By then it was almost dark, and people were arriving to pray the evening service.
"The man was seized by an overwhelming desire to join them, but he was also embarrassed by his non-Jewish appearance. In the end the urge to pray won out, and he went into the women's section and hid behind the curtain.
"As the cantor chanted the words 'And He atones for sin...' a shudder passed through the man's body. How he wished to pray, but the words were long forgotten. Tears streamed down his cheeks. When the last congregant had gone home he couldn't bear it any longer and burst out crying. 'Master of the universe!' he wept. 'I know there is no greater sinner than I, but I also know that You are merciful and full of loving-kindness. Heavenly Father, forgive me my transgressions and I will sin no more. I wish to return to You and live as a Jew. Please accept my prayer and do not turn me away!'
"The man's heartfelt repentance caused a great commotion in the celestial realms," the Baal Shem Tov explained, "and his prayer ascended to the very Throne of Glory. In fact, it was so powerful that it brought along with it many other prayers that had been waiting hundreds of years to ascend.
"When I sensed what was going on in the man's heart," the Baal Shem Tov concluded, "I decided to wait for him to pray so I could join him. Tonight's service was delayed so we could merit to pray with a true penitent..."
Rav Saadia Gaon recounts ten symbolic meanings in the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashana. The tenth is: "To recall our faith in the future resurrection of the dead. As it is said: 'All you inhabitants of the world, and you who dwell in the earth; when an ensign is lifted on the mountains you shall see, and when the shofar is sounded you shall hear.' "