Dry Clean Only | 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
Rosh Hashana is almost here. Time to account for our past deeds, rectify any damage we've done, and figure out how we can improve in the future. In the Jewish vernacular this is known as "teshuva," literally "returning"-returning to one's previously unsullied state. Often it is translated as "repentance."
For a week, starting this Saturday night and continuing until Rosh Hashana, special "penitential" prayers that we say daily help get us in shape for the heavy-duty spiritual workout of Rosh Hashana. The days from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur-known as the "Ten Days of Teshuva"-are set aside for more introspection, repentance, and self-improvement. Even after Yom Kippur, until the eve of Simchat Torah, we still have time for teshuva.
Why the need for teshuva altogether? If we hurt someone's feelings or stole something, most of us know that we have to apologize, try to rectify the situation, and even resolve not to do it in the future.
But what does that have to do with returning? And what are we trying to return and to where?
Imagine an article of clothing, the nice, clean shirt you are wearing, for instance. What if you spilled some coffee on it, or brushed against a chalkboard, or your favorite Mont Blanc pen leaked. The type of damage your shirt acquired would dictate the method you would use to clean it.
Now imagine that the shirt is your neshama, your soul, the spark of G-dly energy in you that gives you life.
When we do mitzvot (command-ments), the soul remains in the clean, pristine state in which we received it. Of course, just regular living puts a crease here or there. But, basically, it stays neat. However, when we neglect a mitzva or transgress-whether a commandment between one person and another or a commandment between a person and G-d-our soul gets dirty.
The type and location of dirt or grime the soul picks up dictates how we should proceed. The cleaning process is quite logical. Just as you would remove the pen from your pocket as soon as you realize it's leaking, the first step of teshuva is to stop transgressing or start performing the neglected mitzva.
Then, we need to examine the stain and the damage to ascertain the proper method. Certain transgressions cause bigger or tougher stains than others. And certainly, frequency also comes into consideration-like shirt collars repeatedly bombarded with perspiration that develop "ring around the collar."
Teshuva for some spiritual stains might require minimal effort, like brushing off chalk powder. Other spiritual dirt could be more difficult to remove, like a coffee stain. You might need to apply some detergent and water, then vigorously rub it.
Ink is a little trickier, like the repeated transgression or the more serious misdeeds. To get rid of an ink-like stain on the soul requires hard work, time, elbow grease. You would probably want to ask a professional for advice, or at least for some suggestions of what solutions or chemicals to use. Eventually with time, effort and persistence, you can totally rid the soul of its stain. You can return it to its formerly unsullied state. For, after all, it's not a flaw woven into the cloth, it's something extraneous, something not intrinsically part of the original garment.
This week we read two Torah portion, Nitzavim and VaYeilech. The Torah portion of Nitzavim is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana. Indeed, its very first verse reveals its appropriateness: "You are standing this day, all of you, before the L-rd your G-d." "This day" refers to the Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashana.
On Rosh Hashana every soul, great and small alike, stands before G-d, as it states, "Your heads, your tribes, your elders and your officers...your little ones, your wives...from the hewer of wood to the drawer of water."
Why do we stand before G-d? "So that you may enter the covenant of the L-rd your G-d." When all Jews stand before Him as a complete and unified entity, we become worthy of entering into His covenant on Rosh Hashana.
A covenant is designed to preserve the feeling of love that exists between two people. They establish a covenant at a time when their love is strongest, so that it will never weaken. This bond connects them to each other and ensures that their love will last forever.
So too is it with G-d's love for the Jewish people. His love for us is strongest on Rosh Hashana, as the previous month was devoted to removing our sins.
But how do we arouse G-d's desire to establish a covenant with us? By being united with one another. How are we to accomplish this, given the differences between individuals? This can be understood by the following analogy:
The human body is composed of many different limbs and organs. Some are more important, like the head; others are simpler, like the foot. But the head, no matter how important, needs the feet in order to move. The body achieves perfection only when all its limbs act in harmony.
In the same way, even the most important Jews ("your heads") require the simplest ones ("the drawer of water") in order to comprise a complete entity. And it is this unity that arouses G-d's desire to make a covenant with His people.
Our job is to achieve this unity between "head" and "foot." Every Jew must work on himself until he can recognize his fellow's unique qualities. It is beyond our capacity to judge a person's true worth. Even if one considers himself a "head" and the other fellow a "foot" (as it is human nature to inflate our own self-worth), the "head" still needs the "foot" in order to comprise a complete being.
Let us concern ourselves with correcting our own flaws and not heed the perceived flaws of others. Doing so will ensure that there is no time to look at others' imperfections!
In this manner we will achieve both self-perfection and perfection as a nation, and G-d will grant the entire Jewish people a good and sweet year.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, vol. 2
By Tzivia Emmer
When Rabbi Yitzhak Cohen of Gush Etzion is asked if his car, with its tinted windows, is bulletproof, he tells them that while it's not bulletproof, it is one of the safest cars around.
That's because Cohen, like growing numbers of people in Israel and especially in Judea, Samaria and Gaza keep a sefer Chitas (an acronym for Chumash-the Five Books of Moses, Tehilim-Psalms and Tanya-the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy) and a tzedaka (charity) box in their vehicles as a form of spiritual bulletproofing. As the emissary of the Rebbe in Karmei Tzur and Alon Shvut, Cohen has distributed thousands of the books as he makes his rounds visiting families and soldiers in the area.
"The Chitas is a segula l'shemira, a protection" he explains. The volumes comprising Chitas form the basis of a daily study regimen for men and women worldwide.
In 1975, after a road incident, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak Goldstein of Brooklyn wrote to the Lubavitcher Rebbe asking what lesson might be derived from such an experience. The Rebbe replied, "It is proper that there should be in the car a siddur (prayerbook), a Tehilim, a Tanya and a tzedaka box." The Rebbe added, "And it is proper to publicize this."
(Goldstein habitually carried these items in his car, but realized after receiving the Rebbe's letter that he had given away the tzedaka box and had forgotten to replace it.)
Over the years, when accidents or other events occurred, the Rebbe would remind people to keep a volume of Chitas in their cars. The word "chitas" - or "chitat" as it is pronounded in modern Hebrew - is found in a biblical verse describing Divine protection: "They set out, and there fell a G-dly terror (chitat) on the cities which were around them, so that they did not pursue Jacob's sons."
"We know that Jewish books help create an environment," says Cohen. "What happens is that people take one, then they take for their family and then it's like a snowball, and people come to us and check their tefilin and mezuzot, they come to Torah classes... it turns into a whole awareness." In spare moments one can open a Chumash, he says, or recite some Tehilim. Many have begun learning the daily portions in their Chitas for the first time.
In the Cohens' own newly purchased car, before the glass windows were replaced with plastic, Arab bullets struck the car but somehow missed the glass, which would have shattered. Within days, with the plastic windshield in place, the bullets found their mark. "We saw them bouncing off," he says.
He reports this as if being shot at in one's car is simply a normal fact of life. In parts of Israel, it is.
The current campaign to distribute Chitas began several years ago, when Brooklyn resident Chana Leah Duato was visiting Israel. There were sporadic bombings then, but not with the frequency or ferocity of the last two years. Wanting to do something to help, Duato, a teacher with a background in community organizing, remembered the Rebbe's statement that having Chitas in one's car is a form of spiritual protection.
Upon returning to the States she formed a small group dedicated to raising money for giving the books out to as many people in Israel as possible.
"Every penny we raise goes to Chitas, not for expenses of any kind," says Duato. The group, which hooked up with the Lubavitch Women's Organization, collects funds for the purchase of either full volumes of Chitas for dashboards or glove compartments or small, compact versions, containing a velcro flap for tzedaka, which soldiers can carry in their combat uniforms.
Other Chabad rabbis in Israel are busy distributing Chitas in their areas as well. Rabbi Mendel Wilhelm in particular has been working to place a Chitas and tzedaka box on all 7,000 Egged buses traveling through the country. With a charity box affixed to the front of the bus, passengers can give tzedaka at the beginning of their ride.
"Ninety-five percent of the people are incredibly touched by the concern," says Cohen, an IDF reservist who is originally from Britain. "They are moved by the fact that people overseas are thinking about them and caring about them."
At first Cohen sold the books at below cost. But with the current crisis, the Chitatim, as Israelis pronounce it, are being given out for free.
He recalls being frightened one day when a car behind him, driving recklessly, seemed to be pursuing him. It turned out that the man was a Jew. "You are the one who has the chitatim?" he wanted to know. He asked for eight sets of chitas - for himself and his family.
Aliza Karp of Brooklyn was devastated after the murder of family friend Tzachi Sasson, and decided to donate a Chitas to every member of Tzachi's kibbutz, pointing to remarkable incidents like the following: "A car that was just behind a bus that exploded [in Netanya] was in such a state of destruction that when emergency personnel arrived they thought a bomb had exploded in the car itself.... Yet the driver and his Chitas emerged unscathed."
Yitzhak Cohen's wife, Sara, and their children accompany him as he visits the Jews of Gush Etzion. It's what we do, he says, explaining that all their activities have been stepped up in response to the current crisis.
"What people in America see," he says, "is that every family in which someone has been killed is a family hit by terrorism. And it's true. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Every single person in Israel is a victim of terrorism.... Children are afraid to go to sleep at night. People are afraid."
So the Cohens make youth groups and camps, talk to the children to give them strength, and tell them Baal Shem Tov stories, inspiring faith. He brings cold drinks and treats to the soldiers stationed nearby. Just doing the day to day things, he says, helping the people feel that they haven't been neglected.
"Tonight," he says, "we're going to the soldiers. I'm a little bit nervous. But this is what it's about."
This article first appeared in The Jewish Press
For more info contact: Chitas Campaign, 820 Montgomery St., Brooklyn NY 11213.
Jewish Life Festival
"Fun for all ages" is what the Jewish Life Festival is offering this year. The Festival will take place on Labor Day Monday, Sept. 2 from 2-6 p.m. at the center of Washingston Square Park in lower Manhattan. A project of Chabad on Washington Square, the Festival features hand-on mitzva workshops, live Jewish music, an art exhibition, kosher food extravaganza, comedy and clowns and much, much more.
Iowa City Chabad
Rabbi Avraham and Chaya Blesofsky recently arrived at the small college campus community in Iowa City, Iowa. They are establishing a Chabad center that will offer a broad range of educational and social programs to address the needs of this town's 600 Jewish families and Jewish students.
25th of Elul, 5735 
Greeting and Blessing:
I received your letter in connection with the forthcoming new year, together with a copy of a previous letter. As requested, I will remember you and your family, as well as those mentioned in your letter, in prayer, for the fulfillment of your hearts' desires for good.
With reference to your writing about doubts and the difficulty of making decisions, and about a feeling of insecurity in general trust, it is unnecessary to elaborate to you at length that such feelings arise when a person thinks that he is alone; and can only rely upon himself and his own judgment, and therefore feels doubtful and insecure about each move he has to make. And while he also trusts in G-d, this trust is somehow superficial without permeating him, and his way of life in every detail; and only on certain days, such as the High Holy Days, he feels more close to G-d.
But when a person's faith in G-d is deep, and when he reflects that G-d's benevolent Providence extends to each and every person, and to each and every detail, and each and every minute, surely he must develop a profound sense of security and confidence.
The concept of "Divine Providence" is better understood in the original term of Hashgocho Protis [individual supervision], for Hashgocho means careful watchfulness, for which reason the term Hashgocho is used also in connection with the laws of Kashrus [Jewish dietary laws], where every detail has to be carefully watched. Nor is another translation which is sometimes used in connection with Hashgocho Protis, namely "supervision," entirely satisfactory in this case, because supervision implies "overseeing," that is to say, seeing from above, whereas Hashgocho in the sense of G-d's watchfulness means knowing matters through and through.
The belief in such Hashgocho Protis is basic in our religion and way of life, so much so that before every new year, and during the beginning of the year, we say twice daily Psalm 27, "G-d is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? G-d is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?" From this it follows that even if things happen not as desired according to human calculations, and even if it seems that even according to the Torah it should have been different, a Jew still puts his trust in G-d, as the said Psalm concludes, "Hope to G-d; be strong and strengthen your heart and hope to G-d."
In other words, it is sometimes necessary to be strong and strengthen one's heart to achieve full confidence in G-d, but there is also the promise of being able to achieve it.
The above comes more easily through strengthening the adherence to the Torah and Mitzvos [commandments] in daily life. And however satisfactory this may be at any particular time, there is always room for improvement in all matters of goodness and holiness, Torah and Mitzvos, which are infinite, being derived from the Infinite. Indeed, I am pleased to note that despite the doubts that you have, you devote time and effort to be of help in your field, and may G-d grant that it should be with Hatzlocho [success], especially as it surely does not interfere with having regular periods of Torah study each day. In this connection it is well to remember the words of the Alter Rebbe, the founder of Chabad, that true Kvias Ittim ("fixed times") for Torah study implies not only in time, but also in the soul.
May G-d grant that you should have good news to report in all above.
Wishing you and all yours a Kesivo VeChasima Tovo [may you be written and sealed for good], for a good and sweet year,
27 Elul, 5762
Prohibition 299: giving misleading advice
By this prohibition we are forbidden to give misleading advice. Rather, we must offer what we consider to be the right guidance. It is contained in the words (Lev. 19:14): "You must not put a stumbling block before the blind." Also included is the prohibition against helping or causing another to commit a transgression.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
As the Jewish year draws to a close, we reflect again on the fact that this is a Hakhel year, a special year of gathering.
In the Holy Temple, the Hakhel gathering took place during the holiday of Sukkot. Men, women and even the very youngest children were required to come to Jerusalem. The King was instructed to read from the Torah sections of the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) in front of the entire Jewish people.
Although the actual gathering took place only once during the year, the Rebbe nevertheless reminds us that the entire year is called a "Hakhel Year." Thus, we are encouraged to make gatherings throughout the year, of men, women and children to strengthen Jewish unity, awareness, and Torah observance.
This Shabbat is the last Shabbat of the year. This leaves us exactly one week to make at least one more Hakhel gathering and take full advantage of the special quality of this year.
It is appropriate to incorporate into the gathering the three pillars upon which the world stands-Torah, prayer and charity. Share words of Torah, say a prayer for our brothers and sisters in Israel, or for anyone in need, and give a few coins to charity.
Whether we just bring together a few friends, or perhaps we are capable of organizing much larger groups, every additional act of coming together will be of benefit to the entire Jewish people. It will undoubtedly bring us one step closer to the ultimate Hakhel when the Jews will be gathered from all four corners of the world for the complete Redemption with the coming of Moshiach.
The anger of G-d burned against this land... and G-d rooted them out of the land in anger... and cast them into another land (Deut. 29:26-27)
The curses and punishments enumerated in this section of the Torah are merely warnings, not promises that G-d must fulfill. Their purpose is to arouse the heart of man to choose good over evil so that they will never come to pass.
G-d will circumcise your heart... in order that you may live (Deut. 30:6)
When G-d will circumcise your heart, the pleasure and delight that you will take in Torah and mitzvot [commandments] will be as keenly felt as the pleasures of the physical body; you will love the Torah as much as you value your very life.
To love the L-rd your G-d...and to cleave unto Him (Deut. 30:20)
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, author of the Tanya, used to say in the midst of his devotion: "Master of the Universe! I do not want your Garden of Eden, nor am I interested in the World to Come. I desire only You alone!"
If any of you are dispersed at the outermost parts of heaven, from there will the L-rd your G-d gather you (Deut. 30:4)
No matter how far a Jew may be from Torah and Judaism, G-d promises to gather him back into the fold of the Jewish people when Moshiach comes. When a Jew is spiritually brought back from "the outermost parts of heaven," it hastens Moshiach's coming and brings the Redemption closer.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil (Deut. 30:15)
One should not perform good deeds in order to live; one should live in order to perform good deeds.
(Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk)
Recounts Rabbi Nechemia of Kfar Chabad:
I was born into a religious family, but I joined the Czar's army before WWI, served valiantly as a tank commander, and even earned several medals for bravery. When I finished the army I was considered a loyal citizen. But then came the Communist Revolution and turned everything upside down.
It wasn't long before I received a summons to the "Peoples Court," and innocently believing that my combat record and medals would prove my loyalty, I confidently strode into the courtroom only to be rudely introduced to the "New Order."
After a ten-minute trial, I was sentenced to fifteen years of "Correctional Hard Labor in Siberia" for the crime of "Maintaining Loyalty to the Old Regime." I was led completely bewildered from the courtroom, directly to prison, and waited there for several weeks to be shipped off to a Labor camp.
But then came unexpected "better" news. The Government needed volunteers for an icebreaker ship that was going to forge its way into some obscure sub-zero territory in Siberia to build an army camp.
The food was supposed to be much better, the hours of work shorter, and as an additional incentive, each year would count as three years of my sentence. So I jumped at the opportunity. After five years, most of the crew died from disease or cold, the project had to be abandoned, and those who were left returned home. Miraculously I was one of the lucky survivors.
I should have been grateful...but something was bothering me; I couldn't accept the fact that absolutely nothing resulted from all my work. I kept thinking to myself, there must be some reason. I was sure of it! But I couldn't figure what it was. At first I kept it to myself, but little by little it became an obsession.
Then late one night I was walking down a street and I heard singing coming from a shul (synagogue). A group of Lubavticher chasidim were sitting together, singing. Then they stopped, raised their small vodka glasses saying l'chaim, took a sip, and one of them began speaking
"Once there was an old, wealthy Polish Baron who had an eccentric idea. He wanted a statue of himself made from a certain rare type of semi-precious marble found only in the Far East and he wanted it placed as a gravestone on his grave after he died.
"He found a Jewish dealer in precious stones whom he trusted and gave him an unusually large sum of money to accomplish the task. He was to travel to India, buy a large block of this stone, and accompany it back to Poland where the Baron would commission a sculptor to do the job.
"This Jew, being a chasid of the Holy Rebbe Yisroel of Ruzin, first traveled to his Rebbe, who warmly blessed him and encouraged the journey, and then sailed to India, certain of success. A month later he arrived in India, bought the stone, had it loaded on the ship and began his return voyage to Poland.
"Then one night in the middle of the journey, he was asleep in his cabin when a loud crash awakened him. By the time he got up on the deck, he realized that the ship was sinking!
"He didn't see anyone on board, nor did he see any lifeboats. He reasoned that everyone must have abandoned ship. After a few minutes he saw a rowboat adrift with no one in it and he pulled himself up over its side. He yelled out a few times, and when he didn't hear anyone he curled up on its floor and went to sleep.
"After a day or two he spotted an island in the distance. He rowed there and got out of the boat. He was saved! What happened to the other passengers he would never know.
"He spent three years on that island. Luckily for him he had grabbed his tefilin and a small book of Psalms before leaving his cabin so he had something to do. Then one day he saw a ship in the distance. He signaled it, and in a few hours they sent a dinghy to take him from the island.
"A month later he was back in Poland, but he was in for a strange surprise. He went to the Baron's castle to tell him what had happened, but the Baron was nowhere to be found! His Castle had been sold, and then resold, and no one had any idea where he was.
"There was no money, no marble, no statue, no Baron, no trace of anything. He went again to his Rebbe to ask for an explanation.
" 'There were sparks of holiness trapped on the island,' said the Rebbe. 'No Jew had ever visited there, no Jew performed a mitzva (commandment) there. During your three years there you redeemed and purified all the sparks.' "
I had never heard such an explanation before but I sensed that this was the answer I had been looking for. I had been in Siberia raising "sparks." I didn't really understand it, but I decided to remain with the Chasidim and learn more.
And that is how I became a Chabad Chasid.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said: How beloved is the nation of Israel unto G-d, for the Divine Presence accompanies the Jewish people no matter where their exile leads them. G-d Himself will return together with His people when He leads them out of the exile with the coming of Moshiach.