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When it comes to a political debate, a loquacious lecturer, a 900-page novel, we often lose interest or get bored and ask, "What's the point? Where is this heading? Is there a focus here?"
During the upcoming two-day holiday of Rosh Hashana-the Jewish New Year-as we peruse the timetable of services or flip through the prayer book pages, we might have similar queries.
The Zohar, the basic book of Jewish mystical teachings, as well as the more pragmatic Mishna both teach that "action is the main thing." The main action, the prime mitzva (commandment) of the Jewish New Year, is to listen to the shofar. So, somewhere in between the hours of prayers and the thousands of calories of festive foods, there will be a few moments directed and focused on listening to the sounding of the shofar.
This year, the first day of Rosh Hashana occurs on Shabbat when it is prohibited to sound the shofar. Our focus on this mitzva, then, becomes even more pronounced on the second day of Rosh Hashana. For we have only one opportunity to hear the blasts of this simple, ancient horn and to contemplate its message for our complicated, modern lives:
An analogy is given by the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chasidism, to explain the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashana: There was once a king who sent his only son to a distant land to learn about its peoples and customs.
As time passed, the prince's royal garb became faded and torn, and he even forgot how to speak his native tongue. One day the prince heard that his father, the king, would be visiting the region. "How will I be able to approach him?" he thought.
"My clothes are torn, and I cannot speak the language." The son decided that he would simply call out to his father in a cry without words, emanating from the heart, which the king would surely recognize. This is the call of the shofar, it appeals to the King's very Essence.
"From the constraints I call to You and You respond to me from Your most expansive place." We read these and other verses from Psalms seven times as a way of preparing ourselves for the momentous moment of listening to the shofar. The constraint, the place of limitation, is like the mouthpiece of the shofar. That's where we are coming from when we communicate with G-d. But G-d, in His great kindness, responds to us in an expansive, open way, likened to the open end of the shofar whence the sound bursts forth. The words "From the constrains..." are at once a recognition of where we are and a resolution to go beyond our comfort zone or boundaries.
The shofar is also a wake-up call. The shofar is sounded on Rosh Hashana because it is an explicit commandment in the Torah. Nonetheless, according to Maimonides, it seems to convey a hidden message: "Wake up from your slumber!" it arouses us. "Return to G-d and remember your Creator! To those who forget the truth and waste most of the year in frivolity and foolishness, look into your soul, improve your behavior, and correct your negative ways."
Maimonides states in his Laws of Repentance that every person should view the entire world as if it were perfectly balanced between good and evil. Any one person's positive action can tip the scale and can bring not only personal redemption to that individual but also global redemption to the entire world. No one knows whose mitzva it will be. Perhaps by one of us listening to the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashana we will facilitate the sounding of the great shofar that will herald the coming of Moshiach, may it be NOW!
Our holy Torah designates the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei as the date on which we celebrate Rosh Hashana, the New Year. However, this is not the anniversary of the beginning of creation, for the Talmud teaches that the first day of creation was actually five days earlier on the 25th of Elul.
Nevertheless, we celebrate the new year on the sixth day of creation which is actually the day on which Adam, the first person, was created.
The reason for this is that it wasn't until Adam was created that the Creator Himself was recognized. In fact, it was man who instilled an awareness of G-d into all of creation.
One of the primary characteristics by which man is distinguished from all other creatures is the free will with which he has been endowed by G-d. This "gift" must be properly utilized, for it allows him to rise above all of creation and achieve the very highest of spiritual levels.
G-d revealed His holy Torah to help man achieve perfection and find the right way in life. G-d's Torah is eternal, and its directives apply in every time and in every place.
On Rosh Hashana man is not only judged by G-d but must render judgment upon himself. As soon as Adam was created, he declared, "O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the L-rd our Maker."
Thus, each year on Rosh Hashana, we follow his example and accept G-d's sovereignty upon ourselves anew.
On Rosh Hashana we resolve to live our daily lives in accordance with the Torah's laws, and to do so in the very finest manner of which we are capable.
Of course, a lot of inner strength is necessary in order to live up to our resolution. But is it really possible to experience the same sense of G-d's Kingship as our ancestor Adam?
The answer is a resounding "yes!"
G-d grants each and every one of us immense powers - a tremendous capacity for choosing the right path. Indeed, when we uncover these inner strengths, nothing is beyond our reach, and on Rosh Hashana we can surely attain the same perception and recognition of G-d in our daily lives as did Adam, and extend that recognition to those around us.
Thus, on Rosh Hashana we declare: "And every creature shall know that You have created it...and every soul shall say, 'The L-rd G-d of Israel is King, and His sovereignty reigns over all.' "
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, volume 9
A New Rabbi For A New Year
by Joshua Lipowsky
A loud piercing blast permeates through the Hetzel Union Building at Penn State University a few days before Rosh Hashana. A tall, thin man wearing a black coat and hat, glasses and a thick beard stands behind a table off to the side of the elevators on the ground floor. He raises the ram's horn to his mouth and releases a sound that attracts the attention of every student nearby.
"Have you heard the shofar today," Rabbi Nosson Meretsky asks a random student who stops by his table. The student shakes his head no.
Meretsky lifts the ram's horn to his lips for the third time that day. "It is a mitzva (commandment) to hear the shofar blown before Rosh HaShanah. Here, take some honey. May you have a sweet new year."
The rabbi hands the student a small bottle that looks like it should contain medicine. "Take on Rosh Hashana at night before meal. Dip Challah in honey - Dip apple in honey. Say as prescribed - 'May it be Your will to renew for us a good and sweet New Year.' Physician: A.L. Mighty. Keep within reach of children"
"How's it going, Rabbi?" Scott Horowitz asks as he approaches the table.
"All right. A few people have stopped by. Tell me, have you wrapped tefilin today?" The rabbi holds up the leather straps that make up the Jewish phylacteries. "Come, roll up your sleeve."
Meretsky places a small box on Horowitz's upper left arm and then proceeds to wrap the leather straps around it. He secures a similar box on top of Horowitz's head and then hands him a pamphlet.
Horowitz begins reading the prayer. After he finishes, the rabbi removes the tefilin.
"Is there a big turnout expected?"
Meretsky shows him the list of people who said they would be at the Rosh Hashana dinner.
Josh Laikin and Nomi Deutsch walk into the lobby of Marion Place apartment complex on the eve of Rosh Hashana.
About twenty people crowd into the Meretskys' apartment. A Japanese-style folding wall had been placed in the middle of the room to separate the men and women. The separation of the sexes comes from a traditional teaching in Judaism that all distractions should be removed while praying. By separating men and women there will not be any fraternization to draw anybody's attention away from G-d. Six rows of chairs on each side quickly fill up.
"Welcome to ChaBaD," says Rabbi Meretsky from the front of the room. "I'm glad you all could make it for this important holiday."
After a short evening service to usher in the beginning of the new year, the group of 20 people sit down at a long table in the Meretskys' living room.
Rabbi Meretsky holds up a glass of wine and begins chanting the prayer over it. At the end the rest of the group hold up their glasses of wine or juice, proclaim "amen" and drink.
"If you'd like to wash you may do so now."
Mrs. Sarah Meretsky leads several people to the sink. One by one they fill a plastic cup with water and pour it over their hands after which they utter a prayer. Three times on each hand, starting with the hand most frequently used.
On the way back to the table Michael Weinstein begins humming a traditional tune. Others join in. Between the washing of the hands and the blessing over the bread, no words may be spoken. Holding together two round loaves of bread (challah) Rabbi Meretsky recites the blessing.
One week later, Rabbi Meretsky is once again on the ground floor of the Hub. This time instead of blowing shofar he is handing out honey cake.
"It is important to eat something sweet before Yom Kippur so that you will be sealed in the Book of Life for a sweet year." He cuts a piece of honey cake for a student but withholds it. "You should ask for honey cake before Yom Kippur. By asking for the piece of cake now, you won't have to ask for anything else in the upcoming year."
Later that evening about 30 students show up at his door for a dinner before the onset of Yom Kippur and then a service to begin the holiday.
On Friday night Mike Weinstein and Scott Horowitz meet in West Halls' commons. Weinstein and Horowitz have led the orthodox service for two and a half years. Recently, the orthodox service moved to the Meretskys' apartment.
"It just doesn't make sense to have two orthodox services going at the same time when both would be better served by combining," Weinstein said.
Every Friday night now ChaBaD holds the evening service. Like after the High Holiday services, a festive meal follows.
"I've been getting more and more interested in religion," said Jarret Cohen. "Meeting Rabbi Meretsky further sparked that interest and allowed me to participate first hand in the traditional Judaism that I was never familiar with."
But Rabbi Meretsky and his wife are not the first people from ChaBaD to come to Penn State. For the past four years Rabbi Mendel Hurwitz has been driving up from his home in Baltimore. Hurwitz is employed at the Empire Chicken factory in Mifflintown and spends most of his week there. On Wednesdays he makes the drive to State College to visit the fraternities and dorms.
"Rabbi Hurwitz is great," according to Scott Horowitz. "When he first went to the frats he wanted them to wrap tefilin. They said they would only do it if he chugged a beer first. So he did."
"If I get just one person to fulfill the mitzva of wrapping tefilin then it is all worth it," Hurwitz says.
"The purpose of creation is to reveal the essence of G-d in this world," Meretsky says while walking home from the HUB. "Each person's soul has a spark of Moshiach and ChaBaD's mission is to reveal that spark thereby bringing Moshiach. A ChaBaD House provides anything students need to activate that spark, whether a yarmulke, a prayer book, chicken soup..."
After his explanation Meretsky runs home, for it is Friday morning and in just a few hours his apartment will be full of students for the weekly Shabbat service.
A Touch of the High Holidays
Conceived and written by Devorah Glazer, and illustrated by Seva, A Touch of the High Holidays is a brightly colored board book features textured areas on each page that encourage children to encounter the feel of Jewish life by touching the bumpy etrog, or the soft velvet of a Torah cover. The "touch and feel" book is published by Merkos Publications.
Freely Translated and Adapted
Chai (18th) Elul, 5732 
To the Sons and Daughters of Our People Israel, Everywhere,
G-d bless you all!
Greeting and Blessing:
The present period of preparation for Rosh Hashanah-the day on which G-d concluded the creation of the world with the creation of man, is also a day of reflection.
In accordance with the will of the Creator to create a world with a multitude of diverse creations, the world consists of innumerable, distinct and different things. At the same time, however, all things have certain underlying features that unite them, and some that unify them into one entity:
This is to be expected, considering that all things have been created by the one and the same Creator, the One G-d. Consequently, an inner and true unity pervades all creation, from an inanimate object to a human being.
The said concept was brought out by our Sages of blessed memory especially in connection with the human species. Observed our Sages: The Creator formed all mankind in the same "stamp," in the image of the first man, Adam; yet every human being is different, no two humans anywhere in the world are alike in all respects.
The principle of diversity coupled with unity embracing all things in the world applies also to time. Time is divided into day and night, weekdays, Sabbath, holidays, etc., each season having its own inherent quality and significance in general, and for man in particular. Yet there are elements that unite all time-sectors into one continuity.
This is true also of Rosh Hashanah: All Rosh Hashanahs have many aspects in common, for as has often been mentioned, Rosh Hashanah is the "head" (Rosh) of the year. At the same time, however, each Rosh Hashanah is unique - each inaugurates specific and new forces and qualities.
Particularly unique is a Rosh Hashanah when it coincides with Shabbat, as this year. In this event, the holiness of Rosh Hashanah becomes one with the holiness of Shabbat, giving this Rosh Hashanah a new dimension and content, which-in view of Rosh Hashanah being the "head" of the year, as mentioned above-must influence the daily life throughout the year.
The general difference between the weekdays and Shabbat, particularly in so far as man is concerned, is that the weekdays are work days ("Six days shall you labor and do all your work"), whereas Shabbat is a day of abstention from work ("you shall do no work"), a day of rest.
At first glance this leads to an anomaly: From birth a man's destiny is linked to work, as the Torah declares, "A man is born to toil" (with intervals of rest, sleep, etc., in order to recuperate for further toil). Yet, when Rosh Hashanah occurs on Shabbat, this emphasis would be on the idea of abstention from work. How is this to be reconciled with the principle of "man is born to toil"?
One of the explanations, which removes the contradiction, is as follows: A human being is a composite, he consists of body and soul. Consequently, all his activities likewise contain the elements of "body" and "soul" - the material and spiritual. It follows that also in the human destiny of "man is born to toil" both elements are present, physical toil and spiritual toil. Our Sages express it as the toil of work and the toil of Torah. More specifically: The material-spiritual composition is to be found in both kinds of toil: In the "toil of work" (as also in the "toil of Torah") there is the physical as well as the spiritual toil, for in each of them there is a spiritual side and a material side.
On Shabbat a Jew fulfills his destiny of a "man is born to toil" by dedicating the day to the "toil of Torah." In this sense, Rosh Hashanah that occurs on Shabbat conveys also the message that in all the coming days of this year, a special emphasis should be put on the "toil of Torah (and Mitzvos)" and that also in the realm of "toil of work" (mundane affairs) one should bring out and accentuate the spiritual side of it.
By way of a simple illustration: A person holding a job is generally motivated by the income and desire to earn a living. Yet the underlying spiritual aspect, the "soul" of these mundane affairs, must be the recognition that "all your actions should be for the sake of heaven." Instead of being motivated solely or mainly by material gains, a Jew should be motivated by higher incentives: to be able to give charity generously, to be able to study the Torah without worry about livelihood, to be able to pay tuition for the children's Torah education, and so forth. And it is to attain these higher goals in life that he engages in the "toil of work."
To repeat and in other words: It is expected of every Jew that he or she bring the spirit of Shabbat into all his toil, including also the mundane activities; to bring in spirituality and holiness also in the ordinary activities of daily life, until they are thoroughly permeated with the spirit of Shabbat.
And when a person is permeated with spiritual motivations, his toil will obviously not interfere with his learning Torah, the fulfillment of a mitzva, giving charity generously and wholeheartedly, etc.
With the blessing of "may you be written and sealed for good" for a good and sweet year-
29 Elul, 5762 - September 6, 2002
Positive Mitzva 245: Conducting Business
Based on the verse in Leviticus 25:14 "If you sell something to your neighbor, or buy something from your neighbor" This commandment establishes guidelines for our business dealings and governs the way we buy, sell, and transfer ownership of property. These guidelines include writing business contracts, paying for goods with money, or exchanging one item for another.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
May this year be:
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.
A year of "Arise and have mercy on Zion,"... uplifted in matters of Moshiach and the Redemption... faith in G-d and Moses His servant... traveling with the Heavenly clouds... Revealed Wonders; Wonders in Everything... the building of the Holy Temple... trust; Great wonders... the true and complete Redemption; Dignified Wonders... victory... the seventh generation is the generation of Redemption...King David lives and is eternal; "Those who rest in the dust will arise and sing and he will lead them"... Moshiach is coming and he has already come... the revelation of Moshiach; "He will redeem us"... "And they believed in G-d and in Moses His servant"; "This one will comfort us"; the wonders of true freedom... a new song; an abundance of good (Rambam); the king shall live; inscribed and sealed for a good year... the harp of Moshiach; learning Moshiach's teachings; the coming of Menachem who will comfort us... the King Moshiach; wonders... revealed miracles... a double portion; treasures... the completion and end of exile... the revelation of the Infinite Divine Light; "Humble ones, the time of your Redemption has arrived"; "Jerusalem will dwell in open space"; Your servant David will go forth; the ingathering of the exiles... acceptance of his sovereignty by the people; Rebbe - Rosh B'nei Yisrael; peace... a new song... Moshiach's shofar... unity of the Torah, unity of the Jewish people, unity of the land of Israel; Resurrection of the Dead... "A new Torah will come from Me"
Dipping an apple in honey on the eve of Rosh Hashana
In the Talmud (Shabbat 88) the Jewish people is likened to an apple: "Just as the apple is formed before the tree's leaves, so too did Israel declare 'We will do' before 'We will learn' [at Mt. Sinai]." Another reason for this custom is that Isaac gave his blessings to Jacob on Rosh Hashana. As explained in Kabbala, when Jacob said "Behold, my son's scent is the scent of the field," he was referring to a field of apple trees.
Covering the shofar (ram's horn) while the blessing is recited
On Rosh Hashana, the shofar is sounded to recall the Binding of Isaac. When Abraham built the altar on which to sacrifice his son, he hid Isaac until the very last second, lest the Satan throw a rock or a knife at him and render him unfit as an offering. For this reason the shofar is also covered until the very last minute.
Acceptance of the yoke heaven (kabalat ol)
Throughout the year, when a Jew accepts upon himself the yoke of heaven (especially by reciting the Shema), he establishes the foundation and starting point for his conduct the rest of the day. However, when we accept G-d's sovereignty on Rosh Hashana, it not only forms the foundation of our Divine service but is the essence of the day itself.
By E. Lesches
In the little town of Lubavitch, the month of Elul was drawing to a close. The wind of teshuva (repentance) had blown through the village for thirty days, aiding everyone in perfecting their spiritual service. More Tehilim (Psalms), more charity, more Torah study. The frenzied preparation reached its climax.
The setting sun signaled the beginning of a new year. Many thousands of Chasidim poured into the town, eager to spend Rosh Hashana with the Tzemach Tzedek, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the third Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch. They crammed into the Rebbe's shul. A hush fell on the room as the Tzemach Tzedek entered. A path miraculously appeared, the Rebbe made his way to his place, and Maariv, the evening service, began.
It was an unusual Maariv. The Tzemach Tzedek appeared drawn, worried. His prayers were imbued with extraordinary fervor, as though - if it were possible - they were more fervent than an ordinary Rosh Hashana. Fear and dread gripped every heart. This is the time when "the angels tremble, terror seizes them, and they exclaim: 'the Day of Judgment is here.' " The Chasidim redoubled their concentration, desperately trying to arouse Divine mercy. Everyone felt that something unusual was in the air.
That night after the prayers, the Rebbe joined his family in the holiday meal. Though the Rebbes generally minimized all talk on Rosh Hashana, the Tzemach Tzedek made it a point to speak during the meal. He discussed current events in the capital, the names and ranks of different ministers and the political situation in general. Reb Yehuda Leib, one of the Rebbe's sons, would remark, "He is performing wonders in Petersburg right now."
This year was no different. The Tzemach Tzedek related all the goings-on in the capital and focused on certain ministers and their roles. In fact, he seemed more detailed than in other years.
The day of Rosh Hashana dawned and throngs of Chasidim streamed to the Rebbe's shul. Again the Rebbe's prayers were permeated with emotion. After the morning prayer was completed and the Torah reading was finished, everyone prepared themselves for the mitzva (commandment) of shofar.
A feeling of awe enveloped the large shul as the sons of the Tzemach Tzedek took their places around the bima, each in his designated place. The Tzemach Tzedek himself finished his preparations, readying himself to blow the tekiyos. His face burned brightly as he sang softly to himself, his eyes closed in deep concentration. Suddenly his voice resonated throughout the shul, "Woe! My heart! A Psalm..."
Panic gripped the congregation and tears flowed freely. Some evil decree prompted the Rebbe's unusual outburst, no doubt, and a great wailing filled the shul. Everyone's heart was open, raw and receptive. The congregation recited the Psalm seven times as required and the Rebbe began the shofar blasts...
Minister Suvorin, minister of Petersburg, the capital, studied his reflection in the mirror gracing the walls of the czar's antechamber. He was waiting for his scheduled appointment with His Majesty. In his hand was the document in which he had invested so much work. It concerned the great rabbi, the one they called the "Tzemach Tzedek."
It was intolerable that a rabbi should have all that power, what with all his followers spread across White Russia. His power lay in his choice of residence, a small village far away from prying eyes and government informers.
No more. The rabbi would now be forced to move to either Petersburg or Kiev. His followers would think twice before visiting their rabbi in such a large city. They would be too easily followed, easily questioned, easily inspected. He had the official document in his hand now: all it needed was the czar's signature.
Suvorin stared out the window. There had been some trouble lately - anger was brewing among the populace, and he was mostly to blame. Two new decrees had raised the ire of Petersburg's residents, but they were just a mob of common folk anyway. After all, his intentions had been pure.
He turned from the window and paced the room, smiling as he recalled the new decrees. No smoking was allowed on city streets; it was untidy. No more meat would be sold within the city; no longer would the beautiful capital carry the smell of rotting flesh. He, Minister Suvorin, would make Petersburg the most beautiful capital in the world.
A liveried servant entered the antechamber and bowed. "Minister Suvorin," he said. "His Majesty will see you now."
Suvorin followed the servant, beads of perspiration forming on his forehead. He entered the dazzling audience chamber and bowed low before the czar.
The czar was in a foul mood. "You passed two decrees banning the sale of meat and use of cigarettes. The population is angry; the decrees are unbearable."
The czar tore the document out of the minister's hand and hurled it angrily on the floor. Suvorin turned white, bowed low and quickly left.
The minister stood once again in the antechamber, his mind whirling. His dream had been shattered. Gone was his goal of restraining the great rabbi. For such was the accepted law: any document that had been thrown away by the czar was automatically negated and it was illegal to present the request again. The rabbi would stay in the village of Lubavitch after all.
Far away in the town of Lubavitch, the Tzemach Tzedek finished sounding the shofar. He returned to his place and the congregation resumed their prayers.
Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine
Man is a synthesis of spiritual and material, a Divine soul in a physical body, granted free will but bound by nature. Moshiach will epitomize this synthesis, for he will be flesh and blood, but "The spirit of G-d shall rest upon him..." He will perfect the world not by miracles but by combining human action and the tremendous Divine force within him. Only Moshiach can redeem the world as G-d desires.
(The Days of Moshiach by Menachem M. Brod)