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It's more than 2,000 years old, but the Great Wall of China remains one of the great wonders of the world, an engineering feat rarely matched in the 22 centuries since its construction began.
There's another wall that's been around for even longer than the Great Wall. It's not fashioned from stones, bricks or cement and is much less well-known.
You see, described in the colorful and descriptive language of Chasidic philosophy is an "iron curtain and partition" that separates a person from G-d.
The "iron curtain" of Chasidic philosophy is not a physical barrier like the Great Wall of China. Nor is it an ideological partition like that of the Former Soviet Union. However, similar to the curtain of pre-Glasnost fame, it too, impairs the Jewish soul. Yet, its distinction is that it is self-imposed. It is created not by government policies or ideals, but rather by misdeeds and transgressions.
Shattering this wall can be accomplished, according to Chasidut, "by means of contriteness of the heart and bitterness of the soul" over the sins one has committed, i.e. teshuva-returning to one's roots-repentance.
Teshuva, according to Jewish sources, is as easy as one, two, three: 1) Admit to the sin; 2) Regret the act; 3) Make firm decisions about the future.
Not so easy, you say? This is true. There are stories of genuinely great people who spent their whole lives trying to awaken the proper feelings needed for sincere teshuva. And there are numerous other stories of much simpler folk who specially sought out the advice and counsel of a rebbe or other spiritual giant to direct them on the correct path.
Yet one story in particular describes just how simple teshuva really is-or should be:
A person came to the great Rebbe, Reb Yisrael of Ruzhin, and pleaded:
"I have sinned and I want to do teshuva."
"If so," asked the Rebbe, "why don't you?"
The man answered sadly, "I don't know how to."
"And how," replied the rebbe, "did you know to sin?"
"I just did it, then afterwards I realized I had sinned," he answered.
Responded Reb Yisroel: "You should do the same now. Return, and the reckoning will automatically be straightened out."
These days leading up to Yom Kippur are the most appropriate time of year to be involved in understanding and actually "doing" teshuva. For, on the day which would be Yom Kippur for all future generations, G-d Himself forgave the Jewish people and accepted their teshuva for the sin of the Golden Calf. Thus, this day's spiritual energy is associated with teshuva and forgiveness.
The Iron Curtain has risen. The Berlin Wall has fallen. Barriers between people of different races, cultures and nationalities have been broken.
By availing ourselves of the opportunity on the auspicious day of Yom Kippur to return to our roots, we will surely merit to see the great wonder of the Third Holy Temple with the revelation of Moshiach, NOW!
This Shabbat is known by two names:
Shabbat Shuva, derived from the opening words of the Haftorah that is read in synagogue, "Shuva Yisrael - Return, O Israel," and Shabbat Teshuva, as it falls out in the middle of the Aseret Yemei Teshuva, the Ten Days of Repentance. This name is also connected to the Haftorah, the theme of which is likewise the return to G-d.
The two names of this Shabbat reveal a timely lesson.
The word "shuva - return" is the command form of the word "lashuv - to return." G-d commands us to return to Him in teshuva.
"Teshuva," by contrast, is a noun denoting the action itself, the actual return to G-d.
The name "shuva" relates more to the One who is issuing the command than the person being addressed.
"Shuva" alludes to a situation in which the command has already been issued, but not yet carried out. The command itself imparts a measure of strength but does not ensure that it will necessarily be fulfilled in the future.
The name "teshuva," on the other hand, implies that the action has already been taken, i.e., teshuva has already been done. In that case, however, why do we continue to refer to this Shabbat as Shabbat Teshuva?
The answer is that the act of teshuva consists of both the command to return to G-d and its subsequent implementation.
"Shuva" teaches us that even after a Jew has done teshuva, he still needs to work on himself to an even greater degree. No matter how much teshuva a person has done, it is always possible to rise higher; hence the directive, "Return, O Israel unto the L-rd, your G-d."
In fact, our teshuva must be "unto the L-rd, your G-d." Thus it is understood that there is always room for improvement - for an even deeper and infinite teshuva - as G-d Himself is Infinite.
This is the lesson of Shabbat Shuva: A Jew must never content himself with his previous Divine service and spiritual advancement. He must never think that because he has worked on himself a whole week he is now entitled to "rest" because it is Shabbat. No, today is "Shabbat Shuva!" Even after one has done teshuva, more work is required! For the service of teshuva is continual and without end.
Adapted from Hitva'aduyot 5744 of the Rebbe, volume 1
Encircled by Love
by Dobra Spinner
I can't remember at which point I became aware that my younger sister, Taibkeh, was becoming Torah observant. Although the focus of our upbringing had been totally Jewish oriented, I hadn't an inkling what it meant to return to Torah-true Judaism, especially the Chasidic variety.
I remember, however, the moment when it became a reality. My parents had called to inform me that Taibkeh had met "a" guy. Two weeks later they called to inform me that Taibkeh was engaged to "the" guy. My shock and horror knew no bounds.
In Jewish tradition, it is customary that if a younger sister desires to marry before an older sister she asks permission of the older sister. In response to my sister's request, I wrote to her through bleary-eyed tears: "How could you do this to our family? You are totally alienating us. Orthodoxy is one thing, but Chasidism, so extreme?" However, being from a family that endorsed one another's decisions, even if we weren't totally in agreement, I boldly gave Taibkeh my blessing.
Having absolutely no idea of what to expect at the first Chasidic wedding I was ever to attend, I decided to take a Zen approach: open myself to the full experience, go with the flow, be here now. I also chose to feel happiness for my sister in her choice, as strange as it seemed. The only instructions I received were to bring an outfit that covered my knees, shoulders, elbows, and collar bone.
I traveled to Israel where the wedding was to take place and went up north to Sfat. Upon arriving at Machon Alte, the women's seminary where Tabike had studied, I felt immediately comfortable with these intelligent, spiritual women. Most were college educated from secular backgrounds similar to mine.
At the wedding that night, I heard a Chasidic insight for the first time. Before birth, the souls of a couple that are destined to marry some day are one. At birth the souls are separated into two physical bodies when they are born into this world. At the wedding, the souls merge and are rejoined as one. This concept , the first of many that I learned over the next few days, chipped away at my preconceived notion that Judaism is void of spirituality.
A journey that I never planned to take slowly unfolded. Step by step I followed in my sister's footsteps. My sister's journey also influenced other members of our family, including my beloved father.
My father was a person who avoided embellishments. He never worried about what people thought. What you see is what you get.
As a product of the depression, he worked hard, in hopes that no one in his family would ever have to walk three miles to save that nickel on bus fare. If there was a job to be done, we knew whom to ask. He was a doer in the most pragmatic way. Complaints?? Never. Just part of the job description.
The fifth of seven children, my father grew up in a very traditional Jewish home at a time when it was not "in vogue" to be Torah observant. Basic mitzvot (commandments) were kept, and rabbis were hired to supplement secular education. But it felt restrictive and wasn't uncommon for secret baseball game outings to take the place of Shabbos naps.
Many years later, much to his never ending wonder, my father (whom we came to call "Tatte" -Yiddish for father) ended up with not only one, but two Lubavitcher daughters.
In one conversation, Tatte happened to mention that he had kept kosher and had put on tefilin until he went into the army. Before he knew it, Tatte was given a pair of tefilin by his new son-in-law. I can't say he was thrilled or even mildly excited, but being the type of person he was, combined with not wanting to be wasteful, he began putting on tefilin every day.
Over the years we became accustomed to seeing him put on his tefilin at the breakfast table before he had coffee. It was done in the same way as he had "done" his life... you gave your word, you made a commitment and you just did it. Clear and simple.
Sadly, the next years brought difficulties for my father in the medical realm. As the issues grew, so did my father's observance of mitzvot.
My father's health continued to deteriorate and he finally ended up in the hospital. My sister, brother and I flew to Florida to be with our parents. We took Tatte's tefilin bag into his room in the intensive care unit. As women, we were unfamiliar with this wrapping tefilin business. David, our brother, also had no idea since it had been more than thirty years since his Bar Mitzva.
I gently unzip the bag. For a moment I am taken to another place. What have we here ?? Tatte's gray hand-crocheted yarmulke. The Shema laminated by Tatte along with the chapter of Psalms corresponding to his age. The Modeh Ani prayer thanking G-d for allowing us to wake up in the morning in Tatte's handwriting transliterated into English. A small piece of material from the cover of a Torah scroll that my husband had given him - for long life. I am deeply touched. I hand my sister Taibkeh the tefilin while I try to get Tatte's yarmulke situated on his head. We place the boxes where we think they should go. I know G-d is happy. We say Shema with our Mother, as David observes from the sidelines. Who has tzedaka? We lovingly place a coin between Tatte's fingers and help it find its way into a tzedaka box. The Rebbe's picture hangs from one of the monitors above the laminated Shema. The nurse asks us if that is what our Dad used to look like.
A week passes. David joins in our daily Shema. I whisper in my father's ear that my son Eli Nachum's Bar Mitzva is coming soon and I'm enlisting his help in paying for the tefilin so he has part of the mitzva.
It is time for the changing of the guards. David takes the first shift, while Taibke and I return home. David, now it's up to you to put Tatte's tefillin on him. We are really counting on you. So is Tatte.
Tatte passed away on the day after Purim, 2001. We were given the ultimate gift of being able to be present at this auspicious time.
A week later, David began putting on Tatte's tefilin daily. Two months ago, in preparation for his Bar Mitzva, our son Eli Nachum began putting on tefilin. The cycle of life, the circle of love, continues.
The Sukkah That I Built
In The Sukkah That I Built, a young child joins in the rollicking fun of hammering the walls, climbing the ladder and putting schach on the family sukkah. Set to a "House that Jack Built" refrain, the reader builds his vocabularly along with the building of the sukkah! Each "new" word appears in a different color, highlighting the key words for easy recognition by the young, beginning reader. Bold, colorful illustrations makes this book a unique learning experience! From HaChai Publishing.
Greeting and Blessing:
Since your daughter was born under the sign of helping others through Tzedokoh [charity] may G-d grant that she will be brought up in such a way that she will always be a source of help and encouragement to others, with joy and gladness of heart.
I was particularly gratified to note that both you and your wife fulfilled the Mitzvah [commandment] of Tzedokoh with simple faith in the Creator and Master of the world. This gives me the hope that in other respects too, your daily conduct accords with the directives of our Torah, which is called the Law of Life, with simple faith; that is to say, fulfilling those aspects which appear rational, together with those which are beyond comprehension, with equal fervor, vitality and contentment. I am sure that the Giver of the Torah and Mitzvos, Who has shown his kindness in the past, will continue to bestow benevolence upon you in the future.
I was interested and pleased to read in your letter about the change in your parent's attitude towards religious observance. No doubt a great deal of the credit is due to you directly, and perhaps even more so to your indirect influence as a living example and inspiration. Inasmuch as G-d is Infinite, as are His Torah and Mitzvos, there is always room for improvement. I therefore hope that you and your wife will make ever-growing efforts in this direction, for experience has shown that it is all a matter of will and determination, for when one fully estimates his capacities and those of others, one accomplishes a great deal more than expected, and with much less effort than originally imagined.
This is also the gist of my Rosh Hash-anah message, a copy of which is enclosed herewith, which I hope that your wife will also read with interest. For the wife, called "the foundation of the home," bears a great deal of responsibility for the true Jewish spirit in the home and for the upbringing of the children. The message, therefore, is no less important for the wife than for the husband.
With regard to the saying "In the Torah of your heart shall you know G-d," about which you ask my comment, let me quote by way of preface from our Holy Scriptures: "Man is born for toil." It is explained in Chasidus that the reference to "toil" in not only in order to acquire material things, but also spiritual. In other words, G-d expects us to serve Him constantly and with ever-growing efforts, and this is the purpose of our lives.
One should therefore not expect that G-d would give him a pat on the back every now and again, as if to say "Well done," or to make special revelations or miracles to him. On the contrary, in His wisdom G-d desired that the Jew should, of his own free volition, choose the right way, i.e., to serve G-d, and that his own inner motivation, feeling the reason, and above all his simple faith, should dedicate him to do so, and not that he should be constantly prodded by immediate miracles, revelations, or other rewards.
If, however, one does see miracles and revelations, one should consider them as an additional force to attain a higher degree of Divine service, in accordance with the scripture saying "In all thy ways thou shalt know Him." The meaning of this is not that only during prayer and during the fulfillment of any religious duty, should the Jew know and be aware of G-d, but that in all and every aspect of his daily life, even during the time of eating, drinking, business, etc., the Jew should always be aware of the nearness of G-d, and conduct himself accordingly.
Thus, you should always try to bring out the best and innermost of you, and influence also your environment, at all times, whether or not there are any outside stimulants. Anyone who takes the trouble can see G-d's miracles at every step, but even if not, this should only indicate that G-d regards one as sufficiently grownup and mature not to require constant "interjections" and stimulants from outside.
This is also the meaning of the saying "In the Torah of your heart shall you know G-d," namely, that in your own heart you can indeed find all the inspiration to serve G-d with faith, confidence and joy, for this is part of the nature and inheritance of the Jew, as the Old Rebbe, the founder of Chabad, used to say, "A Jew by nature is neither able nor willing to break away from G-d."
In conclusion, may I express my satisfaction also with the progress you have made in you own work, and that the change was something you really wanted. May it bring you an additional measure of peace of mind and harmony, so that you can continue to advance, both spiritually and materially, for your own benefit and for the benefit of your family and environment.
Wishing you a happy Yom Tov,
7 Tishrei, 5763 - September 13, 2002
Prohibition 252: It is forbidden to hurt a convert's feelings
This commandment is based on the verse in Exodus 22:20: "You shall not wrong a stranger-ger." A "ger" is a person who converted to Judaism and took upon him-or herself to keep the Torah and Mitzvot. We are commanded not to hurt his feelings or say anything that may cause the ger to be embarrassed or feel uneasy.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
One of the unique points about Yom Kippur is the special service of the Kohein Gadol-the High Priest, who performed the Yom Kippur service on that day by himself.
For the part of the High Priest's service which was performed in the two outer halls of the Holy Temple, he wore gold clothing. The part of the service performed inside the Holy of Holies, however, was performed in plain white clothing.
Although the physical Holy Temple was destroyed - and we eagerly await its rebuilding - the spiritual Sanctuary within every Jew - his Holy of Holies - remains totally intact. Thus, each individual Jew is personally responsible to perform the special service of the High Priest on Yom Kippur.
The High Priest wore gold clothing for a large part of his special service to remind us that we should use the most precious and beautiful materials available in serving G-d; we should perform mitzvot in a beautiful and enhanced manner.
The white clothing of the High Priest, worn in the Holy of Holies, is a reminder though, that it is not enough to only do those mitzvot that involve us in material matters. Those mitzvot that are purely spiritual in nature, such as prayer and Torah study, must also be performed.
At the end of his service, the High Priest said a short prayer that the year should be a good year materially for himself, his tribe and all the Jewish people throughout the entire world.
This, too, is part of the service of every single Jew on the holiest day of the year and in the Holy of Holies of his heart. Each Jew on Yom Kippur should also pray for a good year not only for himself and his family, but for the entire Jewish people.
All of the Prophets prescribed teshuva, and the Jewish people will be redeemed only through teshuva. The Torah has given assurance that Israel will do teshuva-at the end of its exile-and will be redeemed immediately, as it says (Deut. 30): "It will be when all these things have happened... you will return to G-d... and G-d will return your captivity and will gather you from among all the nations where He dispersed you."
(Maimonides, Hilchot Teshuva)
The Sages have said of the virtues of teshuva: "Where those who do teshuva stand, perfect tzadikim cannot stand."
(Talmud Brachot 39)
Great is teshuva for it transforms willful transgressions into meritorious acts.
(Talmud Yoma 81)
Whoever does teshuva, is regarded as if he had gone up to Jerusalem, built the Sanctuary, built the altar, and offered upon it all the offerings prescribed in the Torah.
(Vayikra Raba 7)
So great is the strength of teshuva that when a person reflects at heart to do teshuva, he rises immediately to the highest Heaven, to the very presence of the Throne of Glory.
(Pesikta Rabati 44)
Rabbi Eliezer said, "Repent one day before your death." Whereupon his disciples asked Rabbi Eliezer, "Does a person know on what day he will die?" He said to them, "All the more so - let him repent today lest he die tomorrow, so that all his days might pass in teshuva."
(Talmud Shabbat 153)
by Menachem Ziegelboim
Rabbi Betzalel Schiff was born in the former Soviet Union. Today, he resides in Israel and does much on behalf of the Jewish people. He relates:
While still a young boy in second grade my father passed away. My mother also died at a young age as a result of a tragic incident. This happened a week before my wedding.
Those days were fraught with persecution and much suffering. The fear in keeping mitzvot (commandments) was tremendous. Any action taken on behalf of Torah and Judaism involved actual danger. Since I no longer had parents and I lived alone, I took on various missions on behalf of my fellow Jews, including many which were fraught with danger.
One of my jobs was to procure arba minim (the lulav, etrog, etc.) for Jews in Samarkand. I traveled to Georgia in order to pick them for the Sukot holiday. I left right after Rosh HaShana so that I could return in time for Yom Kippur.
One year I arrived in Tbilisi in Georgia where the usual policeman awaited me. He knew me, and he brought me to the place where palm trees grew in an area alongside the sea. Since I paid him handsomely, the policeman waited respectfully and even made sure I had a ladder and a saw. I cut down ten lulavim (palm branches), which was enough for all the members of the congregation. Then I went on to Kutaisi where I cut down hadasim (myrtle), which grew plentifully in the courtyard of the shul. That is what I did each year.
One year, when I finished my job and wanted to return home to Samarkand before Yom Kippur, I discovered that no tickets were available. I offered large amounts of money, triple the usual price, but not a single ticket was available.
I knew a Jew who had a pharmacy. I figured he might be able to help me. "If there is no ticket to Samarkand, then at least get me to Moscow where my brother is," I begged. I hoped that I would be able to spend Yom Kippur there with him.
The man tried his best but he too failed. In the end he arranged accommodations for me at a special motel near the airport, hoping that perhaps the next morning, Yom Kippur eve, I would be able to get on a flight to Samarkand or at least to Moscow.
When I entered the room I saw a young man asleep on his bed. I got into the other bed and fell asleep. The next morning I got up early and ran over to the airport to see whether there were any flights. I saw that I had time until the flights would be leaving, so I returned to the room. The other man had awoken and was sitting up in bed. I wanted to take out my tefilin and pray, but his presence bothered me. I asked him whether he was leaving soon or would be staying on in the room.
"I'm in no rush and I will be staying here," he said with a shrug. "Why, do you need something?" he asked.
"Yes, you're disturbing me," I said honestly and bravely. "Tonight we have a great holiday and now I want to pray."
"So pray," he said, "I'm not bothering you."
I had no choice and so I turned to the wall, put on my tefilin and began praying. Afterwards I turned around and saw that the young man had gotten dressed in the meantime. He was wearing the uniform of an officer in the Red Army. When I saw his medals and rank I realized I was in deep trouble. I thought to myself, "Well, that's that. I put myself in danger and now I'm in for it."
I didn't know what to do for I had been caught red-handed putting on tefilin. I was still in shock and wondering what to say when he quietly said to me, "What holiday do we have today?"
For a moment there I didn't realize what he had meant, and I said, "Tonight is Yom Kippur." I looked up and saw him sitting on the bed. His head was down and he was deep in thought. Then I heard him sigh and say to himself, "Ah, Moshe Moshe, what's with you? Even things like this you don't remember?" and he burst into tears.
After he calmed down he turned to me and said, "What do you want now?"
"I want to return home before the holiday," I said.
"Where do you want to go?"
"To Tashkent," I answered.
"So come with me," he said abruptly, and he got up and left the room.
We went outside where I saw a military vehicle and driver. He told the driver to take us to the airport. When we arrived there he inquired as to where the planes to Tashkent were (which is near Samarkand). We went out to the runway and nobody dared to stop him or say a word. His high rank aroused the respect of all. When he found the plane to Tashkent he said to the pilot, "Where are you going?"
"Take him," he ordered.
The pilot didn't have much of a choice in the matter. I boarded the plane and managed to reach home before Yom Kippur.
Before we parted the officer asked me, "If I want to find you in Tashkent, how will I do that?" I told him to come to the shul and ask for Betzalel. A few months later he actually came to Tashkent and looked me up.
Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine
Once you determine in your heart to return to G-d totally, even though you have not yet done so, the Redemption will come when G-d sees in you signs of purity indicating that your heart is inclined toward Him. Even though... you cannot do all His commandments... immediately 'G-d, your G-d, will bring back your remnant...' "
(Kli Yakar, Deut. 30:3)