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Have you ever tried to book a flight online? There are lots of discount sites to choose from. Or you can go to the actual airline's home page. Most of the time, it's pretty hassle-free and convenient, right? Just know your dates two weeks in advance, log on, check a few sites and compare prices, and in half-an-hour, you've got your flights, your seats, your kosher meals - and you can rent a car and reserve hotel rooms, too. And if you're flexible, meaning it doesn't matter when you come and go, you can save even more!
But what happens when we procrastinate, when we can't decide if, when or where we're going until the last minute? Then trying to make arrangements, book a flight, get a hotel, becomes irritating, frustrating, a logistical nightmare. And expensive. Very expensive.
You can spend hours and hours going from site to site trying as many combinations as there are moves in a chess game. Fly into a different city, rent a car, drive two and a half hours - saving fifty dollars. That doesn't work. If only you could fly out the day before - ha! - that's your kid's championship game, the day of the big conference - or Shabbat.
Oh, here's a flight. Reasonable. It goes from your home to the city you want to go to, then some place far away. Just get off at the first stop. That won't work because going back you've got to board at the far away city. They won't let you on halfway.
(If, G-d forbid, there's an emergency or, G-d willing, a simcha, that necessitates last minute travel, many airlines try to be accommodating, lowering somewhat their you're-traveling-last-minute-mortgage-the-house-fares. Nor do we resent the high prices as much, because we need to get there (at any price) and we couldn't have foreseen the need or planned for it earlier.)
Sometimes we approach doing a mitzva (commandment) like we're figuring out our itinerary: how long will it take? How much does it cost? How can I minimize the time between destinations? Well and good if we plan in advance, allowing the proper time and emphasis. But woe when we put off planning, when we try to squeeze it in around frivolities or "I need to's".
No one thinks a wedding can be put together overnight. It takes time to rent a hotel, decide who's invited, book the caterer, agree on a menu, find a decent photographer, hire musicians, send out the invitations, etc.
In order to celebrate Shabbat or a Jewish holiday properly, we have to plan, prepare, shop, clean, invite, cook.
What of other mitzvot? Do we make them a priority in our schedules and busy lives, making them unbreakable appointments? Or do we just squeeze them in whenever, wherever, whatever - if ever?
We don't want to scramble for mitzvot like we sometimes do for airline tickets, simply because we didn't plan ahead.
In a sense, that's what the month of Elul is about - a month of planning ahead, booking Rosh Hashana early. We do a number of things differently in Elul - blowing the shofar, saying extra Psalms, etc. - as "pre-travel" arrangements.
So make your reservations early! And see you on board!
"Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt. When they encountered you on the way, and you were tired and exhausted, they cut off those lagging to your rear, and they did not fear G-d....Therefore, you must obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. You must not forget."
With these verses, this week's Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, closes. We do not, however, read the command to wipe-out Amalek only once a year during the reading of Ki Teitzei. Every day, at the end of our morning prayers, this command is recited. Who was Amalek and why are we, the Jews-described by the Torah as "compassionate"- commanded to destroy the people of Amalek?
The destruction of Amalek is symbolic of the nullification of a specific negative trait which can manifest itself within each one of us.
When a person is stirred and wants to go out of "Egypt"-from the limitations of the corporeal-"Amalek" comes along and tries to prevent him from doing so.
How does he do this? "When they encountered you" in Hebrew is karkha. The word "kar" means cold. The commentator Rashi explains that Amalek attempted to stop us with coldness. What does this mean?
Spirituality thrives on warmth and excitement; G-d is referred to as a "consuming fire." Amalek cools off a person's spirituality and numbs him from being excited about anything G-dly, by planting seeds of doubt (the numerical equivalent of Amalek is the same as safek- doubt).
The antidote to the actions of Amalek is "remember." One must always have words of Torah engraved in his mind and memory, so that one may meditate and ponder them anytime and in any place, and through this can nullify the evil of Amalek.
But, were not the Jews protected in the desert from enemy attack by the Divine clouds? Amalek attacked "those who had no strength." Rashi explains that the Cloud cast some of them out due to their sins. They had "no strength" to overcome their desire to sin.
Amalek attacked only those Jews who had transgressed, and whom the Cloud had thrown out of the camp. Yet, it was in order to save these very Jews from the hands of Amalek that the entire Jewish people left the protection of the Cloud to go out to war.
We must learn a lesson from this week's portion and "live with the times." When the need arises, we too, must go out of the comfort and safety of our own "clouds" in order to help another Jew, no matter who he is, where he is, or what he has done in the past.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
by Yehudis Cohen
I lie in bed. The same images replay themselves each night. I will write the article when I am ready. I will write the article that I have asked others to write, an article about traditional Jewish burial.
I think back nearly two decades. I am spending the summer in Connecticut, directing a Chabad day camp there. I am asked to be part of a group of women who will perform a tahara, the ritual washing and preparing of a Jewish body after its passing, for an elderly Jewish woman.
No one else is available. I agree. I do not eat the rest of the day. I am not sure how I will react to being close to, touching, holding a dead body.
I do not remember much of the tahara. But I do remember that I felt I was in a very holy presence, that I was involved in a very holy mitzva. One detail I do recall is that before pouring the water over the body, we gently removed any bandages that were on it. If the bandages had blood on them, we saved them to be buried together with the body.
I think back six months. It is Saturday night. I am in the hospice with my father. I have pictures of the children for my father to see. But his eyes are not open. I describe each picture to him. I tell him that the children will be arriving in the morning.
And then I tell my father stories about people who recovered miraculously. I take my father's hand and put in it a dollar that I brought with me. "You're giving tzedaka (charity) now, Daddy," I tell him. I lift his hand and we put the dollar in the tzedaka box.
The phone rings. My baby at my parents' home is crying uncontrollably. I have to go back and take care of him. I wait until my sister and cousin come. "Good night, Daddy, I'll see you soon."
The phone rings. It's 2 a.m. My mother comes into the bedroom. "Lynn said we should come."
We get to the hospice. I sit on my father's right, my mother sits on his left. I hold my father's hand. "I'm saying Tehillim (Psalms), Daddy." I say 10 or 20 chapters. My eyes begin to close. "I'm going to rest, Daddy, and then I'll say more Tehillim."
I close my eyes. I hear my father's labored breathing. I wake up a little while later. "I'm going to go wash my hands Daddy, so I can say some more Tehillim." Sleep is likened to death. Upon awakening we wash our hands to wash off any remnant of death.
I wash my hands and take my father's hand again. "I'm back, Daddy. I'm saying Tehillim again."
Again I say 10 or 20 chapters. Again my eyes be-gin to close. Again I tell my father, "I'm going to rest for a little, Daddy, and then I'll say more Tehillim."
I close my eyes. I hear my father's labored breathing.
I don't hear my father's labored breathing. I open my eyes.
I say Shema with my father as I wake up my mother. "Daddy's gone," I say.
My mother calls the nurse. I call Rabbi Chaiken.
Mrs. Chaiken answers the phone. I tell her that my father just passed away. "Boruch Dayin Emes - Blessed is the True Judge," she says.
"What do I do?" I ask Rabbi Chaiken.
"Did you cover him with a sheet?" Rabbi Chaiken asks gently. I cover my father with a sheet.
"Can I say Tehillim?" I ask. I know that before the burial, a mourner is exempt from performing positive commandments. I will, for instance, not say any blessings over foods that I eat (unless out of habit I forget and do say a blessing) until after the funeral.
"I was asleep just before, do I need to wash my hands before I say Tehillim?" I ask. After all, sleep is only likened to death. I am with death.
Someone offers me water. When a person has passed on, his body is like a Torah scroll that can no longer be used. It is still sacred and must be treated with deference and respect. One does not drink or eat in front of a dead person, out of respect. I decline.
The driver from the funeral home arrives. I tell him firmly that all tubes must be left in place, to be removed only by the people performing the tahara. They must also leave any bloodied garments on my father. I look at the driver. He doesn't look Jewish. The body must be watched the entire time by a Jew. "I am going with you to the funeral home," I tell him.
When we arrive at the funeral home they tell me "The shomer is here. There is another person he is watching." Shomer means "watcher." A shomer is a person who watches the body so that it is never alone until burial, because the body is holy. The shomer recites Tehillim near the body.
"Where is he?" I ask. The shomer is at a synagogue across the street praying the morning services. "I'll wait," I tell them. I stay near my father. The shomer comes. I call Rabbi Chaiken.
"Is it okay for the shomer to watch two bodies?"
I tell the shomer I am leaving. He shows me his Tehillim and assures me that he will read it the entire time. I hesitantly go; I don't want to leave my father.
We cover the mirrors in the house. The children arrive. I walk out to the car. "Zaidy's gone," I say. "Gone where?" they ask. I just cry.
We have a 9:30 a.m. appointment at the funeral home. We go over everything: The shomer; the tahara; the plain pine coffin (I ask if holes can be drilled in the bottom, in keeping with G-d's words to Adam, "For dust you are and to dust you will return."); the simple shrouds; the filling in of the grave with dirt by those at the funeral rather than non-Jewish grave-diggers; the shiva ("How many low chairs will you need? How many coat racks and folding chairs and carpet runners and mats and prayer books and seven-day candles?")
My sisters, my mother, my aunt and I all ask forgiveness of my father as the coffin is led out of the funeral home. We drive to the cemetery.
After a short service, dirt is shoveled into the grave, onto the coffin. The shovels are not passed from hand to hand (so that this tragedy not pass from one to another) but placed back into the mound of earth. Chaim, G-d bless him, a dear family friend and the football coach at the local public high school, keeps shoveling until the entire grave is filled in.
We leave the cemetery and return home. We wash our hands outside of the house before entering, as is required. We eat the "first meal," customarily eggs and bread, brought by friends. We write signs with the translation and transliteration of the parting blessing to the mourners: "Hamakom Yenachem Etchem B'Toch Shaar Avelei Tzion V'Yerushayalim - May the Omnipresent comfort you amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem." We put out large containers with the names of my parents' favorite charities, so that visitors can give tzedaka at the shiva house. Our Sages say that through charity we will merit the resurrection of the dead.
At night, I read The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning by Rabbi Maurice Lamm. I read that a man is buried in his talis. All of my father's taleisim are here in the house. I call the Chevra Kaddisha (Sacred Society that arranges the tahara and the shomer) and ask if my father was buried in a talis. They tell me that, although he wasn't buried in his talis, he was buried in a talis. I feel relieved but a little guilty that I didn't know to bring his talis to the funeral home. There's so much to feel guilty about.
I think back three days. It is the "unveiling" of the tombstone. I am ready to write the article.
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Freely translated from a letter of the Rebbe
28 Menachem Av, 5707 
Greetings and blessings,
In response to your question:
You state that Rambam writes: "I believe... in the coming of Moshiach [the Messiah]... I will wait for him every day that he come." As of yet, I have not found this statement in Rambam's writings, not in his Commentary on the Mishnah (Sanhedrin, ch. 10), nor in the Mishneh Torah (Hilchos Teshuvah 3:6; 9:2; and the conclusion of Hilchos Melachim). Instead, this wording is found in the restatement of his Principles of Faith printed in the prayerbooks.
You mention an interpretation of the above: that every day, one waits for his eventual coming, even though it is impossible that he come that day; e.g., it is Shabbos or a festival as our Sages state (Eruvin 43b).
I have already been asked regarding the apparent contradiction between the wording of the statement "I believe..." and the quote from our Sages that you cite, and I offered that resolution.
Nevertheless, clarification is still necessary. For were that the intent, it should say: "Every day, I will wait for him that he comes," so that there is no doubt about the intent.
To offer a clever explanation: Since the statement that "the descendant of David will not come on Shabbos and festivals" is a matter of question and not a definite ruling (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Nezirus 4:11), the authors phrased the statement "I believe..." in a manner that regardless of the way the question of the coming of the descendant of David on Shabbos or a festival is resolved, the wording will be appropriate.
Or to offer a slightly different resolution: Although "the Torah is not in the heavens," there are several unresolved matters that will be determined by Eliyahu. As is well known, the expression teiku (that the Talmud uses to conclude the discussion of an unresolved issue) is an acronym for the Hebrew words meaning: "The Tishbite [Eliyahu] will resolve questions and difficulties" (Shelah, Chelek Torah SheBeAl Peh, Klal Os Suf, based on Zohar III, 28a; see also the appropriate entry in Aruch HaShaleim). Therefore on Shabbos or a festival, there is a question whether Eliyahu already came to the Sanhedrin [Supreme Rabbinical Court] before the onset of the Shabbos or festival and clarified this unresolved question leniently. Hence, it is possible for the descendant of David to come on those days.
The rationale for the opinion that the descendant of David will not come on Shabbos or a festival is that perhaps the prohibition against traveling beyond the Shabbos limits applies above ten handbreadths above the ground (see the glosses to the Mishneh Torah, loc. cit.).
On the surface, this is difficult to understand. This rationale could be given with regard to Eliyahu, for he is found in heaven. [Hence there is a question whether by descending from heaven he oversteps the Shabbos limits.] But the descendant of David will be found here below (see Sanhedrin 98a). This is particularly true in light of what is stated in Mishneh Torah at the conclusion of Hilchos Melachim: that "If there will arise a king from the house of David who delves deeply into the Torah... and compels all of Israel to observe it... fights the wars of G-d... and is successful... he is Moshiach." Thus Moshiach's victory will take place a certain time after he is revealed. This is the intent in saying that the descendant of David will not come on Shabbos or a festival - that he will not complete his victory on those days. As the Talmud states: "Since when he comes, all will be subjects of Israel." If so, the concept of [whether the Shabbos limits apply above ten handbreadths from the ground] is not relevant at all.
Therefore we are forced to say that the descendant of David must come to the entire Jewish people (see Iyun Yaakov on the citation of the passage from Eruvin in the Ein Yaakov) or to the Sanhedrin, who are the emissaries of the entire Jewish people. The Sanhedrin will first return to Tiberias. Only afterwards will they relocate to the Beis HaMikdash (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Sanhedrin 14:12). The war of Gog and Magog [The ultimate war to be waged by Moshiach.] and the victory over them will take place on the mountains of Israel (Yechezkel, chs. 38-39) or in the surroundings of Jerusalem (Zechariah, ch. 14). It is thus impossible to come to Tiberias or to the entire Jewish people except by traveling ten handbreadths above the ground or by postponing [the journey] to the weekdays if the Shabbos limits apply above ten handbreadths.
All of the above applies with regard to the Moshiach who will be the descendant of David. The Moshiach who will be the descendant of Yosef need not be revealed to all of Israel at once (see Iyun Yaakov, loc. cit.). Thus it is possible to say that the statement "I believe..." which mentions Moshiach without any further description and refers to the beginning of the Redemption, could be speaking about the Moshiach who is the descendant of Yosef. According to all opinions, he may come on Shabbos and on the festivals.
The clearest explanation is that simply the intent of the statement "I believe..." is an affirmation that the Redemption which we await can begin any day. Even the coming of Eliyahu, who will announce that tomorrow or in two days' time Moshiach will be revealed, can also be considered as "the coming of Moshiach." If so, the statement can be made every day.
Wishing you all forms of good forever,
11 Elul, 5763 - September 8, 2003
Positive Mitzva 244: A Borrower
This mitzva is based on the verse (Exodus 22:13) "And if a man borrows something from his neighbor..."
The borrower must accept the responsibility to return the article in the same condition as it was when he received it. This mitzva deals with the case of a borrowed article and details the laws that apply if harm befalls it.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
There is a beautiful parable regarding the month in which we now find ourselves, Elul: A king is constantly in his palace, surrounded by his servants, advisors, and guards. Infrequently, he travels from his estate, into the nearby fields. There, in the open, to the great delight of his subjects, he is more accessible. His countrymen approach the king with every plea imaginable, asking aid and assistance for matters great and small.
The king chooses the field for these encounters purposefully. The countryside lacks the pomp and splendor of the palace; even the simplest of the king's subjects feels comfortable enough to come near.
During the month of Elul, the period immediately preceding the High Holidays, the "King" - G-d, is in the field. He brings Himself closer to us, giving us a unique opportunity to voice our pleas.
The Rebbe has explained how the end of the summer brings this parable closer to home. We have been "in the field" - on vacation in the country or elsewhere in the field. We can easily identify with the simplicity of the surroundings in the countryside which make the subjects of the king feel at ease. Therefore, it requires less effort on our part to make the connection in our own lives between this parable and our G-dly service.
Let us make sure that this year, while the King is still "in the field," we take the opportunity to approach the King with every plea, especially the heartfelt cry that Moshiach come NOW, even before the beginning of the New Year.
With best wishes that all Jews everywhere be written and sealed for a k'tiva vachatima tova - a happy, healthy, and sweet year.
When you go out to war with your enemies...you shall take captives (Deut. 21:10).
In the "war" against the evil inclination one cannot be satisfied with merely overcoming it. One must also "take captives," to press the inclination into Divine service. We see the haste and devotion with which the evil inclination fulfills its mission of tripping man and bringing him to error. We can use this same devotion in serving G-d.
(Baal Shem Tov)
You shall not see your brothers ox or lamb wandering and hide from them. You shall surely return them to your brother (Deut. 22:1).
In this verse we are commanded to return a lost article. If we are instructed to be so careful not to ignore our neighbor's monetary loss, how much more the loss of his soul. We surely have a double duty to attend to the welfare of a Jew who has wandered from the path of Torah and return him to his Creator.
One who helps his friend, by returning that which he has lost - whether that which is lost is physical or spiritual - actually improves himself. His soul, too, becomes loftier as our Sages taught: "More than the charity-giver does for the poor person, the poor person does for the charity-giver."
And it will be if the wicked man deserves to be beaten...he may be given forty stripes, but not more; lest if he is beaten with many more stripes, then your brother will be dishonored in your eyes. (Deut. 25:2,3)
These verses discuss a person who has done a sin whose punishment is lashes. Since this person has sinned, he is called a "wicked man." However, as soon as he has been punished, he is once again called "your brother."
One of the chasidim of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the Alter Rebbe was a Melamed (teacher) who taught the children of a simple, uneducated villager.
When the month of Elul came around, the Melamed told the villager that it was his yearly custom to visit the Alter Rebbe for the High Holidays.
"I will return after the High Holy Days, with G-d's help," he said.
The Villager was disturbed. He did not like the idea of his "rebbe" going to another "rebbe" and leaving at this time, anyway, for he had reckoned on the Melamed remaining to conduct the services for the High Holy Days.
The Melamed patiently explained to the villager that the Alter Rebbe was no ordinary "Rebbe," but the head of many Rabbis, which was like the "head" which tells the rest of the body what to do.
The villager listened with interest, then suddenly exclaimed:
"Alright. If it's good for you to go to the Rebbe, then I'll go along too!"
The villager got prepared, readied his horse and buggy, and off they went to visit the Alter Rebbe.
When they arrived at the study hall, they found a large crowd of Chasidim already standing in line, awaiting their turn for "Yechidus" (personal, private audience) with the Rebbe.
The villager felt a little bewildered, but he decided to join the people in line and took his place at the end of the line. The Melamed, seeing that his "boss" was in the line, went to speak with some of his old friends.
When the villager's turn came to enter the Rebbe's study, he went in but remained silent, not knowing what he was supposed to say or do.
The Alter Rebbe looked at the newcomer, considered him quietly for a few moments, then gently said: "Nu?"
The villager still said nothing.
The Rebbe again said: "Nu?"
"Why do you keep on saying 'Nu'?" retorted the villager impatiently.
The Rebbe regarded the ignorant villager kindly and replied: "It sometimes happens that a Jew does certain wrong things, thoughtlessly or unintentionally, not realizing that they were bad and sinful. For example..." And here the Alter Rebbe went on to give some such instances, which just happened to fit some of the villager's failings!
The villager was dumb-founded. "So, my fine teacher must have reported to the Rebbe about me! I'll teach him a lesson!" he promised himself, as he left the Rebbe's room, abruptly, in an angry mood.
Losing no time, he set off to find the Melamed. As soon as he saw him, he began abusing him in front of everyone.
"How dare you tell tales about me to your Rebbe!" he screamed. "After I treated you so well in my home! You're fired! I'll find another teacher in your place."
"What are you talking about?" asked the Melamed, at a loss to understand why the villager was so angry and excited.
The villager then told him about the Rebbe's talk.
"You are mistaken. I haven't said anything about you to the Rebbe."
"So, I see that you are not only a tale-bearer but also a liar," cried the villager. "How else would the Rebbe know what I had done wrong?"
The Melamed, seeing that he could not convince the villager otherwise, asked for another yechidus with the Alter Rebbe and explained his dilemma. Not only was he upset that the villager should have accused him of carrying tales, but now he was without a job.
The Alter Rebbe then sent for the villager and told him that he had no reason to be angry at the Melamed. "The Melamed had not said anything about you to me," the Rebbe assured him.
"Then how is it that you know about those things that I had done?" asked the villager, unconvinced.
"I never said that you did those things," said the Rebbe. "I said it sometimes happens that a Jew does those things. How could I know that the 'cap fitted' you?"
"So, nobody told you..." he began, his voice trailing off.
Recovering, he turned to the Alter Rebbe and said in an eager tone, pleadingly: "Please help me, Rebbe! I did, in fact, do all those things you mentioned. I realize now that I have not been such a good Jew as I thought. I really will try, from now on, to be a better Jew. What shall I do?"
The Rebbe spoke to him encouragingly, gave him some instructions, and assured him that the Alm-ghty would readily accept his sincere teshuva (penitence) and He would bless him and his family with a truly good year.
With a much lighter heart he hurried off to tell the Melamed that he was now convinced of his innocence, and that he would gladly welcome him back as a teacher for his children. From then on, there was no more loyal follower of the Alter Rebbe than the hitherto ignorant, simple villager, who now revered the Rebbe with all his heart and soul, and tried his best to live up to his expectations.
Adapted from Talks and Tales
In the time to come, Divinity will be revealed to every individual. In every man's heart, therefore, there will be aroused an intense compassion and a weeping over the imperfections of the past, as it says in Jeremiah, "They shall come with weeping, and I shall lead them with supplication."