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In the week before Rosh Hashana, it is customary to rise early to say Selichot, prayers asking for G-d's forgiveness and mercy. (On the Saturday night that begins the week of Selichot, the reciting of Selichot begins just after midnight, the earliest time these prayers may be recited.)
When asking forgiveness, we have to remember not only the bad things we did but also the good things we didn't do. It's easy to understand why we need forgiveness for things we did wrong - it's the old 'you-broke-the-window, you-get-it-fixed, don't-do-it-again, and I forgive you' scenario. Yet we don't always recognize the far-reaching implications of a missed opportunity. Neglecting to act does not always produce a visible loss, like those associated with a direct transgression.
Indeed, the extent of what we lose when we miss an opportunity is hard to measure. That's because the self-assessment required can be difficult and even painful. It's not enough, in this week before Rosh Hashana, before the start of a new year, before the Day of Judgment, to make a general assessment of our behavior. It's not enough to make general resolutions to do better.
A golfer doesn't improve by saying he doesn't hit the ball far enough or hits it to the left too much; a chess player doesn't improve by saying he's weak in the endgame; a salesman doesn't improve by saying he lacks people skills; and a student doesn't improve by saying he's not good at math. In each case, the specific weakness has to be analyzed - how the golfer holds the club, which club he uses, how he swings; what king and pawn positions are wins, what if, in a rook and pawn ending, the pawn is on the fifth row or the sixth; what it takes to be a better listener, what eye contact is appropriate; what equations need to be memorized, etc.
Then follows the resolution, the act of will, to improve. And the actions to improve.
First, of course, the golfer has to realize he is a golfer, the chess player accept that he is a chess player.
So, too, with us - when analyzing ourselves, we must first acknowledge who we are, or rather, why we are. Only then can we properly assess our shortcomings make resolutions and plan for improvement.
Adam, the first person, differs from all other creatures. G-d planted within him a Divine spirit; man was created in the image of G-d. G-d told man what special abilities he had and what his special assignment was: "fill the earth, conquer it, and rule over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky and all living things that move on the earth."
Man, containing a soul that was an actual part of G-d Above, recognized his Creator. Man, created in the image of G-d, reflected the Divine. He was to conquer and rule the world so that every aspect of creation would also recognize - express - the Divine Presence within.
But of course, before we can rule the world, we have to conquer ourselves, to transform the "land" and "animals" within our own nature. And just as the golfer, the chess player, the salesman and the student need specific instructions, so we have specific instructions how to conquer our inner nature. The Torah is a manual for daily living, for infusing and illuminating physical existence with the light of the Oneness of G-d.
G-d created only one person at first, so that each subsequent human being would realize he or she had the same task as if no other human being existed. And if we don't fulfill that task, if we don't use our G-d-given abilities to transform our inner nature and the outer nature around us, not only do we lose, not only do all people stumble after us, but our lack of action affects the whole world.
This week we read two Torah portions, Nitzavim and Vayeilech. The Torah portion Nitzavim is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana. It begins with Moses' address to the Jewish people, "You are standing today, all of you, before the L-rd your G-d..." This invocation is both general and specific. It mentions the individual classes of Jews, from the heads of the tribes to the drawers of water. And it gathers them all into the collective phrase, "all of you."
This is in itself something of a contradiction. The verse begins by speaking to Israel as a unity - "You are standing...all of you" - without making any distinctions. But immediately afterwards, it proceeds to detail the different classes of Jews. Why, in any case, did it need to do so, when the phrase "all of You" already encompasses them all?
This was done in order to make a fundamental point: that on the one hand, there must be unity among Jews; and, at the same time, each has his unique contribution to make, his own individual mission.
But if there have to be distinctions among Jews, especially ones as extreme as that between "your heads" and "the drawer of your water," how can there be true unity among them? The verse supplies its own answer. "You are standing today, all of you, before the L-rd your G-d." It is when Jews stand before G-d, in the full recognition that He is the author of their powers and the foundation of their being, that they are one.
This can be explained by a simple analogy. When people from a group or community unite for a specific purpose, economic, intellectual or whatever, they share their money or labor or ideas towards a given end and for a specified time. Outside this partnership they remain separate individuals, each with his own private word.
Yet, the community of Israel is a partnership "before the L-rd your G-d" and its purpose is that you should "enter into the covenant of the L-rd your G-d, and into His oath..." This partnership encompasses the whole person - not just his labor or his ideas - each according to his capacity. And it is a partnership in perpetuity, as eternal as the Torah. This is true unity.
Moreover, the effort of each Jew playing his unique part in the covenant is implicit to the work of the whole community. The unity of Israel is created not by every Jew being the same, but by his own unique role in fulfilling the directives of "the L-rd your G-d." Israel is one before G-d when, and only when, each Jew fulfills the mission which is his alone.
From "Torah Studies" by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
A Miracle or Two
One would be hard put to decide which was the bigger miracle for Chabad of Arkansas: the opening of its new 7 acre, 5,000 square foot Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Center and Hebrew Academy in Little Rock or the story that the center's director, Rabbi Pinchas Ciment, told at the end of the dedication ceremony.
But let's start at the beginning. After cutting the ribbon and affixing the mezuza on the center's front door, those gathered entered the beautiful building for the first time.
Rabbi Binyomin Klein, a member of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's secretariat and father of Mrs. Dassi Ciment, spoke. He emphasized that all who came to participate are part of a much larger family.
Rabbi Klein told the story of a woman who came to the Rebbe for a blessing for children. The Rebbe answered her, "Amen, bekorov - it should be soon." The woman responded that she wants children quickly and the Rebbe replied that it has to take at least nine months! Rabbi Klein continued by saying that the Rebbe's message that our generation is the one that will merit to see the complete and final redemption is only a matter of time, and will surely be fulfilled as are all of the Rebbe's words.
Dr. Milton Waner, world renowned in vascular hemangiomas and founding member of Lubavitch of Arkansas noted that the phenomenal success of Lubavitch in Arkansas has far surpassed even his imagination. Rabbi Ben Zion Pape of Chabad of Arkansas as well as Lt. Governor of Arkansas, Win Rockefeller, also addressed the audience.
Rabbi Ciment approached the podium. He thanked his supporters and friends who made the opening of the center possible. Then he told the following story that encapsulated the entire day's event, the entire history and success of Lubavitch of Arkansas, and brought to light the power behind Chabad-Lubavitch Centers and emissaries:
A local bank had provided the financing for the building, a little miracle in and of itself, the rabbi said. Near the end of construction and the beginning of furnishing the building there was a shortfall of $60,000 which needed to be secured quickly in order for the Hebrew Academy to open on time.
Rabbi Ciment had no idea where this money could or would come from. One thing he did know, though, was that in times of need there is always one address on the globe where he could turn to - the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He beseeched the Rebbe to intervene and intercede on his behalf and on behalf of the community.
The next day, Rabbi Ciment received a call from an elderly non-Jewish farmer living over three hours from Little Rock. The man explained that he was 85 years old. Recently, he had read the book The Rebbe's Army about the work of Chabad-Lubavitch Shluchim (emissaries) around the world. He decided to make a contribution to the "Rebbe's army." Searching on the internet, he found that Lubavitch of Arkansas is the closest center to where he lives. He asked if Rabbi Ciment could pay him a visit.
It had been a hard day for Rabbi Ciment. The elderly, non-Jewish farmer wanted him to travel three hours each way to give the rabbi a donation. The weary and tired Rabbi asked if they could meet somewhere in the middle. "Sure," the man said. They arranged to meet at 1:00 p.m. the next day. "Don't worry," he told the Rabbi, "you'll recognize me. I'm the one in the overalls and the old pickup truck."
When Rabbi Ciment arrived, the man got out of his pickup truck and approached him. He told Rabbi Ciment, "I have been searching religions all of my life and have never found one that really talks to me. They all seem hollow. All the religions seem in conflict with the writings of G-d's Torah and the Prophets. Just lately, though, I read about the spectacular dedication to G-d's word and I realized that this is G-d's prophecy for this world! The Rebbe's army is what G-d wants, and I want to support it! So thank you Rabbi for what you're doing and here is my donation to your cause."
Rabbi Ciment thanked the man and returned to his car. He opened the envelope and found a check for $20,000. When Rabbi Ciment looked in the direction of the pickup truck, all he saw was a cloud of smoke, sand and dust from the truck's tires.
The following day, the farmer called Rabbi Ciment. "Thank you for coming out of your way to see me. I just wanted to make sure you had a safe trip home," he said. The rabbi thanked him profusely for his concern and show of support. He invited the man to come visit the new Chabad-Lubavitch campus in Little Rock. The man came the next day. With him he brought a big, heavy box. In it were the coins the farmer had been setting aside for charity over the years. This, too, he wanted to give to Lubavitch. The box contained almost one thousand dollars in coins.
The visit was very pleasant and Rabbi Ciment thanked the man a number of times for his generosity. Later that evening, the Rabbi called the man to make sure that he had a safe trip home to his farm. The man assured him all was well and that in truth he was in a state of sheer joy and happiness having found the proper place to see Hashem's purpose for us in this world. The man then asked the Rabbi if he would visit him again the next day for he had a surprise to share with him.
At their meeting, the man told Rabbi Ciment, "Rabbi, I feel like I have reached the pinnacle of my life. Believe me, I've seen it all. And nothing comes close to the feeling I have with you and what you represent to the world. Please take this check of an additional $20,000. But Rabbi please sign here, because I am giving you the authority over me. Please see to it that I am not cremated and that I get a proper burial."
Rabbi Ciment concluded by saying that the story does not end here, but he is not at liberty to reveal more at the present. He wanted to share, however, how grateful and humbled he feels by all those who so generously support the activities of Lubavitch of Arkansas. And to emphasize that, as always, the Rebbe can be relied upon.
Jewish Life Festival
The Fifth Annual Jewish Life Festival, sponsored by Chabad on Washington Square in New York City, takes place this Sunday, Sept. 21, from 2-6 p.m. The festival features live musical entertainment, an "Info Zone" with 8 booths, Kiddyland rides, a Judaica Bazaar, kosher food and six hands-on Judaica workshops including the world famous Shofar Factory. The festival promises to be a day of fun for all ages and the entire family. Washington Square is located at the southern end of Fifth Avenue. For more info, contact Chabad on Washington Square at (212) 674-1950.
Freely adapted and translated
In the Days of Selichos, 5736 
To the Sons and Daughters of Our People Israel Everywhere: G-d bless you all!
Greeting and Blessing:
...Following up the previous letter on the theme that the essence of a Jew is bound up with the vitality emanating from his attachment to G-d, as it is written, "You who are attached to G-d... are living all of you this day," the attachment which is achieved through the daily life and conduct in accord with the Torah and its mitzvos (commandments) whereby Jews live,
It follows that this vitality itself should also be intensified in these days approaching Rosh Hashana, when we pray: "Remember us for life, O King who desires life" - by way of an increase in both quality and quantity - and carried into the subsequent Ten Days of Return, specifically -
In light of the concept expressed by our Sages in the designation Mechayeh hachayim, "Animator of the Living."
The said designation and title is, of course, applied by our Sages in reference to G-d, who is the Source of Life and who vitalizes the living. Which means that those whom G-d had already endowed with life receive on occasion an additional vital principle, as the "soul's soul," a superior soul, etc.
However, there is the well-known instruction: "You shall walk in His ways" - to imitate G-d's ways and qualities, as our Sages explain: "As He is called 'Gracious One,' so you, too, be gra-cious," meaning that just as G-d gives freely and generously, so must every Jew be gracious, etc. Similarly in the aspect of "animating the living." Every Jew should be an "animator of living" - to instill vitality into living Jews, and do so in a way that not merely adds more vitality (quantitatively), but also new life (qualitatively), as when breathing life into an inanimate object. And since this is the Divine command, G-d certainly provides the ability to carry it out in the fullest measure.
Inasmuch as the essential thing is the deed, the capacity of "animating the living" must express itself in concrete terms, beginning with the mitzva (commandment) of tzedaka (charity) - for tzedaka is in effect an act of life-giving, by sustaining the life of the poor man and his family.
In tzedaka itself there is the ordinary aspect, namely, sustaining the life of the needy person, and also a higher level, that of resuscitation, as it were, when the poor man is in a desperate situation, not knowing "whence shall my help come?" and the benefactor helps him graciously, cheerfully, and wholeheartedly, which is in the category of instilling new life into the one who had despaired of hope.
And from material tzedaka to spiritual tzedaka, especially bearing in mind that, as is well known, every physical thing has its spiritual root and source from which it evolves and derives its existence and vitality.
Spiritual tzedaka, in the sense of "animating the living," is exemplified in the teacher-disciple relationship, as our Sages say, "He who teaches his friend's son Torah is deemed as if he had given birth to him," and "disciples" is synonymous with natural "children."
Here "disciples" is not meant in terms of years, but includes also one who is mature in years but a disciple in the acquisition of his knowledge of Torah and mitzvos.
The mitzva of spiritual tzedaka makes it the duty of every Jew, man or woman, to work for the creation of opportunities for all Jews - young and old - to learn Torah and fulfill its mitzvos.
Through the practices of tzedaka materially and (even more so) spiritually - and tzedaka is typical of all the mitzvos - a Jew becomes an "animator of living" in actual fact.
The basis of a Jew's service, both for his own edification as well as relating to all around him, which service is generally divided into the three pillars of Torah, prayer, and acts of lovingkind-ness, coupled with teshuva (return), especially at this time of the year, is the Great Principle of the Torah, "love your fellow as yourself." In light of what has been said above, this means that the quality of "animating the living" should be reflected in all aspects of the service, particularly in the all-embracing mitzva of "love your fellow as yourself." In other words, every effort in the said direction has to be carried out with such vivacity, feeling and enthusiasm, that it should permeate all who come under his influence, so that they too become "animators of living," and they, too, produce what our Sages call "fruits and fruits of fruits" to the end of time, for the realization of "You are living all of you this day."
May G-d grant that this service, in a manner of continuously growing animation and illumination, should bring an even more generous measure of blessings from G-d, who is En Sof (Infinite) and whose blessings are infinite.
And everyone, in the midst of all Israel, should be inscribed for good and blessing in the new year,
And should always be able to declare: "We thank You, G-d, we thank You, in the closeness of Your name (shielding and protecting us), as our ancestors proclaimed Your wonders,"
With esteem and blessing for a good and sweet year, materially and spiritually,
28 Elul, 5763 - September 25, 2003
Positive Mitzva 248: Laws of Inheritance
This mitzva is based on the verse (Num. 27:8) "If a man dies and he has no son..."
When someone passes away, his property is inherited by his children or next of kin. This mitzva concerns the many detailed laws of inheritance.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The main mitzva (commandment) of the upcoming holiday of Rosh Hashana is to hear the blowing of the shofar. More than the apples dipped in honey, more than the beautiful prayers, more than the festival meal, we must hear the shofar blown. This year, because the first day of Rosh Hashana is on Shabbat, we only have one opportunity to hear the shofar blown - on Sunday, the second day of Rosh Hashana.
Following the shofar blowing, we mention several other historic soundingd of the shofar. The first of these was at Mount Sinai. There, the Torah was given in the presence of an intense, constantly increasing, shofar blast.
Another renowned shofar blowing mentioned in our prayers is that of the "Great Shofar," which will be blown upon the arrival of Moshiach.
What is the connection between these two events, and why do we mention them in our prayers on Rosh Hashana?
The Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai was an experience that pulled people out of their previous state of existence. The G-dly revelation was so intense that "their souls flew out of their bodies"; they were taken out of their worldly boundaries and elevated to a much higher plane.
The Era of Moshiach will precipitate a similar restructuring of our lives, causing us to break out of the limitations of this physical world and reach to a higher level of existence. The prerequisite for this transformation is the desire to change, which must be present now, even before Moshiach has arrived.
This is a common thread joining the revelation at Mount Sinai with the days of Moshiach - the element of change and the improvement of the world at large. The shofar, central to both events, inspires one to abandon one's previous level in order to reach higher levels.
Even today, the shofar has a similar effect. We can and must achieve an inner change.
The time for change is now, even before the Rosh Hashana begins. May we hear, this year, the sounding of the Great Shofar in the rebuilt Holy Temple in Jerusalem with Moshiach, NOW!
You are standing this day, all of you, before the L-rd your G-d (Deut. 29:9)
"All of you" are before G-d, all of you are equal in His eyes. Your "leaders, elders and officers" are not considered any more important and privileged than your "woodcutters and water carriers."
In your mouth and in your heart, that you will do it (Deut. 30:14)
Don't think that you have fulfilled your obligation "with your mouth" - just by speaking about doing a mitzva, or "in your heart" - just by thinking about doing one. Everything that is "in your mouth and in your heart" - all of these mitzvot - do it!
(Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk)
Because my G-d is not in my midst have I found these troubles (Deut. 31:17)
The Baal Shem Tov taught that when a person sees bad in his neighbor, it is because he has a similar blemish of his own: the other person is a mirror, showing us ourselves. The second Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Dov Ber, paraphrased this verse to bring out the above point. "Because G-d is not in me do I notice this evil."
You have been rebellious with G-d. (Deut. 31:27)
It doesn't say "against G-d," but "with G-d." With every improper thing we do we cause G-d to be a partner. This is especially true when we do these things in the name of a commandment or turn a bad deed into a commandment!
Write this song for yourself and teach it to the children of Israel (Deut. 31:19)
According to the Sefer HaChinuch, from this verse we learn of the very last commandment in the Torah, the mitzva for every Jew to write a Torah scroll for himself. The purpose of this mitzva is that every Jew should have on hand a Torah in which to study. One way to fulfill this commandment today is to buy a share or letter in a communal Torah scroll, thereby taking part in this mitzva.
Over one hundred years ago in the town of Belz, there was a very holy Rebbe called Rav Shalom of Belz. He had tens of thousands of Chasidim and his name was famous throughout much of the Jewish world.
One year on the first night of Selichot, (special penitential prayers said before Rosh Hashana), instead of going to the large synagogue to signal the beginning of the prayers, Rav Shalom asked his assistant to ready the carriage for they were going into the woods.
The astonished assistant thought of the thousands of Chasidim who were waiting for the Rebbe's arrival in the synagogue to begin the prayers. But he knew better than to ask questions and went out to prepare the carriage.
A half hour into their journey, the Rebbe signaled the assistant to stop. The Rebbe told the assistant to remain in the carriage while he walked down a narrow path by foot. In the distance was a small hut.
The Rebbe walked over to the window of the hut and looked inside. There sat an elderly chasid, alone at a small table. On the table was a bottle of vodka and two small cups, one in front of him and the other before the empty seat opposite him.
Through the window the Rebbe could see the chasid raise his cup, say "l'chaim" ("to life") and drink the vodka. Then he saw the chasid drink the second cup as well. This he repeated two more times after which the Rebbe walked quickly back to the wagon. Together with his assistant, the Rebbe travelled back to Belz.
When the doors of the synagogue opened and the Rebbe entered, the congregation fell silent. All eyes followed the Rebbe to his place at the front of the synagogue, and the room burst into prayer as they began to say Selichot.
As soon as Selichot ended the Rebbe turned to his assistant and said, "There is an elderly chasid who came in after we had begun and I'm sure he will finish after everyone else has left. Please wait for him to finish and tell him that I want him to come to my study."
A half hour later, Zelig stood in trepidation before Rav Shalom. "I want you to tell me what you did in your house before you came here tonight," began the Rebbe. "Why did you have two cups of vodka and with whom did you make a l'chaim?"
"The Rebbe knows that!?" he asked, his eyes opened wide in amazement.
"I was at your house and saw what transpired. But I want to understand what you did there," the Rebbe explained.
"I'm a poor man, Rebbe, I have no children and my wife passed on years ago. I live alone with my few farm animals, that is, until a few months ago. My cow got sick so I prayed to G-d to heal the cow. 'After all,' I said to G-d 'You create the entire world and everything in it, certainly you can heal one cow!'
"But the cow got worse. So I said, 'Listen G-d, if You don't heal that cow I'm not going to the synagogue any more!' I figured that if G-d doesn't care about me, I mean, it's nothing for Him to heal one old cow! So why should I care? But the cow died and I got mad and ... I stopped going to the synagogue.
"Then my goat got sick. I said to G-d 'What! You haven't had enough? Do you think I'm bluffing? If this goat dies I'm not putting on tefilin any more!' So the goat died and I stopped putting on tefilin.
"Then my chickens got ill and I told G-d that if they die I'm not going to keep Shabbat. A week later I was without chickens and G-d was without my Shabbat.
"Well, I held out for over a week until suddenly I realized that the time for Selichot is approaching. I thought to myself, Zelig, you aren't going to go say Selichot with the Rebbe? What, are you crazy!?? But on the other hand I was angry with G-d and I wasn't going to the synagogue.
"So I remembered that once I had an argument with Shmerel the butcher. For about a month we didn't even say 'hello.' Then one night he came to my house with a bottle of vodka and said 'Let's forget the past and be friends. We Jews have enough enemies.' So we said "l'chaim," three times, shook hands and even danced around a little together and we were friends again.
"I figured I would do the same thing with G-d. I invited Him to sit opposite me, poured us two cups and said 'Listen G-d, You forget my faults and I'll forget Yours. All Right?'
"I drank my cup and understood that G-d wanted me to drink His. And after we did it twice more I stood up and we danced together! Then I felt better and came to Selichot.'
The Rebbe became very serious. He looked deeply into Zelig's innocent eyes and said. "Listen, Zelig. Before we began Selichot I saw that in heaven there was a terrible decree on our holy congregation. The reason was that, the Chasidim were saying the words in the prayer book but they weren't really praying seriously to G-d. But you, Zelig, you talked to G-d like He is your friend. Your simple heart saved the entire congregation!"
In the Torah portion of Nitzavim we read, "You shall return to the L-rd your G-d, and obey His voice...and the L-rd your G-d will restore your captivity and have mercy on you." (Deut. 30;2,3) Every one of the Prophets exhorted us to repent, and indeed Israel will only be redeemed through repentance. The Torah itself promises that ultimately, at the end of the Exile, the Jews will repent, and will be immediately redeemed. As it is stated: "When all these things have come to pass...and you have returned to the L-rd your G-d, and the L-rd your G-d will restore..."
(Laws of Repentance of Maimonides)