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First, let's dispose of a little semantic issue. The word "coincidence" comes from the word "incident" - something that happens - and the prefix "co-" - meaning with or simultaneously. A "coincidence" has come to mean "two things happening together by chance," but it really means "two things happening together." And since nothing happens by chance, but rather, by Divine supervision, if two things occur together, there's a reason or inner connection for that "coincidence."
Chai (the 18th of) Elul is the birthday of both the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidism, and of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Chasidism. Chai Elul always occurs in close proximity to the Shabbat on which we read the Torah portion of Tavo. This year, Chai Elul occurs on Shabbat. This "coincidence" highlights the inner connection between them.
The word Tavo means "you will come," and refers to entering and settling the land of Israel.
For an entrance to be a true "coming in," one must enter completely. As the Sages express it, "a partial entrance is not an entrance." We have not entered a house when we have one foot over the threshold and the other outside. Even if the heel of the foot remains outside, we haven't truly entered.
So when the Torah portion begins Ki Tavo - "when you will come" - it means a complete entrance of all the Jewish people, that is, when the unity of the Jewish people is such that each and every one of them is settled, established on his portion of the land of Israel.
This concept of a complete entrance connects the Tavo with Chai Elul. Chasidism, revealed through the Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Shneur Zalman whose birthdays are on Chai Elul, established that living Jewishly should be done in a manner of tavo - of a complete entrance into the essence of the person.
Through the study of Chasidic philosophy, we learn how to enter into Judaism and how to have Judaism enter into us.
It's never too early (or too late!) to prepare for the upcoming High Holiday season. Attend a class at your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center, study on-line (check out meaningfullife.com, chabad.org, inner.org...), read a book written in light of Chasidic philosophy (like Toward a Meaningful Life by Rabbi Simon Jacobson, Torah Studies by chief rabbi of England Jonathan Sacks, Bringing Heaven Down to Earth by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, Opening the Tanya by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, to name a few).
And know, that in addition to enabling yourself to enter and settle the land of Israel in a spiritual sense, you are also aiding the entire Jewish people to enter and settle the land in a real sense, by hastening the coming (tavo) of Moshiach. At that time, "the world will be filled with knowledge of G-d" in such a complete manner that we will have the permanent entrance of the Divine Presence in the world, eternally.
This week's Torah portion begins with a discussion of bikurim, "the first fruits." At the time of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, every landowner would mark his earliest blossoming fruits, and, after they ripened, bring them with great pomp and ceremony to the Temple.
The Torah explains that these fruits are a gift to G-d, and therefore they are given to the kohanim, His priestly representatives. The giver then makes a verbal statement that thanks G-d for all of His kindnesses.
At first glance, the timing of this declaration seems inappropriate. Certainly we must thank G-d and acknowledge His role in providing for our needs. It would seem more fitting, though, to do so at the moment one first receives such a benefit.
However, in this case, instead of expressing one's thanks at the time of blossoming or at the time of harvest, one does so at the moment that the food is given away. Why do we give thanks when we give, rather than when we receive?
To answer this question, we must first compare the psychology of a "giver" to that of a "recipient." The Torah actually considers the desire to constantly receive more as natural, stating, "One who has 100 desires 200. One who has 200 desires 400."
What is the source of this natural desire?
People usually have quite high opinions of themselves, sometimes deservedly so. This being the case, their sense of justice requires that their reward be commensurate with what they deserve. Since there is no end to their imagined worth, there is also no end to their desire. And this desire comes almost as a demand, since it is "deserved."
Judaism, however requires a different approach, one of humility. Being humble does not mean feeling useless. The humble individual is well aware of his positive aspects. However, he is also aware of his awesome potential. The comparison between what he is and what he could be leads to a feeling of humility.
Such an individual is not unhappy when he lacks certain possessions, etc. He is thankful for what he has, wondering whether even that is really deserved. This kind of attitude fosters a desire to give to others. A person who thinks he deserves everything always thinks about what he is receiving and what he doesn't yet have. One who feels undeserving, however, looks to become more deserving, and therefore looks for the opportunity to give to others.
This attitude is an essential characteristic of holiness. The Talmud gives the example of a certain insect which "only takes in, but doesn't give out." This is described as the lowest realm of existence, because the higher, holier levels are characterized by the fact that they give.
The Torah explains that the Jewish people were chosen to be a holy nation because "you are small among the nations." This is meant not only statistically, but because we "make ourselves small," with our humility.
When we ponder the purpose of our creation, we must ask ourselves, "Was I brought into this world to take, or was I brought here to give?" For a Jew, the answer is clearly the latter. Therefore, when one gets the opportunity to give, it is the perfect time to offer thanks to G-d.
Adapted by Rabbi Berel Bell from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Cousins are Spreading the Word Jewish Unity
by Anne C. Heymen
Two recently ordained rabbis have been in St. Johns County the past two weeks reaching out to bring all those of the Jewish faith together.
They are doing so in the name of the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Community Enrichment Program. The program here is being operated through Chabad-Lubavitch of Northeast Florida, and by the time the two first cousins - Cheski Edelman, who turns 23 today, and Peretz Mochkin, 22, leave here Sunday they estimate they will have visited with some 200 Jews.
Established in the 1940s, the Chabad-Lubavitch program is designed to reach Jews who are geographically isolated from Jewish life, the two men explain. Edelman, from Springfield, Mass., is a graduate of Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, N.J., and Mochkin, from Brooklyn, completed his rabbinical studies at Central Lubavitcher Yeshiva of New York.
For the most part, the individuals the two men have visited here have been "so excited to have people come over," says Mochkin.
"We met with one young guy - he sat with us for over an hour. This was a positive experience for me, an amazing thing for us," he continues.
What the two men here are doing is what thousands of Lubavitch rabbinical students are doing around the world this summer - getting to know their fellow Jews on a one-to-one basis and trying to bring them together regardless of their Jewish beliefs.
Mochkin and Edelman are Orthodox Jews - Jews who practice strict kosher laws, don't work on Saturday, and have a "full-time commitment" from morning until night, with no breaks in the routine, says Mochkin.
They are also faithful to tefillin. Tefillin are the small boxlike leather cases holding slips inscribed with certain Scriptural passages, and fastened, one to the arm and one to the forehead. Orthodox and conservative Jewish men wear them during their weekday morning prayers.
St. Johns County became aware of the Chabad-Lubavitch program through Rabbi Shmuli Novack of Jacksonville who said, "St. Augustine is one of hundreds of cities involved." He referred to a Lubavitch News Service article on the Internet which describes the Lubavitch program as investing "precious funds and human resources to bring Judaism to individual Jews who otherwise have no access to it," according to Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of Machne Israel and Merkos L'inyonei Chinuch, the respective social services and educational division of Lubavitch.
The students travel with a library of Jewish literature and other items like tefillin and sometimes with a Torah scroll.
As is the case in other locations, some meetings in the community are arranged and others are by chance or by word of mouth, with one telling another and so on.
Edelman and Mochkin describe their experiences as both an educational program for those they visit and one in which they, too, learn so much.
"We try to touch the Jewish soul," says Mochkin, and to make all "feel special as a Jew."
Among the topics they discuss with those they visit is the mitzvah - a good deed.
The two observe that the potential for the Jewish community in this area "is huge," and as proof of the growth overall they point to the fact that a new Chabad center is opening somewhere every 10 days. There are 101 Chabad institutions in Florida, including one in the Mandarin area and a second in Ponte Vedra Beach at the Arbor Club Clubhouse. There, at Chabad at the Beaches, what is described as a "lively prayer service" is held at 8 p.m. each Friday, followed by "a fun and filling meal. Plenty of food, song, stories, cool company and great discussions."
The special feature about these centers, Edelman and Mochkin said, is that all Jews are attracted to this- Orthodox, Reform, everyone.
Just as this summer has been a learning experience for the two men - Edelman served in Bermuda before coming to the First Coast and the two have traveled to many locations around the world in prior years - Edelman and Mochkin will continue their studies when they return to the Northeast.
They have graduated, they explain, but will still put in another year of study.
"We will put in another year of hard study," says Mochkin. "There is always more to learn."
Both Edelman and Mochkin are following their family traditions, since their grandfather and Edelman's father walked the same path. Mochkin's father is a businessman in New York.
As to their visit to the First Coast, both men are excited about the potential of the Jewish community in the First Coast.
The area, the two predict, is just a small community compared to what it is going to be.
Excerpted from The St. Augustine Record, reprinted with permission.
Two new board books from HaChai Publishing are sure to delight young children. Subtitled "A playful action rhyme," these books will get children moving, as well.
I Am A Torah
It's never too early to show how a precious Torah scroll is written. In I am a Torah, happy children stretch out their arms to be as wide as the parchment, stand up straight and tall like a feathery quill, and rotate their arms as the scroll is rolled up. At the end of the rhyme, the Torah is ready for a kiss.
Braid the Challah
Braid the Challah shows exactly how a bowl full of batter turns into a beautiful challah... while a cheerful group of small children demonstrate the actions that go along with each step. They spin like a mixer, stand on their toes as they rise, and pinch off a piece of dough for the mitzva - What fun! Both books are written by Beily Paluch and illustrated by Patti Argoff
Chai Elul, 5750 
To the Sons and Daughters of Our People Israel, everywhere,
G-d bless you all!
Greeting and Blessing:
It is customary to begin with a blessing - and in these days of the month of Elul, especially coming from the auspicious day of Chai Elul, birthday of the two great luminaries, the Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Shneur Zalman, author of the Tanya and (Rav's) Shulchan Aruch -
It is certainly a propitious time and Jewish custom to extend to each and everyone Jew the traditional blessing for a good sweet year, materially and spiritually;
Particularly in view of the well-known special connection between Chai Elul and Rosh Hashana in that, while the entire month of Elul is a time of preparation for the New Year, the last twelve days of the month of Elul, corresponding to the twelve days of the month of the outgoing year, have a distinct significance in that each of these days is connected with, and represents, a month of the outgoing year. Thus, the first of these twelve days, Chai Elul, corresponding to the month of Tishrei, links the Rosh Hashana of the current year with Rosh Hashana of the incoming year.
And inasmuch as our Torah, Toras Chaim, "instruction in life," repeatedly emphasizes that the essential end-purpose of such honest self-appraisal is its actual impact on the individual's way of the everyday life, in terms of concrete deeds, namely, the fulfillment of mitzvos (commandments) with hiddur (excellence) and joy, with ever more excellence and joy, in all days of the new year - may it bring goodness and blessing to all of us and to all our people Israel.
One noteworthy feature of the incoming new year is that the two days of Rosh Hashana occur on Thursday and Friday, the eve of Shabbos, leading directly into the holy Shabbos, thus emphasizing and affirming the mutual character of Rosh Hashana and Shabbos.
The Rosh Hashana days - the Awe-inspiring days - fill every Jewish heart with a holy trepidation that permeates one's whole being. The elevated perception of holiness is experienced not merely during many hours highlighted by the preparation and performance of the day's specific mitzva, namely, the sounding of the Shofar, or the special prayers and supplications of Rosh Hashana, and the like; but it is a continuous experience through the entire duration of the two-day period of Rosh Hashana that permeates a Jew with the holy Rosh Hashana spirit.
There is a well-known principle in our holy Torah: What is repeated three times acquires the force of chazaka (permanence)." The term is derived from the word chozek, strength, and carries an assured presumption that having occurred three times, it will take hold and continue the same way.
If this principle applies in regard to non-obligatory matters, it is certainly true in regard to matters of holiness that already have the quality of everlasting Torah endurance, where each action has a lasting and perpetual impact.
How much more so in the case of Rosh Hashana which is designated, literally, the Head (Rosh) of the year, not just "beginning" of the year. This means that in addition to being the beginning of the year it is (also, and essentially) the "head of the year." Just as the head directs all the organs of the body, and it is only in this way that each organ carries out its purpose in the fullest measure, also as an organ per se - so Rosh Hashana directs and animates every day of the year in all particulars of the daily life -
Hence it is understandable that since there is a chazaka in the state of holiness mentioned above, it exercises a very strong influence on the entire year, so that all one's activities, in all days of the year, are carried out under the strong influence of the sublime holiness of the first three days of the year.
May G-d grant that everyone of us should firmly resolve and act in accordance with the perceptions outlined above...
Indeed, this resolve in all its aspects will bring about an ever-growing measure of G-d's blessings in general, and the Rosh Hashana blessing in particular; To be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet year, both materially and spiritually.
And more especially - the blessing "For which we hope every day and all day" - the true and complete Redemption through Moshiach Tzidkeinu... very soon in our days.
With esteem and blessing for a ksivo vachasimo tova and for a good and sweet year
20 Elul, 5764 - Sept. 6, 2004
Prohibition 294: It is forbidden to punish a person who is forced to sin
This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 22:26) "But to the girl you shall do nothing"
A person who is forced to disobey one of the commandments of the Torah is not considered guilty of sin. In such a case, we are instructed not to punish the person who sins.
Prohibition 290: It is forbidden to sentence a person to death based on non-conclusive evidence
This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 23:7) "And the innocent and righteous you shall not slay"
The Torah instructs us never to pass judgment in a case where guilt has not been proven. Even in a case where it seems obvious that the defendant is guilty, he may not be convicted or punished unless definite proof is brought to the court. This prohibition tells us that judgment can be passed only after witnesses testify.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat (September. 4) will be "Chai Elul" - the eighteenth day of the Hebrew month of Elul. Chai Elul is the birthday (in 1698) of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement and Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad branch of Chassidism (in 1745).
A customary Chassidic saying is that Chai Elul gives the Chai'ot - life and spirit - to the month of Elul. In simpler terms, perhaps it means that Chai Elul reminds us not to go through the month of Elul in a habitual manner. Everything we do can and should be infused with new "life" in preparation for the New Year.
Saying our daily prayers, giving charity, being kind to others, all must be permeated with a special energy. In addition, during the month of Elul we sound the shofar every day to remind us that the time to do "tshuva" - return to the proper path - has arrived. Even the unusual activity of sounding the shofar can become rote. So, this too, must be permeated with the added spirit of which Chai Elul reminds us.
Let us all strive to add an extra measure of chai'os to our lives this month, in preparing for the High Holidays, and this coming year.
You shall take from the first of all the fruits which you will bring from your land, which the L-rd your G-d gives you (Deut. 26:2)
The commandment to bring the first fruits to the Temple helps combat the notion that the beautiful fruits are solely the result of one's own toil and wisdom. If you begin to feel that it is "your land," the mitzva makes you aware that the land and its produce are that "which the L-rd your G-d gives you."
It will be when you come into the land (eretz) that the Eternal, your G-d, gives you for an inheritance, and you will inherit it and dwell in it. (Deut. 26:1)
The Midrash notes that eretz is similar to ratzon (desire). When you attain the level of ratzon of G-d, you have been given a gift from above. It is an inheritance for every Jew.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
You shall go to the place the Eternal your G-d will choose to cause His name to dwell there. (Deut. 26:2)
A Jew must know that when he goes from one place to another, he is not going on his own but is directed from Above. And the intention and purpose of this is "to cause His Name to dwell there" - that is, to make G-d known in the place to which he was Divinely led.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
Because you did not serve the Eternal your G-d with joyfulness and gladness of heart...therefore you will serve your enemy. (28:47,48)
Rabbi Simcha Bunim explained the above verse as follows: It is not enough that "you did not serve the Eternal your G-d" but you did this with joyfulness-you were happy that you weren't serving Him!
"Chai" Elul, the 18th of the Hebrew month of Elul, is the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chasidism, as well as the birthday of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidism. The following story is about the Baal Shem Tov.
The Baal Shem Tov (Besht) was a great lover of all Jews. He loved the young and old, the scholars and the unlearned. The Besht would invite the poor and simple folk to eat with him on the Sabbath and holidays. His brilliant students and the many scholars who also sat at the table could not understand why the Besht showered so much attention on these unlearned people.
Knowing how the scholars felt, the Besht once told them: "You are surprised that I should favor the simple people, aren't you? It is true that they have not learned as much as you; some of them even do not know the meaning of the prayers they recite every day. But their hearts are made of gold. They love humanity and all of G-d's creatures. They are humble and honest. How I envy them!"
The students listened to their master and could hardly believe what they heard. The Besht looked at them earnestly and said, "I will show you soon that I have not exaggerated."
During the third meal on the Sabbath, it was the Besht's custom to teach his disciples the secrets of the Torah. The simple folk who could not understand the mysteries of the Torah would go into an adjoining room, where they would recite the Psalms of David as best they could.
On this occasion, the Besht closed his eyes, becoming deeply engrossed. Suddenly his face lit up with great joy. When he opened his eyes, all of his disciples could feel his happiness. The Besht turned to the student sitting on his right. "Place your right hand on the shoulder of your neighbor." He ordered the next one to do the same, and the next, until they all formed a chain. Then he told them to sing a melody which they sang only on the most solemn occasions. "Sing as you have never sung before," he instructed them. As they sang, they felt their hearts rising higher and higher.
When they finished singing, the Besht completed the human circle by placing his hands on the shoulders of the students next to him. "Let us close our eyes and concentrate," the Besht said.
Suddenly the disciples heard songs, melodies interlaced with moving pleas, touching the very soul. One voice sang, "O, Master of the World... 'The sayings of G-d are pure sayings...' " Another sang "Tayerer Tatte (dearest Father) ... 'Test me, G-d, purify my heart.' A third introduced his verse with a spontaneous cry, "Tatte hartziger (compassionate father); Be gracious to me O G-d, be gracious to me, for in You has my soul taken refuge...." A fourth exclaiming, "Oy, gevald zisser Foter in himel (O sweetest Father in heaven, "Let G-d arise: His foes will scatter..."
The disciples hearing these songs of Psalms trembled. Their eyes were still shut but tears coursed down their cheeks; the songs shattered their hearts. Each of the disciples fervently wishes that G-d would help him to serve Him in this manner.
The circle of disciples that had joined with the Besht into this spiritual excursion were spellbound. They lost all sense of time and place; tears flowed from their closed eyes and their hearts were full of ecstasy, ready to burst.
Suddenly, the singing stopped, for the Besht had removed his arms and broken the chain. An instantaneous hush fell over the group. The Besht sat in deep mediation for a prolonged time then looked up and said, "The songs you heard were the songs of the simple Jews saying Psalms with sincerity, from the recesses of the heart and with simple faith.
The Besht then explained to them how much G-d enjoys listening to the Psalms, especially when they come straight from the pure hearts of simple, honest, humble people.
"You were listening for one brief moment to the Psalms recited by the simple people in the next room, as the angels in heaven hear them!"
Later, the Maggid of Mezrich who had been present, told his disciple, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, "My soul just spilled forth. I felt such a longing, such a yearning to behold G-d, as I had never yet been privileged to feel. My boots were soaked with the perspiration and tears of repentance from the depths of the heart."
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk was so strong in his faith in Moshiach that he literally awaited him every day and night. Every evening, before he went to bed, he set one of his disciples near him. In that way, if the disciple heard the sound of the shofar heralding Moshiach, he could be immediately awakened from sleep. When the pre-marriage contract was written for Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev's niece, he told them to write: "The wedding will take place, G-d willing, with good mazal, in the holy city of Jerusalem. And if, G-d forbid, Moshiach has not arrived by then, the wedding will take place in Berditchev."