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In every prayer on Rosh Hashana we beseech G-d to accept the crown of Kingship over the whole world, confident that the request will be accepted. This means, though, that His acceptance obligates us to fulfill His commandments. After all, requesting G-d to accept authority, so to speak, over the Jewish people and the whole world assumes that we in turn will acquiesce to the exercise of that authority.
Now, when it comes to accepting authority, we can do so reluctantly, doing what we have to do because, well, we have to do it. Or we can fulfill the directives with a deep delight. The delight doesn't remove the difficulties; it doesn't diminish the awe and respect we have for the one we've granted authority. But recognizing that the instructions - the commandments - help us fulfill our potential and reach our goal, we devote ourselves to the labor.
In this case, the goal is a combination of resolving that "I was created to serve my Maker" and "serve G-d with joy." We do so through our daily observance of Torah and mitzvos. The result of reaching the goal - of daily learning Torah and performing mitzvos with the mindset that doing so with joy is the whole purpose of one's being - transforms the world into a dwelling place for G-d.
This obligation, to so conduct ourselves that we transform our portion of the world into a dwelling place for G-d, applies equally to every Jewish man, woman and child, regardless of affiliation.
And as we request G-d to accept authority over us anew each year, so we must re-commit ourselves to our obligation anew, without considering any inadequacies or shortcomings of the past year.
But this raises a question: how can every Jew be expected to reach this level of commitment - truly and joyfully? Particularly when we consider the nature of the dwelling we're supposed to transform - a world spiritually low, material, one which demands the Jewish people spend most of their time and energy in meeting physical needs (eating, drinking, sleeping, earning a livelihood) - how can we be expected to transform the world into a place of spirituality, a dwelling place for G-dliness?
The answer also explains why we accept authority in the first place. We accept an authority because we trust that the one to whom we grant authority will take care of us, guide us, make sure our needs our met. And we grant authority in proportion to our need and the ability of the other to meet it.
Obviously we grant ultimate authority only to One who can guarantee our ultimate needs will be met. In other words, the very act of trusting G-d elicits the Divine assistance we need to overcome the difficulties of life, physical or spiritual.
It is the hope, the trust, in G-d that grants Him the authority, so to speak, to guarantee that in the coming year we will serve Him with joy and transform our portion of the world into His dwelling place.
Eleven times throughout the year, on the Shabbat before the new month, we recite a special blessing over the new month. However, we do not recite this blessing on the Shabbat before Tishrei. The Baal Shem Tov explains that the month of Tishrei "is blessed by G-d Himself...Thus empowered, the Jewish people bless the other 11 months of the year."
The Baal Shem Tov then went on to explain what G-d's blessing entails: "Scripture states (in our Torah portion, Nitzavim), 'You are all standing today...' 'Today' refers to Rosh Hashana, which is the day of judgment... You (the Jewish people) stand fast and upright on this day; i.e., you are judged favorably. On the Shabbat preceding Rosh Hashana, which is the last Shabbat of the month of Elul, we read that `You are standing today...' This is G-d's blessing on the Shabbat when we bless the 'seventh month', (a month) that is satiated and satiates all Jews with abundant goodness the year round."
We understand from the above that although the month of Tishrei is blessed by G-d Himself, the blessing has to be drawn down by the Jewish people through their reading of the Torah on the preceding Shabbat. The only difference between this and other months is that, in the case of other months, the blessing itself comes from the Jewish people, while the blessing of Tishrei is recited by G-d Himself. However, in order for it to be drawn down below, the Jewish people must read the portion of Torah Nitzavim.
Another example - and explanation - of how something is effected by G-d but nevertheless needs the divine service of the Jewish people to bring it into actuality, is to be found with regard to Rosh Hashana.
The Talmud relates that G-d says to the Jewish people: "Recite to Me on Rosh Hashana...(verses of) kingship so that you will accept Me as your ruler." Herein lie two opposite concepts. On the one hand, it is readily understandable that since "accepting Me as your ruler" has yet to take place - i.e., before this acceptance G-d is not (as it were) a king - it would seem to be impossible for Jews to make this happen through their own spiritual service. For a "nation" can only affect that level of G-dliness concerning which the term "king" can apply; that level which transcends kingship, totally transcends the finite endeavors of the "nation."
It is for this reason that we say on Rosh Hashana, "He chooses..."- since the spiritual flow that is drawn down on Rosh Hashana emanates from G-d's very Essence. It therefore comes about without any arousal at all on the part of created beings and purely out of His free choice.
On the other hand, since G-d Himself says, "Recite unto Me...(verses of) kingship so that you will accept Me as your sovereign" - i.e., His sovereignty is activated by the recitation of these verses by the Jewish people - it follows that G-d's essential choice of becoming King comes about because of (and through) the Jewish people. At the same time, the very fact that it comes about because of the Jewish people is a result of G-d's free choice.
Because the blessing of the month of Tishrei and that which is accomplished on Rosh Hashana both result from the service of Jews, an additional measure of blessing is drawn down upon them, with all of our people being inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet year.
From The Chassidic Dimension, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Calling G-d in the Labor Camps
by Rabbi Eli Hecht
I remember being at my grandfather's for the holiday of Rosh Hashana. The shul where he prayed was full of old timers from the old country. The average age was over 60. Some had numbers tattooed on their arms. Many of the people were survivors. Each had a tale to tell.
Many were broken, humble people who had lost all their wealth, family and health. In almost every case they had not lost their faith.
There was one elderly man, tall and noble looking, who spoke a little English. During the long holiday he told me the following story:
In late 1944 he and the town Jews were rounded up and taken to a "Jewish Labor Camp." When entering such a camp, one would feel death. Rarely did one ever leave alive. However, this particular "Julag" was built as a model work camp to show the outside world that the Germans and Nazi storm troopers were civilized. All the Jews needed to do was to work and earn their rations.
In truth, the non-stop slave labor equaled a death camp without the gas chambers. Very few of the original group that came to the camp remained alive. Those who did held a coveted secret. They had a tiny Torah scroll in their possession.
This scroll, written in the smallest letters, was saved by an old holy rabbi from an aristocratic family. The scroll was written during the Spanish Inquisition and was in his family's possession for over 400 years. The rabbi carried the tiny scroll with him into the death camp and soon perished.
Moshe, who had been a sexton at one of the old synagogues, was brought to the camp one day. He was a stack of walking bones. However, he was a singer and always kept a happy tune on his lips. Being a sexton for many years he was able to keep track of all the holidays and reminded everyone to observe the holidays as they came and went.
One day he approached his fellow suffering companions and said, "Jews, Rosh Hashana is this week. We must make a quorum of men and hold a service. We can take the old Torah and read from it. Imagine, our bodies are in this living Hell, but our souls and spirit can be free. Yes, free."
He began to sing. The people shook their head thinking that the poor man had lost his mind.
"You know, we need a shofar. There can't be a New Year's service without the shofar being heard. I have a shofar." Incredibly, he took out a six-inch shofar that he miraculously brought into the camp with him.
The people stared in utter disbelief. Many started to cry. They hadn't seen a shofar for three years. Now the problem was how, when and where would they blow the shofar?
Moshe came up with an answer. During the late afternoon the Nazi guards would go to the kitchen to stuff themselves with food and strong drink. At that time Moshe would blow the shofar.
Slowly but surely a rumor ran through the camp. There was a shofar in the camp. A secret service was held. The holy scroll was read and quickly hidden. Then came the time for blowing the shofar. The entire camp turned quiet. Not a man moved. Even the breathing was hushed. They wanted, no, they needed, to hear the call of the shofar.
Moshe picked up the shofar and, taking a deep breath, blew it. The shofar blasted through the camp. Each blast of the shofar brought renewed hope in the men. Many tears poured out of their saddened faces. The dike of tears broke and soon all the men were crying and praying.
Suddenly the camp commander stormed furiously into the area where Moshe was blowing the shofar. "Halt. Stop blowing this strange alarm," he shouted. "You dirty Jews. I know you are signaling our Russian enemies with this secret instrument. This is why our beloved country is being hurt from the air raids. The situation on the front is very grave! The enemy bombs hit our most vital roads with deadly accuracy. It's the fault of you Jews with your secret instruments!"
One brave man called out, "Herr Kommandant, we are praying. It's our New Year, Rosh Hashana. The sound you heard is our shofar, something we use during the service."
This only increased the anger of the commandant and proceeded to wave his gun at the man. "Prayer at my camp! You want a new Jewish year?! I'll show you!"
Moshe now jumped up and said, "Yes, yes commander. With this shofar we signal for help, but not from the Russian soldiers or from the airplane bombers. We signal our G-d who created heaven and earth. We ask the heavenly Father to forgive us for our sins and to punish you. We are busy blowing the shofar alerting our merciful but vengeful G-d. The bombing of your Fatherland is only the beginning of the suffering you German monsters will receive."
Immediately the commandant attacked the Moshe. Moshe did not beg for mercy nor did he say he was sorry. On the contrary, he began to recite one of the prayers of the day, chanting in the ancient Hebrew, "The righteous shall see and rejoice, and wickedness will vanish like the smoke, for You will have removed the evil kingdom from earth."
Moshe was shot and the shofar disappeared. "Ten months later we were freed. I lived in a displaced persons camp for almost five years. My family all perished in the Holocaust," the old man completed his story.
"When I come to shul and hear the rabbi read the service I feel very moved. However, when they blow the shofar I run out of the shul. The memory of what happened that day is just too intense for me. I listen outside the shul windows and break out in tears."
He then asked me, "Do you think I am a good Jew though I listen to the shofar from outside the shul?"
Rabbi Eli Hecht is vice-president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America and past-president of the Rabbinical Council of California. He is the director of Chabad of South Bay in Lomita.
Three New Emissary Couples
Rabbi Zev and Bina Stiefel will be arriving shortly in Bratislava, Slovakia, to enhance the Chabad activities there. Rabbi Stiefel will be director of outreach and Mrs. Stiefel will be the director of a Jewish elementary school which is being established there. Rabbi Rafael Shmuel Dovid and Chaya Tawil have moved to Salta, Argentina, the northernmost city in that country. Rabbi Tawil will serve as the community rabbi. Rabbi Meir and Hadassa Geisinsky are taking up residence in Cedarhurst, New York, where they will be working as the youth directors at Chabad of the Five Towns.
25th of Elul, 5750 (1990)
There is a well-known dictum of the Chabad Rebbes which expresses the enormous effects of a Jew's service of G-d: "Make Israel here (in the diaspora)." This means that a Jew should accomplish the spiritual preeminence and excellence of Israel while living in the diaspora. Hence it is certain that one can acchieve this level, and with joy and gladness of heart.
A basic difference between Israel and the diaspora is such that the holiness of Israel actually pervades the physical matter of the land, making the very ground of Israel the "holy land." As a result of the holiness of the land there are laws relating to the land (and its produce) such as tithing (Maaser).
This perception calls for further explanation. It may be asked, what preeminence is gained by holiness manifesting itself also in the realm of the material and superficial? Isn't the inner spiritual quality of a thing the core of its true existence?
But in truth it is not so. The real preeminence of holiness is found precisely when the inner spiritual quality permeates also the physical aspects of the surrounding world.
This truism is underscored in the practice of Torah and mitzvot: The essence of a mitzva is not (so much) in its spiritual profundity, namely, in its spiritual content, but specifically in its physical performance - in the actual, concrete performance of mitzvot.
This principle is clearly enunciated in Jewish law: The rule is that however sublime and important kavana (intent, meditation, etc.) is in the performance of mitzvot - so much so, that it has been stated that "a mitzva (performed) without kavana is like a body without a soul" -- nevertheless, if a person should meditate on all the kavanot of a mitzva, but does not actually perform it in deed, he is considered as not having fulfilled the mitzva (not even in part), whereas when one actually performs the mitzva, without any kavana, one is considered, after the fact (bdi'eved), to have performed the mitzva.
The reason for the said rule is explained by Rabbi Shneur Zalman in the holy Tanya, based on the Midrashic saying, "The Holy One, blessed be He, desired to have an abode in the lowermost world." This abode for the Shechina [Divine Presence] is made through the mitzvot which Jews perform in this physical world through the use of material objects (leather for tefilin, wool for tzitzit, etc.), thus spiritualizing the physical world. Indeed, this is the ultimate purpose of performing G-d's mitzvot. Performing them by means of precisely material objects, accomplishes the Divine purpose of the Creation of the world, namely, that physical matter becomes a fitting abode for the Creator.
In a deeper sense, one can understand the preeminence of matter from the fact that (not only the mitzvot themselves, but) also the reward for mitzvot is ultimately connected with the physical world.This is reflected in the well-known Psak Din [legal ruling] made by the Ramban, Nachmanides.
It may be added here that the above concept is also the key to the dictum "Make Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel] here," quoted earlier. Inasmuch as the preeminence of Eretz Yisrael is in its kedusha that permeates the physical land itself, it is the task of Jews living outside the Holy Land to achieve the level of kedusha [holiness] of Eretz Yisrael in their immediate surroundings, so it will permeate that part of the physical world that Divine Providence has allotted them to spiritualize.
In order to accomplish this task, special strength and effort are required, as indicated in the exhortation, "Make Eretz Yisrael here." This is where the New Year comes in, with its outstanding distinction of starting off with the treble chazaka, the extra strength needed in chutz la'aretz [the diaspora], namely, the influence of three consecutive holy days recurring again and again, to permeate the stark corporeality of the world at large.
It may be added further that there is an allusion to the foregoing in the sayings of our Sages of blessed memory, that "in the future to come, Eretz Yisrael will extend itself to all lands." For by that time the Jewish people will have completed their task of making an "abode" for Hashem in this world. And having refined and sublimated the corporeality of this world and irradiated it with a full measure of kedusha, the kedusha of Eretz Yisrael will in effect be extended into and throughout all lands around the globe.
May Hashem grant everyone, man and woman, in the midst of Klal Yisrael, to act in keeping with the above perceptions for strengthening and disseminating kedusha-Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in the everyday life, in and around oneself, in the fullest measure. And this will enhance the blessed ketiva vachatima tova [being inscribed for a good year] in all aspects, spiritual as well as material; indeed, even more in the area of material.
Including especially, the essential blessing -- the true and complete geula [redemption] through Moshiach Tzidkeinu [our righteous Moshiach], as promised by Hashem: "I have found My servant David and anointed him with My holy oil," and he will lead us upright to our land, all three constituents of our Jewish people: Kohanim, Leviim, Yisraelim.
With esteem and blessing for ketiva vachatima tova, for a good and sweet year both materially and spiritually
24 Elul, 5764 - Sept. 10, 2004
Prohibition 317: It is forbidden to curse another Jew
This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 19:14) "You shall not curse (even) the deaf" We are forbidden to curse any Jew. Though this prohibition mentions the deaf, it applies to all people. The Torah cautions us never to curse anyone, neither a deaf person, nor even people who can hear.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
We would like to wish the entire Jewish people our sincerest blessings for a k'siva vachasima tova, l'shana tova u'msuka - to be inscribed and sealed for a good, sweet year, with blessings from every letter of the Hebrew alef-beit.
May this year be:
A year of "Arise and have mercy on Zion,"... uplifted in matters of Moshiach and the Redemption... faith in G-d and Moses His servant... traveling with the Heavenly clouds... Revealed Wonders; Wonders in Everything... the building of the Holy Temple... trust; Great wonders... the true and complete Redemption; Dignified Wonders... victory... the seventh generation is the generation of Redemption...King David lives and is eternal; "Those who rest in the dust will arise and sing and he will lead them"... Moshiach is coming and he has already come... the revelation of Moshiach; "He will redeem us"... "And they believed in G-d and in Moses His servant"; "This one will comfort us"; the wonders of true freedom... a new song; an abundance of good (Rambam); the king shall live; inscribed and sealed for a good year... the harp of Moshiach; learning Moshiach's teachings; the coming of Menachem who will comfort us... the King Moshiach; wonders... revealed miracles... a double portion; treasures... the completion and end of exile... the revelation of the Infinite Divine Light; "Humble ones, the time of your Redemption has arrived"; "Jerusalem will dwell in open space"; Your servant David will go forth; the ingathering of the exiles... acceptance of his sovereignty by the people; Rebbe - Rosh B'nei Yisrael; peace... a new song... Moshiach's shofar... unity of the Torah, unity of the Jewish people, unity of the land of Israel; Resurrection of the Dead... "A new Torah will come from Me"
To cause you to pass into the covenant of the L-rd your G-d and into His oath (Deut. 29:11)
In Biblical times, when entering into a covenant, the two parties involved would take an object and cut it in two, then pass together between the pieces. The first impression one gets from such a symbolic act is that of disunity. However, the real message is that each of the parties was only a half, dependent on the other for fulfillment. This is the type of covenant that the Jewish people has with G-d.
I will hide my face on that day (Deut. 31:18)
"Hiding" generally implies that we do not know where the other person is. However if we know that the person is on the other side of the obstacle, and it is merely that we do not see him, he is not truly hidden. G-d is encouraging us: Even though I am not visible I am standing close by.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
And it shall come to pass, when all these things will come upon you, the blessing and the curse...and you will return to the L-rd your G-d... (Deut. 30:1-2)
We know that trials and tribulations - the "curse" - awaken a person's heart to repentance. But how is it possible that a "blessing" can bring one to repentance? This can be likened to a simple person who rebels against the king. Instead of punishing the man, the king gives him an important position. He brings him into his palace and, little by little, raises him to the level until he is second only to the king himself. With all the good the king has shown him, the rebel agonizes over how he could possibly have rebelled. How could he have rebelled against such a good and merciful king? We see, then that the blessings, and kindness and mercy awaken a deeper level of repentance than even a punishment could bring.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
It was the first day of Rosh Hashana in the synagogue of the famous Berditchever Rebbe, Reb Levi Yitzchak.
The shul was crowded. Reb Levi Yitzchak himself was leading the congregation.
Reb Levi Yitzchak's soft, vibrant voice touched the heartstrings of every worshipper. As Reb Levi Yitzchak pronounced the words, his voice broke, and everyone's heart was filled with remorse. Each pictured himself standing before the Judge of the Universe.
Reb Levi Yitzchak recited line after line of the solemn prayer, which the congregation repeated, until he came to the line:
"To Him, Who acquires His servants in judgment..."
Here Reb Levi Yitzchak suddenly paused, for the words died on his lips. His prayer shawl slid from his head, revealing his pale face; his eyes were shut, and he seemed to be in a trance.
A shudder passed through the worshippers. A critical situation must have arisen in the Heavenly Court; things were not going well for the petitioners.
A few moments later, the color returned to Reb Levi Yitzchak's face, which now became radiant with joy. His voice shook with ecstasy and triumph as he recited:
"To Him, who acquires His servants in judgment!"
After the service, Reb Levi Yitzchak explained:
"While we prayed, I felt myself lifted up to the gates of heaven, where I saw Satan carrying a heavy load. The sight filled me with anxiety, for I knew that he was carrying a bag full of sins to put onto the Scales of Justice before the Heavenly Court.
"For a moment the bag was left unattended, so I went up to it and began to examine its contents. The bag was crammed with all kinds of sins: evil gossip, hatred without reason, jealousies, wasted time which should have been spent in study of the Torah - ugly creatures of sins, big and small.
"I pushed my hand into the bag and began pulling out one sin after another, to look at them more closely. I saw that almost all the sins were committed unwillingly, without pleasure, downright carelessly, or in sheer ignorance. No Jew was really bad, but the circumstances of exile, poverty and hardship, sometimes hardened his heart, set his nerves on edge, brought about petty jealousies, and the like.
"And strangely enough, as I was examining all these sins, and thinking what was really behind them, they seemed to melt away, one by one, until hardly anything was left in the bag. The bag dropped back, limp and empty.
"The next moment, I heard a terrible cry. Satan had discovered what I had done. 'You thief!' he screamed. 'What did you do to my sins? All year I labored to gather these precious sins, and now you have stolen them! You shall pay double!'
" 'How can I pay you?' I pleaded. 'My sins may be many, but not so many.'
" 'Well you know the law,' Satan countered. 'He who steals must pay double, and if he is unable to pay, he shall be sold into servitude. You are my slave now! Come!'
"My captor brought me before the Supreme Judge of the Universe.
"After listening to Satan's complaint, the Holy One, blessed is He, said: 'I will buy him, for so I promised through my prophet Isaiah (46:4): "Even to his old age, I will be the same...I have made him, I will bear him, I will sustain and save him!" '
"At this point I returned to this earthly realm," concluded Reb Levi Yitzchak. "Now I understand the meaning of the words, 'To Him, who acquires His servants in judgment!' We are the servants of G-d, and if we are faithful servants, G-d protects us and is our Merciful Master. Let us remain faithful Servants to G-d, and we'll be spared from being servants of servants, and in the merit of this, the Al-mighty will surely inscribe us all in the Book of Life, for a happy New Year.
From The Complete Story of Tishrei, Kehot Publications
Our Father, our King, inscribe us in the book of Redemption and deliverance... Our Father, our King, cause deliverance to flourish for us soon... Our Father, our King, be gracious to us and answer us, for we have no meritorious deeds; deal charitably and kindly with us and deliver us.
(From the prayer Avinu Malkeinu recited on Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and most fast days)