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The Jewish calendar is unique; every month contains a special message and offers us its own energy to serve G-d.
Our current month Elul is known as the month of return - t'shuva. It is the month that we try to be truthful (especially to ourselves) and return everything (especially ourselves) to its proper spiritual place. Therefore it is a month of intense introspection and self-correction. And it is also a month of inventory and good resolutions for the future.
But just studying about this phenomena, even discussing it with friends, is not enough. It has to be imbibed, absorbed, internalized.
A story to illustrate:
Each year, a certain chasid would set out by foot at the beginning of the month of Elul to visit his Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel (the third Rebbe of Chabad, known as the Tzemach Tzedek) in order to be with the Rebbe for the High Holidays. Now this was no easy task, as the weather by that time was often freezing.
One year, the going was particularly slow, the offers for lifts were especially sparse, and the weather was unseasonably cold. A while into the journey the chasid had reached his last ounce of strength and was nearly ready to give up and sit down at the side of a lonely, snow-filled road. But suddenly he heard a wagon approaching.
It didn't take long before the open wagon, filled with large barrels, reached him.
"Want a ride?" The driver yelled. "Climb up and find a place." The chasid climbed into the wagon and wedged himself between the barrels.
Oy, was he grateful for the ride! But his gratitude did not keep him warm. After a few moments huddled between the barrels he was abruptly reminded that he was still freezing.
That was when he noticed a small spigot sticking out of one of the barrels.
"Perhaps it's vodka," he thought to himself. He craned his neck this way and that until he was able to read the markings on the barrel. It was vodka, all right!
"Ivan!" he yelled to the driver, "Do you mind if I sample a bit of your merchandise, I'm freezing out here!"
"Go ahead," shouted the driver.
Cupping a hand under the spigot, the chasid filled his other hand with vodka, recited the blessing, and drank a mouthful of the cold fire. A few more mouthfuls and he was warm, and happy! He was going to the Rebbe! And G-d had made a miracle for him personally by sending the wagon driver before he froze to death! The chasid began singing! In no time the driver was singing with him and the ten-hour drive passed like minutes.
Before they knew it they had reached the town of Lubavitch. The chasid walked straight to the Rebbe's synagogue where he began telling his fellow chasidim not only about his journey but about what he had learned from it, as well.
"The teachings of the Torah, even Chasidic teachings, can be likened to vodka. A person can be surrounded by barrels of Chasidic teachings, by a sea of Torah, and still be cold, even to the point of freezing to death.
"But, if just a little bit goes inside," he smiled to his friends, "then he becomes warm and alive!! In fact then, he can even warm up those around him as well!"
And that is the purpose of the month of Elul: To take Torah and Judaism to heart and experience how warm, alive and meaningful it is.
Adapted from an article by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on ohrtmimim.org
The first verse of this week's Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, seems to contain a grammatical error. "When you go forth to war against your enemies," it begins, "and the L-rd your G-d will deliver him into your hands." Why does the Torah begin the verse with the plural - enemies - and continue in the singular?
Every word in the Torah is exact, every letter conveying a multitude of meanings that teach countless lessons. This verse, which seemingly deals with the subject of conventional warfare, alludes to a different type of war, a spiritual war that is waged by every individual. A Jew may face two types of enemies: one that threatens his physical existence, and one that threatens his special holiness as a member of the Jewish people - his Jewish soul.
The Torah uses the word "enemies" to refer to both of these threats, for the body and soul of the Jew work in tandem, united in their service of G-d. Whatever imperils one's physical well-being threatens one's spiritual equilibrium, and vice versa.
The Torah tells us how to emerge victorious over both types of enemy: "When you will go forth." A person must gird himself with the strength that comes from absolute faith in G-d, even before encountering the enemy. Next, one's approach must be that of ascendancy - "against (literally, 'over') your enemies." Know that G-d Himself stands beside you and assists you in your struggle. Armed in such a manner, victory is assured, not only against conventional enemies, but against the root of all evil - the Evil Inclination, equated in the Talmud with "the Satan (enemy of the soul), and the angel of death (enemy of the physical body)."
When a Jew goes out to "war" fortified with the knowledge that there is no force in the world able to stand in the face of goodness and holiness, not only are external manifestations of evil vanquished, but its spiritual source is defeated as well. The Torah therefore uses the singular - enemy - to allude to the Evil Inclination, the origin and prototype of all misfortune.
The verse concludes with the words, "and you shall take captives of them." If a Jew is not careful and falls prey to the Evil Inclination, all of his higher faculties, given to him by G-d to be utilized for good, also fall into its snare. The Torah teaches that sincere repentance has the power to redeem these captive prisoners, elevating them until even "willful transgressions are considered as merits." Such warfare brings Moshiach and the Final Redemption closer, when the Evil Inclination will be totally vanquished and the victory over sin will be permanent.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Camp Experience Combines Best of All Worlds
by Barbara Boarnet
Early this morning, our seven-year-old twins bounded into our bedroom at the crack of dawn.
Jacob said, "Mommy, please, please wake up early, so that you can help me practice my davening [praying] before camp this morning." This was followed by Michela saying, "I need you to help me with the part that goes right after the Shema."
They have never before expressed such exuberance and excitement for learning and practicing prayers. Our experience at Jewish camp this summer has been so significant that I just have to write about it.
Because we go to a year-round school and only have a four-week summer break, we are limited in how much camp the kids can attend. With no travel plans this summer, it was a good time to sign up for camp. I fell in love with the facility and program of Camp Silver Gan Israel in Huntington Beach when I researched and wrote a profile on Orange County Jewish summer camps for the February issue of OCJL and when I interviewed Rabbi Sender, director, for a cover story article on the Matzah Bakery in the April issue.
We have participated in many different camps in the last several years - other Jewish camps, sports camps at UCI, art camp, and Irvine city camps, just to name a few. They have all been good, and our children have had many wonderful experiences. But Camp Silver Gan Israel has been the best experience ever. It combines the best of all of the specialty camps in an overall comprehensive program, which takes place in a warm, nurturing, loving, and safe environment. As parents, we couldn't ask for anything more for our kids. Only one or two days into the two-week session we had signed up for, our kids begged us to let them go their whole summer break, so we extended it!
So, what specifically makes Camp Silver Gan Israel the best summer camp we have ever experienced? Everything!
Silver Gan is the epitome of the word "haymish." Everyone is warm, friendly, welcoming, caring, and down to earth. It is evident that Rabbi Sender cares very much about all of the kids and wants them to have a wonderful camp experience. Jacob didn't enjoy the first day, because the boys and girls are separated, and all of his good friends who were going are girls. We talked to Rabbi Sender that evening to make him aware of the issue and ask him to keep an eye on things. Rabbi Sender was very concerned and wanted to make sure Jacob's experience at camp was positive.
He called every evening for two or three days to talk to us and to Jacob about how each day was going. (The second day, Jacob came home saying it was "great" and has loved it ever since!) We were very impressed with how much Rabbi Sender cared.
The counselors are also wonderful, caring, diverse, outgoing, interesting, and very experienced. We love that Harrison's 5th/6th grade group has male counselors who are excellent role models. Dinnertime conversation these last two weeks has been frequented with remarks like "Izzy does..." and "Chaim says..."
The 11-acre facility in Huntington Beach is phenomenal. Highlights are the Junior Olympic-sized swimming pool, the incredible cyber lab with the most up-to-date technology and computer games, the game room with all of the current video games set on free play, the "rec room" with pool table, foosball, and air hockey tables, and the sports areas, which include a large gaga court, a roller hockey area, baseball fields, volleyball courts, soccer fields, basketball courts, and playground equipment.
The cafeteria is also excellent. Our kids love the food and buy lunch every day. There are many healthy and delicious choices for lunch, and the kids love to go to the "canteen" for their daily treats.
Learning about things and experiencing new activities is definitely a part of the Silver Gan curriculum, but the overriding emphasis is that a kids' summer should be fun, and it is! Sports, arts and crafts, music, drama, games, and cooking are just a few of the many different activities the campers enjoy. Choosing names for their groups (called "bunks") and fun bunk competitions lets the kids all bond with each other and gives them a sense of identity. Exciting shows are brought to the camp, and twice a week they go to nearby fun attractions such as Nickel Nickel, Boomers, bowling, ice and roller skating, the mud park, Sea World, Legoland, and other such places.
While the campers are having fun, they are learning about being Jewish through daily prayers and activities. Shabbat is filled with songs, dancing, baking challah, and saying blessings. We are thrilled that our kids are getting this extra dose of Judaism. Even though they go to Hebrew school, and we are involved in our synagogue, this daily immersion in Jewish life with other Jewish kids has had a profound impact on them.
We will continue to say the Shema every morning and to incorporate other things they have learned into our daily life long after their session at camp is over.
Camp Silver Gan does an excellent job of communicating with the parents. Weekly newsletters recap the week in detail and provide information about upcoming activities. (The camp is so organized!) The website is updated daily with hundreds of pictures of all of the kids, so we feel as if we are there with them. There are also many family events to enhance the camp experience.
The fun at Silver Gan doesn't stop when the summer ends. There are activities year round; there is a winter camp in December. Silver Gan families are invited to and encouraged to attend workshops during the year at the facility, such as the Shofar Factory, the Matzah Bakery, and others.
We have found our "camp home," and we look forward to an ongoing relationship and many more positive Jewish experiences at Silver Gan Israel.
Reprinted with permission from the Orange County (California) Jewish Life
Rabbi Shimon and Chanie Kramer will be opening a new Chabad Center in Merrick, New York, to serve the Jewish communities in Merrick, Bellmore and Wantagh and the southeast Nassau area. The Kramers will also direct the Gan Israel Day Camp of Suffolk County.
Rabbi and Mrs. Eli and Devorah Leah Levi have recently moved to the Colegiales area of Buenos Aires, Argentina, to establish a new Chabad House. The Chabad House will serve university students as well as local residents with youth programs, Shabbat and holiday services and classes.
Rabbi Ari and Leah Sollish are arriving soon in Atlanta, Georgia where they will head the Adult education activities for Chabad Intown.
Freely translated and adapted from a letter of the Rebbe
18 Elul, 5735 (1985)
The Talmud states: "The first person was created on the eve of Shabbos. Why? It may be likened to a king who built a palace, perfected it, arranged a feast, and then invited guests... Such is the way of the Holy One blessed be He, Who created... the whole world with wisdom and all worldly needs (and then he brought in guests), namely, Adam and Eve.
Yet, the Torah also declares, "Man unto toil is born," and that every person should live by the credo, "I was created to serve my Creator."
How are these two contradictory ideas about the purpose of man to be reconciled? If man is G-d's honored "guest" who finds everything ready and prepared for him, how can he at the same time be a "servant" who has to serve G-d constantly, and in a manner of real effort (toil)?
One explanation of the apparent contradiction is that precisely the combination of both characteristics provides a profoundly meaningful instruction in life, down to everyday living, which expresses itself in several aspects:
- It was expected of Adam and Eve - which is a guideline for every Jew, man and woman - that even when they find themselves in a situation as if in a royal palace, which is provided with not only all requirements, but also "to perfection," and they are invited to it as honored guests, it behooves them to make of it a service to G-d, the Creator of the whole universe.
The highest degree of this achievement is found in Moses, as the Torah tells us. For, while the Torah testifies that "No other prophet arose in Israel like Moses, to whom G-d made Himself known face to face," yet, when he attained his highest degree of perfection, or, as our Sages expressed it, when he reached the "fiftieth portal of understanding," he was still "Moses, G-d's servant."
On the other hand, as it has often been pointed out, a Jew serves G-d not only through prayer, Torah study, and doing mitzvoth (commandments), but also - to quote the Rambam (Maimonides) - with his eating and drinking... and in all his deeds, even sleeping. For a Jew must prepare himself before going to bed in a way that his sleeping is elevated thereby to the status of Divine service - which is one of the reasons, indeed the deeper content, of the Shema before retiring to sleep.
- A second aspect, which likewise has to express itself in the daily life, is that G-d gave Adam and Eve - and through them to all Jews, men and women, to the end of posterity - the capacity and ability to "serve," that is, to add something to the "palace" with all its requirements, notwithstanding the fact that these were created by G-d, with Divine wisdom.
Thus, however good the state of affairs is around a person and with the person, everyone can (hence, must) bring it to a higher degree of perfection, to the extent of - to quote the remarkable expression with which the Torah describes man's contribution to Creation - becoming a "partner with the Holy One blessed be He in the work of Creation." In other words, he is capable of contributing so much that the Torah, Toras Emes - the Torah of Truth, declares him qualified as a "partner."
- With the above aspects in mind, every Jew should find it easier to do what must be done in order to rise ever higher in all matters of Torah and mitzvoth, and Yiddishkeit (Judaism) in general, in full accord with man's purpose and life's destiny - I was created to serve my Creator. Let everyone just consider the wonderful powers with which G-d has endowed every Jew, even to become a partner - not in a small thing, and one thing, but - in the entire universe, created by G-d's Wisdom!
- The said contribution cannot be achieved in full measure through a limited, sporadic service, rendered on special occasions, or at certain times; but - only through a way of life which expresses itself in every-day service, by consecrating every act, word, and thought to be for the sake of Heaven, and consonant with the principles of know Him in all your ways - so that G-dliness clearly pervades all details of even mundane matters, and, as noted above, even while eating and drinking, etc. on an ordinary working day of the week.
- In the area of "to serve my Creator" there is the well-known directive to serve G-d with joy, and also with deep, inner elation derived from the realization of being privileged to serve G-d.
May G-d grant everyone success in the efforts to achieve all the above, and in the way of joy and pleasure.
Why do we give extra charity in the month preceding Rosh Hashana?
In these days, we ask G-d to look "charitably" upon our deeds of the past year. Since G-d answers people "measure for measure," we give extra charity to those who are lacking. Additionally, before all holidays we give the needy extra money for festive food and clothing. Regarding food and clothing for Rosh Hashana specifically, the idea is stressed in the book of Nechemiah, that we should "eat tasty food and drink sweet drinks."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The shofar is sounded during this entire month preceding Rosh Hashana (except on the eve of Rosh Hashana), on the holiday itself and during the final service of Yom Kippur. The shofar call tells us two different messages: It is the sound of the trumpets announcing the coronation of the King and it is a signal, like an alarm, reminding us to consider our past deeds and return to G-d.
Why was the shofar specifically chosen for these two purposes? Even in ancient times, finer musical instruments producing more refined sounds existed.
The shofar is an animal horn. For anyone who has seen a shofar up close, one sees that, though cleaned and polished, the shofar is still in a rough state. It has only been refined minimally.
The preparation for Rosh Hashana, and its inauguration through the sounding of the horn of a beast, teaches us a tremendous lesson. Although people are intellectual creatures and our intellect is one of the things that separates us from other living creatures, intellect cannot be the be-all and end-all. When it comes to accepting G-d as our Ruler, we must do so with the submissiveness of an animal. Our return to G-d, too, is more easily accomplished by setting aside our cold, calculating intellect and relying, instead, on our warm, simple, more primitive emotive qualities.
To you shall it be tzedaka [righteousness] (Deut. 24:13)
A person should give tzedaka (charity) while he is still alive, when the money is still in his possession. The Torah tells us not to behave in the manner of certain rich individuals, who amass great fortunes during their lifetimes, and then instruct in their wills that the money be put to good use after they pass away.
You shall not take in pledge the garment of a widow... and you should remember that you were a slave (Deut. 24:17, 18)
When a Jew looks at all the commandments - you shall give to this one and to that one, treat the orphan in such and such a manner, give the widow special treatment - he may grumble, "For goodness sake! How many demands does G-d make of us!" The Torah, therefore, addresses this complaint by saying, "You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt." You, too, knew great deprivation and endured many troubles. As slaves, you were among the most mistreated people on earth; therefore, you must treat others kindly for you understand their pain.
When you go forth in camp against your enemies (Deut. 23:10)
The Sifri explains: Do not attempt to "go forth" unless you are "in camp." The first requirement, when waging any battle, is unity and cohesiveness. You must stand together and present a united front, and not separate into dissenting factions and parties.
(Maayanei Shel Torah)
Reb Daniel was your stereotypical "Litvak" (Jew of Lithuanian extraction) who lived in the holy city of Jerusalem. Reb Daniel's entire life was devoted to Torah study, despite the extreme poverty that had plagued him ever since leaving his native Lomzha. He and his wife were raising their seven children in a dilapidated two-room apartment. Nonetheless, at almost any time of day or night you could find Reb Daniel poring over a thick tome. He rarely went out.
All of Reb Daniel's neighbors were aware of his habits, and recognized him as a great scholar. In fact, Reb Daniel's wife had once told them about the promise her father had extracted from her before he passed away: that she always be a true "helpmate" to her husband, and never disturb his learning.
Reb Daniel's wife was very scrupulous in fulfilling her father's wishes. Her husband was virtually never seen on the street. He never went to the marketplace or ran an errand. Rarely did he even step outside for a breath of fresh air.
Sightings of Reb Daniel were so unusual that when he was spotted one day hurrying through the marketplace with a large sack on his shoulder, everyone took notice. What was Reb Daniel doing outside, of all places?
It turned out that the day before, a peddler had come to the door selling secondhand clothes. Reb Daniel's wife was about to purchase a few garments when her husband reminded her about the mitzva of shatnes, the prohibition against wearing clothes woven of wool and flax. Immediately she ran to fetch her neighbor, Reb Shmuel Zanvil, who was an expert in such matters. When he examined the clothes and found that several did indeed contain shatnes, she declined the purchase and the peddler left.
The next day Reb Daniel happened to ask her about the clothes, as he had been immersed in study in the other room and hadn't overheard how the problem was resolved. "Oh, there was shatnes in them so I gave them back," she replied. "What?!" Reb Daniel cried out rather uncharacteristically. "G-d forbid, another Jew might inadvertently buy them!"
Reb Daniel raced from the house in search of the peddler, and eventually located him in the marketplace trying to sell his wares. When he learned that the peddler hadn't succeeded in selling even one garment, he was so relieved that he purchased the entire lot just to get rid of it. (This, of course, was no small sacrifice, given Reb Daniel's financial state.) That was the type of pious person Reb Daniel was.
Then one day, people began to notice a sudden change in Reb Daniel's habits. Several times he was recognized entering the home of the renowned tzadik Rabbi Elazar Mendel of Lelov. For hours on end the two of them would sit and discuss Torah...and Chasidut! And if that wasn't enough to raise eyebrows, Reb Daniel was observed studying a book written by Rabbi Nachum of Chernobyl, a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov. Tongues began to wag. "What is happening to Reb Daniel?" people asked. "Is our acetic Litvak suddenly changing into a Chasid?"
Again, it was Reb Daniel's wife who explained what was happening:
A few months previously, Reb Daniel had started to notice that his eyesight was failing. All those years of studying the "tiny letters" were beginning to take their toll. At first he could almost convince himself that it was simple fatigue, but as the days passed he realized that the problem was more serious. Reb Daniel sought the help of several doctors and apothecaries, but none of their remedies helped.
Reb Daniel's wife, who came from a Chasidic background, would have immediately suggested that her husband go to the great Rabbi Elazar Mendel for a blessing, but she was well aware of his attitude toward Chasidim and tzadikim. Thus it wasn't until his eyesight had deteriorated even further that she decided to take matters into her own hands. Without her husband's knowledge she went to the tzadik's house and explained the situation to his Rebbetzin, with whom she was friendly, and asked her to intercede on her husband's behalf.
The Rebbetzin knocked lightly on her husband's door, opened it a crack, and saw that he was in the middle of praying. Apologizing for the interruption, she started to tell him about Reb Daniel's failing eyesight when he nodded his head. "I know already," he told her. "I know."
The next day an emissary from Rabbi Elazar Mendel arrived at Reb Daniel's house with a package. Inside was the sefer Me'or Einayim [literally "Light of One's Eyes"], the work of Rabbi Nachum of Chernobyl. Also enclosed was a short note in Rabbi Elazar Mendel's own hand: "Study a portion of this holy book every day and I promise you that the 'light of your eyes' will return."
At first Reb Daniel was hesitant, but when his eyesight became even more impaired he decided to take the tzadik's advice. A few days later he noticed an improvement. In the course of time his vision was completely restored.
From that day on Reb Daniel's attitude toward Chasidut changed dramatically. He became an ardent follower of Rabbi Elazar Mendel, and always kept a copy of Me'or Einayim on his desk.
"The obligation to write a Torah scroll is the completion of all the 613 mitzvot (commandments). It is thus clear that buying a letter in one of the worldwide Torah scrolls now being written helps the Redemption come faster." (The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 1981) At the time that the Rebbe established this campaign he said that it would strengthen Jewish unity. A special Torah scroll to unity Jewish students at universities - www.unitytorah.com
; for children under bar/bat mitzva: www.KidsTorah.org