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937: Nitzavim-Vayeilech

L'Chaim
September 15, 2006 - 22 Elul, 5766

937: Nitzavim-Vayeilech

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Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.


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  936: Ki Savo 

iPods  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Customs  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

iPods

Do you have an iPod? They're wonderful devices. When they first came out they revolutionized how we listen to music. Like transistor radios - and you're old if you remember them - they made music portable and affordable. Continued success has proven the iPod is not just a fad.

And now we can do more than just listen to music - we can listen to "podcasts" - the iPod has even coined words! - broadcasts designed to be downloaded and listened to at one's leisure. And there are even video iPods, as well.

What's unique about an iPod? Well, in some ways, it's only a streamlined, more sophisticated version of previous generations of personal music players. Of course, many of those weren't so personal: You might remember images of teenagers walking around with the transistor radio glued to their ears, much as cell phones are today. Then came the boom-boxes and CD players - but they also "leaked noise." The walkman, and its derivatives, allowed one to walk or exercise while listening to whatever. But still, such devices didn't "disappear."

The iPod "disappears." Unless you're switching songs or something, you can set it to play, hook it to you hip, put it in an arm strap, even drop the Nano in your pocket - and forget that it's there.

In other words, the iPod has this advantage - or disadvantage, depending on how we use it: surrounding us with music, the iPod allows us to be in the world, but not of the world, so to speak. That is, in many ways we can function normally, as if all our attention was focused on what's going on around us. But in truth, with the unobtrusive iPod, the isolating earphones, we can isolate ourselves from the world - or at least detach ourselves from it.

And in a way that can be a good thing. If we listen to niggunim, wordless Jewish melodies described as the "pen of the soul," or the prayerful songs of our people, then, yes, let your eyes see the world, but envelop yourself in the sounds of our heritage. If we listen to Torah lectures, stories of our Sages, - or if we listen to learn, practicing our prayers or Hebrew - and all of this is available, easily downloaded onto your iPod, then yes, let what you hear detach you from the world.

But we can take another lesson from the iPod as well. The very fact that we can become so absorbed in what we're listening to that, although aware - even if only peripherally - of the world, we remain detached from it, indifferent to it, teaches us a lesson in our Divine service.

True, we have to live and function in the world - but where is our focus? To what do we pay attention? On what do we concentrate?

In this regard, there's a famous story about Rabbi Shalom DovBer, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe. One of his chasidim opened a plant for the manufacture of galoshes - rubber boots worn in the rain that also protected shoes from the mud common to 19th century streets. The chasid's business began to flourish, and soon he spent every waking moment thinking about it.

Seeing him so engrossed, the Rebbe said to him, "Feet in galoshes I have seen. But a head...?"

So the next time you "get into" your iPod, make sure you're not putting your head into galoshes. As the saying goes, it should be immersed in more worthy pursuits.


Living with the Rebbe

This week we read two Torah portions, Nitzavim and Vayeilech. The first portion contains a description of the ingathering of exiles to take place when Moshiach ushers in the Redemption. "Then G-d will restore your captivity...and will return and gather you from all the nations." Our Sages comment on the word "and will return - va'shav": "From this we learn that the G-dly Presence is in exile together with the Jewish people." G-d will only be redeemed when the entire Jewish nation is restored, as "He has dictated the terms of His own Redemption - when He will return with them."

What is so radical about the concept of G-d being in exile together with the Jews? Had not G-d already promised, back in the days of the Patriarchs, that He would accompany the Jewish people throughout their travails - "I will be with you" - "And behold, I am with you"? G-d specifically stated that He would accompany the Children of Israel during the Egyptian exile. What then, are we to learn from the above verse?

The fact that G-d is always with the Jews, even in their exile, implies two different things. On the one hand, G-d stands above the exile and its limitations, guarding and protecting His flock, who are likened to "one sheep among seventy wolves." Yet at the same time, the term "and will return" reflects the fact that G-d, too, is affected by the exile, having been banished from His dwelling place in the Holy Temple. G-d suffers together with the Jewish people and will continue to do so until G-d and the Jewish people are simultaneously restored to their rightful place.

Yet this explanation presents a paradox. According to the principle that "a prisoner cannot free himself from prison," how can G-d, Who is Himself in exile, bring about the Final Redemption? Our Sages addressed this problem by explaining that G-d "dictated His own Redemption." Even before the exile occurred, G-d determined how long it would last and fixed the date of the Final Redemption for Himself and for the Jewish people.

Our Sages further explained that, contrary to what one might think, G-d will not first redeem Himself and then redeem the Jews. "He will return together with them" - both will occur concurrently. The Divine Presence is in exile as long as even one Jew remains in exile.

Rashi, the great commentator, continues: "Great and difficult is the day of the ingathering of the exiles, for it is as if G-d will take every single Jew by the hand, wherever he may be." The redemption of the Jewish people is the redemption of the Divine Presence. May we speedily witness the rebuilding of the Holy Temple and the ingathering of the exiles through Moshiach.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe


A Slice of Life

Thanks for the Memories
by Rivkah Couch

When I walked into Beth Rivkah Girls High School in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, on the afternoon of my first day teaching twelfth grade history, my stomach was in so many knots I could hardly climb up the stairs. Girls seemed to swarm like honeybees, some finishing lunch on the run, many clustered together singing, and others clumped together comparing schedules.

It seemed that every brick and every bit of mortar in that old building was straining to contain the energy it held inside. Girls continued streaming in from the front doors, from the cafeteria, from every level of the school. I fought through the crowd, trying to smile despite my nervousness at the countless pairs of curious eyes checking out the new teacher. Squeezing my way into the office, I found my crisp new punch card and checked in. The adult faces of the office staff seemed to drown in the waves of girls in green and white. I grabbed some sticks of chalk and set out to find my class.

Each day teaching got easier, though not in a way that might first come to mind. The work load grew every day, and the hours I spent preparing stretched later and later. I learned over time what the students needed, and though I am certain I made mistakes, I struggled to discover what I had to do in order to assure that every one of the students learned the material, did well in the class and passed the New York State Regents exam. Some girls were too hard on themselves; some were not taking themselves seriously enough. Some needed to read, others needed to hear and see. But what every student needed - in fact, what every human needs - is to feel that they matter. I put myself totally into the job and the only reward I expected was for them to pass the "regents." I had no idea how much more I was to receive.

About three quarters of the way through the year, I became engaged. After returning from the "Ohel," the resting place of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, where my fiance and I had asked the Rebbe for his blessing for our engagement, I began calling every friend and family member in my phone book. When my roommate, Faiga, went to buy some refreshments in the local ice cream/candy store, high school girls overheard my name as the bride in question. Unbeknownst to me, they immediately set to spreading the word.

I returned to school, unaware that my students knew I had become engaged. I walked up the stairs on Monday, lesson plans in hand. A few of the other teachers smiled knowingly at me, but I kept quiet. When I walked into class, I found four classes of girls crammed in, the desks pushed aside, and food and drinks on my desk. The girls burst into song, screams echoing down the hall. At first I thought about calming them down - I had lessons, the other teachers had lessons, and we were headed into the homestretch towards graduation. Every effort was futile, and with permission from the principal and with the recognition that the girls were in charge this time, I sat with them in a circle on the floor and we spent the time singing, laughing, and having much more fun than we would have had learning about the Kennedy administration.

A word of explanation about my background at this point definitely adds to this story. I am a convert from a small town in Ohio and my husband is a convert as well. Though our families were planning to contribute to our wedding, the cost of a kosher wedding and setting up a kosher home is much more than they were able to afford. I had no idea how we were going to pay for everything, but June was a ways off, and I thought that by the time of the wedding, those concerns would be put to rest.

One evening, about two months after becoming engaged, a friend begged me to walk with her to a house near Beth Rivkah. She was nervous about walking alone at night. As we were walking she told me that she needed to give something to a friend who was at an engagement party at the school. I was getting suspicious. We walked into the cafeteria, and I was greeted by all four classes of my students, as well as fellow teachers. Even the principal was in attendance!

I was caught in a swirl of girls. We danced and sang and more friends and students filtered in. They had set up table after table of food, much homemade by themselves or their mothers. They had fundraised and had contacted charities for brides, and they had gone shopping. Everything I needed to set up my home was carefully and expertly wrapped and placed on tables draped with elegant tablecloths. They had even written a skit in my honor. After the party was over, one of the students organizers came to me with an envelope. It was the remainder of the money that they had pulled together but hadn't spent.

There was still another surprise in store for me, though. At my wedding, after the chupa and the dinner, 110 seniors and a few others girls from younger grades flooded into the hall, filling the dance floor, lifting me in a chair, swirling me around, grabbing my shy family and dancing with them, as well. The girls didn't leave until the band packed up. I left thinking that I must concentrate on remembering every unforgettable moment.

I live in Ohio now, with my husband and son. And I still haven't thrown out my grade book filled with the names of those unforgettable girls.

We live in a time when we are obligated to point out to others the good things that surround us. All too often, I have heard people complain about today's young people. I wanted to share the positivity and hope I experienced at Beth Rivkah High School and to say thank you again to those involved. As a final note, I did get my original wish - every girl passed her Regents Exam.


What's New

60 Days - A Spiritual Guide

A fascinating journey through the powerful two months of Elul and Tishrei - a 60-day journey toward finding hope, love, fulfillment and the realization of your deepest aspirations. 60 Days offers spiritual tools to revitalize and invigorate the high holiday experience both for those new to the experience and those who have become all-too familiar with it, for the non-affiliated and the affiliated. Written by Rabbi Simon Jacobson, author of Toward a Meaningful Life.

Hebrew/Russian Machzor

FREE (Friends of Refuges of Eastern Europe) of New York and the SHAMIR organization in Jerusalem have just released a new edition of the Hebrew/Russian Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur Machzorim.


The Rebbe Writes

Freely translated from a letter of the Rebbe

There is a unique quality and preeminence of teshuvah [lit. return, colloquially, repentance] in that it enables a person to rectify completely all that should have been achieved throughout the past, in matters of Torah and mitzvoth (commandments) - "with one 'turn' and in one moment."

On reflection, it can easily be seen that, all things added up, the world contains more quantity (materiality) than quality (spirituality), and more by far. Indeed, the more corporeal and gross a thing is, the greater is the quantity in which it is found. Thus, for example, the world of inanimate, (inorganic) matter is much greater in volume than the vegetable kingdom, and the latter is quantitatively greater than the animal kingdom, which, in turn, surpasses by far, in quantity, the highest of the four kingdoms, mankind (the "speaking" creature). Similarly, in the human body: the lowest extremities, the legs are larger in size than the rest of the body, and the latter is much greater in bulk than the head, wherein are located the organs of speech and the senses of smell, hearing and sight, as well as the intellect, etc., which animate the entire body and direct all its activities.

On further reflection, a person might also become disheartened, G-d forbid, wondering how is one to fulfill adequately one's real purpose in life on this earth, which is, to quote our Sages, "I was created to serve my Creator" - seeing that most of one's time is necessarily taken up with materialistic things, such as eating and drinking, sleeping, earning a livelihood, etc. What with the fact that the earliest years of a human being, before reaching maturity and knowledgeability, are spent in an entirely materialistic mode of living.

The answer is, first of all, that even the so-called materialistic preoccupations of the daily life must not become purely materialistic and animal-like, for we have to be always mindful of the imperative, "Let all your doings be for the sake of Heaven," and "Know Him (G-d) in all your ways."

This means that also in carrying out the activities which are connected with the physical and material aspects of life (which, as mentioned, take up the greater part of a person's time), a human being must know that those material aspects are not an end in themselves, but they are, and must serve as, the means to attain to the higher, spiritual realm of life, namely, G-dliness. In this way, he permeates all those materialistic-physical aspects with spiritual content, and utilizes them for spiritual purposes. Thus, all these mundane, and in themselves trivial matters, are elevated to their proper role, perfection and spirituality.

But in addition to the above, there is also the unique effectiveness of teshuvah, which has the power to transform - "with one 'turn' and in one moment" - the whole past - the very materiality of it into spirituality.

Time is, of course, not measured simply by duration, but by its content in terms of achievement. Thus, in evaluating time there are vast differences in terms of content, and, hence, in real worth, of a minute, an hour, etc. Suffice it to mention, by way of example, that one cannot compare an hour of prayer and outpouring of the soul before G-d with an hour of sleep. And to use the analogy of coins, there may be coins of identical size and shape, yet differing in their intrinsic value, depending upon whether they are made of copper, silver or gold.

With all the opportunities that G-d provides for a person to fill his time with the highest content, there is the most wonderful gift from "G-d who does wonders" of the extraordinary quality of teshuva, transcending all limitations, including the limitations of time, so that "in one moment" it transforms the whole past, to the degree of absolute perfection in quality and spirituality.

The Alm-ghty has also ordained especially favorable times for teshuvah, at the end of each year and the beginning of the new year, together with the assurance that everyone, man or woman, who resolves to do teshuvah - he, or she, can accomplish it "in one moment";

Transforming the quantity of the materiality in the past - into meritorious quality, spirituality and holiness; and at the same time preparing for the future, in the coming year and thereafter, in a proper manner, through Torah and mitzvoth in the everyday life, thereby elevating himself (or herself) and the environment at large to the highest possible level of spirituality and holiness, thus making this material world a fitting abode for G-d, blessed be He.


Customs

What are Selichot prayers?

Selichot are special "penitential" prayers which we recite in preparation for Rosh Hashana. The Sefardic custom is to recite them during the entire month of Elul. According to the Ashkenazic custom, they are recited beginning on the Saturday preceding Rosh Hashana after midnight and thereafter each morning until Rosh Hashana.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This week's Torah portion, which is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana, speaks about the mitzva of teshuva - returning to G-d in repentance. "And you will return to the L-rd your G-d and listen to His voice and everything He has commanded you this day... with all your heart and all your might."

What exactly is involved in the mitzva of teshuva, our primary occupation in these days preceding and including the High Holidays?

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi explains the essential nature of teshuva. It is not fasting, verbal recital of one's transgressions or tormenting one's body.

Teshuva is simply returning to G-d through abandonment of sin!

But what, exactly, is abandonment of sin? Rabbi Shneur Zalman explains this entails resolving in one's heart that he will not return to the folly of the past - which is actually rebellion against the King of Kings - and he will never again transgress a command of the King.

According to Rabbi Shneur Zalman, abandonment of the sin goes even a step further. It means that one must resolve not to transgress any mitzvot in the future! It means accepting upon oneself the yoke of G-d's Kingship.

Such a move is necessary because when one transgresses a mitzva he is actually causing a weakening in two areas: 1) in general he has thrown off of himself the yoke of Heaven and 2) at the time of his transgression he has blemished his soul. When one accepts upon oneself the yoke of heaven, he corrects the general and personal weakness caused by the sin.

May we all be truly successful during these "Ten Days of Repentance" to return fully to G-d and may that be the last push needed to have G-d return us all to the Holy Land and the Third Holy Temple with the revelation of Moshiach.


Thoughts that Count

And the L-rd your G-d will restore your captivity and have mercy upon you (Deut. 30:3)

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said: How beloved is the nation of Israel unto G-d, for the Divine Presence accompanies the Jewish people no matter where their exile leads them. G-d Himself will return together with His people when He leads them out of the exile with the coming of Moshiach.

(Zohar)


To love the L-rd your G-d...and to cleave unto Him (Deut. 30:20)

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, author of the Tanya, used to say in the midst of his devotion: "Master of the Universe! I do not want your Garden of Eden, nor am I interested in the World to Come. I desire only You alone!"


If any of you are dispersed at the outermost parts of heaven, from there will the L-rd your G-d gather you (Deut. 30:4)

No matter how far a Jew may be from Torah and Judaism, G-d promises to gather him back into the fold of the Jewish people when Moshiach comes. When a Jew is spiritually brought back from "the outermost parts of heaven," it hastens Moshiach's coming and brings the Redemption closer.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)


See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil (Deut. 30:15)

One should not perform good deeds in order to live; one should live in order to perform good deeds.

(Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk)


And they will say on that day, "Is it not because my G-d is not in the midst of me" (Deut. 31:17)

This verse does not refer to one who denies that there is a Creator in the world; rather, it refers to one who believes that G-d exists, but that "G-d is not in the midst of me." He imagines that G-d exists on so high a plane that He does not deign to intervene in our puny concerns. G-d is an active participant in our lives and oversees every detail of our daily lives. Our behavior should reflect our awareness of this.

(Otzarenu Hayashan)


It Once Happened

Two brothers, Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech, were great tzadikim and amongst the most prized disciples of Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch, the main disciple and successor of the Baal Shem Tov. With the passing of time and difficulty of communication, Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech lost contact with a third brother.

The two brothers, throughout their many travels, would ask about their brother and try to ascertain his whereabouts. They were intrigued to know what type of lifestyle he was living. Was he religious like themselves, or had he, G-d forbid, abandoned the teachings of the Torah? And even if he was religious, was he exacting in his practice, concerned only for the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law?

And so, in each town and village they visited, as they spread the teaching of their master, the Maggid, they asked if anyone knew the whereabouts of their brother. Try as they might, they could not find out any information. Yet, they still persisted on their self-imposed mission.

When finally they did hear some information concerning where their brother lived, Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech rejoiced. And yet, there was a certain amount of hesitation in their rejoicing for, after over a dozen years of separation, they had no idea what their reunion would bring.

And so, with slight trepidation, the two brothers made their way to a small village where their brother was an innkeeper. Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech entered the inn and observed their brother at work. He was busy the entire day greeting guests, preparing rooms, and cooking food. He ran from person to person, task to task, with a cheerful countenance and dealt with each guest, rich or poor, graciously. With his long beard, tzitzit, and long black coat, Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech were assured that their brother had indeed remained true to the Torah even in this isolated village.

But still, a question remained unanswered for Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech. These two Chasidic masters were known for their humility. But, of course, humility doesn't preclude the fact that they understood that there was something special about themselves. They might have considered themselves undeserving of the remarkable qualities that G-d gave them, but to outright deny their uniqueness would be like denying a precious gift. And so, they wondered, was there something exceptional about their brother, too, and the way he served his Creator?

Evening came at their brother's inn. Most of the guests had already arrived and the furious activity of the daytime hours had slowed. Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech observed as their brother entrusted his wife with the inn's duties and entered his study. In the study, he prayed the evening service and then poured over his holy books until it was quite late.

The brothers were reassured by this sight, but not awed; it was not uncommon for a Jew to put in a full day's work and then spend his "leisure" hours in prayer and Torah study. However, their brother's next activity was indeed unusual. Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech watched as their brother began to say the Shema before bedtime. In the middle of the prayers before retiring, their brother took out a worn ledger and opened it toward the end of the book.

For long moments he sat motionless, pouring over a page of his ledger. "How much could be written on one page that it takes him so long to read it?" they wondered. They continued to watch, transfixed. As the minutes ticked away, they saw their brother begin to shake. Tears rolled down his cheeks and onto the page of the ledger in front of him. In a quiet, trembling voice they heard him read from the ledger, "I didn't serve this guest today with as much honor as is befitting a fellow-Jew...I was too quick to answer this person when they asked me a question..." On and on went the list of their brother's "sins" which he had written into the tear-stained ledger.

Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech watched as their brother continued crying and reading from the ledger until the words on the page literally disappeared. Whether it was his tears or a miracle that washed away his "sins," the brother knew that when his sins were no longer on the page, his sincere repentance had been accepted.

The brothers thought of their parents, and wondered at what great deeds they had done to merit raising such remarkable children.


Moshiach Matters

What is the difference between exile and redemption? The "alef," our consciousness of G-d's presence. All the material dimensions of our present existence will continue in the Era of the Redemption. Our souls will be contained within physical bodies, we will derive our nurture from physical food, and we will live together with gentile neighbors. All these aspects of material existence, however, will be suffused with an awareness of G-d.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)


  936: Ki Savo 
   
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