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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
by Rabbi Elyahu Touger
In the first year after Perestroika became a reality, one of my friends was leading the Kol Nidrei services in the main synagogue of Kiev on Yom Kippur night.
Old men who remembered accompanying their parents to shul as children, young families who wanted a taste of their heritage after more than a half-century of Soviet persecution, and youth in their teens who barely knew they were Jewish, flocked to the synagogue.
The cantor chanted Kol Nidrei. The moving melody stirred the hearts of all those who had come. But as the service proceeded, my friend sensed feelings of disappointment beginning to surface. After all, most of the people had never been in a synagogue in their lives; none of them knew how to pray together with the cantor. Despite the best intentions, Hebrew-Russian prayer books, and explanations in Russian, he could sense that the people were becoming bored, and within their hearts a question was beginning to take form: Were these the prayers that they had yearned for so many years to be allowed to say?
In the middle of the services, after the Amidah prayer, my friend began to tell a classic Chasidic story: The Baal Shem Tov was praying together with his students in a small Polish village. Through his spiritual vision, the Baal Shem Tov had detected that harsh heavenly judgments had been decreed against the Jewish people, and he and his students were trying with all the sincerity they could muster to cry out to G-d and implore Him to rescind these decrees and grant the Jews a year of blessing.
This deep feeling took hold of all the inhabitants of the village and everyone opened his heart in sincere prayer.
Among the inhabitants of the village was a simple shepherd boy. He did not know how to read; indeed, he could barely say the letters of the alef-bet, the Hebrew alphabet. As the intensity of feeling in the synagogue began to mount, he decided that he also wanted to pray. But he did not know how. He could not read the words of the prayer book or mimic the prayers of the other congregants. He opened the prayer book to the first page and began to recite the letters alef, bet, vet - reading the entire alphabet. He then called out to G-d: "This is all I can do. G-d, You know how the prayers should be pronounced. Please, arrange the letters in the proper way."
This simple, genuine prayer resounded in the Heavens. G-d rescinded all the harsh decrees and granted the Jews blessing and good fortune.
My friend paused for a moment to let the story impact his listeners. Suddenly a voice called out: "Alef." And thousands of voices thundered back "Alef." The voice continued: "Bet," and the thousands responded "Bet." They continued to pronounce every letter in the Hebrew alphabet, and then they began to file out of the synagogue. They had recited their prayers.
On Yom Kippur, we fast. That's what a Jew does on Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur he feels that he has to do what a Jew should do.
Why? Because there is something special about this day. On this day, we each "enter the Holy of Holies," and spend time "alone with G-d."
This is the heart of the Neilah prayer, the final service recited on Yom Kippur. Neilah means "locking." There are some Rabbis who interpret the name as meaning that the gates of heaven are being locked and there are a few short moments left in which our prayers can enter. According to chasidic thought, the meaning is that the doors are locked behind us. Each one of us is "locked in," alone and as one with G-d.
This is the meaning of the saying of our Sages that "the essence of the day atones." On Yom Kippur, our essential bond with G-d is revealed, and in the process, every element of our spiritual potential is revitalized.
This Shabbat is known by two names:
- Shabbat Shuva, derived from the opening words of the Haftorah that is read in synagogue, "Shuva Yisrael-Return, O Israel," and
- Shabbat Teshuva, as it falls out in the middle of the Aseret Yemei Teshuva, the Ten Days of Repentance. This name is also connected to the Haftorah, the theme of which is likewise the return to G-d.
The two names of this Shabbat reveal a timely lesson.
The word "shuva - return" is the command form of the word "lashuv - to return."G-d commands us to return to Him in teshuva.
"Teshuva," by contrast, is a noun denoting the action itself, the actual return to G-d.
The name "shuva" relates more to the One who is issuing the command than the person being addressed.
"Shuva" alludes to a situation in which the command has already been issued, but not yet carried out. The command itself imparts a measure of strength but does not ensure that it will necessarily be fulfilled in the future.
The name "teshuva," on the other hand, implies that the action has already been taken, i.e., teshuva has already been done. In that case, however, why do we continue to refer to this Shabbat as Shabbat Teshuva?
The answer is that the act of teshuva consists of both the command to return to G-d and its subsequent implementation.
"Shuva" teaches us that even after a Jew has done teshuva, he still needs to work on himself to an even greater degree. No matter how much teshuva a person has done, it is always possible to rise higher; hence the directive, "Return, O Israel unto the L-rd, your G-d."
In fact, our teshuva must be "unto the L-rd, your G-d." Thus it is understood that there is always room for improvement - for an even deeper and infinite teshuva - as G-d Himself is Infinite.
This is the lesson of Shabbat Shuva: A Jew must never content himself with his previous Divine service and spiritual advancement. He must never think that because he has worked on himself a whole week he is now entitled to "rest" because it is Shabbat. No, today is "Shabbat Shuva!" Even after one has done teshuva, more work is required! For the service of teshuva is continual and without end.
Adapted from Hitva'aduyot 5744 of the Rebbe, volume 1
Yom Kippur 1973
Just as the memory of "What was I doing on 9/11" will be permanently etched in the private and collective memories of billions of people world-wide, few Jews in their 40s and older will ever forget the momentous events in the Middle East during the High Holiday season in 1973, the sudden attack by the Arabs against Israel on Yom Kippur, and the apparent swing from the brink of defeat to an almost complete military victory for Israel.
All the concern, prayers and action, only began after the war started on Yom Kippur. However, in one part of the world, for months in advance, there was a veritable hive of activity.
The preparation began some four months prior to the war, in June 1973, when the Lubavitcher Rebbe made an unprecedented request to his followers the world over. It was obvious from the way he made the request that its importance and gravity could not be over-estimated. The Rebbe asked his followers to contact children, and to ask them to do two things:
Firstly, to make a special effort to further their Jewish studies during the summer vacation, so that their holidays would not be devoid of Torah, and secondly to give some money of their own to charity. In order to encourage them in these matters, the Rebbe addressed a letter to each and every child a letter explaining the importance of learning the Torah and giving charity accompanied by a sum of money, which was given for redistribution to a charity. In the United States children received dimes, in England every child received 10p and throughout the world children received similar amounts in their own currency.
Near the end of the summer, the Rebbe issued the following message, which very few individuals really understood:
"One should speak about these activities throughout the world, and how to 'conquer' the youth the world over, beginning in Israel. The young boys and girls are expecting it. The time is ripe like never before.
"It is an urgent matter of life and death. I have emphasized all this many times, and lately it is stressed that all the above should begin with the youngest children, as it says "Out of the mouths of babes and infants etc."
The week before Rosh Hashana, the Rebbe announced that once again, children should be contacted, and asked to give a coin to charity. They were also asked to recite the "Shema" prayer and other Torah passages. The meaning of Rosh Hashana and the merit of a child's learning and mitzvot were explained to them.
The 6th of Tishrei, between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, was the anniversary of the passing of the Rebbe's mother, Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson obm. On this occasion the Rebbe issued an open letter regarding the purpose of Jewish people, and how their spiritual power outweighs their minority position in the world.
On the eve of Yom Kippur the Rebbe added reference to the one of the commentary's anecdote on Chana's prayer (I Samuel 2), who interprets the song of Chana as a prophecy referring to the victorious war which the Jewish people were to wage against other kingdoms.
In the early hours of the war, when the position of Israel appeared bleak, the Rebbe added that this refers to the present time, implying that Israel and the Jewish people would enjoy a great victory. He strongly requested that the letter with the highly important message should be published in Israel as soon as possible, "so that they would not worry about the war!"
From the moment that the news of the war was received throughout the world, the main preoccupation of Jews was the situation in Israel. Special prayers, Psalms, Torah study and demonstrations were the order of the day, apart from the vast amount of money that was collected in a few days.
However, in a part of New York, a totally different atmosphere prevailed!
As early on as Rosh Hashana it was apparent to those present that there was a marked change in the Rebbe's usual conduct, and instead of seriousness on that day he showed a degree of joy that was remarked upon by all. The news of the war arrived on Yom Kippur morning (U.S. time) and at the end of Ne'ilah (closing prayers on Yom Kippur) the Rebbe led joyous singing which far surpassed that of previous years.
On the night of the eve Sukkot, at a gathering that was broadcast throughout the world, the Rebbe explained his conduct of intensified joy in spite of the suffering and anguish caused by the war. The Rebbe stressed that one of the ways of invoking Divine aid is by elevating oneself to a higher spiritual level and solving the problem as it were from above. This is epitomized by joy which breaks all barriers.
From this time onwards, and throughout Sukkot, the Rebbe urged everyone, everywhere, to get together in gatherings, large and small, and to celebrate in order to break down the spiritual and physical barriers with the strength of our rejoicing. Depression helps no one, and we are told that joy breaks down barriers and is a way of serving G-d, even in the most difficult times!
All this reached a climax on Simchat Torah, when throughout the world Lubavitcher synagogues literally exploded n joyous celebration, almost without respite. Other synagogues were encouraged to increase their expression of joy through dancing with the Torah in spite of the natural inclination to tone down Simchat Torah celebrations, in view of the grave situation in Israel.
May our joy, even today, break down barriers and the ultimate barrier and bring Moshiach NOW!
Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur & Beyond
The Outreach Department of the Lubavitch Youth Organization, as well as the Prison's Department of that organization, have been spear-heading holiday programs throughout the New York Metro area for five decades. Patients in local hospitals as well as home-bound elderly were able to fulfill the special mitzva (commandment) of hearing the shofar blown on Rosh Hashana thanks to volunteers who walked from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, headquarters to other parts of Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. Prisons in the Federal and State system were visited before Rosh Hashana so that Jewish inmates could get a taste of the Jewish holiday season of their own. For the upcoming Sukkot holiday, there will be mobile Sukkot traversing the streets of Manhattan and other boroughs to bring the mitzvot of the Sukkot holiday to people on the go.
Freely translated and adapted
Between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, 5704
Greetings and blessings,
In response to your blessings for the coming year, I accept your blessings and respond with blessings for a chasimah and a g'mar chasimah tovah, that you be sealed for a year of overt and apparent goodness in both material and spiritual matters.
These days fall between Rosh HaShanah and "Rosh HaShanah" - for Yom Kippur is also referred to as Rosh HaShanah (Tosafos, Nedarim 23b). Several concepts can be derived from a comparison between the two holidays.
Among the differences between the Rosh HaShanah of Rosh HaShanah and the Rosh HaShanah of Yom Kippur, is that the first (Rosh HaShanah) involves the external dimensions, while the second (Yom Kippur) involves the soul and inner dimensions.
This can be understood on a simple level. These days are characterized by the Divine service of teshuvah (repentance), as our Sages (Rosh HaShanah 18a) comment on the verse (Isaiah 55:6): " 'Seek G-d...,' these are the ten days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur." Thus it is obvious that they all lead to and prepare for Yom Kippur. For that day reflects the true and ultimate teshuvah, as it is written (Lev. 16:30): "And you shall be purified before G-d." And our Sages state (Shvuos 13a): "The essence of the day brings about atonement."
See also the maamar entitled Tzohar Taaseh, 5702, which states that "Rosh HaShanah is the root and the source for awe... and Yom Kippur is the source for teshuvah."
Similarly, when considering the inner dimensions of these matters, we are forced to say that all of the Ten Days of Teshuvah - aside from the particular dimension of each individual day - are preparations for Yom Kippur. This is the process through which we proceed from the external dimensions to the internal ones.
This relates to the general concept of teshuvah, for teshuvah involves the inner dimensions of the soul. This applies even to the lower rung of teshuvah (see the beginning of the maamar entitled Amar Rabbi Eliezer, 5691).
Certainly, this applies with regard to the higher level of teshuvah. See the end of the second maamar entitled Shuvah in Likkutei Torah which states: "During the Ten Days of Teshuvah, until Yom Kippur, when 'you shall be purified before G-d,' i.e., we reach the level of the inner dimension of G-d, as it is written: 'I seek Your inner dimension, O G-d.'" The second discourse entitled Ki Seitzei, sec. 3, explains that "I seek Your inner dimension, O G-d" leads to "Seek My inner dimension," the essence of His inner dimension, the very point of a Jew's heart (not merely a radiation from it).
It is possible to explain that these three periods - Rosh HaShanah, the Ten Days of Teshuvah, and Yom Kippur - reflect the entire sequence of man's creation. Rosh HaShanah commemorates the anniversary of man's creation. Our Sages (Bereishis Rabbah, ch. 14) state that man was created from the place from where he will be granted atonement. This, however, represents merely the potential, not the actual fact.
Then follows the phase of Divine service of every particular individual. As his or her soul descends to this earthly plane, it is given an oath (Niddah 30b). This is interpreted to mean that it is satiated with powers from above. The ultimate intent is for "the spirit to return to G-d who granted it." This reflects the Divine service of Yom Kippur, the day of teshuvah, and the jubilee.
Note that Yom Kippur is referred to as Rosh HaShanah, primarily because of the Yom Kippur of the Jubilee (Arachin 12a; the commentaries to Ezekiel 40:1).
A person reaches this level through Divine service from the depths of his heart, i.e., the inner dimension of his heart, the ten levels of depth that exist within the soul.
May G-d motivate us to turn to Him in complete teshuvah in the near future....
And may we then merit immediately (as the Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 7:5, and the Alter Rebbe, Iggeres HaTeshuvah, ch. 11, state) the complete Redemption, led by Moshiach.
With blessings for a chasimah and a g'mar chasimah tovah,
Why on Yom Kippur do we pledge money for charity in the synagogue?
Charity is one of the most effective ways of gaining atonement, as we say in the High Holiday prayers, "Repentance, prayer and charity remove any bad decrees." Money is used for basic necessities that keep a person alive. When it is given away to others, it is considered as if one gave away a part of one's life. By pledging extra money for charity, we show that our fasting is part of the atonement process of Yom Kippur.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Each year, on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Rebbe customarily blessed everyone congregated in World Lubavitch Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, and, through them, Jews all over the world. Today, too, the Rebbe continues to bless us. The following few lines are excerpted from one of these blessings:
"May the Yom Kippur which will shortly begin, be celebrated in the Holy Temple. Then, it can be assumed that we will follow the pattern of the Yom Kippur during which - because it followed the dedication of the First Holy Temple - the people ate and drank and afterwards, a heavenly voice told them, 'You are all assured of a portion in the World to Come.'
"Then, we will partake of the Leviatan and the Wild Ox and will witness the fulfillment of the prophecy, 'Those who lie in the dust will arise and sing.' This will include the Previous Rebbe and the entire Jewish people, beginning from the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, indeed, including Adam and Eve who are buried together with the Patriarchs in Chebron.
"Thus, may the very next moment be - not a moment of exile, but rather--the first moment of the ultimate and complete redemption brought by Moshiach and thus, we will not have to wait for 'Next year in Jerusalem.' Instead, immediately, we will all proceed to the Holy Land, to Jerusalem, to the Holy Temple, and to the Holy of Holies, where the High Priest will carry out his service. Then, the Holy Land will expand and include all the other lands, in particular the synagogues, houses of study and houses of good deeds established there and may this come about in the immediate future."
What more can we offer this eve of Yom Kippur than the entire Jewish people's heartfelt prayer for true and complete Redemption to begin immediately!
For with You is forgiveness, that You may be feared (From our Yom Kippur prayers)
How does being forgiven lead us to fear G-d? Would not G-d's perpetual mercy have the opposite effect on a person, knowing that he will always be forgiven? This may be explained as follows: A poor person who has borrowed a large sum of money is only able to pay back half of the loan, not in one lump payment, but in many smaller payments stretched out over several years. If the lender accepts these terms and is kindly and understanding, the borrower is far more likely to exert himself to try to repay the entire amount. If, however, the lender is intransigent, insisting that the entire loan be repaid immediately, the borrower will despair of ever being able to return the full sum. The lender's kindness and mercy, therefore, lead the borrower to fear him all the more.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
...Pardoning our transgressions, year after year (From our Yom Kippur prayers)
A human being, having already forgiven someone for sinning against him, will be far less likely to forgive that person a second time for the same offense, much less a third or fourth time. To G-d, however, there is no difference between the first time and the thousandth, for G-d's attribute of mercy is eternal. G-d therefore forgives us our sins year after year, and will do so next year on Yom Kippur, when we once again recite the prayers asking for forgiveness.
What is teshuva? Returning to G-d by focusing on the G-dly spark that lies within each one of us. In the era of consummate spirituality that Moshiach will introduce, everyone - even those who appear to have attained spiritual fulfillment - will realize the mortal limitations which constrain them, and will seek the inner core of their spiritual potential. Similarly, it is the expression of the potential for teshuva that will serve as the catalyst for the Redemption. For striving to reach our spiritual core will serve as the catalyst for the revelation of G-dliness throughout all existence. As Maimonides writes: "Israel will be redeemed only through teshuva. The Torah has promised that ultimately, towards the end of her exile, Israel will return to G-d, and immediately will be redeemed."
(Keeping in Touch)
This past Thursday, the sixth of Tishrei, was the yartzeit of Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson.
"I suppose I should have felt thankful and lucky," relates Feivel S. about his involvement in the rehabilitation of displaced Jews in post-war Europe. "I found it difficult to be optimistic about life after having lost everything in the Holocaust. An old friend of mine found me a job in the Vaad HaHatzala (Organization of Rescue) offices in Paris. The constant workload my position required helped me maintain my sanity.
"Sitting behind a big gray desk piled with papers, files, and forms, I found both solace and misery: solace in being in a position to help others reconstruct their lives, but yet constant misery while listening to tale after tale of woe.
"One day, I heard a short, gentle knock at the door to my office. This was a pleasant change from the familiar nervous rapping of troubled survivors.
"'Come in,' I called.
"A well-dressed, bearded man walked up to my desk. I was deeply impressed from the first moment I saw him. His distinguished features radiated inner peace. That overwhelmed me, for in post-war Europe inner peace was a very rare commodity. Moreover, his peaceful composure was catchy, and for the first time in years, I felt at ease.
"'How can I help you?' I asked.
"'My mother, Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson has arrived here from Russia. I have come to facilitate her immigration to the United States. Can you please advise me how much time I will have to set aside for this procedure. I would like to organize my schedule accordingly.'"
"I could not take my eyes off this soft-spoken man. He was the first person to come through my office who radiated a sense of direction, expressing the desire to calculate time and spend it wisely. In the shambles of a chaotic Europe, here was a man who valued his minutes.
"I promised to offer whatever assistance I could, assuring him that I would try to process the necessary papers myself so that he could be free to use his time as he saw fit. I gave him all the forms that had to be filled out, and he supplied all the information required. Afterwards, he expressed his gratitude and left my office. Though I had not said so, I was also grateful to him. The few minutes he had spent with me endowed me with renewed dedication and sense of purpose.
"Many years passed. In the interim, I had married, built a family and immigrated to the States. One day, I was driving through Brooklyn with a co-worker.
'Let's go visit the Lubavitch headquarters,' he suggested.
"'Why not?' I replied. Seventeen years had passed since that incident in Paris. Although I had never gone to see the Rebbe, I had since learned that he was the man who had visited my office then, and that meeting was still etched in my memory.
"We arrived at 770 in the midst of a 'farbrengen' - a Chasidic gathering with thousands in attendance. I marveled at the sight: an atmosphere of spiritual intensity in sharp contrast to the ordinary American environment. I looked around slowly, shifting my eyes periodically from the Rebbe to the chasidim.
"Suddenly, I caught the Rebbe's eye, or was it that he caught mine? He was looking at me directly, and then motioned to one of the attendants and said something to him. Before I knew it, the attendant was beside me. 'The Rebbe has requested that you come,' he whispered to me. I was both surprised and flustered at the unexpected attention.
"I followed the attendant shakily and found myself face to face with the Rebbe. It was the same warm and eloquent voice that echoed in my ears from seventeen years ago.
"'Yasher Koach ['well done'] for your efforts on behalf of my mother seventeen years ago in Paris. Blessing and thanks for everything you did.'"
From To Know and to Care by Rabbi Eliyahu and Malka Touger, published by Sichos In English
Maimonides describes Yom Kippur as "the time of teshuva (repentance) for all; for individuals as well as the community." The ultimate expression of this motif will come in the era of the Redemption when, as the Zohar, the fundamental text of Jewish mysticism, teaches, Moshiach will motivate even the righteous to turn to G-d in teshuva.
(Keeping In Touch)