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   979: Devarim

980: Vaeschanan

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982: Re'eh

983: Shoftim

984: Ki Seitzei

985: Ki Savo

986: Nitzavim-Vayeilech

August 17, 2007 - 3 Elul, 5767

983: Shoftim

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

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  982: Re'eh984: Ki Seitzei  

A Month of Stocktaking  |  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

A Month of Stocktaking

by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger

Every storekeeper takes inventory from time to time. To see how his business is progressing, he reviews his accounts, sees what he has purchased and what he has sold, and in this way, gets a handle on where he will be going in the future.

Our Divine service must also be a living, ongoing concern with ups and, unfortunately, sometimes with downs, and we should make similar reckonings. Are we growing in our connection with G-d and our relationships with our fellow men or have we become more insensitive? Where should we be focusing our attention? And which areas are holding us back from advancing?

A storekeeper generally does not do his accounts alone; he hires a bookkeeper or an accountant. Why? Because he wants an objective opinion. Now if this is true with regard to a simple matters like buying and selling, it certainly applies with regard to delicate matters like our personal growth and spiritual sensitivity.

Simply put, a person shouldn't try to make his reckoning on his own. Instead, he or she should consult some genuinely good friends and/or one's spouse. Ask them honestly: Have I become more refined and sensitive over the past year? Do you see me growing?

To grab a person's attention, Madison Avenue has taught us how to use slogans and catch phrases so that ideas stay in our conscious foreground. Thousands of years previously, our Sages coined acronyms for concepts that they wanted to attract our notice.

They explained that Elul is an acronym for 5 four-word Biblical verses.

Elul refers to the cities of refuge established for the unintentional manslaughterer. This alludes to Torah study, because "the words of Torah are a refuge."

Elul is an acronym for "I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine". This points to prayer, for in prayer our love relationship with G-d finds expression.

A third verse suggests deeds of kindness. For Elul should be marked by heightened attention to all three fundamental elements of our Divine service - Torah study, prayer and acts of kindness.

Not surprisingly, when taking stock of our efforts throughout the year, we may discover shortcomings, things that have to be corrected. For this reason, Elul is also associated with teshuva, turning to G-d with "regret for the past and positive resolves for the future."

Our Sages also highlight the connection between Elul and teshuva with a verse that is an acronym for the name Elul.

There is a fifth phrase, "[Then Moses and the Children of Israel sang this song] to G-d and they spoke, saying, 'I shall sing....' " (In this phrase, the letters Elul are found in reverse order.) This phrase uses the future tense, for it refers to the Era of the Redemption and the Resurrection of the Dead when mankind will sing a true song of rejoicing to G-d.

Elul gives us a chance to experience a foretaste of this state. When we take time off to really think of who we are and what we should be doing with our lives, we should take the time to appreciate the wide-ranged picture.

Never should we be so involved in the details that we are unable to appreciate the fundamental nature of our relationship with G-d. And as we contemplate the true picture, we can appreciate how the concept of redemption is not a dream of a distant future, but a reality that is progressively unfolding before our eyes. Nor should we remain idle observers, but instead spread this awareness to others and in this manner hasten the time when its truth will be openly apparent to all.

Reprinted from Highlights

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Shoftim, contains the commandment to appoint a king. "When you come to the land...You must set a king over you."

Why do the Jewish people need a king?

The function of a monarch is to impose law and order throughout the realm. It isn't that people don't know the difference between right and wrong without a king, but knowledge is not enough. A person can be well aware of the law but violate it anyway. By instilling fear in his subjects, the king guarantees that people will conduct themselves properly.

Yet even when people are on a higher moral level and are law-abiding, a king is still necessary. A king, who with Divine assistance becomes "head and shoulders above the populace," understands matters that are beyond the scope of his subjects. The king then issues various decrees that his loyal citizens will obey.

For Jews, the true King is G-d; the function of the fleshly king they appoint is to reveal His sovereignty in the world and help them connect themselves to Him.

When Jews are on a lowly spiritual level (lacking complete nullification before G-d), the human king, by instilling fear and awe in his subjects, eventually leads them to fear and awe of the King of kings. The homage they pay to the king helps them achieve self-nullification before G-d.

When Jews are on a more elevated spiritual level (when they already possess this self-nullification), appointing a human king serves a higher purpose, enabling them to attain a higher level of spirituality than they could accomplish on their own. The king's superior influence filters down to the rest of the populace, and through him his subjects are elevated further.

Everything in the Torah contains a practical directive to be applied in our day-to-day lives. Thus, although during this present time of exile the Jewish people lack a monarch, our Sages declared, "Who are the kings? The rabbis." In the same way our forefathers were commanded to appoint a king over themselves, so too is each of us obligated to obey our Sages' dictum, "Make for yourself a Rav" - to accept upon ourselves the authority and "kingship" of our rabbis and teachers. Every Jew must have his own Rav to whom he can turn for guidance and direction.

This is especially relevant in our generation, just before Moshiach's arrival, for Moshiach himself will embody both of these qualities, that is, rabbi and teacher. On the one hand Moshiach will teach the entire Jewish people Torah; at the same time he will also be their king, King Moshiach.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 24

A Slice of Life

An Ordinary Miracle
by Odette Fellus

It was a beautiful Wednesday morning, two days before our trip to Miami. My day began with the same routine: thanking G d for everything that He has blessed me with, waking up my five beautiful, sleepy children, and getting them ready for school. I did my morning workout, got a car wash and a cup of coffee and met my dear friend Beth at the school parking lot. She got into my car and we headed to the Ohel where I was meeting my mother.

The Ohel, located in Queens, is the resting place of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I was fortunate to have met the Rebbe and received a dollar from him that I still keep; the Rebbe gave dollars on Sundays to hundreds of thousands of individuals and they, in turn, gave a different dollar to charity. A blessing from the Rebbe always touched my family and me very deeply.

I planned to spend time at the Ohel, reciting Tehillim (Psalms of King David), and to read the letter that I had written the night before, expressing my wishes for a blessing for my loved ones - and especially, for a safe trip and a wonderful Passover holiday. Of course, I wanted to give my mother a hug and kiss and then, to head home.

Deep in conversation with Beth, I almost missed the exit. I made a quick right turn on the ramp to get off the exit and, in the process, drove over a pothole. Why hadn't I just gone one more exit and turned around, I berated myself? And now, I probably had a flat tire or something far worse. I pulled over, got out of the car and said to myself, "Everything happens for a reason - do not worry!"

The tires were intact and everything that I could see was fine. I proceeded to the Ohel, still a bit shaken. I was about to make a turn and park next to the cemetery when I heard a scratching sound coming from the front of the car. Beth told me to pull over next to a house. I was so nervous and shaken. We both got out and saw that the plastic cover under the front bumper was loose and half of it was dragging on the ground.

Beth was trying to console me. She said, "Everything will be fine. Let's call AAA; it's only a car," she kept telling me. But I was distracted and I wanted to go home. My husband, Jimmy, was in Alabama at his monthly conference and I could not reach him.

Ahh, my mother was meeting us at the Ohel. She is a woman of many talents and she would know what to do. I turned to Beth and said, since we are here, let's go in and read some Tehillim and our letters. I added to my letter that I was so nervous and upset that I had no idea how I was going to make it home.

We went in and I started reading Psalms but I could not focus and concentrate. Where was my faith? My body was at the Ohel but my mind was outside, trying to figure out what to do about my car and how I was going to get home.

Beth and I completed our visit. We went out to wait for my mother. Where was she? I was very anxious. She showed up 15 minutes later. I told her what happened and when we walked to the car, she got down and looked under the front of the car. In her calm and assuring voice, she told me not to worry. "It is only a protective gear. I'll pull it off and you'll be able to drive home quietly."

She starting pulling, but it was stuck. She needed a screwdriver. Beth said she would cross the street to a nearby house to ask for one. At that very moment, she saw a man appear from the house next to which we were parked and asked him if he would lend us a screwdriver. I turned around, and there in front of me was a man wearing a mechanic's uniform! He asked us to move the car to his driveway so he could have a look.

In no time at all, he got the proper tools from his garage and was able to wire the covering. He assured me that I would have no problem getting home, but to have it looked at once I got home. I thanked him from the bottom of my heart and told him he was G d-sent. He really was! All the events of the day started to run through my mind . . . if I did not hear the noise when I did, I would never have parked next to this house, if my mother were on time, would we have seen this man? My story does not end here.

I gave my mother the big hug and kiss that I was waiting to give her and headed home. Beth and I were thanking G d and the Rebbe, all the way to Plainview, Long Island. When we got there, Beth insisted on following me with her car to Huntington Honda where they were expecting my car. The service advisor there, David, assured me he would check it out completely. Before leaving, he showed me a copy of a letter that a customer had given him, signed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

"What a treasure," I told him. "Keep it close to your heart." Was this a sign?

I went to lunch with Beth and, within 35 minutes, David called me to come and get the car. On the way back, we saw a doubled parked car with flashing lights, slowing down traffic. As we approached it, we read the license plate, "TANKS2GD." Beth and I looked at each other and could not believe what we just saw.

I got my car and everything checked out perfectly. When I went over to Beth to thank her and say goodbye, she Beth was speaking with someone. Beth turned to me and said "Odette, you are not going to believe this. This man was my next-door neighbor when we were growing up. I haven't seen him in 25 years. Who knew he worked in Huntington! I would have never known, if I did not follow you here."

As I reflect back on that day, I realize that there were so many lessons I learned from it. Even though I could not focus on my prayers and give G d all of my attention, He heard me anyway. Miracles happen in our lives daily - with our children, our spouses, our homes, our jobs, our friends and so much more. In each day, if we open our eyes we can see the blessings we have (and often time take for granted) if we will take a moment to do so.

What's New

New Emissaries

Two young couples moved recently to sunny California as emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Rabbi Yossi and Rochie Tiefenbrun are opening a new Chabad Center in Pacific Beach, California. Rabbi Schneur and Tzippy Schneerson are establishing Chabad of Newbury Park, California. In North Carolina, Rabbi Moshe Yitzchok and Chana Leiblich will be arriving soon in Wilmingston to establish a new Chabad Center in that city. The Sante Fe Province in Argentina has welcomed Rabbi Yair and Debby Vassershten to work with the 1,500 Jews in the area. In the Neot Eshelim neighborhood of Rishon Letzion, Israel, Rabbi and Mrs. Shneur Zalman Levin have opened a new Chabad Center.

The Rebbe Writes

Freely adapted and translated

Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, 5719 (1959)

In reply to your letter relating to your sister, who has been married for many years and has yet to be blessed with children:

I wonder why you did not mention whether they have consulted with fertility experts; if they have not as yet done so, they should do so now.

This is in keeping with the directive of our Sages, of blessed memory, who in commenting on the verse, "and he shall be healed," state: "From here we learn that the Torah gave a healer the ability [and power] to heal."

However, a Jew's physical and spiritual welfare are inextricably bound together, as they are "one nation on earth," and in the language of the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism) "This means that even in mundane "earthly" matters they will not be separated from G-d's true unity and oneness."

Therefore, they are to increase their performance of Torah and mitzvos (commandments) and strengthen their faith and trust in G-d, the Creator and Conductor of the entire world, that He watches over them with individual Divine Providence with regard to all the above.

In a case such as the above, it would also be appropriate for them to ascertain whether their shidduch (match) with each other did not wound the pride of any Jewish young man or woman to the extent that it necessitates asking their forgiveness. If they do have to ask forgiveness, they can do so either in the presence of the aggrieved party or if this is not possible, in the aggrieved party's absence.

They should also check the husband's tefillin, as well as the mezuzos in their home, that they all be kosher according to Jewish law. Also, the wife should observe the custom of Jewish women of giving tzedaka (charity) prior to lighting candles every Shabbos eve and every Yom Tov eve.

10 Sivan, 5712 (1952)

In reply to your letter in which you convey to me the good news that you have entered the second month - approximately - of your pregnancy:

Surely, as I have mentioned to ... if at all possible you are not to publicize the news "until the fifth month" - to use the expression of my father-in-law, the Rebbe.

I would suggest to you the following:

Surely you are following your doctors' orders - those of whom you already visited - regarding your diet, not overstraining yourself, etc.

Check all the mezuzos in your home and exchange the non-kosher ones for kosher ones.

Keep the fine custom of Jewish women, that of giving tzedaka to the fund of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes prior to lighting candles every Shabbos eve and Yom Tov (holiday) eve.

Your husband should continue reciting the daily portion of Psalms (as it is divided by the days of the month) at least until after you give birth in a good and auspicious hour.

So, too, in the Prayer Before Retiring at Night, your husband should recite - prior to Hamapil - the 20th Psalm, Lamenatzeiach ... Ya'ancha. After he concludes the chapter, he should once again recite the second verse, Ya'ancha, and have in mind that G-d should consider it as if he had all the intentions (kavanos) that are to be thought of at that time.

May G-d grant you an easy pregnancy; may you carry to term and give birth in a regular and easy way to a healthy child.

From Eternal Joy, translated by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg. published by Sichos In English


When do we send "New Year" cards?

It is appropriate during the entire month of Elul to send wishes to friends and family that they be "inscribed and sealed for a good, sweet year." In fact, these are the words with which one greets a friend from the fifteenth of the (previous) month of Av until Yom Kippur. From Yom Kippur until Hoshana Rabba (the day preceding the holiday of Sukkot) when the Heavenly books have already been inscribed but not yet sealed, we say, "May you be sealed for a good year" or "gmar chatima tova," in Hebrew.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

During the month of Elul that we currently in, there is a custom to sound the shofar each morning. The call of the shofar is intended to wake us up, reminding us to return to G-d and to prepare for the upcoming Days of Awe.

There are a number of historic moments throughout Jewish history when the shofar was blown. The first of these was at Mount Sinai. There, the Torah was given in the presence of an intense, constantly increasing, shofar blast.

Another renowned shofar blowing mentioned in our prayers is that of the "Great Shofar," which will be blown upon the arrival of Moshiach.

What is the connection between these two events?

The Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai was an experience that pulled people out of their previous state of existence. The G-dly revelation was so intense that "their souls flew out of their bodies"; they were taken out of their worldly boundaries and elevated to a much higher plane.

The Era of Moshiach will precipitate a similar restructuring of our lives, causing us to break out of the limitations of this physical world and reach to a higher level of existence. The prerequisite for this transformation is the desire to change, which must be present now, even before Moshiach has arrived.

This is a common thread joining the revelation at Mount Sinai with the days of Moshiach - the element of change and the improvement of the world at large. The shofar, central to both events, inspires one to abandon one's previous level in order to reach higher levels.

Even today, the shofar has a similar effect. We can and must achieve an inner change.

The time for change is now, even before the Rosh Hashana begins. May we hear, this year, the sounding of the Great Shofar in the rebuilt Holy Temple in Jerusalem with Moshiach, NOW!

Thoughts that Count

Shimon Ben Shatach said: "Examine the witnesses thoroughly" (Ethics 1:9)

There is a homiletic dimension to this teaching. Our Sages say: "The walls of a person's house testify regarding his [character]." On the most simple level, it is possible to "examine the witnesses" and determine a person's character by studying the walls of his house - which books, whose pictures, and which art do they feature.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Shemayah said... "Do not seek intimacy with the ruling power" (Ethics 1:10)

Since Shemayah was the Nasi - the Torah leader of the Jewish people - he knew the importance of humility. For a leader's prominence comes as a result of his selflessness. Because he has no concern for himself, he is fit to serve as a medium to lead his people to an awareness of G-d's sovereignty.

(Sichot Kodesh, Shemini, 5728)

Be of the disciples of Aaron... loving the created beings, and bringing them near to the Torah (Ethics 1:12)

The use of the term "created beings" instead of "people" implies that Aaron would reach out to individuals whose only redeeming virtue was the fact that they were G-d's creations. Aaron's concern for his fellow man was all the more impressive because of his exalted position as High Priest. Leaving the Sanctuary where G-d's Presence was openly revealed, he would reach out to people who had no virtue other than their having been created by G-d. The order used in the Mishna is also significant. It implies that Aaron first concerned himself with establishing a relationship of love and trust, confidant that this would in turn enable him to draw them near to the Torah. Also significant is the phrase, "bringing them near to the Torah." Although Aaron reached out to these individuals and tried to accommodate them to the fullest degree possible, his efforts were centered on "bringing them near to the Torah," and not bringing the Torah near to them. His willingness to extend himself on behalf of others did not involve any compromise of Torah law.

(Sichot Kodesh)

It Once Happened

During the times of the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism) a law was passed to forcibly relocate Jews from rural villages to larger towns. This particularly harsh decree left many Jews destitute, without a source of livelihood, and a great deal of money was needed to alleviate their plight. Not only were many poor families without basic necessities, but officials had to be bribed to leave the Jews in peace. To this end, the Alter Rebbe began traveling extensively throughout the region asking for donations.

One such mission took the Alter Rebbe to the district of Vohlin, not far from the city of Toltshin, where Reb Boruch, the Baal Shem Tov's grandson, resided. The Alter Rebbe decided to pay Reb Boruch a visit, and Reb Boruch was delighted by the honor.

"What brings you here?" Reb Boruch asked.

"Well," the Alter Rebbe replied, "I am raising funds to pay-off government officials to leave the Jews alone. The pitiful plight of my brethren is too much to bear."

Reb Boruch was surprised. "But surely you could have averted the decree on the spiritual level!" he countered. "Why are you actually going around collecting money?"

The Alter Rebbe elucidated: "I am only following a precedent. When our Patriarch Jacob was in danger, no doubt he could have alleviated the harsh decree in a spiritual way, without having to placate his brother Esau with gifts. Yet we see that he declared, 'I am sending a present to my lord Esau...that he be appeased.'"

Reb Boruch remained unconvinced. The Alter Rebbe was a great tzadik; why did he have to lower himself to act within the natural order? "But why didn't you just teach them the meaning of 'Echad' ('One') according to my grandfather's teachings? The decree would then have been automatically nullified!"

"It was your grandfather's 'Echad' that caused this decree in the first place,' the Alter Rebbe replied. He then revealed the following:

After the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, there was not one country willing to take them in. The reason for this (as with everything else that happens in the physical world) originated in the higher spheres. In heaven, the ministering angels representing the various nations were arguing among themselves. "We don't want the Jews to live in our land!" each angel cried. "The first thing they'll do is build synagogues and houses of study. They'll learn Torah and they'll pray. We don't want them to declare 'Hashem Echad - G-d is One!' "

The angels were afraid that this declaration of G-d's unity would nullify their very existence, much as darkness is dispelled in the presence of light. This spiritual reality was reflected down below, and the leaders of each nation refused to accept the Jews. There was only one angel who was not afraid, the ministering angel of Poland. In fact, he saw this as a golden opportunity to increase his own impure powers.

"They don't scare me," he declared. "I will take them in and it will be to my advantage. It is true that they'll build yeshivas and study Torah, and they will declare 'G-d is One.' But they will not have the proper intentions, and I will grow stronger."

And so it came to pass. The king of Poland agreed to accept a bribe-a pile of money as high as a mounted Cossack holding a spear upright.

Indeed, the Jews arrived in Poland in droves. They built synagogues and houses of study, established businesses, learned Torah and recited the "Shema" ("Hear O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One"). And, as the ministering angel had predicted, they did not have the proper intentions. The angel was delighted that his plan was working. His own powers were increasing from day to day. Unfortunately for him, however, the Baal Shem Tov came along and taught the Jews a dimension of "Echad" that was entirely different.

"That's not fair!" the angel of Poland cried. "The deal is off-the bargain is null and void! I only agreed to accept them under the terms of the old 'Echad,' not the new one!"

Down on earth, the Jews would have to find another home. The noose was tightened around the throat of European Jewry, and many Jews were expelled from their villages.

"Now do you understand?" the Alter Rebbe concluded. "The new law is a direct result of your grandfather's 'Echad,' and that is why money is once again needed to avert the harsh decree..."

Moshiach Matters

"Reveal Yourself, my beloved, and spread over me the shelter of Your peace. Let the earth be illuminated by Your glory; we will rejoice and exult in You. Hasten, Beloved, for the time has come; and be gracious unto us as in days of yore.

(From the Yedid Nefesh prayer, recited at the afternoon service on the eve of Shabbat)

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