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986: Nitzavim-Vayeilech

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August 31, 2007 - 17 Elul, 5767

985: Ki Savo

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  984: Ki Seitzei986: Nitzavim-Vayeilech  

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

by Naomi Zirkind

The Baal Shem Tov taught that from everything one sees or hears, he can derive a lesson regarding the service of G-d.[1]

My family recently had an experience from which we were able to derive some wonderful lessons.

Friday afternoon, a few hours before Shabbat, our electricity suddenly went out. I called the electric company to report the outage. Some time later employees from the electric company came, did some work on a pole near our house, and left. To our dismay, the electricity was still not working. Looking outside, I saw a tag attached to the pole stating, "Bad Transformer." I was certain that workers from the electric company would come back to fix the problem, and we continued our preparations for Shabbat.

As part of our preparations, we turned on all lights and electrical appliances that we wanted to be on during Shabbat. (It is forbidden according to Jewish law to to turn on lights or electrical appliances once Shabbat has started.) I must admit that it was rather peculiar walking around the house turning on lights and yet no lights going on.

We completed our preparations for Shabbat and my daughters and I lit Shabbat candles. Slowly, the house grew darker and darker as night descended. In the meantime, a few trucks from the electric company had arrived.

In the house, it was completely dark except for the light from the Shabbat candles. My husband and children came home from the synagogue and we began the Shabbat meal in near darkness. We had just finished the soup when, all of a sudden, the house was filled with light! The new transformer was functioning! The contrast between the darkness and the sudden light was astounding.

In many Jewish teachings, darkness and night correspond to exile, while light and day correspond to the Redemption, the Messianic Era.

During the exile, peculiar things occur: People perform command-ments, mitzvot, i.e., turn on lights, with seemingly no effect. To our eyes, it doesn't seem to matter if we do the mitzva or not - there is no apparent increase in light. However, when the transformer is replaced, and the exile is transformed into Redemption, the effects of all of our actions will become apparent. All those "light switches" that were turned on during the blackout will now create a brilliant light.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe stated on numerous occasions that everything is ready for the Redemption. The Rebbe even used the analogy of a table being fully set with all of the food and delicacies of the Messianic feast.

I now understand this better as I recall how it was at our Shabbat meal in the dark. It was actually Shabbat already. We were already sitting at the table, wearing beautiful clothing, enjoying special food, singing Shabbat songs. The only thing missing was the light that would show us how breathtaking the scene truly was.

But, as our Sages state, "G-d's salvation comes in the blink of an eye." In an instant, the transformer will be installed that will turn darkness into light, with all of our good deeds brilliantly illuminating our surroundings.

We are the workers. We are in the process of replacing the transformer through our mitzvot and good deeds. In one instant, the replacement will be complete, and the world will be filled with the light of the true and complete Redemption.

   

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) This Shabbat is the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov


Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Ki Tavo, contains the mitzva of bikurim, first fruits. The bikurim had to be of the finest fruits that were produced in the land of Israel, the first to mature in a particular season, and they were brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem before their owner was permitted to enjoy the rest of his bounty. By bringing the bikurim, a person expressed his thanks to G-d for His blessings. Unlike other offerings that were burned on the altar, the first fruits were given to the kohen (priest) for his own consumption.

We must always remember that all abundance comes from G-d. Our crops yield fruit not because of our merit or because of our labors, but solely due to G-d's blessing.

The farmer invests a great deal of effort before seeing results. He must plow the earth, sow his seeds, and carefully nurture his saplings. Yet, when all these labors are done, he takes those fruits and elevates them to the realm of holiness. The farmer knows that it is G-d's blessing which causes the tree to bear fruit. Accordingly, the very best of his produce rightly belongs to Him.

The bikurim, having been elevated, are given to the kohen to be eaten as part of his Divine service.

From this we learn that a Jew must serve G-d not only when he prays or learns Torah. A Jew serves G-d throughout the day, even when engaged in as mundane an activity as eating! True, such service involves a great deal of preparation, but the reward is commensurate with the effort.

The principle behind the mitzva of bikurim may be applied even today, when the Jewish people are in exile. This is true even outside the land of Israel and even on a regular weekday!

We do so by acknowledging that all our wealth and possessions come directly from G-d and by utilizing all that G-d has blessed us with for holy purposes. In this manner the Jew can turn even the simplest object into a medium for holiness. When we thank G-d for everything He gives us, all of our actions are transformed into a Divine service.

In the times of the Holy Temple, a blessing was recited when the bikurim were brought asking G-d to allow us to joyfully perform the same mitzva the following year. Likewise, whenever we utilize G-d's gifts according to His dictates, it brings down Divine blessing so that in the future, too, we will merit to enjoy them with gladness and rejoicing.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, vol. 2


A Slice of Life

"Hey, Jew!"
by Rabbi Tuva Bolton

Every Friday afternoon I set up a small table in a large artsy outdoor market in Tel Aviv (on Nachat Benyamin Street). I bring three pairs of tefilin that I bought specially for the purpose, and help Jewish boys and men to put tefilin on.

To some I say "Yedidi (my friend), come put on Tefilin" to others I replace the first word with "Achi" (my brother) and others I call, "Yehudi" (Jew).

Jewish boys and men from all walks of life, dispositions and countries of origin agree to put on tefilin. This includes Jews who only put on tefilin for their bar mitzva, Jews who have never put on tefilin and Jews who do not have the slightest idea what tefilin are.

One cold, windy Friday I yelled out to a fellow that passed me by, "Yehudi (Jew) come put on tefilin!"

Usually people either smile and refuse or smile and agree but this fellow stopped, turned to me and gave me a look that shot a shudder down my spine.

At first I was almost sure he was going to punch me. His small mustache, slick long black hair pulled into a pony tail and long black leather jacket filled with his muscular frame gave the frightening impression that he meant business.

To my great relief he looked away and resumed walking. (The only other time I had such a feeling of fear was one time in the U.S.A. when some skin-head tried to make trouble and local passers by stepped in.) But, thank G-d, it was all over.

But it wasn't.

Several seconds later I was looking in the other direction, encouraging people to put on tefiln, when suddenly I turned and there he was standing almost on top of me. He put his face in mine and said menacingly, "What did you call me?"

"Ehh?" I answered. He had caught me by surprise.

"Before, when you called me; what did you call me?"

He was sort of shaking and I, hoping he was normal and just misheard me the first time, mustered up a smile and, answered.

"I said 'Yehudi (Jew), come put on tefilin' ... I called you Yehudi...Ye-hu-di"

His eyes filled with tears and he said, "That's what I thought. You called me 'Jew.' You're right... I am a Jew. No one ever calls me that." And he removed his leather coat and stuck out his arm so I should put tefilin on him.

The call to put on tefilin had touched his essence, his Jewish soul.

Rabbi Tuvia Bolton is assistant dean of the Ohr Tmimim yeshiva in Kfar Chabad, Israel. From ohrtmimim.com

An Answered Prayer

This story can serve as inspiration during this High Holiday season.

A certain Lubavitcher chasid who lives in Israel is always very careful with his tefilin. If someone wants to borrow the tefilin, he only agrees if they are used within eyesight. The reason for this "policy" is that the chasid wants to make sure that his tefilin are treated with the respect befitting such a holy object.

One time, a friend prevailed upon the chasid to lend his tefilin, saying that he would for sure return them to him. Going against his "custom" of not lending out his tefilin, the chasid warily agreed.

Sure enough, the person who borrowed the tefilin left them for a few moments in the back of his car and, of course, they got stolen. When the chasid found out about it, he was devastated. The person who borrowed the tefilin offered to buy new ones, but that wasn't what was really upsetting the chasid. He was heart-broken that he had no idea in what kind of place or condition his tefilin were. He had always been very careful about giving proper respect to his tefilin and never leaving them in a place that was inappropriate.

The evening the tefilin were stolen, at midnight, a Lubavitcher chasid in a different part of the city was finally on his way home. He pushed the elevator button to go up to his apartment and then he had an irresistible urge to stop in the garbage room that was right next to the elevator. Normally, he only went into the garbage room when he had to bring his family's trash. How strange, having an urge to go into the garbage room, he thought to himself. But he went in, and there, on top of the first garbage can, was a beautiful velvet tallit bag and tefilin bags. He took the holy objects straight up to his apartment and as soon as he was in his house, he looked inside to see if he could figure out to whom they belonged to.

Inside the tallit bag was a prayerbook with a name and phone number. Should he call so late at night?

The "finder" decided to call and the phone was picked up on the first ring. He identified himself and then said that he had found a tallit and tefilin with this name and phone number.

The owner could not contain his excitement. "But tell me, how and when did you find them?" he asked.

"I found them just a few minutes ago, at midnight. They were actually in the garbage room in our apartment building. I had no reason to go into the garbage room, but as I passed by, something pulled me to go inside and so I did."

The owner said, "You should know, that I was so distressed the entire day over the loss of my tefilin, but I was especially horrified over the thought that perhaps they were in some trash can or garbage heap somewhere, discarded by the thief. At midnight, as I was getting ready for bed, I cried out from my heart, "G-d, You know that I have always been careful about the mitzva (commandment) of tefilin and especially about making sure that my tefilin were always in a respectful, clean place. Please, even if I am never to get my tefilin back, at least let it be that they shouldn't be in some unclean place."


What's New

New Emissaries

Rabbi Yehuda and Estee Stern recently arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, where Rabbi Stern will serve as Associate Rabbi at the Sydenham Shul. Rabbi Zvi and Chayale Hershcovich are moving to Stavropol, Russia, where they will be establish a new Chabad House to serve the local Jewish Community.

New Buildings

Chabad of Washington University in Seattle recently purchased a 5,000 sq. ft. facility to better serve the needs of the Jewish students and faculty at the university. Chabad of Naples, Florida, is moving into a 2,700 sq. ft. center that will house a synagogue, Hebrew school classrooms and offices.


The Rebbe Writes

The Mitzvo of Bikkurim (First Fruits) in all its details is at the beginning of the Torah portion Sovo.

By way of introduction: The First Fruits became due only after the conquest of the Land of Israel, and after its subdivision among the Tribes, and after the "House of G-d" was established. It would therefore seem more appropriate to introduce the Mitzvo of Bikkurim with words similar to those we find at the end of the preceding Sedra: "And it shall come to pass when HaShem, your G-d, will choose to set His Name there, in the land," etc., not as it is introduced here with the words "When you come into the land," which seemingly focuses attention on the day of entry into the land.

However, the idea is to emphasize that immediately upon coming into the land, you should become aware that the ultimate purpose is that "You should take of the first fruits," etc., as Bikkurim to HaShem. Thus, all your actions from that day on, and until the actual bringing of Bikkurim, will be permeated with the spirit of the Mitzvo, making all the intervening days a period of preparation for the actual fulfillment of the Mitzvo of bringing Bikkurim, although it will take place many years later.

In other words, briefly: The idea of Bikkurim is that the Mitzvo begins with "coming into the land," when one begins his daily labor, "Six days shall you labor, plant your field and prune your vineyard," cultivating the soil (mineral). Then, after the preparatory activities of tilling, planting and pruning, comes the harvest of grain and fruit (plant life), of which the first and choicest are designated as First Fruit for HaShem, and they are taken up, together with offerings (animal) to the Beis Hamikdash, where the bearer of the Bikkurim (man, "the speaker") recites in a loud, clear and joyous voice the Declaration of Bikkurim, as detailed in the portion.

In the words of the Rambam:

"The men of all the small towns of the Ma'amad (district) gather in the main town of the district... for "the greater the gathering, the more glory to the King"... The appointed leader of the gathering calls out, Arise, let us go up to Zion, unto HaShem our G-d; and the ox (for a Peace-offering) goes before them. . . the flute is played before them, and they walk all the way and recite, "I rejoice when they say to me, Let us go to the House of HaShem....

"When they all enter the gates of Jerusalem, they begin reciting, Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.... When they reach the Temple Mount, everyone takes his (fruit) basket on his shoulder, and they recite, Praise HaShem, praise G-d in His holy place up to (the end of the psalm) Let every soul praise HaShem...

"When they reach the Azarah (Temple Court) the Levites sing the song, I will exalt You, HaShem, for You have lifted me up,..."

Such is also the order of man's everyday service to his Creator:

After awaking from sleep, during which a person is like an inanimate - yet the soul and body should have been refreshed and invigorated for Avodas HaShem - one must rise from one's sleep, "immediately, with alacrity, to serve the Creator." Then one begins to grow ever higher through the fulfillment of the Creator's commandments, such as washing the hands, reciting the morning blessings, etc., in preparation for the Morning Prayer, with its four stages: Hodu, Psukei dizimra. Shema and the Amidah.

Then one goes on to carry out the Divine edict, "and conquer (the world)," going about one's worldly affairs in the manner of "All your actions shall be for the sake of Heaven" - actions that involve all four categories of Creation (inanimate, vegetable, animal and man), the world all around, which one accomplishes with the aid of one's "animal soul". Thus, one attains the complete fulfillment expected of the "chosen creature" by "creating an abode for Him, blessed be He, in this lowest world," which is the ultimate purpose and fulfillment of the whole created order. All this also brings closer the true and complete Geulo through Mashiach Tzidkeinu...

From a letter for Rosh Hashana 5744. Full text available at www.sichosinenglish.org.


Customs

What is the Jewish calendar?

The Jewish calendar is calculated according to the moon - lunar - cycle. The Jewish calendar runs in 19 year cycles. There are 7 leap years in the 19 year cycle. The leap year has an extra month added known as "Adar II." It is the month immediately preceding Nissan, the month in which Passover falls. In this way, Passover always occurs in the spring. This coming year is a leap year.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Shabbat is the 18th of Elul, which is a festive day on the Chasidic calendar, for it is the birthday of the founder of Chasidut in general, Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov and the founder of Chabad Chasidut in particular, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (the Alter Rebbe).

The birthday of a Tzadik, a righteous person, has a strong connection and a profound effect on the month in which the birthday occurs. The number 18 is written out with the Hebrew letters which spell the word "chai," meaning "alive."

Chasidut adds life and vitality to the observance of Torah and mitzvot. Thus, the month of Elul in which the birthdays of these two great Tzadikim takes place gains extra vitality and strength. And the special theme of that particular month also gains vitality.

The special service of Elul, the additional prayers, charity, and Torah study are all enfused with an extra measure of vitality. By studying the teachings and the ways of the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe we can approach our service to G-d with greater enthusiasm.

The month of Elul is a time of reflection. We know where we came from, what our past contained. The question now is, where are we going? How is the approaching year going to be different from the year that is coming to a close?

One way we can assure that the year will be different is by taking the "chai," the life and liveliness of Elul with us throughout the year. By adding spirit, joy, enthusiasm and "chai-ut" to our mitzvot and Jewish studies, we will surely hasten the time of a return to life and eternal life that we all await, for ourselves and our loved ones, in the Messianic Era.


Thoughts that Count

Ben Azzai ...would say: "Do not regard anyone with contempt, and do not reject anything, for there is no man who does not have his hour, and nothing which does not have its place." (Ethics 4:2)

Even a mortal architect strives to ensure that every part of the building he designs is functional. This tendency has its source in the creativity of G-d Himself. Every particle which He creates exists for a purpose; there is a specific divine intent which cannot be completed without it.

(Talmud Shabbat 77b)


Ben Azzai says: "Run to [perform even] an easy mitzva, and flee from transgression; for one mitzva brings about another mitzva, and one transgression brings about another; for the reward of a mitzva is the mitzva, and the recompense of a transgression is a transgression." (Ethics 4:2)

On a simple level, the mishna is teaching us a lesson in causality; fulfilling one mitzva will make it possible for us to fulfill others. This phrase, however, also has a deeper meaning: Every mitzva leads to a tzavta (connection) with G-d.

(Likutei Amarim of the Maggid of Mezeritch)


Rabbi Yishmael his son said: "[A judge] who refrains from handing down legal judgments [but instead seeks compromise between the litigants] removes from himself enmity, theft, and [the responsibility for] an unnecessary oath; but one who aggrandizes himself by [eagerly] issuing legal decisions is a fool, wicked and arrogant." (Ethics 4:7)

In a business dispute, the ability to accept compromise is important, for it demonstrates that an individual is able to see beyond his own position and make concessions for the sake of another person. There are, however, certain matters, such as Jewish education and Torah law, where compromise must be avoided. For the Torah is eternal, G-dly truth - containing absolute values that must not be mitigated by human notions of right and wrong.

(Likutei Sichos, Vol. XX, p. 356-357)


It Once Happened

The month of Elul was drawing to a close. Everyone was getting ready for Yom Tov, and the "scent" of the High Holidays was already in the air. The marketplace was overflowing with all kinds of merchandise and produce, including the special fruits that are traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashana like pomegranates.

The Jewish section of town was bustling with activity as homes were swept from top to bottom and new clothes were fitted and sewn. At the same time it was serious business, as residents prepared themselves spiritually for the coming year. More attention was paid to praying with a minyan, refraining from gossip and in general, improving behavior.

Inside the Baal Shem Tov's study hall the final preparations before Rosh Hashana were also underway. Prayers were recited with increased devotion, and all thoughts were focused on returning to G-d in repentance.

One evening, a few days before Rosh Hashana, the Baal Shem Tov's disciples were getting ready to pray the evening service. All that was missing was the Baal Shem Tov himself, who had yet to arrive. At precisely the appointed hour the Baal Shem Tov entered the study hall, but instead of opening his prayer book he remaining standing, lost in thought.

Of course, no one dared mention that it was time to pray. The minutes ticked by and still the Baal Shem Tov seemed distracted, as if he were in another world. His holy face was suffused with intense emotion. However, the Baal Shem Tov's students were already used to such things.

When the Baal Shem Tov suddenly roused himself almost an hour later and opened his prayer book, his countenance was virtually shining with joy. That evening, the Baal Shem Tov prayed with unusual intensity and longing. It was obvious that something of very great magnitude had occurred.

After the service the Baal Shem Tov explained:

"Not very far from here," he began, "lives a Jew who grew up in a traditional Jewish home. But as he grew older, he began to associate with the local peasants. Slowly he abandoned the Jewish path till he was virtually indistinguishable from the gentiles and completely estranged from his roots.

"Many years passed. The man left the province where he was born and went to live in a totally non-Jewish environment. As time passed, he forgot everything about the Jewish way of life, its prayers and its customs. Before he knew it 30 years had elapsed.

"Tonight," the Baal Shem Tov revealed, "this Jew happened to be visiting a Jewish town on business. As soon as he entered the village he could sense the commotion, and this aroused his curiosity. When he asked a passer-by what was going on the man answered, 'Everyone is getting ready for a holiday we call Rosh Hashana. According to Jewish tradition, it is the day on which man was created and the whole world is judged.'

"For some reason this explanation struck a chord in the heart of the assimilated Jew. Maybe it was the exclusionary 'we' that emphasized the huge chasm that separated him from his brethren, or perhaps the mere mention of the Day of Judgment. In any event, the man's soul was inexplicably awakened, and he was flooded with memories of his childhood.

"As he wandered through the marketplace he was suddenly stricken by the horrifying realization that he had exchanged a life rich in meaning for an empty existence. At that moment he looked up, and was surprised to find himself standing outside the main synagogue. By then it was almost dark, and people were arriving to pray the evening service.

"The man was seized by an overwhelming desire to join them, but he was also embarrassed by his non-Jewish appearance. In the end the urge to pray won out, and he went into the women's section and hid behind the curtain.

"As the cantor chanted the words 'And He atones for sin...' a shudder passed through the man's body. How he wished to pray, but the words were long forgotten. Tears streamed down his cheeks. When the last congregant had gone home he couldn't bear it any longer and burst out crying. 'Master of the universe!' he wept. 'I know there is no greater sinner than I, but I also know that You are merciful and full of loving-kindness. Heavenly Father, forgive me my transgressions and I will sin no more. I wish to return to You and live as a Jew. Please accept my prayer and do not turn me away!'

"The man's heartfelt repentance caused a great commotion in the celestial realms," the Baal Shem Tov explained, "and his prayer ascended to the very Throne of Glory. In fact, it was so powerful that it brought along with it many other prayers that had been waiting hundreds of years to ascend.

"When I sensed what was going on in the man's heart," the Baal Shem Tov concluded, "I decided to wait for him to pray so I could join him. Tonight's service was delayed so we could merit to pray with a true penitent..."


Moshiach Matters

Your sun shall set no more, Your moon no more withdraw; For the Lord shall be a light to you forever, And your days of mourning shall be ended. And your people, all of them righteous, Shall possess the land for all time; They are the shoot that I planted, My handiwork in which I glory. The smallest shall become a clan; The least, a mighty nation. I the Lord will speed it in due time.

(Haftara Ki Tavo - Isaiah 60:20-22)


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