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As we approach the High Holidays, it is natural to think of our relationship with G-d.
In many of our High Holiday prayers, we refer to G-d as Avinu Malkeinu - Our Father, Our King. Jewish teachings explain that each word refers to a different type of relationship - Avinu, Our Father - the bond is essentially one of love; Malkeinu, Our King - the bond is essentially one of awe (or fear).
Both types of relationships are necessary. For love and fear are two opposite emotions. And when counting the 613 mitzvot (commandments), love of G-d and fear of G-d are counted as two separate mitzvot.
It seems rather obvious why they should be considered separate mitzvot, defining two types of Divine-human relationships, and why they are considered in an emotional opposition. We define love as an attraction, a movement toward the beloved. We define awe, or fear, as a movement away from the awesome or fearful. One becomes conjoined and included with the beloved; one becomes overwhelmed and negated by the awe-inspiring.
Thus love indicates inclusion; fear, or awe, indicates a negation, being overwhelmed, even nullified.
We would therefore expect these two mitzvot to be discussed separately: there should be, and often is, a separate discussion of the methods and meaning of Loving G-d and those of Fearing Him.
However, Maimonides begins to explain the mitzva of Loving G-d by speaking about both love and awe. Maimonides continues, and asks, "what is the way to love and fear Him?" (Does that not sound like they are interdependent?) He answers that when a person contemplates how great and wondrous are G-d's actions and creations, a person will be awed by them and consequently will also be awed by His incomparable, infinite Wisdom. The immediate reaction will then be to love, praise and extol Him, and with this will be a great desire to know Him.
In other words, this type of love of G-d, stemming from a recognition of His Greatness, is not a feeling of closeness, but an awareness of distance and the desire to know Him, to become close. (Hence the metaphor of thirst: We love, we desire, that which we thirst after. We love, we cherish, that with which we have joined.)
This is a love, or desire, to know G-d. Of course, human beings, made of matter and spirit, can never truly know G-d.
That is, love (of G-d) at this level is not a feeling of attachment or closeness, but rather a desire and thirst, a feeling of distance or lack, because one has become aware of his distance from G-d and desires to be close.
A love for G-d deriving from our desire to know Him, to comprehend His Essence and Being - an impossible, yet life-consuming goal - must come from self-nullification, an awareness of our own insignificance. Yet this, of course, also describes what occurs when we have a fear, are in awe of G-d.
Love of G-d and fear of G-d influence each other when they become the "wings" through which we seek to know G-d. And with those wings we can soar ever so high.
This week we read two Torah portions, Nitzavim and VaYeilech. The Torah portion of Nitzavim is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana. Indeed, its very first verse reveals its appropriateness: "You are standing this day, all of you, before the L-rd your G-d." "This day" refers to the Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashana. On Rosh Hashana every soul, great and small alike, stands before G-d, as it states, "Your heads, your tribes, your elders and your officers...your little ones, your wives...from the hewer of wood to the drawer of water."
Why do we stand before G-d? "So that you may enter the covenant of the L-rd your G-d." When all Jews stand before Him as a complete and unified entity, we become worthy of entering into His covenant on Rosh Hashana.
A covenant is designed to preserve the feeling of love that exists between two people. They establish a covenant at a time when their love is strongest, so that it will never weaken. This bond connects them to each other and ensures that their love will last forever.
So too is it with G-d's love for the Jewish people. His love for us is strongest on Rosh Hashana, as the previous month was devoted to removing our sins.
But how do we arouse G-d's desire to establish a covenant with us? By being united with one another. How are we to accomplish this, given the differences between individuals? This can be understood by the following analogy:
The human body is composed of many different limbs and organs. Some are more important, like the head; others are simpler, like the foot. But the head, no matter how important, needs the feet in order to move. The body achieves perfection only when all its limbs act in harmony.
In the same way, even the most important Jews ("your heads") require the simplest ones ("the drawer of water") in order to comprise a complete entity. And it is this unity that arouses G-d's desire to make a covenant with His people.
Our job is to achieve this unity between "head" and "foot." Every Jew must work on himself until he can recognize his fellow's unique qualities. It is beyond our capacity to judge a person's true worth. Even if one considers himself a "head" and the other fellow a "foot" (as it is human nature to inflate our own self-worth), the "head" still needs the "foot" in order to comprise a complete being.
Let us concern ourselves with correcting our own flaws and not heed the perceived flaws of others. Doing so will ensure that there is no time to look at others' imperfections!
In this manner we will achieve both self-perfection and perfection as a nation, and G-d will grant the entire Jewish people a good and sweet year.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, vol. 2
The Cantor's Cantor
by Steve Hyatt
As a young boy I spent countless hours fishing off the banks of Morgan's Pond near my home. I never caught many fish but I tossed many a pebble into the water and watched the resulting tiny ripples roll toward every corner of the shore surrounding that peaceful body of water. Little did I know those experiences would one day turn into a memorable Torah lesson.
In 1922, a young Boris Fisch and his twin brother Joe were born in a tiny village in Hungary. When they were young students they both attended a Hungarian institute dedicated to training young men to serve as chazzanim (cantors) in synagogues around the world. Young Boris mastered one ancient tune after another. He knew a melody for every prayer in his prayer book. When Boris and his brother were mere teenagers, their family emigrated to the United States looking for a new life in the land of opportunity.
Later in life Boris made his way from Pittsburgh to New York where he was employed as a full time men's hat maker and a "part time" cantor. While making hats paid the bills, Boris' true vocation was that of a cantor and bar mitzva teacher. Boris helped well over 3,000 boys prepare for their bar mitzvas. One of the very first bar mitzva students the cantor worked with in New York was a high-energy lad named Paul Katz. While studying for his bar mitzva young Paul's Zaidie asked him if he was going to read from the Torah during his bar mitzva. Since he'd never thought about it, Paul asked the cantor. Without skipping a beat the cantor told Paul, "Sure but the journey will not end there." A 12-year-old Paul had no idea what the cantor had in mind but he wanted to please his Zaidie. So he studied with the cantor and eventually had his bar mitzva where he successfully read from the Torah, just as he'd been taught by the cantor.
As time went on Paul learned exactly what the cantor had meant. For Boris had found his protégé. Over the next half century the cantor taught Paul every note, every phrase, every melody from his vast repertoire.
Eventually the cantor retired and moved to Florida. Paul who was now better known as Dr. Katz, Chairmen of the Washoe Hospital Stroke Center in Reno, Nevada, kept in touch with his friend and mentor and questioned him often about the tunes for Shabbat, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. While Dr. Katz paid the bills through his work at the hospital, his "part time" vocation was serving as the cantor at Chabad of Northern Nevada in Reno. Week in and week out the small but growing congregation listened intently as Cantor Katz chanted the ancient tunes a young cantor and his brother had learned many decades before in a tiny Jewish school in Hungary. The cantor had never heard his protégé lead the Reno congregation but he'd made plans to visit his pupil. But G-d had other plans for Boris Fisch; he passed away at the age of 83 before he could make the cross-country trip.
At the conclusion of the cantor's emotional funeral service his family mentioned that he had always intended to record his special tunes, so his many students and congregants could listen to them for years to come. But somehow life got in the way and he never made it to the recording studio. Immediately all eyes turned to the cantor's protégé and someone said, "Paul you know all of his tunes, you should record them." On that day, in a shul in New York, a pledge was made and the cantor's exceptional student committed to recording his teacher's most treasured possession, his vast repertoire of melodies.
Upon his return to Reno, Paul received a personal invitation to attend a party honoring local Chabad Rabbi Mendel Cunin. The invitation cautioned that it was a surprise and asked him to keep the event a secret. Arriving at the Rabbi's home Paul was surprised to see over 40 members of the congregation packed into the Cunin's living room. When the rabbi walked in he asked everyone to join him in the shul. A few moments later the rabbi looked at Paul and informed him that there really was no surprise party for the rabbi. In truth, it was a gathering to honor the blessed memory of Paul's mentor, Cantor Boris Fisch, a man none of us had ever met but whose efforts and commitment had an immeasurable impact on our entire congregation.
Paul's friends had contributed funds, in Cantor Fisch's name, to sponsor the writing of a Torah portion in the shul's new Torah scroll, ensuring everyone who walked in the door for generations to come would recognize the cantor's impact on Chabad of Northern Nevada.
After Dr. Katz chose the portion, we all retired to the Cunnin's home and listened for hours as Chazzan Katz shared a plethora of stories of his mentor's glorious life.
As the evening came to a close and we departed for home, I couldn't help but reflect back to my youthful days at Morgan's Pond, throwing pebbles into the calm waters, watching the rippling waves make their way to distant shores. We had just spent an evening honoring a man, who 40 years earlier had thrown a spiritual pebble into the life of a very young boy, and now many years later the resulting ripples had made their way to the distant shores of Reno, Nevada, inspiring and captivating the souls of a Jewish community he'd never met.
A number of couples have joined the ever-growing ranks of the soldiers of the Lubavitcher Rebbe as emissaries (shluchim) throughout the world. Rabbi Cheski and Chavale Edelman have moved to Olympia, Washington, to start a Chabad House that will serve students at Evergreen State College and Jews throughout Thurston County. Rabbi Shlama and Miriam Landa have moved to Fairfield, Connecticut, where they are establishing a new Chabad Center. Rabbi Sholom Deovrah Lezell arrived recently in Toronto, Ontario, to start Chabad of Danforth-Beaches to serve the Jewish community of Toronto East. Don and Rebekah Braham are moving to Chabad West Coast breathtaking campus in Running Springs, California.
Freely translated and adapted
2nd Day of the Week of Nitzovim-vaYelech,
Chai Elul, 5742
To the Sons and Daughters of
Our People Israel, Everywhere
G-d Bless You All!
Greeting and Blessing:
On this auspicious 18th day (Chai) of the auspicious month Elul - the month entirely, and especially its last twelve days beginning from Chai Elul, dedicated to preparing for Rosh Hashono and for the entire new year, may it bring us and all our people Israel goodness and blessing - it is surely the appropriate time to reflect on one of the main features pertaining to these preparations.
These preparations, of course, must encompass all aspects of human life, comprising thought, word, and action, and in accord with the Divine purpose of the creation of man (ordained on the first Rosh Hashono), and in accord with the purpose of man's life, namely, to serve the Creator in all three areas: Torah-study, Prayer, and acts of kindness, namely, mitzvoth (commandments).
It has been discussed many times that although Rosh Hashono is the festival that commemorates the "birthday" of the world (as we say in our prayer, "This is the day of the beginning of Your works"), it is actually the day when the creation of the world was completed with the creation of man, on the sixth day of Creation. Thereby the world attained its fulfillment (and was pronounced "very good"), for it is through man that the whole of creation attains completeness and fulfillment, in accordance with the design of the Creator.
One way in which mankind differed most conspicuously from all other creatures is that man was created as a single individual, both:
- single - unlike other creatures, both in the animal and plant world, where couples (male and female) were created simultaneously
- single - there being one species, the human race, unlike both animals and plants, where thousands of species were created right from the beginning.
Our sages of the Mishnah declare: "... man was created single - to teach you that each individual is an entire world." Secondly, "For the sake of peace among people, so that no one will be able to say, 'I am a descendant of a greater ancestor than yours."'
The question that immediately poses itself is: The said two reasons seem contradictory. According to the first, the emphasis is on the preeminence of a person as an individual, so much so that every individual is termed a "whole world." And since the Torah, Toras Emes, declares that "people differ in their opinions," the sense of personal importance is bound to foster dissent, and in a sharp form, since each individual is a "whole world." The result, therefore, would be the opposite of "peace among people."
But, when we see that both reasons are stated together as explanations of the same verse, we must conclude that they are complementary, not contradictory.
The answer is that while it is true that a person is a "whole world," and "people differ in their opinions" that need not, and must not, exclude - even in one's own mind - the possibility that there can be a second opinion, indeed even a contradictory opinion. Moreover, one has to regard other opinions - even a contradictory one - with respect, since the other person is a "whole world." Hence, one must consider the other person's view with proper consideration. Then, in addition to such an attitude being conducive to real accord and lasting peace among people, since it is based on the rule of the eternal Torah that every individual is a "whole world" - it would result also in reexamination of one's own opinion, and to more clearly analyze its positive but also its negative aspects, and thus attain the real truth, fulfillment of one's own "whole world."
The same attitude by the next person, and the next, and so on, would eventually bring about accord and peace among people.
It should be noted, parenthetically, that when speaking of opinions, we mean those that are in every detail consistent with the Torah, the Wisdom of HaShem.
"Action is the essential thing." It follows that awareness of the abovementioned thought brings the constant practice of the Great Principle in Torah - "Love your fellow as yourself," with the accent on "as yourself." The idea behind this: Everyone was created by the same Creator, the Creator of the Whole World, and everyone - though merely "your fellow" and not you yourself - is also a "whole world," "like yourself." Hence, you should love everyone as you love your self; and since this is an imperative by the Creator of every person, it is certain that it can be achieved and fulfilled by, and in, every person.
May it be G-d's Will, that, in accordance with the text of the concluding prayer of each Amidah, every day: "Bless us, our Father, all of us as one, with the Light of Your Countenance" - as explained by the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Shneur Zalman, author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch): when we are "all as one," it brings about the fulfillment of "bless us our Father,"
And each and everyone, man and woman, is granted a good and sweet year, both materially and spiritually.
How many "Rosh Hashanas" ("New Years") are there in the Jewish calendar.
The Mishna states that there are four Rosh Hashanas. The first day of Nissan is the Rosh Hashana for counting the years of the reigns of the kings of Israel. The second Rosh Hashana is the first day of Elul. This is the New Year for tithing the animals. The third Rosh Hashana is the first of Tishrei. This is the date that we all know as Rosh Hashana. It is the Rosh Hashana for all mankind, and for counting Shmita (the sabbatical year) and the Jubilee year (the fiftieth year). Tu B'shvat, the fifteenth of Shvat, is the Rosh Hashana of trees. This applies to the different tithes which were obligatory during Temple times.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat is an auspicious one. It is the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana, and therefore the last Shabbat of this year, 5767. The date of this Shabbat is the 25th of Elul.
The 25th of Elul is the date of the first day of creation of the world. The creation of the world is mentioned in the beginning of chapter 5 in Ethics of the Fathers and at the end of chapter six. We complete our study of Ethics for this year by studying both of these chapters this Shabbat.
The fifth chapter begins with a description of creation, as it says, "The world was created by ten utterances." The sixth chapter ends with the whole purpose of creation: "Everything which the Holy One, blessed be He created was created for His glory."
From this we realize two things. First, we have a task set before us. Each and every one of us was created for the purpose of glorifying and sanctifying G-d. We do this by observing His Torah and mitzvot in a public and open way.
The verse doesn't just say that man was created for this purpose, but "everything which He created" was created for this purpose. Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chasidic movement once stated that we can learn a lesson on how to serve G-d from everything we encounter. By realizing and understanding the lesson that has been set before us, that which we have learned the lesson from has been elevated because it has served its purpose on this earth. By teaching us a lesson in Divine Service, it has played a part in the glorification of G-d.
As the year draws to a close, let us resolve in the coming year to open our eyes, look around us, and reveal the hidden lessons that are all around us, and at the time let us pray fervently for the time when all G-dliness is revealed, with the coming of our righteous Moshiach. May it be speedily in our days.
Our father Abraham was tested with ten tests, and he withstood them all to show how great was our father Abraham's love [for G-d]. (Ethics 5:3)
Abraham is described as "our father." Just as a father bequeaths his estate to his descendants, Abraham bequeathed his spiritual legacy to the entire Jewish people. His spiritual legacy empowers each of us, endowing us with the strength to withstand the challenges we face in our divine service.
(Sichot Shabbat Parshat Chukat, 5737)
There are four types of temperaments: Easily angered and easily pacified - his loss is outweighed by his merit; hard to anger and hard to pacify - his merit is outweighed by his loss; hard to anger and easy to pacify - pious; easily angered and hard to pacify - wicked. (Ethics 5:11)
It must be emphasized that these two traits - "Easily angered and hard to pacify" - run directly contrary to the standards established by Torah law. For Maimonides states (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot De'ot 2:3): "Anger is a very undesirable quality... it is proper to maintain the furthest possible distance from it." With regard to becoming pacified easily, Maimonides states (Hilchot Teshuva 2:10): "When a person who wrongs one asks for forgiveness, one should forgive him with a perfect heart and a willing spirit." The Shulchan Aruch HaRav 606:8 states that one should grant such forgiveness immediately.
Yehudah Ben Tema said: "Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion, to carry out the will of your Father in Heaven." (Ethics 5:20)
On the verse in the Book of Job, "Instruct us from the beasts of the earth; grant us wisdom from the birds of the heaven," the Talmud (Eruvin) states that even were (heaven forbid) the Torah not to have been given, we could learn the positive traits it teaches by meditating on the qualities with which G-d endowed the animals. As the Baal Shem Tov teaches (Keter Shem Tov): "Everything which a person sees or hears should serve as a lesson for him in his divine service." When a person sees a beast or a bird - even a non-kosher species like a leopard or an eagle - he should realize that the purpose is to teach him positive qualities which he should employ in his divine service.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
During the month of Elul, a maggid (traveling preacher) came to Reb Shmuel Munkis' town. Reb Shmuel was a beloved Chasid of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism. Though known for his humor and wit, Reb Shmuel was no empty joker. He was a very deep personality, who could abide no falsehood, whose own ego was completely nullified to perform the will of his Creator.
The townspeople saw the maggid's letter of introduction which referred to him as a great tzadik (righteous person), who traveled from town to town only to arouse and inspire Jews. Being G-d-fearing people, they immediately invited him to speak and inspire them to serve G-d better.
The maggid began his speech. Over and over again, he accused his audience of committing terrible sins. His entire speech was filled with accusations and descriptions of the terrible punishments awaiting them because their evil behavior had aroused G-d's anger. Only if they would wholeheartedly repent would they possibly have a chance to be spared. The townspeople were utterly broken by the maggid's harsh words, and they cried bitterly, fearing the awesome punishment.
After his speech, the maggid, satisfied with himself, retired to the room that the community had arranged for him.
A short while later, Reb Shmuel entered the maggid's room. He carried with him a long knife and a stone with which to sharpen it. Reb Shmuel closed the door behind him and then bolted it. Without saying a word, Reb Shmuel began to sharpen his knife.
A few tense moments passed. Finally the maggid broke the silence and asked in astonishment, "Sir, could you please tell me what are you doing?"
Without glancing up from the knife he was sharpening, Reb Shmuel answered, "As the honorable, great maggid knows, we are very simple people in this town. Perhaps, it is because of our unintentional sins that we have never merited to have a great, righteous, G-d-fearing scholar in our midst."
Not knowing what to make of this answer, the maggid replied, "Yes, that is true. Nevertheless, what does that have to do with sharpening the knife?"
Reb Shmuel answered simply, "We were taught by our parents that before Rosh Hashana, one is supposed to pray at the graves of the righteous."
Still unsure of what Reb Shmuel's point was, the maggid asked, "That is correct. But why are you sharpening that knife?"
"Oh, that is very simple," explained Reb Shmuel. "The nearest grave site of a righteous person is very far from our town. For some of us it is extremely troublesome and difficult to make such a long journey."
With these additional words, the maggid began to feel uneasy. He started sweating and ventured, "But you still have not explained why you are sharpening your knife in this room!"
Reb Shmuel answered, "Quite simply, I am sharpening my knife here because the townspeople want a very righteous person buried in this town."
Now the maggid had not even a shadow of a doubt as to what Reb Shmuel's intentions seemed to be. The maggid stammered, "But I am not completely righteous. I have also done some small sins, such as ..."
Reb Shmuel dismissed the maggid's revelation, saying, "Honored maggid, you are still a very righteous and learned person. As for the sins that you mentioned, I did not even know that they were transgressions."
The maggid trembled and stuttered, "But I did some transgressions that were much more serious, such as ..."
Concerning this revelation, as well, Reb Shmuel shrugged, arguing, "But to us you are still a Tzadik; for us, you are quite good enough."
This strange dialogue continued for some time with the maggid, mentioning more and more severe transgressions and Reb Shmuel telling him, "But you are still acceptable to us, since you are far better than we are."
Finally, the maggid admitted to some extremely serious transgressions and that he was not really the great Tzadik that his letter of introduction and credentials claimed him to be. In essence, he was saying, "I am an impostor."
Now, Reb Shmuel no longer played the simpleton. After putting away the knife, he began chastising the maggid for causing the Jews of the town so much pain and sorrow. After making sure the maggid fully understood how one is to talk to and treat another Jew, Reb Shmuel unbolted the door and let the maggid go on his way, much the wiser and more sensitive than before.
In all their troubles He was troubled, And the angel of His Presence delivered them. In His love and pity, He Himself redeemed them, Raised them, and exalted them, All the days of old.
(Haftara Nitzavim/Vayeilech Isaiah 63:9)