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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
We're about to tell you a story. But first we have to familiarize you with a few terms.
The first is decorum. It means, in our context, dressing appropriately, specifically, how one dresses for prayer. We're not talking about coats and ties, or dresses - though of course there's nothing wrong with "dressing up" for services. Rather, we're talking about customs.
If you've ever been to a Chabad House you might have noticed that the Chabad rabbi dresses rather formally on Shabbat - a long, black coat (called a kapota), a hat, a cloth belt (called a gartel). And you may have seen pictures of other groups with specific, custom-based modes of dress.
There's a reason for wearing a kapote on Shabbat or a special belt (gartel) for every service. It enhances one's awareness that the moment - the day, the service - is special, ought to be treated differently than "ordinary time." When meeting an important person - a potential employer, a dignitary, etc, - we "dress up." So, too, Chasidim and many other Jews want to have a special decorum on Shabbat or during prayer.
Now, the story: A Chasid was away from home on business. As the time for mincha - the afternoon service - drew near, he realized he'd forgotten to pack a gartel - the cloth belt we mentioned, used as a reminder to focus on the "upper half" - the heart and mind - during prayer. He went to the local Chabad House, sure someone would have an extra gartel he could borrow.
But, alas, that day no one did. So he resigned himself to praying mincha, the afternoon service, without a gartel.
However, one of the people he'd asked began thinking to himself: How can I let a fellow Chasid daven (pray) without a gartel? Am I better than him? On the other hand, if I give him mine, I'll have to daven without a gartel. How can I pray without one?
It was a dilemma, until he thought a little deeper. Why was he praying, anyway? Because it was what G-d wanted him to do. And why did he wear a gartel? To help him focus properly during prayers.
But was that all G-d wanted? No, of course not. G-d also wanted Ahavat Yisrael - manifest expressions of love of one Jew for another.
So, he thought, let's analyze. G-d will get two prayer services regardless - mine and the other Chasid's. And he'll get one gartel, as well.
But, he thought, if I keep the gartel, that's all G-d will get. If I give my fellow Jew the gartel, though, then, G-d will get not only two minchas and one gartel, he'll also get an Ahavat Yisrael!
There's a basis for this story in the Mishna. Ethics (5:10) states, "There are four qualities among people... one who says what is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours - is a Chasid." How so? How is such an attitude possible? For an answer, we have a line from Tanya (ch. 32): "We all have one Father, and therefore all Israel is called siblings in reality since the source of their souls is in the One G-d and they differ only in their physical being."
It's a lofty state of awareness, yes, but one attainable by each and every one of us.
With thanks to Rabbi Berel Zaltzman for the story and his son Rabbi Mendel Zaltzman for a practical example.
The end of this week's Torah portion, Shoftim, deals with the egla arufa, which atoned for a murder whose perpetrator was unknown. If a body was found out in the open and it was not known who had killed the person, the Torah commands the elders of the nearest city to take a year-old calf down to the river and proclaim, "Our hands did not spill this blood, and our eyes did not see." The calf was then slaughtered both to atone for the death and to publicize the matter, so that the true murderer could be found.
It seems odd at first that any culpability is ascribed to the elders of the city which just happened to be closest to the discovery. They may not have even known of this person's existence during his lifetime. What possible role could the city's leaders have played in his death? Why does the Torah involve the city's rabbinical court, when obviously the real murderer is the one who needs to be punished?
The mitzva of the egla arufa serves to underscore the dictum: "All Jews are guarantors for each other." The responsibility for the death lies not only upon the shoulders of the cold-blooded murderer, but also upon the inhabitants of the nearest town and most specifically, on the community leaders, the elders who served on the supreme court.
The innocence of these leaders must be publicly proclaimed, for it was their responsibility to ensure the high moral caliber of their flock. Had they instilled Jewish values properly, such a situation would have never arisen. The fact that this murder happened in their domain shows that something is indeed wrong with their leadership.
The concept of bloodshed may also be applied to the Jew's spiritual life. When a person transgresses Torah law he is ostensibly "murdering" his G-dly Jewish soul with the degradation it must endure. With the repetition of such actions a Jew in this spiritually reduced state can even appear to be a lifeless corpse, where he too is found in an "open field," the domain of the non-Jewish world.
Whose responsibility is this Jew's present condition? Is he not responsible for his own actions which led to his spiritual downfall? Could he not, of his own free will, have abandoned the "open field" and returned to the "city," the embracing fold of the Jewish way of life?
The Torah clearly states the duties of the Jewish leaders: "The members of the greater court were to gird themselves with ropes of iron...and make the rounds in all the inhabited places of Israel... and teach all of Israel." Their function was to ensure that this individual would not fall through the cracks and abandon the proper path of the Torah.
Being responsible for our fellow Jew is a lesson which should be noted by every Jew, especially during the month of Elul, when the thoughts of the entire Jewish People turn to repentance and return to G-d before the advent of the new year. During this propitious month for repentance, when G-d goes out into the "field" to make our return to Him that much easier, let us truly exemplify the love of our fellow Jew so we can all enter the G-dly palace on the Day of Judgement.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
There's Nothing Like It
by Yehudis Cohen
I drive under the redwood arch one last time this camp season. The yellow and green sign proudly stating "You can take a girl out of Emunah, but you can't take Emunah out of a girl" is now behind me. This summer, my sixth as a staff member in Camp Emunah, has had many unexpected and inspiring experiences. I wonder to myself if it is possible to give a feeling of what goes on in Emunah to someone who has never stepped foot on camp grounds.
I decide to try my hand at conveying the sense of fun, adventure, family, spirit and Jewish pride that make this Jewish girls' overnight camp nestled in the Catskill Mountains, so special.
My mind wanders back over the last few weeks of camp. By now, the campers and staff, who hail from France, Chile, California, Las Vegas, London, Iowa, Florida, Delaware, Chicago, Montreal, Mexico, Costa Rica, New York and all points in between, have had a chance to get into shape. In fact the summer's theme is just that: "Get in Shape with Emunah 68."
But how exactly are they getting in shape? Through G.Y.M. - Geula (Redemption) Your Mission - an awareness that everything we do should be to bring Moshiach now. The dedicated and high-spirited head counselors have devised a personal "work out" plan for each camper to foster growth in interpersonal skills and Jewish pride. The bunk competition chart adorning the massive dining room depicts a girl holding a barbell in one hand, a Jewish book in the other.
There is tremendous excitement in camp one one Tuesday as the events of the day unfold. In the morning, the camp is prepped for the arrival of a group of special needs campers from Friendship Circle. Camp Emunah's program director (who is serenaded with "We love Baila, Baila Rochel" every time she gets up to speak) eloquently explains that even though the new campers might look or even act differently, they are in camp for the same reason: to have fun, to grow in Judaism, to make new friends, to laugh and to sing.
The excitement heightens later in the morning as the 7th grade "VIP" division starts loading the busses for a two-day "Shlichus Trip" to Monsey, New York. As part of their trip, they will be running a carnival for campers in the local day camp. They are learning community service and outreach first-hand, even during their vacation.
Lunch is scheduled earlier than usual and campers "ooh" and "aah" as they enter the dining room that has been gaily decorated to coordinate with the festive occasion soon to take place. The 6th grade Bat Mitzvah Division comes down from their hilltop hideaway to honor all of the campers whose Bat Mitzvahs are in the summer. The event is sponsored by Rabbi Naftali Estulin, the Lubavitcher Rebbe's emissary for Russian Jews in Los Angeles. A campers who recently celebrated her Bat Mitzvah makes a presentation and then Rabbi Estulin speaks. He tells the campers about the great privilege that they have to be in Camp Emunah. He points out that the camp was founded 56 years ago by Rabbi J.J. Hecht, whose 18th yartzeit will be on Shabbat. Since Rabbi Hecht's passing, the camp has been under the active and able leadership of Rebbetzin Chava Hecht. "When you go back home, if you hear your grandmother give a krechst (groan), tell her about how Rebbetzin Hecht keeps on doing, building, adding, touching more lives!"
The Friendship Circle campers arrive later in the afternoon. They adapt well to the hectic pace of camp, the cheering of nearly 200 campers in the dining room, the 8:00 a.m. wake-up announcements and the 9:30 p.m. lights out. They enjoy swimming, crafts, hiking, ball games, jumping on the trampolines, ordering ice cream at the canteen, and being with other Jewish girls from around the world. With exuberance they pray every day, each in her own unique way or place; one Friendship Circle camper's regular location for davening (praying) is on the swings, another prefers davening and singing out load with the rest of the camp, though she is never in sync with them.
A few days later I finally get up the nerve to ask one of the maintenance workers, Miguel, a question. In his long ponytail and atypical mode of dress, he hardly "looks" Jewish. But in his demeanor, Miguel is a perfect example of our Sages' teaching that one should always great others with a smile. He has put on tefilin a number of times during the summer and joined Shabbat services once or twice. I ask Miguel his feelings about being in Camp Emunah. With deep pride, he tells me, "I've always known that I was Jewish 'cause my mother's Jewish. I'm not ashamed of where I come from."
"Has it had any impact on you that Camp Emunah is a Jewish camp?" I ask him. "I'm learning so much about Judaism just by being here," Miguel answers, with his ever-present smile. "And I don't work on Shabbos here!" Miguel adds, with a twinkle in his eyes. "I was working in a different camp, but they didn't treat the workers well. Here, I'm treated with respect."
I remember the story a counselor's father, a Chabad rabbi involved in Jewish education, told me the previous summer. He had approached the parents of school-age children to ask them about Jewish day school. "But we are sending them to a Jewish summer camp. And studies have shown that a high percentage of Jewish kids who go to Jewish camps opt to be involved in Judaism as adults because their whole Jewish experience is filled with fun and excitement."
"Camp Emunah, there's nothing like it," I hear a group of campers singing in the background. Yes, Camp Emunah is an extraordinary place. But don't despair! Wherever you are in the world, you will find a Chabad-Lubavitch day or overnight camp (most often called "Gan Israel") that will offer your child or your friend's child a unique summer experience of fun, friendship, Jewish pride, and much, much more. It's never too early for next summer!
The King in the Field
Five good friends spend an afternoon together in the field, wishing they could somehow enter the palace for a meeting with the king. What kind of surprise is in store for them, and for all of us? This latest release from HaChai Publishing is written by Dina Rosenfeld and illustrated by Jessica Schiffman. The rhyming text is masterfully executed and the illustrations will delight the youngsters as they learn how to prepare for the upcoming High Holidays.
Freely adapted from a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
...The general and essential nature of the resolution [to observe G-d's commandments] is: to order one's life, in every aspect of daily life, in accord with the purpose of man's creation. This purpose is, to quote the succinct formulation of our Sages: 'I was created to serve my Master,' and to serve Him with joy, as it is written, 'Serve G-d with joy.'
The nature and end-purpose of this service is: 'to make an abode for G-d in the lowest world.' This means, to conduct oneself in such a way that every detail in the surrounding world, and certainly every detail of the individual's personal life, becomes an 'abode' for G-dliness. And this is achieved through the everyday observance of Torah and mitzvoth [commandments] which permeate every aspect of life.
All this is required of every Jew, man or woman, young or old, regardless of position and stature, as this is also indicated in the verse alluding to Rosh Hashanah: 'You are standing firmly this day, all of you, before G-d your G-d: your heads... down to the drawer of your water.' Every Jew, without exception, is required and expected to rise to the level of 'standing before G-d, your G-d,' regardless of how it was in the past year.
The question arises: How can one expect every Jew to attain such a level, and to attain it truly and with joy, considering that it has to do with an 'abode in the lowest world,' a world that is predominantly materialistic; a world in which Jews are - quantitatively - 'the fewest among all the nations'; and, moreover, to expect it of the Jew when his indispensable physical requirements, such as eating, drinking, sleeping, making a living, etc., occupy the major part of his time and energy, leaving but little time for matters of spirit and holiness?
The explanation of it - in terms understandable to all - is to be found in the concept of bitachon, trust in G-d.
The concept of bitachon is the underlying theme of Psalm 27 which is recited throughout this month, the month of Elul, the month of preparation for the new year, and continued into the beginning of the new year, during the greater part of the month of Tishrei:
'A Psalm by David: G-d is my light and my help; whom shall I fear?' This trust in G-d, which King David expresses on behalf of every Jew, namely, complete confidence in G-d's help, embraces both the material and spiritual aspects of life, to the extent of attaining the highest level of Divine service, as is also evident from the subsequent verses of the above Psalm, down to the concluding verse: 'Hope in G-d, be strong and let your heart take courage, yes, hope in G-d.'
The idea of bitachon is to feel reassured and convinced that G-d will help overcome all difficulties in life, both material and spiritual, since 'G-d is my light and my help.' It is especially certain that everyone, man or woman, is able to carry out his or her mission in life, and do so with joy, reflecting on the extraordinary privilege of having been chosen by G-d to be His emissary on earth for the purpose of 'making for Him an abode in the lowest world,' and with the assurance of having G-d's light, help and fortitude to carry out this mission.
The joy of it is further increased by contemplating the nature of this help from G-d, which comes to him in a manner of 'I turn to my loving G-d and my loving G-d turns to me' - the G-d Who loves me with infinite Divine love. And this love is bestowed particularly from Rosh Chodesh Elul through Yom Kippur, as explained by our Sages.
Hence, during this time, as well as throughout the coming year, this extraordinary Divine love must evoke in the heart of every Jew a boundless love for G-d, as the Psalmist expresses it: 'Whom have I in heaven? and on earth I desire nothing but You; my flesh and my heart languish for You, O G-d.' Here, too, the love and trust in G-d are underscored in all aspects of life: 'in heaven' - the spiritual, and 'on earth' - the material.
Bitachon in G-d is, for every Jew, an inheritance from our Patriarchs, as is written, 'In You our fathers trusted; they trusted - and You delivered them.' It is deeply ingrained in the Jewish heart and soul; all that is necessary is to bring it to the surface so that it permeates all aspects of daily life.
In light of the rule enunciated by our Sages of blessed memory, that 'By the measure that a person measures, it is measured to him,' it follows that the stronger and more embracing one's bitachon, the greater, more evident, and more inclusive is the fulfillment of this truth, through the blessing which G-d bestows, materially and spiritually.
Are there additional prayers in preparation for the High Holidays?
From Rosh Chodesh Elul (the first day of the month of Elul) through Hoshana Rabba (the 7th day of Sukkot) the psalm L'David Hashem Ori (Psalm 27) is recited at the end of the prayers twice a day. The psalm begins, "G-d is my Light" and in these 50 days of introspection and growth it is fitting to add a prayer that makes us aware of G-d's guiding light that shines on us and enables us to see clearly.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Sometimes - simply because Elul and the High Holidays occur with yearly dependability - we don't pay enough attention to a very radical concept in Judaism.
During the month of Elul a Jew is supposed to stop what he's doing, honestly and objectively assess his spiritual condition, and take whatever steps are necessary to improve it. But how much can an older, set-in-his-ways person really change?
Realistically speaking, each of us has his own strengths and weaknesses, things we are willing to do and things that are just not for us. Aside from minor adjustments, aren't we destined to remain basically the same till 120?
To this, Judaism responds with a resounding "No!" You too can change and do teshuva, the Torah tells us, regardless of your experience or maturity. Whatever happened before is past history. No door is closed, no bad habits so ingrained that they cannot be overcome. A Jew always has the potential to draw nearer to G-d, and during the month of Elul, is granted special powers from Above to assist him.
This principle, that a Jew is a perpetual "work in progress" and that it's never too late to improve, is the result of the unique nature of the Jewish soul. The Jewish soul is eternal, unlimited by any boundaries. Nothing can stand in the way of a Jew's sincere desire to be close to G-d - neither logic, emotion, environment or inclination. The moment he resolves to change course ever slightly (in the right direction) he becomes invincible.
Each day of his life, a Jew has the capacity to revolutionize his existence and imbue it with ever-increasing holiness. It's just easier during Elul, when our hearts are naturally aroused to doing teshuva and spurred on by G-d's greater proximity among us.
Neither shall you set up for yourself any pillar (matzeiva), which the L-rd your G-d hates (Deut. 16:22)
The word "matzeiva" comes from the Hebrew root meaning constant, steady and permanent. Do not look at this world as an end unto itself, the Torah counsels. Regard it merely as a passageway to be navigated and a preparation for the World to Come.
The first fruits of your grain...shall you give him (Deut. 18:4)
As Rashi explains, "This refers to the teruma contribution set aside for the priests. [The Torah] does not specify any amount, but our Rabbis said that a person of good will gives one in forty." Symbolically, "one in forty" is an allusion to Yom Kippur. Moses ascended Mount Sinai on the 1st of Elul, where he remained for 40 days, until Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is thus the most auspicious time of this 40-day period.
But if any man hates his fellow, and lies in wait for him (Deut. 19:11)
Although literally referring to a killer who has fled to one of the "cities of refuge," the verse allegorically alludes to the Evil Inclination, which disguises itself as a person's "fellow" while really "hating" him. One must therefore be aware that the Evil Inclination is constantly "lying in wait," watching his every step and hoping to trip him up.
A Chabad Chasid from the Slonim family in the Holy Land once sailed to White Russia to visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe of that time, the Rebbe Maharash (Rabbi Shmuel, the fourth Rebbe), who was also his relative. The Rebbe asked him many questions about the situation of the Jews in the Holy Land. While answering, the Chasid commented, "I don't understand what is written in certain books that in the Holy Land dwell lofty souls. I know the Jews there, and I haven't seen that they are more special than the Jews here."
"Oh, are you qualified to recognize lofty souls?" remarked the Rebbe. "Here, let me tell you a story that I heard from my father about a simple Jew in the Land of Israel:
"There was once a Jewish farmer who lived just outside of Jerusalem. He did not know how to study Torah, nor did he understand the words of the prayers he said every day. In fact, even the order of the prayers and that some prayers are added on certain days and left out on others left him hopelessly confused. So, once a week, when he came to the city to sell his produce, he would go to a certain local rabbi, who would write down for him the order of the prayers for each of the seven days to come.
"One year, in the month of Cheshvan, when the rainy season usually begins, he asked the rabbi to make the list for the next two weeks. He explained that because of the bad road conditions caused by the winter rains, he would now come only once every two weeks.
"It turned out, however, that he came to Jerusalem the next week anyway. He had something pressing to attend to, and besides, it hadn't rained. When he arrived, he halted his donkey in shock: all the Jewish stores were closed!
"The simple fellow was seized by anxiety. Could he possibly have miscounted the days? G-d have mercy! Was it Shabbat today? He stood motionless. What to do?
"Looking around, he saw a solitary Jew on the street, walking along with his talit (prayer shawl) and tefilin under his arm. 'Thank G-d!' the farmer intoned; 'It can't be Shabbat if he is carrying tefilin!'
"But if so, why were the stores closed and the street deserted? He approached the strolling Jew he had spotted and asked him what was going on. The man told him that it was a public fast-day.
"Now he felt distressed again. A fast day? But he had already eaten! And failed to say the appropriate extra prayers too. Why hadn't the rabbi warned him the week before?
"Abandoning his donkey and wagon right in the middle of the marketplace where he had stopped, he rushed over to the rabbi's house. There he was told that the rabbi was still in the synagogue, so off he ran again, his heart pounding from both fear and exertion. 'Rabbi!' he cried out, bursting into tears. 'How could you do this to me!'
"The sage couldn't understand why he was so upset. 'What happened, my friend?' he asked gently.
" 'What happened?' you ask. 'Today is a fast day, I just found out, but your honor didn't write it down or even mention anything about it to me last week, and so I already ate and said the wrong prayers. Woe is me!"
"The rabbi smiled, relieved. 'You can relax, my friend. This is not a regular fast day. We just recently decreed this special fast-day for the residents of Jerusalem because of the possibility of a serious drought due to lack of rain, but you don't live here and so were in no way obligated.'
"The farmer looked perplexed. 'When you need rain, you decree a fast?' he asked, puzzled.
" 'That's right,' the rabbi replied.
" 'Of course. Why? What do you think we should do?'
" 'Well,' answered the farmer, innocently, 'when my fields don't have enough rain, I go out there and say to the One Above, "Father! I need rain." And then it starts to rain.'
"The rabbi looked at the simple fellow intensely and saw that he was sincere. 'If that's so, why don't you try and see if your methods will work here in the city, too!?'
"The farmer turned and went outside to the courtyard. He began to weep. Through his tears he cried out, 'Father! Can it possibly be that the people of Your holy city will expire from famine? Don't You see that they need rain?'
"Immediately the sky darkened and rain began to fall.
As he completed the story, the Rebbe Maharash said to his visitor from the Holy Land, "So do you really think you are able to distinguish who in the Holy Land is a lofty soul?"
"And I will return your judges as in former times, and your advisers as at the beginning. Afterwards you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city."