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This coming Saturday night, many Jews around the world will begin saying the special "Selichot" penitential prayers recited before Rosh Hashana. (In the Sefardic tradition, the Selichot prayers were begun on the first day of Elul).
The Selichot prayers revolve around reciting G-d's 13 Attributes of Mercy. At this time, as we ask G-d to forgive us for our numerous transgressions, errors, and indiscretions, we should be equally forgiving of others for their lapses.
Our Sages have taught that each one of the 13 attributes of G-d's mercy reflects a different aspect of forgiveness by G-d toward us.
The "survey" below includes examples of all 13 of G-d's attributes of mercy. The first example (A) is G-d's attitude toward us. The second example (B) well, see how highly you score!
- If I think that someone is going to do something "against" me, I right away start figuring out why she didn't really mean it, or was doing it by mistake, so that by the time she's done it I'm ready to forgive.
- I start getting all worked up if I think someone is going to wrong me. By the time she does what I thought she was going to do, I'm so angry at her that it's really hard to forgive her.
- I try to understand the person and that helps me forgive immediately.
- I don't forgive so easily after a person has hurt me.
- I try to be very kind and non-judgmental even when someone has wronged me.
- I am very harsh and critical with people when they have wronged me.
- I try to go out of my way to be forgiving toward those people who have less than me.
- If it's someone who has less than me, like if the person is nerdy or nebby, I'm less willing to forgive.
- I try to go out of my way to be forgiving toward those people whom G-d has blessed with more than I have, rather than being jealous.
- If someone has more than me - if she's richer or smarter or prettier - I'm jealous and even less willing to forgive.
- I'm patient with the person, hoping that he'll realize on his own what he did wrong and change his ways.
- I'm impatient and quick to demand that the person who wronged me apologizes or undoes what he did.
- Even someone in whom I can see no redeeming qualities, I still forgive.
- Forget it! When it comes to people who don't have any redeeming qualities imho, I don't even bother.
- I am so appreciative when someone does something for me; I thank her and reciprocate.
- I expect people to do what I ask them to do and don't see a need to thank the person or show any type of gratitude.
- If someone does me a favor, I appreciate it and show my appreciation by being ready to do a favor to anyone who's connected to that person.
- If someone does me a favor, I appreciate it. But I don't feel I owe anyone else anything.
- Even if the person realizes that he's hurting me and knows what he's doing, I still forgive him.
- When someone knowingly and willingly wrongs me, that really irks me! I have a very hard time forgiving.
- It doesn't bother me if she is being rebellious or defiant. I understand it's a passing "mood" and let it go.
- Especially when she does something on purpose to defy me, it makes it really difficult for me to forgive.
- If a person tells me she didn't mean it or didn't realize what she was doing, I immediately forgive her
- When someone gives me excuses like"I didn't know it would upset you," or "I didn't mean it, it doesn't help a bit.
- If a person sincerely repents, I forgive him totally and it doesn't exist in my mind anymore, really! But, someone who has no regrets, that's different.
- If I'm sure a person has true regrets, it's still hard for me to totally erase from my mind what he did. And if he didn't, forget it!
"Don't keep score" is probably good advice when forgiving others!
According to Maimonides' enumeration of the Torah's 613 mitzvot (commandments), general commandments such as "You shall be holy" or "You shall keep My laws" are not, as a rule, considered mitzvot in their own right. Rather, these injunctions are classified as broad directives encompassing all of Judaism.
It is therefore surprising, at first glance, that the commandment in this week's Torah portion, Ki Tavo, "You shall walk in His ways," is classified as a positive mitzva, requiring a Jew "to emulate the Holy One, Blessed Be He." Maimonides writes, "Just as G-d is gracious, so shall you be gracious. Just as G-d is merciful, so shall you be merciful. Just as G-d is pious, so shall you be pious." Indeed, the commandment implies that a Jew is required to emulate G-d to the best of his ability, at all times and in all circumstances.
But why is this commandment different from all other general statements in the Torah, to the point that it is characterized as a separate mitzva? What does the verse "You shall walk in His ways" entail that other similar commandments do not?
Maimonides classifies "You shall walk in His ways" as a distinct commandment, as it contains a unique aspect not found in any other general directive in the Torah. This innovation is alluded to in the specific use of the word "walk," which implies an ongoing and perpetual sense of motion.
One of the differences between the soul of a Jew and an angel is that angels are stationary beings, fixed in their spiritual positions, whereas the Jewish soul constantly ascends from one spiritual level to the next. The Jew is constantly in motion, reaching higher and higher spiritual heights by virtue of his actions.
It sometimes happens that a Jew may observe mitzvot, yet he remains on the same spiritual rung as before. His performance of the mitzva did not cause him to progress or ascend any further. The commandment "You shall walk in His ways" comes to teach us that a Jew must never be stagnant, and that his performance of the mitzvot must always lead to an improvement of his overall spiritual condition.
How are we to accomplish this? By observing the Torah's mitzvot solely because they are "His ways" - because of our desire to emulate the Creator. For when we do, our spiritual ascent to higher and higher levels of G-dliness is assured.
Adapted from Volume 4 of Likutei Sichot
From Tijuana to 770
by Esther Chin
People often ask me how I became observant, being that I grew up so far removed from any semblance of a Jewish Community. My answer is very simple, yet profound: "G-d brought me."
How is it that a person all of a sudden decides or becomes interested in Judaism in general, in a particular mitzva (commandment), in studying a certain topic in Torah, or in living a life according to the tenants of Torah? If you think about it, it really makes no sense.
From where does it come, this urge that begins as a mere interest or curiosity and ultimately turns into total devotion to serving G-d? And even more perplexing, why do some people have this interest, this motivation, while others don't?
I asked these questions recently during a class on Tanya (the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy) at Machon Chana and the rabbi told me something both amazing and beautiful, "Teshuva, 'returning,' is a gift from G-d."
The answer made so much sense to me, for saying that teshuva is only a personal choice would be limiting it. Something that holds and projects so much holiness can only have its source in the infinite, G-d.
My personal story proves this point. At the age of 26 I decided to travel the world. My idea was that I had to, just like all my friends, go abroad and see Europe. For some reason, though, I chose a different destination - Israel.
My three-month stay in Israel was the happiest time of my life. I learned nothing about Torah, but was profoundly impacted by the people and the dynamics of life in Israel.
Afterwards I toured Europe and went to some of the most beautiful places in the world. Yet I hardly enjoyed them, because the whole time, I was longing to be back in Israel. Nothing could compare to being in Israel.
I didn't go back to Israel, though, but decided to live in Paris. I felt I wanted to be part of the Jewish community there and I started attending services at a traditional, but not Torah observant, synagogue. This was the beginning of my affiliating strongly with the Jewish community.
Two years later, someone asked me how my life had changed since I had become involved in the Jewish community. I had no answer for them because the truth was that my life was the same!
It was during my fourth trip to Israel that things really began to change for me. A friend of mine had met a religious girl, Amalya, from Jerusalem. I spent time with her and learned many new things. I saw how special Amalya was and I felt that there was a wholesomeness to her that I had not felt amongst my peers. Amalya encouraged me to attend some Torah classes and I began to learn some of the basics.
But I have to admit, that what really impacted me was the sight of the religious women walking down the streets pushing baby carriages with a number OF children tagging along. Women surrounded by children, many children, was so contrary to what I knew. I hadn't been brought up to get married and have kids and even less to be religious. I was educated to work hard, be independent and make money. I had lived on my own since age 19, gone to university and traveled the world. Marriage? Children? G-d? No way!
Yet what I saw going on in Jerusalem seemed so powerful and beautiful. I was struck by these women who were sacrificing so much to give birth to, raise and educate the Jewish future. I was so moved that there and then I decided that I wanted to be one of those women some day!
Upon returning home to Mexico after three years of traveling, I decided to look into Orthodox Judaism even though I had no idea what it was. I didn't know what observing Shabbat entailed or what it meant to keep kosher, but I knew that I wanted to be a religious Jew.
I looked at the Jewish directory for the Tijuana-S. Diego area. There were a number of different choices but it was clear to me where I would go: Chabad. I knew of Chabad from my travels in India when I happened to go into a Chabad House way up in the Himalayan Mountains in a place called Dharamsala.
I had been traveling for days and was looking for a place to stay. I came to a building and asked a guy with a beard if I could rent a room. He explained to me that the building was not a hostel but a synagogue. "This is Chabad," he said.
A synagogue in the middle of nowhere in India? I couldn't believe it. I left and happily went back for Shabbat services along with hundreds of Israelis. I spent Rosh Hashana there that year. I loved it; the young people, the cool rabbis, the place was so full of life!
Over the next few months of my travels, I ended up in another Chabad House in a different part of India as well as one in Bangkok, Thailand.
So, when I saw "Chabad" in the Jewish directory, I knew it was the place for me. Over the next two years, becoming Torah observant was such a delight! I couldn't get enough of it. I spent time with Rabbi Moishe and Sura Leider, of Chabad of S. Diego and I learned so much from them. I also spent time with Rabbi Mendel and Dini Polichenco, who run the Chabad House of Tijuana. But I felt I needed to take an even bigger step and become a chasid.
It was about a year ago that Rabbi Yankel and Esther Ginsburg, whom I met through Chabad in Tijuana, suggested that I move to the Lubavitch community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Rabbi Ginsburg explained that to learn what it is to be a chasid of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, one must live amongst the Chasidim. Three weeks later, I made one of the biggest moves of my life - across the country and across personal obstacles, I moved one block from "770" Eastern Parkway. I returned to the classroom and started studying at Machon Chana Women's Yeshiva. And I have never regretted my decision for even one moment!
Rabbi Dovi and Yael Rabin recently moved to South Africa where they will be opening a new Chabad House in the Fourways area of Johannesburg. Rabbi Dov Ber and Devorah Leah Thaler will be arriving soon in Alpharetta, Georgia, where Rabbi Thaler will serve as program director and assistant rabbi. Rabbi Moshe and Chana Loebenstein are moving to Glen Eira in Melbourne, Australia where they will serve as youth directors. Rabbi Mendy and Sheiny Rivkin have moved to Towson, Maryland, where they have opened a new Chabad on Campus at Towson University and Goucher College. Rabbi Chezzy and Sheva Deren are now in Stamford, Connecticut, where Rabbi Deren they will be the Development Director of Friendship Circle and Mrs. Deren will be the Youth Director.
Translated and adapted
Chai (18) Elul, 5737 
To the Sons and Daughters of Our People Israel, Everywhere -
These are the concluding days of Elul, the month of soul-searching and honest self-appraisal with respect to the outgoing year. These days are also devoted to preparation for the New Year - may it bring all the good to all our people Israel.
It is obvious that this effort should, first of all, be applied to ensure that the outgoing year should be a complete one - namely, that it be both complete (not lacking) and perfect.
The ability to achieve this perfection is given by means of Teshuva Shleima (complete return to G-d), particularly in the last twelve days of the year, each day corresponding to a month of the outgoing year - to make good any past deficiency as well as insufficiency.
It is also self-evident that the resolutions which one makes for the coming year should likewise be perfect, which is to say that one should not be content to strive only for the most necessary and minimal, but for the highest and fullest measure, in all areas of human activity - in thought, speech and deed.
Understandably also, the degree and quality of perfection which is required of a person grows together with the person. For, as a person rises in stature, a correspon-dingly superior perfection is expected of him, since the perfection which accorded with his previous state is no longer good enough for his higher state. Thus, from time to time, as a person grows older and wiser, the quality of perfection in all his activities must rise in a corresponding measure.
It has often been pointed out that man's mission in life includes also "elevating" the environment in which he lives, in accordance with the Divine intent in the entire Creation and in all its particulars, by infusing holiness and G-dliness into all the aspects of the physical world within his reach - in the so-called "Four Kingdoms" - domem, tzome'ach, chai, and medabber (inorganic matter, vegetable, animal, and man).
Significantly, this finds expression in the special Mitzvos (commandments) which are connected with the beginning of the year, in the festivals of the month of Tishrei:
The Mitzvah of the Succah, the Jew's house of dwelling during the seven days of Succos, where the walls of the Succah represent the "inorganic kingdom";
The Mitzvah of the "Four Kinds" - Esrog, Lulav, myrtle and willow - which come from the vegetable kingdom;
The Mitzvah of Shofar on Rosh Hashanah, the Shofar being a horn of an animal;
And all of these things (by virtue of being Divine commandments) are elevated through the medabber, the "speaking" (human) being - the person carrying out the said (and all other) Mitzvos, where-by he elevates also himself and mankind -
Both in the realm of doing as well as of not doing - the latter as represented in the Mitzvah of the fast on Yom Kippur.
Thus, through infusing holiness into all four kingdoms of the physical world and making them into "vessels" (and instruments) of G-dliness in carrying out G-d's command - a Jew elevates them to their true perfection.
It also follows that just as in regard to his personal perfection, which is expected to rise in harmony with his rising state, so also in regard to the four kingdoms he is expected (and given the ability) to raise, from time to time, the state of perfection to which he elevates them (as explained above) - both quantitatively and qualitatively - in the manner of doing the Mitzvos (where there can be grades of performance, such as acceptable post facto; good to begin with; according to unanimous opinion; with hiddur [excellence], etc.) and their inner content.
Taking into account the assurance that G-d does not require of a human being anything beyond his capacity, it is certain that everyone, man or woman, can achieve utmost perfection in all aforesaid endeavors, "in one instant," since the person so resolved receives aid from G-d, for Whom there are no limitations.
May G-d grant that the efforts to achieve utmost perfection in the outgoing year, and the good resolutions to achieve perfection in all the above mentioned matters each day of the coming year, should bring down upon everyone G-d's blessings in all needs, material and spiritual, also in complete measure,
And - very soon indeed - the complete blessing, the true and complete Redemp-tion through our Righteous Moshiach.
What are Selichot prayers?
Selichot are special "penitential" prayers which we recite in preparation for Rosh Hashana. The Sefardic custom is to recite them during the entire month of Elul. According to the Ashkenazic custom, they are recited beginning on the Saturday night preceding Rosh Hashana after midnight and thereafter each morning until Rosh Hashana. (If there are less than four days in the week before Rosh Hashana then one starts the preceding Saturday night.)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
More than halfway through the month of Elul, Jews the world over are getting ready for the upcoming High Holidays. As spiritual self- improvement and teshuva (literally "return") are the order of the day, let us take a closer look at what teshuva really entails.
When a Jew who was not raised in a Torah-observant environment and did not receive an authentic Jewish education starts to keep Shabbat, eat only kosher and increase his performance of other mitzvot (command-ments), he is commonly referred to as a "baal teshuva," one who has returned.
Despite his inexperience and lack of practical knowledge, the unchartered territory he is now exploring is not considered new; he is merely "returning" to his true self.
At the same time, a Jew who was raised within the "four cubits of Torah" also prays three times a day that G-d "restore us in complete teshuva before You." Regardless of our level of observance or familiarity with Judaism, all Jews are required to "do teshuva." How can this be?
The answer lies in the fact that Torah and mitzvot are nothing new to the Jewish soul. Judaism simply "fits" us; it is a manifestation of the essential bond that connects each and every Jew to G-d. A Jew can grow up unaware of his Jewishness, completely oblivious to the existence of Torah, yet he still possesses a "pintele Yid," an eternal spark of G-dliness that defines his being.
"Religious" and "secular" are man-made labels that alienate and divide. Whether putting on tefilin for the first time or resolving to do the tiniest good deed specifically to hasten Moshiach's arrival, we're all in the same boat, steered by the same "Captain." For each and every mitzva is of inestimable worth, drawing us closer to our true inner selves.
You will become mad from the sight of your eyes (Deut. 28:34)
"The sight of your eyes" means "your leaders" - those who serve as "the eyes of the congregation." This is therefore one of the harshest curses, that the Jews will recoil in shock and horror when they behold who their leaders are...
(Rabbi Shimon Sofer)
And G-d shall make you plentiful for good, in the fruit of your body (Deut. 28:11)
The Torah promises length of days and good years - even beyond what is truly deserved - in the merit of children who are raised and educated according to Torah.
And all these blessings shall come upon you, and overtake you - vehisigucha (Deut. 28:2)
At first glance the word "vehisigucha" is redundant. If "all these blessings" are fulfilled, isn't it obvious that their recipient would be "overtaken" by them? Rather, the Hebrew word is related to hasaga, attainment or comprehension. It sometimes happens that a person is blessed with wealth, yet he lacks an understanding of how to use it properly. "Vehisigucha" is thus a separate blessing, that the person have the wisdom to utilize G-d's abundance correctly.
(Rabbi Sh.Y. Taub of Modzhitz)
The Maggid of Kosnitz once told the following story:
In a certain Jewish village in Poland, the entire community had gathered to pray for their beloved rabbi who was hovering between life and death. As the rabbi's last moments approached, he called over his beloved pupil, Reb Avraham, and in the presence of the elders of the community put his frail hands on his head and appointed him as his successor. Moments later, the rabbi closed his eyes, and returned his soul to its Creator.
Reb Avraham was a Torah genius, and an inspiring speaker and wise leader. His fear of G-d and his knowledge were remarkable. He had been at the rabbi's side since his arrival some ten years earlier. No one had actually seen Reb Avraham arrive. One morning the rabbi arrived at the synagogue with a man whom he said had arrived several months earlier and since then they had never been apart. But no one doubted Reb Avraham's credentials.
After the days of mourning Reb Avraham began to fill the old rabbi's place and everything returned to normal. He was busy day and night with the questions and problems of the community.
But one day, an unusual problem arose: a madman entered their village. The madman was filthy, was constantly grunting like an animal or talking incoherently. Occasionally he quoted sayings from the Talmud or Psalms.
The elders of the village went to Reb Avraham to ask him to pray for the unfortunate fellow. Reb Avraham answered, "What? Are my prayers any more potent than yours that I can exempt you from praying? Tonight we will all gather in the synagogue and pray together for him.
A half hour later they were all saying Psalms and, strangely enough, the madman was there too, walking in a small circle in the corner looking at the ground before him and mumbling to himself non-stop.
But as soon as they finished the book for the first time and saw it had no effect Reb Avraham began to speak words of inspiration. The madman stood still, pointed a finger at Reb Avraham and yelled out to the startled crowd:
"What! He is going to inspire you? He is your rabbi? Heh!! Why he and I sinned together! We left the Torah together!! Heh! We ate what the gentiles, drank with them, acted like them! This is the person you call your rabbi?"
The entire congregation was stunned. Before they had taken pity on the madman, but now he was getting offensive. They all turned to the rabbi to see what he would say, ready to throw the fellow out at a moment's notice.
The room was filled with silence, it was obvious that Reb Avraham was going through some sort of inner turmoil and they were waiting to see the outcome. "He's right!" Reb Avraham whispered. "Everything he said is true!" The crowd let out a gasp!
Several minutes passed until finally Reb Avraham stood up and said in a loud voice. "I thank G-d for this moment! We were both from the finest, most G-d fearing families and we excelled in our studies. Everyone predicted great things from us. But somehow we fell. It began slowly: we began reading foolish books, then hanging around with the gentiles until we decided to leave Judaism altogether and 'enjoy life.' Just as he said.
"After a few years of this we finally parted ways. I went into business while he went to university to learn philosophy. Eventually, we lost contact completely. I succeeded fantastically, married a gentile woman and built a castle on a huge estate; no one had any inkling that I was a Jew.
"One day when I was taking a stroll on my estate, my dog began barking, broke away from me and ran to a spot not far from us. There lay the body of a dead Jew. Probably some anti-Semite murdered him, I thought to myself.
"Suddenly my entire being became filled with mercy. I called for my servants and ordered them to bury the man and put a marker on his grave. From that moment something happened to me. I felt as though G-d sent this to awaken me to my true self. It was a sort of miracle.
"Eventually, I went to the city, met with the local rabbi and told him wanted to repent. At first he thought that I was a gentile and was either insane or trying to get him into trouble, but finally he believed me. Another miracle.
"He advised me to take a bag of money, write a note to my wife giving her all my riches and to flee to a rabbi friend of his in a distant place to learn Torah. And that is what I did. I arrived here over ten years ago. I took to the Torah like a fish to water. I remembered everything I had learned as a youth and I quickly became quite a scholar. But although I became the rabbi of your community I somehow felt that it had all happened too quickly and easily.
"Just now my first reaction was to have this fellow thrown out of the synagogue. Then my second reaction was to deny it and tonight, run away myself. I was ashamed to the bone. But I realized that this was also a miracle; perhaps even more than the first miracles. Now let's all pray for my friend."
As soon as they all finished the next Psalm the madman suddenly became calm, a normal expression returned to his face, and he fell heavily into his seat... a cured man.
When the Maggid of Kosnitz finished the story, he explained: "The miracles that brought Reb Avraham to repentance - finding the dead body, the rabbi believing him, the ease with which he left his gentile life and remembered all his Torah learning - were the hand of G-d. But the words of the madman were the opposite: they returned him to his past, to his own faults. When he was able to see the hand of G-d even in them, then he knew he could see and feel G-dliness in all things. This is called sincere teshuva - return."
Your righteous Moshiach declared in Your presence, "Who can perceive [his own] errors? Cleanse me from secret flaws." O G-d, our G-d - cleanse us from all our transgressions and purify us from all our impurities. Sprinkle pure water over us and purify us, as it is written by Your prophet [Ezekiel]: "Then I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be cleansed from all your impurities - from all your idolatries I will purify you."