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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
by Rabbi Dovid Rapaport
There is an interesting story told about the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Ber, before he assumed the mantle of Rebbe.
Once, upon his return from a trip to Italy his father, Rebbe Shmuel, questioned him as to any new and interesting things that he may have observed during his visit. He replied that he had indeed observed an interesting incident that had occurred with one of the new locomotive engines.
The great machine had been brought into a railway station, to join a line of coaches that would be drawn behind it. Coal had been loaded into the engine and with a tremendous roar, clatter and clanging of machinery, the various parts and wheels of the engine started to turn. Finally, with a great blast of steam the engine moved off down the railway tracks - leaving all the other cars behind. Someone had forgotten to couple the cars to the engine!
Said Rebbe Shmuel, "Someone may be very moved or aroused by a lesson or a moral in Torah that he learns. For example, he may learn how disgraceful is a Jew with a certain fault in his character. His emotions may become aroused and his anger kindled as he indignantly meditates on the wickedness of 'that person.' Yet, these inner emotive churnings may steam away . . . leaving the cars behind. In other words, he may fail to 'attach' his indignation to himself, fail to relate the moral to the shortcomings within his own soul."
This same lesson can be applied to the High Holidays in the upcoming month of Tishrei. Beginning with Rosh Hashana we experience a great spiritual uplifting, and a closeness to G-d as we pray to be inscribed in the Book of Life, and that all of our family, friends, and loved ones be so inscribed. We all gather together in the synagogue and listen to the sounding of the shofar.
As we move on to Yom Kippur, the most awesome day of the year, we heighten our devotion and attachment ourselves to G-d by fasting and through sincere, heartfelt teshuva - repentance.
In the course of the High Holidays, within every Jew the spiritual "engine" begins to turn, and tremendous energy is created where we all stand on a level of complete dedication to serving G-d, to living more Jewishly, to learning more about our heritage.
The important thing to remember, is not to leave behind these "High Holiday feelings." Let us be sure to harness this powerful "locomotive" to the rest of the year, by committing to joining a Torah class, improving our observance of kosher, continuing to visit the synagogue, celebrating Shabbat, dropping a coin in the charity box, wrapping tefilin, and other day-to-day mitzvot (commandments).
A happy and healthy sweet New Year!
In this week's Torah portion, Nitzavim, G-d makes a covenant with the Jewish people just prior to their entering the land of Israel. After enumerating the troubles that will befall them in exile if they sin, G-d promises that He will ultimately bring them the true and complete Redemption.
A closer study of these verses reveals that G-d's pledge of Redemption actually contains two distinct promises: One, that every single Jew will eventually do teshuva (return to G-d). The second, that as part of the Final Redemption, "The L-rd your G-d will circumcise your heart, and the heart of your seed, to love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul."
The sequence of these promises, however, is problematic.
Maimonides explains that the first step in the process of Redemption is repentance: "The Torah has promised that when Israel does teshuva at the end of the exile they will be redeemed immediately." But if the Redemption will have already occurred, what can possibly be added by this "circumcision of the heart"? Furthermore, what does the phrase itself really mean?
In order to understand, we need to examine the two ways a Jew can remain distant from Torah and mitzvot (commandments): The first occurs from within, when the heart itself becomes "opaque" - impervious to G-dliness. The second factor is external, the result of outside negative influences, as our Sages stated, "The eye sees, and the heart desires."
The first factor is entirely within the person's ability to control. Every Jew has the power to open his heart to G-d; all he needs to have is the will. This is the mitzva of teshuva, which every person must do for himself. The second factor, however, is entirely up to G-d. A person cannot will himself not to be tempted by things he finds alluring.
This, then, is what is meant by the "circumcision of the heart" that will take place after the Redemption:
Once the Jewish people will have done teshuva to the best of their ability, G-d will "circumcise" our hearts, i.e., the connection between what our eyes see and our subsequent desire to sin will be severed. In this second stage of the Messianic era, the very possibility of external influences exerting a negative pull will be permanently abolished.
Moreover, this "circumcision" will serve to uncover the innate and essential love every Jew has for G-d, enabling us "to love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul" without impediment, either internal or external. Thus we will reach a state not only of physical Redemption, but of spiritual Redemption from everything that once obscured the true, underlying G-dly reality.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 29
Ahskenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger
Sound the Shofar
Several years ago, King Juan Carlos of Spain had invited Chief Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger to a commemoration of the 800th anniversary of the passing of the illustrious codifier, philosopher and physician Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon), who was originally from Cordoba, Spain.
At the ceremony, the rabbi presented the King with a beautifully polished, long and winding shofar. The shofar had been specially fitted with a piece of silver that had the royal crown engraved upon it.
King Juan Carlos examined it carefully and inquired about its origin.
Rabbi Metzger spoke in Hebrew, while the Israeli ambassador to Spain, Mr. Victor Harel, translated his words into Spanish.
"Does this come from Africa?" he asked.
"No, your honor," the rabbi replied, "It is from the Land of Israel."
The king thought that perhaps it was used to play torero, a Spanish sport that pursues bulls through the streets, but the rabbi explained that Judaism forbids the useless harming of an animal.
"So what is the meaning of this animal horn?" the king inquired.
The king's inquiry gave Rabbi Metzger an opportunity to share an interesting chapter of Spanish history. The king listened attentively throughout the rabbi's entire, detailed recitation of the story.
"Dear King," Rabbi Metzger began, "this unique gift helps us close a very interesting historic circle.
"Five hundred years ago, the Golden era of Spanish Jewry came to an end when your great-great-grandfather King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella expelled my ancestors at the urging of the infamous Grand Inquisitor Torquemada. Yet many Jews remained in Spain by becoming Marranos, secret crypto-Jews who behaved outwardly as Christians, yet remained Jews privately. They observed Jewish traditions secretly, lighting their Shabbat candles where no one could see.
"These tormented Marranos would gather secretly in basements and cellars to pray on the Jewish holidays. Indeed the haunting notes of our most solemn Kol Nidrei prayer recited at the opening of Yom Kippur came from these Marranos who thereby nullified and voided their forced declarations to the church.
"The hidden Marranos prayed very intensely, but very, very quietly, so they should not be discovered, G-d forbid, by the dreaded inquisition who would torture and later burn them publicly at stake.
"But, they faced a dilemma on Rosh Hashana: They could whisper their prayers quietly to avoid detection, but how could they blow the shofar?
"One year, a Marrano who was the conductor of the Royal Orchestra, approached the king and offered to arrange a public free concert that would highlight various wind instruments from throughout the ages. Fond of music, the king approved this special concert. The conductor chose a specific day in September that happened to be Rosh Hashana.
"At the concert, the king, the queen, the royal princes, and the honorable ministers sat in the front rows, and behind them among the concertgoers sat many Marranos.
"Various tunes and melodies were presented, and at one point the conductor introduced the shofar as an ancient wind instrument, and blew a series of notes from it.
"The king and queen thought of it as a mere curiosity, but the Marranos in attendance quietly recited the shofar blessings: 'Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us and commanded us to hear the sound of the shofar,' and 'Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this time.'
"Today, dear King," continued Rabbi Metzger, "we meet 500 years later, under better circumstances. As Chief Rabbi of Israel I am very happy to come back here to Spain. I thank you in the name of our nation, that today Jews can live in your country with true freedom of religion and that on Rosh Hashana we can sound the shofar in our synagogues without any fear. Today, I can, thank G-d, overtly, not covertly, present this shofar to you because you are now blessed with a democracy. Now in Spain everyone can pray without fear."
Holding up the shofar, the king said, "Rabbi, you see I have many gifts and trophies here from around the world. But this gift carries great historic significance, and I am most grateful to you for sharing with me the shofar and the story."
Rabbi Metzger then told the king that he wished to bless him, as is commanded in the holy Bible. Both the king and the Chief Rabbi rose. Rabbi Metzger closed his eyes, and recited the blessing with deep feeling. When he ended the blessing, Rabbi Metzger opened his eyes and was amazed to see that the king's eyes were glistening.
High Holiday Hoopla
Wondering what to do or where to go for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur? Your Chabad-Lubavitch Center has services, classes, meals, and numerous other events scheduled for the flurry of festivals in the upcoming weeks. To find out what is taking place in your area, call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center. You can find them on the web at www.LchaimWeekly.org/general/shluchim.html. And while you're at it, ask about the Sukkot and Simchat Torah programs
Have Shofar Will Travel
As in years past, the Lubavitch Youth Organization has arranged for hundreds of volunteers to walk to hospitals and nursing homes throughout the New York Metro area on Rosh Hashana so that those who will not be able to attend synagogue services will still be able to fulfill the "mitzva of the day" for Rosh Hashana - listening to the sounding of the shofar. Hundreds of volunteers have also been dispatched to prisons throughout the tri-state area either before Rosh Hashana for pre-holiday programming or they will be sent on Rosh Hashana eve to lead services for incarcerated Jews.
Freely translated and adapted from a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
In the Days of Selichos, 5726 (1966)
In addition to the perennial qualities which each festival, Rosh Hashana included, brings with it from year to year, there are certain qualities which are associated with certain years, and which, therefore, are of particular significance in the year of their occurrence.
The approaching year - may it bring good and blessing to all of us and to all our people Israel - has the distinction of being a "post-shemitta (Sabbatical) year."
As such it is characterized by the additional special mitzvah (commandment) of Hakhel ("Gather together"), which is described as a "solid pillar and great honor to our faith" (Sefer HaChinuch).
During the time of the Beth Hamikdosh (Holy Temple), it was required to gather the people - men, women, and children, including the very little ones - into the Temple, in order that they hear certain selected Torah portions, which were read by the king.
This had to take place at the first opportunity in the new year (namely, Succoth, when Jews came to Jerusalem on their pilgrimage).
Since the Temple was destroyed this mitzvah is no longer practiced - until it will be restored again, may it be speedily in our time. However, the Torah and mitzvoth are eternal, so that also those mitzvoth which were to be practiced only during the times of the Temple, by virtue of their eternal spiritual content, have a special significance in their appropriate day or year, which has to be expressed and fulfilled in an appropriate manner (e.g. prayers at the time of day when the sacrifices were offered in the Temple, etc.)
The mitzvah of Hahkel had two features which, at first glance, seem to be contradictory:
On the one hand, it was required to "gather the people, men, women and small children and the ger (stranger) in thy gates" - indicating that everyone, regardless of his or her station in life and intelligence can and must be a participant in the event; and on the other hand, it was required that the portions of the Torah be read to them by the most august person of the nation, the king.
One explanation is the following:
The Torah was given to us in order that it permeate and vitalize each and every Jew without exception - man, woman, child and stranger - so thoroughly, and to such an extent and degree, that one's entire being, in all its aspects, senses and feelings, will become a Torah and mitzvoth being.
And in order to attain this end, most deeply and fully, the Torah was read on that occasion by the king, whose awe-inspiring quality filled the audience with an overwhelming sense of awe and subservience, to the extent of complete bitul - self effacement.
The significance and instruction of the mitzvah of Hakhel to each and every one of us is, to avail ourselves of the opportune awe-inspiring days of Tishrei, to gather our fellow Jews - men, women, and children, including the very little ones - into the hallowed places of prayer and Torah, in an atmosphere of holiness and devoutness; and gather them for the purpose which was the very essence of the mitzvah of Hakhel, as stated in the Torah: In order that they should listen and should learn, and should fear G-d, your G-d, and observe to do all the words of the Torah (Deut. 31:12).
Particularly it is the duty of everyone who is a "king," a leader, in his circle - the spiritual leader in his congregation, the teacher in his classroom, the father in his family - to raise the voice of the Torah and mitzvoth, forcefully and earnestly, so that it produces a profound impression and an abiding influence in the audience, to be felt not only through the month of Tishrei, nor merely throughout the year, but throughout the seven years from the present Hakhel to the next; an influence that should be translated into daily life, into conduct governed by the Torah and mitzvot, with fear of Heaven, and, at the same time, with gladness of heart.
May it please the One Above, Whom Jews crown on Rosh Hashana as the "King of Israel" and "Sovereign Over All the Earth," to bless each man and woman in carrying out the said task, in the fullest measure, and this will also speed and bring closer the time when the mitzvah of Hakhel will be fulfilled in all its details, in the Holy Temple, with the appearance of Moshiach, speedily in our time.
What is the main mitzva of Rosh Hashana?
The most integral mitzva (commandment) of Rosh Hashana is to hear the shofar sounded. The shofar, fashioned from a ram's horn, serves as a reminder to G-d of our ancestor Abraham's devotion in his willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac. When G-d saw Abraham's loyalty He ordered Abraham to substitute a ram, instead. The shofar sounds like a cry from the heart, and as the prophet said, "Can the shofar be blown in the city and the people will not tremble."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
We would like to wish the entire Jewish People our sincerest blessings for a k'siva vachasima tova, l'shana tova u'msuka - to be inscribed and sealed for a good, sweet year, with blessings from every letter of the Hebrew Alef-Beis.
May this year be:
A year of "Arise and have mercy on Zion,"... uplifted in matters of Moshiach and the Redemption... faith in G-d and Moses His servant... traveling with the Heavenly clouds... Revealed Wonders; Wonders in Everything... the building of the Holy Temple... trust; Great wonders... the true and complete Redemption; Dignified Wonders... victory... the seventh generation is the generation of Redemption...King David lives and is eternal; "Those who rest in the dust will arise and sing and he will lead them"... Moshiach is coming and he has already come... the revelation of Moshiach; "He will redeem us"... "And they believed in G-d and in Moses His servant"; "This one will comfort us"; the wonders of true freedom... a new song; an abundance of good (Rambam); the king shall live; inscribed and sealed for a good year... the harp of Moshiach; learning Moshiach's teachings; the coming of Menachem who will comfort us... the King Moshiach; wonders... revealed miracles... a double portion; treasures... the completion and end of exile... the revelation of the Infinite Divine Light; "Humble ones, the time of your Redemption has arrived"; "Jerusalem will dwell in open space"; Your servant David will go forth; the ingathering of the exiles... acceptance of his sovereignty by the people; Rebbe - Rosh B'nei Yisrael; peace... a new song... Moshiach's shofar... unity of the Torah, unity of the Jewish people, unity of the land of Israel; Resurrection of the Dead... "A new Torah will come from Me"
If your outcasts will be at the edge of the heavens, from there the L-rd your G-d will gather you (Deut. 30:4)
When a Jew sins, at that moment he becomes a "vessel" for the forces of evil from which his desire to sin originates. His soul becomes "scattered" and "outcast" among the various chambers of uncleanliness. It thus becomes necessary to "gather" him up, and restore him to the realm of holiness.
That you may live and multiply, and G-d may bless you (Deut. 30:16)
This refers to the three things for which everyone prays: life itself, children, and physical sustenance.
(Degel Machane Efraim)
For You remember all that is forgotten (from our Rosh Hashana prayers)
A famous Chasid once commented: G-d remembers only those things that man has forgotten, but ignores things that he remembers. How? A person commits a sin but later forgets about it. The sin doesn't truly bother him, and he is able to push it from his mind. G-d, however, has not forgotten about the incident. On the other hand, if a person commits a sin but repents afterward, learning from his mistake and resolving not to repeat it, G-d "forgets" the matter completely.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev was a disciple of the Maggid of Mezrich (successor of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chasidism). He was renown throughout Poland as a great tzadik (righteous person) whose love of G-d, the Torah and the Jewish people was unlimited.
One year on Rosh Hashana, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak approached the bima (lectern) in his synagogue, with obvious seriousness. Soon it would be time to sound the shofar, the main mitzva (commandment) of the days of Rosh Hashana. The moment of the sounding of the shofar is one of the holiest moments of the year; it is the moment when we crown G-d as our King.
So the congregation was in shock when Rabbi Levi Yitzchak went up on the podium to blow the shofar and, weeping profusely, pulled a long braid of blond hair from his pocket. The Rebbe held the braid aloft for several moments. Tears streamed down his face as he prayed with deep emotion. Only after he put the braid on the table before him, did he begin to blow the shofar.
When Reb Levi Yitzchak finished, he was beaming with joy. Later at the holiday meal, one of his pupils got up the courage to ask him what had transpired, and the Rebbe explained.
"Weeks before Rosh Hashana, I and other members of the chevra kadisha (holy society) sensed that the upcoming year would be filled with unspeakable tragedies for the Jews. All of the tzadikim, especially Rebbe Boruch of Mezibuz and I, were very worried and finally we agreed to devote all our energies, day and night, to fasting and prayer in order to remove the terrible decree. Despite our greatest efforts, we did not sense any relief.
"It was obvious that it was out of our hands. We needed a big miracle. Yesterday, the day before Rosh Hashana, I suddenly felt an urge to search for something, some sort of merit that might change things.
"I left my house and my feet took me to the poorest part of town. I walked aimlessly until I noticed a house in the Jewish section that seemed to be calling to me. I knocked on the door and a woman answered, but when she saw me she almost fainted. She began moaning and weeping uncontrollably. It took her several minutes to allow me to enter, and several more until she had calmed down and began to speak.
"The woman told me a tragic story. She and her parents had lived on land rented from the local baron. They managed to pay the rent and eke out a meager living by milking cows and selling the milk and cheese to nearby farmers. Life was not easy, but it became even more difficult when she was 16 years old and tragedy struck. Her parents fell ill and several months later they both passed away. Suddenly she was alone with no money. All this time there had been no income so there were many debts.
"She had no choice other than to go to the baron and beg him to give her time to get herself back on her feet. Perhaps he would have mercy on her. With much trepidation, she managed to get an audience with the baron. When the young woman, who was also exceedingly beautiful, was ushered into his room, she saw a look in the baron's eyes that made her let out a little cry and instinctively run toward the door.
"The baron commanded his servants to block her exit and he ordered her to face him. Then he spoke to her in a soothing tone. He explained to her that he could offer her a life of luxury and comfort, with servants at her beck and call and days filled with fun and excitement. Surely, this was a much grander future than being a lowly Jewess with no future.
"But when it was obvious to him that this also did not impress her he stood up and said, 'Let me at least kiss the locks of your beautiful hair. Then I will waive your debts and give you the next three years rent at half price.' Saying this he suddenly stepped forward and, as she turned to run from him once more, he grabbed her hair in his two hands and kissed it passionately.
"The young woman bolted out the door and ran for as long as she could until she could run no more. When she finally reached her home she felt so humiliated that she wasn't able to sleep all night. The next morning, instead of cashing in on the baron's promise, she took a scissors, cut off her braids, packed a bag, and left her home, never to return again.
"She found a job in the city as a housemaid where she worked for several years until she got married. Last year her husband passed away and she felt that perhaps the foul kiss of the baron had something to do with it."
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak continued, "I assured her that this was certainly not true. I asked her if perhaps she had saved any of the hair that she had cut off so many years ago."
Reb Levi Yitzchak raised the braid in his hands for all to see once again. "This is what she gave me. This is what I held up before I blew the shofar earlier today. And as I held this hair aloft, I wept before G-d, 'Master of the Universe, if you have any doubt about what kind of people are Your nation, then just look at this braid of hair. A poor, orphan girl gave up a life of luxury and comfort, in order to be Your servant! Now, G-d, have mercy on us and be our merciful Father, our benevolent Protector, our omnipotent King.' The braid of hair, together with our sincere prayers, have nullified the decree."
The shofar foreshadows the jubilant proclamation of freedom, when Israel's exiled and homeless are to return to the Holy Land. It calls us to believe in Israel's deliverance at all times and under all circumstances.
(Ninth of the ten reasons that Rav Saadia Gaon gives for the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashana)