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Devarim Deutronomy

   987: Rosh Hashana / Ha'Azinu

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Devarim Deutronomy

September 12, 2007 - 29 Elul, 5767

987: Rosh Hashana / Ha'Azinu

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The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

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 988: Yom-Kipur  

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

A Glorious Rosh Hashana

by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger

Jews understand the difference between Rosh Hashana and the secular New Year. Rosh Hashana is not a time to party and let loose. True, it is associated with celebrations as the Bible states: "Go eat succulent foods and drink sweet beverages and send portions to those who have nothing prepared.... Do not be sad, for the joy of G-d is your strength." But the same passage gives the reason for the rejoi-cing: "The day is sacred to our G-d."

More particularly, Rosh Hahana is the Day of Judgment, when G-d "opens the book of memories... and all the inhabitants of the world pass before Him like sheep.... And He writes out their decree."

Knowing the awesomeness of His judgment, many are concerned with their own future: "What will my coming year be like?" Some are concerned with their material future: How much will they make in the coming year? What will their health be? Will they marry? Will they have children? Others focus on spiritual desires: Will they be able to gain wisdom? Will they be inspired with the love and fear of G-d?

All of these desires can be expressed on many planes, with various motivations. When, however, they are reduced to their lowest common denominator, the question prompting all others is: Will G-d give me what I want in the coming year?

On Rosh Hashana, however, what we really should be thinking about is not what we want, but what He wants.

There is a classic Chasidic adage: "On Rosh Hashana, in some synagogues, it is when the cantor comes to the words: 'Repentance, prayer, and charity - teshuva, tefila u'tzedaka - nullify the evil decree,' that the emotions reach their peak. But in Chasidic synagogues, it is the words 'Reveal the glory of Your sovereignty upon us' that arouse the congregation most powerfully."

G-d did not have to create this world. On one hand, the fact that there is no reason compelling the creation introduces a dimension of utter randomness. There is no need for Him to conform to an existing plan; He can do anything He wants.

However, the very same logic necessitates that everything He did create was created for a specific desire and purpose. On Rosh Hashana, when we relive the dynamic of creation, we should hone in on that purpose and make it the focus of our conduct.

What is His purpose in creation? As foremost commentator Rashi states at the very beginning of his commentary to the Torah, all of existence was created "for the sake of the Torah and the Jewish people." Simply put, that means that G-d created the world so that a Jew could study the Torah and observe the mitzvot (commandments), not for our sake but for His.

Translating that into practical directives, this means when I see a person in need, I should help him, not because I feel sorry for him, but because G-d commanded us to go out of our way to help another person. When I do a mitzva, I should be thinking not of the reward G-d will give me for fulfilling His will, but of the fact that I am fulfilling His will. When I am studying the Torah, I should be doing so not because it is intellectually edifying or interesting, but because it is His wisdom and He asked us to explore it.

On Rosh Hashana, our acceptance of G-d as King should have at its core a yearning to know true Sovereignty, and see G-d "reign over the entire world in His glory... and reveal Himself in the majesty of His glorious might over all inhabitants" with the coming of Moshi-ach. May it be speedily in our days.

From Keeping in Touch, published by Sichos In English

Living with the Rebbe

The Haftara of the first day of Rosh Hashana relates the story of Chana, who was childless and came to the Sanctuary to pray. In the merit of her prayers she was blessed with a son - the prophet Samuel.

Eli the High Priest, seeing Chana so immersed in prayer and oblivious to her surroundings, suspected her of being intoxicated - not from wine, but from the very act of praying.

"I am not drunk," Chana explained. "I am pouring out my soul before the L-rd." Through prayer, Chana's soul was uniting with G-d.

On Rosh Hashana we ask G-d to fulfill our needs. Our requests are spiritual and material: We ask Him to bless us with healthy children, long lives, and an abundant livelihood.

Rosh Hashana is the day of G-d's coronation as King, as we say, "Reign over the whole world in Your glory."

How do we accept G-d's sovereignty? By nullifying ourselves in His Presence. When we are completely nullified before the King, we are unaware of our personal desires, aware only of being in G-d's Presence.

This presents us with a seeming contradiction. If Rosh Hashana is characterized by an absence of self-perception, how can we simultaneously pray for the fulfillment of our personal requests?

When a Jew prays to G-d on Rosh Hashana, his prayer is an extension of the process of coronation. While superficially he may be asking G-d for material blessings, his true intention - whether consciously or subconsciously - is the desire to spread awareness of G-d's kingship in the world. By praying for material blessing, the Jew is merely asking for Divine assistance in fulfilling his G-dly mission on earth.

It was this concept that was unclear to Eli the priest. His contention was that when a Jew prays there is no room for personal requests; the awareness of being in G-d's Presence should be so intense that it precludes anything else. When Eli saw Chana praying for a child, he mistakenly concluded that she had forgotten G-d's Presence.

Not so, was Chana's reply. Her longing for a child was not a personal desire, but a wish to fulfill a greater mission in life. This is evident in the vow she made, that if G-d would bless her, the child would be given over for a life of total service of G-d. Chana wasn't asking G-d to fulfill her personal request; she was praying for G-d to fulfill His own needs!

So too is it with us on Rosh Hashana. Although our petitions are personal in focus, the true essence of our prayer is to unite with G-d.

Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Volume 19

A Slice of Life

U-Turn on Wilshire
by Yossi Marcus

Yosef Groner is a Chabad rabbi in Charlotte, North Carolina. His accent is straight out of Brooklyn but if you listen closely you can hear an occasional southern drawl. Fifteen years in the Tar Heel State must have had some effect on the gregarious rabbi.

It's a week after Rosh Hashana, and Groner is preparing his Yom Kippur address. He takes a call from one Harvey Yelnick. The name is vaguely familiar but otherwise meaningless to the rabbi.

"Rabbi Groner speaking," he says leaning back with a smile, one hand cradling a black receiver the other fixing a blue velvet yarmulke on his thinning hair.

"Hi Rabbi, this is Harvey Yelnick, you don't know me but I have to say, you guys don't even know what you do. I've never met you but I have to thank you."

"Well, you're very welcome," Groner chuckles, "sounds like you have a story...."

"Indeed, I do. It regards my daughter, Debra."

Debra's in her early thirties, Yelnick says, living in Los Angeles. She has a great job, loves the weather, even the people. The problem is that each year before Rosh Hashana she puts up a fight about going to a synagogue for the High Holidays. This year, just before Rosh Hashana, Yelnick calls his daughter to wish her a good year and to offer his annual nudging. Debra is a good daughter but she is also honest:

"Pops, I'm not going to any synagogue this year. I'm sick of it. It's meaningless to me. I don't understand it, I don't get it - none of it resonates with me anymore. Why should I pay two hundred and fifty dollars to listen to some rabbi preaching at me about world peace when I could be at the office finishing a report? This Rosh Hashana I'm going to work. For me, Judaism is dead."

Debra's words are like a dagger in her father's heart. Yelnick feels deeply for his daughter but he knows she's stubborn. Once she's made her mind there's not much use in trying to change it. Yelnick hangs up the phone with a heavy heart. He doesn't consider himself to be the most religious Jew in the world, but once a year on Rosh Hashana a Jew belongs in a synagogue. Where had he gone wrong in educating his daughter? Why had he failed to pass on to her the same feeling he had for the Jewish faith?

As he sits in his synagogue that Rosh Hashana, Harvey says an extra prayer for his daughter - and for all the sons and daughters of Israel out there, in Los Angeles, Chicago, Tel Aviv, walking about oblivious to the holiness of the day, lost to the tradition of their people.

Over on the West Coast, Debra Yelnick is walking down Wilshire Boulevard, oblivious to the holiness of the day. She's three blocks from her office on the corner of Poinsettia and she's reaching for her cell phone to dial her voice mail. She decides against it when she sees a Lubavitcher chasid walking briskly in her direction. She'll wait until he passes before making the call. It occurs to her that she has nothing in common with this coreligionist of hers, that their worlds are so disparate and unbridgeable. She stops at a red light and sees the chasid walking over to a homeless man sitting beneath the awning of a Persian rug store. The chasid wishes the man a good morning and asks him if he is Jewish. The homeless man's face lights up and he says yes and that his name is David.

Have you heard the shofar yet today, David? the chasid asks. Don't think so, David replies. Not to worry, says the chasid, as he removes a ram's horn from inside his caftan. He removes the kipa from under his hat and places it on David's dry and matted hair.

The chasid brings the shofar to his lips - and Debra to tears.

The light has turned green but she's not going anywhere. The cry of the shofar now reverberating on Wilshire Boulevard commands her full attention. She hears in its primal sound something she'd never heard in it before: the sound of a soul crying, the voice of a princess yearning to return to the Palace.

The office down the block is now the farthest thing from her mind. As she makes her way back home, considering her synagogue options - maybe that new-agey one, down in Venice - she "processes" the experience she's just lived. Here's a homeless man who most people try to steer clear of lest they catch some disease by proximity. Yet the chasid does the exact opposite - he walks over to the man and treats him like a human being. He says to him you're a Jew like any other. Rosh Hashana and the mitzva of shofar is your heritage just as much as the greatest rabbi's.

She saw Jewish unity in action, she saw a man who valued a stranger and believed in the power of a mitzva. She saw that Judaism was very much alive....

"So Rabbi," Yelnick concludes, "I just have to say thank you."

Groner fingers his tie. It's a bluish-greenish, in a style that went out some time in the early 80s. His ear is red from pushing the phone for so long against it. Finally he speaks:

"Well, I'm not sure what I did but thank you for telling me this beautiful story. I hope we run into each other one of these days, Harvey."

"Absolutely, rabbi, absolutely. When my daughter called me after Rosh Hashana and told me the story, I almost cried. It was the greatest gift G-d could ever have given me. You don't know how grateful I am, Rabbi Groner, you don't know how grateful I am..."

What's New

New Mikvas

A dedication ceremony for a new mikva took place recently at the Federation of Jewish Communities affiliated synagogue in Tallinn, Estonia. The Talinn mikva is the first in Estonia since World War II. Chabad of Pinellas County has begun construction on a new mikva in Palm Harbor, Florida. Both mikvaot, named "Mei Menachem," are sponsored by the Bistritsky family of New York.

New Center

Though Chabad has had a presence in Berlin under the directorship of Rabbi Yehudah and Leah Tiechtel for the past 11 years, they recently opened a beautiful state-of-the-art center. The Rohr Chabad Center includes a synagogue, library and mikva. It provides assistance to local Jews and a roof to anyone who needs one.

The Rebbe Writes

Freely translated and adapted

First Day of Selichot, 5713 [1953]

On the threshold of the New Year, may it bring blessings to us all, I send you my prayerful wishes for a good and pleasant year, materially and spiritually.

Rosh Hashana marks the beginning of a new year - 5714 - since the Creation, a new date in the cycle of time, and everyone hopes and prays that it will also be the beginning of a new year in one's personal life, one that is "good and sweet" materially and spiritually.

It is significant that the anniversary of the Creation is not celebrated on the first day of Creation, but on the sixth, the day when Man was created. Although all other things making up our vast universe - the inanimate, vegetable and living creatures - preceded the Creation of Man, as is related in the Torah, in the first chapter of Genesis, nevertheless it is on the anniversary of Man's creation that we celebrate Rosh Hashana, and on this day we say, "This is the day of the beginning of Thy works!"

Herein lies a profound lesson for every one of us:

Man, the microcosm ("small world") contains within him all the "Four Kingdoms" into which the macrocosm, the universe at large, is divided.

In the course of his life, man passes through the stages of inanimate, vegetable and animated existence until he reaches maturity and begins to live a rational and spiritual life of a human being. Even then, in his daily life, he may experience a varied existence, as reflected in his deeds and actions.

Part of the time he may be regarded in the category of the inanimate; at other times he may vegetate, or live an animated existence; but a true human being he is when his activities give evidence of his intellect and spiritual qualities.

Moreover, the name "Adam - man" is justified only then, when also those areas of one's life and activities which correspond to the animal, vegetable and even inanimate "kingdoms" are sublimated, elevated and sanctified to the level of human quality.

Rosh Hashana, and the Ten Days of Repentance introducing the New Year, is the time for self-evaluation and mature reflection on the profound lessons of these solemn days:

Just as the world, all the world, begins its true existence, an existence befitting the purpose of its creation, from the day Man was created, who immediately after coming to life proclaimed the sovereignty of the Creator to all the universe: "Come, let us worship, let us bow down and kneel before G-d our Maker" inspiring the whole universe with this call (Zohar I, 221b; Pirkei d'Rabbi Eleazar, ch. 11), thereby making all the universe an abode for the Divine Presence and carrying out the inner purpose of the Creation,

So each and every individual must realize that his whole essence and purpose consists in the predominance of the true human element of his being and the 'humanization' of the inanimate, vegetable and animal parts of which he is composed.

It is not enough, not enough at all, if part of his time and effort correspond to the behavior of a true human being; it is absolutely necessary that the 'man' should inspire, sublimate, elevate and sanctify all his component parts, including the animal, vegetable and inanimate, in order that they, too, respond to the call, "Come, let us worship, let us bow down and kneel before G-d our Maker." Such a life in accordance with the commands of the Creator, a life in accordance with the Torah and mitzvoth which G-d, our Maker, has given us, and only such a life, justifies one's own existence, and justifies thereby also the Creation.

With the traditional blessing of K'siva vaChasima Tova, [may you be inscribed and sealed for good]


What is an "eruv tavshilin"?

Unlike Shabbat, when cooking/baking is forbidden, we are allowed to cook or bake food on Yom Tov if we will be eating the food on that day of the holiday itself. When Yom Tov occurs on Friday, such as this year, one must make an "eruv tavshilin" in order to be permitted to cook and bake for the upcoming Shabbat. To make an eruv tavshilin we take two cooked foods that will be eaten on Shabbat, recite a blessing and declare that this marks the start of our Shabbat preparations. For more info on the exact procedure contact your local Orthodox rabbi or visit

A Word from the Director

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"

Thoughts that Count

Assemble the people together, men, women, and children (Deut. 31:12)

This verse concerns the gathering of the Jewish people once every 7 years in the Holy Temple. As any parent knows, young children usually make a lot of noise. Wouldn't it have been easier to leave them at home, so as not to disturb the adults? However, parents have a responsibility to expose their children to Judaism and provide them with a Jewish education, even if some sacrifice is required. Better to bring the children along and miss a few words, than to leave them at home and hear every word clearly...

(Rabbi Nasan Adler)

And they will say on that day, "Is it not because my G-d is not in my midst, that these troubles have overtaken me" (Deut. 31:17)

A Jew must believe that G-d is with him even in adversity, and that He dwells within him at all times. It is only when his faith slackens, when he begins to doubt that G-d is in his midst, that his troubles can "overtake" him.

(Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischa)

I will certainly hide (lit. "hide I will hide") My face on that day (Deut. 31:18)

Commenting on the Torah's repetition of the word "hide," the Baal Shem Tov said: There will come a time at the end of the exile when G-d's concealment will be two-fold. Not only will He be "hidden" within the physical world, but His concealment will be so great that people will cease to realize that anything is hidden! Nonetheless, there is no concealment capable of separating the Jew from G-d. The same "I" Who hides His face is the same "I" Who uttered the Ten Commandments, and dwells in the heart of every Jew.

(Likutei Sichot, 5748)

Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; O earth, the words of my mouth (Deut. 32:1)

How did Moses, the most humble man to ever walk the face of the earth, dare to demand the attention of the heavens? Because the more insignificant a person considers himself, the more right he has to ask that the heavens pay him mind.

(Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk)

It Once Happened

It was Rosh Hashana in the shul of the Baal Shem Tov. In the middle of the prayers, a snuffbox accidentally dropped from the pocket of one of the Chasidim. He bent down to pick it up, and unthinking, he took a pinch of snuff and inhaled it. The man who was sitting next to him saw the little episode and an accusatory thought passed through his mind: "How could he have done such a mundane thing here in the Baal Shem Tov's shul and on this, such a holy day!?"

Through his holy intuition, the Baal Shem Tov perceived this thought, and he understood the repercussions this thought would have Above for the man who had taken the snuff. Throughout the remainder of Rosh Hashana the Baal Shem Tov tried his best to annul the effects of the thought, but to no avail. The man stood accused before the Heavenly Court all through the holy month of Tishrei.

Finally, during the evening prayers of the last day of Sukkot - Hoshana Raba - the Baal Shem Tov managed to strike a deal for the accused. If the accuser would himself, find some merit in the snuff-taker, the snuff-taker would be forgiven. The only catch was this was not to be disclosed to either man.

When the Baal Shem Tov entered the shul that night he noticed that the Chasid who had had the critical thought was preparing to pray, but he seemed unable to concentrate his thoughts and he paced back and forth. He was thinking, "I wonder why tobacco, which is something people like to smoke and inhale, was introduced to the world. I suppose it is because there is some benefit to be had from it." As soon as that rationale entered his mind, he felt a rush of guilt and sadness at having judged his friend's actions so critically on Rosh Hashana.

On Hoshana Rabba it was customary for the Baal Shem Tov to make himself available to answer the questions of his Chasidim, which they would prepare in advance. That night, the accusing Chasid came to him with the question, "Is there any benefit to be had from tobacco and snuff?"

The Baal Shem Tov responded with his own question: "What are your thoughts on the matter?" The Chasid proceeded to tell the Rebbe his thoughts of the previous night, that there must be some benefit in these substances.

"I have a feeling there is more than you are telling me," replied the Baal Shem Tov. "Tell me what else you are thinking."

At the Baal Shem Tov's prompting the Chasid related the entire incident of the snuff which had occurred on Rosh Hashana. "When I saw my friend take so much enjoyment from the pinch of snuff on such a holy day, I immediately condemned him, thinking he must be a very coarse individual. But then, last night, I started thinking there was probably some redeeming quality about snuff, and I began to regret my negative thoughts."

The Baal Shem Tov was then free to tell him what reaction his judgmental thoughts had caused in the Heavens. "Your thoughts aroused quite a stir Above, and a serious charge was lodged against your companion. Fortunately, your change of heart has reversed that ruling, but you must resolve to guard your thoughts carefully in the future."

Every Rosh Hashana, before blowing the shofar, the Shpole Zeide would spend time alone in his room. Nobody knew what he did there and it remained a mystery for years.

One year, a Chasid came from a distant land and when he heard about the Shpole Zeide's practice of spending time alone before blowing the shofar, he decided he would solve the mystery. What did he do? Before the Shpole Zeide entered the room, he quietly hid and from his hiding place he peeked through a crack into the room.

The Shpole Zeide entered the room and to the Chassid's great surprise he saw him lying spread out on the floor crying and pleading:

"Master of the Universe, what do you want of your nation, Israel? If I didn't see for myself the mitzvos and good deeds that the Jewish people do, I would not have believed that in this bitter exile, where the Satan dances among them and everything desirable is before their eyes, they could fulfill even one mitzva (commandment).

"You describe Purgatory in books, but You place temptations and trials right before their eyes. I promise You that if you had done the opposite and had described the temptations in a book and put Purgatory in front of their eyes, not a single Jew would transgress even a minor transgression."

Then the Shpole Zeide got up, passed his hand over his eyes, left the room and began his preparation for blowing the shofar.

Moshiach Matters

Rav Saadia Gaon taught, "In the place where a person's thoughts are, so there he himself is found." During the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashana, a Jew's thoughts are on hearing the "great shofar," (heralding the Redemption) and thus he indeed hears the "great shofar" to which his thoughts are directed. Since 'deed is the essential thing," we must work to ensure that the "great shofar" should be sounded in actuality - to work in doing those things that bring the Redemption closer, when the promise of "It shall be on that day that a great shofar will be sounded" will be literally fulfilled.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rosh Hashana, 5742 - 1981)

 988: Yom-Kipur  
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