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"You can't even tell where the damage was," the French weaver says, handing you the bill of $65 together with your jacket that had only a pea-sized hole but in a very noticeable spot. This highly skilled expert has magically rewoven the fabric and the garment literally looks "good as new."
In these last days leading up to the High Holidays, when we are considering the past and looking toward the future, we are presented with the concept of teshuva - a return to our G-dly source and a return of our soul to its original, pristine state.
Teshuva is about how a sullied soul can come clean. It's the directions as to how the tears and snags of the "garments" of the soul (as thoughts, speech and actions are termed by Chasidic thought) can be mended or even rewoven. Teshuva's effect is so great that something which has been "damaged" can be transformed into "good as new."
How can teshuva have any real effect? In his book, Teshuva, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz answers this question: Concerning a sin committed in error (and one is held responsible for even such a sin as though he had committed it deliberately), the Baal Shem Tov explains that when a person repents he places himself on another level of consciousness: "What I know now I was previously unconscious of." One rises to a higher level, in which sins are seen as mistakes. That which was previously considered an action performed in full awareness is now viewed as having been performed in ignorance.
The very highest level of teshuva, though, is the one in which deliberate sins are transmuted into virtues, when every transgression one has committed is reckoned as though it were a mitzva (commandment). To reach this very high level of teshuva, the individual must reach a point in his life equivalent to the edge of time and world. He must change the very essence of himself so drastically that all the facts of his existence, all thoughts or actions, assume an entirely different meaning. He shifts into another field of being. One of the expressions used to depict this sort of teshuva is "to turn inside out like a seal," the seal consisting of an embossed emblem whose negative face is inscribed when pressed. This extreme transformation requires the most drastic action that the individual can undertake: teshuva which is done out of love of G-d and not out of fear.
All forms of teshuva, however diverse and complex, have a common core: the belief that human beings have it in their power to effect inward change.
Many factors conspire to distance one from the Creator, education and habit among them; habit, in turn, has many causes. One cannot extricate oneself all at once from both the inward and outward consequences of one's actions. For this reason, one transgression creates a situation in which a second seems logical, natural, virtually inevitable. A way of life remote from religious observance not only makes such observance difficult, but also by its own inner logic makes it progressively more difficult. Yet, despite these behavioral laws, there remains teshuva: the ever-present possibility of changing one's life and the very direction of one's life.
According to the Talmudic Sages, this possibility of altering reality after the fact, which is one of the mysteries of all being, was created before the world itself. Before the laws of nature came into existence, principle even more fundamental and more exalted was proclaimed: that change - teshuva - is possible.
The opening verse of this week's Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, begins "When you go forth to battle against (al) your enemies." Significantly, the Torah uses the word "al," literally "upon" or "above," rather than "with" or "against."
This contains an allusion to the ongoing "battle" every Jew must wage against his true enemy, the Evil Inclination:
A Jew might claim that it is very difficult for him to study Torah and do mitzvot (commandments), given that he lives in a non-Jewish world. Then he must also contend with his Evil Inclination, which continually tries to convince him that he doesn't need to conduct himself as a Jew. "The non-Jews don't keep kosher," the Evil Inclination says, "why should you?"
Furthermore, the Evil Inclination is a "skilled craftsman," meaning that he is very good at his job. The Evil Inclination doesn't always present himself as an enemy; in fact, he is at his most dangerous when he disguises himself as a friend. Sometimes, the Evil Inclination will even pretend to the Good Inclination, whose only desire is to improve the person's behavior. This is the worst evil one can inflict on someone, making believe he is a true friend while actually causing him harm.
A Jew might ask, "How am I supposed to protect myself from the Evil Inclination? And how can I be sure whether a suggestion is coming from the Evil Inclination or the Good Inclination?"
Then, of course, there is a more fundamental question: Why did G-d create an Evil Inclination in the first place? Wouldn't it have been better if people had only a Good Inclination, and instead of fighting negative impulses and having to overcome them, all their time could be spent learning Torah and doing mitzvot?
To which the Torah answers, "When you go forth to battle upon your enemies."
G-d tells every Jew: Yes, it is true that you will have to wage a life-long battle against the Evil Inclination. But you should know that as soon as you determine to fight him, at the very moment you resolve to wage war against your true adversary, the Evil Inclination, you will automatically be raised to a superior position. And in the same way that it is easier to vanquish a physical enemy from an elevated position, so too will it be easy to defeat the Evil Inclination, with G-d's help.
As soon as a Jew resolves to fight his Evil Inclination, the battleground is already tilted in his favor. G-d makes him stronger than his adversary, and he has nothing to fear. All of his time can then be utilized for learning Torah and doing mitzvot.
Adapted from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, 7 Elul 5750
Lots of Happy Campers
The Lubavitch network of day and overnight summer camps was established in 1956 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Today, the largest camp network in the world spans 40 countries. In the former Soviet Union alone there are 40 camps attended by nearly 9,000 children. "Friendship Circle" camps, for special needs children, are often run in tandem with the local Chabad-Lubavitch camp or are sometimes a special division in the camp, as is the case in Camp Emunah in Upstate New York. We present you with a small sampling of some of the Chabad-Lubavitch affiliate summer camps world-wide.
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11 Teves, 5719 (1959)
In reply to your letter of 12/13 in which you describe the various circumstances that you and your husband have experienced: You reach the conclusion that things were always not well and now things are also not fine, etc. - from which we can easily discern what your view is about what the future holds in store for you:
I am astonished by your conclusions, when you yourself write that from the entire family you were among the few survivors; you also write about the various maladies and ailments that you survived; you also write about your husband that one could never imagine ... and he nevertheless occupied himself [and succeeded] in matters; that you both find yourselves in a house, etc.
Recognizing all the above, being cognizant of all that transpired not only externally but in the house as well, how is it possible to conclude in the manner that you write?!
Of course one should ask G-d that things become better and better, for G-d is the "Essence of Goodness" and "It is the nature of he who is good to do good." However, one should not ignore the many kindnesses of G-d that one has already experienced - particularly as you write that you perceived openly revealed kindnesses and miracles.
I wish to reiterate: My intent is not to minimize the importance of being aware of one's needs, and I also don't mean to imply that you are not lacking necessities. I merely wish to accentuate the goodness - indeed the very large amount of goodness - which you and your husband perceived with your physical eyes.
Another point (and this is of equal importance):
Our holy Torah explains that the measure of G-d's blessings depends to a considerable extent on the [appreciative] manner in which the person receives these blessings, and that his conduct is in consonance with and in recognition of these kindnesses. This form of behavior enlarges the receptacles and vessels that allow one to receive His kindnesses in the immediate future, as well as in the future in general.
6 Adar I, 5717 (1957)
I was astounded to read in the letter that I received from you that your husband's spirits are very low.
How can this possibly be after the two of you have personally witnessed and experienced G-d's wonders and kindnesses. This [experience] should rouse you to great joy, for "In the shining countenance of a king" - the King of kings, blessed G-d - "there is life."
And yet, notwithstanding the above, to find oneself in a depressed state?! Surely this is nothing but the machinations of the evil inclination. It is my strong hope that this [down mood] is but a temporary phenomenon, and that it has already passed.
Moreover, we have been promised and assured by our sacred Torah, the Torah of Life, that whenever one has been shown kindness and goodness from Above, it is for many long and good years.
Surely this promise will be fulfilled with regard to you and your husband as well. I await very speedily glad tidings with regard to the above.
From Healthy in Body, Mind and Spirit, Vol III, compiled by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg, published by Sichos in English
Increase in Prayer
In the month of Elul we increase our prayers, with the knowledge that G-d is "closer" to us at this time and easier to approach. It is customary to add in the morning and afternoon prayers Psalm 27 which begins, "G-d is my light..."
In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and the other kedoshim of Mumbai
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
We presently find ourselves in the month of Elul, a month, according to our sages, to be used for introspection and repentance.
There is a beautiful allegory relating to this month, and the special relationship between G-d and the Jewish people which exists at this time:
A king had a son whom he loved dearly, who wished to travel amongst the king's many lands. The king, an indulgent father, allowed his son to travel.
Months passed. No word was heard from the prince. The king was worried. One day, a ragged looking young man approached the gates of the king's palace. He walked toward the entrance but was stopped by the guards.
"Don't you recognize me?" the young man cried out. "I am the prince. You must let me pass."
The guards laughed. Could this common beggar possibly be their beloved prince?
The young man reasoned, cajoled, demanded, that he be allowed to enter. Out of total desperation he began to cry. From deep within the palace the king heard the crying. Something sounded familiar. He listened until he was certain that, indeed, it was the voice of his own son. The king himself came running out to open the palace gates for his beloved son.
The Jewish people are, of course, the prince. Though we travel far, we ultimately return to the palace. And when we return, the sound of the shofar - a simple, wordless cry - brings the King to listen and open the gates of the palace and let us in. For this reason, it is customary to hear the cry of the shofar every day during Elul.
Let us all cry out to the King, with the shofar and with our own voices, that He let us into the palace. We will then be happiest, and, indeed so will He.
But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated as the firstborn, by giving him a double portion (Deut. 21:17)
The "son of the beloved" is symbolic of the first Tablets of the Ten Commandments, which G-d gave to Moses before the Jewish people sinned with the Golden Calf. The "son of the hated" refers to the second set of Tablets, which were given after the Jews repented and became "baalei teshuva." The first set of Tablets contained only the Ten Commandments, but the second set came with a "double portion" - not only the Ten Commandments, but all of the details of halacha (Jewish law), Midrash and Aggada.
When you build a new house you shall make a parapet for your roof... if anyone fall from it (Deut. 22:8)
When a couple marries and makes the transition from their parents' homes to their own, the need to earn a livelihood brings them into contact with many new things. They must therefore make a "parapet" beforehand, setting the proper limits and spiritual standards, to ensure that no harm comes from their involvement in worldly matters.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
You shall not wear a garment of different sorts (shaatnez), wool and linen together (22:11)
According to Chasidut, wool and linen are symbolic of chesed and gevura, the attributes of loving-kindness and severity. When a Jew observes a positive commandment, a "do," he draws nearer to him the object or thing with which he performs the mitzva (commandment). When he observes one of the Torah's prohibitions, a "don't," he avoids something that is forbidden and pushes it away. The mitzva of shaatnez reminds us that the two opposing thrusts mustn't be confused or combined: that which is forbidden should be shunned, and that which is holy and positive should be encouraged.
(Sichot Kodesh, Elul 5744)
Reb Shlomo was a very wealthy man and a very respectable scholar as well. In fact, he limited his business involvement to enable himself to devote a large portion of his day to the study of Torah.
Reb Shlomo's love and fear of G-d was passed down to his son, Reb Hirschel, who lived as an ascetic and devoted himself exclusively to the performance of mitzvot and the study of Torah, avoiding all worldly occupation completely. He spent all his days in the study hall and returned home only for Shabbat.
Reb Hirschel had two sons, Chanoch Hendel and Yosef, and each week they would go together to study Torah with their grandfather. To their grandfather's surprise, one week they failed to show up. Reb Shlomo soon found out that his grandsons had decided to pursue the study of Chasidut.
In those early days of Chasidut, there were strong partisans in favor and also opposed to this new manner of divine service which the Baal Shem Tov had introduced into the world. In the entire town where this family lived, there was not even one adherent of Chasidut, and Reb Hirschel's family was violently opposed to the new teachings.
One day the townspeople noticed that the stranger who had arrived there seemed to be one of the Chasidim. Actually, it was his unusually lengthy preparation for the morning prayers which first betrayed him. Then, his actual prayers - why, he was a sight to behold! The cries, the sighs and tears, and ecstatic jumping and swaying... no one had ever seen anything like it.
Chanoch Hendel and his brother were intensely curious to find out the meaning of these strange practices, and they approached the stranger with their questions. They were particularly anxious to know why the man spent so much time on the section of prayer which begins with the Psalm, "Min Hameitzar" (From out of distress...) and describes a Jew crying out to G-d. "How much is there to think about, after all, in this prayer?" they asked him.
The Chasid proceeded to give them an explanation according to the teachings of Chasidut, telling the young men how every Jew is constrained by his own limitation and his own mundane cravings which hinder his attempts to serve the Creator properly. His "animal soul" is forever trying to lure him into the trap of pride and haughtiness, and even when a Jew tries to pray and study, these "adversaries" may cause him to move ever further away from his true goals.
"And so," concluded the Chasid, "when I said the words of 'Min Hameitzer,' I was begging G-d to deliver me from my own limitations, so that I might come closer to Him and a knowledge of G-dliness." The brothers, who were serious and intense seekers, were deeply impressed with this explanation and inquired where they, too, could learn such lofty concepts. "In Lubavitch," he replied, and that answer was enough for the brothers.
When they failed to appear for their next study session with their grandfather, he assumed that something had come up and paid little attention to it. It was only the following week, when they again didn't come that he decided to discover the reason for their absence. When he was told that they had been seen speaking with the Chasidic stranger, their grandfather understood immediately what had occurred.
Reb Shlomo dispatched a messenger to bring the young men home, but it was too late. They had already arrived in Lubavitch, and were so immersed in the wonders they had discovered there, that no inducement could convince them to return home. They had chosen their true path.
Once, during that first year, the Tzemach Tzedek (Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe) delivered a Chasidic discourse which affected the young Hendel so deeply that he fell faint to the floor. Thereafter the Rebbe instructed that he be brought outside during these talks so that he not endanger himself by his soul ascending to such lofty heights.
Many years later, the Rebbe Rashab (Rabbi Sholom Ber, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe) sent Reb Hendel to a newly opened branch of the Lubavitcher yeshiva in Zembin to observe its progress and report back to him. Upon his return, he was called to the Rebbe's study and asked what he thought of the new yeshiva. He expressed his concern that since "They go on and on so much about Chasidut, they might forget about the 'Giver of the Torah.'" For Reb Hendel, there was nothing other than G-d, and undue intellectualizing could cause a student to fall.
The many stories told about Reb Hendel illustrate his utter truth and constant striving. When the young students would stand before the Rebbe Rashab's office waiting for their individual moments with the Rebbe, Reb Hendel would say to each of them, with tears streaming down his face, "Children, don't tell the Rebbe what you want to say. Tell the Rebbe what you don't want to mention! The Rebbe will give you a proper tikkun [spiritual correction] and pull you up out of the mud."
The Tzemach Tzedek, Rabbi Menachem Mendel (the third Chabad Rebbe) once taught a Chasidic discourse that implied that Moses was loftier than Moshiach. He was distressed by this, and fell asleep. His grandfather, Rabbi Shneur Zalman (founder of Chabad Chasidism) appeared to him in a dream and said: "Moses has a unique distinction and so too does Moshiach. Moses was a physician with practical experience, and that is why the practical commandments were given through him; Moshiach is not a physician with practical experience, and that is why he will reveal the innermost dimension, of the Torah."
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)