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Many Jewish customs are associated with our sense of loss over the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and our prayers and hopes that it will be rebuilt. In fact, the prayer book is replete with our requests for the rebuilding of the Temple, as well as for the restoration of the sacrifices. But even though many of us have no problem eating a hamburger, the idea of animal sacrifices is a little barbaric to us.
Much has been written about the purpose of the sacrifices, at great length and from many perspectives, ranging from the sociological to the mystical. Here, we'll present an overview of a Chasidic approach, one that shows us that the Temple service is more than a barbeque with Hebrew.
The main question, of course, is why animals? To answer that, we have to understand the relationship between the categories of creation and the elements of existence.
Generally speaking, creation can be divided into four categories: inanimate, vegetable, animal or human.
Similarly, all physical existence is composed of a combination of four elements: earth, air, fire and water. (When we hear the word "elements" we generally think of how modern science classifies elements by the number of protons in the nucleus - hydrogen one, for instance, while gold has 79 - its atomic number. Nevertheless, it also recognizes four states of nature - solid, liquid, gas and what is referred to as plasma - a highly energized "hot" state. These correspond to earth, water, air and fire, respectively.)
Chasidic philosophy informs us that these two deep structures correspond one to the other. Thus:
- Earth - Inanimate
- Water - Vegetable
- Fire - Animal
- Air - Human
The correspondence may be obvious, but still: Earth has no motion. It does not change. And inanimate objects "are what they are." Vegetable life, on the other hand, grows. That's its defining characteristic, as any one knows who's had a weed problem. And the agent for growth is water. Fire is characterized by heat and motion - the flame flickering - and animals are defined by internal warmth and mobility. (Even cold-blooded animals have an internal combustion engine, so to speak, to provide them energy.) Air is in one sense the most intangible, and of course a prerequisite for speech - the distinguishing feature of being human.
Further, Tanya, the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy, clarifies the relationship between the elements and the four primal emotions, creating a new chart:
- Fire/Animal-Enthusiasm, and
But the chart makes clear why specifically animals must be sacrificed. Each animal that was to be slaughtered corresponds to a side of our internal animal (the sheep, ox or goat within us.) The sacrifice changed both. Our enthusiasm and energy, previously directed - devoted - to the negative, the selfish, the non-Divine - is sacrificed, and transformed - devoted - to the corresponding positive attribute, the selfless (self-sacrificing), the Divine.
The sacrifices of the Temple take an abstract concept and make it real. The sacrifices enable us to transform our enthusiasm, redirecting our energy to G-dliness.
And that's a sacrifice worth making.
This week we read the Torah portion of Ki Tavo - "when you will come into the land." Ki Tavo contains a description of the ceremony of offering the first fruits of the Land of Israel, and gives the prayer that was to be recited by each person as he made his offering in the Sanctuary. The portion begins by stating: "When you come to the land that G-d your L-rd is giving you as an inheritance, occupying and settling it, you shall take of the first fruit...."
The foremost commentator, Rashi, explains that this verse teaches us that the Jewish people were not obligated to bring the first fruits until they conquered and divided the entire land, not just part of it. Offering the first fruits served as a gesture of thanks to G-d for leading the Jewish people into the Land of Israel and allowing them to enjoy its bounty.
As the land was being conquered and divided, bit by bit, the various tribes and families began receiving their allotted portions. Why weren't these people obligated to bring their offerings of the first fruits from their land? Wouldn't these offerings be an indication of gratitude for receiving their portion?
Bringing the first fruits was an active appreciation of G-d's complete goodness. These fruits, therefore, could not be offered until Israel as a whole was conquered and divided among the Jewish people.
All Jews are connected with one another. As long as there remained a Jew who did not yet have his portion in the land, there was a diminished sense of joy among all the Jews, even those who had already received their portions.
This is a deeper reason why the Jewish people were not obligated to bring first fruits until they conquered and divided the entire land. The empathy which each Jew felt for the next is an indication of the true and absolute love and unity that existed among the Jewish people. Love of one's fellow Jew was so great that a person could not be truly happy as long as there were Jews who did not yet have their portion in the land.
The lesson of Jewish unity and love for one's fellow are not ancient teachings but real values that we must incorporate into our personal and communal lives until that time when we will all return to the Holy Land with the ingathering of the exiles and the coming of Moshiach.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
by Jill K. Lerner
Twenty years ago I received Shabbos candles from someone I didn't know. Some nice people were handing candles out to anyone Jewish, and though at the time I thought their gift odd, I accepted it.
At home I read the "directions" sheet that came with the candles but in the end decided that this ritual wasn't for me. After all, I had never even heard the word "Shabbos," and my only Jewish education came from my grandmother who simply said, "You're Jewish; that's all you need to know."
Several years passed, with the candles long forgotten, until the same event reoccurred and one Friday I was offered Shabbos candles once again. By this time I had met up with a few observant Jews and was somewhat familiar with the candle-lighting custom. This time it seemed like a good idea. Determined to perform the mitzva (commandment), that evening I again read the included "directions" page for lighting candles. The information emphasized the beauty, importance, and significance of this venerable tradition, and these qualities appealed to me greatly. That Friday evening, for the very first time in my life, I lit Shabbos candles.
A year later my daughter, Chana, was born. Unlike me, my daughter saw her mother light Shabbos candles every week from the first Friday of her life. When Chana turned three, we followed the custom mentioned in the candle-lighting brochure of a girl lighting her own candle (with help, of course!). For her birthday I bought Chana a candle holder of her very own.
By the time summer came, Chana, at three and a half, was already "experienced" at lighting Shabbos candles. She happily told her great-grandmother, who was visiting for a few months from Florida, all about it. Chana and I always visited my grandmother at her nearby summer bungalow prior to Shabbos. The "directions" in that original candle lighting brochure I read had emphasized the importance of lighting Shabbos candles at the appropriate time so as to honor the Sabbath and not desecrate it, so we would leave before Shabbos to return to our home for candlelighting.
One Friday afternoon, the three of us were enjoying a lively conversation when I noticed the time was getting late and we had to leave. No one really wanted the occasion to end, but I didn't imagine that there was another choice. Much to my surprise, my grandmother suggested that we light candles there at her bungalow. I readily agreed and offered to bring the food I had prepared to her bungalow so we could all have Shabbos dinner together. I drove home and returned swiftly for our impromptu Shabbos dinner. Chana was eager to show her great-grandmother how she could light her candle and recite the blessing, and did so as her great-grandmother watched intently. My grandmother appeared captivated.
I hesitantly asked my grandmother if she would like to light candles. As far as I knew, she had never lit Shabbos candles in her life. I was delighted when she agreed and began to set some more candles on the table. I wavered about offering assistance to her; she confidently reached for the matches and lit without hesitation. She then clearly recited the blessing in its entirety with no prompting.
I was astonished. How could this be? Where did my grandmother learn this? Why hadn't I seen this before? It was impossible to be able to repeat a blessing from hearing a three-year-old say it once.
I quickly recovered my senses in order to light my candles, then began to ask my grandmother these questions and more. She told me that her mother used to light candles every Friday, but stopped when she was about ten years old. My grandmother knew the blessing from her childhood and recalled it when she heard my little daughter say it. Again, I was amazed. The last time my grandmother heard this blessing was over 70 years ago. Her recollection of this tradition did not seem possible, but it was clearly evident that evening. Most touching to me was the fact that, though she knew the blessing, she actually had never lit Shabbos candles before. That summer Friday afternoon, with her granddaughter and great granddaughter, she lit candles for the very first time in her life.
We continued to light Shabbos candles together for the rest of the summer after which we would enjoy Shabbos dinners together. When the summer ended, my grandmother returned to Florida. Chana and I anticipated my grandmother's visit the following summer so we could again enjoy a Shabbos meal together complete with Shabbos lights. This unfortunately didn't happen, for my grandmother passed away just a short time into the next summer season.
After my grandmother's passing, I thought of her words, "You're Jewish; that's all you need to know." I realized that with that knowledge a remarkable lifetime of Jewish belief, faith and conviction awaits and is ours to discover and live. In her memory, Chana and I are doing just that. Obviously, it's never too late to learn and to do.
The Waiting Wall
In the old city of Jerusalem, a certain Wall is waiting. On the way to meet their family at the Kosel Hamaaravi (Western Wall), a young brother and sister share their impressions and feelings about the extraordinary place... the ancient stones, the notes stuffed into every crack, and the birds that nest near the sky. This latest release from Hachai Publishing is geared for ages 3-6. It's designed to be read aloud and for beginning readers to try alone. Written by Leah Braunstein Levy and illustrated by Avi Katz.
15 Elul, 5739 (1979)
Greeting and Blessing:
I was pleased to be informed of the forthcoming Concert on the eve of the 18th of Elul.
The date is particularly significant and auspicious for the occasion. For the month of Elul is dedicated to teshuvah - return to the roots and sources of Torah and mitzvos [commandments] which are bound up with the real essence of every Jew.
The Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman], founder of Chabad, explains in Tanya that the essential aspect of teshuvah is in the sincerity of the heart, since it entails profound feelings of regret for past failures and the strongest resolve and commitment for the future. And it is well known that very often the heart strings can be touched more readily and effectively by an inspiring niggun [Chasidic melody] than by a word of admonishment.
Moreover, the concert is taking place on Chai [the 18th of] Elul ("Chai" for "life") - the birthday of the two great luminaries, the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe, who brought new life and inspiration to our Jewish people.
May the concert event be a great success in every respect, a source of lasting inspiration to all of you, and stimulating the activities of Chabad Lubavitch to strengthen Torah-true Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in the community at large.
Wishing you a kesivo vachasimo tova [that you be written and sealed for good] for a good and sweet New Year.
5th of Kislev, 5729 
Greeting and Blessing:
This is to acknowledge with thanks receipt of your letter of November 22nd. I was indeed pleased to learn that you have accepted the Chairmanship of the Chassidic Concert being given for the benefit of Camp Gan Israel and Chabad Lubavitch Org. in your community.
What is particularly gratifying is the spirit of enthusiasm which you have displayed in this connection. This is surely indicative that you will communicate this enthusiasm to all the participants, and that it will be carried over to the entire environment long after the event itself has taken place.
It is customary to look for depth and insights in everything, and the Chassidic concept of negina [song] is indeed rich in both. It is well known, and a matter of experience, that music in general is highly evocative of inner feeling, much more than other forms of human expression such as oratory, or painting, and the like. Even verbal articulation as a medium of vocal music is on a different plane.
This is why Chassidic negina is so important in Chassidic life, for it is the very objective of Chassidus to permeate the daily life of the Jew to such an extent that all actions should be imbued with inner feeling, even soulful expression. For then every action assumes a different quality and meaningfulness, and even its external aspects and scope are greatly stimulated.
I send my prayerful wishes to you and all your colleagues and co-workers to enjoy great hatzlocho [success] in connection with the forthcoming event, particularly as it is dedicated to the most worthy cause of benefiting Camp Gan Israel and the Chabad-Lubavitch work to strengthen attachment of Jews - men, women, and children - to our eternal Torah and eternal people of Israel.
Send Rosh Hashana Greetings
During the entire month of Elul we greet friends with the traditional blessings of, "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet year." After Rosh Hashana until Yom Kippur we wish friends a "Chatima Tova - to be sealed for good," and even after Yom Kippur we can still wish people a "G'mar tov - a good completion." It is a Jewish custom to send friends and relatives "New Year's Greetings" with blessings for the coming year.
In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and the other kedoshim of Mumbai
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Monday, September 7, will be "Chai Elul" - the eighteenth day of the Hebrew month of Elul. Chai Elul is the birthdate (in 1698) of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement. Nearly 50 years later, on that same date, the Baal Shem Tov's spiritual "grandson" was born. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (also known as the "Alter Rebbe," founder of Chabad Chasidism) was born on Chai Elul in the year 1745.
A customary Chasidic saying is that Chai Elul gives the Chayot - life and spirit - to the month of Elul. In simpler terms, perhaps it means that Chai Elul reminds us not to go through the month of Elul in a habitual manner. Everything we do can and should be infused with new "life" in preparation for the New Year.
Saying our daily prayers, giving charity, being kind to others, spending time studying about the upcoming holidays or any other Jewish subject, all must be permeated with a special energy.
In addition, during the month of Elul we sound the shofar every day to remind us that the time to do "teshuva" - return to the proper path - has arrived. Even the unusual activity of sounding the shofar can become rote. So, this too, must be permeated with the added spirit of which Chai Elul reminds us.
Let us all strive to add an extra measure of chayot to our lives this month, in preparing for the High Holidays, and the coming new year.
You shall go to the place the Eternal your G-d will choose to cause His name to dwell there. (Deut. 26:2)
A Jew must know that when he goes from one place to another, he is not going on his own, but is being directed from Above. And the intention and purpose of this is "to cause His Name to dwell there" - that is, to make G-d known in the place to which he was Divinely led.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
Since you did not serve the L-rd your G-d out of joy and gladness of heart...you shall serve your enemies (Deut. 28:47).
From this verse we learn the importance of joyfulness in serving G-d. The severe punishment of "you will serve your enemy" - becoming slaves - is not brought on because one doesn't serve G-d, but rather when one serves G-d without joyfulness.
(Rabbi Shneur Zalman)
Rabbi Simcha Bunim explained the above verse as follows: It is not enough that "you did not serve the Eternal your G-d" but you did this with joyfulness - you were happy that you weren't serving Him!
"I have not transgressed any of your commandments neither have I forgotten" (Deut. 26:13).
Why were two such similar statements necessary? To teach us that it is possible to fulfill a commandment and at the same time forget it. This happens when one fulfills it without intent - while the mind is focused on other things.
The two neighbors, both of whom were wealthy landowners, had managed to live in peace and harmony until one day one of them decided to do some improvements on his land.
When the second man heard about the work his curiosity was aroused. He saddled one of his fine horses and went out to the outer boundary of his land to see what his neighbor was up to - and what he saw made his blood boil. His neighbor's workers were busily digging up a tract of land that was part of his property, and they were doing it openly and in complete disregard of the law!
The second man, whose name was David, spotted his neighbor, who was standing to one side as he oversaw the work. David gave an angry crack of the whip, which sent his horse into a gallop, and within seconds he was at his neighbor's side.
The neighbor was startled by the sight of the galloping horse that seemed to be charging right at him. As he quickly jumped out of the horse's path, he started to yell at the reckless horseman. But he was even more startled when he realized who the rider was. "David," the neighbor said. "Why did you charge at me like that?"
"What got into me?" David angrily replied. "What got into you?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," said the neighbor.
"Oh, really," David snarled. "I suppose these are not your workers."
"They are my workers," replied the neighbor, still perplexed.
"Didn't you give them permission to dig up my land?" demanded David.
"You are mistaken, my friend," said the neighbor, "this land is mine."
"You are the one who is mistaken," said David. "It's mine."
The two men continued to argue along this line for quite some time, and the longer they argued the more heated the argument became. When the first neighbor's overseer saw that things were getting out of hand and the landowners were about to come to blows, he stepped forward.
"Gentlemen, arguing will not resolve the issue," said the overseer. "This is a legal dispute. Only a rabbi can decide who the land belongs to."
The two landowners recognized the wisdom of the overseer's words, and they both made an effort to calm down. However, when they tried to decide which rabbi to turn to, they once again began to get into a fight. Each man wanted to go to his own rabbi and refused to agree to present the case before the rabbi of the other.
"Gentlemen," said the overseer a second time, "why not go to Reb Chaim of Volozhin. Surely neither one of you doubt his uprightness."
Since Reb Chaim of Volozhin was, without question, one of the leading rabbis of the generation, the two landowners readily agreed to the overseer's suggestion. And as they were both anxious to settle the matter, they set out for Volozhin at once. When they stood before Reb Chaim they each presented their claims to ownership of the property in dispute. Reb Chaim listened to the words of each man intently, and then he sat in silent thought for several minutes.
"There is something about this case that still confuses me," Reb Chaim said softly. "Perhaps if I see the land in question, I will better understand your claims."
The two landowners were more than happy to escort Reb Chaim to the field. Now that the land lay before them, Reb Chaim asked each man to once again present his case. After both men had finished speaking, Reb Chaim suddenly bent down and put his ear to the ground.
The two men didn't know what to make of this strange behavior, and so they glanced uneasily at each other. Because neither one of the men wanted to show disrespect to the distinguished rabbi, each one was hoping that the other would have the courage to ask Reb Chaim what he was doing. Finally, David could contain his curiosity no longer and so he spoke up.
"Reb Chaim," he called out, "what are you listening to down there?"
"I have given the two of you the opportunity to state your claims to this piece of land," Reb Chaim replied, still keeping his ear to the ground.
"Now I would like to hear what the ground has to say for itself."
The two men looked at each other and started to laugh.
"Rabbi, does the ground really talk?" asked David.
"Not only does this ground talk," replied Reb Chaim, "but it also laughs. Do you know why it is laughing?" The two landowners shook their heads.
"The ground finds it amusing that the two of you are having such a heated argument over who it belongs to," said Reb Chaim. "It is telling me, 'This one says I belong to him, and that one says I belong to him. But the truth is that eventually - when they reach the age of 120 - they will both belong to me.' "
Reb Chaim stood up and turned to the men, who had by now stopped laughing and were regarding the land with a sober eye.
"My friends, life is too short and too precious to be spent in arguing and harboring ill feelings toward one other," Reb Chaim said quietly. "Perhaps we can find some way to resolve this dispute through peaceful compromise."
Reb Chaim's words hit their mark and the two landowners wholeheartedly agreed to make peace and abide by whatever decision the rabbi reached.
When the pre-marriage contract was written for Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev's niece, he told them to write: "The wedding will take place, G-d willing, with good mazal, in the holy city of Jerusalem. And if, G-d forbid, Moshiach has not arrived by then, the wedding will take place in Berditchev.