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"Economic indicators" indicate that the economy is beginning to turn around. Economists point out, though, that it still takes time to climb out of a recession like this. So even though we are hopefully in the beginning of a recovery, times may still be tough for a while.
Even in the best of times, many of us sometimes find ourselves with a "cash flow" problem: It's not that we don't have money, we just don't have it right now when we need it.
Or sometimes we miscalculate, thinking we have more in the bank account than we do.
In either case, we find out that we're overdrawn. And then the bank starts charging us $30 (or more) per bounced check, and the deficit snowballs.
However, many banks offer what they call "overdraft protection." It comes in different forms, but one basic set-up is that when your checking account becomes overdrawn, there's an automatic transfer of funds from your savings account. Another version creates an instant loan. Either way, you have access to funds that prevent your checks from bouncing and protect you from being charged an overdraft fee. Overdraft protection also protects your credit.
We can look at our deeds - our thought, speech and action - as deposits or withdrawals, as an asset (a mitzva) or a liability (a transgression) in our spiritual bank account. This idea fits with the theme of Elul and Tishrei - a spiritual accounting in Elul, in preparation for the Divine audit in Tishrei.
When we do something that G-d forbids (G-d forbid!), whether in thought, speech or action, we are withdrawing funds from our spiritual bank account, so to speak. Of course, we're also making deposits, with all of the many wonderful good deeds and mitzvot (commandments) that we perform daily, as the saying goes, "Even the simplest Jew is as full of good deeds as a pomegranate is of seeds."
But still, there may be times when we are "spiritually overdrawn." For whatever reason, an accurate assessment shows that, on balance, we've got more spiritual liabilities than assets, and payment is due now.
Our Sages teach that mitzvot and transgressions are measured qualitatively as well as quantitatively. Thus, one small mitzva may outweigh tens or even hundreds of transgressions (and vice versa). It's possible that we might have a huge cache to our credit. But it's also possible that unknowingly, we may be "overdrawn": payment is due and our spiritual credit rating is suffering.
We can prevent this; we can set up a spiritual "overdraft protection," by conducting ourselves in accordance with G-d's kindnesses, that are "without limit or end." By acting with chesed - kindness and compassion, we "draw down upon ourselves the Supreme compassion" - an overdraft protection from the Source of unlimited, infinite Chesed.
How do we do this? How do we conduct ourselves with a kindness that knows no bounds? Through giving tzedeka - charity.
When we give tzedeka above and beyond the requisite amount (10%), when we give it just because and on a regular basis, we create an "overdraft protection."
This is why our Sages tell us that giving tzedeka brings redemption, both on a personal basis, during the High Holiday spiritual accounting, and also globally, that tzedeka brings the ultimate redemption of the world through Moshiach.
This week we read two Torah portions, Nitzavim and Vayeilech. The portion of Nitzavim is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana. It begins with Moses' address to the Jewish people, "You are standing today, all of you, before the L-rd your G-d..." This invocation is both general and specific. It mentions the individual classes of Jews, from the heads of the tribes to the drawers of water. And it gathers them all into the collective phrase, "all of you."
This is in itself something of a contradiction. The verse begins by speaking to Israel as a unity - "You are standing...all of you" - without making any distinctions. But immediately afterwards, it proceeds to detail the different classes of Jews. Why, in any case, did it need to do so, when the phrase "all of You" already encompasses them all?
This was done in order to make a fundamental point: that on the one hand, there must be unity among Jews; and, at the same time, each has his unique contribution to make, his own individual mission.
But if there have to be distinctions among Jews, especially ones as extreme as that between "your heads" and "the drawer of your water," how can there be true unity among them? The verse supplies its own answer. "You are standing today, all of you, before the L-rd your G-d. It is when Jews stand before G-d, in the full recognition that He is the author of their powers and the foundation of their being, that they are one.
This can be explained by a simple analogy. When men from a group or community unite for a specific purpose, economic, intellectual or whatever, they share their money or labor or ideas towards a given end and for a specified time. Outside this partnership they remain separate individuals, each with his own private word.
Yet, the community of Israel is a partnership "before the L-rd your G-d" and its purpose is that you should enter into the covenant of the L-rd your G-d, and into His oath..." This partnership encompasses the whole person - not just his labor or his ideas - each according to his capacity. And it is a partnership in perpetuity, as eternal as the Torah. This is true unity.
Moreover, the effort of each Jew playing his unique part in the covenant is implicit to the work of the whole community. The unity of Israel is created not by every Jew being the same, but by his own unique role in fulfilling the directives of "the L-rd your G-d." Israel is one before G-d when, and only when, each Jew fulfills the mission which is his alone.
From "Torah Studies" by Jonathan Sacks, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
A Miracle Bar Mitzva
by Rabbi Refoel Jaworowski
A Bar Mitzva is a solemn and momentous turning point in the life of every Jewish teen, and it is a proud and poignant experience for his parents. But for the Lev family it was much more than that; it was a miracle.
Baruch and Olga Lev immigrated to the United State from Russia, where Jewish observance had been persecuted by government authorities. In coming to America, the Levs happily anticipated the freedom to raise their son Alex with a strong Jewish education and religious training in the tenets and practices of Judaism. They dreamed of the Bar Mitzva celebration they would hold for him, and the wonderful Yiddishe nachas (Jewish pride) they would have in seeing him formally assume the responsibilities of Jewish adulthood.
But in December 2008 tragedy struck: a devastating accident left twelve year-old Alex Lev a paraplegic, destroying his prospects of leading a normal teenage life. During the months following the accident, while he was shifted from one hospital to another undergoing various treatments, his family worked on developing coping strategies and keeping everyone's spirits up.
As the date of his Bar Mitzva approached in June 2009 Alex was still hospitalized, and was capable of only very limited communication. The blessings marking the traditional Bar Mitzva rite of passage would be very difficult for him, and the challenges involved in organizing a suitable prayer service and accompanying celebration with Alex still in hospital would have seemed insurmountable to many.
But local rabbis from various social services organizations refused to allow the Lev family's dream to be obliterated. Chai Lifeline, Chai Center, Lubavitch Chabad of Wilmette, and the Chicago Mitzvah Campaign were determined to provide Alex with every opportunity to celebrate his Bar Mitzva in style. Baruch and Olga were amazed at what these dedicated and resourceful organizations were able to accomplish.
Rabbi Shlomo Crandall of Chai Lifeline, Rabbi Aron Wolf of the Chicago Mitzvah Campaign and Rabbi Dovid Flinkenstein of Chabad of Wilmette teamed up to throw a Bar Mitzva celebration that will be long remembered by Baruch, Olga, Alex and their guests. The mezzanine floor of the Chicago Rehabilitation Center was converted into a makeshift synagogue for the prayer service. Baruch and Alex were both called to the Torah that was brought in especially for the occasion, and recited the blessings. Despite Alex's physical difficulties, Rabbi Aron Wolf assisted him to put on and pray with his new pair of tefilin that were happily donated by the Chicago Mitzvah Campaign.
The formal prayer service was followed by a joyous celebration, with a professional musician and photographer adding to the festivities and the delicious refreshments provided by local caterers. These volunteers all teamed up together with the above-mentioned organizations in providing all the services necessary to facilitate this amazing event. A group of Cheder Lubavitch yeshiva students enhanced the merriment with their high spirits and lively singing and dancing. Speakers at the celebration included hospital nurses and therapists as well as Baruch, who spoke to the gathering about the meaning of a Bar Mitzva, and thanked everyone for giving of themselves to help make the affair such an uplifting and memorable occasion for Alex.
Indeed, the uplifting emotions and the memories of Alex Lev's "Miracle Bar Mitzva" are sure to live on for a very long time for all those who were present.
Fulfilling the important mitzva of tefilin was not a one-time experience for Alex at his "miracle" Bar Mitzva. Alex continues to put on tefilin every weekday, with the help of his father, despite his physical impairments.
The Lev family has a wonderful appreciation for the Chicago Mitzvah Campaign, Chabad of Wilmette, Illinois and Chai Lifeline for their ongoing support during the nine months since Alex's accident. As it does for numerous families in hospitals throughout Chicago, the Chicago Mitzvah Campaign continues to provide special Shabbat meals in the hospital every week for Baruch and Olga, who spend countless days and nights with Alex in the hospital.
Chai Lifeline, which has provided emotional, social and financial support to the Lev family since Alex's accident, continues to offer its special assistance to the family, and for this Baruch and Olga are extremely grateful.
Alex came home from the hospital on August 17, although he is still in need of continuous medical intervention. The family requests that everyone keep Alex in mind and pray for his complete recovery. Alex's Hebrew name is Binyomin ben (son of) Olga. Reprinted with permission from chicagomitzvahcampaign.com
Rabbi Bentzion and Mashie Butman, and their two young children, will be arriving soon in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. They will be establishing a new Chabad-Lubavitch center in this Asian country. The Butmans led Passover seders there this past year.
A new Chabad Center in Palermo Soho, a popular bohemian neighborhood in Buenos Aires, Argentina, had a gala dedication ceremony this past month. The new center is under the directorship of Rabbi Tzvi and Rivka Lipinski who have been organizing Jewish programs in the area for a number of years. The new center brings the number of Chabad Centers in Buenos Aires alone to 22.
The first two paragraphs are translated from Hebrew. The rest of the letter is in the Rebbe's original English
10 Kislev, 5740-1980
Concerning the notification that you will soon be entering the age of mitzvos [commandments], it should be G-d's will that from 13 years of age you will grow to 15, etc. as it says in the Mishnah (Avos ch. 5), and you will increase in studiousness and diligence in the study of Torah, the revealed Torah and Chassidus, and you will be careful in the performance of mitzvos, and G-d will make you successful to be a Chassid, a fearer of Heaven, and a scholar.
P.S. The following is written in the "language of the land" so that he will be able, if he wants, to show it to his friends, in the spirit of the commandment of "And you shall love your neighbor as yourself," that if in all matters one must look for the good of others, how much more so in matters of Judaism, Torah and its mitzvos.
At first glance, it is strange that the day of Bar Mitzvah, which is so important that the Zohar declares that for the Bar Mitzvah boy it is almost like the day of Matan Torah (when Jews first received the Torah and mitzvos), yet, insofar as Tachnun [a special penitential prayer] is concerned, which is omitted even on the so-called "Minor Holidays," if it does not occur on Shabbos or Yom Tov (or another day that Tachnun is not said) - Tachnun is said by the Bar Mitzvah boy, as on any ordinary weekday.
One of the explanations is as follows:
When one considers that human capacities are limited in general, especially the capacities of a boy at the start of his fourteenth year, yet he must assume all the duties and responsibilities of a full-fledged Jew; and, moreover, fulfill them with joy, in keeping with the rule: Serve G-d with joy - the question begs itself: How is he going to carry out all that is expected of him, especially being a member of a people which is a small minority among the nations of the world; and even in this country, where one has every opportunity to carry out all religious duties, but most are more interested and engaged in the material aspects of life?
The answer is that the Torah and mitzvos have been given by G-d, the Creator of the world, and of man, and He knows all the difficulties that a Jew may encounter. G-d has surely provided every Jew with the necessary strength to overcome any and all difficulties to live up to G-d's Will, for G-d would not expect someone to do something which is beyond his capacity.
If, however, there should be a moment of weakness, when carrying out G-d's Will is not in the fullest measure of perfection, G-d in His infinite goodness makes it possible to "say Tachnun" - to do Teshuvah [repent]. Indeed, as the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism] explains, teshuvah is basically for the lack of perfection in Avodas Hashem [G-dly service].
Therefore, on the first day of becoming a full-fledged Jew, and after fulfilling the very first mitzvah, namely, the saying of the Shema, by which a Jew declares his total commitment to G-d and obedience to all His commandments, the Bar Mitzvah boy does say Tachnun the following morning and afternoon (provided it is not Shabbs or Yom Tov, etc.), for the essence of Tachnun is teshuvah, and there is the assurance that "Nothing stands in the way of teshuvah."
This knowledge will, moreover, also stand him in good stead when he will involve himself in the great mitzvah of v'ahavto lre'acho kamocho [loving one's fellow Jew as oneself], to bring the alienated closer to Judaism. For remembering the rule that "Nothing stands in the way of teshuvah," he will eagerly and compassionately apply it to them, especially when in most cases, the failure to observe fully the Torah and mitzvos is due to extenuating circumstances.
With all the above in mind, and being fortunate in growing up in a family where Yiddishkeit [Judaism]is a living experience in your everyday life, you will start out on your way of life as a full-fledged Jew with confidence, and will proceed from strength to strength, and be a source of true pride and joy to your dear parents and family, and to all our Jewish people.
Say the Special Selichot Prayers
Saturday evening, September 12, after midnight, the first Selichot ("prayers for forgiveness") will be said in synagogues throughout the world. From Monday morning through the eve of Rosh Hashana the Selichot prayers are said in the early morning. Go with the whole family Saturday night, let the kids stay up late! This is a real, "hands-on" Jewish experience that is bound to be remembered for months if not years. Call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center for exact time and the location nearest you.
In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and the other kedoshim of Mumbai
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Saturday night, in preparation for the High Holy Days, we will begin saying the special set of penitential prayers known as "Selichot."
There is a story about a Chasid who came into a small town during the days before Rosh Hashana. Over Shabbat he stayed at an inn that was managed by a simple Jew. Late Saturday night, the innkeeper and his wife readied themselves to go to the synagogue to say the Selichot prayers.
"Where are you going?" asked the chasid.
Answered the innkeeper, "Our cow gives milk, the vegetables are growing. Our orchard produces fine fruits. We are going to shul to say selichot."
"Feh," said the chasid emphatically. "Old people get up in the middle of the night to ask the Alm-ghty for food?"
In truth, we should and are required to ask G-d for food and all of our other necessities. However, selichot is not the time to be asking G-d for these things.
Selichot means forgiveness. More than forgiveness, it means making amends. We recharge our batteries, return to our Source, and make an accounting of what we did last year. We contemplate on how we can improve in the coming year and begin to put our thoughts into action.
If we make sure that our Selichot prayers contain all of the above, the Alm-ghty will certainly give us not only the food and other necessities that the simple innkeeper prayed for, but a good year in all material and spiritual areas as well.
You are standing this day, all of you, before the L-rd your G-d... (Deut. 29:9)
"All of you" before your G-d, all of you equal in His eyes. There are no "leaders, elders, officers" more important than the "hewers of wood and drawers of water."
To cause you to pass into the covenant of the L-rd your G-d and into His oath (Deut.29:11).
In Biblical times, when entering into a covenant, the two parties involved would take an object and cut it in two, then pass together between the pieces. The first impression one gets from such a symbolic act is that of disunity. However, the real message is that each of the parties was only a half, dependent on the other for fulfillment. This is the type of covenant that the Jewish people has with G-d.
Because my G-d is not in my midst have I found these troubles (Deut. 31:17).
The Baal Shem Tov taught that when a person sees bad in his neighbor, it is because he has a similar blemish of his own: the other person is a mirror, showing us ourselves. The second Chabad Rebbe, R. Dov Ber, paraphrased this verse to bring out the above point. "Because G-d is not in me do I notice this evil."
I will hide My face on that day (Deut. 31:18)
"Hiding" generally implies that we do not know where the other person is. However if we know that the person is on the other side of the obstacle, and it is merely that we do not see him, he is not truly hidden. G-d is encouraging us: Even though I am not visible I am standing close by.
(Based on the Baal Shem Tov)
It was a chilly, windy day when the Baal Shem Tov stepped into his carriage, and as was his custom, allowed the horses to run as they would, invariably bringing their master to some small village or hamlet where the Baal Shem Tov would bring his fiery G-dliness to his fellow Jews.
In what seemed like no time, the horses stopped in a tiny hamlet, buried in the midst of a dense forest and surrounded by tilled fields. The Jews of this place were a hard-working lot, ignorant of Torah, able to steal just a few minutes a day to devote to their prayers, most of which they didn't understand. The Baal Shem Tov was filled with love and compassion for these Jews, and so he made these journeys to bring them a spiritual light to their eyes and turn their thoughts to G-d.
There was only one villager who was a cut above, and he was a wealthy landowner, who, it turned out, was celebrating his son's Bar Mitzva just that very day. When the father of the boy heard that the famous Tzadik had arrived, he quickly harnessed his wagon and came to escort him to the grand celebration.
The Baal Shem Tov was seated at the head of the table and welcomed with great honor. But his attention riveted to the wrinkled faces and worn hands of the Jewish peasants who had also come to join the party. The Baal Shem Tov began to speak and the wondrous tales and parables he told held his audience spellbound. Then he began singing in his melodious voice, the lovely Carpathian tunes sung by the local shepherd boys as they pastured their flocks on the mountainsides. The change which could be detected in the sad and exhausted faces of the laborers, the tears which trickled down their wrinkled cheeks, were touching to behold.
The wealthy landowner perceived the scene very differently. Why was the guest of honor devoting himself entirely to these unlettered peasants and paying no attention to me, he thought. He decided he would avenge himself on the Baal Shem Tov, and with this in mind announced, "My dear friends, I want you to know that the highlight of this celebration will be a speech which my son, the Bar Mitzva boy, will deliver in the presence of our most esteemed guest, the rabbi of a nearby town, who will be here with his party. Only before such a prominent rabbi is it fitting to deliver his discourse."
The Baal Shem Tov was not oblivious to the insult, but he did not acknowledge it. Rather, he engaged the Bar Mitzva boy in conversation about various spiritual matters.
As he spoke, his spiritual gaze wandered afield to a faraway place beyond the green fields and forests of the village.
Suddenly the Baal Shem Tov broke out into a burst of joyous laughter which seemed to engulf his entire being and spread to every man and woman in the room. Soon, not only the Baal Shem Tov was laughing, but the whole room was filled with joy and laughter - the people, the objects and even farm animals outside joined in his unbounded joy.
In the midst of all this laughter, the sound of carriage wheels grinding to a halt could be heard from the courtyard. It was the wealthy master of the feast who had just arrived with the rabbi of the nearby town, the much awaited guest of honor.
As they approached, they were astonished to hear peals of laughter which emitted from the hall. "What has happened here?" the wealthy landowner asked.
When silence was restored, the Baal Shem Tov began his explanation:
"Far away from here, in a lonely hamlet, there lives a widow and her only son. Today, he too is becoming a Bar Mitzva, and although he knows nothing about Torah and has never lived among Jews, he has a pair of tefilin left to him by his father.
"He put on the tefilin and his mother explained to him the tradition of going to the synagogue to be called up to the Torah. But, alas the poor lad had no way to fulfill this custom. He walked out to the barn and gathered all his beloved animals, which he cared for so devotedly and he formed them into a 'minyan.' Then he announced in a loud voice, 'Today I am a Bar Mitzva!' The animals responded to his words with a cacophony of 'moos,' 'neighs,' and 'clucks.' When the heavenly hosts beheld this strange but touching Bar Mitzva celebration, they laughed so heartily that their laughter echoed through the universe until it reached the Holy Throne of G-d where it provoked great Divine Joy.
"And so, concluded the Baal Shem Tov, it is now a propitious time to hear the discourse of the Bar Mitzva boy, for now, the Gates of Heaven are open."
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk was so strong in his faith in Moshiach that he literally awaited him every day and night. Each evening, before he went to bed, he set one of his disciples near him. In that way, if the disciple heard the sound of the shofar heralding Moshiach, he could be immediately awakened from sleep.