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Have you ever tried to build a bookcase? What about put a bike together? Maybe you're trying to replace some widget in an appliance. Hang wallpaper or retile a room. Maybe you're more ambitious, and you're putting an addition on your house.
Whatever you're building or repairing, you know that to build or construct properly, you need to measure precisely. Very precisely. If the measurements are off even a fraction of an inch, a smidgen of a millimeter, the whole project could fall apart.
Edges have to match; nuts-washers-screws have to be the same size and the right size. A misaligned window, even slightly, and all sorts of leaks can start.
In a sense, every Jew is a master builder, and a precision engineer. For we are commanded "build Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them." Just as the sanctuary made of stone and other material had to be built to the exact measurements and specific detail, so too each of us must build our "mini-Sanctuary" - our lives and our section of the world according to the specifications in our "instruction manual," the Torah.
For a builder, the tape measure is critical; so too when we are building G-dliness and goodness into the world, we must use the tape measure of the soul.
What does this mean? It means we have to be careful with our abilities and talents, to be conscientious with our opportunities, not to waste the smallest particular of who we are and what we can do. We must use what G-d has given us in the fullest measure, to the last iota, and for the G-d given purpose of serving the Creator.
When fulfilling a mitzva (commandment), it must be done down to the last detail, going the extra step ( known as hiddur, or beautifying, the mitzva).
The same precise measurements apply to our use of time - whatever we're doing, we can use every moment to serve G-d. We can conduct our business in an ethical manner, we can converse without speaking badly of another person, we can eat and drink kosher food after having recited a blessing over the food. We can relax and sleep knowing that after resting we will be reinvigorated to serve G-d in a complete and precise manner.
If we've measured out our activities for twenty three hours and fifty-nine minutes - allotting exactly the right portion of it to prayer, to study, to mitzvos, to work, to eating, sleeping and relaxing, as necessary - we still can't allow ourselves to waste that last minute.
This applies not only to ourselves, but to our part of the world, our sphere of influence and contact with others, and our activity with and use of the material of the earth.
When each of use uses our G-d-given abilities precisely and accu-rately, to elevate ourselves and our surroundings, so that no speck or scrap is left over, superfluous, extra or unused, then we, and others, and the world itself fulfill the mission and task of creation, to transform the world into a dwelling place - a properly and precisely built dwelling place - for G-dliness.
This week's Torah portion, Shoftim, speaks about the cities of refuge a person would flee to if he accidentally killed someone. There, the unintentional killer would dwell, protected from the wrath of the victim's relatives, until the High Priest who served in the Holy Temple passed away.
But not only unintentional killers sought refuge in these cities; even someone who committed murder intentionally was expected to flee there as well. The court would then convene and issue its ruling on the death. The cities of refuge offered protection, if only temporarily in some cases, to anyone who had caused a loss of life.
After the destruction of the Holy Temple and the dispersion of the Jewish people, the cities of refuge ceased to exist in the physical sense. Yet the Torah is eternal, and its lessons apply in every generation. In our times, therefore, the concept of "cities of refuge" finds expression in the spiritual dimension.
Our Sages taught that "the words of Torah absorb." In other words, the Torah itself is the refuge in which all may seek asylum. In the spiritual sense, "killing" symbolizes the act of committing a sin, causing a spiritual death to the G-dly soul, for the Torah's 613 commandments are the "ropes" that bind the soul to G-d. Transgressing the Torah's commandments damages those ties and threatens to cut the soul off from its G-dly source.
We learn from this week's Torah portion that it is never too late to repent, no matter how grave a transgression has been committed. Even the person who deliberately sinned can do teshuva (repentance) and seek protection in the refuge of Torah.
In one sense, nowadays we have a distinct advantage over our forefathers who lived during the times of the Holy Temple. In those days, repentance alone was not enough to atone for a sin. The unintentional killer had to remain exiled in the city of refuge until the death of the High Priest, and the intentional murderer (as defined by the Torah) received capital punishment. Yet after the destruction of the Temple, teshuva alone can atone for even the gravest sin.
Years ago, when Jewish courts had ultimate authority, a judge could only rule on what he himself had seen. G-d, however, can look into the heart of man and judge whether or not his repentance is sincere.
In the same way, the month of Elul, during which we take account of our actions of the previous year, is a "city of refuge" in time, offering us the same opportunity to clear the slate and merit a good and sweet year to come.
Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
From Soup to Nuts
by Adela Renna
In early October, my husband and I attended a Shabbat meal in Washington, D.C., hosted by a lovely couple. We were joined by a few old friends from the community, a couple who just moved in a few months ago and some visitors participating in the shul's hospitality program. As everyone was introduced, our turn came.
"We are in the Foreign Service and are moving to the Congo." The Foreign Service is the Corps of U.S. Diplomats appointed by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to implement the President's foreign policy in embassies and consulates overseas.
"So, you're from Slovakia? How did you and Daniel meet?"
Daniel received a master's degree in international affairs from George Washington University. After passing the Foreign Service exam, he began working for the United States Department of State in 2000. Daniel was chosen to serve in the position of vice consul in Bratislava, Slovakia, my hometown.
Bratislava is a city with a rich Jewish past. In German it is called Pressburg and currently has a modest Jewish community with active Chabad Shluchim (emissaries), Rabbi Baruch and Chanie Myers, at the helm of its religious life. Daniel, a 28-year-old religious American diplomat, began working at the U.S. Embassy, adjudicating visas for Slovaks who wanted to travel to the U.S. and assisting American citizens in trouble. A week after he started work, we met after services in the Bratislava synagogue. I was a 23-year-old Slovak about to graduate from university. By September 2002 we were engaged. I was thrilled to embark on an adventurous life, while Daniel was amazed to have found his bashert, who was willing to share the jet-setting lifestyle his career required.
Before our wedding, we received the news that Daniel's next diplomatic position was to be in Banjul, The Gambia. The Gambia is a small sliver of a country, the smallest on the African continent along the Atlantic coast. Daniel and I, being the atypical couple that we are, began brainstorming. We gathered as much information about The Gambia as was available online and from the State Department's resources. We planned how we would tackle the most challenging aspects of observing Shabbat, eating kosher, and keeping the laws of Family Purity in the middle of nowhere. With the guidance and wisdom of Rabbi Dr. Barry Freundel, the Rav of our "home" shul of Kesher Israel in Washington, D.C. we were able to face the tests that our lifestyle often throws at us.
While we were serving in The Gambia, where I was able to work in one of the Embassy jobs reserved for diplomatic spouses, the use of the diplomatic pouch was a lifesaver. We can order items - with certain restrictions - and have them mailed to an American address, and the packages reach us between two to six weeks later.
While in Armenia, our third posting, we took advantage of another State Department privilege granted to those stationed at posts where it is prohibitively expensive or simply impossible to obtain certain grocery and toiletry items. The U.S. government will pay shipping costs of a certain amount of non-perishable items that will be consumed during the tour of duty. Before leaving the U.S., we rented a ten-foot truck and loaded up huge quantities of products. We unpacked it three months later in Yerevan, Armenia.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of keeping kosher overseas is obtaining meat, cheese and grape products. In Slovakia, we were only a 45-minute drive to one of Vienna's kosher shops. In The Gambia, the situation was more dire. Googling "kosher meat in Africa," we were directed to the website of Rabbi Shlomo Bentolila, the pioneering Chabad emissary in the Congo, which informed us of a company in South Africa that ships kosher meat, cheese and wine to anywhere within Africa. The minimum the company would ship to us was 660 pounds, and the supply lasted us for about a year.
Back at the Shabbat dinner, one of the interested guests turns to me intently and inquires, "Have you had any problems observing Shabbat where you've lived?"
My answer is both explanatory and deeply introspective. Often we don't realize the uniqueness of our own experiences until faced with people who have never experienced what we have. Each Shabbat as we celebrate the creation, Daniel and I are compelled to reaffirm our commitment to Torah and mitzvot (commandments). We are often alone, the singular Jews observing Shabbat in the neighborhood, the country or even the entire region. While it may be more difficult to do so than within a thriving, populous Jewish community, being observant is possible anywhere. The key is to be knowledgeable, committed and consistent.
By the time we finish dessert, I explain that in each of the places Daniel and I have lived, we have attempted to be a "light unto the nations" for our non-Jewish friends, colleagues and strangers. For this reason, we often invited people to our home in The Gambia, where we proudly recite the blessings on our food to show them how we thank G-d for our food. They gained a new respect for, and understanding of, the ways of the Torah. We see our professional opportunities not merely as a chance to represent the United States and its people, but to sanctify G-d's name and benefit the Jewish people as a whole.
By the time we have finished the meal, other guests have had a glimpse of our lives. We tell them that just after Passover, we will begin a three-year tour in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It's a tough assignment for anyone, not least a couple of Orthodox Jews. We eagerly await new and interesting episodes, which will doubtless be the subject of conversation at future Shabbat meals.
Reprinted with permission from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
Chabad on Campus UK just held their dedication ceremony of their new Bloomsbury Center in the heart of London. Chabad on Campuses throughout the world serve Jewish students 7 days a week with an open home away from home, classes, Friday night Shabbat dinners and a vibrant social place for Jewish students to meet.
On the streets of Barcelona, Spain's call, is a new Chabad Center where tourists can relax over a cup of coffee, use free Internet access, drop off their luggage for pickup after a day of touring, and attend daily Torah classes and prayer services. The center also has a full line of Jewish books and a selection of kosher wines for purchase.
14th of Elul, 5727 
Greeting and Blessing:
I duly received your correspondence, and may G-d grant that you should have good news to report in regard to the contents of your letters.
No doubt you remember the Alter Rebbe's [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chasidism] explanation of the significance of the month of Elul, in terms of the following analogy: There are times when a king leaves his palace and goes out to meet his subjects in the field, when everyone, regardless of his state and station, can approach the king, and the king receives everyone graciously and fulfills their petitions. The days of Elul are such a period when the King of Kings is, as it were, "in the field." This is, therefore, the proper time to strengthen the adherence to the commandments of the King, and to receive a greater measure of the King's blessings.
Wishing you and yours a Kesivo vaChasimo Tovo [to be written and sealed for good],
P.S. With regard to the question of Moshiach which you raise in your letter - I refer you to the Rambam, Hilchos Melochim, Chaps. 11-12 [Maimonides, Laws of Kings].
Enclosed is a copy of the general Rosh Hashono message, which you will surely put to good advantage.
9th of Elul, 5718 
Greeting and Blessing:
I received your letter of August 14th, containing the good news that you are pleased with the outcome of the court case so far, and, what is even more important, with the progress tat you and your wife have been making towards complete recovery.
You do not mention anything about your business and your public work, which I take it as an indication that all is well in those departments.
Now that we have entered the month of Elul, when we say twice daily in our prayers Psalm 27, "G-d is my light and my salvation," etc., I truth that you will become increasingly aware that this is so in your case.
Wishing you and yours a Kesivo Vachasimo Toivo,
20th of Elul, 5720 
Greeting and Blessing:
I received your two letter of August 22nd and 26th.
With regard to the question of the Rabbi who has left, and you ask my opinion about the candidacy of Rabbi [...], generally speaking, it seems that he is a suitable candidate. As for particulars, it depends what his duties would be, but surely everything could be arranged with the help of Anash.
With regard to the question of the merger between the two Shuls [synagogues], I do not think that this is a good idea. For one thing, there is the question of Nusach [prayer rite], and for another, this is the time when the number of Shuls should be increased rather than decreased. Furthermore, you write that the other congregation is "small-minded," etc., which seems to indicate that there would be room for friction, etc.
On the question of arranging an affair in behalf of the activities of Lubavitch, I do not see why people want to postpone it until Purim inasmuch as time is of the essence and the activities demand support and expansion all the time. Therefore, it seems to me that the sooner the affair is arranged, the better it would be. Even if it has to be connected with a festival day, surely Chanukah comes earlier, and, being for eight days, it offers an opportunity to select the most suitable day of the week for this purpose.
In this connection I might again recall to your mind the story of the fundraiser, who, on receiving a check to cover a pledge, rebuked the donor. When the surprised donor asked him why he deserved the rebuke, the fundraiser answered, "had you brought it earlier, I could have had another pledge from you since then."
As for your daughter's training to become a Hebrew teacher, you do not write how well this fits in with her studies at present. But the very fact that you ask my opinion on the advisability of her training for a Hebrew teach at this time, suggests that it can be arranged so that her present studies would not be affected, and if so, it would be advisable.
To conclude on a word of thanks, I recently had the opportunity to view the film of the Lag B'Omer parade in London which you were kind enough to send me. It gave me much pleasure, and thank you very much.
Hoping to hear good news from you, and wishing you again a Kesivo vachasimo, toivo, including, of course, a greater improvement in your business affairs,
CHAIM means "life." The name is often given as an additional name to one who is critically ill. The feminine version is "Chaya."
CHAVA means "mother of all living." She was the first woman, mother of all humanity, the wife of Adam (Genesis 2:23).
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
"There is a time and season for everything," King Solomon taught in the book of Ecclesiastes. According to Jewish tradition, there are various times throughout the day, week, month and year that are most appropriate for reflection and personal accounting: Each evening before retiring is the time to consider ones actions throughout the day. Every Thursday night one should reflect on the week that has passed. On the eve of every new (Jewish) month, one reviews the month and in the last month of the Jewish year one evaluates the entire year.
We have just entered that final month, Elul.
Elul is the time when we look over our deeds of the previous year and make a reckoning and appraisal of our personal growth and development.
There are many customs associated with the month of Elul. During Elul it is customary to have one's mezuzot and tefilin checked by an expert scribe (sofer). One is also enjoined to be more careful in the area of the Jewish dietary laws (kashrut).
From the very beginning of the month we greet friends and sign letters with the wish that we should be "written and sealed for good" and that we should have a "good and sweet year."
In addition, we add Psalm 27 to our daily prayers as well as increasing our recitation of Psalms in general.
With all of this, it is good to keep in mind the analogy of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, that during the month of Elul "the King is in the field." This means that although at any time of year G-d is surely approachable by each and each one of us, He is even closer to us in the month of Elul.
As we are merely at the beginning of the month, let's not waste a moment. Let's get to work so that we will all truly have a good and sweet year, with the ultimate good of Moshiach NOW!
You shall be perfect with the L-rd your G-d (Deut. 18:13)
Just as it is important to safeguard one's physical health, a Jew must take steps to ensure that his soul is whole and that all his spiritual "limbs" are healthy. For just as there are 613 components in the human body - 248 limbs and 365 sinews - so too are there 613 parts of the Jewish soul whose state of perfection is dependent on observing the 613 commandments of the Torah.
In many prayer books, the words "I hereby accept upon myself the positive commandment of 'And you shall love your fellow as yourself'" preface the prayers themselves. One reason for this is that because our prayers are offered instead of sacrifices (which have to be whole and unblemished), so too must the entire "body" of the Jewish people (each one of whom is considered a limb) be perfect and complete, united with love for one another, before we approach our Creator.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
You shall appoint a king over yourself (Deut. 17:15)
The inner intent of this commandment is to instill in the Jewish people a sense of nullification before G-d and acceptance of the yoke of heaven. For a Jewish king is completely nullified before G-d; submitting to his sovereignty contains an element of nullification before G-d as well.
And this is the case of the slayer...whoever unwittingly kills his neighbor...he shall flee to one of those cities, and live (Deut. 19:4,5)
The Torah designates six cities of refuge to which a person who has inadvertently killed can flee and atone for his deed. When Moshiach comes and the borders of Israel are expanded to include the territory of the Kini, Kenizi and Kadmoni, three more cities of refuge will be established. But why will additional cities be necessary in the Messianic Era? In that time, peace will reign supreme and there will be no violence between men. What purpose, then, will these cities of refuge serve? Although no new acts of violence will occur, the cities of refuge will allow those Jews who accidentally killed someone throughout the centuries of exile to seek atonement and be worthy of the Messianic Era.
(Hitvaaduyot, Rosh Chodesh Elul 5746)
Reb Nachum and Reb Gedalya were the two wealthiest citizens in their respective counties. Thus, when a match was arranged between the two families it was the talk of the town.
Several weeks passed as preparations were made for the celebration, an event that was already being referred to as "the" social event of the year if not the decade. Then, all of a sudden, a rumor began to circulate that Reb Nachum, the father of the bride, had lost his fortune.
Eventually the bitter truth came out: Reb Nachum had been forced to declare bankruptcy. Not only had he lost his personal wealth but he had even had to sell his house to appease his creditors. With nowhere else to go the family moved into a tiny apartment paid for by the community.
When Reb Gedalya heard the news he immediately sent a messenger to Reb Nachum with a letter expressing his sympathy. Reb Nachum's reversal of fortune sincerely touched his heart. At the same time, it was obvious to him that the match between their children could no longer take place; it was simply a mistake to be remedied as soon as possible.
However, what was obvious to Reb Gedalya was not all that obvious to Reb Nachum. "A match is a match," he insisted, refusing to back out of the agreement. "It should have nothing at all to do with financial considerations."
When the messenger returned to Reb Gedalya with Reb Nachum's reply his compassion quickly turned to anger. Without a moment's delay he set out for Reb Nachum's house, taking with him all of his son's engagement gifts so he could return them.
Reb Nachum, however, was equally adamant in person about refusing to annul the match. "It's not my fault I lost all my money!" he exclaimed. " 'A person who sinned under compulsion, G-d exempts from punishment.' "
Reb Gedalya thought long and hard about his frustrating dilemma; then an idea occurred to him. "How about a third party making the decision?" he asked. "The famous tzadik, Rebbe Chaim of Sanz, lives not far from here. Let us go to him together, tell him what happened and follow his advice."
Reb Nachum was unmoved. "I am not calling off the match under any circumstances. It would never have been agreed to if it were not decreed from on high. If you want to go to the tzadik, fine. But I'm not going anywhere." Annoyed, Reb Gedalya had no choice but to make the trip alone.
It was late Friday afternoon when he arrived in Sanz. Although the Rebbe did not usually receive visitors so close to Shabbat, an exception was made for Reb Gedalya, whose acts of charity were legendary.
It is most likely that the tzadik was already aware of Reb Gedalya's story, as there was almost no one in the region who hadn't heard it. Nonetheless, he listened attentively as Reb Gedalya poured out his tale of woe.
The Rebbe was silent for a few minutes before responding. "You are very lucky to have come here," he finally said. "However, as it is almost Shabbat, it is too late now to discuss it any further. Why don't you stay here as my guest, and after Shabbat we will continue this conversation."
Reb Gedalya left the Rebbe's presence greatly encouraged and in a hopeful mood. The tzadik had listened to his every word and seemed to agree with him. Surely he would rule in his favor; hadn't he told him that he was "very lucky"? Reb Gedalya spent a delightful Shabbat in the Sanzer Rebbe's courtyard.
Right after Havdala, Reb Gedalya was again admitted into the tzadik's chamber. With awe and trepidation he awaited the Rebbe's pronouncement.
"Reb Gedalya," the Sanzer Rebbe told him, "I want you to leave immediately for Reb Nachum's house and deliver the following message:
Tell him that although he agreed to pay for half of the wedding, as he does not have even a penny left to his name, you, Reb Gedalya, will be happy to pay for the entire celebration, which will take place on the date already agreed upon."
After Reb Gedalya had recovered from his shock he surprised himself by daring to ask for an explanation. "But Rebbe!" he stammered. "I don't understand. Didn't you tell me that I was 'very lucky'?"
The Rebbe looked directly into Reb Gedalya's eyes and smiled. "I guess you didn't understand my intention," he said. "I meant that you are very lucky that it is you who has come to me and not your future in-law, Reb Nachum. Can you imagine how you would feel if it were the other way around, if the wheel of fortune had turned for you instead of him?"
Indeed, Reb Gedalya's son and Reb Nachum's daughter were wed. And the Sanzer Rebbe himself conducted the ceremony.
The ascent to be achieved through the Messianic redemption will be great enough to make the time we spend in exile worthwhile. There is no other means for us to reach this high rung. Were we able to make this ascent without going through the pains of exile, G-d surely would not have exposed us to them.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 20 Av, 5745-1985)