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When the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe was a child, he once asked his father: "We have one nose and one mouth. Why do we have two eyes?"
His father, ever-conscious of the opportunity to provide his child with character-building guidance, told him: "One to see the good in other people and the other to see what needs to be corrected in ourselves."
This lesson takes on greater significance in the present month. The month of Elul is a month of preparation for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Elul, the last month of the Jewish year, is compared to a time when the owner of a business closes his shop to take inventory. Similarly, at this time of year, we step back and evaluate our conduct.
We all like to do, to make decisions, to see the results and to progress further. If we are successful, we also look back and glow in the halo of achievement for a while, but honestly, we prefer doing much more than reviewing what we have done.
Certainly, there is virtue in continued positive activity, but if we never give our efforts adequate evaluation, it is possible we will misdirect our efforts. Moreover, behavior tends to be self-reinforcing. So quite often, we may continue following the same pattern, relearning our mistakes and ingraining them deeper into our personalities.
One of the signs of maturity is to contemplate our actions and examine them, considering whether we acted correctly or not. Recognizing the necessity to do this is one of the first signs of growing up spiritually.
Jewish thought puts an emphasis on such careful review. At the end of each day, we recite the "Shema Before Retiring." Before the Shema, we conscientiously evaluate our conduct throughout the previous day, seeing where we've been successful and where we've failed, where our energies were employed advantageously and where they could have been better used.
This process is carried out with greater intensity Thursday night, as we assess not only our conduct on that particular day, but throughout the entire week. On the last day of every month, we should think over the entire month and make such an accounting.
All these times, though, are dwarfed by the process of self-analysis that should characterize Elul. Elul is an entire month devoted to examining our conduct in the previous year and preparing for change and progress in the coming year. It is a month dedicated to taking stock of our conduct and seeing how it can improve.
Introspection, however, does not always lead to positive results. Sometimes, it just makes us heavy, without propelling us forward. Introspection is valuable when we have a purpose. Then our thoughts are directed to defining our goals more clearly and seeing whether or not our deeds are aligned with these purposes.
For when a person feels purpose and direction, he is charged with energy and feels the need to achieve. He wants to see the goals in which he believes and identifies to be manifested in actual life. Therefore he is both active and reflective. He desires to do, but wants his actions to be constructive and fruitful. So from time to time, he appraises his activities and sees whether they are aligned with his ultimate objective or whether it is necessary to redirect his focus.
When we set aside time in Elul to review our conduct with this focus, we will ensure ourselves a good and sweet year in all matters, including the matter of ultimate importance, the coming of Moshiach.
From Keeping in Touch by Rabbi E. Touger, published by Sichos in English.
This week's Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, closes with the following verses: "Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt. When they encountered you on the way, and you were tired and exhausted, they cut off those lagging behind... Therefore, you must obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. You must not forget."
The command to wipe out Amalek is read not only when the Torah portion of Ki Teitzei is read. It is recited every day, at the end of the morning prayers, as one of the "Six Remembrances."
Who was Amalek and why are Jews - described by the Torah as "compassionate" - commanded to destroy the people of Amalek?
The destruction of Amalek is symbolic of the nullification of a specific negative trait which can manifest itself within each one of us.
When a person is inspired and wants to go out of "Egypt," from boundaries and limitations of a corporeal nature, "Amalek" comes along and tries to prevent him from doing so.
How does Amalek accomplish this? The phrase "When they encountered you" in Hebrew is "karcha." "Kar" means "cold." The foremost Torah commentator, Rashi, explains that Amalek attempted to stop the Jewish people by making them cold.
Holiness thrives on warmth and excitement. Amalek cools down a person's inclination to G-dliness, and numbs him from being excited about anything holy, by planting seeds of doubt. In fact, the numerical value (gematria) of the Hebrew letters in the word "Amalek" is the same as "safek" - doubt.
The antidote to Amalek is "remember." A person must always have Torah thoughts engraved in his mind and memory, so that he may meditate on them at any time and in any place. Through this a person can nullify the evil of Amalek.
But how was Amalek able to hurt the Jews? Weren't they protected in the desert from enemy attacks by the Divine clouds that accompanied them throughout their sojourn there? Amalek attacked those who were "tired and exhausted." Rashi explains that the Cloud cast out some of the Jews due to their sins. They had "no strength" to overcome their desire to sin.
Amalek attacked only those Jews who had transgressed and whom the Cloud had thrown out of the camp. Yet, it was to save these very Jews from Amalek that the entire Jewish people left the protection of the Cloud to go to war.
When the need arises, we too, must go out of the comfort and safety of our own "clouds" in order to help another Jew, no matter who he is, where he is, or what he has done in the past.
Adapted from the works of the Rebbe
A Life's Mission
by Nosson Avrohom
Avraham Kraft was born in Manhattan in 1945. "I was primarily raised by my grandparents. They believed in G-d and were proud of being Jewish, but were not observant.
"I remember when I was five, we went to upstate New York. The majestic mountains, the forests and birds, the glistening rivers all led me to conclude that Someone must be responsible for all this, Someone greater than us.
"When I was a teenager, I met a friend from elementary school whom I hadn't seen in years. He was wearing a yarmulke. I asked him why he was wearing it. He explained that he had become a baal t'shuva (returnee to Torah observance). He invited me to his rabbi's house in Williamsburg.
"I spoke with the rabbi and he invited me for Shabbat. Every moment of that Shabbat was enjoyable and uplifting. Seeking life's meaning had led me to read literature from many eastern religions. But no exercise or mantra gave me the wonderful feeling that I felt during the Shabbat prayers or at the meals."
Avraham spent several months in the company of the yeshiva students in Williamsburg and broadened his knowledge of Torah. "As the summer approached, I was offered a job in a Jewish camp. It was my first time involved with children and I was very successful. But working with kids wasn't where I was heading. I wanted to be a successful businessman and make money.
"After that summer, I experienced a crisis. If Torah was true and it refined a person's character, why did I encounter behavior that wasn't honest? Also, I met some religious people who said they didn't understand why I needed to become a baal t'shuva. I spoke to a good friend, a Satmar Chasid, who advised me to go to Lubavitch.
"I arrived in Crown Heights. Within a few hours, I understood that the atmosphere was very different. I met Lubavitchers with whom I am still in touch. They advised me to consult the Rebbe.
"I sat in '770' and wrote to the Rebbe about everything I had experienced until then. I told the Rebbe that I was feeling down and didn't know what the future would bring. The Rebbe responded, saying I should work with children. I was stunned because I hadn't written to the Rebbe about my success in camp."
Although the Chasidim said the Rebbe was telling him his life's mission, Avraham didn't agree. "The Rebbe hadn't specifically told me to be a teacher. I could work with children in my free time, or maybe the Rebbe meant working with my own children when the time came. A few days later, I had the opportunity to pass by the Rebbe together with hundreds of others. Without saying my name, I asked the Rebbe what I should do in life. The Rebbe said, 'I already told you to work with children.' I was amazed that the Rebbe knew who I was. But I did not submit to his suggestion."
Over the next few months, whatever job Avraham took did not work out. "I wrote to the Rebbe again: I was not an educational expert, I didn't have a degree, and all of my experience involved a few weeks in camp. Who would hire me?" The Rebbe responded to teach, noting that if he made the effort he would easily find work.
"Two weeks later, I met the Satmar chasid who had directed me to Lubavitch. When he heard what the Rebbe had instructed me to do, he suggested a morning job in a Belzer elementary school in Williamsburg, teaching English. 'They are looking for an English teacher,' he said. The next day, I went for an interview and was hired.
"I told the kids stories in English, played educational games, and we got along well. I really enjoyed my job. The principal told me that other teachers had not been able to get the children to appreciate the language; I was the first one to do so and in a Jewish way. A few months later I also started an afternoon job in a different yeshiva.
Avraham decided to pursue music, as well. "I thought that through music I would be better able to impart important Jewish messages to the children." Avraham got a guitar as a gift and bought a music book. "I studied with a good friend. I began composing my own songs.
"I played at children's assemblies and combined songs with stories. I got invitations to events in summer camps. One of my well-known songs is 'Jewish Child,' which begins, 'I am a Jewish child, Hashem loves me.'
The song was a result of a very disturbing incidental one of the first Jewish camps Avraham performed at: Children were singing Christian missionary songs. "When I got home I begged Hashem to give me something to counteract the missionaries' message, a song that would talk about Hashem and His love for Jewish children, and the words popped into my head. I had barely written them down when a tune came to mind. I quickly grabbed my guitar. I was thrilled when the words fit the tune and a great song emerged."
With the Rebbe's blessing, Avraham became involved in counter-missionary work with Jewish children. "I started with Brighton Beach where there was a big center with a smooth-talking missionary who ensnared many people.
"I often disguised myself in order to be able to enter these places. At one Christian orphanage I went to there was a Jewish boy. I said I was homeless and asked to stay on the premises. I spent the night in the boy's room. Throughout the night I talked to him. I arranged for the boy's transfer to a Jewish institution. Today, he is the father of a beautiful Jewish family.
"Another time, I was on the subway and I heard a woman tell her son, 'Moshe, hurry. We must get to church.' I was shocked and asked her why she sent her son to church. She said, 'To learn about Judaism.' I offered to visit her at home to explain what authentic Judaism is. She eventually removed her son from the church.
Five years ago, Avraham moved to Israel, where he continues his life's mission that the Rebbe gave him. Avraham is is presently writing songs for a new CD in the Zaidy Avi series. He is also finishing a book refuting Christian missionary claims.
Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine.
The Chabad-Lubavitch center in the Negev Desert - Chabad of Merchavim - recently purchased an Egged bus to convert into a mobile youth center and library. The (non-mobile) Chabad House, headquartered in Gilat, Israel, services Jews living in villages of a 143,000 acre area in the northwestern Negev.
Mendy and Hadassah Korer have moved to Islington, London, England, to open a new centre for young professionals in the area. Rabbi and Mrs. Pinchas Kirshenzaft have joined the other emissaries who are working with evacuees from Gush Katif, Israel, who are still languishing in temporary villages.
4 Elul, 5734 (1984)
I am in receipt of your letter of 14 August. Needless to say, I am very sorry that my previous letter caused you some anguish, which, of course, was neither intended nor anticipated. I therefore hasten to reply to your letter in order to clarify my intent and, hopefully, to dispel your anxiety.
By way of preface, you must not think that I take personal offense if the suggestions which I convey in writing or orally are not followed. Certainly, in your case, there was no thought in my mind that if my suggestions were not accepted there would be cause for apprehension. It is only that when I am asked for advice and the like, I offer it as I see it, to the best of my knowledge, in the best interest of the inquirer, and in the case of your husband and yourself - in the best interests also of those in your environment.
Now to your letter and my previous one, to which it refers: I am certain that your husband can accomplish a great deal in his field, and that he can accomplish it in a way that will also be beneficial to the cause of Yiddishkeit [Judaism], which will be a source of blessing to yourselves and many others, as indicated above. The more the activities are in harmony with G-d's directives and Shabbos observance is one of the most important ones, not only as a basic mitzvah [commandment] of the Torah, but also of the Ten Commandments - the wider are opened the channels to receive G-d's blessings.
In the present instance there is a further benefit, in that generally when there is a proposition to appear in a show or entertainment, and, in the nature of things, such an offer may have both positive and negative aspects - the question of Shabbos and Yom Tov [holiday] observance can serve as a test of its desirability. For if it has to be declined on this ground, it is an indication that it is not desirable also on other grounds, including the material aspect.
The above may seem like a mystical approach to material things. But on deeper reflection it can be seen that the mystical approach is also a practical one. Moreover, in recent years we have seen that where certain celebrities insisted on Shabbos observance, their religious convictions were respected. To cite some instances: The American Grand Master of Chess, Samuel Reshevsky, while participating in a tournament in Moscow, refused to play on Shabbos, and the game was postponed until after Shabbos. And although religion is not at a "premium" in that country, it only raised his prestige. It was also beneficial to him from a practical viewpoint, for it gave him an opportunity to rest an extra day in between games, which, needless to say, are rather strenuous.
The world chess champion, B. Fischer, who is a Jew, though he professes to be a follower of the Seventh Day Adventists, also refused to play on Shabbos, even though he forfeited the game, but it did not hurt his chances to win the crown.
A further example from the world of business: A person who is a friend of mine participated in an International Fair in Moscow some 4 or 5 years ago. He notified the authorities that he could not do business on Shabbos, and a special session was arranged for him on Sunday. It turned out highly satisfactory for him, even business-wise, quite unintentionally and unexpectedly.
You write that you hesitated to show my letter to your husband, not knowing if he would follow my suggestion, etc. But I do not see why you should be apprehensive, since, as I explained, above, it is not connected with any stricture on my part. It is only free advice which, I believe, is for his benefit also materially, in addition to the spiritual aspects. But if he is not ready yet to accept it, I am certain we will remain good friends...
May I add that apparently I give your husband more credit than you do, for I firmly believe that he is capable of forgoing the material gain and personal satisfaction of appearing in a show if he is convinced that there is a worthwhile cause to warrant it. At any rate, my suggestion was based on the assumption that it would come - as you express it in regard to yourself, and also your husband, "from within, on a voluntary basis," being certain that your husband already has it "within" him, and only needs to bring it out to the surface in actual deed.
YEHOSHEVA means "G-d has sworn; G-d's oath." Yehosheva was a daughter of Yoram, a king of Judah (II Kings 11:2)
YISHAI means "gift." Yishai was the father of King David (I Samuel 16:1) The Anglicized form is Jesse.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The High Holidays are almost upon us - Rosh Hashana, the New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. However, in the original Hebrew, these days are called Yamim Noraim, Days of Awe. Indeed, who isn't filled with awe and reverence just thinking about their significance?
Among Chasidim, a distinction was always made between a professional chazan (cantor), and a baal tefila, "someone who knows how to pray." When choosing a person to lead the prayer service, Chasidim don't look for a melodious voice, a set of powerful lungs or technical expertise in chanting. Yes, a baal tefila should be pleasant to listen to, but the main criterion is his ability to stir the heart.
Rabbi Shmuel, the fourth Chabad Rebbe, once declared, "A baal tefila stands on a threshold. He can bring merit to a congregation or lead them astray." On another occasion he said, "Most of the time a baal tefila brings merit, whereas a cantor usually leads them astray."
The Previous Rebbe defined a baal tefila as "one who knows before Whom he stands...his intellect grasps the splendor and glory that should suffuse a person standing before the Creator, and his heart feels what his mind perceives."
A Chasid once asked Rabbi Sholom Ber, the fifth Chabad Rebbe (known as the Rebbe Rashab) for his consent to become a chazan. The Rebbe agreed on three conditions: 1) that he always immerse in a mikva before praying; 2) that he cover his head with his talit; and 3) that he not repeat a word for musical effect, as many cantors do.
One Yom Kippur there was a fire in Lubavitch, and the smoke drifted down to the synagogue. Almost everyone ran outside except for the Rebbe Rashab and Reb Isser, who was leading the prayers at the lectern. He was so absorbed in praying that he was completely unaware that everyone had long since fled.
Now that was a real baal tefila!
When you go forth to war against your enemies...and you shall take him captive (Deut. 21:10)
In the war against the Evil Inclination, it is insufficient to merely conquer and subdue it; one must also "take him captive" and utilize one's negative impulses to serve G-d. In truth, there is much to learn from the Evil Inclination, whose G-d-given role is to constantly attempt to cause man to sin. We would be well advised to emulate its dedication in fulfilling G-d's will.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated woman as the first born, and give him a double portion (Deut. 21:17)
The "son of the beloved" refers to the first Tablets of the Ten Commandments, given when the Jews were righteous. The "son of the hated woman" alludes to the second Tablets, which were given after the Jews sinned but returned to G-d. As we see here, the penitent receives "a double portion" of reward. Indeed, the first Tablets contained only the Ten Commandments, whereas the second set were accompanied by Jewish laws and the Torah's allegorical portions.
...Similarly you shall do with all of your brother's lost things (Deut. 22:3)
When one helps his fellow man by returning a lost object (either in the material or spiritual sense), he merits spiritual benefit for himself and an elevation of his own soul. As our Sages declared: "The poor [recipient of charity] does more for the master than the master does for the poor man."
Jewish teachings explain that the making of a shidduch, a match between a man and a woman, is as difficult as splitting the Red Sea. In the case of the marriage of the daughter of the renown Rashash (Rabbi Shmuel Shtrashun) of Vilna and the son of Reb Zalman, maybe it was even harder.
One day, as the Rashash sat immersed in his Torah studies, a local tailor by the name of Reb Zalman came to borrow some money. The Rashash was not only a noted scholar, but in addition to his job as a banker, he administered the free-loan fund.
When he explained his needs, Reb Zalman was given three hundred rubles which were to be paid within one year. The Rashash duly recorded the transaction in his ledger book and went back to his studies.
When Reb Zalman appeared before the Rashash exactly one year to the day later with the entire three hundred rubles in his hand, the Rashash was deeply involved in a difficult problem in the Talmud. He took the money, but since he didn't want to interrupt his studies, he inserted the money into the back of his large tome. So preoccupied was he with his learning that he completely forgot that Reb Zalman had ever been there that day.
Two months later, when the Rashash was checking over his ledger, he spotted the name of Reb Zalman, the tailor, who had borrowed three hundred rubles from the fund, and had not yet repaid the debt. He summoned Reb Zalman to his office, but when he asked that the money be repaid, as it was already overdue, Reb Zalman turned pale, and replied, "But I paid it exactly on the due date!"
The Rashash had no memory of the incident, and according to his records, the money was still outstanding. There was nothing to do but go to a rabbinical court to decide the matter. When the simple tailor and the great scholar went together to a Jewish court, the whole city was ablaze. How could Reb Zalman have the chutzpa to try to pull one over on one of the greatest scholars in Vilna! Imagine him contradicting the great Rashash, respected guardian of the city's free-loan fund!
The court ruled that since there had been a debt incurred and it was only the word of one man against another, Reb Zalman would have to solemnly swear that he had repaid the money, and then he would be absolved of the debt. Swearing, however, is no light matter. The Rashash was not willing to subject a fellow Jew to the possibility of swearing falsely, and so he decided to drop the entire matter.
But the case was not closed. In fact, it never really closed, for the townspeople were filled with disdain toward the unfortunate tailor. They stopped patronizing his shop, and wouldn't even look his way in the street. Eventually he had to close his business and move to a small village outside the city. He and his family were completely broken by the whole episode.
The following year, the Rashash was again studying the same subject he had been engrossed in when Reb Zalman had repaid the debt. Fingering the pages, he was astonished to find a pile of bills stuck in the back cover of the book. Then it all came back to him. He pictured in his mind the figure of Reb Zalman, proudly handing over every last penny of the loan, and saying, "Here is all the money I owe, and today is exactly one year to the day."
The Rashash was overcome with emotion. How much misery he had caused by his carelessness! He rushed to the home of the tailor, but he no longer lived there; then he went to his shop, but there were different occupants. After asking around, the Rashash discovered the extent of the damage that had ensued. He made his way to the small village and there, in a broken down shack he found Reb Zalman.
"Reb Zalman, please forgive me! I have just found the money you repaid! You were right all the time, and I was wrong!"
"So, I forgive you, but what does that help me? I have lost everything, my livelihood, my home, my reputation. I am a broken man."
"I will do everything humanly possible to help you regain your position. I will return your money, but that is not all. I will stand on the bima of the synagogue and announce that I have wronged you."
"That won't help. Everyone will just think, 'The Rashash is truly a great man. In his compassion for the poor tailor, he is trying to help cover up for him.'" When he heard that, the Rashash knew that the tailor was speaking the truth, for people would, indeed, think that way. What could he do that would really make amends for all the suffering Reb Zalman had endured?
"Reb Zalman, I have a daughter who is almost of marriageable age. You, I believe, have a son. If I betroth my daughter to your son, no one will be able to doubt that you are an honest and upright man, for I certainly wouldn't align our families forever if it were not so. Reb Zalman agreed. Here was a solution that would work. The two young people agreed to the match, and the betrothal was celebrated in a fitting manner.
Reb Zalman was restored in the estimation of the community, and the Rashash had corrected the effects of his mistake. The young couple, who would never have come together except for the incident between their fathers, was blessed with great happiness. And that is how difficult it sometimes is to make a shidduch, harder even than splitting the Red Sea.
In this week's Torah portion we read, "But you shall surely let the mother go, and the young you may take for yourself" (Deut. 22:7). This is the mitzva (commandment) to drive away the mother bird before taking the eggs or young birds from her nest. What is the reward for observing this mitzva?If you have no children, G-d declares, I will grant you offspring. Furthermore, observing this commandment hastens the coming of Moshiach and the arrival of Elijah the Prophet.