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There is a classic Chasidic story about the Selichot prayers that we begin reciting this Saturday night and continue reciting until Rosh Hashana.
Once, the chasid, Rabbi Shmuel Munkes, was traveling to Liozna to spend the holiday of Rosh Hashana with his Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism.
On the Shabbat before the holiday, Reb Shmuel lodged at the inn of an elderly couple situated on the road. On Saturday night, the couple asked him if he wanted to accompany them as they rode to the town.
"Why are you going?" asked Reb Shmuel.
"To recite Selichot," the woman answered.
"What are Selichot?" inquired Reb Shmuel feigning ignorance.
"Shame on you," scolded the woman. "An old Jew and one who looks like a rabbi and you don't know what Selichot are. Selichot are when you ask G-d for the cows to have milk and the grain to grow."
"Silly old folk," Reb Shmuel replied, "staying up in the middle of the night to pray for some milk and grain."
When Rabbi Shneur Zalman heard about this interchange, he severely reprimanded Reb Shmuel.
Why did Reb Shmuel make fun of his hosts' prayers? Because he wanted them to realize that there is more to life than milk and grain. A person should learn to look upward and focus his attention on the spiritual.
Why did the Rebbe reprimand Reb Shmuel? Because our awareness of the spiritual should permeate the material. We are concerned with cows and grain. No one should try to deny that. And because we are, G-d is. He is the source for our prosperity and well-being and He seeks that we turn to Him when requesting our needs.
Reciting Selichot is part of our preparation for the Days of Awe that commence with Rosh Hashana.
A parable can help us better understand the uniqueness of Rosh Hashana. A king gave an open invitation to all of his countrymen to visit him, telling everyone that they could come into the throne room to speak to him until noon.
He also put his palace treasures on display. Some of the countrymen paused to gaze at the weaponry and they became so absorbed that they did not see that time was passing. Others became fascinated by the jewels and focused their attention on them. Still others stopped to take in the beauty of the gardens and the trees, the artwork and sculptures.
Each of the subjects found something in the palace that interested him and indeed, mesmerized him so much that he forgot about the king.
Among the subjects was a simple farmer. He did not understand weapons, jewels, or gardens. But he was excited for the simplest reason; he had a chance to see the king. He did not stop to marvel at any of the king's possessions. Instead, he rushed straight to the throne room. And when noon came, he was the only one of the subjects who had seen the king.
Rosh Hashana is a day when G-d reveals His Kingship. The palace is open. Some seek wealth, some seek friendship, and some seek wisdom. And then there are those who seek nothing else but the King.
Nor will seeking the King cause one to lose out on the other periphery matters. Think for a second, when one comes face-to-face with the King, isn't it logical to assume that the King will provide him or her with everything they need?
From Keeping in Touch by Rabbi E. Touger, published by Sichos in English.
The opening verses of Nitzavim, the first of this week's two Torah portions, begin: "You are standing this day, all of you, before the L-rd your G-d, your heads, your tribes, your elders...all the men of Israel...from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water."
Concerning these verses, the Midrash states that the Jewish people is likened to a bundle of straw. Each one individually is weak and can be easily broken, but once the straw is gathered into a bundle it is impossible to make it bend. So too is it with the Jewish people. When we are bound together and stand united we are powerful in the face of our enemies. Indeed, unity is the vessel for containing G-d's blessing, as we say in our prayers, "Bless us, our Father, together as one."
In truth, there is no power in the world that can dominate the Jewish people. But if such is the case, how is it possible for any bad to befall them? This only occurs if the individual Jew causes a tiny rift in his bond with G-d that allows external factors to enter. It is this self-induced damage in the relationship between G-d and His people which brings about a lack of unity and makes the Jews vulnerable to harm. When peace and unity reign, the Jews are impervious to attack.
How does the tiny breach first emerge? When a Jew's attention to mitzvot are gradually left by the wayside.
Thus the first step in fortifying our spiritual defenses is to make sure that this initial fissure is never allowed to form. How? Through Jewish unity.
Human nature is such that a person is often unaware of his own shortcomings. "All sins are concealed by love." Indeed, our self-love prevents us from being objective. We cannot perceive even great flaws, how much more so the smaller ones. However, when Jews come together, each one can see the shortcomings of his neighbor. A good friend's gentle admonition can cause us to correct our ways, thereby strengthening our fortifications against the Evil Inclination.
This is one of the reasons the Mitteler Rebbe (Rabbi Dov Ber, the second Chabad Rebbe) encouraged his followers to acquire a friend for this specific purpose: to encourage and inspire each other along the path of Torah and mitzvot. He explained that when two Jews unite to improve themselves and their relationship with G-d, their two G-dly souls are fighting only one Evil Inclination, and it is far easier to emerge victorious.
If this was true generations ago, how much more so is it applicable in our own times, when the darkness of exile has intensified.
By maintaining our Jewish unity we will remain invincible, as it states, "You are standing this day, all of you."
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Volume 2
Big Bang on Glenbrook
by Tzvi Jacobs
For ten years our front door was 35 feet from the busiest road leading in and out of Morristown, New Jersey - Sussex Avenue. Zoom, zoom, zoom - one car after another going 40 to 50 miles per hour, not only during the morning and afternoon rush hours, but all week long. To say that we had to shout at the top of our lungs to call our children to come inside was no exaggeration.
It was a Friday afternoon shortly after we had moved into our home on Sussex. It was rush hour, Shabbat would be starting soon, and the incessant sound of cars racing by, rattled the walls. Then, the cars were honking and they wouldn't stop. Finally we looked out the window and saw that in both directions cars had come to a halt. My wife spotted a colorful outfit and gave a shriek. She flew down two flights of stairs and out the front door. Our 16-month old son was sitting on the white line in the middle of Sussex Avenue. How Mendel had made it between the parked cars in front of our house into the middle of Sussex Avenue during rush hour without G-d forbid... was a miracle.
Ten years later we moved to Monsey, New York. We turned down a good deal for a well-built house on Route 306. Divine Providence led us to a foreclosed house on Glenbrook Road in the Wesley Hills neighborhood of Monsey. Sometimes one will see three cars travelling down the road at the same time, but not too often. On Shabbos, a car going down Glenbrook is a rare sight, maybe two or three during the entire 24 hours. But it's not just the rarity of cars. The narrow forest of tall, mature, and majestic trees running behind the homes on Glenbrook imbue the neighborhood with an added aura of peace and quiet.
One of the most beautiful - and most memorable - days that I can remember in our new neighborhood occurred on Friday, June 3, 2011. The air felt warm and dry, the sun shined softly, and the sky reflected a gorgeous blue. What a contrast with the weather of May - weeks of heavy rains, cloudy skies, strong winds, alternating days of chilly air and muggy high heat, the threat of tornados, and worst of all, water in my basement.
By 7 p.m. on that delicious Friday, the serenity had reached its peak. Many of the men and boys had already gathered in shul.
My son Dovid and I were standing on our deck, cooking chicken on the grill for the Shabbat meal. The fat from the chicken dripped and the flames flared up with a sizzling crack and a pop. We still had an hour until sunset when Shabbat would begin. In the meantime, we were sharing one of those rare "Kodak moments": In just four days Dovid would turn 13 and become a Bar Mitzva. Dovid's zaide, my father of blessed memory, would have cherished being at his grandson's bar mitzva. However, that's the way of life until death will be forever removed. In the meantime, the old generation must eventually make room for the new generation. Young trees cannot grow tall when overshadowed by the grand, old trees. In such a peaceful neighborhood, it's easier to meditate on such thoughts.
Holding the tongs, Dovid flipped over a grilled thigh of chicken.
We jumped. Lightning, thunder? No, the sky was all blue.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
"What was that?" I asked.
"Sounds like fireworks," Dovid said.
Jeff, the neighbor next door, called out from his yard, "Tzvi, did you hear that?"
The three of us ran to the front. The road was clear - it wasn't a car accident. We ran up Glenbrook. A group of women and girls were standing in the driveway of the Epstein's house.
Their spacious green lawn had been overtaken by a jungle of leafy branches rising 20 or so feet high. It was quite disconcerting. Navigating along a narrow stretch of grass, we realized that one of those majestic trees had crashed to the ground, splintering the swing set into a pile of sticks.
"See, up there," said Jeff, pointing to the jagged top. "The top half of that tree broke off."
But there was more. Behind the swing set, another tree laid like a fallen soldier, pointing in the direction of the neighbor's yard. The base of the tree with its roots exposed stood at least six feet high.
"Apparently, the weight of the first tree knocked toppled this tree," Jeff said.
Another tree, trapped under the second tree, brushed against the trampoline. The second tree had knocked over this third tree.
On the other side of the trampoline the fourth tree was laid to rest. Barely visible under verdant branches, three walls of the shed were crushed to the ground. According to Jeff's theory, the third tree knocked over the fourth tree. "Sometimes when a large old tree falls, the ground loosens up and the tree next to it falls, too."
We finished our survey. The shocked mothers were still standing next to their children in the driveway.
"Our children had been playing in our backyard," said the pale Rivkie Epstein with a shaking voice, "but right before it happened, they ran next door to play on the neighbor's swing set. Thank G-d."
Nearly two weeks later, on a Wednesday night, the moon shone brightly in the clear night sky. The Epsteins' property still looked like a twister had hit their back yard. Inside, Mrs. Epstein was hosting a "Chinese Auction" event to raise money for a yeshiva. The happy event had been planned many weeks in advance.
Knowing their hostess's love for giving tzedaka (charity) and enabling others to do so as well (hence the event), many guests mentioned the quote from the Talmud: "Tzedaka saves one from death."
That's one perspective.
Mrs. Epstein said with a voice full of wonder, "All I can think is how much G-d loves me."
The Chabad House of Chadera Industrial Zone, Israel, recently found a permanent home in the offices of the transportation company Atz-Tas, where they were Chabad was allotted its own space for classes and outreach activities. Friendship Circle of Cleveland just celebrated the opening of its new 12,000-sq.-ft. facility in Pepper Pike, Ohio.
The Cambridge Mikva, a project of Chabad Lubavitch of Cambridge, England, was opened with the participation of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.
Days of Selichos, 5715 
On the eve of Rosh Hashanah I extend my prayerful wishes to my brethren, every Jew and Jewess in the midst of our people Israel, the time hallowed traditional blessing of "Shono toivo umesuko" - a good and sweet year.
The celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the year, has been ordained by our Torah to take place on the anniversary of the Creation, but not on the first day of Creation. It has been made to coincide with the sixth day of Creation, the day when Man was created.
The significance of this day, and of this event, is not in the fact that a new creature was added to Creation, a creature one plane higher than the rest of the animal kingdom, as the animal is superior to plant, and plant to mineral.
The significance lies in the fact that the new creature - Man - was essentially different from the others.
For it was Man who recognized the Creator in and through Creation, and, what is more, brought about the elevation of the entire Creation to that recognition and thus to the fulfillment of its Divine design and purpose.
Since such recognition and appreciation of the Creator is the ultimate purpose of the Creation.
One of the main distinguishing features which set Man apart from all other creatures is the free choice of action which the Creator bestowed upon him.
Man can use this special Divine gift in two opposing directions. He may, G-d forbid, choose the way leading to self-destruction and the destruction of everything around him; or, he can choose the right way of life, which would elevate him and the Creation with him to the highest possible perfection.
And to help us recognize and choose the right path, we were given the Torah, which is Divine and eternal, hence, its teachings are valid for all times and in all places.
It is not possible for man to make this choice unaided, merely by virtue of his intellect, for the human intellect is limited. The intellect can only serve to discover and bring forth that inner absolute intuition and faith in things which lie beyond and above the realm of the intellect; the faith and intuition which are the heritage of every Jew, therewith to illuminate his entire being and to guide him in his daily living to a life inspired by Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments].
On Rosh Hashanah man stands not only before the Divine Judgement, but also before his own.
The verdict of his own judgement, with regard to the future, must be: that he takes upon himself to fulfill his duty, that is, to work toward the fulfillment - in himself and in his surroundings - of the call:
"Come, let us worship, bow down, and kneel before G-d our Maker," a call for absolute submission to G-d was first sounded by the first man, Adam, on the day of his creation, on the first Rosh Hashanah.
This can be attained only through a life inspired and guided by the Torah.
And that he must once and for all abandon the opposite road, which can only lead to destruction and doom.
Let no one think: who am I and what am I to have such tremendous powers of building or destruction.
For we have seen - to our sorrow - what even a small quantity of matter can do in the way of destruction through the release of atomic energy. If such power is concealed in a small quantity of matter - for destructiveness, iin denial of the design and purpose of Creation, how much greater is the creative power entrusted to every individual to work in harmony with the Divine purpose, for in this case one is also given special abilities and opportunities by Divine Providence to attain the goal for which we have been created: the realization of a world in which
"Each creature shall recognize that Thou didst create him, and every breathing soul shall declare: 'G-d, the G-d of Israel, is King, and His reign is supreme over all.' "
With the blessing of Kesivo vachasimo toivo [written and sealed for good]
OVED means "servant." Oved was a son of Ruth and Boaz. He was the father of Jesse, who was the father of King David. (Ruth 4:17)
OFRA is a young mountain goat or young deer. In Chronicles (I 4:14) it is used as a masculine name although currently it is used as a feminine name.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat is an auspicious one. It is the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana, and therefore the last Shabbat of this year, 5771. The date of this Shabbat is the 25th of Elul.
The 25th of Elul is the date of the first day of creation of the world. The creation of the world is mentioned in the beginning of chapter 5 in Ethics of the Fathers and at the end of chapter six. We complete our study of Ethics for this year by studying both of these chapters this Shabbat.
The fifth chapter begins with a description of creation, as it says, "The world was created by ten utterances." The sixth chapter ends with the whole purpose of creation: "Everything which the Holy One, blessed be He created was created for His glory."
From this we realize two things. First, we have a task set before us. Each and every one of us was created for the purpose of glorifying and sanctifying G-d. We do this by observing His Torah and mitzvot in a public and open way.
The verse doesn't just say that man was created for this purpose, but "everything which He created" was created for this purpose. Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chasidic movement once stated that we can learn a lesson on how to serve G-d from everything we encounter. By realizing and understanding the lesson that has been set before us, that which we have learned the lesson from has been elevated because it has served its purpose on this earth. By teaching us a lesson in Divine Service, it has played a part in the glorification of G-d.
As the year draws to a close, let us resolve in the coming year to open our eyes, look around us, and reveal the hidden lessons that are all around us, and at the time let us pray fervently for the time when all G-dliness is revealed, with the coming of our righteous Moshiach. May it be speedily in our days.
It will come to pass, when all these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse...and you shall return to the L-rd (Deut. 30:1-2)
It is obvious that punishment and suffering can open a man's heart to G-d, but how can blessing bring him to repentance? The Baal Shem Tov offered an analogy: It happened once that a simple man rebelled against the king. But instead of punishing him, the king took him into his palace and appointed him to an important position. The more favor and privilege that was lavished on him, the worse the man felt about having rebelled. Thus we see that mercy and kindness can sometimes prompt a person to repentance even more effectively than punishment.
Gather the people together, men, and women, and children...that they may hear and learn and fear the L-rd your G-d, and take care to do all the words of this Torah (Deut. 31:12)
According to the Minchat Chinuch, the commandment for all Jews to assemble in Jerusalem on Sukkot following the Sabbatical year, to hear the king recite the Book of Deuteronomy is incumbent on every Jew from birth. From this we learn that a child's Jewish education must likewise commence from birth.
I will certainly hide (lit. "hide I will hide") My face on that day (Deut. 31:18)
Commenting on the Torah's repetition of the word "hide," the Baal Shem Tov said: There will come a time at the end of the exile when G-d's concealment will be two-fold. Not only will He be "hidden" within the physical world, but His concealment will be so great that people will not even realize that anything is hidden! Nonetheless, there is no concealment capable of separating the Jew from G-d. The same "I" Who hides His face is the same "I" Who uttered the Ten Commandments, and dwells in the heart of every Jew.
The time for morning prayers had passed, and all the other congregants had filtered out of the shul, ready to begin their daily tasks. Only one Jew lingered, wrapped in talit and tefilin, buried deep in his own thoughts. In truth, he hadn't even begun the prayers, so entangled was he in the doubts that had haunted him for months. Now, the black depression - created by his own evil inclination - had so overtaken him, that he couldn't extricate himself. His mind wandered from one question to another; no foreign idea was barred entrance. And so, the morning passed imperceptibly, and the Jew slid further and further into the dark pit he had created for himself.
Suddenly he was roused from his trance by the touch of someone's hand on his shoulder. He looked up, and to his utter surprise, the Baal Shem Tov (known also as the "Besht") stood gazing down at him. "Do you think that by thinking and questioning G-d's ways you will find the answers? Don't you recall the words of King David who said, 'For I am ignorant and know not; in simplicity I followed You and I am with You always.'
"A Jew must totally submit himself to G-d, serve Him and follow His commandments, and for no other reason than because the orders come from his Creator, not because of his own philosophical conclusions. When you begin by accepting the 'yoke of Heaven,' then, and only then, will you achieve true spiritual enlightenment. And you, too, will conclude as did King David, 'I am with You always.' First perform the mitzvot, the Divine instructions for life. Then you may think about them and delve into them to the best of your limited human ability."
The Jew sat spellbound by the Baal Shem Tov's words, which entered and cleansed his heart.
"This is my advice to you," the Besht continued. "Put aside your intellect; forget it and just begin doing. Accept the fact that G-d is our King and then put all of your strength into doing mitzvot - do them without thinking too much. If you follow my instructions, I promise that you will surely attain true wisdom and understanding."
As suddenly as he had appeared, the Baal Shem Tov disappeared and returned home to Medzibozh. The startled Jew was trembling from head to toe, but he lost no time in praying the morning service with a fervor that he had never before experienced. The depressing thoughts and doubts which had been his steady companions for months had vanished.
The Jew was left to puzzle the hows and whys of the Baal Shem Tov's sudden appearance and equally abrupt disappearance. "How did the Besht know exactly what I was thinking, exactly what was troubling me?" he wondered. "It must be just as he told me, not everything is according to human logic; there are many things which lie outside our ken. And certainly the ways of G-d are among those things."
That same day the Jew packed his belongings and made the trek to Medzibozh. There he became one of the Baal Shem Tov's devoted students.
Every night, after reciting the last blessing of the bedtime prayers, the tzadik, Reb Yitzchak of Drohovitz, lay his head on his pillow, closed his eyes, and fell fast asleep. Why was this night different? Why did his soul refuse to ascend to the celestial realms? He couldn't figure it out, but tossed and turned in his bed; sleep refusing to come to him.
What is one to do in such a circumstance? Why, any pious Jew, and certainly a tzadik like Reb Yitzchak of Drohovitz would take stock of the day's events - an "accounting of one's soul" - for perhaps there was something in his speech, his deed or even his thought which contained a spiritual blemish. And so, Reb Yitzchak sat up in his bed and began pondering his day, minute by minute, word by word and thought by thought. And then, it came to him in a flash! Of course, that was it!
That afternoon, he had overheard a conversation in which the Baal Shem Tov had been maligned by a certain Jew. Reb Yitzchak was about to reprimand the speaker, but then, for some reason unclear to him now, he refrained and was silent.
Reb Yitzchak knew what he must do. He quickly jumped from his bed and put on his clothes. He saddled his horse and rode through the night, never stopping until he dismounted in Medzibozh in front of the Baal Shem Tov's shul.
As Reb Yitzchak entered the shul, the morning service was in progress. He stood there for a few minutes contemplating the scene, when a strange thing happened - someone called his name. He was being honored by being called up to the Torah. "Funny," he thought, "no one knows me here, I wonder why I am being called," but he stepped forward.
When the prayers ended, Reb Yitzchak had no chance to beg forgiveness. The Baal Shem Tov strode up to him, hand extended and said quite simply, "Yisrael forgives you from the bottom of his heart."
In time to come the Evil Inclination will cease to exist; as it is written (Zechariah 13:2), "I shall remove the spirit of impurity from the earth." Indeed, so manifest will the glory of G-d then be throughout the entire world, that a mere fig will cry out in protest if it is about to be picked on Shabbat. It is thus clear that it will be impossible to sin in such circumstances, even unwittingly - just as a small child never puts his hand into the fire, nor does an animal jump into a fire.
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. 25, p. 263)