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You find the recipe, read it over, and scan your pantry to make sure you have all of the ingredients you'll need. Then you glance at your watch to see if there's enough time to complete the baking project.
You've done the preliminary preparations. Now it's time to gather the mixing bowl, measuring spoons and cups, and other supplies to start the actual process.
But, imagine baking a cake without the pre-planning. You take out the mixer, spatula, measuring spoons and cup. You read the recipe. One by one you add the ingredients.
Oh no! There's only one egg left in the carton and you need three. What can you substitute? You decide to borrow eggs from a neighbor and hope that the half-mixed batter with the baking powder already added will survive.
When you're finished, you get ready to spoon the batter into the cupcake tins.
Oops! There aren't any cupcake liners. Scrap the idea of cupcakes; you'll make a cake instead. You look at your watch skeptically, knowing that cakes require more baking time than cupcakes.
If you've been there and done that, you certainly know that a little bit of preparation and thoughtful planning can save time and aggravation in the long run.
There is a Jewish custom to wish each other in correspondence and in conversations: "K'tiva vachatima tova - may you be written and sealed for good" starting from the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month Av (this Friday).
You may well be wondering, "Isn't this Shabbat a little early to start preparing for Rosh Hashana? After all, it's over 6 weeks until the New Year!"
In answer, the upcoming Jewish month of Elul, which begins in just a little over two weeks, is the month when we prepare ourselves spiritually for Rosh Hashana and the entire year to follow. By the middle of the current month, the month preceding Elul, we need to prepare ourselves for Elul! From the fifteenth day of Av we do the preliminary preparations and beginning in Elul we do the actual preparations for the new year.
So, far from being way too early, now is a good time to begin making sure we have all of the right ingredients for the new year!
When Jewish people bless each other (for the upcoming year), it is an expression of "ahavat Yisrael" - love and concern of one Jew for another. When wishing another person well is done with warmth and sincerity, out of a deep feeling of love, it is an even stronger demonstration of the mitzva (commandment) to "love one's neighbor as oneself."
And the love and concern for another Jew expressed in our wishes for a "K'tiva vachatima tova" hasten the realization of G-d's blessings for the coming year.
To get the "recipe" just right for the coming year, plan ahead. If we start now with preliminary preparations, we'll be surprised at how smoothly and efficiently we'll be able to approach the New Year.
The Fifteenth of Av (Tu B'Av) is a special holiday, about which our Sages declared, "There were no days as festive in Israel as the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur." The significance of Yom Kippur is obvious, but what was so exceptional about Tu B'Av?
In the times of the Holy Temple, an ample supply of wood was required for the altar. The season for felling trees began in the month of Nisan and ended on Tu B'Av, the warmest time of year when the trees dried out and there was little chance of worm infestation. By Tu B'Av, the weather became cooler; worms might possibly thrive, thereby invalidating the wood for use in the Temple. Tu B'Av thus marked the day on which the great mitzva (commandment) of preparing the wood for the Temple was completed.
But what was so joyous about the fact that the trees were no longer cut? And what is the significance of cutting trees, anyway? After all, the trees were only cut in preparation for the mitzva of bringing sacrifices; it was not a mitzva itself.
To explain: Both Tu B'Av and Tisha B'Av are associated with the Temple. However, on Tisha B'Av we mourn the destruction of the Temple; on Tu B'Av we rejoice in a mitzva that relates to the Temple's continued existence.
At present, the Temple does not exist in the physical sense and we cannot offer sacrifices. Nonetheless, in the past, it was the cutting of the trees that enabled our ancestors to fulfill this mitzva; indeed, it epitomized the Temple's very purpose: to serve as a "House" for G-d in which sacrifices could be brought. This activity reached its culmination on Tu B'Av, which was why the Jews' rejoicing was so profound.
As is known, the Second Holy Temple was destroyed on account of the sin of baseless hatred. Tu B'Av, however, was characterized by a sense of unity. The wood that was cut for the altar caused a great benefit for all Jews - the atonement of their sins, as effected by the sacrifices. Without wood, there could be no sacrifices; thus the cutting of the trees was considered to be a very great mitzva.
Tu B'Av was also known as "The Day of the Breaking of the Axes." On that day, all the axes used to fell the trees for the Temple were destroyed. Why were the axes not saved?
An axe is a tool made of iron. According to Jewish law, it is forbidden for iron to touch the stones of the Temple's altar, as in addition to its positive uses, iron can also be forged into weapons of destruction. Accordingly, once the axes had fulfilled their function, they were destroyed to preclude being used for unholy purposes.
Tu B'Av can thus counteract the negative elements of Tisha B'Av, especially the sin of baseless hatred. We must act toward our fellow Jew with "baseless love." The reason for the destruction of the Temple will thus be nullified, and we will merit the building of the Third Holy Temple, now!
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 24
The Right Stop
Costa Rica is a picturesque tropical country, wooded and lush with natural beauty. Natan and Avi, two Lubavitcher yeshiva students, spent one summer in Costa Rica as part of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's "Merkos Shlichut" program. During the weeks they spent there they visited local tourist attractions and met with Jewish visitors, helping them to put on tefilin and sharing thoughts on Torah and Judaism.
On the last day of their stay in Costa Rica, Natan and Avi intended to visit the coastal city of S. Teresa. Their flight back to New York was scheduled for Monday evening, and on Sunday morning they left the capital city for the beach town. They knew that they had a long trip ahead, and they had to arrive there before evening because people in Teresa tended to go to sleep early. The town was rather undeveloped and there were no street lights. They would need to hurry.
But on their way to S. Teresa, the two lost their way several times on the crooked, partially paved roads of Costa Rica. Late afternoon, they realized they would not make it to their destination. They were stuck in a massive traffic jam. Drug enforcement police had set up roadblocks to capture traders who were attempting to cross the border into nearby Panama.
"Apparently we are not going to reach S. Teresa today," said Natan. Having no choice in the matter, they decided to extricate themselves from the traffic jam at the nearest exit, before sunset. The first sign they saw was for the village of Montezuma. "Hopefully tomorrow we will be able to get in a few hours in S. Teresa," said Avi.
At the center of the village they stopped their car to ask a passerby where they could find suitable lodging. A young man, "Pedro," with dreadlocks, earrings and tattoos came to their aid. He did not look like a native Costa Rican. He ran a roadside stand selling products from the East, together with a local young woman.
"I'm sure you thought I was Israeli, right?" Pedro asked in fluent Spanish. Indeed, the Chabad students had taken him for an Israeli.
"It's okay, you're not the first ones to think that," he laughed.
"Are you Jewish?" asked Avi.
"No," answered Pedro. "Actually, I'm not. But if you're looking for a place to spend the night, try that hostel over there," he said, pointing to a building across the road.
"So, are there any Jews in this village?" asked Natan.
"You know what," said the young man. "I have a Jewish grandmother. My mother's mother was Jewish. Although my mother raised us as Christians, I still feel a connection to the Jewish people."
At this, the two Chabad yeshiva students blurted out, as if on cue, "That means that you're Jewish!"
"What do you mean?" he asked, confused.
"Listen carefully," said Avi. "Your mother was Jewish, and that means you are too. Judaism is determined by the mother, and this is something that does not change, regardless of the lifestyle you lead. You are Jewish in every sense."
While Pedro tried to digest this new information, Avi looked up at the sky and decided to make use of the last few minutes remaining before sunset. He hurried to the car and pulled out a pair of tefilin. "You now have the opportunity to fulfill one of the most important mitzvot in Judaism. I don't have time to explain in detail, because the sun is about to set and then you won't have another chance until tomorrow morning. Give me your left hand, and I will wrap the tefilin around your arm, facing your heart, and around your head. Inside these boxes are verses of the Torah which remind us of our connection to G-d."
Pedro looked at Avi somewhat dazed, and like one hypnotized he stretched out his arm.
People in the street stopped to stare at the strange site of Pedro wearing straps on his arm and around his head attached to black boxes. Apparently he was a well-known figure in these parts. However, Pedro was overcome with an emotion that he had never before felt in his life.
After he had taken off the tefilin and calmed down somewhat, Pedro explained that in his life he had visited many cults and performed many religious ceremonies, but had never felt such a sense of belonging as when he put on tefilin. Pedro, who just moments before had no idea of his Jewishness, suddenly developed a strong thirst for more information about Judaism. Avi and Natan were naturally happy to oblige and provided him with material in Spanish.
The next morning, Avi and Natan made their way to S. Teresa. They found out that the village where they had spent the night was only ten minutes away from their original destination. "If we had known yesterday what a short distance there was, we would have stuck it out despite the traffic jam. But G-d sends us on our ultimate mission, and we ended up exactly where we needed to be to light this Jewish spark."
Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine
- (Back to text) Merkos Shlichus is an outreach program whereby Yeshiva students volunteer each summer to visit remote Jewish communities in order to raise awareness of Torah, mitzva observance and Judaism.
Rabbi Yudi and Devori Steiger arrived in Park City, Utah, to establish a new Chabad Center in the city known for its ski resorts, the US Ski Team and the largest independent film festival. Rabbi Mendel and Chassi Arnauve are opening a new Chabad House for students in the Fifth District of Paris, France. This brings the number of Chabad Centers in Paris to 60, under Rabbi Shmuel Azimov, who arrived in Paris in 1965 together with his wife Rebbetzin Bassie Azimov (obm).
The Chabad Center in Alpharetta, Georgia, has acquired additional land adjacent to their campus, bringing the total campus area to 6.5 acres. The land will be used to build a multi-purpose Jewish community center.
11th of Menachem Av, 5720 
Greeting and Blessing:
This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of July 28th, with the enclosure.
I thank you in anticipation of the film which you sent, even though you write that it did not come out as well as desired. However, to see the children marching, with radiant faces, etc., surely this is the most important thing.
I note your plans for visiting the Holy Land, and I send you my prayerful wishes for an enjoyable and inspiring trip. No doubt you will visit the Chabad institutions, although some of them may have reduced programs in view of the vacation period.
Having just observed the sad period of the Destruction [of the Holy Temple] (may G-d convert it to a period of joy), I need hardly emphasize to you that the purpose of such observance is to be inspired to do everything possible to remove the causes which brought about he Destruction and Exile, as we say in our prayers "Because of our sins we have been exiled from our land." Every activity of "Depart from evil and do good," helps to offset these causes and to lay the foundation for the Geulo Shleimo [complete Redemption].
Included in this category is, of course, also your work for strengthening Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in your community, especially in the field of Kashrus and Kosher education, and I trust both you and your wife will continue to make growing efforts in this direction, in good health, with minimum of business anxiety and a maximum of Parnosso [livelihood], including Tzedoko [charity].
Hoping to hear good news from you always,
15th of Menachem Av, 5719 
Greeting and Blessing:
This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of August 17th, and thank you also for the regards from our Holy Land, in connection with your recent visit there. I also appreciate your sending me the clipping and for your intention to send me a copy of the films you took in Kfar Chabad, if they come out well. I am looking forward to receiving them.
With regard to the necessary documents for your son, the matter was turned over to the Yeshiva Administration, and no doubt they will take care of the formalities.
May G-d grant that, in as much as when the Beth Hamikdosh [Holy Temple] was in existence the 15th of Av was a very special and joyous day, may it inaugurate for you and yours a period of increased Divine blessings in all the matters you mention in your letter.
With prayerful wishes and kind regards to you and Mrs. J-, and with blessing to all your family,
15th of Menachem Av, 5717 
Greeting and Blessing:
I received your letter of July 29th. As the 15th of Menachem Av begins an auspicious period, of which our Sages said that he who increases his effort in matters of Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments], receives increased Divine blessings, I trust that this will be so in your case, and that you will, therefore, not take it too much to heart that the last deal did not materialize, especially as no human being can know what is best for him.
In accordance with this period mentioned above, I trust that you and Mrs. J- will make increased efforts in strengthening Yiddishkeit in your community, and thus merit increased Divine blessings.
I had been hoping to receive good news from you about a shidduch [match] for your brother J-. May it come to pass very soon.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson was the father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The great-grandson of the second Lubavitcher Rebbe, he was born on Nissan 18, 5638 (1878) and passed away Menachem Av 20, 5704 (1944). He served as Chief Rabbi of the city of Dnepropetrovsk (Yekatrinislav) in the difficult years of communist anti-Jewish persecution. He was exiled to Asiatic Russia where he endured terrible suffering for his staunch, uncompromising stand on all matters of Jewish religious observance.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Wednesday (August 8) is the 20th of the Hebrew month of Av. This date is the yartzeit (anniversary of the passing) of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, the saintly father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
In a letter that Reb Levi Yitzchak wrote to his son, he emphasized the concept of faith in every little "dot and crown" of our G-d-given Torah, whereby each detail complements and perfects the others:
"Do not imagine that the process of argument and debate as engaged in by the Sages of the Mishna and Talmud and those who followed... falls into the category of regular human intellectual pursuit. No, it is not that at all... Rather, each of the Sages perceived the Torah's wisdom as it exists Above, according to the source of his soul and his individual portion in Torah, whether in Jewish law or Aggada.
"There is absolutely no doubt that everything in both the Oral and Written Torah, and in all the holy books written by the sages and tzadikim (righteous people), who studied Torah for its own sake... everything was said by G-d Himself, in that particular and exact wording."
Reb Levi Yitzchak's spoken words were not ephemeral sounds, his written words were not mere ink on paper. The understanding that every dot and crown of Torah are true and holy were his blood and bones. He lived with the realization of the importance of every aspect of Torah and had utter self-sacrifice for the compliance to Torah's every detail and nuance.
May we learn from his teachings and example and may his memory be a blessing for us.
You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor shall you diminish from it (Deut. 4:2)
The Torah is a life-giving elixir, a Divine "prescription" for purity and holiness. It is therefore forbidden to add or detract from the Torah's commandments in the same way one mustn't tamper with the proportions of a medicinal compound. Too much or too little of any one element can be extremely detrimental, and the "doctor's" instructions must be followed exactly.
(Rabbi Yehonatan Eibeshutz)
And they will say, "Surely a wise and understanding people is this great nation" (Deut. 4:6)
In a different verse (Deut. 7:7) the Torah calls the Jewish people "the fewest of all the nations." How, then, can they also be "great?" In number, the Jews are a very small people. But by accepting their role of keeping the Torah's mitzvot they become qualitatively great, enjoying an elevated status in society and wielding great influence in all areas of life.
Take good care of your souls (Deut. 4:15)
One must not abuse or neglect the physical body, for "a small defect in the body creates a large defect in the soul."
(The Maggid of Mezritch)
And you shall teach them to your children..." (Deut. 6:7)
It is an absolute duty for every person to spend a half hour every day thinking about the Torah-education of children, and to do everything in his power - and beyond his power - to inspire children to follow the path along which they are being guided.
In a small town in white Russia there lived a rich Jew who was considered to be a real miser by all the townspeople. Whenever he was approached for a donation, he would take out a rusty copper five kopecks coin, and offer it as his contribution. People would throw the rusty coin back at the miser and eventually stopped approaching him for donations altogether, until something quite remarkable happened.
A young couple, both poor orphans, were soon to be married. The townspeople provided them with their needs and also made sure that they would have a fine wedding feast. Indeed, everyone had contributed to this special fund and was entitled to participate in the simcha (happy occasion), except the miser. No one had even asked him for a contribution.
In the midst of all the preparations for the wedding, without any warning, the groom was taken into custody by the Chief of Police for military service!
The Chief of Police was known as a Jew-hater. When he heard about the wedding, he thought it would be a golden opportunity to strike at all the Jews. He sent for the groom on his wedding day!
A special delegation hurried to the Police Chief to arrange for the groom's release. The Chief threw them out with the warning that they would be sent to Siberia if they continued to harass him.
At this critical time, the revered and famous Rabbi Shneur Zalman arrived in town. He had made the match between the young couple and had come to join in their simcha. When he heard what had happened, he asked the rabbi of the town to accompany him to see the Police Chief.
"We've come to ask you to release the bridegroom, who is to be married tonight. We are ready to pay the tax to obtain his immediate release. Just name the amount," the Rebbe said in a firm voice.
The Police Chief, an avid card player and gambler, had gotten himself into serious debt. He now saw a chance to squeeze a large sum of money from the Jews in his town.
"One thousand rubles," said the Chief.
Without hesitation, Rabbi Shneur Zalman replied, "You will receive this amount before sunset."
As soon as they were outside, the Rabbi asked the Rebbe, "How can we possibly raise such a large sum of money from our poor townspeople, and before sunset today?"
"G-d, the father of orphans, will not forsake them," the Rebbe answered confidently.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman insisted on going to the "miser" first. " We will give him the opportunity to participate in the great mitzva of redeeming the imprisoned," said Rabbi Shneur Zalman.
Arriving at the rich man's house, Rabbi Shneur Zalman told the man what had happened to the groom. The rich man said nothing but brought out the five kopek coin and offered it to the Rabbi. Rabbi Shneur Zalman quickly took the coin, saying, "May you have the merit to do many more mitzvot."
As they got up to leave, the Jew blurted out, "I think my contribution was too small. Here is a whole ruble."
The Rebbe took the ruble and repeated his blessing. As they turned toward the door, the Jew called out, "Excuse me Rebbe, I'd like to give a larger donation." He took out a ten-ruble note. The Rebbe took it graciously and blessed him as before. This performance repeated itself several times with the Rebbe blessing the man each time. Finally the Jew burst into tears.
"I once gave a beggar a five kopek coin, and he threw it back in my face. I was so annoyed that I said to myself, `This coin is going to be my donation, whatever the cause, until someone accepts it with a friendly word. Since then, that five kopek piece has always been returned to me with scorn and abuse, until people stopped coming to me altogether for charity."
"You, saintly Rebbe, are the first person who accepted my donation with friendliness. You gave me the opportunity to participate in this great mitzva and you found it in your heart to bless me. I shall never forget what you have done.
"Now, I shall give you the full amount needed to pay for the groom's release. I hope and pray that it will make up for the tzedaka (charity) opportunities I have missed."
The Rebbe blessed him again that G-d should enable him to give charity with an open hand and a joyous heart. The groom was released after the money was paid and the wedding was celebrated with unsurpassed joy and gratitude. One of the most distinguished guests, in addition to the Rebbe, was the Jew who had donated the whole ransom money.
From Talks and Tales.
The joy of Moshiach is compared to a wedding. Moshiach will unite every aspect of creation with its inner soul. When the soul is revealed, it becomes apparent that everything is essentially one - only separated by body and external form. Then, everything in creation will unite and join together as one, becoming G-dliness. This union creates tremendous joy - like the joy of marriage - only on a greater scale, for Moshiach joins all of creation in union.
(See Keser Shem Tov, pg. 1.)