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As we approach Rosh Hashana, the "head" of the year, we are reminded of the adage "two heads are better than one." We're not referring to the fact that the Jewish New Year is celebrated for two days. Rather, as this is the season when Jews customarily greet each other with good wishes for the coming year, two heads - people - extending blessings are surely better than one.
"Have a good, sweet year," "Shana Tova," "May you be blessed with a healthy, happy year." These sentiments are offered when we bump into an acquaintance, call a relative or send New Year's cards. Judaism encourages us to keep those blessings coming not only before, during and immediately after Rosh Hashana, but throughout the entire year, as well.
How important the concept is of blessing others can be learned from the beginning of the Torah. The first letter of the first word of the Torah is the Hebrew letter "beit." Would it not have been more appropriate, one might ask, for the Torah to begin with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, "alef"? However, to emphasize the importance of the concept of blessing, the Torah begins with the letter "beit," the first letter of the word "bracha," or blessing.
Just as the Torah begins with the letter beit, signifying blessing, so too, should a Jew - a living Torah - "begin with a blessing." Simply stated this means that we should try to begin or at least incorporate into our conversations and correspondence good wishes and blessings to others.
The Chasidic masters used to say, "When two Jews meet, their meeting should provide a benefit for a third Jew." As stated before, "two heads are better than one!" It can and should be part of our routine, in these days before Rosh Hashana and throughout the year, that when we encounter a friend or acquaintance, we figure out how our meeting can assist a third person. Perhaps you know someone who needs a job and I know of a job opening. Maybe I have a friend who is not feeling well and to my, "May so-and-so have a speedy recovery," you can answer a hearty "Amen." Or you just might know a nice (single) Jewish man and you can ask me if I possibly know Ms. Right.
Let no one underestimate his or her ability to so profoundly help another person while expending so little effort. For, as we approach the New Year for the world and the anniversary of the creation of humankind on Rosh Hashana, we are reminded that each person is obligated to say, "The world was created for me." Far from being a call to selfishness and egotism, the obligation to view the world as being created "for me," sensitizes us to the far-reaching affects that our conduct can have and that our deeds will affect the entire world.
May we all be blessed materially and spiritually, and may we usher in the ultimate Redemption, NOW!
The Torah portion of Nitzavim is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana.
It begins: "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, your children and your wives ... that you should enter into the covenant of the L-rd your G-d."
With these words, Moses brought the Jewish people into a state of collective and mutual surety. Indeed, our Sages declared, "All Jews are guarantors for one another."
Let us examine the concept of surety more closely.
What exactly is a guarantor, and who is eligible to act as one? According to logic, only a person who is superior to another in a certain respect can provide a guarantee. Consider the example of the poor man who has requested a loan. The lender cannot rely on the poor man's ability to pay him back, so he asks for a wealthy guarantor as collateral. This way, the lender is assured that he will be repaid.
Conversely, it would be illogical to expect a poor man to act as guarantor for a rich man's loan. This would not make sense, as the poor man has less money to begin with.
What, then, are we to make of the fact that "All Jews are guarantors for one another"? How is it possible that even the lowliest individual can act as guarantor for the greatest?
Commenting on the verse "You are standing this day, all of you," Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidut, explained that Jews comprise a single entity. Metaphorically speaking, the Jewish people form one body, with each individual Jew being an integral part of the whole.
A physical body is composed of many organs and limbs, each one of which serves its own unique function. That the head is superior to the foot is obvious, but without the foot, the body is incomplete. A defect in the foot affects the entire person; the head suffers if any of the body's limbs are flawed. In order to exist as a healthy entity, the body requires all of its organs to be in prime condition and to work in consonance.
So too is it in regard to the Jewish people. There are many different types and categories of Jews. Some are on the level of "head," while others may be said to be the "feet." Nonetheless, each and every Jew is of inestimable value, an essential part of the Jewish people without whom the "body" of Jews would be incomplete. For this reason, all Jews are "guarantors for one another," as each individual possesses unique qualities which are necessary for the health and integrity of the whole.
True unity is only possible when all Jews stand together as one. Not only does this require the participation of our "heads," "tribes" and "elders," but the "hewers of our wood" and "drawers of our water" are no less important.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 4
The Shofar's Cry
by Yehudis Cohen
Imagine... You are sitting in a large amphitheater in Smolensk, Russia, on Rosh Hashana, a hall that used to be a popular location for Red Party lectures during the Communist regime. The young rabbi raises the ancient instrument to his lips. Triumph! The shofar's strong but primitive notes remind everyone that no forces in the world can destroy the indomitable spirit of the Jewish people.
"It was just a few months after I moved to Smolensk," recalls Rabbi Levi Mondshine, the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS representative, an emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and today the Chief Rabbi of Smolensk. "We were preparing for the first official Rosh Hashana services in over 75 years!
"There were so many details to take care of, from renting a venue that would fit all of the people we were expecting down to finding the traditional Rosh Hashana foods that were out-of-season. My wife Chana and I spent days contacting hundreds of Jewish families, most of whom didn't know anything about the High Holidays, to invite them to celebrate with us. Yuri was one of the people we called. He told me that he and his friends have their own Jewish New Year celebration. 'Rabbi, I'll come join you at the services and afterwards you can celebrate with me and my friends!' he offered.
The first day of Rosh Hashana arrived. The hall was hushed, the air thick with anticipation. Rabbi Mondshine lifted the shofar to his lips. As the first notes broke the heavy silence, sobs mingled with the shofar's cry. Seven decades of longing to hear the shofar's declaration of freedom and fortitude had finally been realized.
The shofar's cry of return pierced the hearts of everyone in the hall; the tears that cascaded down the cheeks of young and old healed the broken hearts and emboldened the broken spirits.
Much later that afternoon, Rabbi Mondshine showed up at Yuri's and his friends' "celebration." There was disco music, an open bar, and fireworks! Yuri called for silence and Rabbi Mondshine began to speak:
"The sound of the shofar is a wake-up call to us to return to our Jewish roots. It is also a declaration of our freedom and proof of the eternal nature of the Jewish people." And then, Rabbi Mondshine lifted the shofar to his lips and blew it.
Amazingly, at that Jewish New Year party, just like at the services earlier in the day, the same scene repeated itself! Sobs mingled with the shofar's cry... tears cascaded down cheeks... broken hearts healed and broken spirits strengthened.
That year, hundreds of Jews in Smolensk heard the blowing of the shofar. And they heard the message of Jewish survival and pride that the shofar proclaims.
Today, hundreds of thousands of Jews in Smolensk, Russia... Yerevan, Armenia... Minsk, Belarus... Tbilisi, Georgia... Almaty, Kazakhstan... Bishkek, Krygyzstan... Kishinev, Moldava... Kiev, Ukraine... Samarkand, Uzbekistan... Talinn, Estonia... Riga, Latvia... Vilnius, Lithuania... and 442 other cities throughout the FSU hear the blowing of the shofar each year on Rosh Hashana. They hear the shofar's message of Jewish survival and pride. And they marvel at the rejuvenation of Jewish life that the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS and its representatives is bringing about in the former Soviet Union.
Andrei is one of the people Rabbi Mondshine had personally called to come to services that first year in Smolensk. But Andrei didn't show up at the synagogue - not for the services or for the meal or for the special shofar blowing ceremony.
"As we were walking home at the end of the day, Andrei drove by," recalls Rabbi Mondshine. "When he saw us, he pulled over. He wished us a 'Happy New Year.' I offered to blow the shofar for him. He looked around a bit nervously but agreed and got out of his car. As I blew the shofar, I heard Andrei choking back tears. When I finished he thanked me profusely.
"Three weeks later Andrei came to celebrate Simchat Torah with us. Since then, each year on Rosh Hashana, Andrei comes to services and brings his elderly grandfather with him. He thanks me for his private shofar blowing ceremony on a street in Smolensk: 'Rabbi, that one shofar blast ...' and then Andrei's voice trails off. Andrei has become an active member of the Jewish community. He is involved with the new JCC and synagogue that is under construction. This year, our holiday food package distribution and Rosh Hashana programs will be taking place in our own synagogue!" concludes Rabbi Mondshine.
Ed.'s note: Since this story took place, a state-of-the-art mikva and a specially comissioned Torah scroll have been dedicated at the Jewish Community Center of Smolensk. For more updates on Smolensk or other news about what is happening in the former Soviet Union visit www.fjc.ru.
High Holiday Hoopla
Wondering what to do or where to go during the upcoming Jewish holidays? Your Chabad-Lubavitch Center has services, classes, meals, and numerous other events scheduled for the flurry of festivals in the upcoming weeks. To find out what is taking place in your area, including times for special services to hear the shofar, call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
Have Shofar Will Travel
As in years past, the Lubavitch Youth Organization has arranged for volunteers to walk to hospitals and nursing homes throughout the New York Metro area on Rosh Hashana so that those who are unable to attend synagogue services will still be able to fulfill the "mitzva of the day" - listening to the sounding of the shofar.
Free translation from the Hebrew
In the Days of Selichos, 5723 (1962)
To my Brethren, Everywhere G-d bless you all
Greeting and Blessing:
The days of Rosh Hashana, the Days of Awe, which usher in the New Year (may it be a happy and blessed one for all of us), fill every Jewish heart with a sense of holiness.
The feeling which the Days of Awe inspire goes deeper than a sense of apprehension in the face of Divine judgment. It is a feeling of Yiras HaRomemus - a sense of awe and trepidation that is inspired by the consciousness of the unfolding event of the "coronation" of the Supreme King of kings, blessed be He; a coronation in which every individual Jew participates. For this is the essence of Rosh Hashana.
The "coronation" of the Creator of the Universe as the "King over all the Earth," for which we pray and which we actually carry out on Rosh Hashana, renews the personal union of each Jew with G-d: it is the direct and inward union of each individual as an individual, and not merely as a part of the community or people as a whole.
The "coronation" is accompanied by the personal petition of each and every one of us that the Almighty accept his coronation, whereby the mutual union of "We are Your people and You are our King" is created.
The idea and experience of this "coronation" are expressed in the prayer: O, our G-d and G-d of our fathers, establish Your glorious reign over all the world... that every creature shall know that You did create him... and every living soul shall declare: the L-rd G-d of Israel is King, and His Kingdom reigns everywhere: the whole of Creation, and especially the human being endowed with a soul, recognizes and submits to the Sovereignty of G-d.
This prayer accentuates the feeling of awe and trepidation and, at the same time, the inevitable consequence thereof - the compelling readiness and longing to obey the commandments of the King.
Hence, notwithstanding the fact that Rosh Hashana ushers in the Ten Days of Return (Aseres Yemei Teshuva) and is part of them, there is no recital of tachanun (prayers of supplication), nor any confession of sin, during Rosh Hashana. For the feeling of oneness with the Almighty, which is evoked by the coronation, so permeates our heart and mind, that however great may be our sorrow over the deeds of the past, it is completely "dissolved" in the overwhelming experience of awe and trepidation.
As a matter of fact, teshuva itself - in its deeper concept as the "return (to the source)" - is in complete harmony with the essential content of Rosh Hashana, namely, the event of the Divine Coronation.
Only after Rosh Hashana do the further aspects of teshuva come into their own, such as repentance of the past and resolution for the future, with confession of sin, supplication of forgiveness, etc., as the necessary effects of the Coronation of Rosh Hashana. For the consciousness of the renewed and strengthened union with the King, and the feeling of oneness with Him, must create in the subject the will and determination to be worthy of this exalted relationship.
This, in turn, must induce every effort to remove anything that interferes with, or hinders, the consummation of this union, namely all sins, whether committed rebelliously, knowingly, or even inadvertently.
...An indication as to the proper use of the spirit of these holy days is to be found in the details prescribed for the mitzvah (commandment) of sounding the shofar, the only special mitzvah of Rosh Hashana. This commandment does not prescribe the use of an ensemble of instruments, but only one; and that also not a delicate instrument producing extraordinary musical compositions.
The insistence is that the shofar be a plain horn of an animal, and "all sounds are proper in a shofar." Thus, the shofar emphasizes that the orientation should be, first and foremost, on the individual self, with the accent on the duty to introduce sanctity even into the ordinary and commonplace of the daily life of the individual, and then into the social life of the individual as a member of the community, and so forth.
...May the spiritual awakening and inspiration of these days illuminate and permeate every day of the year, so as to intensify the union between each Jew and G-d into a profound attachment that will express itself in the daily life according to, and in harmony with, the Divine Torah and Divine commandments. Surely, the change for the better in the spiritual life will bring a change for the better in the material life, and the next year will be a blessed one in every respect.
With prayerful wishes for a Kesiva Vechasima Tova - to be inscribed and sealed for good, for a good and sweet year, good that is evident and revealed,
Shmuel (Samuel) the Prophet was the first of a group of leaders who comprised the Era of the Prophets. Samuel was the child of Elkanah and Chana. Chana, a prophetess, was childless for many years and prayed for a child on Rosh Hashana in the Sanctuary. Her prayers were answered and Shmuel was born in 931 b.c.e. At a very young age he was apprenticed to the High Priest Eli. Shmuel wrote the biblical books Judges, Ruth and Samuel. He anointed King Saul and then afterward King David. In Psalms, King David equates Shmuel with Moses and Aaron (99:6)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
On the eve of this new year, 5773, we would like to wish the entire Jewish People our sincerest blessings for a k'siva vachasima tova, l'shana tova u'msuka - to be inscribed and sealed for a good, sweet year, with blessings from every letter of the Hebrew Alef-Beis. May this year be:
A year of "Arise and have mercy on Zion,"... uplifted in matters of Moshiach and the Redemption... faith in G-d and Moses His servant... traveling with the Heavenly clouds... Revealed Wonders; Wonders in Everything... the building of the Holy Temple... trust; Great wonders... the true and complete Redemption; Dignified Wonders... victory... the seventh generation is the generation of Redemption...King David lives and is eternal; "Those who rest in the dust will arise and sing and he will lead them"... Moshiach is coming and he has already come... the revelation of Moshiach; "He will redeem us"... "And they believed in G-d and in Moses His servant"; "This one will comfort us"; the wonders of true freedom... a new song; an abundance of good (Rambam); the king shall live; inscribed and sealed for a good year... the harp of Moshiach; learning Moshiach's teachings; the coming of Menachem who will comfort us... the King Moshiach; wonders... revealed miracles... a double portion; treasures... the completion and end of exile... the revelation of the Infinite Divine Light; "Humble ones, the time of your Redemption has arrived," wealth, materially and spiritually; "Jerusalem will dwell in open space," paratzta - 770; Your servant David will go forth; the ingathering of the exiles... acceptance of his sovereignty by the people; Rebbe - Rosh B'nei Yisrael; peace... a new song... Moshiach's shofar... unity of the Torah, unity of the Jewish people, unity of the land of Israel; Resurrection of the Dead... "A new Torah will come from Me"
You are standing this day, all of you (Deut. 29:9)
You are standing - enduring and upright - and not the nations of the world. What is this likened to? A giant boulder that has rolled down and imbedded itself in the middle of the road. When a passerby who thinks he is strong and mighty tries to move it out of the way, the boulder ends up rolling over and killing him. After all his efforts, the rock is still stuck in the middle of the road! So do the nations of the world try to oppress the Jews, but they endure eternally.
That you should enter into the covenant of G-d and into His oath (Deut. 29:11)
The purpose of a covenant is to ensure that the love and respect which exist between two parties continue. We learn this from the way this ceremony was performed in ancient times. The two parties would split an animal in half and pass between the two sections (symbolizing that they, too, were both halves of the same entity). Just as a person has self-love, a love independent of any outside force and not governed by logic and reason, so too should such a love between the two parties continue and never cease. This is the eternal bond which exists between G-d and the Jewish People.
The secret things belong to G-d, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children (Deut. 29:28)
There are Jews who conceal their Jewish faith and belief from the world, till G-d alone is the only one who knows of it. But this is not the right way to behave. We must take into consideration that "those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children" - our Jewishness should be open and apparent at home, in the street, and most importantly, to our children.
The Baal Shem Tov once asked his disciple, Rabbi Zev Kitzis, to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana. Eager to do a good job, he studied all the proper meditations and wrote them down on a slip of paper. This displeased the Baal Shem Tov, and G-d caused the paper to fall out of Rabbi's Zev's pocket. On Rosh Hashana, when he realized that it was gone, he was broken-hearted and burst into tears. Having no choice, he blew the shofar without referring to his notes. The Baal Shem Tov later explained: There are many different chambers and rooms in the King's palace; each meditation is the key to opening a particular door. But a broken heart is the "axe" with which all doors can be broken down and entry gained...
It was Rosh Hashana in the synagogue of the Baal Shem Tov. In the middle of the prayers, a snuffbox accidentally dropped from the pocket of one of the Chasidim. He bent down to pick it up, and unthinking, he took a pinch of snuff and inhaled it. The man who was sitting next to him saw the little episode and an accusatory thought passed through his mind: "How could he have done such a mundane thing here in the Baal Shem Tov's shul (synagogue) and on this, such a holy day!?"
Through his holy intuition, the Baal Shem Tov perceived this thought, and he understood the repercussions this thought would have Above for the man who had taken the snuff. Throughout the remainder of Rosh Hashana the Baal Shem Tov tried his best to annul the effects of the thought, but to no avail. The man stood accused before the Heavenly Court all through the holy month of Tishrei.
Finally, during the evening prayers of the last day of Sukkot (Hoshana Rabba), the Baal Shem Tov managed to strike a deal for the accused. If the accuser would himself, find some merit in the snuff-taker, the snuff-taker would be forgiven. The only catch was this was not to be disclosed to either man.
When the Baal Shem Tov entered the shul that night he noticed that the Chasid who had had the critical thought was preparing to pray, but he seemed unable to concentrate his thoughts and he paced back and forth. He was thinking, "I wonder why tobacco, which is something people like to smoke and inhale, was introduced to the world. I suppose it is because there is some benefit to be had from it." As soon as that rationale entered his mind, he felt a rush of guilt and sadness at having judged his friend's actions so critically on Rosh Hashana.
On Hoshana Rabba it was customary for the Baal Shem Tov to make himself available to answer the questions of his Chasidim, which they would prepare in advance. That night, the accusing Chasid came to him with the question, "Is there any benefit to be had from tobacco and snuff?"
The Baal Shem Tov responded with his own question: "What are your thoughts on the matter?" The Chasid proceeded to tell the Rebbe his thoughts of the previous night, that there must be some benefit in these substances.
"I have a feeling there is more than you are telling me," replied the Baal Shem Tov. "Tell me what else you are thinking."
At the Baal Shem Tov's prompting the Chasid related the entire incident of the snuff which had occurred on Rosh Hashana. "When I saw my friend take so much enjoyment from the pinch of snuff on such a holy day, I immediately condemned him, thinking he must be a very coarse individual. But then, last night, I started thinking there was probably some redeeming quality about snuff, and I began to regret my negative thoughts."
The Baal Shem Tov was then free to tell him what reaction his judgmental thoughts had caused in the Heavens. "Your thoughts aroused quite a stir Above, and a serious charge was lodged against your companion. Fortunately, your change of heart has reversed that ruling, but you must resolve to guard your thoughts carefully in the future."
A Jew once came to the saintly Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin and cried, "Rebbe! I am a very great sinner and I want to repent." "So why don't you repent?" the Rabbi asked him. "I don't know how," he replied. "Where did you learn how to sin?" the Rabbi asked. "First I sinned, and only afterward did I learn that it was a sin," he explained. "In that case, you already know how to proceed," the Rabbi said. "All you have to do is repent. Afterwards you'll see that you did it properly!"
We sound the shofar twice on Rosh Hashana "to confuse the Satan." The first time, the Satan is worried that he is hearing the shofar of Moshiach. When he hears the shofar again, he is sure Moshiach has come! He becomes confused and doesn't make any accusations against the Jews. But the Satan is not a fool, he knows about Rosh Hashana! Why would he think Moshiach has come? However, the shofar inspires us to repent, and repentance brings the Redemption. After the shofar is blown the first time, the Satan is worried that our repentance has brought Moshiach. By the second time, he is sure that our repentance has brought Moshiach!