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Starting from the fifteenth of the Hebrew month of Av (this coming Monday), it's a Jewish custom to wish each other in correspondence and in conversations: "K'tiva vachatima tova - may you be written and sealed for good."
You may well be wondering, "Isn't Monday a little early to start thinking about Rosh Hashana, let alone sending out holiday greetings? After all, it's over 6 weeks until the High Holidays!"
What's more, gift shops and supermarkets haven't even yet set aside a place in their card racks for "Jewish New Year" cards!
Perhaps if we understand the value of each one of us blessing our friends and family we'll come to realize that it's not early at all!
Wishing friends and relatives a sweet, New Year, along with any other blessings you wish to include, is deeply rooted in Jewish tradition.
"I will bless those who bless you," G-d informed our illustrious ancestor Abraham. By blessing someone else, we precipitate receiving our own Divine blessing. The weeks before Rosh Hashana are an especially good time to "reach out and touch someone," whether in person, via telephone or mail. When you offer the hope that they be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet year, your are actualizing a blessing for yourself.
"But wait a minute. Who am I anyway to be blessing someone else?" you wonder. In the Talmud, Rabbi Elazar teaches, "Never let the blessing of even a common person be considered insignificant in your eyes." For, as the Talmud continues, two great men, King David and the prophet Daniel, were blessed by simple people and those blessings were fulfilled.
Just how far does this concept of the value of a simple person's blessing go?
The quote above is preceded in the Talmud by these words: Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha, a High Priest said, "Once, when I entered the Holy of Holies, I beheld the Holy One and He said to me, 'Ishmael, My son, bless Me!' I said, 'Sovereign of the Universe, may it be Your will that Your mercy overcome Your anger, and that Your compassion overrule Your attributes; let Your conduct toward Your children be with loving kindness... and may You overlook strict Judgment.' The Holy One bowed His head to me [in confirmation]." According to the Talmud these words of Ishmael ben Elisha are the same prayers G-d, Himself, offers.
In this coming year, may we bless our friends and relatives - and thereby ourselves - with a year of mercy and compassion, loving kindness and the forgiving of transgressions, by one another and by G-d.
In this week's Torah portion, Va'etchanan, Moses describes the Revelation at Mount Sinai to the younger generation of Jews who were about to enter the Land of Israel. He describes the voice of G-d, saying: "A great voice, which did not continue." One of the explanations that the Midrash offers for this is that G-d's voice did not have an echo.
The Midrash's answer seems to beg a few questions. How does the absence of an echo indicate greatness? If the voice was indeed strong, would it not have produced an echo? Furthermore, why did G-d perform such a miracle? Since miracles are not performed unnecessarily, why would G-d seemingly change the laws of nature just so that His voice would not produce an echo?
An echo is produced when sound waves hit an object. When the sound waves reach a wall, a mountain, or any such obstacle, they are bounced right back. The only condition necessary to produce an echo is that the object deflecting the sound waves must be strong and rigid. If the object is soft and yielding, the sound will be absorbed and no echo will result.
This physical phenomenon will explain why G-d's voice on Mount Sinai had no echo. When G-d said, "I am the L-rd your G-d," His voice was so overwhelmingly powerful that there was nothing in the world that was strong enough to deflect the sound. G-d's voice actually penetrated the physical world. Every object in the world, from the inanimate to the higher forms of life, absorbed the G-dly voice and was affected by it.
The phenomenon of the Revelation at Sinai is akin to what will take place in the Messianic Era, described in these words: "And the Glory of G-d will be revealed, and all flesh will see." Even our very bodies will be able to perceive G-dliness. So it was at the Revelation. All of physical reality absorbed the Revelation of the G-dly voice.
This is why G-d's voice had no echo. This was not a miracle; the laws of nature were not at all abrogated. It is in keeping with natural law that when a sound is absorbed, no echo is produced. And since the Voice was totally integrated into physical reality, there was nothing that could bounce the sound back. Therefore, the absence of an echo shows the infinite strength of the voice, rather than the opposite.
This phenomenon did not occur only once in the history of the world. Whenever a Jew studies Torah, the holy voice of Torah penetrates the physical surroundings and elevates the world. Our Sages say that in the World To Come, "the very beams of the house will bear witness," for they have been absorbing all the holiness produced when a person learns Torah in his home. (This explains why many tzadikim commanded that their coffins be made from the wood of their desks and tables where they learned Torah and gave food to the poor, for the Torah and mitzvot were "absorbed" by the very planks themselves!)
The power of Torah is such that nothing can stand in its way. The world was created in such a manner as to enable the continuing voice of Revelation to penetrate the corporeal world even today.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
A Family Like Yours
by Rabbi Uriel Vigler
My wife's grandfather, Rabbi Zalman Jaffee, who was very close to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary to his wife Rosyln in 1989. The Rebbe told him that the "Golden Anniversary" would be a "golden opportunity" to get together with his entire family.
Fast forward 24 years to the weekend of June 22, 2013 when my parents in law, Rabbi Shmuel and Hindy Lew, celebrated their 50th anniversary. They also wanted to utilize the opportunity to unite with the entire family, no easy feat as they have 15 children and close to 150 grandchildren and great-grandchildren spread across the USA and the UK!
In order to plan the weekend, we formed a Google group so everyone could contribute, communicate and help work out every last detail. (We also have a family WhatsApp group where we exchange thousands of texts each week -literally!) The planning began months in advance and emails flew back and forth as 15 (opinionated!) siblings tried to coordinate. All 15 are rabbis and rebbetzins of their own communities and synagogues, and leaving for a weekend is not so simple.
But in the end, everything came together and we all met at a hotel in New Jersey. Sitting around the Shabbat table with 150 family members was deeply moving. We all made kiddush and sang Shabbat melodies together. We told Chassidic stories, laughed a lot and reminisced about our shared history. The feeling of unity that bound us was powerful.
At the Shabbat meal, my father-in-law told us about the photographer's challenge when they married off their 14th child. How to include the many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren into one photo? It would take too long! The photographer suggested that the family gather before the ceremony, take as much time as needed to get a good photograph, and later he would Photoshop in the bride and groom. But my father-in-law insisted the photo be taken properly, with everyone present, after the chupa. Incredibly, within 15 minutes the photo had been taken!
Later that evening, the photographer told my father-in-law how impressed he was with the family and asked for a blessing: "I want a family like yours!" My father-in-law began blessing him to have a family double the size but the photographer stopped him. "I didn't mean the quantity," he said, "I meant the quality. The kinship and love they share - that's what I want my children to experience."
We recently completed the period of mourning the destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples and the ongoing exile. Our Sages explain that the Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred. The Talmud tells us that the antidote to this is for us to increase our love for each other.
Love begins at home. Sometimes it's easy; sometimes it's more difficult. But in the spirit of rebuilding the Holy Temple, let's all make an effort to reach out to our siblings, parents, cousins, aunts, uncles etc. in a kind and meaningful way.
Let's call a neighbor, a friend, or a family member for no particular reason. Offer to do a favor, give someone a ride, or help in any way needed. When we increase in love and kindness, that is more powerful than anything else in the world, and can only lead to goodness and the ultimate redemption.
I hardly ever get a chance to tour Manhattan, but two weeks ago I found myself at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum with 10 wounded IDF soldiers. (See L'Chaim 1273 for Rabbi Vigler's article about these special soldiers.) It was fascinating to see how life-like the wax statues appeared.
I stepped to the side for a few minutes to make a phone call. I was trying to reach the Israeli embassy in Washington, and like any embassy you have to listen to at least half a dozen long messages before speaking to a real person. So I leaned against the wall for a few minutes, lost in my own thoughts, while I waited for the recorded messages to end.
When I finished daydreaming I noticed a group of tourists taking pictures of me! I guess they'd seen me, dressed in my Chassidic garb, unmoving, and had mistaken me for a wax statue. I didn't want to disturb their fun so I stayed in position for another minute. Imagine their surprise when the Chassidic statue moved - they got the shock of their lives!
According to the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, there is a lesson for us in everything that happens. So I thought to myself, what is the lesson in being mistaken for a wax statue?!
I started noticing that as real as the statues look, they're all missing something. I have eyes, ears, a nose and mouth, and so do the wax replicas. Arms, legs, hands, feet - they're all there. In fact, they're so life-like that they almost look real. Almost, but not quite. They're missing life; vitality.
Some of us live our lives like wax statues. We wake up in the morning, drink our coffee, read the paper, check for Facebook, catch up on emails, go to work, then to a function. We're moving, we're doing, but in a zombie-esque, wax-statue-like manner.
But when we live our lives with a purpose, and a mission, when we do a mitzva (commandment) to help another, that's what differentiates us from the wax statues in the museum. Giving to charity, helping a wounded soldier or enriching the life of a stranger, that is proof that we are really living!
Rabbi Vigler and his wife Shevy direct Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side in New York . From Rabbi Vigler's blog at www.chabadic.com
New Torah Scrolls
Chabad of Sussex County recently celebrated the dedication of a new Torah scroll in Sparta, New Jersey. A new Torah scroll was welcomed into the historical Synagogue of Bryansk, Russia, that is currently undergoing massive renovations. The Manhattan Sephardic Congregation celebrated a Torah dedication in which a new Torah scroll and a Sefer Haftarot were welcomed to the Manhattan, New York, community. A new Sefer Torah was dedicated in the town of Lubavitch, Russia, in the exact courtyard where the Lubavitcher Rebbes lived.
International Campus Conference
An international conference of Chabad on Campus emissaries was recently held in Parsippany, New Jersey with 800 emissaries in attendance. These men, women and children man the 191 Chabad on Campus centers worldwide. According to chabad.edu, the centers are visited by more than 80,000 students each year.
1st Day Rosh Chodesh Iyar 5714 
Greeting and Blessing:
... In connection with the various rumors that have reached me, and which greatly surprise me, notwithstanding my many preoccupations I am writing the following.
According to my information (which I hope will be subsequently incorrect) your family is against arranging the wedding of your daughter accordance with the requirements of the Shulchan Aruch - Code of Jewish Law: that there must be a separation between men and women.
I hereby wish to explain to you the position as I see it:
When one arranges a wedding with a partition according to the stipulation of our Holy Torah, the law is that we should say in the Grace after meals "Shehasimcha Bimono," which means that when mentioning G-d's name we do so in connection with Simcha - happiness. This means that we should bring Simcha into the world and especially to the Chosson (groom) and Kallah (bride).
Surely it is superfluous to write what has happened in recent years in the world generally and particularly among Jews. If in all ages we had to rely on G-d for a blessing, success and even more for a healthy and happy life, how much more so is it essential in our generation, and the only one who can provide this is the One who is Master of the whole world - the Holy One Blessed be He.
Since the time when Rabbi__ asked my opinion about the Shidduch (match), and when your question came to me about it, I found it my duty and privilege to point out that when your daughter and the Chosson, Rabbi__ start their life together, it should be in a manner in which they can expect the maximum blessings from G-d, that they should have a healthy and happy home.
As mentioned earlier, our Holy Torah confirms that is so in the situation when one can say "Shehasimcha Bimono," and if this is the law then it is self-understood that no one can alter it. Therefore it surprised me that parents who do everything within their power to ensure that their children should be blessed with good fortune, should be willing to apply energy towards preventing there being Simcha at their daughter's wedding, which will result in it being lacking, G-d forbid, to a certain measure in their later life.
One gets married in order to build a "house" for tens of years. Is it right that parents should risk that which affects their daughter for decades in order that the few hours of the duration of the wedding should please those people who are unacquainted with the laws of the Shulchan Aruch; or those who ignore the Shulchan Aruch; or the irresponsible ones who think it worthwhile to risk tens of years for the sake of a momentary, imagined pleasure. How does one have the boldness to take such a responsibility upon himself?
It is not my duty to force people to act in accordance with my opinion; it is not my habit to persuade people in general to conform with my views; and it is not my custom to use harsh words. Therefore, I wish to conclude my letter with talking only about that which is good.
When I gave my consent to the Shidduch, I was sure that the parents on their hand would do everything dependent on them that their daughter and future son-in-law would be ensured of goodness and happiness, as much as feasibly possible, for the tens of years that they will be together. It is self-understood that it is of no consequence whether or not her friends will be pleased as long as the Holy Torah is satisfied with the arrangements at the wedding.
As mentioned previously, if we truly want the Holy Torah to rule that we can say "Shehasimcha Bimono" at the wedding, and thereby be happy thereafter for the rest of life, the Shulchan Aruch says that the wedding should be with a partition.
P.S. I am aware that there have been many weddings, including ones of religious people, unfortunately without partitions. But I also know of the troubles which unfortunately ensued. The Alm-ghty should bless you that you should report only good news materially and spiritually.
Serach was the daughter of Asher - one of the twelve sons of Jacob. She gently disclosed to Jacob the news that Joseph was still alive by playing a song with the words "Joseph is alive" on her harp, so that he would not suffer a shock. Jacob blessed her with immortality. She was still alive when Moshe redeemed the Jews from Egypt. It was Serach who showed Moshe where the casket with Joseph's bones lay sunken in the Nile and told him how to raise it. She was one of the few to ascend to the Garden of Eden alive.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat, the Shabbat after Tisha B'Av, is called Shabbat Nachamu. It is thus called after this week's Haftora, which begins with the words, "Nachamu, nachamu ami, - Take comfort, take comfort, My people."
Shabbat is the continuation and completion of the past week. Thus, even though during this week we commemorated the saddest event in Jewish history by fasting and mourning the loss of the Beit Hamikdash - our Holy Temple - the whole purpose of this week is to renew our hope and to be comforted that G-d's promise will be fulfilled and our Holy Temple will be rebuilt. Our sadness of Tisha B'Av should be replaced by the comfort of Shabbat Nachamu.
Our sadness is further alleviated by the upcoming date of Tu B'Av, the fifteenth of Av. This is considered a joyous day for numerous reasons.
One reason concerns the generation of Jews that was forced to wander in the desert for 40 years before entering the Land of Israel, due to their acceptance of the spies' false report about the Holy Land. Every year, on Tisha B'Av, members of this generation would die. On the fifteenth of Av, in the fortieth year of their wandering, this decree was lifted.
Also, during the era of the Roman Empire, the Romans attacked the Jews who resided in the city of Beitar and killed multitudes of men, women, and children. On Tu B'Av, the Romans finally allowed those Jews remaining in Beitar to give the murdered Jews a proper burial.
In the time of the Holy Temple, Tu B'Av was celebrated as a full festival. In our times, it is celebrated by making gatherings and increasing in Torah study, especially at night, as from this point on, the nights become longer.
Let us ask G-d to send Moshiach, so that the next Tisha B'Av will be a day of rejoicing in our Holy Temple, in an era when the lessons that can be derived from everything in the world will be openly revealed and acted upon.
Lest you corrupt yourselves and make a graven image (Deut. 4:16)
Why did Moses have to remind the Jewish people not to make graven images. They had just spent 40 years in the desert and had seen open miracles and wonders! Weren't they on such a high spiritual level that making a graven image would be unthinkable? From this we learn that a person must never think that he is beyond temptation. One must be ever on guard, even against those sins that appear to have no attraction.
From there you will seek the L-rd your G-d, and you will find Him, if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deut. 4:29)
It is precisely when you seek the L-rd "from there" - from the depths of your heart and with a sense of complete nullification before G-d, that "you will find" - the sudden revelation of the greatest G-dly light.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
You have been shown to know that the L-rd is G-d (Deut. 4:35)
When G-d revealed Himself on Mount Sinai to the soul of every Jew of every generation, He thereby made it possible for any Jew who sincerely desires to serve Him to perceive the true essence of the world, despite the darkness and concealment of what presents itself as reality.
In the town of Anipoli, there were two rabbis. One, was the great Chasidic master Reb Zusha. The other was the town rabbi, who was no supporter of the nascent Chasidic movement.
Reb Zusha was beloved by all for his humility and cheerful attitude. The rabbi, however, was not so popular with the townspeople. Although a man of great learning, he was always concerned that he was not being accorded enough respect. His quest for honor led him down a slippery slope to anger and resentment.
One winter night, the rabbi's thoughts turned to the wedding he had attended the week before. The father of the bride, Reb Moshe, was a wealthy philanthropist. The entire town had been invited to join in the family's simcha (happy occasion). As the rabbi of Anipoli, this rabbi expected to receive great respect. But in the end, he had received nothing but insults. No place at the head table had been reserved for him and he was served leftover food! To top it all off, he was not invited to lead the Grace After Meals!
Who had been given all of these honors? Reb Zusha! The rabbi recalled Reb Zusha, in his tattered clothes, sitting at the head table. Reb Zusha sat in front of a plate piled high with delicious foods. When the meal was over, Reb Zusha was honored with leading the Grace After Meals.
"What is his secret?" wondered the rabbi. "He has nothing, and is always happy. I seemingly have everything, and I am always angry!
Though the hour was late and the night bitterly cold, the rabbi decided he had to have his answer. He bundled himself up and started trudging through the snow-covered streets.
Eventually, the rabbi arrived at Reb Zushe's broken-down hovel. Reb Zusha warmly welcomed the rabbi inside.
The rabbi got straight to the point. "How is it that you are always so happy and content," the rabbi asked, "while I am always resentful and angry?"
"It's nothing very mystical," Reb Zusha replied. "Let me explain with an example. Do you remember the wedding of Reb Moshe's daughter?" Reb Zusha asked.
"Of course I do," the rabbi replied in a huff.
"Do you remember what happened when the special messenger arrived at your door with your personally delivered invitation?" Reb Zusha continued.
How could Reb Zushe possibly know what had happened, the rabbi wondered.
"You demanded to see the guest list," Reb Zusha said. "When you saw that you were fourteenth on the list, you became so angry you almost crumpled up the paper in your hands. Is this correct?"
"But I am the rabbi of Anipoli," the rabbi protested. "I deserve to be shown honor."
"True," replied Reb Zusha, "but did you happen to notice that the people ahead of you were Reb Moshe's relatives? Your name actually headed the list of those people outside of the family circle. But because you were looking out for your honor, you didn't see this. You became so angry at Reb Moshe that you hatched a plan."
The rabbi remembered. He had decided that the family did not deserve the honor of having him attend the wedding ceremony. He would teach them by arriving in the middle of the meal.
"By the time you arrived, the hall was packed," said Reb Zusha. "The whole town had been invited and there weren't any empty seats. Reb Moshe finally spotted you. What happened next?"
"Reb Moshe escorted me to the head table," the rabbi replied. "But..."
"What's the 'but' for?" prodded Reb Zushe gently.
"There wasn't any room for me at the head table," the rabbi complained. "They had to squeeze me in. It was insulting. Don't they know who I am? And what about the waiters? Explain their rude behavior," challenged the rabbi.
"It was a wedding," said Reb Zusha. "There were so many people. True, the waiters didn't see you, but someone else did. Isn't that right?"
The rabbi nodded his head in agreement. As soon as his host, Reb Moshe, had noticed that he was sitting with an empty plate, the wealthy philanthropist himself immediately went to the kitchen to get the rabbi some food.
Reb Moshe returned and apologized profusely. All that was left was a small piece of chicken and a few vegetables. The rabbi refused the plate that his host offered and told Reb Moshe exactly what he thought. Reb Moshe apologized once more, and then went back to his seat.
"For the rest of the evening," Reb Zusha said, "you radiated such negativity that no one dared to approach you. Is it any wonder that you were not asked to lead the Grace After Meals?"
"Now what happened to Reb Zusha," continued Reb Zusha, who always referred to himself in the third person. "When Reb Zusha opened his door he couldn't believe his eyes. To think that Reb Moshe, one of the pillars of the town, should invite Reb Zusha to share in his simcha - and send a messenger to personally deliver the invitation! Such honor! Such kindness!
"Reb Zusha was so overcome with joy for the family," Reb Zusha said, "that when the happy day finally arrived he rushed to the hall two hours before the wedding to see if he could help with the preparations. Reb Zusha thought he might be asked to set up, but what happened? Reb Moshe asked him to officiate. at the chupa!
"After the ceremony, Reb Zusha entered the hall and saw that it was packed. He would be happy to stand in a corner and eat his meal there if there was no room for him at any table. Suddenly, Reb Moshe took him by the arm and personally escorted him to a fine seat at the head table.
"Waiters came and began heaping food on Reb Zusha's plate. Reb Zusha was so overcome by all this kindness that he just had to get up and thank his host. He blessed the bride and groom with all his heart, and was about to go back to his seat when Reb Moshe stopped him.
"Reb Moshe then said such kind words to Reb Zusha. 'Reb Zusha, you're so filled with simcha for us, will you please honor me by leading us in the Grace After Meals?'
"Reb Zusha went home happy that night. But you, my honored rabbi, went home angry. The reason is simple. You expected everything, and got nothing. I expected nothing, was happy with nothing, and got it all."
Moses beseached G-d, "Let me go over and see the good land" (Deut 3:23-25) Why did Moses so desire to enter the land? "The Jewish people have been given many commandments that can only be done in the Land of Israel. Let me therefore enter the land so that they can all be performed through me," he reasoned, explains the Talmud. Moses' motivation was not personal. Had he merited to accompany the Jewish people into Israel, the Final Redemption would have commenced, without having to endure subsequent exiles and wait thousands of years for Moshiach.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)