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How many college students can fit into a tiny car or phone booth? How many absolute essentials can a woman place in her evening bag? How many items can a man stuff into his suit pocket and still have the jacket lay properly? How many grapes can a youngster pack into his mouth before they come tumbling out?
Sand patted down by a child in a pail, and patted down yet again to make room for more; a suitcase so full that you have to sit on it to close it; another few characters in an "sms" - taking out spaces, abbreviating words, using symbols - until the message is almost unintelligible; this is the last bite, we promise ourselves as we dig once again into the chocolate mud cake, though we're already stuffed to the gills.
People seem to be obsessed with cramming as many things as possible into a minimal amount of space. From closet organizers to pocket organizers, we want to make full use of space, both tangible and intangible.
There are times in the Jewish calendar when we are given a specific amount of "spiritual space" and encouraged to fill it up.
The month of Elul in which we currently find ourselves is just such a time. Elul is the round-up time for the previous year. It is the "inventory" season, "year-end accounting" time and the moment when each person writes and reads to himself his own "State of the Union" address.
In addition to Elul being a once-over concerning the past, it is a focus on the future, an opportunity to plan ahead armed with the wisdom gained from experience. Elul gives us the chance to concentrate on how we will do things differently in the upcoming year.
But there is a third aspect to Elul, as well. While we're remembering the past and considering the future, we are still living in the present. And in this present, Jewish teachings invite us to use the entire month of Elul to fill up our spiritual space with as many mitzvot as we can. We are encouraged to add more mitzvot to our repertoire of mitzvot and to enhance the manner in which we are already perform various mitzvot.
In Elul, we are urged specifically to give extra charity; to spend more time connecting with G-d through prayer; to have our mezuzot and tefilin checked by an expert scribe (and to put mezuzot on those doorways which might yet need them); to observe the laws of kashrut more carefully; to bless our friends, neighbors and relatives with a good, sweet year.
Using the spiritual space we're given during Elul to its fullest capacity can only be to our benefit for the coming year.
In this week's Torah portion, Teitzei, we read about the concept of divorce. In order for a Jewish couple to terminate their marriage, the husband must "write her a get (bill of divorce), and give it in her hand," i.e., the actual document must leave the husband's domain and be given over into the wife's.
Allegorically speaking, the Jewish people and G-d are likened to husband and wife, the "marriage" having taken place when the Torah was given at Mount Sinai.
Years later, when the Jewish people sinned, G-d "sent her from his house," i.e., banished them from the land of Israel, handing them, in effect, a "bill of divorce."
Yet how can we say that G-d "divorced" the Jews, when one of the principal requirements in the dissolution of a marriage is that the get leave the husband's domain and be given over into the wife's?
Is not the entire world G-d's domain, as it states, "The earth is filled with His glory"? Indeed, how can there be any domain that is separate from G-d?
The answer is that while G-d is certainly everywhere, His Presence in the world can be either revealed or hidden. When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem the Divine Presence was clearly manifest; ten open miracles perpetually proclaimed G-d's existence. It was a period in which the love between G-d and the Jewish people was open and apparent; His Presence in the world was palpable and easily perceived. During the exile, however, G-d "conceals" Himself, as it were, with the resultant perception of estrangement and disconnection from G-d.
In truth, however, this perception is only an illusion, brought about by our misdeeds. When Israel sinned, G-d responded by "withdrawing," causing them to feel as if they had entered another domain, and thus validating the "bill of divorce." We must therefore bear in mind that the entire concept of the existence of "another domain" is fallacious; the "divorce" between G-d and the Jewish people is also an illusion. The Jewish people's alienation from G-d is only imaginary, the consequence of the darkness of exile.
Very soon, when Moshiach ushers in the era of Redemption, G-d's eternal love for His people will again be openly demonstrated, and the imaginary "divorce" between the Jews and G-d will have been annulled.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 9
by Yaacov Behrman
I spent my first Shabbat in Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center on March 2nd. Just a week earlier, my parents had hosted a large Purim celebration for family and friends. My mother, dressed in surgeon's scrubs an Israeli doctor had given her when she took my father for a procedure at NYU Medical Center, and my father dressed as the "Laughing King," entertained our 20 guests unaware of the devastation about to begin.
On tuesday, two days after Purim, we were rushing to Sloan in a Hatzalah ambulance. My mother was in terrible pain. The doctors at the hospital told her that the problem was likely scar tissue. But my mother felt otherwise. I was still trying to be naively optimistic.
She was admitted into the hospital and instructed not to eat or drink. On Friday my dear friend Yanky came to spend Shabbat with us at the hospital.
My mother insisted that we eat in the lounge and not in her hospital room. She set the table with a lovely white cloth she had ordered, hoping to create a spirit of Shabbat in this hell hole. Although unable to eat or drink, she held the challah to her nose and slowly smelled it, "Lekovod Shabbos Kodesh, oy Lekovod Shabbos Kodesh - In honor of the holy Shabbat."
We had a guest that Shabbat afternoon. My mother had invited a Jewish woman she had met in the hospital hallway to join us for the meal. The woman's husband was in a room a few doors down, very ill.
The woman poured out her life story. "My husband survived the Holocaust. He married me and started a new life in America. The beginning was hard but eventually we became a successful, happy family. Than we lost a grandchild and another was born with severe physical disabilities.
"Now my husband is very sick and in constant pain. Wasn't the Holocaust enough? Why did G-d create a world where there is a need for a hospital like Sloan in the first place? Why are there three floors for pediatrics?"
My mother held her hand and a had a deep, meaningful conversation. She didn't try to answer her questions, but with humor and wit cheered the woman up and conveyed to her the importance of being a strong support for her husband.
In the course of the conversation, my mother asked the woman where she bought her stylish watch. The woman, eager to comfort someone suffering, said, "I bought it in Italy; you like it, please take it." My mother accepted her gift.
When the woman left, I said, "Mommy, please give back the watch! This woman is emotional, and you can't use the cancer card to take that watch."
The woman heard what I had said, returned and became extremely upset with me. "How dare you tell your mother to give back the watch! No one asked you! We tell our children what to do! Not the other way around." (My mother, having remembered that one cannot accept a gift on Shabbat, explained to the woman that she could not anyway accept the watch.)
Two days later on my parents' anniversary, the woman attempted to give the gift again, and my mother accepted.
Three weeks before Mother passed, her oncologist at Sloan told her, "Mrs. Behrman, you've started to die. There is nothing that can be done."
We came home that day, bought two new yellow chairs for the porch and spent an hour gardening. The following day our dear friend and family doctor came over to discuss her prognosis. Mom was very clear with her medical team that she wanted to be involved in all decisions related to her health. She explained to me that making her own decisions gave her some feeling of control over a situation that was out of her control. Mommy understood this well; she had spent the last 18 years advocating for people with disabilities. No matter how severe their disability, Mom always tried to empower her consumers to make their own decisions and take some control over their lives.
My mother passed away at the age of 69. She passed wearing make-up and a brand new dress. It was exactly how she wanted it to be. She passed in her own home, proud and beautiful, with her dignity intact. I was with her, and we spoke an hour before she passed.
To me, that Shabbat in the hospital will always be very special. Mom was so sick, yet still able to comfort someone else. It will serve as a reminder of how blessed my dear mother was to have had the ability make her own decisions until her last hour. She focused on the little control she did have rather than obsess over her imminent death. She chose her own path.
From notes sent to the family upon Sara's passing:
Sara was a real advocate for the special needs population. We enjoyed her enthusiasm, positive attitude, good spirits, and entertaining personality. What a dynamic, creative person, caring friend, devoted mother, bubby, and wife...
Her vitality and humor was like a tonic for tired souls. Her perceptive insights and no nonsense attitude were vivid and dynamic...
I'm very grateful for the advice and help she gave me; and also for the inspiration and the example of fighting for what's right with pride, determination, and joy...
I knew Sarah since 2002 when I started working for HASC. She was my number 1 cheerleader and advocate in this field. There was nothing she would not do to get her participants all the services they wanted and needed. Sarah was eclectic, direct, no nonsense...
She was fun to be around. I was always happy to greet her on the street because her "happy vibes" were a tonic to everyone she met....
I connected with Sarah the minute I met her. I don't know how any mother could be as devoted as she was. Smart, sharp, dynamic and forthright, she dealt with joy the same way that she dealt with adversity: emotionally-charged, intellectually focused, with a razer sharp humor.
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak and Rivka Devorah Gruzman are moving to Dusseldorf, Germany, where they will be assisting the local emissaries with their expanding programs as well as establishing a branch of CTeens in the city for local Jewish teenagers.
Rabbi Levi and Chayale Groner are establishing a new Chabad Center in Pelham, New York, a suburb in Westchester county. At the start, they will focus on Shabbat and holiday programs, Torah classes and youth programming.
Rabbi Levi and Yochi Lipinski will be moving to Buenos Aires, Argentina to be youth directors of Chabad of Palermo Soho.
Rabbi Mendel and Dini Sharfstein will be moving to Jacksonville, Florida, where they will establish a new Chabad Center for Jewish Life in S. Johns County. The new emissaries will be serving the Jewish communities in S. Johns/Fruit Cove, Nocatee, and World Golf Village.
The city of Yekatrinoslav, mentioned in the Slice of Life #1281, has been known as Dnepropetrovsk since 1925.
25th of Tammuz, 5734 (1974)
Greeting and Blessing:
I duly received your letter of June 12th with the enclosure.
I will remember you in prayer in the matters about which you write, and may G-d grant that just as you wrote about the problems, so you should have good news to report about their satisfactory resolution.
The Zechus [merit] of the Tzedoko [charity], for which receipt is enclosed, will surely stand you and yours in good stead.
It is surely unnecessary to emphasize to a person of your background about the need of learning Torah every day, with additional time on the holy Shabbos. I mention it only in accordance with the advice of our Sages to "encourage the energetic." May G-d grant that you should go from strength to strength in all matters of Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments], in accordance with the saying of our Sages, "He who has 100, desires 200, and having achieved 200, desires 400." If ambition grows with achievement even in material things, how much more should this be the case in matters of the spirit, which are the essential aspects of Jewish life.
5 Cheshvan, 5735 (1984)
For some reason, the enclosed letter [above] was not mailed to you promptly, and please forgive the delay.
In the meantime I have just received your letter of Oct. 16, and I hasten to reply to it:
With regard to your teaching profession - it would not be advisable for you to give it up (despite the difficulties involved) until you have another adequately stable Parnoso [livelihood].
Needless to say, it is not at all in accord with the directives of our Torah, Toras Chayim (our guide in daily life and source of a truly happy life), to delay the Mitzva of "pirya-vrivya" [be fruitful and multiply] (the first Mitzva in the Torah) until one has an assured Parnoso according to human estimation. I trust that neither you, nor your wife, with your respective backgrounds, require elaboration on this - especially since our Sages of blessed memory have dealt with this at length in various sources.
If you will let me know your full Hebrew name and mother's Hebrew name, as well as the same in regard to your wife, I will remember you both in prayer when visiting the holy resting place of my father-in-law of saintly memory.
Again, with blessing
26th of Elul, 5740 
I received your correspondence, and may G-d grant the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good.
Especially as we are now in the auspicious month of Elul, as explained by the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism] by means of the well-known parable of "a King in the field."
Briefly: There is a time when a king is out in the field, and then everyone has an opportunity to greet the king, approach him, and present a petition, and the king receives every one graciously and fulfills everyone's request. So the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed Be He, has set aside the month of Elul - the last month of the outgoing year - as a time of special opportunity to get closer to Him through adherence to His Torah and Mitzvos, and He receives everyone graciously. May this be so also in regard to you and yours.
Wishing you and all yours a Kesivah vechasimah tova [that you be written and sealed for good], for a good and sweet year,
Betzalel was the son of Uri, from the tribe of Judah. He was a master artisan, of whom the Torah states, "I have filled him with the spirit of G-d, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledte, and in all manner of workmanship to devise skillful works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in carving of wood..." (Ex. 31:1-6) Together wtih Oholiav he produced all the ritual items for the Sanctuary - the ark cover, the furniture, the table and its vessels, the altars, menora, etc. All were made according to the prophecy that Moses had received at Sinai.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
It is customary during the entire month of Elul to sound the shofar daily,except on Shabbat. The shofar is not sounded on the eve of Rosh Hashana but it is sounded on both days of Rosh Hashana. The shofar is also sounded during the final service of Yom Kippur.
What is so special about the sound of the shofar? The sound of the shofar gives us two distinct messages: It is the sound of trumpets announcing the coronation of the king and it is a signal, like an alarm, reminding us to consider our past deeds and return to G-d in sincere teshuva (repentance).
Why was the shofar, a rather crude musical instrument, specifically chosen to give over these two messages? Even in ancient times, finer musical instruments producing more refined sounds existed.
The shofar is made from a ram's horn. Even when the horn has been hollowed out, cleaned and polished, it is still more similar to a horn than a fine musical instrument.
The preparation for Rosh Hashana, and its inauguration through the sounding of the horn of an animal, teaches us a profound lesson. Although people are intelligent creatures and our intellect is one of the things that separates us from other living creatures, intellect cannot be the be-all and end-all. When it comes to accepting G-d as our Ruler, we must do so with the submissiveness of an animal. Our return to G-d, too, is more easily accomplished by setting aside our cold, calculating intellect and relying, instead, on our warm, simple, more primitive emotive qualities.
You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together. (Deut. 22:10)
We learn from this prohibition just how careful the Torah is to avoid causing pain or mistreating animals. The donkey is much weaker than the mighty ox; if the two animals were paired together with one harness, the donkey would have terrible difficulty keeping pace with its much stronger companion.
To you shall it be tzedaka [righteousness] (Deut. 24:13)
A person should give tzedaka while he is still alive, when the money is still in his possession. The Torah tells us not to behave in the manner of certain rich individuals, who amass great fortunes during their lifetimes, and then instruct in their wills that the money be put to good use after they pass away.
You shall not take in pledge the garment of a widow... and you should remember that you were a slave (Deut. 24:17, 18)
When a Jew looks at all the commandments - you shall give to this one and to that one, treat the orphan in such and such a manner, give the widow special treatment - he may grumble, "How many demands does G-d make of us!" The Torah, therefore, addresses this complaint by saying, "You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt." You, too, knew great deprivation and endured many troubles. As slaves, you were among the most mistreated people on earth; therefore, you must treat others kindly for you understand their pain.
When you go forth in camp against your enemies (Deut. 23:10)
The Sifri explains: Do not attempt to "go forth" unless you are "in camp." The first requirement, when waging any battle, is unity and cohesiveness. You must stand together and present a united front, and not separate into dissenting factions and parties.
(Maayanei Shel Torah)
Once in the village of Bober, a group of Chasidim gathered to discuss matters of the spirit and tell inspiring stories late into the night. One of those in attendance offered the following tale:
"I'm going to tell you how I came to be born into this world. My mother was married to a man for ten years, but they were not blessed with children. As is sometimes done, they divorced, in the hope that children would be born from another marriage. After the divorce my mother remarried, but after another ten years of marriage with her second husband, she still had not had children.
"Her second husband was bitterly disappointed and wanted to divorce her, hoping to remarry, and have children with a different wife. My mother, however, refused to accept the divorce, since she knew that the likelihood of her remarrying after this was remote.
"In spite of the law which clearly allows childlessness as a basis for divorce, my mother insisted that they go to a Jewish court.
"The great rabbi who was asked to head the trio of rabbinical judges at this court-hearing was the illustrious Chasid and legal expert, Rabbi Hillel of Paritch. After hearing the particulars of the case, he agreed to head the court, but only on the condition that the court sit in Lubavitch, in the presence of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel (known as the Tzemach Tzedek).
"To everyone's great surprise, the Rebbe agreed to this request, and the court met in Lubavitch. The day of the proceeding arrived and both sides presented their arguments. The judges listened carefully and then went to confer amongst themselves.
"Finally, Reb Hillel, the chief judge, spoke: 'It is the opinion of this court that G-d should grant this couple healthy children. In this way, the matter will be resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned.'
"When he heard this verdict, the Tzemach Tzedek smiled broadly. He was heard to say in a quiet voice, 'Indeed, they should have children.'
"And so," concluded the Chasid, "here I am!"
Word had spread that Rebbe Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov was gravely ill and that his hours, perhaps minutes, were numbered. His family and disciples crowded around his bed, waiting in trepidation, hoping to hear some last words from his holy lips which would remain with them and guide them in their lives.
As they gazed at his face, they reflected on its expression of profound concentration and assumed that their master was meditating on some sublime spiritual thoughts. How could they have assumed that he would spend his last moments in this world communicating with them?! But just then his eyes opened and traversed the room, focusing on each person there. They saw that his eyes finally fixed on one particular unfamiliar individual who had been standing off in a corner of the room. They pushed him forward so that the Rebbe could see him more easily. Everyone was anxious to see what the Tzadik wanted with this man.
"Reb Shmuel," the Rebbe was heard to murmur, "what is it that you have come to ask me?"
"Rebbe," the man said, "it's about the wool I bought... what should I do about it?"
"Don't worry, Reb Shmuel," the Rebbe whispered. "Just keep it until next winter. Then the prices will rise and you will make a nice profit."
Then, before the eyes of all his family and Chasidim, the Rebbe closed his eyes and his soul departed from his body.
The heartbroken mourners couldn't stop talking about the Rebbe's last words. What could the Tzadik have meant by those cryptic words he uttered to the complete stranger who captured his attention in his final moments on earth. The stranger certainly must have been one of the 36 hidden saints in whose merit the world stands. Why, he disappeared as mysteriously as he had appeared! And who could explain the mystical concepts behind the words "Wool," "next winter," and "nice profit"? Each Chasid had his own interpretation of the Rebbe's words.
After a few days, Rabbi David, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech's son, heard about the speculation. He called some of the senior Chasidim to him and offered the explanation of his father's last words:
"There is no mystery at all about my father's words; there is only the true expression of his profound love for each and every Jew. You never noticed Reb Shmuel, but he used to come often to my father to ask for his advice and blessing on his business decisions. Not too long ago, he purchased a large lot of wool. After he invested almost all his money in the wool, as well as large borrowed sums, prices took a sharp decline. He was worried sick about the possible loss of all of his assets and how he would cover all the debt he incurred borrowing to make the purchase.
"He decided to come to my father at once to ask his advice in this matter, but he had no idea that my father was ill. When he came, he saw a large crowd going into my father's room, and he just followed the others. But, when Father saw him, he realized that Reb Shmuel had probably come to ask his advice on some matter of concern, and so, he inquired what he needed. For my father, the need of a fellow Jew was his highest priority, and so, even in his last moments, he sought to assure the worried man that all would be well.
Hasten, and bring upon us quickly blessing and peace; and bring us peacefully from the four corners of the earth, break the yoke of the nations from upon our neck, and speedily lead us upright to our Land. For You are G-d Alm-ghty who brings about deliverance, and You chose us from among all the nations and languages, and You brought us near to Your great Name, our King, in love, that we may thank You and proclaim Your Unity, and love Your Name. oneness with love. Blessed are You, Who chooses His people Israel with love.
(From the blessings recited daily before the Shema.)