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When the sign reads "Closed for inventory" we all know what it means. The company is taking stock, counting how many widgets and thingamajigs they've sold, how many they still have, what losses or damages they have incurred.
You'll find "closed for inventory" signs posted at various times throughout the year depending on when a particular company's fiscal year starts and ends. And once inventory has been taken, the company has all of the information it needs to file reports with banks, insurance companies, and the government.
We now find ourselves in the "inventory" month of the Jewish calendar, Elul. This month is filled with customs that help us get into the mood for introspection and jolt us out of our lethargy or complacency.
The alarm clock of Elul is the shofar, blown every morning except for the eve of Rosh Hashana. The prophet Amos said, "Can the shofar be blown in the city and the people not tremble?" Aside from its yearly use on Rosh Hashana and at the closing service of Yom Kippur, it is also the one sound Jews have longed for endlessly, for it will herald the arrival of Moshiach.
That many of us hear the shofar sounded and do not tremble does not denote a lack of power on the part of the shofar to influence us. Rather it means that we need to sensitize ourselves more to its ancient message: "Wake up, you sleepers from your sleep and you slumberers from your slumber. Search your deeds and return in penitence." The shofar is the "air-raid siren" for the soul, we just need to attune ourselves to it and recognize its message.
Greeting card companies do a burgeoning business during Elul, though the idea of Jewish New Year's cards have their basis in custom, not commercialism. It is a Jewish custom that when we see or write to friends and acquaintances, we wish them a "good year," or that they be "written and sealed for good." This greeting reminds us, and others, that these are days of judgement, when the reckoning of our Heavenly Account is taking place. And just as we ask for mercy for ourselves, we should also ask for G-d's kindness and compassion for friends and relatives.
Lastly, Elul is the time when we especially try to increase and enhance our performance of mitzvot (commandments). As thoroughly and scrupulously as we would examine the stock-room and look at each shelf when taking inventory, we must do similarly with our Jewish inventory.
We should consider what losses and damages others have incurred at our expense (knowingly or unknowingly). We should weigh the good deeds that we've been storing up throughout the year and try to add more to them in the next few weeks. We should consider trying to stock new mitzvot or restock some old ones for the coming year.
Proper inventory is important for businesses. It's important for the business of being a Jew, too.
This week we read two Torah portion, Nitzavim and Vayeilech. The 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 of Jews. Some are like the "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
Miracles Come In All Sizes
by Yossi Overlander
People around the world speak of miracles. While some are small occurrences that one might pass off as "luck," here is my story that I believe was truly a miracle.
In the Winter of 2011 I was a student in a yeshiva in a little village just outside of Paris, France. The yeshiva has about 300 students attending. There is a dormitory and all students board.
My story begins on a Friday afternoon, when your typical Chabad-Lubavitch yeshiva student is out and about. He is finding Jewish people with the intent of encouraging them do a mitzva (commandment), such as putting on Tefilin.
As it was still many hours until Shabbat and I had already visited the people I regularly meet in their offices, my friend and I decided that we would try something new. We would combine site-seeing with helping our fellow Jews do mitzvot.
We rented bikes and off we went around Paris asking Jewish people we met if they would like to do a mitzva to help change the world for good.
We rented different bikes at various locations throughout the city. We exchanged bikes about a dozen times.
Finally, after many hours, it was time to go home, a.k.a. back to our yeshiva dormitory to start preparing for Shabbat.
I parked the last bike I had used. When I reached into the basket on the front to get my belongings, I saw that my jacket was there, but under my jacket there was NOTHING! No Tefilin, no bag and no Shabbat candles.
For those who do not know, Tefilin cost about $1000 U.S. You can imagine why I started to panic. Could they have been stolen? Did I misplace them? Did I leave them on a table after helping someone put on Tefilin? I had no idea.
The only thing to do was go to the French police and report my loss. They did not seem very interested in helping me and were annoyed that I spoke only English and was not responding to any of their questions asked in French.
After filling out a report and hoping for the best, I headed back to yeshiva for Shabbat. On Shabbat, one is supposed to remove all stressful thoughts from his mind and focus on enjoying the holiest day of the week. Relieving my mind of thinking about the Tefilin would be a real challenge!
A week went by with no word from the police. I called the lost and found bureau but they also did not come up with anything. I decided to try a different approach. I printed 100 signs requesting that if anyone found the Tefilin they should return them. My fellow yeshiva students posted them around Paris.
Throughout this time, I borrowed someone else's Tefilin for prayers. Eventually, I came to the realization that my Tefilin were gone forever. I called a Parisian scribe and asked him to please get me a new pair.
Feeling a little depressed I resigned myself to the situation and prepared for the ordeal of revealing the awful news to the person who had so graciously and generously sponsored my original pair - my father.
Another week passed. The administrator of our yeshiva, a rather serious and strict man, personally requested that I visit him in his office. I was understandably a little nervous. As I walked in, he said three words: "We found them!" I had not told him that I had lost them, but I knew exactly what the "them" were. My Tefilin!
In the retelling, this seems like a simple story of lost and found. However, when considering the details one comes to realize that it was truly a miracle that I got my Tefilin back safe and sound. I had mistakenly left my Tefillin in the basket of a bike. The next person who rented the bike must have removed them from the basket and placed them on the ground near the docking station. They lay there unnoticed - by street-cleaners and passers-by who should have been concerned about an unattended, nondescript bag - for two whole weeks.
(The area they were left in was comparatively Paris' version of Times Square. Rue Rivoli is well known for its Museum le Louvre and has thousands of people travelling on it daily.)
During those two weeks it had rained a number of times, but the scribe to whom I took them when they were found assured me that there was no water damage.
The docking (parking) station was directly outside a Jewish store. When the owner (finally) noticed the bag, he looked inside, saw the Tefilin and thought, "Tefilin? Oh, for sure they belong to someone in Chabad." He then called my yeshiva to notify them that he had found Tefilin.
As I headed back to Paris to get my almost-forgotten Tefilin, I wondered to myself, "Why did this happen? G-d directs the steps of man. Where were my steps being directed?"
I found the answer to the question - including why it had taken the Jewish store owner two weeks to notice them - as soon as I had retrieved my precious Tefilin. Moments after I took possession of them again, I bumped into an Australian man who asked me where was the Jewish quarter. After answering his question, I asked him if he had put on Tefilin that day. A few minutes later, this Aussie Jew, who had not put on Tefillin since his Bar Mitzva, was winding the straps and reciting the Shema in the middle of this bay metropolis of Paris.
Now it all fit in. I happily headed back to Yeshiva with the knowledge that it was all for the good.
Rabbi Shimon and Chanie Gruzman will be arriving soon to Castro Valley, California, where they will establish Chabad of Castro Valley serving the needs of the Jewish community in this northern part of the state.
Unique New Summer Camp
The Federation of Jewish Communities of CIS organizes 40 camps each summer. This year a unique division was added to the FJC Moscow camp. Deaf Jewish children, aged 8-14, from across Russia and the Former Soviet Union. The counselors from abroad were trained to use the Russian sign language and a special translator helped the deaf children to participate in the activities in the regular programs as well.
A new Chabad Student Centre serving campuses in Brighton and the South East of England will be opening soon. Centres already exist in Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, Central London, East End of London, South London, Manchester and Nottingham.
Freely translated and adapted
6th of Tishrei, 5736 
To the Sons and Daughters of Our People Israel, Everywhere
G-d bless you all!
Greeting and Blessing:
...We will briefly dwell here on a point which distinguishes this year's Rosh Hashanah from others, namely, that this year Rosh Hashanah is the "head" of a Leap Year. And herein, too, a further distinction:
Not all Leap Years in our Hebrew Calendar are the same. This year has the distinction of having the maximum number of days that any Leap Year can have - 385 days.
On a previous occasion, it has been pointed out at some length that the purpose of a Leap Year in our Torah-Calendar is to make up for the "deficiency" in the days of previous years, in order to bring into harmony the Lunar year with the seasons of the year (determined by the Solar year), though the annual seasons are also, of course, determined by the Creator, as Torah declares: "(The seasons of) sowing and reaping, cold and heat, summer and winter, shall not cease."
Moreover, not only does the Leap Month make up the deficiency of the past, but it also gives an "advance" on the future.
This year, as noted above, the Leap Year is of maximum dimension.
It is a well-known principle that all that we see or find in the realm of matter, in the physical world around us, are replicas of the spiritual counterparts in the sublime Supernal Worlds from which they descended. The same is especially true also in this case.
The order of having to make good and equalize the number of days, in the plain sense, in the material world, is due to the fact that this is the order in the spiritual realm, where "each day has its task to perform." This is also the special instruction for us in respect of the task each has to accomplish in the areas of "Man unto toil is born," "All your actions should be for the sake of Heaven," and "Know Him in all your ways"
...In light of the above it is clear that the preparations and service expected of a Jew for the new year-in the days before Rosh Hashanah, particularly during the days of Selichos [penitence]; on Rosh Hashanah itself; and during the Ten Days of Teshuvah (Repentance), especially on the Holiest Day (Yom Kippur) - have to be on the order of the Leap Year: To make good those aspects of the service where there has been a deficiency in the past year, and bring perfection into the other areas, indeed even to the extent of an "advance" on the future.
And all this should be carried out in the fullest, maximum measure.
Moreover, as has often been emphasized - since G-d requests and expects a Jew to do a certain task, it is certain that He has provided him with all the necessary capacities and means to carry it out in actual fact, and, furthermore, to do it with joy and gladness of heart, and all matters of Divine service should be carried out.
Our Sages of blessed memory say that the Ten Days of Teshuvah [from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur] are the time referred to in the verse, "Seek G-d when He is found, call on Him when He is near." This "nearness" is described as the "near-ness of the Source of Light to its spark."
And comes after the auspicious days of the month of Elul, when the "King is in the field" and shows a gracious countenance to all who come out to meet Him.
May G-d, the Source of Light and Source of Blessing, indeed be gracious to everyone, man and woman, and bless them with Hatzlocho [success] to carry out the said service in the best, maximum way, thereby carrying out in the fullest measure the realization of the ideal for which we pray in our Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayers: "And reign, Thou alone, O G-d, our G-d, over all Thy creatures..." by acclaiming Him as Our G-d, in response to His request, "Make Me King over you," and involving also all creation, thus bringing about His Kingship over all and everywhere,
So that He will, also in a revealed manner, "work relief in the midst of the earth,"
Especially in light of the continuation of the said prayer that "...on Mount Zion, the abode of Thy Glory, and in Jerusalem, Thy Holy City,"
Which are always the "abode of His Glory and Holy City", also in the present days of the Golus -
G-d's reign be revealed, in the true Re-demption through our Righteous Moshiach,
With esteem and blessing for Chasimo uGmar Chasimo Toivo Leshono Toivo uMesuko (may you be sealed and have a final sealing for a good sweet year)
Rebecca (Rivka) was one of our four Matriarchs. She was the wife of Isaac and the granddaughter of Abraham's brother, Nachor. Rivka was chosen by Abraham's trusted servant Eliezer as a wife for Isaac because of her outstanding intelligence, modesty, and kindness. Rivka gave birth to twins, Esau and Jacob. Rivka understood that Jacob, the tzadik, deserved to receive the blessings of the first-born, though he was the younger twin, and she took action to insure that would happen. She was buried in the Mearat Hamachpeila Cave in Hebron.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The main mitzva (commandment) of the upcoming holiday of Rosh Hashana is to hear the blowing of the shofar. More than the apples dipped in honey, more than the beautiful prayers, more than the festival meal, we must hear the shofar blown.
Following the shofar blowing, we mention several other historic soundings of the shofar. The first of these was at Mount Sinai. There, the Torah was given in the presence of an intense, constantly increasing, shofar blast.
Another renowned shofar blowing mentioned in our prayers is that of the "Great Shofar," which will be blown upon the arrival of Moshiach.
What is the connection between these two events, and why do we mention them in our prayers on Rosh Hashana?
The Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai was an experience that pulled people out of their previous state of existence. The G-dly revelation was so intense that "their souls flew out of their bodies"; they were taken out of their worldly boundaries and elevated to a much higher plane.
The Era of Moshiach will precipitate a similar restructuring of our lives, causing us to break out of the limitations of this physical world and reach to a higher level of existence. The prerequisite for this transformation is the desire to change, which must be present now, even before Moshiach has arrived.
This is a common thread joining the revelation at Mount Sinai with the days of Moshiach - the element of change and the improvement of the world at large. The shofar, central to both events, inspires one to abandon one's previous level in order to reach higher levels.
Even today, the shofar has a similar effect. We can and must achieve an inner change.
The time for change is now, even before the Rosh Hashana begins. May we hear, this year, the sounding of the Great Shofar in the rebuilt Holy Temple in Jerusalem with Moshiach, NOW!
You are standing this day all of you...every person of Israel (Deut. 29:9)
The Torah uses many different words to refer to Jews; the name "Israel" is the highest of all these descriptions, connoting magnitude and significance. The verse teaches that all Jews are in this category, i.e., exalted and essentially worthy.
And it shall come to pass ("vehaya"), when all these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse (Deut. 30:1)
Our Rabbis explain that the word "vehaya" is an expression of joy. A Jew must always strive to serve G-d joyfully, regardless of whether he encounters blessing in life or (G-d forbid) the opposite. As our Sages declared, "A person is obligated to bless G-d for [apparent] evil in the same way he blesses Him for good."
It is obvious that punishment and suffering can arouse the heart to teshuva. But how can blessing do the same? The Baal Shem Tov offered an analogy of a subject who rebels against his king. What does the king do? Instead of punishing him he appoints him minister, allows him into the royal palace and gradually increases his rank until he is second in command. The greater the king's beneficence, the more the recipient is ashamed of having rebelled against such a merciful ruler. The king's loving-kindness thus leads him to a higher level of repentance than had he been punished.
Then the L-rd your G-d will turn your captivity (Deut. 30:3)
Rashi notes this means that "[G-d] will literally take hold with His hand every person... as it states, 'You shall be gathered one by one, Children of Israel.' " As we know that the Redemption will come about through repentance, the Torah clearly promises that every single Jew will ultimately return to G-d in repentance, as it states, "For not even one will be banished."
And it shall come to pass ("vehaya"), when all these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse (Deut. 30:1)
Our Sages explain that the word "vehaya" is an expression of joy. A Jew must always strive to serve G-d joyfully, regardless of whether he encounters blessing in life or (G-d forbid) the opposite. As our Sages declared, "A person is obligated to bless G-d for [apparent] evil in the same way he blesses Him for good."
The month of Elul was drawing to a close. Everyone was getting ready for Yom Tov, and the "scent" of the High Holidays was already in the air. The marketplace was overflowing with all kinds of merchandise and produce, including the special fruits that are traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashana like pomegranates.
The Jewish section of town was bustling with activity as homes were swept from top to bottom and new clothes were fitted and sewn. At the same time it was serious business, as residents prepared themselves spiritually for the coming year. More attention was paid to praying with a minyan, refraining from gossip and in general, improving behavior.
Inside the Baal Shem Tov's study hall the final preparations before Rosh Hashana were also underway. Prayers were recited with increased devotion, and all thoughts were focused on returning to G-d in repentance.
One evening, a few days before Rosh Hashana, the Baal Shem Tov's disciples were getting ready to pray the evening service. All that was missing was the Baal Shem Tov himself, who had yet to arrive. At precisely the appointed hour the Baal Shem Tov entered the study hall, but instead of opening his prayer book he remaining standing, lost in thought.
Of course, no one dared mention that it was time to pray. The minutes ticked by and still the Baal Shem Tov seemed distracted, as if he were in another world. His holy face was suffused with intense emotion. However, the Baal Shem Tov's students were already used to such things.
When the Baal Shem Tov suddenly roused himself almost an hour later and opened his prayer book, his countenance was virtually shining with joy. That evening, the Baal Shem Tov prayed with unusual intensity and longing. It was obvious that something of very great magnitude had occurred.
After the service the Baal Shem Tov explained: "Not very far from here," he began, "lives a Jew who grew up in a traditional Jewish home. But as he grew older, he began to associate with the local peasants. Slowly he abandoned the Jewish path till he was virtually indistinguishable from the gentiles and completely estranged from his roots.
"Many years passed. The man left the province where he was born and went to live in a totally non-Jewish environment. As time passed, he forgot everything about the Jewish way of life, its prayers and its customs. Before he knew it 30 years had elapsed.
"Tonight," the Baal Shem Tov revealed, "this Jew happened to be visiting a Jewish town on business. As soon as he entered the village he could sense the commotion, and this aroused his curiosity. When he asked a passer-by what was going on the man answered, 'Everyone is getting ready for a holiday we call Rosh Hashana. According to Jewish tradition, it is the day on which man was created and the whole world is judged.'
"For some reason this explanation struck a chord in the heart of the assimilated Jew. Maybe it was the exclusionary 'we' that emphasized the huge chasm that separated him from his brethren, or perhaps the mere mention of the Day of Judgment. In any event, the man's soul was inexplicably awakened, and he was flooded with memories of his childhood.
"As he wandered through the marketplace he was suddenly stricken by the horrifying realization that he had exchanged a life rich in meaning for an empty existence. At that moment he looked up, and was surprised to find himself standing outside the main synagogue. By then it was almost dark, and people were arriving to pray the evening service.
"The man was seized by an overwhelming desire to join them, but he was also embarrassed by his non-Jewish appearance. In the end the urge to pray won out, and he went into the women's section and hid behind the curtain.
"As the cantor chanted the words 'And He atones for sin...' a shudder passed through the man's body. How he wished to pray, but the words were long forgotten. Tears streamed down his cheeks. When the last congregant had gone home he couldn't bear it any longer and burst out crying. 'Master of the universe!' he wept. 'I know there is no greater sinner than I, but I also know that You are merciful and full of loving-kindness. Heavenly Father, forgive me my transgressions and I will sin no more. I wish to return to You and live as a Jew. Please accept my prayer and do not turn me away!'
"The man's heartfelt repentance caused a great commotion in the celestial realms," the Baal Shem Tov explained, "and his prayer ascended to the very Throne of Glory. In fact, it was so powerful that it brought along with it many other prayers that had been waiting hundreds of years to ascend.
"When I sensed what was going on in the man's heart," the Baal Shem Tov concluded, "I decided to wait for him to pray so I could join him. Tonight's service was delayed so we could merit to pray with a true penitent..."
Once, Rabbi Shmuel (later to be known as the Rebbe Maharash - the fourth Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe) asked his father, the Tzemach Tzedek about the date for Moshiach's coming ascribed to the year 5608 (1848) and why Moshiach had not come then. The Tzemach Tzedek replied that the book of Chasidic teachings, Likkutei Torah, had been printed that year.
The Rebbe Maharash protested, "But we need Moshiach below ten handbreadths!" (i.e., we need Moshiach literally). The Tzemach Tzedek was also aware of the need for Moshiach in the literal sense; he simply wanted to hear this need vocalized by someone not yet on the level of nasi, but still on the level of mekabel.
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. 14; pg. 429)