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In businesses large and small, at least once each year, time must be set aside for inventory checking and stock-taking. Only by examining the successes and failures of the year gone by and by getting a clear picture of the current state of affairs, can the management make the adjustments necessary to prosper in the future.
In our lives as Jews we also must take stock. The month of Elul, the 30 days before the awesome and inspiring High Holy days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, is the time for taking stock in the business of being Jewish. By tradition, Elul is the time when we review our actions over the past year and make positive resolutions to improve in the year to come.
In Judaism as in business, it is essential to know the true value of our assets. A few key phrases from our Torah can help us understand the true value of our lives and our role in G-d's "business plan" for humanity:
"A person was created in G-d's image." (Genesis 9:6)
"The whole world was created for me and I was created only to serve my Maker." (Talmud Kiddushin 82a)
"Even one who transgresses is as full of good deeds as a pomegranate is fell of seeds" (Talmud Eruvin 19a)
"Do not see yourself as wicked in your own eyes." Avot (2:19)
These teachings place immeasurable value on each of our lives, our existence in this world, and the great potential we have to fulfill the purpose for which we were created.
Thus, the questions for Elul's stock-taking are not "How well did this item sell?" or "How much do I have left of that product?" Rather, our queries should be questions such as, "Did I use my talents - my gifts from G-d - to bring goodness into the world, to foster peace, to build an atmosphere where G-dliness can be revealed," and "Have I grown as a Jew this year?"
It is sometimes even helpful to enlist the aid of a close friend or mentor in this stock-taking endeavor. Just as one might hire outside help to take stock in a business, to prevent our being overwhelming by the size of the endeavor, it might similarly be beneficial to retain help in the spiritual stock-taking that we do during the month of Elul, especially since our "self-love" tends to cover a multitude of faults.
And, talking of self love, we must be wary not to take stock of other people's standings. "Don't judge your friend until you have stood in his place" our Sages advise us. And who can ever truly say that he has stood in his friend's place? Do you live in your friend's house, have his job, his spouse, his children, his bank account, his health, his intellect, his personality?
The month of Elul has begun. As we come to the end of the spiritual business year, let us use this time to fill in any holes or gaps in our spiritual product line and plan for a profitable year full of additional mitzvot.
This week's Torah portion, Shoftim, contains the commandment to appoint a king. "When you come to the land...You must set a king over you."
Why do the Jewish people need a king?
The function of a monarch is to impose law and order throughout the realm. It isn't that people don't know the difference between right and wrong without a king, but knowledge is not enough. A person can be well aware of the law but violate it anyway. By instilling fear in his subjects, the king guarantees that people will conduct themselves properly.
Yet even when people are on a higher moral level and are law-abiding, a king is still necessary. A king, who with Divine assistance becomes "head and shoulders above the populace," understands matters that are beyond the scope of his subjects. The king then issues various decrees that his loyal citizens will obey.
For Jews, the true King is G-d; the function of the fleshly king they appoint is to reveal His sovereignty in the world and help them connect themselves to Him.
When Jews are on a lowly spiritual level (lacking complete nullification before G-d), the human king, by instilling fear and awe in his subjects, eventually leads them to fear and awe of the King of kings. The homage they pay to the king helps them achieve self-nullification before G-d.
When Jews are on a more elevated spiritual level (when they already possess this self-nullification), appointing a human king serves a higher purpose, enabling them to attain a higher level of spirituality than they could accomplish on their own. The king's superior influence filters down to the rest of the populace, and through him his subjects are elevated further.
Everything in the Torah contains a practical directive to be applied in our day-to-day lives. Thus, although during this present time of exile the Jewish people lack a monarch, our Sages declared, "Who are the kings? The rabbis." In the same way our forefathers were commanded to appoint a king over themselves, so too is each of us obligated to obey our Sages' dictum, "Make for yourself a Rav" - to accept upon ourselves the authority and "kingship" of our rabbis and teachers. Every Jew must have his own Rav to whom he can turn for guidance and direction.
This is especially relevant in our generation, just before Moshiach's arrival, for Moshiach himself will embody both of these qualities, that is, rabbi and teacher. On the one hand Moshiach will teach the entire Jewish people Torah; at the same time he will also be their king, King Moshiach.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 24
The Lubavitch network of day and overnight summer camps was established in 1956 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Today, the largest camp network in the world spans 40 countries. In the former Soviet Union alone there are 40 camps attended by nearly 9,000 children. "Friendship Circle" camps, for special needs children, are often run in tandem with the local Chabad-Lubavitch camp or are sometimes a special division in the camp. We present you with a small sampling of some of the Chabad-Lubavitch affiliate summer camps world-wide.
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19 Elul, 5745 (1985)
This is to acknowledge receipt now of your letter of the 1st of Iyar, in which you write about your desire to learn Torah, though you are not Jewish.
I trust you know that the Torah itself has instructions as to the approach in such a situation. This is that the Torah - and in a broader sense it includes not only the Written Torah, but also the Oral Torah (Talmud, etc.) - contains parts which ARE in order to be studied by gentiles, namely, those that deal with the so-called Seven Noahide Laws, in all their ramifications and details, which are incumbent upon all human beings, both Jew and gentile.
On the other hand, there are other parts of the Torah which are of no relevance to gentiles, and for various reasons, gentiles should not be encouraged to take time out to study them, time that they can use to better and practical advantage by studying, practicing and promoting the said Seven Noahide Laws.
In light of the above, I suggest that you should personally discuss the matter with a competent Orthodox Rabbi, who only could explain the above more fully, and at the same time provide you with guidance as to how to go about your study of Torah.
I would like to add a further point, which I trust you know, that from the Torah viewpoint, there is no need whatever for a gentile to convert to Judaism, in order to achieve fulfillment in accordance with the design of the Creator.
On the contrary, Jews are required to discourage a would-be convert from the idea of conversion, which could also be further explained to you by the Rabbi you will consult with.
I take this opportunity - inasmuch as Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is a day of Divine judgment pertaining to all peoples and nations - to extend to you prayerful wishes for success in the new year.
P.S. Because of your obvious concern with the matter, this letter is sent to you via special delivery.
10 Cheshvan, 5734 (1973)
In addition to the reports that I receive from time to time indirectly, I was pleased to receive just now Mrs. Stern's letter of the 4th of Cheshvan. I was gratified to read the good news about her activities in S. Africa, especially with the school children. Now it is quite evident how important and urgent has been the appeal made in the latter part of this summer centered on [Psalm 8:2] "From the mouths of babes and sucklings ... so as to ..."
The above, incidentally, conveys a basic lesson, which becomes more obvious by analogy from medicine, which has two general aspects: cure and prevention. The first has to do with curing the sick; the second - with preventing sickness. At first glance, the accomplishment of the physician in curing the sick seems more impressive by its dramatic results, than preventative medicine, where there could be some delusion that sickness would be somehow avoided. In truth, however, it is surely better to be certain of immunity to sickness. The latter is the way of G-d, as it is written: "Every malady... I will not place upon you because I, G-d, am your Healer"
In the present situation, the "enemy and avenger" has made no secret of his intentions, which emphasizes again how true is the saying of our Sages that "the person to whom the miracle happens does not recognize the miracle" and in a manner of "the person to whom the miracle happens does not recognize the miracle", this is clearly the more desirable way, and may G-d grant that henceforth it will be only in this way.
In light of the above it is more urgent than ever to spread the Torah, Toras Chayim [the Torah of Life], and your contribution through the "Betrachtungen" is certainly an important part of this endeavor.
Whoever has faith in individual Divine Providence knows that "Man's steps are established by G-d," that this particular soul must purify and improve something specific in a particular place. For centuries, or even since the world's creation, that which needs purification or improvement waits for this soul to come and purify or improve it. The soul too, has been waiting - ever since it came into being - for its time to descend, so that it can discharge the tasks of purification and improvement assigned to it.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This week started the new month of Elul. The month of Elul is the last month of the Jewish year. Thus, it is a month devoted to introspection and repentance, in preparation for the new year.
Jewish teachings encourage us to be more careful and conscientious in our mitzva observance during this month, to say additional Psalms, give extra charity and make an honest reckoning of our behavior over the past year.
The Rebbe discussed the Sages comment of the need for the Jewish people to do teshuva before Moshiach comes.
The Rebbe stated: "The Talmud (Sanhedrin) states that the coming of Moshiach is dependant only on teshuva - repentance. As to the continuation of the above declaration of the Sages, that "the matter now depends on teshuva alone," G-d's people have already turned to Him in teshuva. For teshuva is an instantaneous process, which transpires "in one moment, in one turn." Furthermore, a single thought of teshuva is sufficient to alter one's entire spiritual status....
"Since on more than one occasion every Jew has had thoughts of teshuva, the coming of the future Redemption is surely imminent..."
Thus, though we are obligated to continuously do teshuva, the Rebbe clearly stated that the teshuva necessary to bring the Redemption has already been done.
Another important concept that the Rebbe related in that same address was the need to judge others meritoriously. At this time of Divine judgement, it is ever so crucial to judge others "with a good eye."
"What we must constantly point out is the merits of our people, merits that are surely worthy of hastening the future redemption."
May we merit the Redemption, as the Rebbe prophesied, in the immediate future.
Judges and officers shall you appoint for yourself in all your gates (Deut. 16:18)
"In each and every city," comments Rashi. The Talmud goes even further, explaining that "city" may also be understood to mean the individual person, who is called the "small city." In order for a person's Good Inclination to be victorious and to rule, one must have the assistance of "judges and officers." The "judge" part of a person's spiritual make-up first looks into the Shulchan Aruch to see if a certain act is permissible or not according to the Torah. If the Evil Inclination afterwards rears its ugly head and balks at fulfilling G-d's command, the "officers" come to the rescue to force the individual into compliance. "Man's Good Inclination must always be in a state of anger against the Evil Inclination," states the Talmud.
You shall set a king over yourself (Deut. 17:15)
If appointing a king over the Jewish People is a mitzva (commandment) in the Torah, why then did Samuel the Prophet take the Jews to task when they demanded that he do so? The answer is that the Jews did not want an earthly king because G-d had so commanded; they clamored for a king to imitate the nations around them.
According to two witnesses...shall a case be established (Deut. 19:15)
The word which the Torah uses here for "case" is "davar," which alludes to the "dibbur" (speech) of prayer. The "two witnesses" likewise stand for our love and awe of the Alm-ghty. The Torah teaches that our prayers must be uttered with this love and awe in order for them to be worthy and contain substance.
What man is there who has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in battle and another man dedicate it (Deut. 20:5)
"And indeed, that would be grievous and sorrowful," comments Rashi. Yet why should the fear that another person will dedicate one's house be even greater than the basic fear of losing one's life in battle? The inner meaning, according to Rashi, is that when the soldier goes out to wage war, instead of concentrating on his own personal relationship with G-d and doing teshuva, his mind is liable to dwell on his house and the possibility of never returning to it.
(Rebbe of Gur)
Reb Leibush had just arrived in Belz to pay a visit to his mother. When he entered her home, which she shared with his brother, Reb Shalom, the Rebbe of Belz, the sound of hammering resounded through the rooms. The town of Belz was constructing a new synagogue.
Reb Leibush couldn't wait to visit the site of the new shul, and so after partaking of a cup of tea and some fresh cake with his mother, he went out to check on the progress of the building. He was surprised to see his brother standing with a shovel in his hand, helping with the work like a member of the construction crew.
Reb Leibush felt that this manual labor was below the dignity befitting the town's rabbi, and decided to tell his brother how he felt. "Listen, my brother, you know that the Talmud says that a leader of a Jewish community is not permitted to perform menial labor in the presence of three or more people. You, the Rebbe of Belz, know this law, so why are you standing here like a common worker?"
Reb Shalom listened quietly to his brother's words before responding. "Leibush," he began. "I will tell you a story that will explain my apparently strange behavior. Many years ago when I was studying in the town of Skohl my two study partners and I learned that if we studied with the utmost dedication and unstinting effort for a 1,000 consecutive nights without sleeping, we would merit a revelation of the prophet Elijah. When we heard about this, we wanted this holy revelation more than anything else in the world. We resolved that we would undertake to study together for a 1,000 nights in a row. In the beginning it wasn't hard. After all, we were very enthusiastic and burning with our desire to reach our exalted goal. Nights passed in intense study, and we hardly noticed when the morning came.
"But, after a while, it began to be increasingly more difficult to study with the same dedication. We were becoming tired from not sleeping night after night. Finally, one of my partners couldn't stand the strain any longer and he decided to drop out. But I continued the nightly session with my remaining partner. It was on the eight hundredth night that he, too, lost the quest, but I was firm in my will to continue right through to the end.
"I sat alone in the dark shul every night, fighting sleep and utter exhaustion, determined to reach the one thousandth night. When I thought that I had no more strength to continue I still pushed on, so deep was my desire to receive the revelation of the holy prophet.
"On the thousandth night a terrible storm blew up. It seemed like the gates of Hell had opened and the fierce winds had threatened to destroy the world. Even I, who was normally unfazed by the weather, no matter how violent, was shaken by the unearthly howls and piercing flashes of lightning that zig-zagged across the sky. Still, I sat by my open book, determined that nothing would interfere with my reaching my goal. Suddenly there was a loud, frightening crash of glass. The wind had blown out one of the windows of the study hall and its breath had extinguished my candles. This was too much for me. I had persevered for a 1,000 nights though my strength was all but gone, and now this. The rain and wind pelted me through the shattered window and my spirits had plummeted to rock bottom. I would have left had I not been so terrified of the raging storm.
"But then I gathered myself together. Was this not my last night, after which I could expect a visit from the prophet Elijah himself? How could I allow a mere storm to deprive me of my reward? I felt my way to the holy Ark and slid open the carved door, and wept my heart out before G-d, begging Him to help me. I don't know how long I stood there pouring out my yearning and frustration to the One Above, but at one point I realized that the storm had ended.
"I came to myself and went out to look out the broken window. I saw an old man walking in the direction of the study hall. I knew it was Elijah who had come to learn Torah with me. We sat together and learned all that night, and I was like a person transported in a dream.
"The last part of the Torah which he taught me was the laws of building a synagogue. This teaching is so precious to me that if I were able, I would erect the whole building by myself from beginning to end. Alas, this little bit is all I am capable of doing, but even so, it is so dear to me that my entire being is full of joy with each brick that I place."
Reb Leibush smiled, happy with his brother's explanation.
The power to serve G-d without any limitations will only be possible in the era of Redemption. This level of service stems from the yechida, the essence of the Jewish soul. Moshiach represents the yechida of the Jewish people as a whole. Hence, his coming allows each Jew to reveal his own yechida, i.e., the spark of Moshiach in his soul. Moshiach's coming is imminent, for our Sages declared, "All the appointed times for Moshiach's coming have passed." Additionally, a fundamental principles of our faith is to "wait for his coming every day." When we reach the month of Elul, we must take stock and ask: Is it possible Moshiach has not come?!" The bottom-line of the stocktaking is, "Ad masai?! - until when must we remain in exile?!
(The Rebbe, Rosh Chodesh Elul, 1991)