Dry Clean Only | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | Today Is ... | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Rosh Hashana is almost here. Time to account for our past deeds, rectify any damage we've done, and figure out how we can improve in the future. In the Jewish vernacular this is known as "teshuva," literally "returning"-returning to one's previously unsullied state. Often it is translated as "repentance."
Starting this Saturday night and continuing until Rosh Hashana, special "penitential" prayers that we say daily help prepare for The High Holidays. The days from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur - known as the "Ten Days of Teshuva" - are set aside for more introspection, repentance, and self-improvement. Even after Yom Kippur, until the eve of Simchat Torah, we still have time for teshuva.
Why the need for teshuva altogether? If we hurt someone's feelings or stole something, most of us know that we have to apologize, try to rectify the situation, and even resolve not to do it in the future.
But what does that have to do with returning? And what are we trying to return and to where?
Imagine an article of clothing, the nice, clean shirt you are wearing, for instance. What if you spilled some coffee on it, or brushed against a chalkboard, or your favorite pen leaked. The type of damage your shirt acquired would dictate the method you would use to clean it.
Now imagine that the shirt is your neshama, your soul, the spark of G-dly energy in you that gives you life.
When we do mitzvot (command-ments), the soul remains in the clean, pristine state in which we received it. Of course, just regular living puts a crease here or there. But, basically, it stays neat. However, when we neglect a mitzva or transgress - whether a commandment between one person and another or a commandment between a person and G-d - our soul gets dirty.
The type and location of dirt or grime the soul picks up dictates how we should proceed. The cleaning process is quite logical. Just as you would remove the pen from your pocket as soon as you realize it's leaking, the first step of teshuva is to stop transgressing or to start performing the neglected mitzva.
Then, we need to examine the stain and the damage to ascertain the proper method. Certain transgressions cause bigger or tougher stains than others. And certainly, frequency also comes into consideration - like shirt collars repeatedly bombarded with perspiration that develop "ring around the collar."
Teshuva for some spiritual stains might require minimal effort, like brushing off chalk powder. Other spiritual dirt could be more difficult to remove, like a coffee stain. You might need to apply some detergent and water, then vigorously rub it.
Ink is a little trickier, like the repeated transgression or the more serious misdeeds. To get rid of an ink-like stain on the soul requires hard work, time, elbow grease. You would probably want to ask a professional for advice, or at least for some suggestions of what solutions or chemicals to use. Eventually with time, effort and persistence, you can totally rid the soul of its stain. You can return it to its formerly unsullied state. For, after all, it's not a flaw woven into the cloth, it's something extraneous, something not intrinsically part of the original garment.
This week we read two Torah portions, Nitzavim and Vayeilech. The portion of Nitzavim begins, "You are all standing together this day before G-d... the leaders of your tribes, your elders, your officers, all the men of Israel, your children and your wives, to pass into G-d's covenant."
What is the intent of a covenant? When two people feel a powerful attraction to each other but realize that with the passage of time the attraction could wane, they establish a covenant. The covenant maintains their connection even at times when on a conscious level there might be reasons for distance and separation.
This portion of the Torah is read every year on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana, because on Rosh Hashana, the covenant between G-d and the Jewish people is renewed. For on Rosh Hashana, we "are all standing... before G-d." The essential G-dly core which every person possesses rises to the forefront of his consciousness, and the fundamental bond between G-d and humankind surfaces. On this basis a covenant is renewed for the entire year to come, including the inevitable occasions when these feelings of oneness will not be experienced as powerfully.
The Torah states that this covenant is being established when "you are all standing together," and proceeds to mention ten different groupings within the Jewish people. Implied is that the establishment of a bond of oneness with G-d is also mirrored by bonds of oneness within our people. For the same spiritual potential that motivates our connection to G-d evokes an internal unity which bonds our entire people together.
The essence of everyone of us is a soul which is a Divine spark, an actual part of G-d is within us; that is why we are bound to Him.
We all share this infinite and unbounded spiritual potential equally. That is why we are bound to each other. And that is why the covenant is established as we stand together. For as we center on the inner motivation for our relationship with G-d, we realize that a spiritual reality is all-encompassing and joins us with each other.
In our prayers we say, "Bless us our Father, all as one." Standing together as one generates a climate fit for blessing. Standing before G-d "as one," on Rosh Hashana will lead to a year of blesssings for all humankind in material and spiritual matters.
From Keeping in Touch by Rabbi E. Touger, published by Sichos in English.
Vignettes from the Western Wall
by Gutman Locks
Jews are an interesting people, to say the least. We always hear about the famous Jews because they do the most amazing things. But what about the "regular," average Jew whom you never hear about?
Late last Shabbat afternoon, I was sitting at the Kotel (Western Wall) waiting for maariv (evening prayers) when a young man came over and sat next to me. He was wearing a brand new pair of tzitzit (Torah fringes) over his shirt. He is from Barcelona, but spoke fluent English, albeit with a Spanish accent.
He told me that his grandmother is an 86-year old holocaust survivor from Poland. After she was rescued, she fled Poland and settled in Spain. She married a non-Jewish man, and for the most part hid the fact that she is a Jew. They had a daughter, who grew up, and like her mother, she also married a non-Jewish man, but he was a religious Catholic.
This young man from Barcelona is their son. He told me that his father tried to train him to be a religious Catholic. He said that he learned it, but it did not seem right to him. Then he found out that since his mother is a Jew, he is a Jew, so he started studying Torah and he discarded all of his Catholic training.
He is now in law school in Barcelona and came to Israel for the summer as a volunteer on a Kibbutz. I asked him why he found Torah to be right, but not Catholicism. He put his hand on his chest and said, "I don't know, but it's something inside of me."
I told him that he would get a lot more out of going to a yeshiva for a month than he would by washing dishes in a kibbutz. He agreed and we are making arrangements for him to study in a beginners' program for the next month or so.
What did he feel inside his heart?
He left, and an elderly, America Jewish man who has been living in the Rova (Jewish Quarter) for many years sat down.
He told me that he was on vacation in Holland when the Gaza war broke out. He said, "It didn't feel right for me to be in Holland with a war going on here, and even though I'm not in the army I wasn't going to sit in a hotel when everyone here's in danger."
He canceled his vacation and came back two weeks early. He said, "It wasn't a problem getting a flight back to Israel because everyone was canceling their tickets."
What does it mean to be a Jew? Beside the fact that you have a Jewish mother, there's a feeling inside.
He was the warmest, nicest, Israeli guy you could ever meet, even though he would not put on tefilin. When he first came into the Kotel area I tried to get him but he laughed at the idea and hurried by.
A few minutes later, as he was leaving, I tried again. Same response; "No Way!" with a big smile.
He kept walking away, but I didn't give up.
I called after him, "Come it only takes a minute. It won't hurt! It's a good thing."
I yelled at least a half a dozen things that have sometimes worked in the past. Nothing got him. He kept walking away. Then, for whatever reason, even though he was already way past me, he stopped, looked back and said, "I don't know how."
"That's what I'm here for."
He came back, and I helped him. He read the prayers, and prayed for his family, and for the soldiers. He didn't rush. When he finished he told me, "I haven't put them on since my Bar Mitzva."
I asked him how old he was.
He said, "Sixty."
He did not want to put on tefilin, but he was so soft that I could pull him in anyway. He is from Brazil and had never put on tefilin before. His family moved there from Poland before he was born.
After he read the Shema, I showed him how to pray for his family and for the Jews in danger from the current war. He stood there praying for a very long time, and then he waited there even longer just looking at the Kotel and what was happening. When he finished he turned to me, rubbed his chest and stomach and warmly said, "It feels so good inside!"
This is how we should all feel when we do a mitzva. If you do not feel good, if you do not experience a warm sense of joy when you do a mitzvah, you did not pay attention. G-d gave us His Torah to take away our burdens, not to increase them.
Home born Israelis are called sabras for a good reason. Sabra is a nickname for the thorny desert plant, the prickly pear. Its thorns are sharp, and it has a thick skin that covers its sweet, softer interior. You have to be very careful or it can really stab you.
A few days ago, an older Israeli came up to put on tefillin. He knew how to put them on by himself. I invited his Israeli friend to also put them on. His reaction was just like the outside of the prickly pear. I asked again, and the thorns got sharper. I let it rest for awhile, and then, stubborn as I am, I tried the third time. Whew! I hate to say it, but I really understood why they are named after the prickly pear.
Finally, with him watching, I picked up the tefillin head piece, held it close to my ear as if I was talking on a cell phone, and said, "Hello, Okay". Then, I held it out toward him, and said; "It's for you." He cracked up laughing. He couldn't help himself.
He came over and let me help him. He read the "Shema," prayed for the kidnapped teens, and for his family. From the look on his face he had a good time. He was not in a rush to take them off, either. Once you get past the thorns, the fruit is sweet.
Chabad of Mumbai Reopens
Chabad of Mumbai celebrated the opening of the newly renovated Nariman House Chabad Center, a six story building in the heart of downtown Mumbai, India. The building was ravaged by terrorists who stormed the Chabad House in November 2008, murdering six Jews, including emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg. Last year, Rabbi Yisroel and Chaya Kozlovsky arrived in Mumbai as the new emissaries. "The motto is that we are not fighting the darkness with an AK-47. Our way to get rid of the darkness is by adding more light," says Rabbi Kozlovsky. The center will eventually also house a museum, one floor of which will recreate the apartment that the Holtzberg's lived in.
The following letter was written to Mr. Ernest and Mrs. Erna Weill. Erna Weill was a world-renown scultpor.
12th of Adar, 5720 
Greeting and Blessing:
This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of February 28, with further reference to the subject of sculpture in accord with the Torah, Torath Chayyim. You raise the question whether the traditional interpretation of the Torah should still be accepted, or should one rather go back to the source and seek another interpretation.
I believe I touched upon this topic during our conversation, but I will attempt to clarify it.
Even a cursory glance at the Torah (I mean the Pentateuch) leads one to the inevitable conclusion that together with it there came down to us also a broader explanation or interpretation, without which it would often be meaningless. Take, for example, the commandment of putting on Tefillin, which is given in the Torah in the words, "And it shall be for a sign upon thy hand and for frontlets between thine eyes." Obviously, accompanying this written precept there was an oral explanation as to how this precept was to be fulfilled in practice, pertaining to the phylacteries themselves, to the manner of their being put on, etc. Similarly in regard to all matters of the Written Torah. Moreover, considering the profound wisdom contained in the Torah, which is conceded by all, it is surely unthinkable that it would prescribe precepts the application of which was a mystery.
From this inevitable conclusion, namely, that the precepts given briefly in the Written Torah were simultaneously expanded orally, there follows necessarily also the conclusion that those who first received this oral explanation transmitted it to their children, and the latter to theirs, and so on, from generation to generation.
Since, further, it is an historical fact that there has never been a break in Jewish history, and that despite the dispersion and exile (or because of it), there has always been a continuity in Jewish history, with many hundreds of thousands of Jews always surviving and carrying on the Jewish tradition, the authenticity of it must be accepted without a doubt, for it would contradict all common sense to suppose that anyone could have radically changed the tradition under such circumstances.
Now, to the point raised in your letter. If it is true, as stated above, that the Written Law was accompanied by an expanded Oral Law, it certainly stands to reason with greater force that the Ten Commandments, which marked the inauguration of the Torah, were adequately explained. Thus when the Torah states, "Thou shalt not make unto thyself other gods...any graven image..." the people were certainly told unequivocally what was meant by these words. All the more so, having just been liberated from Egypt, where idolatry was so widespread, and where so many different cults and idols were worshipped, idols and images of all description, in sculpture, in drawing, relief, etc., representing forms of humans, animals, plants, insects, etc., as we now know from papyri, excavations, and so on. In other words, precisely in this field there would be the most detailed instructions as to what was prohibited and what was not.
From all that has been said above, it is clear that the traditional interpretation of the Torah must be accepted as authentic, and if some detail of it seems incomprehensible, we may inquire after an explanation of it, but it is no ground for considering the interpretation itself as faulty.
I emphasize this point because the subject under discussion is an art which is connected with the basic prohibition of idolatry, and which, on the other hand, if utilized in [a] way which accords with the Torah, could have a strong impact on the emotional world of the sensitive beholder and inspire him. At the same time, it is a well-known principle of our Living Torah, that the end does not justify the means. Since the end of the art of sculpture is to evoke the highest emotions, it can best be achieved if and when the means and methods correspond in the maximum degree to the Torah.
My experience in similar situations, though not in the field of sculpture, has been to convince me that where the individuals in question have resolved to be guided by the Torah, they found their road much easier than anticipated and it has brought them more peace and harmony than they thought possible.
Hoping to hear good news from you, and wishing you a Happy Purim,
"G-d's blessing brings wealth." This is so in general, but especially to whoever gives of his time to occupy himself with the community's needs in matters of charity and strengthening Judaism; as the saying goes, "G-d does not remain in debt". For every good thing a person does, he is recompensed grandly by G-d, with children, health and livelihood, in abundance.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Saturday night, in preparation for the High Holy Days, we will begin saying the special set of penitential prayers known as "Selichot."
There is a story about a Chasid who came into a small town during the days before Rosh Hashana. Over Shabbat he stayed at an inn that was managed by a simple Jew. Late Saturday night, the innkeeper and his wife readied themselves to go to the synagogue to say the Selichot prayers.
"Where are you going?" asked the chasid.
Answered the innkeeper, "Our cow gives milk, the vegetables are growing. Our orchard produces fine fruits. We are going to shul to say selichot."
"Feh," said the chasid emphatically. "Old people get up in the middle of the night to ask the Alm-ghty for food?"
In truth, we should and are required to ask G-d for food and all of our other necessities. However, selichot is not the time to be asking G-d for these things.
Selichot means forgiveness. More than forgiveness, it means making amends. We recharge our batteries, return to our Source, and make an accounting of what we did last year. We contemplate on how we can improve in the coming year and begin to put our thoughts into action.
If we make sure that our Selichot prayers contain all of the above, the Alm-ghty will certainly give us not only the food and other necessities that the simple innkeeper prayed for, but a good year in all material and spiritual areas as well.
The anger of G-d burned against this land... and G-d rooted them out of the land in anger... and cast them into another land (Deut. 29:26-27)
The curses and punishments enumerated in this section of the Torah are merely warnings, not promises that G-d must fulfill. Their purpose is to arouse the heart of man to choose good over evil so that they will never come to pass.
G-d will circumcise your heart... in order that you may live (Deut. 30:6)
When G-d will circumcise your heart, the pleasure and delight that you will take in Torah and mitzvot [commandments] will be as keenly felt as the pleasures of the physical body; you will love the Torah as much as you value your very life.
If any of you are dispersed at the outermost parts of heaven, from there will the L-rd your G-d gather you (Deut. 30:4)
No matter how far a Jew may be from Torah and Judaism, G-d promises to gather him back into the fold of the Jewish people when Moshiach comes. When a Jew is spiritually brought back from "the outermost parts of heaven," it hastens Moshiach's coming and brings the Redemption closer.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil (Deut. 30:15)
One should not perform good deeds in order to live; one should live in order to perform good deeds.
(Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk)
Two brothers, Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech, were very pious and learned men who were amongst the most prized chasidim of Rabbi Dov Ber, the Magid of Mezrich, successor of the Baal Shem Tov. With the passing of time and difficulty of communication, Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech lost contact with a third brother, who was not a chasid.
The two brothers, throughout their many travels, would ask about their brother and try to ascertain his whereabouts. They were intrigued to know what type of lifestyle he was living. Was he religious like themselves, or had he, G-d forbid, abandoned the teachings of the Torah? And even if he was religious, was he exacting in his practice, concerned only for the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law?
And so, in each town and village they visited, as they spread the teaching of their master, the Magid, they asked if anyone knew the whereabouts of their brother. Try as they might, they could not find out any information. Yet, they still persisted on their self-imposed mission.
When finally they did hear some information concerning where their brother lived, Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech rejoiced. And yet, there was a certain amount of hesitation in their rejoicing for, after over a dozen years of separation, they had no idea what their reunion would bring.
And so, with slight trepidation, the two brothers made their way to a small village where their brother was an innkeeper. Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech entered the inn and observed their brother at work. He was busy the entire day greeting guests, preparing rooms, and cooking food. He ran from person to person, task to task, with a cheerful countenance and dealt with each guest, rich or poor, graciously. With his long beard, tzitzit, and long black coat, Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech were assured that their brother had indeed remained true to the Torah even in this isolated village.
But still, a question remained unanswered for Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech. These two chasidic masters were known for their humility. But, of course, humility doesn't preclude the fact that they understood that there was something special about themselves. They might have considered themselves undeserving of the remarkable qualities which G-d gave them, but to outright deny their uniqueness would be like denying a precious gift. And so, they wondered, was there something exceptional about their brother, too, and the way he served his Creator?
Evening came at their brother's inn. Most of the guests had already arrived and the furious activity of the daytime hours had slowed. Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech observed as their brother entrusted his wife with the inn's duties and entered his study. In the study, he prayed the evening service and then poured over his holy books until it was quite late.
The brothers were reassured by this sight, but not awed; it was not uncommon for a Jew to put in a full day's work and then spend his "leisure" hours in prayer and Torah study. However, their brother's next activity was indeed unusual. Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech watched as their brother began to say the Shema before bedtime. In the middle of the prayers before retiring, their brother took out a worn ledger and opened it toward the end of the book.
For long moments he sat motionless, pouring over a page of his ledger. "How much could be written on one page that it takes him so long to read it?" they wondered. They continued to watch, transfixed. As the minutes ticked away, they saw their brother begin to shake. Tears rolled down his cheeks and onto the page of the ledger in front of him. In a quiet, trembling voice they heard him read from the ledger, "I didn't serve this guest today with as much honor as is befitting a fellow-Jew...I was too quick to answer this person when they asked me a question..." On and on went the list of their brother's "sins" which he had written into the tear-stained ledger.
Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech watched as their brother continued crying and reading from the ledger until the words on the page literally disappeared. Whether it was his tears or a miracle that washed away his "sins," the brother knew that when his sins were no longer on the page, his sincere repentance had been accepted.
The brothers thought of their parents, and wondered at what great deeds they had done to merit raising such a remarkable child.
The meaning of the verse in the Torah portion of Nitzavim, "Gd will return your captivity" is clear. Gd will gather in the Jews from all four corners of the world to the Holy Land and there they will be able to bring the offerings of the first fruit, in Jerusalem with joyous song and a proud declaration of thanks. This will lead to an extended meaning of the verse, "This is the blessing with which Moses blessed them," that every Jew will receive a blessing from Moses who will arise in the Resurrection of the Dead. When the Jews gather together their thought, speech, and action and direct it toward Gd, it will evoke a response from Him: "Gd will return your captivity." May this take place in the immediate future.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 26 Elul, 5751-1991)