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When it comes to a political debate, a loquacious lecturer, a 900-page novel, we often lose interest or get bored and ask, "What's the point? Where is this heading? Is there a focus here?"
During the upcoming two-day holiday of Rosh Hashana - the Jewish New Year-as we peruse the timetable of services or flip through the prayer book pages, we might have similar queries.
The Zohar, the basic book of Jewish mystical teachings, as well as the more pragmatic Mishna both teach that "action is the main thing." The main action, the prime mitzva (commandment) of the Jewish New Year, is to listen to the shofar. So, somewhere in between the hours of prayers and the thousands of calories of festive foods, there will be a few moments directed and focused on listening to the sounding of the shofar.
An analogy is given by the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chasidism, to explain the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashana: There was once a king who sent his only son to a distant land to learn about its peoples and customs.
As time passed, the prince's royal garb became faded and torn, and he even forgot how to speak his native tongue. One day the prince heard that his father, the king, would be visiting the region. "How will I be able to approach him?" he thought.
"My clothes are torn, and I cannot speak the language." The son decided that he would simply call out to his father in a cry without words, emanating from the heart, which the king would surely recognize. This is the call of the shofar, it appeals to the King's very Essence.
"From the constraints I call to You and You respond to me from Your most expansive place." We read these and other verses from Psalms seven times as a way of preparing ourselves for the momentous moment of listening to the shofar. The constraint, the place of limitation, is like the mouthpiece of the shofar. That's where we are coming from when we communicate with G-d. But G-d, in His great kindness, responds to us in an expansive, open way, likened to the open end of the shofar whence the sound bursts forth. The words "From the constrains..." are at once a recognition of where we are and a resolution to go beyond our comfort zone or boundaries.
The shofar is also a wake-up call. The shofar is sounded on Rosh Hashana because it is an explicit commandment in the Torah. Nonetheless, according to Maimonides, it seems to convey a hidden message: "Wake up from your slumber!" it arouses us. "Return to G-d and remember your Creator! To those who forget the truth and waste most of the year in frivolity and foolishness, look into your soul, improve your behavior, and correct your negative ways."
Maimonides states in his Laws of Repentance that every person should view the entire world as if it were perfectly balanced between good and evil. Any one person's positive action can tip the scale and can bring not only personal redemption to that individual but also global redemption to the entire world. No one knows whose mitzva it will be. Perhaps by one of us listening to the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashana we will facilitate the sounding of the great shofar that will herald the coming of Moshiach, may it be NOW!
The word "Haazinu," the name of this week's Torah reading, is generally translated as "listen." Literally, it means "give ear." In that vein, our Sages compare Moses' call: "Listen O heavens, and I will speak; earth, hear the words of my mouth," with Isaiah's prophecy: "Hear O heavens..., listen O earth."
They explain that Moses was "close to the heavens and far from the earth." Therefore, he was able to address the heavens at close range. Isaiah, by contrast, despite his lofty spiritual stature, was still "close to the earth and far from the heavens." And thus he used wording that reflected his level.
But questions arise: Why did Moses address the earth as well as the heavens? And why did Isaiah address the heavens as well as the earth? Why did they not confine themselves to speaking to the realm closest to them?
The answer to these questions depends on a fundamental tenet of Judaism: We must relate to both earth and heaven. For material and spiritual reality are meant to be connected, instead of existing on separate planes. Judaism involves drawing down spiritual reality until it meshes with worldly experience (Moses' contribution), and elevating worldly experience until a bond with the spiritual is established (Isaiah's contribution).
Indeed, the two initiatives can be seen as phases in a sequence. By revealing the Torah, Moses endowed every individual with the potential to become "close to the heavens." Isaiah developed the connection further, making it possible for a person to experience being "close to heavens" while "close to the earth" - involved in the mundane details of material life.
In a more particular sense, "the heavens" can be seen as an analogy for the Torah. The Torah is Gd's word, and through its study a person comes "close to the heavens," nearer to spiritual truth. Mitzvot (commandments), by contrast, are often associated with the earth, for their observance involves worldly matters.
In the first stage of a person's spiritual development, he should be "close to heaven," submerged in Torah study. Afterwards, he must realize that deed, not study, is the essential. Each of us must emerge from the protective cocoon of study and become "close to the earth," shouldering our part in the mission of making this world a dwelling for Gd.
From Keeping in Touch by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, published by Sichos in English
My Father's Torah
by Chaya Rochel Zimmerman
My father Simcha Yosef ben Ephraim Yakov passed away on the eve of Rosh Hashana in 2002 at the age of 91. He spent the last 40 years of his life immersed at Congregation Agudath Achim Chessed as a shammes, a position his father had held before him. "Shammes" is a poor choice of words. My father was also the minyan gatherer, cantor, treasurer, historian, kaddish reciter, bar mitzva tutor, secretary, Kiddush organizer, janitor, confidant of the yeshiva boys who studied in the building, secret deliverer of food to the poor and more.
My siblings and I unanimously agreed that a fitting tribute for my father was to write a Torah scroll in his honor. We commissioned a reputable scribe to write the Torah. The first year came and went with only a small section completed. The same thing occurred in the second and third year. A few more similar years passed by. Eventually, we received our money back.
It was a month before Rosh Hashana, 2012. My son Rabbi Ephraim Zimmerman, his wife Mushkie, and their two young daughters had recently moved to Oro Valley, Arizona, a suburb of Tucson, to open a new Chabad House. Rosh Hashana was to be their first public event for the dozen or so Jews they had thus far encountered. They were planning to hold services in the living room of their home.
"Do you think you would like a Torah scroll for Rosh Hashana? It's yours if YOU are willing to undertake all the details," I told Ephraim. My son immediately swung into action and called Machon Stam in Brooklyn. "Do you have a new, pre-written Torah scroll available for this Rosh Hashana?"
"Yes," they replied, "but our Torahs are in Israel."
Ephraim asked his brother-in-law in Israel to choose a high-quality, well-written Torah, while Machon Stam found a young man willing to escort the Torah from Israel to New York.
A few days later, when Ephraim was in the midst of preparing the mailing for the Rosh Hashana services, Rabbi Yossie Shemtov, regional director of Chabad of Tuscon, called to see how he was faring. Rabbi Shemtov encouraged him to think big and rent a hotel conference room for services. The closest hotel was also the fanciest one in town; the Hilton El Conquistador. Ephraim decided to go in personally to inquire about renting space in the hotel. As he entered, he was fortuitously greeted by the hotel manager. "What can I do for you sir?"
"I'm Rabbi Ephraim Zimmerman, new to the area, and I'm inquiring about availability and rental fees for the Jewish High Holiday Services."
"Our prices are quite steep," the manager informed him. "The rate is $725 per day plus extra for the cleaning crew. However, personally I have great respect for the Jewish people and I will gladly give it to you for $200." My son was surprised and happily signed a contract. They would be setting up 60 chairs and he hoped it would not appear too empty. Now he needed to place an order for 40 Rosh Hashana machzorim (special holiday prayerbooks).
Ephraim's phone rang later that day. It was a gentleman he had met a month earlier. He was asking if there would be Rosh Hashana services since he had not yet seen any flyers or advertisements. When Ephraim told him that a venue had just now been secured the gentleman offered to pay $1000 toward advertising in the local papers.
Two and a half weeks before Rosh Hashana. Ephraim, Mushkie and their children traveled to Jacksonville, Florida for a family simcha. His father-in-law, Rabbi Yossi Kahanov, director of Chabad Lubavitch of Northeast Florida, had received a very large Ark together with a beautiful curtain from a synagogue that had recently closed. "Ephraim," he offered, "take our other curtain back with you to Arizona where it can be used."
Two weeks before Rosh Hashana, Ephraim called Nissim Baron, the owner of Woodcraft Design in New York who graciously donates Arks to new Chabad emissaries. Ephraim asked if there was a possibility of getting an Ark in time for Yom Kippur, explaining that he was sure it was impossible to get one so close to Rosh Hashana. "Why is it impossible?" asked Mr. Baron. "Don't ever talk like that," he admonished him.
Mr. Baron began calling local Israeli moving companies until he found one going to Tucson that agreed to take the Ark free of charge. Six days before Rosh Hashana it arrived.
Ephraim marveled at all that was happening. He felt like a puppet; G-d was deftly and decidedly pulling the strings in every scene to bring the 10-year saga of the Torah scroll to a speedy close.
The Torah arrived safely in New York from Israel and then touched down in Arizona, three days before Rosh Hashana.
In the week before Rosh Hashana, the embroidery company emailed pictures of elegantly embroidered Torah covers to choose from. My sister and I chose the exact replica of the design fondly etched in our memories that had adorned the ark in my father's synagogue. It was the one with the two lions standing up holding the tablets of the Ten Commandments in their paws. My son was told that the embroidering of my father's name would take three days and then would be sent by two-day air. It arrived two days before Rosh Hashana.
Reservations had been slowly trickling in and now began to climb - 25, 35, 50, 65. Ephraim called the hotel, "Please set up 85 chairs." He borrowed another 20 machzorim from Rabbi Shemtov. The day before Rosh Hashana would be my father's tenth yahrtzeit, and what I couldn't accomplish in 10 years time was completed in 30 days!
The final piece came together when a man arrived for services on Rosh Hashana morning. "I had this silver Yad (pointer) in my home for several years and I thought your new synagogue could use it."
I experienced great joy that Rosh Hashana when my father's Torah found a home in his grandson's new Chabad House, read for the first time by another grandson Boruch. The backing came from Chicago, the Torah from Israel, the cover and the Ark from New York, the curtain from Jacksonville and the Yad from Arizona. What a grand finale. Now the honor belonged to my father.
Have Shofar Will Travel
With shofars in hand, on Rosh Hashana Lubavitcher chasidim throughout the world will walk to hospitals, jails, nursing homes, army bases and college campuses from Johannesburg to Tel Aviv, Melbourne to Paris, and Hawaii to Rhode Island.
In the New York area, the Lubavitch Youth Organization is sending out teams of young people to hospitals, jails and nursing homes to sound the shofar.
The sick, the elderly and the confined will be able to hear the shofar, thereby linking them with their brethren around the world in fulfilling the fundamental mitzva (commandment) of hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashana.
L.Y.O. is also sending hundreds of energetic chasidim on foot to cover facilities within a ten mile radius of the Lubavitch community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
To find out about High Holidays services for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in your area, or special shofar blowing ceremonies nearby, contact your local Chabad-Lubavitch center or visit chabad.org.
In the Days of Selichoth 5725 
To the Sons and Daughters of Our People Israel,
Everywhere, G-d bless you all!
We are at the threshold of a Shemittah Year (the seventh and sanctified "Sabbatical" year in the cycle of years); may it be a good one for all of us, amidst our people Israel.
One of the central teachings of Shemittah is conveyed in the order of the verses and words by which the Torah defines the institution of Shemitta, namely: "When you will come into the land... the earth shall rest a Sabbath unto G-d. Six years shalt thou plant they field," etc. (Lev. 25:2-3)
The order in the text seems to be reversed, for the six work years precede the Sabbatical rest year, and not vice versa. Hence, the text should have first mentioned the six years of planting, and then decree the resting.
However, order in Torah is also Torah ("instruction"). The arrangement in the text mentioned above, relating to Shemittah, is significant and instructive in that it teaches the proper approach to life. It is expressed as follows:
When one "comes into the land" and desires to establish his way of life, which involves "working the soil," it is necessary to bear in mind that first and foremost, as an idea and as a goal, is "Sabbath unto G-d"; not the "earthly" and material, but the spiritual and sacred. This approach will ensure one against being submerged by the material and mundane aspects of life. Moreover, bearing constantly in mind the above idea and goal will transform the six drab working years; they will lose much of their drabness and become more refined and meaningful. Furthermore, the change and elevation of the six years will raise to a higher plane also the seventh year: from a "Shabbos unto G-d" to a "Sabbath of Sabbaths" unto G-d (v. 4), with a dedication and solemnity of a higher order.
Similarly, in the daily life there are those aspects which have to do with material preoccupation (to earn a livelihood, etc.) and "common" necessities, such as eating and drinking, etc. - all those aspects wherein there is "no preeminence in man over animal." But there is also the area of "earthly rest" - of breaking away from the mundane living. Here, too, the teaching of Shemittah is that it is necessary to begin the day with the idea and approach that, although it may be necessary later in the day to engage in "mundane" activities, the essence and purpose of these things are - to attain a "Sabbath unto G-d." In this way, even the mundane aspects will attain refinement and real content, while the aspects of holiness and G-dliness will be intensified and elevated to a higher order. This is the way to attain a complete and harmonious life.
Standing on the threshold of the Shemittah Year, we pray that the Alm-ghty help each and everyone, man and woman, to begin the year with the above-mentioned approach: That not the material, but the spiritual is the essence and goal in life; that "the earthly," the material has a raison d'etre only if it is permeated with the idea of "the earth shall rest a Sabbath unto G-d"- which is when the material serves and fulfills the higher aspirations of holiness and G-dliness. It is only then that all the days in the year, and all the activiities of each day, will reflect "the preeminence of man over animal" and give evidence that man was created in the Divine "image and likeness," living accordingly; while those moments and periods which are characterized as "Shabbos" will in turn rise to the sublime heights of "Sabbath of Sabbaths."
Then will surely also be fulfilled the Divine blessing that goes with Shemittah - "And I will command My blessing upon you" (v. 21) - in a supernatural way.
Rosh Hashana is the day to make the firm and lasting resolution to implement the above appoach. It is the day when the first man was created in the Divine image and likeness; the day when he gained mastery over all of Nature and elevated all Creation to the recognition of the Sovereignty of the Creator with the call, "Come, let us worship, and bow down, and kneel before G-d our Maker" (Ps. 95.6); The day when we pray for the realization of G-d's Kingdom on earth, "reign, in Thy Glory, upon all the world... and let everyone who has a breath in his nostrils declare, 'G-d, the G-d of Israel, is King, and His Kingdom rules everything!'"
With the blessing of Kesivo Vachasimo Toivo [to be inscribed and sealed for good]
For a happy and pleasant year blessed with the joy of children, life and ample sustenance,
Each letter of the word teshuva (return, repentance) is the initial of a verse. T: Tamim - "Be sincere with the Eternal your G-d." Sh: Shiviti - "I have set G-d before me always." U: V'ahavta - "Love your fellow as yourself." V: B'chol - "In all your ways, know Him." H: Hatznei'a - "Walk discreetly with your G-d." When Rabbi Sholom Ber told the above teaching to his son, he concluded: "The word teshuva comprises five (Hebrew) letters, each letter a path and a method in the avoda of teshuva." (He explained each method at length). Each moves from a potential state to actuality through the prayer.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In honor of this new year, 5775, we would like to wish the entire Jewish People our sincerest blessings for a k'siva vachasima tova, l'shana tova u'msuka - to be inscribed and sealed for a good, sweet year, with blessings from every letter of the Hebrew Alef-Beis. May this year be:
A year of "Arise and have mercy on Zion,"... uplifted in matters of Moshiach and the Redemption... faith in G-d and Moses His servant... traveling with the Heavenly clouds... Revealed Wonders; Wonders in Everything... the building of the Holy Temple... trust; Great wonders... the true and complete Redemption; Dignified Wonders... victory... the seventh generation is the generation of Redemption...King David lives and is eternal; "Those who rest in the dust will arise and sing and he will lead them"... Moshiach is coming and he has already come... the revelation of Moshiach; "He will redeem us"... "And they believed in G-d and in Moses His servant"; "This one will comfort us"; the wonders of true freedom... a new song; an abundance of good (Rambam); the king shall live; inscribed and sealed for a good year... the harp of Moshiach; learning Moshiach's teachings; the coming of Menachem who will comfort us... the King Moshiach; wonders... revealed miracles... a double portion; treasures... the completion and end of exile... the revelation of the Infinite Divine Light; "Humble ones, the time of your Redemption has arrived," wealth, materially and spiritually; "Jerusalem will dwell in open space," paratzta - 770; Your servant David will go forth; the ingathering of the exiles... acceptance of his sovereignty by the people; Rebbe - Rosh B'nei Yisrael; peace... a new song... Moshiach's shofar... unity of the Torah, unity of the Jewish people, unity of the land of Israel; Resurrection of the Dead... "A new Torah will come from Me"
Jacob is the lot of His inheritance (Deut.32:9)
The Hebrew word for "lot" - chevel, also means "rope." Jacob was the third of the Patriarchs. Like a rope that is strong because it is made of a number of threads or cords wound together, Jacob had three merits: the merit of his father's father, his own father and himself. Through these combined strengths Jacob and his sons were able to become G-d's inheritance.
He, and Hosheia the son of Nun (Deut. 32:44)
Why was Joshua referred to here by his original name, Hosheia? To inform us that although he was being given a position of greatness as the successor of Moses, he did not become egotistical or overbearing. He remained the same as always.
Between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur
Between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we are given a period of seven days, containing every day of the week - one Sunday, one Monday, and so forth. This complete week, neither more nor less, is given to us to enable us to atone and repent for any wrong deeds accounted for during the previous year, and to better our way of life in the new year. That we have been given a complete week in which to accomplish this is significant: Spending the Sunday of this week as we should, and making the most of the time, serves a a repentance and atonement especially for all the wrong done on all the Sundays of the previous year; the same for all the Mondays of the past year on the Monday of this week, and so on.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
The story is told of a simple Jew who kept a tavern in a distant village many weeks journey from the nearest Jewish community. Rarely did he see the inside of a synagogue; most years, he could not even make it for the High Holidays services. One year he decided to make the trip with his wife to the Jewish community for Rosh Hashana.
When he entered the synagogue on the morning of Rosh Hashana, it was already packed and the service was well underway. Scarcely knowing which way to hold the prayer book, he draped his prayer shawl over his head and took an inconspicuous place against the back wall.
Hours passed. Hunger was beginning to gnaw at his innards, but impassioned sounds of prayer around him showed no signs of abating.
Visions of the sumptuous holiday meal awaiting him at his lodgings made his mouth water in anticipation. Still the service stretched on.
Suddenly, as the cantor reached a particularly stirring passage, the entire congregation burst into tears, their heart-rending cries virtually setting the synagogue walls atremble.
Why was everyone weeping? Then it dawned on him. Of course, they, too, are hungry. They, too, are thinking of the elusive meal and the endless service.
With a new surge of self-pity he gave vent to his anguish; a new wail joined the hundreds of others as he, too, bawled his heart out.
But after a while the weeping let up, finally quieting to a sprinkling of exceptionally pious worshippers. Our hungry tavern-keeper's hopes soared, but the prayers went on. And on. "Why have they stopped crying?" he wondered. "Are they no longer hungry?"
Then he remembered the delicious pot roast his wife had prepared back at his lodging. Everything else for the holiday meal paled in comparison. He distinctly remembered the juicy cut of meat she had put on the fire the day before. And though the tavern-keeper was an utter stranger to the ins and outs of the Rosh Hashana prayers, he knew a thing or two about pot-roast: the longer it cooks, the more sumptuous it is. He'd glanced under the lid on his way to shul this morning, when the roast had already been gently cooking for many hours. He'd sniffed approvingly. But give it another few hours and ahhh... A few hours of aching feet and a hollow stomach is a small price to pay considering what was developing in that pot with each passing moment.
Obviously, that's what his fellow worshippers were thinking as well. No wonder they had stopped crying. Let the service go on, he consoled himself, the longer the better.
On and on the service went. His knees grew weak with hunger, his head throbbed in pain, his throat burned with suppressed tears. But whenever he felt that he simply could not hold out a moment longer, he thought of his roast, envisioning what was happening to that piece of meat at that very moment: the steady crisping on the outside, the softening on the inside, the subtle blending of flavors. Every minute longer, he kept telling himself, was another minute on the fire for the roast.
An hour later, the cantor launched into another exceptionally moving piece. As his tremulous voice painted the awesome scene of Divine judgement unfolding in the heavens, the entire shul broke down weeping once again. At this point, the dam burst in this simple Jew's heart, for he well understood what was on his fellow worshipper's minds. "Enough is enough!" he sobbed. "Never mind the roast! It's been cooking long enough! I'm hungry! I want to go home!"
The Jewish people have been scattered throughout the world so that we may come in contact with the sparks of holiness which await redemption in every corner of the globe. And the holier the spark, the deeper it lies buried. Thus the more painful the exile, the more challenging its trails, the lowlier the elements it confronts us with - the greater its rewards. Every minute of exile represents more sparks of holiness redeemed, and its every further descent brings deeper dimensions of the Divine purpose to fruition.
But there comes a point at which every Jew must cry out from the very depths of his being: "Enough already! Our succulent holiday meal has been cooking long enough! We want to come home!"
May we all be home, to the Third and Eternal Holy Temple, this very Rosh Hashana.
One of the many explanations given for sounding the shofar on Rosh Hashana is that it is a foretaste of the time when "The Great Shofar will be sounded," i.e., when Moshiach comes. The sounding of the shofar expresses our accepting Gd's Kingship just as trumpets are sounded at the coronation of an earthly king. At present, our acceptance of Gd is incomplete for we have a natural tendency towards self-concern. It is likely that in our Rosh Hashana prayers we will concentrate more on the words "Inscribe us in the Book of life, blessing, peace, and prosperity" than on the words "Reign over the entire world in Your glory." In the era of Moshiach, however, we will identify with Gd's Kingship, not only from the perspective of the spiritual but also from the physical.
(Keeping in Touch by Rabbi Eli Touger)