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When the concept of being in a "zone" first gained popularity it referred primarily to athletes zeroing in on a task so that they were oblivious to distractions. Today, people have found that following personal rituals can get them into creative zones, work zones, comfort zones, school zones... the list goes on.
Following rituals not only helps us focus on the task ahead and enter our "zone" in the more mundane, world, they can also help us enter our "spiritual" zone.
Let's take the example of prayer. There are many rituals that we do that help us get into a "prayer zone" before we even begin praying.
If we were going to a crucial meeting, we would certainly perform various preparatory actions in order to get ready. In addition to making sure that our dress was immaculate, that we had brushed up on the proper etiquette, and that we had sufficiently "psyched" ourselves up, we would use the time traveling to the meeting to further contemplate and meditate on the ramifications of the meeting and the various strategies we wished to present.
When we pray, we are attending the ultimate meeting with the Biggest CEO of all. But, as we don't see G-d, it is much more difficult to get into the mood of preparing for our meeting with Him. So we have "rituals" that help us get into our zone, that help us psyche ourselves up for that all-important meeting.
True, we have been cautioned not to make our prayers "fixed" or habitual, repeating the words like a meaningless chant, but with the right attitude, our rituals help us get into a "prayer zone." We wash our hands before praying; give charity; recite a declaration that we take upon ourselves the obligation of treating our fellow Jews with kindness, love and respect; and have a fixed place for prayer.
These pre-prayer rituals are neither are they trivial or trite. They help us reach our "prayer zone" so that we can connect with G-d more effectively.
Take an example from the upcoming High Holiday period. The annual rituals help us get into the "mood," reach our spiritual "achievement zone," and get ready.
An entire month before Rosh Hashana we start wishing people verbally and in writing that they should be signed and sealed for a good year. A simple ritual like that helps us (and the person we're saying it to) focus on what we should (and should not!) be doing to insure that we have a good year.
The month before the High Holidays we sound the shofar daily. Let's face it, if you don't already know how to blow the shofar one month before Rosh Hashana, practicing won't help enough. And even if it does help, why a whole month and not just a few days before Rosh Hashana?
Sounding the shofar is another pre-Rosh Hashana ritual. Our prophets say that one can't possibly hear the shofar without being moved to introspection.
The closer we get to Rosh Hashana, the more the rituals intensify. This includes saying the special "Selichot - Penitential" prayers starting this Saturday evening.
Even the more well-known and seemingly less significant rituals such as dipping apples in honey, eating honey-cake, or sending and receiving Rosh Hashana cards create an atmosphere that not only brings back warm memories, but also helps us focus on the significance and uniqueness of this time of year.
So, as we begin to perform "all those rituals," let's remember that not only does each ritual have its own unique spiritual ramifications and significance, but it also helps us arrive at our achievement zone more efficiently.
This week's Torah portion, Shoftim, opens with the mitzva: "Judges and officers you shall place at all your gates."
The Torah is eternal; so too are all its commandments. Appointing "judges and officers" thus applies in every age and in all locations, and contains a practical directive for our daily lives.
Every Jew is an entire world, a microcosm of the greater world at large. And just as the world is divided into regions and cities, so too may the individual Jew be said to inhabit various "cities" in which he lives and acts. These "cities" are the thoughts we think, the words we speak, and the deeds and actions we perform.
As with every city, the domains of thought, speech and deed are protected by gates; indeed, it is a mitzva to install them at their entrance. A gate is a portal, a doorway through which all who wish to enter the city must pass. A gate can be opened and closed; when it is firmly shut, no one can intrude.
The Torah's instruction to appoint "judges and officers" at the gates of our individual "cities" is directed to all Jews, young and old. Furthermore, all Jews are endowed with the ability to carry out the command successfully.
When a Jew is aroused to perform good deeds, he must open his "gate" as wide as it will go. But if, G-d forbid, his "city" is in danger of invasion by the Evil Inclination, he must shut the "gate" immediately and refuse it access.
How do we lead a G-dly life? How is it possible to carry out G-d's will? By properly utilizing the limbs and organs with which we are blessed.
A Jew's eyes can be used for reading Jewish books in which is written G-d's laws about how to conduct our lives. Our ears can be used to listen the counsel of our teachers and to hear only words that are appropriate; our nose, to breathe the pure air of Torah and mitzvot, in a wholesome environment where we can breathe freely. Similarly, a Jew's mouth can open to accept kosher food and drink, and to speak words of respect and love.
And who is the "judge" who makes these decisions? The "judge" is our intellect, our capacity for rational thought; the "officer" within us makes sure that the "judge's" decisions are enforced.
When we all make the right judgments and obey the Torah's commands, we will merit, with G-d's help, the appointment of the "judges and officers" of the Sanhedrin of the Third Holy Temple, and the complete Redemption with Moshiach, may it be now!
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Volume 14
by Rabbi Simcha Moishe Kreindler
As Shluchim (emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe) responsible for 37 small towns and rural areas throughout northern California, my wife Atara Michal and I serve as directors of Chabad TORCH.
Our mission: meet Jews living in small towns and regions throughout Northern California and offer Sabbath and holiday experiences in addition to offering Jewish learning opportunities. We often see in our work Divine providence in situations both small and big.
A registered nurse for over 30 years, Mr. Robert Gore developed an allergy to latex and almost died after having a severe reaction. I met Mr. Gore a few months after this life-threatening incident.
He fasted that year on Yom Kippur for his first time and felt what he told me was a "spiritual awakening" which is why he asked to meet with me. I met with. Mr. Gore for a number of hours. In the course of our conversation he told me that he wanted to begin living in accordance with his Jewish heritage.
A few days later, Mr. Gore and his wife arranged to meet with my wife and I. They decided that they wanted to go to Los Angeles where Mr. Gore could have a brit mila and where they could experience a traditional Shabbat in the Los Angeles Jewish community. They asked that we make the arrangements and travel together with them.
On Thursday, Mr. Gore had a brit mila after which he was called up to the Torah. Part of the ceremony included receiving a Jewish name. Mr. Gore chose the name Rafael (the name of the angel of healing)
The next day, Friday, I took Rafael to get his first pair of tefillin. At the Judaica store, Rafael met an elderly man who had come to buy a yarmulke. The two men shared a few words and had a warm conversation. They also share the same English name, Robert.
Friday night, we all ate the Shabbat meal together at one home and then walked to a different family where we had been invited for dessert. Before we even had a chance to sit down, a man came running in and announced that an elderly man looked to be having a stroke nearby.
Being a registered nurse, Rafael ran to see if he could offer any help. Upon his arrival, Rafael saw numerous firefighters and emergency staff on hand, many of whom had been there for over an hour trying to convince the elderly man to go to the hospital to receive medical attention.
Rafael realized that this was the same gentleman with whom he had been speaking in the Judaica store earlier that day. Within minutes Rafael was able to convince the man to go to the hospital where they discovered the man had a stroke and was in risk of having another one. Rafael saved the man's life (just 48 hours earlier he chose the Jewish name Rafael, in honor of the "healing angel")!
Benyamin BenYitzchak had been raised on a religious kibbutz in Israel. He emigrated to the United States where he married and had four children.
His only daughter, Dana, went to Israel for high school. On the night of August 1, 2003, in Tiberias, she was kidnapped. It wasn't until six long years later that it was confirmed that she had been murdered by an Arab terrorist, when her murderer was caught and Dana's body was found.
Thousands attended the funeral and a park was dedicated in Tiberias in Dana's memory. But for Benyamin the pain was too intense and he went into seclusion. He moved himself out of the Jewish community and into Shingletown, California, a town with a population of less than 2,300 people in the middle of the forest just outside of Lassen National Park. Now, without internet in a place where most people don't even have cell phone service, Benyamin felt he could be safe from the torture he experienced as a father who had lost his only daughter to a brutal murder. In this self-imposed isolation, many of Benyamin's Jewish observances faded away.
One day, Benyamin found himself in the post office in Redding, a town 35 miles from his home. There was a post office in Shingletown but for some reason, he went to the Redding post office that day.
I was also in the Redding post office that day. Upon seeing me there, he shouted, "I cant believe it, they found me!"
That initial meeting led to a number of big things: Benyamin came to our Rosh Hashana services. He had kosher mezuzas put up on his home and he started putting on Tefillin again. Benyamin became a regular at almost all Chabad TORCH events.
But there was one thing missing: Rafi. Rafi is Dana's brother. He, too, left Jewish observance after his beloved sister disappeared.
One day, when we were in Shingletown visiting Benyamin, we bumped into Rafi. It was a week before the 12 year anniversary of his sister's passing. Rafi put on tefillin for the first time in a long time. It was quite an emotional moment for all of us.
I have seen the pictures of Dana and the letters she wrote to her father just months before she was kidnapped and to some extent, I could feel her father and brother's pain.
Benyamin had told me that throughout the 1980s, he had prayed in the Rebbe's minyan every Thursday morning. He lived at 770 Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn where he received the Rebbe's mail on two separate occasions and had the merit to personally bring the Rebbe's mail back to 770 Eastern Parkway.
Before leaving Reb Benyamin's house, I told him that the Rebbe is watching over him. He replied, with tears in his eyes, "I feel it..."
These are just two small stories of Divine Providence that remind us that events occurrences in a person's life are not by chance but happen with Divine intervention. May we all merit to see the clear revelation of G-dliness and goodness that will come with the arrival of Moshiach.
For more about Chabad TORCH visit Chabadtorch.com
Growing in Gloucester
Chabad of Gloucester County, New Jersey, recently purchased a 9.5 acre plot of land in the heart of Mullica Hill, NJ. The land will be used to build a new Jewish Center to accommodate the growing needs of the Jewish community in Gloucester County. The Chabad Center that will be built on the property will include a large sanctuary, a social hall, classrooms, a youth zone, library, Judaica shop, and offices. Future plans include a preschool and a summer day camp.
Friendship Plus Israel
The Friendship Circle is known throughout the world for its work with children and families managing special needs, but it recently topped a new level of action. For the first time, it sponsored a trip to Israel for six families from its home headquarters in West Bloomfield, Michigan. While there have been Birthright Israel trips for Friendship Circle members in the past, this was the first multigenerational trip for those centered around the lives of children with special needs.
Elul 5th, 5712 
I have received your letter of August 7th, in which you express your very deep appreciation for the education and upbringing which your youngest son has received at the Yeshivah in the last four years, which you recognize to be the finest thing that could have happened to him, for which you feel thankful to me. Thanks are not due to me, of course, but to the Almighty who has given you such a fine son, whose desire it is to be a "vessel" to receive the right upbringing in Torah with Yiras Shamaim [fear of heaven], rooted in Chasidus. To him also gratitude is due for the recognition stemming from this Chinuch [education], that one is steadily to advance along this road like all things connected with Kedushah [holiness] which must rise higher and higher toward G-d the infinite. This is particularly true in the age of youth and adolescence, the impressionable age, when the right education and upbringing is bound to bring ever-growing fruit for the whole life.
Pursuant to the above, and to the spirit of your letter, I must say that I was greatly surprised and chagrined to read the conclusion of your letter which is so contradictory to its introduction, that you wish him to remain in - . This is all the more disappointing in view of the fact that only this summer he has become Bar-Mitzvah, when the Jew just enters into his obligatory life of Torah and Mitzvos [commandments]. At this critical stage you consider uprooting him from the environment and upbringing which has been so beneficial to him, because you and your wife cannot be separated from him any more.
I fully appreciate, of course, the feelings of parents, especially towards such a son as - , and separation undeniably is a great hardship. On the other hand, it is also self evident that when it concerns the molding of one's son's character and upbringing which is to last him for the rest of his life and thereafter, the temporary separation of a few years is comparatively negligible considering the reward and what is at stake.
... the paramount factor is this:
At all times, and more so nowadays, everything should be done to spare one's child any crisis in his life, for there are enough crises in life beyond our control. Inasmuch as your son has become so attached to the Yeshivah environment and has benefited from it so much, has many friends among the students, etc., there can be no doubt that to take him away from it and placing him in another environment, even one of Torah with Yiras Shamaim, but surely not identical with this one, is bound to create a crisis, which will be both apparent and hidden, deep in his innermost being, which may have lasting effects, G-d forbid.
Being also acquainted with the general state of Torah education in -, I know that there is a basic difference in the approach to the whole problem between here and there, and the transition would by no means be a smooth one, involving either a cardinal change or a breach, G-d forbid, an experience which should be avoided even in the case of an adult, let alone a child, especially such a sensitive one as your son.
I must therefore emphasize again that you must weigh the physical and especially spiritual well-being of your son against the temporary separation from him. There is also the advice of our Sages, "Go into exile to a place of Torah" (Avoth 4:1 3).
Let me finally add that, based upon my observations and life experience, I am certain that when parents concede to the above saying of our Sages, despite their personal sacrifice, it is amply rewarded with the joy and happiness of their children. I trust you will bear with me for being so outspoken in this problem, since I consider it my duty, having personal knowledge of the factors and knowing your son intimately. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of return to New York before Rosh Hashanah, for that special atmosphere that prevails here at that time, where he longs to be together with his friends, during prayers and at meal time, and be inspired together with them by all that he sees, hears and feels here.
I pray that you make this decision without undue difficulty, and the Almighty will surely reward you with much joy from him and your other children.
Our Sages say that the words of the Torah "And ye shall teach them diligently unto thy children" refer also to one's disciples; and truly the students are treated here like one's own children. I shall therefore feel greatly relieved to hear that you have made the right decision with regard to - .
Wishing you and yours a kesiva vechasima tovah [inscribed and sealed for good],
Moses received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Joshua; Joshua passed it on to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets...(Ethics 1:1)
Why does the Mishna state "from Sinai," instead of "from G-d"? Saying "Sinai" underscores two important character traits. On the one hand, Sinai is a mountain, reminding us to stand tall in the face of all challenges. Nevertheless, Mount Sinai is "lower than all the mountains," emphasizing that this pride must be tempered by humility. (Sichot Kodesh Shemini, 5731)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
We recently entered the month of Elul, the month of preparation for the High Holidays that commence with Rosh Hashana, it is appropriate to discuss customs of the month.
It is customary during Elul to have our mezuza parchments (the actual mezuzot) examined by a knowledgeable person or scribe to ascertain that they have not become unfit.
The Zohar, which contains the more esoteric aspects of Judaism, explains that the effect of having mezuzot on one's doors is to provide protection by G-d from the time a person leaves his home until he returns.
This aspect of "protection" is hinted to by the Hebrew letter "shin" that appears on most mezuza covers. The shin is the first of three letters, shin - dalet - yud, that spell out one of G-d's names. Those letters are also an acronym for Shomer Daltot Yisrael - Guardian of the Doors of Israel.
We must keep in mind, though, that the mezuza is not a charm or amulet; it is also not just a symbol or quaint ritual, to tell the outside world that this is a Jewish home.
A mezuza can be compared to a helmet. A soldier wears a helmet to protect him from enemy bullets and a mezuza, too, protects us, our family and our possessions from harm.
Yet, "bad" things do sometimes happen to someone with mezuzot on his doors. How is this possible? If, while wearing a helmet, an enemy bullet does manage to wound a soldier, it is the enemy bullet, and the enemy bullet alone which has pierced him. The helmet provides added protection, but is not the only factor involved in the soldier's safety.
Have your mezuzot checked soon. If you don't have mezuzot or you need more, purchase them from a reputable Judaica store or certified scribe. Or call your local Chabad-Lubavitch center for more info.
Judges and officers you shall appoint upon yourself...and they shall judge the people (Deut. 16:18)
First "you shall appoint upon yourself" - first you must adorn yourself, and then "they shall judge the people" - you will be able to adorn and beautify others and to judge them. In other words, most people are blind to their own faults.
The Torah enjoins the judge - "you shall appoint upon yourself" - the same criteria and set of rules that you use to judge others you should apply to yourself as well. Demand of yourself the same fear of G-d that you demand from those you are judging.
(Toldot Yaakov Yosef)
You shall set a king over yourself (Deut. 17:15)
This commandment's purpose is to instill the fear of G-d, the subjugation to Him, and the acceptance of the Yoke of Heaven. The king himself is nullified to G-d; therefore, when the nation subjugates itself to him, they nullify themselves to G-d as well.
The first fruits of your grain...shall you give him (Deut. 18:4)
As Rashi explains, "This refers to the teruma contribution set aside for the priests. [The Torah] does not specify any amount, but our Rabbis said that a person of good will gives one in forty." Symbolically, "one in forty" is an allusion to Yom Kippur. Moses ascended Mount Sinai on the 1st of Elul, where he remained for 40 days, until Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is thus the most auspicious time of this 40-day period.
What man is there who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house (Deut. 20:8)
Moses said this to those who were to wage war. Rabbi Yosi Haglili said: This means one who is afraid because of his sins. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov added another insight: The worst thing is when a person dwells on his transgressions and sinks into a depression. When the Evil Inclination tries to entice a person to sin, it is more interested in the depression following the wrongdoing than the sin itself. The damage done by depression is greater than the damage done by the gravest transgression.
Shlomo Efrayim studied under the famed Maharal (Rabbi Yehuda Lowe) of Prague. He was one of his finest, most brilliant students.
The Maharal sent Shlomo Efrayim away to study in Pressberg and then later to Levov. Before leaving for Levov, the Maharal instructed Shlomo Efrayim to work there as a simple laborer, never revealing his true greatness. "After my departure from this world," the Maharal explained, "a delegation will come to you with a letter from me. I want you to carry out what the letter states."
Shlomo Efrayim lived quietly and humbly in a corner of the Levov synagogue and wrote his classical work, Olilos Efrayim. He married and lived very, very simply, selling eggs by day to support his family and at night sitting and learning Torah with the greatest diligence. Shlomo Efrayim, who called himself Shlomo Olilos, was known as a simple, impoverished, but honest man. The Maharal lived to an old age. Before passing away, he called to the people of his city. "After my departure, go to the city of Levov where you will find a man called Efrayim Olilos. Give him this letter and he will be the rabbi in my place."
After the Maharal's passing, a delegation carried out his request. They thought they would come to the city of Levov and find a well-known man. However, they were in for a surprise. They arrived at an inn in Levov and stated, "We came to take the great, learned sage, Efrayim Olilos, to be the rabbi of our city."
No one knew of an Efrayim Olilos who should command such respect. The delegation was puzzled. They searched for three days, but to no avail. When they were about to return to Prague, someone approached them. "If you are interested in Efrayim Olilos, I know a man by that name who sells eggs." The delegation went with the man to a broken-down shack where they found Shlomo Efrayim, his wife and children dressed in tatters. Shlomo Efrayim's clothes were torn, but his face was illuminated like that of a holy person.
They said to him, "Sholom Aleichem, our teacher and rabbi. We have a letter from the Maharal."
Shlomo Efrayim read the letter. The Maharal asked that he become the rabbi of Prague. "The command of my rabbi is one that I must accept, but I cannot come until six months have passed. I have to prepare with intensified prayer and Torah study in order to accept such a dignified and glorified position."
The members of the delegation left him 500 gulden so that the rabbi would be able to devote himself to his spiritual preparations over the next six months without worrying about eking out a living selling eggs.
Shlomo Efrayim purchased clothing and food for his family and prepared for his new life.
At that time, a large sum of money was stolen from the house of a lord. When the people saw that Shlomo Efrayim's wife and children were no longer dressed in tatters they assumed that he had stolen the money. Shlomo Efrayim was thrown in prison without the benefit of a trial, lawyers or any opportunity to defend himself.
After the six months had elapsed and Shlomo Efrayim did not arrive in Prague, a delegation came to find out the reason for the delay. When they arrived in Levov, Shlomo Efrayim's wife explained all that had happened and the Prague delegation rushed to the city leaders to tell them of their great error. Shlomo Efrayim was immediately released.
The whole city of Levov followed the carriage in which Rabbi Shlomo Efrayim left for the city of Prague. He became one of the most colorful rabbinic leaders in his time. He wrote the famous homiletic commentary on the Bible, Klei Yakar, which is printed side by side other famous commentaries on the Bible.
The prophet Hoshea compares the number of Jews in the era of redemption to the sand of the sea. The Midrash comments that a glass utensil that shattes can be reheated adn rebuilt, and the same is true of the Jewish people. This teaching sheds light on the ancient Jewish custom of shattering a glass under the chupa canpoy at a wedding. The Jewish people are G-d's bride. Our marriage shattered at the time of the sin of the Golden Calf, but it will be rebuilt and blossom into full marriage in the era of redemption.
(Techeilet Mordechai, as quoted in Yalkut Moshiach UGeula by Rabbi Dovid Dubov)