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"Listen, I'm really sorry it happened and I'm going to try to make sure it doesn't happen again," you say spontaneously but with genuine regret after the minor snafu. It was, after all, a mistake - an avoidable error that you hope will not be repeated.
What about when a bigger slip-up happens? One that you can't smooth over as easily with an, "I'm sorry, it won't happen again"? Whether you've got to come clean with your boss, your significant other, a colleague or a family member, you've got to put more thought into your apology and into how you can make sure the mistake won't reoccur.
And if it's a really serious transgression, it'll take more than a well-thought out apology to clear the air. It might take a series of open discussions with the person, a chain of actions to undo the harm done, and lots of time to heal the wounds.
Beginning on the Saturday evening before Rosh Hashana, and continuing each morning thereafter until the New Year, we say special prayers asking for G-d's forgiveness. These prayers, known as Selichot, are a spiritual work-out that helps us get ready for the Day of Judgement on Rosh Hashana. For, on Rosh Hashana, when we stand before the Heavenly Court, all of our misdemeanors cheerfully come to greet us, so to speak. We have to be well-prepared for the encounter with real and practiced feelings of regret and positive plans for the future. The Selichot prayers help us accomplish just that.
"G-d, may our prayers come before You, and don't turn away from our entreaties, for we are not so impudent and hardened as to declare before You that we are righteous and have not sinned. Indeed, we and our ancestors have sinned.
"We have transgressed, we have deceived, we have robbed, we have maligned. We have acted perversely and wickedly, we have purposefully sinned, we have been violent, we have incriminated others. We have given harmful advice, we have lied, we have scoffed, we have rebelled, we have provoked, we have been disobedient, we have done wrong, we have wantonly transgressed, we have oppressed others, we have been obstinate. We have acted corruptly, we have damaged, we have acted abominably, we have gone astray, we have led others astray."
The story is told of a young boy, the son of a great rabbi, who heard his father reciting the Selichot prayers before Rosh Hashana in a somber voice punctuated with sobs and bitter tears. "We have transgressed, we have deceived, we have robbed..."
The boy was shocked and heartbroken. All these years he had thought, no, he had known, that his father was a great and righteous person. So many people came to him for advice. So many studied Torah with him. So many came just to bask in the presence of this special person. Yet, here stood his father, reciting a litany of heinous transgressions.
The young boy ran crying to his home, ashamed and bewildered. His mother approached him and listened to his woeful tale.
"All Jews are connected one to another. Your father did not commit all of those sins himself. Our Sages ordained that we should say the selichot prayers in the plural - 'We have sinned, we have transgressed...' because we are all one. What one Jew does affects every single Jew. And so, before Rosh Hashana, when we ask for forgiveness for ourselves, we ask for forgiveness for every single Jew."
Those of us who are not yet totally righteous might find some personal truth in many of the admissions that we recite in the Selichot prayer. Not necessarily on the most obvious level, of course, but in actions, thoughts or deeds that are more subtle than those listed.
Get in shape for Rosh Hashana starting this Saturday night after midnight at your local synagogue. You - and every other Jew - will be happy you did.
The Torah portion, Ki Tavo, begins with a detailed account of the mitzva of bikurim, "first fruits." The Jewish farmer was required to bring the select fruits of his crops to the Holy Temple to show his gratitude to G-d for the blessing of the land.
The precept of bikurim had various restrictions. It applied only in the Holy Land and only when the Temple was in existence. It was limited to one who owned a parcel of particularly fertile land. It was also restricted in its time of application, for the declaration of bikurim could only be made from Shavuot (late Spring) to Sukot (Fall).
Yet the precept of the "first fruits," despite its seemingly narrow application, contains a broadly applicable lesson: We are to take from the "first of the fruits of the earth" and bring them to the Kohain - priest. We are to dedicate the best of our material matters to sanctity. As Maimonides writes: "When one gives food to the needy, he should give the best and most delectable of his table; with the best of his wardrobe should he clothe the naked, and when he builds a house of worship he should render it more beautiful than his own dwelling, as it is written "all the best...is to the Alm-ghty."
The first-fruits were not burned on the altar where the physical nature would be annulled, where their materiality would be consumed and transformed into the spirituality of G-dliness. Rather the fruits were given to the Kohain to eat. In this fashion they were elevated and dedicated to a higher purpose. Similarly, our approach in life is not to "nullify" the material but to imbue it with sanctity while still remaining in its lowly material state.
One further point: the farmer is obligated to bring "...from the first of all the fruits of the earth, etc.," not all the fruits. The idea is not that the person should give away all the fruits of his labor to the sanctuary. Most of the fruits were to remain in his possession, including also some exceedingly good fruits, and only a small portion of them - the best - given to the Kohain. The underlying idea was for the first-fruits to be a representative portion of the whole harvest; the sanctity of the bikurim donation was to affect, to permeate and elevate all the fruits remaining, just as a donation of tzedaka - charity, brings an element of consecration or sanctity into all one's wealth.
The Last Journey
by Rabbi Raphael Jaworowski
Every Rosh Hashana the Chicago Mitzvah Campaign arranges for volunteers to blow shofar for Jewish patients at many Chicago area hospitals. One year, Rabbi Aron Wolf, director of CMC, took his shofar and walked from West Rogers Park to Weiss Memorial hospital overlooking Lake Michigan. There, among other Jewish patients, he met a bedridden middle-aged man, Mr. "W," who was very happy and relieved to see a rabbi.
After fulfilling the mitzva (commandment) of hearing the shofar, Mr. W told Rabbi Wolf about his dire health condition. His doctors had diagnosed him with two different types of blood diseases, each of which was considered terminal. In fact, over six months prior they had informed him that he had at most half a year left to live. Rabbi Wolf encouraged Mr. W and cheered him with words of support and comfort.
The conversation between rabbi and patient turned to matters of the spirit. Regrettably, Mr. W had never been given the benefit of more than minimal exposure to Jewish education and observance. Now in middle-age, with his body failing him, his soul's flame was beginning to sparkle, and he expressed interest in refreshing and renewing his connection to Judaism. Upon Rabbi Wolf's advice he resolved to move forward in the areas of putting on tefillin, prayer, and Torah study.
Delicately, Rabbi Wolf broached the subject of funeral arrangements. Mr. W related that he had instructed his wife that, when the time would come, his body should be cremated. His parents were both buried (in separate locations) in Waldheim cemetery, and it was his wish that his body's ashes be sprinkled on his father's grave!
Rabbi Wolf was saddened, although hardly surprised, at this revelation. Unfortunately, there are many Jews today who do not realize the importance of a Jewish burial. He spoke earnestly with Mr. W about the importance of a traditional Jewish funeral, its customs and its significance. Mr. W had never heard of these Jewish traditions and was touched by the rabbi's heartfelt words and demeanor.
After a pause, Mr. W began to speak hesitatingly of financial hardship that affected his ability to pay for even such basic items as food and other household bills. It was clear to Rabbi Wolf that the difference in expense between a funeral and a cremation would be a significant obstacle for Mr. W. Rabbi Wolf assured Mr. W that he would take care of all expenses and logistics for the funeral. Mr. W said that he would think it over, and Rabbi Wolf wished him a "Shana Tova" and bade him farewell.
A few days later, Rabbi Wolf received a call from Mr. W's brother who wanted to confirm for himself the rabbi's offer. Soon afterwards Mr. W called Rabbi Wolf directly and proposed that everything be put in writing. The rabbi enthusiastically agreed, and suggested that perhaps an empty plot might be found next to one of Mr. W's parents in Waldheim. Upon further investigation, he discovered that indeed there was an available space neighboring Mr. W's father!
On the night before Yom Kippur Rabbi Wolf met Mr. W, who was now hospicing at his home. They signed the documents setting forth the rabbi's undertaking of responsibility to provide for all of Mr. W's funeral arrangements and expenses.
Defying his doctors' expectations and despite frequent urgent trips to the hospital, Mr. W clung to life for several more weeks. During this time Rabbi Wolf kept in close contact with him, providing encouragement, support, and spiritual counsel. He connected Mr. W with me, and during these weeks I visited Mr. W regularly in Weiss Memorial, helping him to put on tefillin and pray, and discussing with him wisdom from the Torah.
It was obvious that Mr. W looked forward to these visits with great anticipation. Disregarding his physical weakness and discomfort, he would sit up in the hospital bed and stretch out his bruised and aching arm to be wrapped in the tefillin. Although his condition prevented him from talking much at all, he would make a remarkable effort to proudly repeat the words of the "Shema," slowly, laboriously, in both Hebrew and English. His wife and nurses often remarked how glad and excited Mr. W was about these visits, and how this happiness brought about a tangible physical benefit in his physical condition.
Several weeks passed and Mr. W's soul took leave of his body. Rabbi Wolf provided for all of the arrangements in full accord with traditional Jewish practice, and personally conducted Mr. W's funeral at Waldheim Cemetery, in the presence of a minyan. Thus did he fulfill the promise he made to Mr. W weeks earlier in Weiss Memorial Hospital, on Rosh Hashana, the start of the Jewish new year. And, perhaps more importantly, thus was Mr. W's soul given the opportunity to benefit from a proper Jewish burial, an appropriate and befittingly Jewish way to be born into its new journey in the world of truth.
The Edmond J. Safra Sefardic Synagogue in the Ipanema neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, celebrated the inauguration of their new facility with over 1,500 people participated in the opening event, marked by the completion of 3 new Sefer Torahs. The 6 story building contains a synagogue has, study hall events hall, 2 kitchens, 3 mikvahs, classrooms, a library, and a children's room.
Chabad at the Shore opened the new Chai Center in Ventnor, New Jersey, just one block from the Atlantic Ocean. When completed, the Chai Center complex will include a 250-seat sanctuary, social hall, "hospitality rooms," rabbi's study, library and offices, and a commercial kitchen that will offer kosher catering. A separate school building will hold several classrooms, offices and an additional kitchen.
The Jewish community of Abakan, Russia, celebrated the opening of a Jewish Community Center. Abakan is the capital city of the Republic of Khakassia, Russia in Eastern Siberia. The new center includes a synagogue, study hall, dining room, kitchen, classrooms and offices.
Freely translated and adapted
In the Days of Selichos, 5726 (1966)
In addition to the perennial qualities which each festival, Rosh Hashana included, brings with it from year to year, there are certain qualities which are associated with certain years, and which, therefore, are of particular significance in the year of their occurrence.
The approaching year - may it bring good and blessing to all of us and to all our people Israel - has the distinction of being a "post-Shemitta (Sabbatical) year."
As such it is characterized by the additional special commandment of Hakhel ("Gather together"), which is described as a "solid pillar and great honor to our faith" (Sefer HaChinuch).
During the time of the Holy Temple, it was required to gather the people - men, women, and children, including the very little ones - into the Temple, in order that they hear certain selected Torah portions, which were read by the king.
This had to take place at the first opportunity in the new year (namely, Succoth, when Jews came to Jerusalem on their pilgrimage).
Since the Temple was destroyed this mitzvah is no longer practiced - until it will be restored again, may it be speedily in our time. However, the Torah and mitzvoth (commandments) are eternal, so that also those mitzvoth which were to be practiced only during the times of the Temple, by virtue of their eternal spiritual content, have a special significance in their appropriate day or year, which has to be expressed and fulfilled in an appropriate manner (e.g. prayers at the time of day when the sacrifices were offered in the Temple, etc.)
The mitzvah of Hahkel had two features which, at first glance, seem to be contradictory:
On the one hand, it was required to "gather the people, men, women and small children and the ger (stranger) in thy gates" - indicating that everyone, regardless of his or her station in life and intelligence can and must be a participant in the event; and on the other hand, it was required that the portions of the Torah be read to them by the most august person of the nation, the king.
One explanation is the following:
The Torah was given to us in order that it permeate and vitalize each and every Jew without exception - man, woman, child and stranger - so thoroughly, and to such an extent and degree, that one's entire being, in all its aspects, senses and feelings, will become a Torah and mitzvoth being.
And in order to attain this end, most deeply and fully, the Torah was read on that occasion by the king, whose awe-inspiring quality filled the audience with an overwhelming sense of awe and subservience, to the extent of complete bitul - self effacement.
The significance and instruction of the mitzvah of Hakhel to each and every one of us is, to avail ourselves of the opportune awe-inspiring days of Tishrei, to gather our fellow Jews - men, women, and children, including the very little ones - into the hallowed places of prayer and Torah, in an atmosphere of holiness and devoutness; and gather them for the purpose which was the very essence of the mitzvah of Hakhel, as stated in the Torah: In order that they should listen and should learn, and should fear G-d, your G-d, and observe to do all the words of the Torah (Deut. 31:12).
Particularly it is the duty of everyone who is a "king," a leader, in his circle - the spiritual leader in his congregation, the teacher in his classroom, the father in his family - to raise the voice of the Torah and mitzvoth, forcefully and earnestly, so that it produces a profound impression and an abiding influence in the audience, to be felt not only through the month of Tishrei, nor merely throughout the year, but throughout the seven years from the present Hakhel to the next; an influence that should be translated into daily life, into conduct governed by the Torah and mitzvot, with fear of Heaven, and, at the same time, with gladness of heart.
May it please the One Above, Whom Jews crown on Rosh Hashana as the "King of Israel" and "Sovereign Over All the Earth," to bless each man and woman in carrying out the said task, in the fullest measure, and this will also speed and bring closer the time when the mitzvah of Hakhel will be fulfilled in all its details, in the Holy Temple, with the appearance of Moshiach, speedily in our time.
Ben Zoma said... "Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot, as it is said: (Psalm 128:2) 'When you eat of the labor of your hands, happy are you, and it shall be well with you' " (Ethics 4:1)
A person's wealth is not measured by the amount of money he has stashed away in boxes and treaure-chests. For no person is wealthy other than in knowledge (See Talmud Nedarim 41a). One who is happy with what he has is a truly wealthy person. (Maharal of Prague)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat afternoon, we study two chapters of Ethics of the Fathers, chapters three and four. In chapter four our Sages counsel us to be "humble of spirit before every man."
As we are now in the midst of Elul, when our thoughts are focused on amending our ways before the New Year, this advice is especially timely. But how are we to implement our Sages' words? What can a person do to achieve humility?
In truth, there are two ways. The first involves reflecting on how we are not complete as lone individuals. Perfection is only possible as part of the sum total of the Jewish people, who are described as a "single upright body." In the human body, each and every limb performs a unique function without which the body cannot survive. For example, by providing it with mobility, the foot complements and completes the head. So too is it with the "body" of the Jewish people. No matter how high a level we may attain, we are always incomplete without our fellow Jews. Reminding ourselves of this truth will cause us to feel humble and indebted to others.
The second way involves turning inward, concentrating on our various flaws and inadequacies. This approach will also lead to humility, but by emphasizing the negative, it will also make us feel sad. According to Chasidic philosophy, sadness is counterproductive. A Jew must always strive to serve G-d with happiness and joy. Thus this second method must be reserved for very rare occasions, such as when a person feels completely incapable of conquering his Evil Inclination and must resort to other means.
In general, however, the first approach is the easiest way to be "humble of spirit before every man." When we realize that we are deficient on our own, we will automatically feel humble with regard to others.
You will be mad from the sight of your eyes which you will see (Deut. 28:34)
Coveting everything one sees is indeed a terrible curse, for it is the root cause of all the other punishments that are mentioned in this Torah portion, eventually leading to "you will be only oppressed and crushed always."
Because you would not serve the L-rd your G-d with joy and with gladness of heart... therefore, you will serve your enemies (Deut. 29:47)
We see from this that joy is such an important part of the Jew's service of G-d that the harshest punishment of "you will serve your enemies" is not meted out for a deficiency in the service itself, but for worshipping G-d without joy and vitality. When the Jew is happy, G-d is happy, as it were, and even the harshest decrees are annulled - analogous to an earthly king granting amnesty to his prisoners when he is in a cheerful mood.
And all people of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the L-rd, and they will be afraid of you (Deut. 28:10)
It is through the Jewish people that the nations come to fear G-d. Because "You are called by the name of the L-rd," your influence extends over all the peoples who observe you.
And G-d shall make you plentiful for good, in the fruit of your body (Deut. 28:11)
The Torah promises length of days and good years - even beyond what is truly deserved - in the merit of children who are raised and educated according to Torah.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Chasidut, was surrounded by a shining constellation of Torah scholars and Tzadikim. These men, many of whom were considered great enough to be Rebbes in their own right, were drawn to the Alter Rebbe to learn how to perfect their G-dly service and to develop their character traits to the highest levels.
One such person was Reb Shmuel Munkis, [1758-1848] a beloved Chasid, known for his humor and wit. Of course, he was no empty joker, but a very deep personality, who could abide no falsehood, whose own ego was completely nullified to perform the will of his Creator. Reb Shmuel was one of the few chosen by the Rebbe to be his personal emissary. Reb Shmuel's greatness was recognized by all. Even the gentiles considered him a holy man. When it was noticed that those fields where Reb Shmuel mediated yielded a bountiful harvest the gentile farmers tried to find ways to get Reb Shmuel to come to pray in their fields.
During the month of Elul, a maggid (traveling preacher) came to Reb Shmuel's town. The townspeople saw his letter of introduction which referred to him as a great Tzadik, who also gives up his own comforts to travel from town to town only to arouse and inspire Jews. Being G-d-fearing people, they immediately invited him to speak and inspire them to serve G-d better.
The maggid began his speech. Over and over again, he accused his audience of committing terrible sins. His entire speech was filled with accusations and descriptions of the terrible punishments awaiting them because their evil behavior had aroused G-d's anger. Only if they would wholeheartedly repent would they possibly have a chance to be spared. The townspeople were utterly broken by the maggid's harsh words, and they cried bitterly, fearing the awesome punishment.
After his speech, the maggid, satisfied with himself, retired to the room that the community had arranged for him.
A short while later, Reb Shmuel entered the maggid's room. He carried with him a long knife and a stone with which to sharpen it. Reb Shmuel closed the door behind him and then bolted it. Without saying a word, Reb Shmuel began to sharpen his knife.
A few tense moments passed. Finally the maggid broke the silence and asked in astonishment, "Sir, could you please tell me what are you doing?"
Without glancing up from the knife he was sharpening, Reb Shmuel answered, "As the honorable, great maggid knows, we are very simple people in this town. Perhaps, it is because of our unintentional sins that we have never merited to have a great, righteous, G-d-fearing scholar in our midst."
Not knowing what to make of this answer, the maggid replied, "Yes, that is true. Nevertheless, what does that have to do with sharpening the knife?"
Reb Shmuel answered simply, "We were taught by our parents that before Rosh Hashana, one is supposed to pray at the graves of the righteous."
Still unsure of what Reb Shmuel's point was, the maggid asked, "What is correct. But why are you sharpening that knife?"
"Oh, that is very simple," explained Reb Shmuel. "The nearest grave site of a righteous person is very far from our town. For some of us it is extremely troublesome and difficult to make such a long journey."
With these additional words, the maggid began to feel uneasy. He started sweating and ventured, "But you still have not explained why you are sharpening your knife in this room!"
Reb Shmuel answered, "Quite simply, I am sharpening my knife here because the townspeople want a very righteous person buried in this town."
Now the maggid had not even a shadow of a doubt as to what Reb Shmuel's intentions seemed to be. The maggid stammered, "But I am not completely righteous. I have also done some small sins, such as ..."
Reb Shmuel dismissed the maggid's revelation, saying, "Honored maggid, you are still a very righteous and learned person. As for the sins that you mentioned, I did not even know that they were transgressions."
The maggid trembled and stuttered, "But I did some transgressions that were much more serious, such as ..."
Concerning this revelation, as well, Reb Shmuel shrugged, arguing, "But to us you are still a Tzadik; for us, you are quite good enough."
This strange dialogue continued for some time with the maggid, mentioning more and more severe transgressions and Reb Shmuel telling him, "But you are still acceptable to us, since you are far better than we are."
Finally, the maggid admitted to some extremely serious transgressions and that he was not really the great Tzadik that his letter of introduction and credentials claimed him to be. In essence, he was saying, "I am an impostor."
Now, Reb Shmuel no longer played the simpleton. After putting away the knife, he began chastising the maggid for causing the Jews of the town so much pain and sorrow. After making sure the maggid fully understood how one is to talk to and treat another Jew, Reb Shmuel unbolted the door and let the maggid go on his way, much the wiser and more sensitive than before.
From Early Chasidic Personalities: Reb Shmuel Munkis, by Rabbi S. D. Avtzon
"It will be, when you come into the land...you will take of all the fruit of the earth...and you will go to the priest" (Deut. 26:1-3) Fourteen years elapsed after the Jewish people entered the land of Israel until they were able to bring their first fruits to Jerusalem. Seven years were spent conquering the land; seven more years were spent dividing the land among the 12 tribes. Our generation, which will very soon enter the promised land with the coming of Moshiach, will not need to wait before bringing our first fruits to the Holy Temple. Not only will there be no need to conquer and distribute the land, but the fruits themselves will grow with such rapidity that their harvesting will take place simultaneously with their planting.
(The Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Ve'etchanan, 5751)