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What do I have to do to make a difference in the world? We often think that the ones who make the greatest impact are the people that make the cover of Time Magazine or win the Nobel Prize. But the truth is that the simple actions of so-called simple people are what really make a difference. When we do things right, it becomes contagious.
When we listen to the sound of the shofar, we shake. It sounds like the primal cry of a child for his mother. It is the inner cry of every soul, recognizing that as great as we are, we remain impossibly distant from our Father in Heaven; no matter how wise or discerning we become, the soul is, after all, far away from home.
The shofar's cry reminds us of our purpose, our priorities, and empowers us to stay focused on the meaning of life and avoid getting caught up in the pitfalls and challenges of material life. And the really amazing thing is that we are able to achieve this clarity through the simple act of hearing the cry of the shofar. Nothing fancy - just a simple horn with a simple sound from the head of a simple beast. Just as the world is transformed by every simple thing we do.
I can't recall ever getting inspired to emulate the work of the nuclear physicist who won the Nobel Prize, but I can remember dozens of time that the simple actions of simple people have motivated me to emulate them and become better.
Rosh Hashana marks the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It's our collective birthday.
Therefore, in addition to being the Jewish New Year, a time for moral introspection and positive resolutions, it is also a time to appreciate the tremendous capacities and gifts that we possess as human beings, and as Jews.
At the same time, with the recognition that we have these talents and powers that can change the world comes the responsibility to do just that - to utilize all of the power within us and utilize their fullest potential to improve our lives, the lives of those around us and of all humanity.
All of this is expressed in the fact that Rosh Hashana, which is known as the Day of Judgment for all of Creation, is not observed on the day when the world was created, but on the day that humanity was created. This impresses upon us the fact that the destiny of all life on earth depends on humanity.
Furthermore, even one person can make a monumental difference, as expressed in the fact that all of humanity descends from one man and one woman. The first action undertaken by Adam upon his creation was to look around at all the amazing fauna, the diversity of animals and life, the heavens and the earth, and to declare his awe of Gd creation, and to inspire the rest of creation to follow suit.
In a sense, this is exactly what we do on Rosh Hashana: We look around (and within) and we declare that though we may get a little sidetracked here and there, G-d is the real reality in our lives, and we resolve to make this recognition a practical part of our daily lives.
This week we read the portion of Nitzavim. The portion contains a description of the ingathering of exiles to take place when Moshiach ushers in the Redemption. "Then G-d will restore your captivity... and will return and gather you from all the nations." Our Sages comment on the word "and will return - va'shav": "From this we learn that the G-dly Presence is in exile together with the Jewish people." G-d will only be redeemed when the entire Jewish nation is restored, as "He has dictated the terms of His own Redemption - when He will return with them."
What is so radical about the concept of G-d being in exile together with the Jews? Had not G-d already promised, back in the days of the Patriarchs, that He would accompany the Jewish people throughout their travails - "I will be with you" - "And behold, I am with you"? G-d specifically stated that He would accompany the Children of Israel during the Egyptian exile. What then, are we to learn from the above verse?
The fact that G-d is always with the Jews, even in their exile, implies two different things. On the one hand, G-d stands above the exile and its limitations, guarding and protecting His flock, who are likened to "one sheep among seventy wolves." Yet at the same time, the term "and will return" reflects the fact that G-d, too, is affected by the exile, having been banished from His dwelling place in the Holy Temple. G-d suffers together with the Jewish people and will continue to do so until G-d and the Jewish people are simultaneously restored to their rightful place.
Yet this explanation presents a paradox. According to the principle that "a prisoner cannot free himself from prison," how can G-d, Who is Himself in exile, bring about the Final Redemption? Our Sages addressed this problem by explaining that G-d "dictated His own Redemption." Even before the exile occurred, G-d determined how long it would last and fixed the date of the Final Redemption for Himself and for the Jewish people.
Our Sages further explained that, contrary to what one might think, G-d will not first redeem Himself and then redeem the Jews. "He will return together with them" - both will occur concurrently. The Divine Presence is in exile as long as even one Jew remains in exile.
Rashi, the great commentator, continues: "Great and difficult is the day of the ingathering of the exiles, for it is as if G-d will take every single Jew by the hand, wherever he may be." The redemption of the Jewish people is the redemption of the Divine Presence. May we speedily witness the rebuilding of the Holy Temple and the ingathering of the exiles through Moshiach.
Deep Down a Spark
by Rabbi Zalman Posner
The following story is from the weekly Here's My Story, a project of Jewish Educational Media's My Encounter with the Rebbe project. My Encounter with the Rebbe is an oral history project geared at documenting the life story of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. To learn more, please go to www.myencounterblog.com
In 1941, Chabad opened a yeshiva for young boys at its headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. In those years, Crown Heights was a very affluent Jewish community. There were about a dozen students at the time, and my brother Leibel and I were two of them. I was thirteen years old, and I tell this story from the perspective of a young boy.
At that time, it was the custom on Rosh Hashana for those praying at 770 to walk up to the Botanical Gardens off Eastern Parkway to do tashlich - a special High Holiday prayer - at the pond there. Everybody - the whole community - walked down the street. How many people that was I cannot tell you, because when you're thirteen you can't estimate crowds. But it was a lot of people.
The Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yoseph Yitzchok, was Rebbe at the time. The Rebbe was not yet the Rebbe - he was better known then as the Rebbe's younger son-in-law, Ramash.
So that year, when we started going outside, Ramash stopped us and said, "Wait, that's not the right way to walk. You should march down the street two-by-two and you should sing." It was unheard of - singing in the street. Nobody sings in the street!
I was very shy and self-effacing, and walking down the street and drawing attention to myself seemed awful to me - I just withered at the thought. All the people in the apartment houses we passed were watching us from their windows. I felt that they were staring directly at me and grinning. I felt terrible, and I was praying to G-d - the way a thirteen-year-old prays to G-d - to get me out of there.
G-d didn't answer my prayer that year, but the next year, as everybody lined up for the walk, Reb Shmuel Levitin, an elder chosid, said to me, "Zalman, I can't keep up with these people, they walk too fast for me. But I don't want to walk alone - will you walk with me?"
And I said to G-d: "You heard my prayer; You answered me!" I didn't have to walk and sing with people looking at me.
I walked with Reb Shmuel and a few other stragglers, and we arrived at the pond and did tashlich there. The large crowd was already finished, and were walking back on Union Street still singing. We followed them at a distance. As we were walking, a fellow approached us. He was dressed very nicely in holiday attire - a black suit and white shirt - but he did not have a yarmulke or a hat on, so he was obviously not a very religious person. This fellow grabbed my arm and asked me, "Why are they singing? Why are they singing?" I mumbled a reply, and then he said to me, "You know something - I have a spark in my soul, and when I heard those people walking down the street and singing because they are proud to be Jews, that spark just burst into a flame." And with that he turned and walked away.
I was old enough to realize that this guy was really touched by the singing crowd. It inspired him. Whatever his rabbi preached on Rosh Hashana didn't touch him - the spark within him wasn't affected. But when he heard people singing, as if to say, "Hurray, I'm a Jew," - that aroused him.
And later on I realized that the Rebbe's younger son-in-law - who later became the Rebbe - knew what he was doing when he said, "March and sing." He was able to see something that the rest of us weren't able to see on our own - that when Jews go out singing in the street, people who are sensitive will respond, perhaps even without realizing it.
Only then could I see that it was worth it - to do all that singing and marching in two rows so that somebody's heart would burst open, and somebody would be able to say, "Hooray, I'm a Jew."
Rabbi Zalman Posner was the rabbi of Congregation Sherith Israel of Nashville, Tennessee, from 1949, when he was sent there as an emissary of the Previous Rebbe. He was a well-known orator, writer, translator and the author of Think Jewish. He passed away in 2014 at the age of 87. He was interviewed in November, 2005.
Rabbi Moishe and Mattie Schurder moved recently as emissaries of the Rebbe to Markham, Ontario with an emphasis on adult education Torah classes, coordinating youth activities and developing the young family demographic within the community.
Rabbi Chaim and Esther Wilansky will be arriving son in Bangor, Maine. They will be establishing the first Chabad House in northern Maine to service the spiritual needs of the local Jewish population, as well as the Jewish visitors to Acadia National Park. Additionally they will be involved with the Jewish students at The Univeristy of Maine.
Hear the Shofar
The main mitzva (commandment) of Rosh Hashana is to hear the shofar being sounded. To this end, most of the over 3,000 Chabad Centers around the world will have special Shofar blowing ceremonies at various times throughout the Rosh Hashana holiday to enable as many Jews as possible to fulfill this mitzva. In addition, Chabad-Lubavitch Chasidim will walk throughout their cities to visit nursing homes, hospitals and prisons to afford as many Jews as possible to hear the sound of the shofar. Call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center for a Shofar ceremony near you.
Freely translated and adapted
In the Days of Selichos, 5740
To the Sons and Daughters of our People Israel, Everywhere, G-d bless you all!
Heartfelt Shalom and Blessing:
In these days of intensified preparation for Rosh-Hashanah -
It is appropriate to elaborate on the new year being a year of Hakhel, recalling the comprehensive Mitzvah (commandment), in the time of the Holy Temple, of assembling all the Jews, the men, women, and children, as one community, for the purpose of stimulating them in the observance of Mitzvos, and strengthening their faith and Judaism, etc..
The significance of the term "one community" - Kohol - which characterizes this assemblage is that in addition to having the quality of an assembly of a number of distinct and different individuals who are assembled together for a certain purpose, in order to achieve a certain goal with concerted efforts, which makes it possible to accomplish a great deal more than could be accomplished by all of them acting independently -
As we see from experience that a person can lift and carry a much larger load when another person helps him lift it. -
There comes into being an essentially new entity, a "Kohol," which can accomplish things that could not be done by the individuals, as individuals -
As can be seen from the example of the Mishkan (Sanctuary): When the time came to make a Sanctuary for the Divine Presence, in accordance with G-d's directive, "Make Me a holy place, and I will dwell among them," it called for contributions of 13 items, such as gold, silver, etc., donated by men, women, and, according to our Sages, also children; which were handed over to the people who were to make the various parts of the Mishkan under the direction of Betzalel and Oholiov; with Moshe Rabbeinu over them all. And only through all of them together was it possible to make, construct and erect a Mishkon, a fitting abode for G-d's Presence, which caused the extension of G-d's dwelling also "in them - within the heart of each of them."
So it is in connection with Hakhel: It had to be carried out "When all Israel come... (then) read this Torah before all Israel ... (in a manner of) hakhel - assemble the people, the men, and the women, and the children": - which made them all into one Kohol, and they listened to the Torah "as... if they heard it from G-d," "as on the day when it was given at Sinai,"when "Israel encamped there facing the mountain Like one person, with one heart."
Even though the Mitzvah of Hakhel, in its concrete form, is connected with the Holy Temple, nevertheless its spiritual content is relevant in all places and at all times. It is particularly emphasized, however, each year at this time, when on the Shabbos before Rosh-Hashanah we always read in the the Torah portion "You are standing this day, all of you... your heads, to the drawer of your water."
On this occasion, too, all Jews stand together - from their highest ("heads") to the lowest in rank ("water-carrier") - and all are united with G-d by an everlasting covenant; yet not only as individuals, but in a manner of "all of you" - when all the individuals become one. In this way a new dimension is added to the different "categories" of Jews - each of them becoming a part of one entity,the Jewish People. And on "this day" (alluding to Rosh-Hashanah) all Jews stand united by one and the same thought - to "crown" the Almighty,and by one and the same inner prayer - that He accept the coronation and reveal Himself as "King of Israel" and (also as) "King of All the Earth."
What has been said above pertains to Rosh-Hashanah of every year. This year there is the added emphasis of it being Rosh-Hashanah of a Year of Hakhel, in which the unification of all Jews as one Kohol is especially emphasized, as explained above.
To cite at least one concrete example in the spirit of what has been said above: When a few Jews live in a remote small town, they must not rest content in being observant themselves, as individuals, however adequate their Torah learning, and however excellent their performance of Mitzvos. They must pool their capacities for a concerted effort to create a Kohol, set up a Kohol-Judaism, with institutions for Torah education; a Torah-leader, Torah kosher food service, and, of course, Torah-true family life (Mikveh), etc.
And the Almighty should bless all our people, and everyone in particular, to be able to fulfill the Mitzvos of Shemittah and Hakhel not merely in their spiritual content, but in actual concrete form and detail, with the true and complete Redemption through Moshiach, with the "return of a great Kohol hither,"in the Holy Temple that will rise on its site;and may all this be very soon, in our own days, indeed, and,
With esteem and with redoubled blessing for a Kesivo Vachasimo Toivo for a Good and Sweet Year, and for success in all above,
Both spiritually and materially,
Our father Abraham was tested with ten tests, and he withstood them all to show how great was our father Abraham's love [for G-d]. (Ethics 5:3)
Abraham is described as "our father." Just as a father bequeaths his estate to his descendants, Abraham bequeathed his spiritual legacy to the entire Jewish people. His spiritual legacy empowers each of us, endowing us with the strength to withstand the challenges we face in our divine service.(From a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Parshat Chukat, 5737-1987)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In honor of this new year, 5776, 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"
Blessing Another Jew
One year, when the Tzemach Tzedek (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch) had completed his discourse on Rosh Hashana eve, he said to his Chasidim, "Today we have to make ourselves ready to greet G-d, Whom we address in our prayers as 'our Father, our King.' A father likes to see a pure heart; a king likes a clean garment." The Rebbe then explained that the Divine mission appropriate to the New Year season was for every person to purify his heart, and cleanse his "garments" - the soul's three means of self-expression - thought, word and deed. "Every person is accompanied by two angels," he continued. "When, after the evening prayers of Rosh Hashana, the angels hear each person sincerely wishing his neighbor, 'May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year,' they soar aloft and appear as defense attorneys in the heavenly Court. There, they plead that the well-wishers be granted a good and a sweet year." The Rebbe concluded his words with the blessing, "May you all be inscribed and sealed for a good year."
The Shofar on Rosh Hashana
The Talmud states that Satan is petrified when he hears the shofar on Rosh Hashana. This is because from the mighty act of the Binding of Isaac, the ram's left horn was used at the Giving of the Torah , while its right horn will sound in the days of Moshiach. On Rosh Hashana, the Satan feels as if a sword was placed upon his neck. In the shofar he sees his own angel of death, for the Satan will meet his demise with the sounding of the great shofar of the final redemption.
(Kometz HaMincha, Yalkut Moshiach UGeula al HaTorah)
Providing for Others in Honor of Rosh Hashana
In the few hours that remain until Rosh Hashana it is important to make sure that every Jew has the opportunity to celebrate Rosh Hashana in the proper fashion: with "good good and sweet drinks," and know that "the joy of G-d is your strength." Then we will have a happy Rosh Hashana which will lead to a happy year - a good and sweet year - a year that brings the ultimate joy, the coming of the complete redemption led by Moshiach, speedily, in our days.
(The Rebbe, 27 Elul, 5740-1980)
by Goldie Goldblum
Boruch Yosef, barely 13, faced the hospital reception desk on one of the holiest days of the year. "My name," he announced, in the high-pitched voice of a Bar Mitzva boy, "is Mr. Klein. I called yesterday and asked if you could have a list of Jewish patients ready for me."
The receptionist shuffled some papers. "Oh, that's impossible, uh, Mr. Klein. When you called, I thought you were a little older." Not to be put off so lightly, Boruch Yosef said, "I have been visiting patients in this hospital for almost a year. If you are unfamiliar with my activities, please speak to the chaplain."
Without another word, the list was handed over, and Boruch Yosef proceeded to divide up "his" patients. On this Rosh Hashana there were five elderly men on the fourth floor, and one on the ninth. Boruch Yosef made a mental note that maybe he'd skip the man on the ninth.
He bypassed the elevators and began walking up the steep stairs. By the time he reached the fourth floor (Geriatrics) he was panting. Forget the ninth floor! He consulted his list. His first patient, Sidney Jacobs, was just two doors away. As it turned out, Sidney was sleeping, but Boruch Yosef was able to blow the shofar for Mrs. Jacobs in the lounge.
The next patient was Erwin Goldfinger, who regaled Boruch Yosef with army tales, possibly embroidering a little to further widen Boruch Yosef's eyes. When the shofar was blown, Erwin fell silent, and sniffed quietly. "Fine boy, fine boy," he muttered.
The next three visits were uneventful, and Boruch Yosef headed for the stairs. He looked up at the flights rising above him, steep steps painted a hideous hospital green, and inwardly apologized to Mr. Fried, on the ninth floor.
His list stated that Mr. Fried was over 70, and was in critical condition. Boruch Yosef's conscience didn't let him rest. Maybe this Rosh Hashana would be Mr. Fried's last. And because he didn't like the look of the nasty, rattling steps, perhaps Mr. Fried would not hear the shofar.
It was enough. He slowly climbed up to the ninth floor. From previous visits, he knew that it housed the I.C.U. and that to visit it he would have to get permission at the nurses' station.
The woman in charge said that Mr. Fried had been in a coma (What's a coma? he wondered) for several weeks, but that visitors were certainly welcome. She escorted him to the room.
Mr. Fried was connected to all kinds of wires and gadgets. Sitting in one corner was an elderly man, half asleep over a machzor (holiday prayer book). Boruch Yosef softly asked if he would like to hear the shofar. The man's eyelids dragged open and he nodded his head. He explained to Boruch Yosef that his friend, Mr. Fried, had been "asleep" for three weeks, and was unable to hear the shofar.
Boruch Yosef's father had given him this shofar for his Bar Mitzva, knowing how his son visited the hospital on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Now, Boruch Yosef touched its unusual surface and marvelled at how a mere ram's horn could make such a powerful, moving sound.
He carefully recited the blessing and was not at all fazed when Mr. Fried cried out, "amen!" He raised the shofar and blew the required sounds, oblivious to the doctors and nurses rushing in, oblivious to Mr. Fried's friend's crying, oblivious to Mr. Fried sitting up, listening to the shofar blasts. When he finished, he quietly slipped out of the room, and went home.
The following year, Boruch Yosef was besieged by callers requesting him to blow the shofar in the small synagogues near his home. Each one offered him a nice monetary incentive, and each time, Boruch Yosef flatly refused. One tiny synagogue, quite far from his neighborhood, however, admitted that they had no funds, but could offer him some homemade cake and a glass of tea. To this shul (synagogue), Boruch Yosef said yes.
It was not surprising that Boruch Yosef, still a short lad, caused a mild ripple of laughter in the shul. Boruch Yosef ignored the laughter, and concentrated on the task at hand. With closed eyes, he put his lips to the shofar and blew. Afterward, there was no laughter. They hadn't expected his seriousness, his attachment to the mitzva, this crowd of elderly Jews. He had surprised them.
One man came forward. His creamy talis gave him the dignity of an eagle. His yellowed fingers tapped on the rail of the bima. "Young man," he rasped, "Do you remember me?"
Boruch Yosef shook his head and smiled, looking like one of hundreds of yeshiva boys. Obviously, this was a case of mistaken identity.
"Well, young man, I have not forgotten you. Last year I also had the pleasure of answering 'amen' to your blessing."
Boruch Yosef looked puzzled. "Sir, last year I did not blow the shofar in a shul."
The man smiled. "But you blew it for me. I am Mr. Fried.
Reprinted from The Yiddishe Heim
This Day is the beginning of Your Creation
On Rosh Hashana, after blowing the shofar, we recite the words from Deuteronomy, "This day is the beginning of Your creation," for on Rosh Hashana the entire Creation is renewed. This is a foretaste of the final redemption when the entire Creation will indeed be entirely renewed. The original purpose that was paramount at the beginning of Creation will be fulfilled in actuality and G-d will rejoice in His creations.
(The Shelah, from Yalkut Moshiach UGeula al HaTorah)