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A story is told of a hapless bank robber who approaches the cashier and demands: "Give me $10,000 or else you'll be geography!"
The startled cashier corrects him, "You mean history."
To which the bandit retorts, "Don't change the subject!
Our subject should be accounting because this is the month of Elul, the month of stock-taking, when we make an honest spiritual accounting. But we'll touch on math, chemistry, and other subjects as well.
The name of this month, "Elul" can be seen as an acronym for five Biblical verses. Each verse emphasizes a different aspect of preparation for the upcoming High Holidays.
The most famous verse associated with Elul is from Song of Songs (6:3): "I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine." This verse relates to prayer. Through prayer, the "duty of the heart," our relationship with G-d is enhanced.
"G-d made it happen and prepared for you" describes the Cities of Refuge to which a person who killed unintentionally could flee. This refers to Torah study for "the words of Torah provide refuge."
"A person gives presents to his friend and gifts to the poor," (Megilla 9:22) expresses the idea of acts of kindness.
"And G-d your L-rd will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants" (Deut. 30:6) relates to teshuva - returning to G-d wholeheartedly. For this spiritual work is primarily the service of changing one's inner self, the feelings of one's heart.
"And they said, 'We will sing to G-d' " (Ex. 15:1) is from the Song of Redemption sung at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. Written in the future tense, it refers to the future Redemption as well.
Prayer, Torah study, acts of kindness and repentance are all themes of Elul. However, the Rebbe demonstrated that all of our Judaism is focused on the fifth verse - making the oneness of G-d a palpable reality in the times of the Moshiach and the Redemption.
We can accomplish this by changing our mind's chemistry through studying Torah, particularly the Chassidic teachings that relate to Moshiach.
This will certainly give us a lesson in geography, with the ingathering of Jews from all parts of the earth to the Land of Israel. Then economics will undergo a major change; as Maimonides writes that there will be an abundance of everything.
Moreover, there will be a convergence of all the nations of the world speaking different languages (so we'll master linguistics) to the Holy Temple, the building of which will require our mastery of Temple architecture.
Indeed, when all this occurs we will be able to look back and appreciate our history.
While, according to Maimonides, the laws of physics will not change, the way we view the physical laws will. We will see the Divine in every physical phenomenon. G-d will reveal his healing powers, advancing the art and science of medicine to the point where everyone will be healed.
But, please, don't change the subject!
Adapted in part from an article by Rabbi Heschel Greenberg, printed in Beis Moshiach Magazine.
This week's Torah portion, Ki tavo, is always read on the second Shabbat before Rosh Hashana. There must be a message here to help us, in preparation for the great day.
The portion opens with the commandment of bikkurim, the first fruits that were marked, later to be brought in a basket to the Holy Temple and placed near the alter. The kohen would then enjoy the fruit.
The wealthy brought their fruits in a silver basket, while the common folk brought theirs in wicker baskets. Those who brought silver baskets would later take them home. However, those who brought wicker baskets, would leave them in the Temple.
One would think that it should be the other way around. The wealthy, who could afford it, should leave their silver baskets. The poor, who struggle, should be able to take their baskets home.
For the wealthy businessman, the mitzva if bikkurim was special. Being busy, he didn't have time. He just grabbed his silver basket, put the fruit in and went.
For the common folk, this mitzva was so precious. The thrill inside, "I get to bring a gift to the Temple." Lovingly they handcrafted their baskets, especially for this mitzva.
These wicker baskets were so precious to G-d because of all the love, time and effort that went into them. Therefore, He wanted them. The silver baskets, beautiful as they are, did not have the same love, time and effort. Therefore, take them home.
How will you prepare for Rosh Hashana?
Will you lovingly collect your fruit? Will you take the time to consider your past years performance of mitzvot and how you will improve in the coming year? Will you spend time preparing yourself for the holiday or will you just show up?
Your effort is important and precious to G-d. He wants it, He appreciates it, He loves it.
The same is true for our relationships. In our busy lives many of our gestures are last minute. Nice as they are, they are not the same as those we put time and effort into. While both are positive, the effort, time and love adds dimension, depth, and meaning. Try it, and you will see.
Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the teachings of the Rebbe, yitzihurwitz.blogspot.com. Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.
In All Your Ways
by Rabbi Michoel Harari
A few years ago I was looking into taking our camp, Yeshiva Outdoor Adventure, on a tall ship for the summer. I wanted the boys to experience the diligent attention and dedicated service required to work a sailing vessel. I knew the experience and challenge of working on a ship and learning to work as part of a crew would build character, teach teamwork, and instill a sense of accomplishment as well as confidence in everyone on board.
My first job was to locate a training vessel large enough to hold our group. The HMS Bounty was my first choice and I was in touch with its captain. Unfortunately, this ship sank in a tragic accident in a hurricane off the coast of North Carolina. I went to visit South Street Seaport's tall ship Pioneer, and its captain pointed me in the direction of the Flagship Niagara, which is docked in Erie, PA.
After speaking to the captain at length about how we would need to make the kitchen kosher, and our prayer schedule, the captain was very reluctant. I asked him if it would be okay if I came out to meet him so we could speak in person. My wife and kids and I drove out to Erie in January to meet him.
When I entered his room I was surprised to see two books on Shabbat and kosher that his first mate had purchased so they could familiarize themselves with some Jewish laws. He agreed to have us for the summer. Then we got a call from the captain saying that the coming summer was going to be their bicentennial year and their boat would be on display. Unfortunately, again, our plans would have to be altered.
No worries! I knew the boating experience would happen somehow, and I was determined to find the perfect vessel. I found it in San Pedro, CA. It was the majestic square rig brigantine tall ship, Exy Johnson. I immediately got in touch with its captain, Mike. I got to know Captain Mike very well as we spoke and emailed often, for months. We really saw eye to eye and I felt very confident that we had chosen well, and that he would be the best captain to teach and lead our boys. We were all set. Mike and I kept in frequent contact and then I suddenly stopped hearing from him. I contacted the main office and was told that he had unexpectedly retired.
This time I stayed with the same sailing vessel and was assigned a new captain named Rob. I tried to get in contact with him but never seemed to manage it. He was completely unreachable. And then I got a call from the main office saying that Captain Rob had been bitten by some poisonous creature on an island and was in a coma.
At this point, camp was only a few weeks away. We were assigned yet again another captain, John. Before too long I got a call, and by now I was half expecting it, saying that Captain John was looking to lead a shorter trip. I asked who our captain would be and I was told that they didn't have anyone in mind yet, but they would get back to me shortly.
Finally I got an email from a Captain Gary saying he would be leading us. It was so close to the start of camp that I didn't even have a chance to talk to him and give him the low-down on who we are and what our needs would be.
The week before camp, during our staff training program, we drove down to San Pedro to the ship to meet the other crew members and drop off our supplies and of course to meet our captain. But Captain Gary wasn't there.
The day our trip began we walked off the bus, all 31 of us, and headed down the plank toward the dock where the Exy Johnson was. I was leading the group down and was approached by a man who held out his hand and said, "Hello, you must be the rabbi!" I replied, "You must be Captain Gary!"
We all boarded the ship and were getting things in order when the captain approached me and confided, "My real name is Gershon!" And at that exact moment I felt that I understood why we had to endure all the previous leads and dead ends, for us to finally get to Captain Gershon. But this was just the beginning. He told me how relieved he was to see I was not an old man with a long white beard.
I was appointed as the medical officer for the ship, so I shared quarters with Gary and got to know him very well. He became very eager to join us during our minyan for Shacharit (morning service). He put on tefillin every day of the trip, and was given an aliya every time we read the Torah.
Two weeks into the trip the captain asked if he could have a word with me. He told me the reason he took the position to lead our group was because he had recently had some hardships in his life. He felt the best thing he could do was to clear his mind at sea for a few weeks. He had asked G-d for direction. Now he concluded, "Rabbi, G-d doesn't give me subtle hints; he gives me a two-by-four to head. He stuck me out here at sea with you and your incredible crew. I got to join a yeshiva for the first time in my life!" Only then did I realize all the strings that G-d had pulled for us to be with Captain Gary.
After camp I kept in touch with him, as did some of the other staff members. One staff member went to visit him on Chanuka. Another staff member also kept in close contact with him and arranged to have a pair of tefillin sent to Captain Gary. This past summer I was in L.A. for a few days. I brought my wife and kids to meet Captain Gary and see his vessel. He was so excited to show them around the place where their Abba had spent so much time. He put on tefillin with me, while my children watched with pride. He gave me a big hug as we parted, saying we were parting physically but would remain always connected in spirit.
Reprinted with permission from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter.For more information, visit www.campyoa.com.
Over 7,000 Jewish students across the Former Soviet Union are currently enrolled in the Federeration of Jewish Communities' Or Avner schools and kindergartens. In addition to the customary "First Bell" ceremony, the shofar was blown in all of the schools in honor of the current month of Elul
Rabbi Shmuel and Musi Naparstek have moved to Jackson, New Jersey, to establish a new Chabad Center. The new Chabad Center is already offering many classes and programs. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services are planned. A community Sukkos party will take place and a mobile Sukkah on wheels will visit sites in the area. Future plans include synagogue services, a Hebrew school and other programs geared for youth and teens, senior and home visitations, and many more opportunities for learning and growth.
18 Elul, 5735 (1975)
The Talmud states: "The first person was created on the eve of Shabbos. Why? It may be likened to a king who built a palace, perfected it, arranged a feast, and then invited guests... Such is the way of the Holy One blessed be He, Who created... the whole world with wisdom and all worldly needs (and then he brought in guests), namely, Adam and Eve.
Yet, the Torah also declares, "Man unto toil is born," and that every person should live by the credo, "I was created to serve my Creator."
How are these two contradictory ideas about the purpose of man to be reconciled? If man is G-d's honored "guest" who finds everything ready and prepared for him, how can he at the same time be a "servant" who has to serve G-d constantly, and in a manner of real effort (toil)?
One explanation of the apparent contradiction is that precisely the combination of both characteristics provides a profoundly meaningful instruction in life, down to everyday living, which expresses itself in several aspects:
It was expected of Adam and Eve-which is a guideline for every Jew, man and woman-that even when they find themselves in a situation as if in a royal palace, which is provided with not only all requirements, but also "to perfection," and they are invited to it as honored guests, it behooves them to make of it a service to G-d, the Creator of the whole universe.
The highest degree of this achievement is found in Moses, as the Torah tells us. For, while the Torah testifies that "No other prophet arose in Israel like Moses, to whom G-d made Himself known face to face," yet, when he attained his highest degree of perfection, or, as our Sages expressed it, when he reached the "fiftieth portal of understanding," he was still "Moses, G-d's servant."
On the other hand, as it has often been pointed out, a Jew serves G-d not only through prayer, Torah study, and doing mitzvoth (commandments) , but also-to quote the Rambam (Maimonides) -with his eating and drinking... and in all his deeds, even sleeping. For a Jew must prepare himself before going to bed in a way that his sleeping is elevated thereby to the status of Divine service-which is one of the reasons, indeed the deeper content, of the Shema before retiring to sleep.
A second aspect, which likewise has to express itself in the daily life, is that G-d gave Adam and Eve-and through them to all Jews, men and women, to the end of posterity-the capacity and ability to "serve," that is, to add something to the "palace" with all its requirements, notwithstanding the fact that these were created by G-d, with Divine wisdom.
Thus, however good the state of affairs is around a person and with the person, everyone can (hence, must) bring it to a higher degree of perfection, to the extent of-to quote the remarkable expression with which the Torah describes man's contribution to Creation-becoming a "partner with the Holy One blessed be He in the work of Creation." In other words, he is capable of contributing so much that the Torah, Toras Emes-the Torah of Truth, declares him qualified as a "partner."
With the above aspects in mind, every Jew should find it easier to do what must be done in order to rise ever higher in all matters of Torah and mitzvoth, and Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in general, in full accord with man's purpose and life's destiny-I was created to serve my Creator. Let everyone just consider the wonderful powers with which G-d has endowed every Jew, even to become a partner-not in a small thing, and one thing, but-in the entire universe, created by G-d's Wisdom!
The said contribution cannot be achieved in full measure through a limited, sporadic service, rendered on special occasions, or at certain times; but-only through a way of life which expresses itself in every-day service, by consecrating every act, word, and thought to be for the sake of Heaven, and consonant with the principles of know Him in all your ways-so that G-dliness clearly pervades all details of even mundane matters, and, as noted above, even while eating and drinking, etc. on an ordinary working day of the week.
In the area of "to serve my Creator" there is the well-known directive to serve G-d with joy, and also with deep, inner elation derived from the realization of being privileged to serve G-d.
May G-d grant everyone success in the efforts to achieve all the above, and in the way of joy and pleasure.
People do not like to feel "left out of the action." When a person sees another person running and "grabbing" an opportunity, they usually join in as well. They also start running and grabbing, as they feel that if they do not get involved now, there will be nothing left for them. This is the way that the activities of "Hakhel" should be done in the month of Elul. It should be done with such excitement and enthusiasm that others will join in and realize that they must "grab" the last opportunity to receive the tremendous blessings associated with being involved in the activities of Hakhel
(Seifer HaSichot 5748)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The next few days are our last chance -- our last chance to key into the special qualities of our outgoing year and use these qualities to our advantage.
Our current year is a "Hakhel" year. In the times of the Holy Temple, the year following the Sabbatical year was a time when all Jews from all over the Holy Land gathered in the Temple to hear the King read from specific parts of the Torah.
Many years ago, in preparation for a Hakhel year, the Rebbe pointed out that even though we do not yet have the (Third) Holy Temple, we can appreciate the Hakhel year and benefit from some of its spiritual advantages.
The Rebbe indicated that an appropriate way to observe the Hakhel year would be by making gatherings which would include words of Torah, prayer and charitable acts.
These gatherings could and should be repeated throughout the entire year by Jews of all ages, from toddlers to seniors. As all Jews, from the youngest infants to the elders of our people, were all present at the Hakhel gatherings in the Holy Temple, it would be appropriate for all Jews of all ages to make and participate in these gatherings.
In addition, the Rebbe explained that the Hakhel year also teaches us a very important lesson in our personal lives. We must take the opportunities and extra spiritual strength afforded us by the Hakhel year to get ourselves "together." Each individual should gather and unite all of his or her soul powers and unify them toward enhanced G-dly service.
The Rebbe explained that these activities help us prepare for the ultimate Hakhel gathering that will take place in the Messianic Era, when all Jews, from all parts of the world, including the "ten lost tribes" will be gathered in the Third and eternal Holy Temple, may this gathering take place this very day.
Cursed is the man who will make an engraved or molten image (Deut. 27:15)
This is the only curse about which the Torah uses the future tense; all others enumerated in the "Reproof" are in the present. The reason is that when it comes to idolatry, thought is considered the same as action. Planning to make an idol is thus just as contemptible as actually making one.
(Rabbi Shimshon of Ostropolye)
And all these blessings shall come upon you, and overtake you (vehisigucha) (Deut. 28:2)
At first glance the word "vehisigucha" is redundant. If "all these blessings" are fulfilled, isn't it obvious that their recipient would be "overtaken" by them? Rather, the Hebrew word is related to hasaga, attainment or comprehension. It sometimes happens that a person is blessed with wealth, yet he lacks an understanding of how to use it properly. "Vehisigucha" is thus a separate blessing, that the person have the wisdom to utilize G-d's abundance correctly.
(Rabbi Sh.Y. Taub of Modzhitz)
Because you did not serve the L-rd your G-d with joy and gladness of heart...therefore will you serve your enemies (Deut. 28:47-48)
Human nature is such that when a person searches for a lost object, he is unhappy until he finds it. Divine service, by contrast, is different. It states in Chronicles (16:10): "The heart of those who seek G-d shall rejoice." When a person looks to find G-d, he is happy even while he searches.
(Rabbi Bunim of Pshischa)
Reb Avraham Mordechai of Pinczov, a chasid of the Chozeh, had three daughters to marry off but no means with which to do so.
"You are a chasid of the Chozeh [the Seer] of Lublin," his wife would tell him. "Why don't you ask him for help?"
Finally he relented and told his problems to the Chozeh, who replied, "Go to the town of Krasnik. The solution to your problems is waiting for you there."
The chasid took his clothes, books, talit, and tefilin and packed them all into a chest. He went to Krasnik and rented a room at an inn there. From the look of the chasid's chest, the innkeeper assumed that his new lodger was wealthy. The inn keeper treated him well, served him hot, cooked meals, and always made sure Reb Mordechai had everything he needed. As for the chasid, he spent his days studying Torah, waiting for the rebbe's bracha to come true.
Several weeks passed in this fashion. The innkeeper began to get suspicious. "You know," he remarked one day to his wife, "he hasn't paid me anything yet, and he hasn't done any business here since he came. I'm beginning to think he's not so rich after all.
Tomorrow I will ask him to pay me. If he doesn't, I'll take whatever he has - though it doesn't amount to what he owes me - and I'll send him off."
That night Reb Mordechai had a visitor. It was the tutor of the innkeeper's children. He looked very nervous. "I have a confidential matter to discuss with you," the tutor said. "You must promise me you won't reveal it to anyone."
"I won't breathe a word about it to anybody," the chasid promised.
"Ten years ago my boss, the innkeeper, came back from a very profitable business trip. He had made 10,000 rubles. He put the money into a drawer and locked it up. I was up late that night and noticed that in my boss's excitement, he had left the key to the drawer on the desk. I was suddenly seized by a desire for the money. I opened the drawer and took out the money, hiding it in the backyard. The next day the innkeeper noticed the empty drawer.
"He became very agitated and began accusing this one and that, but it never occurred to him or his wife that it might be me, because they had always thought I was a very honest man.
"My conscience smote me when I saw how upset they were. I wanted to give them back the money, but I knew if I did, my reputation would be ruined. I was haunted by my deed day and night. Many times I was at the point of returning the money, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Everyone would know what I had done, and I would be a ruined man.
"For ten years it's been eating at me, Reb Mordechai. I'm sorry I ever took the money. I have wished a thousand times that I hadn't taken it. I have never touched even a penny of it although there were times, believe me, that I could have used it.
"Please, can you help me out? Would you give them back the money for me? I can't eat or sleep until it is returned. And don't worry. They'll never suspect you because you weren't here when it happened ten years ago. And I trust you that you won't give away my secret." And the tutor handed the 10,000 rubles over to the chasid.
The following morning, Reb Mordechai spoke to the innkeeper. "I would like to tell you something private, but you must promise that you will ask me no questions."
"I promise," the innkeeper said.
"Did you ever have anything stolen from you in this house?"
"No, I don't remember anything like that ever happening. Wait. Yes, it did, but it was a long time ago - ten years ago," replied the innkeeper.
The chasid took out the bundle of money and put it in the hands of the astonished innkeeper. It was the long-lost bundle of 10,000 rubles.
"Wha-wha-what's this?" the innkeeper began to ask but recalled his promise and stopped. But perhaps he could ask something else. "Reb Mordechai, what are you doing here?"
"I'm not exactly sure myself. I'm only doing what my rebbe told me to do." And the chasid told the innkeeper his personal story.
The innkeeper realized that he was now in a position to help out the chasid. Besides, Reb Mordechai had just done him a tremendous favor. "How much do you need to marry off your daughters?" he asked.
The chasid added the figures in his head and told him. The innkeeper gladly gave the chasid as much as he needed.
When Reb Mordechai returned to Lublin, the Chozeh explained, "The melamed wanted so much to do teshuva that he wasn't letting me sleep at night. That's really why I sent you to Krasnik."
Excerpted from Why Did the Baal Shem Tov Laugh? by Shterna Citron, published by Jason Aaronson
According to Chasidic philosophy, all of the Torah's curses in the section of the "reproof" in the Torah portioin of Ki Tavo, is section are directed against the "sitra achara" ("the other side," i.e., the forces of evil), as it states, "And the L-rd your G-d will place all these curses upon your enemies and on those who hate you." This will be fully realized in the Messianic era, when G-d will "remove the spirit of uncleanliness from the earth."