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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
by Rabbi David Y.B. Kaufmann
An interesting thing happens at the end of Yom Kippur. As soon as we finish the last prayer and the shofar is blown, our mood changes. It's like a weight has been lifted off of our shoulders or the barometric pressure has suddenly gone back to normal.
Throughout the days of introspection and preparation and account-taking before Rosh Hashana, we'd tallied up the mitzvot (commandments) and good deeds, the mistakes and the missed opportunities. And the closer we got to Rosh Hashana, the more we realized that we just might be a little overdrawn on the account.
So, in the ten days from (and including) Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur we focussed more on straightening out our affairs.
No wonder we approach Yom Kippur with some trepidation.
Still, after Rosh Hashana we change the way we greet each other. We no longer say, l'shana tova t'kataivu - may you be inscribed for a good year - but l'shana tova t'chataimu - may you be sealed for a good year. It's as if, after Rosh Hashana, we've become more certain, more assured that our fellow Jew has already passed the first stage, so to speak.
Of course, there's no question you, my good friend, have been inscribed for a good year. It's just a matter of completing the formalities. The book isn't sealed until Yom Kippur, so naturally we have to wait. But you certainly have nothing to worry about. You've been written into the book, you'll certainly do teshuva during these days, increase in charitable acts, etc. And so G-d will seal your name in the book of life come Yom Kippur.
Still, we approach Yom Kippur with trembling and awe, as well we should. It's all right for a neighbor, a friend, an acquaintance to be so sure about our fate, but they don't know us from the inside. If they really knew, oy vey!
And yet, the moment Yom Kippur is over, even as we're breaking the fast, we begin preparing for the Sukot festival, the next holiday, the next minute. Without a moment's backward thought, without the shadow of a doubt, as the clich้ goes, we rush forward into the mitzvot and activities of the new year.
Whence such assurance? From where such a transformation? Five minutes ago we were trying to get the most out of the last moments of Yom Kippur and now we forgot about those intense, subliminal, awe-inspiring feelings?
Well, yes, because on Yom Kippur we realize just how much we trust G-d. Of course the Jewish people are "believers, children of believers." We have faith in G-d at all times and in all places. But on Yom Kippur, and particularly during the last prayer - Neila - on Yom Kippur, we reach a state of total assurance and total trust. We do more than firmly believe that G-d is kind. We trust, that G-d is Kind.
That complete and absolute trust gives us the confidence and courage to immediately live up to expectations, to in turn justify G-d's trust in and love for us.
Rabbi Kaufmann is the author Two Minutes for Torah, a collection of short 50 essays on Torah topics. He is also the author of three novels, available on his website www.ScotchandHerring.com.
The Shabbat before Yom Kippur is known as Shabbat Shuva, derived from the opening words of the Haftorah that is read in the synagogue, "Shuva Yisrael -Return, O Israel."
This Shabbat is also known as Shabbat Teshuva, as it falls out in the middle of the Ten Days of Repentance (Aseret Yemei Teshuva). This name is also connected to the Haftorah, the theme of which is likewise the return to G-d.
The two names of this Shabbat reveal a timely lesson.
The word "shuva - return" is the command form of the word "lashuv - to return."G-d commands us to return to Him in teshuva.
"Teshuva," by contrast, is a noun denoting the action itself, the actual return to G-d.
The name "shuva" relates more to the One who is issuing the command than the person being addressed.
"Shuva" alludes to a situation in which the command has already been issued, but not yet carried out. The command itself imparts a measure of strength but does not ensure that it will necessarily be fulfilled in the future.
The name "teshuva," on the other hand, implies that the action has already been taken, i.e., teshuva has already been done. In that case, however, why do we continue to refer to this Shabbat as Shabbat Teshuva?
The answer is that the act of teshuva consists of both the command to return to G-d and its subsequent implementation.
"Shuva" teaches us that even after a Jew has done teshuva, he still needs to work on himself to an even greater degree. No matter how much teshuva a person has done, it is always possible to rise higher; hence the directive, "Return, O Israel unto the L-rd, your G-d."
In fact, our teshuva must be "unto the L-rd, your G-d." Thus it is understood that there is always room for improvement - for an even deeper and infinite teshuva - as G-d Himself is Infinite.
This is the lesson of Shabbat Shuva: A Jew must never content himself with his previous Divine service and spiritual advancement. He must never think that because he has worked on himself a whole week he is now entitled to "rest" because it is Shabbat. No, today is "Shabbat Shuva!" Even after one has done teshuva, more work is required! For the service of teshuva is continual and without end.
Adapted from Hitva'aduyot 5744, volume 1
Kano by David Ben-Or
1963. Kano. Do you know where Kano is? Look it up on the map of Nigeria in West Africa.
Fall. But who in that climate of eternal heat, on the border of the Sahara Desert, knows whether it is fall or spring? Only the vultures are circling above, settling on the low, thatched roofs, waiting to come down into the courtyard for a morsel of abandoned meat. The plane leaves in three days. And I still have to make my rounds in the market of this Moslem town, where everybody but me prostrates himself whenever one of their chieftains rides past in flowing robes on a coal black horse.
The sun is hidden by clouds of sand blowing in from the Sahara, restricting vision to a few yards. It is still early in the afternoon and suddenly I remember. G-d in heaven! It is Yom Kippur.
How on earth did I get stuck in this forsaken place? Why couldn't I have waited for another week to make my tour to sell those tires? I had completely forgotten. There I was, at the colonial rest house, watching the fan on the ceiling turn round and round; thinking about atonement...
I got up, walked into the British manager's office, and asked him, "Mr. Walker, could you please tell me if there are any Jews in Kano?"
"Yes, sir, Jews."
"Well, now let me see. There is Mr. Rokach, but he doesn't want anybody to know that he's Jewish. Then there is Mr. Sidki, but for some reason his store is closed today."
"Where does Mr. Sidki live?"
"He lives above his store."
"Could you tell me where his store is?"
"Of course, sir. Walk down the main street and you will find the house on the second corner to your right. It is the only two-story house on the street. You can't miss it."
I started walking. The sand blew into my face. I hardly saw the people in the street, but I finally reached the house. The shutters of the store were rolled down. Everything was closed and quiet. I started banging on the shutters with my fist, and suddenly a window on the first floor was opened.
"Who's there?" a man asked from above.
"Shalom aleichem (peace to you)," I said.
"Aleichem shalom. Baruch haba (Unto you, peace. Blessed is your arrival). Come up the stairs behind the building. We are all waiting for you."
I didn't understand. They were all waiting for me? I never had met the man. Until an hour ago I didn't know that there were Jews in Kano. What made him say that?
Slowly, lost in thought, I climbed the stairs. When they opened the door, I beheld nine men with tallitot (prayer shawls) on their shoulders, all greeting me.
Now I knew why they had all been waiting for me. I was the tenth man to complete the minyan, the prayer quorum.
From B'Or HaTorah Journal: Science, Art and Modern Life in the Light of Torah
Yizkor by Lieba Rudolph
"Where were your grandparents from?" Chaya asked within minutes of meeting me at the Tzemach Tzedek synagogue in Jerusalem's Old City. These kinds of questions are part of the unique game of Jewish geography that can only be played in Israel, especially Jerusalem.
"I only know that my father's father came from a shtetl near Minsk," I answered.
We shared some details of our Jewish journeys as we slithered through the Old City's ancient stones to visit her small but charming home tucked in one of its corners. Chaya said it was tiny compared to her home in Boston, but it was a a price worth paying.
Of course, all conversations with Israelis include some version of the real question: why is it that the Jewish people have a homeland after two thousand years and you're not part of it?
I explained to Chaya why I live in Pittsburgh -family, business, community - the standard reasons why people don't leave.
As we walked back to shul together for Yizkor, the prayer for the departed, she shared with me a chilling fact, spoken with the sweet yet soulful certainty that only a child of survivors knows: there has never been a host country that has not expelled its Jews.
Yet, there we were in Israel, our "safe haven," just days after four Jews living within its borders were murdered by terrorists.
As I murmured the prayer's words...my father, my teacher...tears filled my eyes. I envisioned my father sitting at a table next to me, holding pencil to paper as he introduced me to the "at" family, its most illustrious members being "cat" and "rat." How indebted was I to him for teaching me to read? How fortunate was I to be alive as a Jew, able to pray for his soul at at that moment in that shul?
I read in Yizkor that G-d wants to comfort those of us who are intimate with death with the assurance that He doesn't pain us indiscriminately. If you ever worry that G-d has abandoned the Jewish people, the Yizkor prayer offers His clear promise to the contrary. It refers to Jewish martyrs and to members of the nations of the world who spill Jewish blood, asking, "where is their G-d?" But the prayer then continues to graphically elucidate how G-d will avenge these deaths, assuring us that "Israel will hold its head high."
Yizkor's reference to the world's Jew-hatred reminded me to save my energy; there's no way to understand it or even eliminate it through natural means. Only G-d can do this - and He assures us that He will. For my part, I can strengthen my connection to Him despite darkness and death, trusting Him to fulfill that promise.
From Lieba. Rudolph's blog ponderingjew.org
The first synagogue and Chabad Center in the city of Luanda, Angola was inaugurated recently. Directed by emissaries of the Rebbe, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok and Devorah Leah Chekly, the completion and welcoming of a new Torah scroll was also part of the celebration.Luanda, the capital of Angola, is Africa's second largest oil producer.
Rabbi Chaim Lazer and Rivky Hershkovich are now directing community outreach to young families and development for Chabad and F.R.E.E. of Niles, Illinois. They will also serve as the official co-directors of the Chabad Cares division, a unique initiative dedicated to the seniors who are living in the area's 17 nursing homes and senior housing residences. In additionk the Hershkovichs will be working with students at the local community colleges. F.R.E.E. - Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe, was established in Illinois in 1987.
In the Ten Days of Teshuva, 5736 
...Inasmuch as we are now in the propitious days of Aseres Yemei Teshuva (Ten Days of Return), it is well to remember that this is the time of the year which our Sages identify with the verse, "Seek G-d when He is found, call on Him when He is near." This "nearness" is described as the "nearness of the Source of Light to its spark." May G-d grant that this be reflected in the daily life throughout the whole year, in all aspects, both spiritual as well as material.
Indeed, since all expressions used by our Sages, as all words of Torah, are exact, the said expression, "nearness of the Source of Light to its spark," is particularly meaningful. For, the proximity of the Source of Light increase the spark's flame and power, and so in the spiritual realm, where the nearness of G-d, the Source of Light and Source of Blessing, sets the Jew's heart and mind aglow with love of G-d and awe of G-d, stimulating him (and her) to observe and the channels and vessels to receive G-d's blessings in all needs, materially and spiritually.
With the blessing of Chasimo uGmar Chasimo Toivo [be fully sealed for good] and good things in all above,
5th Tishrei, 5736 
I received, with considerable delay, your letter of Elul 6, in connection with the Induction of your esteemed Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick.
However, a blessing is always timely, especially in the propitious days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, which our Sages identify with the verse, "Seek G-d when He is found; call on Him when He is near." This special nearness to G-d, the Source of Blessings, surely brings Divine blessings, materially and spiritually.
I am therefore pleased to take this opportunity of extending to you and the entire Congregation prayerful wishes that your association with your esteemed Rabbi be blessed with much Hatzlocho [success].
...As is well known, a Jewish congregation is called Kehilla Kadisha, a Holy Congregation. To make this a reality, it is the function of the synagogue to inspire each and all of the members and worshippers to carry the holiness of the Mishkan Me'at ("Small Sanctuary") into their homes and homelife, in fulfillment of G-d's desire v'shochanti b'sochom - "I will dwell among them" - within each and all of them.
Rabbi Gutnick has the additional distinction of being a Kohen, of whom it is written, "A Kohen's lips preserve knowledge and Torah is sought from his mouth" (Malachi 2:7). In addition to being the traditional teachers of our people, kohanim have been also chosen by G-d "to bless His people Israel with love," and these blessings include, of course, well-being and prosperity in every respect, materially and spiritually. May G-d grant that this be so for your entire Congregation with your esteemed Rabbi, and in a growing measure.
With prayerful wishes for a Chasimo uGmar Chasimo Toivo for a good and sweet year,
5th of Tishrei, 5721 
Students of Grade A and Gan of the Beth Rivkah Academy,
I was pleased to receive your good wishes for the New Year. I also send my prayerful wishes to you, your parents, and your teachers, for a very happy and successful year in every respect.
It is written in our holy Torah that a great measure of happiness for every Jewish boy and girl depends upon their conducting themselves in their daily life in accordance with the Will of G-d. In doing so, they bring G-d's blessings not only upon themselves, but also upon their parents and families.
May G-d grant that you will have good news to report about your good progress in your studies and in your daily conduct.
Wishing you, each and all, a Chasimo and Gemar Chasimo Toivo.
5th of Tishrei, 5721 
...I was very pleased to read in your letter about the improvement in the observance of the Mitzvos in the family, and may G-d grant that this continues in a growing measure. Needless to say, if you will show a living example, and act with affection and respect, it will have a considerable effect.
I trust that you are taking full advantage of the present days of Divine benevolence and forgiveness, the Ten Days of Repentance, and the month of Tishrei in general, since these days inaugurate the New Year and have a lasting effect and influence throughout the year...
Why on Yom Kippur do we pledge money for charity in the synagogue?
Charity is one of the most effective ways of gaining atonement, as we say in the High Holiday prayers, "Repentance, prayer and charity remove any bad decrees." Money is used for basic necessities that keep a person alive. When it is given away to others, it is considered as if one gave away a part of one's life. By pledging extra money for charity, we show that our fasting is part of the atonement process of Yom Kippur.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The Torah portion of Vayeilech is often read on the Shabbat before Yom Kippur, as in this year. The name of the portion means "and he went," and points to the need to "go from strength to strength" in our Divine service. This concept is reflected in the narrative which begins the reading. The subject of the verb Vayeilech is Moses. At this point in time, Moses was 120 years old and had attained the highest peaks of Divine understanding. He knew that this was to be the last day of his life. Nevertheless, he was not prepared to "rest on his laurels." Instead, he understood the imperative for continued progress, and even on this day, he strove to reach new horizons.
When Parshas Vayeilech is read as a separate Torah reading, it is read on Shabbat Shuva, the Sabbath of Return. There is a thematic connection between the two, for in a full sense, Vayeilech implies not merely gradual progress, but radical change. Just as "going" means changing one's place, its spiritual parallel involves rising to a previously inconceivable level of Divine service.
Similarly, teshuvah involves leaving one's previous spiritual level and beginning a new phase of Divine service. For teshuvah involves a firm decision to abandon one's previous mode of conduct, and on a deeper level, to remake one's personality. As Maimonides explains, a baal teshuvah should feel that: "I am another person; I am not the same individual who performed these deeds."
May we all be sealed for a good, sweet year of progress, growth and especially movement to the imminent arrival of Moshiach now!
Charity on the Eve of Yom Kippur
In many synagogues on the eve of Yom Kippur, plates and containers are put out for various charities. As people enter and leave the synagogue, they drop a few coins into the containers. The larger or busier the shul, the more noise is made by the clanging and jingling of the coins as they are dropped in. And, of course, during these solemn days, more charity than usual is given. In the Baal Shem Tov's shul, there was constant noise from the rattling of coins, so much so that some of the people found their prayers sorely disturbed. One person approached the Baal Shem Tov and asked him if it might not be possible to abandon this disruptive custom. "Heaven forbid," cried the Baal Shem Tov in horror. "It is this very jingling and clanging of the coins that is our deliverance during these awesome days. It confuses the Adversary on High who is spending his time trying to convince the Alm-ghty that we are not worthy of being forgiven."
Mother is Crying
Once, on the eve of Yom Kippur, when Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael of Kremenetz was blessing his children, he noticed that one of his grown daughters began to softly cry. The young child that she was holding also began to weep.
"Why are you crying?" Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael asked his grandchild.
"My mother is crying, so I am also crying," the child explained.
That evening, before the Kol Nidrei prayer, Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael related to his congregation what had transpired earlier that day. He then burst into tears and cried out emotionally, "When a child sees his mother weeping, he too weeps even though he may not understand the reason for his mother's tears. Our mother is also weeping. The Shechina, the feminine aspect of the Divine Presence -the source of all of the souls of the Jewish people - Keens like a dove and cries: 'Woe to My children, that becasue of their sins I have destroyed My home, set fire to My sanctuary, and have exiled them among the nations.' So even if we, Her children, have become desensitized to the pain of exile, at least we should weep because our mother is weeping!"
Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, wife of the scholar and Kabbalist Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson and mother of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, passed away in the late afternoon on the Shabbat between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, 1964. At the time that Rebbetzin Chana returned her pure soul to her Creator, her chair in the women's section of the main Lubavitch synagogue ("770" Eastern Parkway) inexplicably caught fire and burned. The following vignettes about Yom Kippur are from Rebbetzin Chana's memoirs. They took place during Rav Levi Yitzchak's years of exile by the Soviet government in Chi'li, Kazakhstan.
On Yom Kippur, the three of us - my husband, a Roumanian Jew, and I - enclosed ourselves in our room. It is hard to set down on paper the emotions and the spiritual states that we experienced on that day. Suddenly, we became aware of eyes peering at us through the window. Our guest and I were frightened to open the door, but as soon as the Rav realized what was going on, he went over to the door and threw it open wide. Our unexpected guest turned out to be a young Lithuanian Jew, also in exile.
Here, in exile, this young fellow worked as a wagon-driver. He related to us that while driving his wagon, he had caught a glimpse of the Rav and was struck by his appearance. Since this had occurred during the week before Yom Kippur, he had decided to find out who this person was and where he lived, so that he could try to be in his presence on the holiday. The lad felt that if he could be privileged to be with the Rav on this holiest of days, it would ease the weight of his sorrows and be a balm for his soul. Somehow, our young visitor had managed to locate us.
Half an hour later we heard a knock on the door. We opened it to find a frightened woman who, like the young wagon-driver, yearned to be in the Rav's presence on this day. It seemed that she and her husband had been exiled here from Nikolaiev, and while her husband refused to pray anymore, she herself felt a greater need to pray now than she had ever felt in the past. She trudged a distance of four kilometers in order to reach our house.
The influx of refugees to our area brought about a severe housing shortage, and the Government responded by issuing a decree restricting each person to a specific number of square meters of living-space. According to the new law, our one room was now large enough to house five people.
The head of the Department of Housing in our area was a gentile engineer, also an exile. He had authored books on mathematics and occasionally engaged the Rav in scholarly discussions on that subject. Because of his great respect for my husband, he overlooked the "vacant" space in our room and did not send anyone to share our quarters. This was a great favor to us.
One day, the daughter or our landlady arrived in the village together with her two children and immediately began dispatching a flurry of petitions to the Chief of Housing. Making great play of the scandalous fact that an exiled Jew had such a large apartment while she, a true proletarian and a loyal Communist, had no place to live at all, she insistently demanded authorization to move into Schneerson's room, especially since it was situated so close to her mother's place.
Having no choice, the chief issued a permit which gave its bearer the right to move into our room. However, he did not give this permit to the landlady's daughter but to someone else, instead. A teacher with a small child had also applied for a dwelling, and since she was a refined person, he assumed that we would get along much better with her.
The next day, the teacher and her son arrived at our house. Waving the permit at the landlady, she crowed triumphantly, "Schneerson doesn't want a gentile neighbor? - I'll show him!"
The day on which this happened was only a couple of weeks before Yom Kippur. The Rav said to me, "How will I be able to pray here on the Holy Day?" Immediately he began to search his mind for a solution. And we faced yet another problem - keeping kosher - since the kitchen would have to be shared with a gentile.
We were amazed when, without explanation, the teacher left the permit with us and walked out. One week passed, and then another; she never came back! And when the landlady's daughter came along, voicing her demands, we showed her the permit - proof that the room was already occupied to capacity. After Yom Kippur, the teacher approached my husband on the street. "Rabbi," she inquired in Yiddish, "how was your fast? I also fasted!"
It turned out that this woman was a Jewish refugee from Poland who, in order to save her life, had forged a passport indicating that she was gentile. Subsequently, she had wandered from place to place until arriving in Chi'ili.
"As soon as I saw you," she explained, "I decided not to inconvenience you in any way. Live on in your room, alone and in peace; if anybody complains, you can show them my permit."
Similar causes for small celebrations would arise from time to time. They invariably came about as a result of the high esteem in which everyone held my husband - even those who saw him for the first time.
From A Mother in Israel, translated by Yrachmiel Tilles, Kehot Publications
At this time, each Jew must elevate himself to a plane so new and so high that his conduct in this year will be miraculous when compared to the previous year. G-d relates to the Jewish people reciprocally. Thus, it is understood that a miraculous pattern of behavior of a Jew arouses a miraculous pattern of Divine behavior and draws down unlimited Divine blessings upon himself, both as an individual and as a part of the Jewish people as a whole, and upon the world at large. May it also include the most vital miracle, the true and complete redemption with Moshiach.
(From a letter of the Rebbe, 6 Tishrei, 1989)