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Have you ever tried to book a flight online? There are lots of discount sites to choose from. Or you can go to the actual airline's home page. Most of the time, it's pretty hassle-free and convenient, right? Just know your dates two weeks in advance, log on, check a few sites and compare prices, and in half-an-hour, you've got your flights, your seats, your kosher meals - and you can rent a car and reserve hotel rooms, too. And if you're flexible, meaning it doesn't matter when you come and go, you can save even more!
But what happens when we procrastinate, when we can't decide if, when or where we're going until the last minute? Then trying to make arrangements, book a flight, get a hotel, becomes irritating, frustrating, a logistical nightmare. And expensive. Very expensive.
You can spend hours and hours going from site to site trying as many combinations as there are moves in a chess game. Fly into a different city, rent a car, drive two and a half hours - saving fifty dollars. That doesn't work. If only you could fly out the day before - ha! - that's your kid's championship game, the day of the big conference - or Shabbat.
(If, G-d forbid, there's an emergency or, G-d willing, a simcha, that necessitates last minute travel, many airlines try to be accommodating, lowering somewhat their you're-traveling-last-minute-mortgage-the-house-fares. Nor do we resent the high prices as much, because we need to get there (at any price) and we couldn't have foreseen the need or planned for it earlier.)
Sometimes we approach doing a mitzva (commandment) like we're figuring out our itinerary: how long will it take? How much does it cost? How can I minimize the time between destinations? Well and good if we plan in advance, allowing the proper time and emphasis. But woe when we put off planning, when we try to squeeze it in around frivolities or "I need to's".
No one thinks a wedding can be put together overnight. It takes time to rent a hotel, decide who's invited, book the caterer, agree on a menu, find a decent photographer, hire musicians, send out the invitations, etc.
In order to celebrate Shabbat or a Jewish holiday properly, we have to plan, prepare, shop, clean, invite, cook.
What of other mitzvot? Do we make them a priority in our schedules and busy lives, making them unbreakable appointments? Or do we just squeeze them in whenever, wherever, whatever - if ever?
We don't want to scramble for mitzvot like we sometimes do for airline tickets, simply because we didn't plan ahead.
In a sense, that's what the month of Elul is about - a month of planning ahead, booking Rosh Hashana early. We do a number of things differently in Elul - blowing the shofar, saying extra Psalms, etc. - as "pre-travel" arrangements.
So make your reservations early! And see you on board!
This week's Torah portion, Ki Tavo, begins with the commandment of Bikurim, bringing the first fruits of the seven species of the Land of Israel to G-d. The first fruits were brought to the Temple, received by the Kohen and placed next to the altar. When giving it to the Kohen, the person made a declaration referencing that our ancestor Jacob was saved from Laban, and that the Jewish people were saved from the Egyptians.
There were other great salvations that G-d did for the Jewish people. Why specifically are these two events part of the Bikurim?
About Bikurim, the Torah says, "It will be, when you come to the land... and you take possession of it and settle it." Rashi explains that bringing Bikurim is required only after conquering and dividing the land of Israel. In other words, once they took up permanent residence and began enjoying the bounty of the land they were obligated to bring Bikurim.
There are two other mentions of permanent residence: The 20 years Jacob lived with Laban, and the 210 years the Jews lived in Egypt. But in those cases, we didn't get to enjoy the bounty of the land. Thus, we mention them in the Bikurim declaration to show how grateful we are that we can enjoy the bounty in contrast to the times when we couldn't.
On a deeper level, the fruit refers to the soul as it is Above; when brought as Bikurim it refers to the soul within the body. The idea of bringing Bikurim is to strengthen the bond between the soul and its source Above. When we bring Bikurim (the first and the best), like with any offering, we bring ourselves closer. And when we recite the declaration, verbalizing our gratitude to G-d, we draw down the first and the best part (the "Bikurim") of the soul.
This will give us a deeper understanding of the words of the declaration. The two events mentioned, Jacob with Laban and the exile in Egypt, both begin with a descent, being drawn down from the highest state of holiness into the lowest places. But the descent is followed by an ascent, being elevated to the highest level, and in the case of Egypt, to the point that G-d revealed Himself to us at Mount Sinai.
The point of drawing down from the highest and holiest into the lowest, is to affect it and make it ready for G-d to be able to dwell there openly as well. This is the idea of Bikurim, to make working the land a holy endeavor, by drawing down G-dliness into the mundane work we do. And of course, we will reap the fruits of our labor, turning our mundane efforts into the first and the best for G-d.
It is not enough to bring ourselves closer to Hashem through our study of Torah and the performance of mitzvahs, but we must also draw G-dliness down into the mundane, daily activities that we do, until they become holy as well.
We will reap the fruits of our labor when we merit the ultimate revelation with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.
Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the Rebbe's teachings, yitzihurwitz.blogspot.com. Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.
One Soul's Journey
by Sara Yitta Gopin
The creativity of Luba Ahuva Perlov expresses itself in every area of her multifaceted life as an artist, a writer and most importantly as a Jewish woman. It is truly symbolic that Luba was born during the Sukkot holiday, as there were many "temporary dwellings" in her life's path.
Luba regards her creative talents as an inheritance from her parents who worked as fashion designers. At the tender age of two years old Luba searched for crayons and began to draw. In fourth grade Luba was chosen to participate in a program for artistically gifted children, and she continued her studies and training in art education. The highlight of her early career was illustrating 25 Jewish children's books. Every one of Luba's inspiring paintings express deep spiritual meaning flowing from her warm soul.
Luba grew up by the Black Sea in Odessa, Ukraine, during the oppressive years of Communist Russia. An only child, she was raised in a home where it was not permitted to speak one word on the topic of religion. Yet Luba was endowed with a sensitive soul that felt the Divine Presence every moment that she meditated on the beauty of the world around her.
Luba knew that she was Jewish, but besides recognizing a few Jewish foods such as gefilte fish and matzah, she had no knowledge of any Jewish tradition. As a young girl Luba always felt "different" from her non-Jewish peers but did not know the reasoning behind theis feeling of estrangement.
One day Luba bravely approached her maternal grandmother, Rachel, with the questions that were troubling her young heart. This grandmother was the sole survivor of her entire family who were all massacred on the same day by the Nazis. "Why am I different from the Ukrainians? Why don't they like me?" Luba asked innocently. A painful silence filled the room as Luba's grandmother was unable to utter one word of a response.
Luba's search for truth continued. One day she purchased a Bible through the black market from a man who had religious books hidden inside the lining of his suit coat. As Luba excitedly read the passages, she discovered that her grandmother's name, Rachel, as well as the names of other Jews whom she knew, were mentioned in this book. Therefore she, too, must belong to this people with a rich ancient history, the nation that G-d lovingly redeemed from Egypt.
The new idea inspired Luba to create a "magen david" charm from clay to wear as a necklace that proudly showed her Jewish identity. Her intention was that the necklace would ensure that she would marry a Jew.
Advancement in her Jewish knowledge and commitment occurred while she was studying art at the university level in Odessa. At that time she met her husband Baruch, whom she married in a traditional Jewish ceremony in the Lubavitch synagogue in Moscow. After the wedding Baruch received permission to immigrate to Israel, but it was almost six long months later until his new wife was able to join him.
After 14 years of living in various cities in Israel, Baruch's profession as an engineer required him to relocate to the U.S. The Perlov family now lives in the area of S. Clara, California, and this new site in Luba's journey enables her to teach and guide her fellow Jews in the community who, like her, emigrated from Russia. After living in total spiritual darkness, they have an unparalleled appreciation when they discover the light of Torah.
While still living in Israel, Luba's connection with the Rebbe strengthened. The bond that was established affected Luba's soul deeply, it affected her art, and created within her a desire to share with her fellow Jews' what she has found by living a rich, Torah observant life imbued with Chassidic warmth and vitality.
After experiencing great difficulty in one of her pregnancies, Luba received a blessing from the Rebbe for a successful pregnancy and for the health of her unborn child. The intensity of that moment inspired Luba to accept upon herself as a personal mission the task of spreading the importance of family purity to Jewish women. She immediately began writing a book in Russian which includes stories that motivate the observance of this most important mitzva.
"Let It Stay Between Us," was published in Russian just six weeks after Luba began writing it. The book was then translated into Hebrew and English. The French translation is presently being completed.
The creative path of Luba continues to flourish. Recently Luba finished writing her life story (to date) "Diary of a Dreamer." Luba's beautiful drawings decorate the pages of the book, as well as inspirational passages of the Rebbe regarding the imminence of the Redemption. This book, as well, is being translated into English.
Every painting has a story. The painting above, "A Jew and Torah" has one as well. "The man holding the Torah may have passed through years of exile, concentration camps, the iron curtain, but he survives," shares Luba. "He clasps the past, but lives in the present. The Torah is his anchor, and he is connected so deeply, so tightly - they are One."
Rabbi Zalmy and Mushka Dubinsky will be establishing a new Chabad Center for young professionals in dowtown Raleigh, North Carolina.Chabad Young Professionals - Raleigh will be focused on building a new community of young professionals by hosting religious events, Jewish classes, beginner services, Shabbat dinners, social events, business and networking events. Rabbi Avrumi and Cherry Freeman are moving to Oxnard, California to be lead teachers at the Lamplighters Jewish Academy of Oxnard.
A historic synagogue in the city of Drogobych, Western Ukraine was restored and opened to the public at an official ceremony. The restoration of the building was originally initiated by FJC'S Zhitomir Jewish community and later continued with the support from local Jewish organizations and descendants of Drogobych Jews who live around the world.
Sovo El Ho'oretz Chai Elul 5744 (1984)
The Mitzvo (commandment) of Bikkurim (First Fruits) in all its details is at the beginning of the Torah portion Sovo.
By way of introduction: The First Fruits became due only after the conquest of the Land of Israel, and after its subdivision among the Tribes, and after the "House of G-d" was established. It would therefore seem more appropriate to introduce the Mitzvo of Bikkurim with words similar to those we find at the end of the preceding Sedra: "And it shall come to pass when HaShem, your G-d, will choose to set His Name there, in the land," etc., not as it is introduced here with the words "When you come into the land," which seemingly focuses attention on the day of entry into the land.
However, the idea is to emphasize that immediately upon coming into the land, you should become aware that the ultimate purpose is that "You should take of the first fruits," etc., as Bikkurim to HaShem. Thus, all your actions from that day on, and until the actual bringing of Bikkurim, will be permeated with the spirit of the Mitzvo, making all the intervening days a period of preparation for the actual fulfillment of the Mitzvo of bringing Bikkurim, although it will take place many years later.
In other words, briefly: The idea of Bikkurim is that the Mitzvo begins with "coming into the land," when one begins his daily labor, "Six days shall you labor, plant your field and prune your vineyard," cultivating the soil (mineral). Then, after the preparatory activities of tilling, planting and pruning, comes the harvest of grain and fruit (plant life), of which the first and choicest are designated as First Fruit for HaShem, and they are taken up, together with offerings (animal) to the Beis Hamikdash, where the bearer of the Bikkurim (man, "the speaker") recites in a loud, clear and joyous voice the Declaration of Bikkurim, as detailed in the portion.
In the words of Maimonides:
"The men of all the small towns of the Ma'amad (district) gather in the main town of the district... for "the greater the gathering, the more glory to the King"... The appointed leader of the gathering calls out, Arise, let us go up to Zion, unto HaShem our G-d; and the ox (for a Peace-offering) goes before them. . . the flute is played before them, and they walk all the way and recite, "I rejoice when they say to me, Let us go to the House of HaShem....
"When they all enter the gates of Jerusalem, they begin reciting, Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.... When they reach the Temple Mount, everyone takes his (fruit) basket on his shoulder, and they recite, Praise HaShem, praise G-d in His holy place up to (the end of the psalm) Let every soul praise HaShem...
"When they reach the Azarah (Temple Court) the Levites sing the song, I will exalt You, HaShem, for You have lifted me up,..."
Such is also the order of man's everyday service to his Creator:
After awaking from sleep, during which a person, with his intellect, abilities, knowledge, etc., is like an inanimate (object) - yet it is the time when all forces of the soul and body should be refreshed and invigorated for serving G-d - one must rise from one's sleep, "immediately, with alacrity, to serve the Creator." Then one begins to grow ever higher through the fulfillment of the Creator's commandments, such as washing the hands, reciting the morning blessings, etc., in preparation for the Morning Prayers.
Then one goes on to carry out the Divine edict, "and conquer (the world)," going about one's worldly affairs in the manner of "All your actions shall be for the sake of Heaven" - actions that involve all four categories of Creation (inanimate, vegetable, animal and man), the world all around, which one accomplishes with the aid of one's "animal soul". Thus, one attains the complete fulfillment expected of the "chosen creature" by "creating an abode for Him, blessed be He, in this lowest world," which is the ultimate purpose and fulfillment of the whole created order. All this also brings closer the true and complete Redemption through our righteous Moshiach...
With esteem and blessing for Hatzlocho in all above, and for a Kesivo vaChasimo Tovo for a good and sweet year, both materially and spiritually
ALEXANDER is from the Greek, meaning "protector." When "Alexander the Great" was on his way to Persia he passed through Jerusalem. He showed great respect for the High Priest, Shimon, and spared Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, unlike other capitals he had conquered. Alexander became an adopted Jewish name.
ARIELA is the feminine from of the Hebrew word "ariel," meaning "lion of G-d."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Since the beginning of the month of Elul we've been doing teshuva, getting rid of negative baggage and "cleaning up our act" before Rosh Hashana. But this Saturday night we're going to really get down to business, as Jews around the world go to the synagogue to recite Selichot. These special penitential prayers are the next stage of our preparation for the High Holidays.
Chasidic philosophy makes the following distinction: During the month of Elul, we concentrate on improving our thought, speech and deed. But when we say Selichot, we focus on an even deeper level of the soul and correct the emotive powers themselves.
Though it sounds serious, Chasidim have always approached Selichot (like everything else!) with a sense of joy, rather than sadness and gloom. We look forward to the opportunity to reach even higher levels of holiness and sanctity.
The Rebbe Rashab, quoting Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidut, explained one of the lines in the Selichot thusly: "The needs of Your people are great, and their knowledge is narrow and limited." Our needs are many precisely because our knowledge is limited. If our knowledge were "wider," our needs would be fewer.
The pursuit of luxuries, adds the Rebbe, can even diminish the "regular" measure of blessing a person would otherwise receive. Because our "knowledge is limited" we demand too much, over-inflating our importance and assuming that G-d "owes" us. Our "needs" tend to multiply when we put too much emphasis on material rather than spiritual concerns.
Nonetheless, the Rebbe concludes, "Our request from G-d is that He fulfill all the needs of His people, even though what we ask for stems from a deficiency in knowledge. And may every single Jew lack for nothing."
Rabbi Yishmael said: "Be readily submissive to a superior and be affable to a younger person; receive every person cheerfully." (Ethics 3:12)
Rabbi Yishmael said - Rabbi Yishmael was a priest, and according to certain opinions a High Priest. Despite his standing, he was prepared to show respect and warmth to all others.
(Sichot Kodesh Acharei-Kedoshim, 5728)
Everything is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is granted; the world is judged with goodness, and everything is according to the preponderance of good deeds. (Ethics 3:15)
The world is judged with goodness - Even when for various reasons a person does not completely fulfill the mission with which he was charged, G-d judges him favorably and finds grounds on which his flaws can be excused.This concept also serves as a directive for man to imitate this trait and always view a colleague with a favorable eye. When a person conducts himself in this fashion, G-d will deal similarly with him.
(Sichot Kodesh Emor, 5738; Shelach, 5740)
Rabbi Akiva used to say: "Everything is given on collateral and a net is spread over all the living.... The collectors make their rounds regularly, each day, and exact payment from man with or without his knowledge; and they have on what to rely. The judgment is a judgment of truth, and everything is prepared for the feast." (Ethics 3:16)
The collectors... exact payment from man with or without his knowledge - The Baal Shem Tov explains it is impossible for any being - even the angels of the Heavenly Court - to judge a Jew. For a Jew's soul is "an actual part of G-d from above;even if he sins, this essential virtue remains intact. How then is payment exacted? Divine Providence gives the person the opportunity, in casual discussions with a friend or the like, to judge a colleague who has performed a deed similar to his own. Afterwards, the judgment made with his knowledge about a colleague is "without his knowledge" applied to himself by the Heavenly Court.
(Likkutei Sichot, Vol. IV, p. 1207)
From In the Paths of Our Fathers, sie.org
If you ever visit Jerusalem and happen to pass by the large square which is called Batei Orenstein, you would be interested to know about the worthy deeds performed by a Jew named Berel Orenstein who built the original houses which stand in that place.
Reb Berel and his wife had already eaten their dinner and the kitchen was cleared away. Reb Berel had settled down to study Torah and his wife was relaxing with some needlework when there was a knock at the door. Reb Berel opened the door a crack, but the visitor pushed it so forcefully that Reb Berel was thrown backward. Several young hoodlums quickly followed into the house and ordered the terrified couple to lie on the floor. Although they offered no resistance, the couple was beaten unconscious and then bound with strong ropes.
As this violence occurred inside the placid exterior of the home, a group of yeshiva students arrived at this same house. "It's completely dark. Do you think we really should knock?" one of the students asked the others.
"Reb Moshe specifically told us to make sure to bring Reb Berel to the wedding. He's waiting there until we come," another replied.
"We have to wake them up," a third offered. And so they walked up to door and knocked. Repeated knocking, however, brought no response.
"Maybe we should force the door; maybe something has happened to them and they can't open the door." But forcing was not necessary, for the door easily pushed open.
When the young men entered they saw a dark form on the floor which turned out to be Reb Berel. They untied him and his wife who, by now, had regained consciousness, and explained that they had been sent by Reb Moshe to bring them to his daughter's wedding.
"Thank G-d you came when you did. The robbers would have ransacked the entire house and who knows what else they might have done to my family. This is truly a miracle that resulted from my mitzva of dowering a bride (hachnasat kalla)!"
"Please tell us what happened," the students insisted.
Reb Berel, who was just recovering his composure, explained, "One day I was walking down the street, when I ran into Reb Moshe. He looked worried and so I asked him, 'How is everything?'
"He answered me, saying that he had to marry off his daughter very soon, and he didn't have the money. I asked him how much he needed, and he replied, 'Two hundred gold coins,' which was quite a sizable sum. Thank G-d, I have more than enough, and so I just took out my wallet and gave him the money plus some extra. Then I added, 'Just don't forget to invite me to the wedding!'
"I knew the wedding invitations had gone out, and I was surprised that he had forgotten to invite me. Now, I understand the Divine Providence behind that apparent oversight. If you hadn't come along when you had I might have lost a great deal of my fortune and, who knows, we might have even lost our very lives!"
"Do you feel well enough to come to the wedding?" they asked Reb Berel. "For certainly, Reb Moshe is still waiting for you!"
"I wouldn't miss it for anything," Reb Berel exclaimed. "Thanks to the money I gave Reb Moshe, my life, the lives of my family and my fortune were saved."
Most of the wedding guests had already left, but Reb Moshe was there waiting for the "guest of honor," the benefactor he had forgotten to invite. Reb Moshe was about to apologize, when Reb Berel hugged him and began recounting the tale of his rescue.
Then Reb Berel said he had an announcement to make. "For many years I have thought of moving to the Holy Land. Tonight I have decided that I will, in fact, move there as soon as I close up my business here. There, I will build houses for the poor and for Torah scholars in Jerusalem. In this way I hope to repay G-d for all the good He has done for me, and I pray that through this deed, I will bring the arrival of Moshiach a bit closer."
This announcement brought cheers from the remaining guests, "Amen, Amen," they cried joyfully.
And so, the section of Batei Orenstein arose in the holy city of Jerusalem to be a blessing to the needy who were furnished with housing due to the generosity of Reb Berel.
"When you come into the land...and you shall take of all the fruit... and you shall 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 fulfill bring their first fruits to Jerusalem. Seven years were spent conquering the entire 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 any period of time before we are able to bring 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, 1991)