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All Jews understand the difference between Rosh Hashana and the secular New Year. Rosh Hashana is not a time to party and let loose. True, it is associated with celebrations as the Bible states: "Go eat succulent foods and drink sweet beverages and send portions to those who have nothing prepared.... Do not be sad, for the joy of G-d is your strength." But the very same passage mentions the reason for that rejoicing: "The day is sacred to our G-d."
More particularly, Rosh Hashana is the Day of Judgment, when G-d "opens the book of memories... and all the inhabitants of the world pass before Him like sheep.... And He writes out their decree."
Knowing the awesomeness of His judgment, many are concerned with their own future: "What will my coming year be like?" Some are concerned with their material future: How much will they make in the coming year? What will their health be? Will they marry and have children? Others focus on spiritual desires: Will they be able to gain wisdom? Will they be inspired with the love and fear of G-d? Will they be able to meet the standards of piety and righteousness expected of them?
All of these desires can be expressed on many planes, with various different levels of motivation. When, however, they are reduced to their lowest common denominator, the question prompting all others is: Will G-d give me what I want in the coming year?
On Rosh Hashana, however, what we really should be thinking about is not what we want, but what He wants.
Our Sages compare the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashana to the sounding of trumpets at a king's coronation. Similarly, our High Holiday prayers make a point of emphasizing His sovereignty.
In the present age, the use of the analogy of kingship to describe our relationship with G-d is problematic. For a king is a figure of the past with no functional meaning to us today.
Yet that too is significant; for at present G-d's Kingship is not overtly revealed and the world appears to function independently.
When will His Kingship be revealed? "On that day, a great shofar will be sounded. And those who are lost... and those who are banished... shall come and bow down to G-d on the holy mountain in Jerusalem." In the era of the Redemption, "G-d will be King over the entire earth... G-d will be one, and His name one."
On Rosh Hashana, our acceptance of G-d as King should have at its core a yearning to know true Kingship, and see G-d "reign over the entire world in [His] glory... and reveal [Himself] in the majesty of [His] glorious might over all inhabitants" with the coming of Moshiach. May it be speedily in our days.
This week's Torah portion, Nitzavim is always read before Rosh Hashana. The first verse of the portion, "You are standing here all together..." hints at the Jewish people all standing before G-d on Rosh Hashana.
This week we read the seventh Haftora of consolation. It is also always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana. Similarly, the first verse of the Haftora hints at Rosh Hashana.
The Haftora begins, "I will rejoice in G-d, my soul will exult in my G-d." "I will rejoice" is an open joy, referring to the festival of Sukkot where the central theme is joy. In fact, the holiday is referred to as the "Time of our joy."
"My soul will exult," is an inner joy, hidden in the soul, referring to Rosh Hashana. We are joyous on Rosh Hashana because it is a holiday, because of the special mitzva of shofar, and because on Rosh Hashana we crown G-d as our King for another year. This coronation accomplishes that a new G-dly energy comes into the world and G-d inscribes us in the book of life for a happy and sweet year. But this joy is hidden in the awe and solemnity of the Day of Judgment. As it says, "they will exult trembling."
But there must be a reason why open joy (hinting at Sukkot) is mentioned before inner or hidden joy (hinting at Rosh Hashana, which actually occurs before Sukkot).
There is an open joy that precedes Rosh Hashana. Any time a mitzva is done, it is accompanied by joy. As well, there is joy that is generated by the anticipation of the mitzva. Thus, even before Rosh Hashana, the anticipation of all the things that cause the hidden joy, elicits an open joy.
Just as the first verse tells us about hidden joy, the last verse also tells us about something hidden. Looking at the exile, Isaiah says, "In all their troubles, He was troubled," meaning, that G-d is with us through all our difficulties, suffering, etc., albeit in a hidden way.
The Haftora ends, "and He bore them and He carried them all the days of yore." Meaning that during the exile G-d is not only with us, but He is also carrying us through it all.
For some reason, G-d puts us through so many difficulties, we all suffer in this exile. I choose to think that our suffering somehow accomplishes great things. When we think back at the hardships, we realize, that G-d was with us all the time, carrying us through it all.
Rosh Hashana is the head of the year. As the head controls the whole body, so does Rosh Hashana effect the whole year. If we approach Rosh Hashana with the knowledge that G-d is always with us, it will not only help us throughout the year, but when faced with challenges, we will allow G-d to take care of things. We will realize that G-d carries us through and we can rely on Him.
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.
High Holiday Inspiration
Dear Rabbi Bryski:
For the past several years you have been the thread that has kept me connected to Judaism. I wanted to share this story with you, if for no other reason than to let you know that your teachings reached inside me and lifted me up giving me the strength to deal with life's unexpected curve balls. My mother became very ill a few months ago and for a while it was touch and go. Here's my story:
Every year I look forward to listening to your sermons on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. I also look forward to getting a copy of Chabad's Conejo Jewish Academy course guide to see what you are teaching in the coming semester.
Over the years I've heard you tell many moving stories about how all of our lives are all connected and that events in life are not random but are part of a plan, G-d's plan, and that they happen for a reason.
The story that stands out the most is one that you've told several times as part of your High Holiday sermon and in your lecture series.
A woman had a dream that she was going to meet G-d the next day. She woke up in the morning and was so excited that she began getting ready for her big meeting. She gets interrupted three times by people knocking on her door in need of help. She turns them away because she is too busy to help them since she is getting ready for her meeting with G-d.
The day passes and there is no meeting. The woman dies that night. When she gets to heaven and meets G-d she asks, "I prepared all day for our meeting and You never showed, what happened?" G-d responds, "What are you talking about, I came to visit you three times and you ignored me each time. I guess you didn't recognize me."
A simple story with such a powerful message.
My mother has been in poor health for the past 10 years, a heavy smoker combined with a very profound distrust for doctors for most of her life.
Because of the distance between us (California to Florida) I don't get to see my parents very often. When a new job possibility popped up in Florida, I was eager to meet with the company.
My flight was booked for early Sunday morning. As soon as the wheels touched ground for my two-hour layover in Atlanta, I turned on my phone. Before I even had a chance to call my wife, I saw that there was a voice mail from her. It was still very early in California and my heart sank.
"Dad called. Mom is in the hospital, she collapsed and was rushed to the Emergency Room. He didn't give me any other details and said he would fill you in when you get to Florida."
I fell back into my seat, my heart was racing, the tears started to roll down my face. At that moment there were only two things that came to mind. The first was I needed help from Above and I stared up as the words of the Shema slowly rolled off my lips. The second thing that came to mind was that this trip wasn't just random, there was a reason for this trip, I was supposed to be in Florida at this time.
Seeing my Mom in the ICU was very difficult. She was semi comatose. She was hooked up to so many gadgets and gizmos. I wasn't sure if she recognized me or even knew if I was there, but I kept talking to her, hoping that she would come around. Finally, without hesitation, she slowly clasped her hands on her chest and said "I want to die."
My heart sank. I told her the doctors said she's not sick enough to die. The Guy upstairs isn't ready for you and your six grandchildren are expecting you to dance at their weddings.
For almost three weeks, I sat in a chair at her bedside where I would hold vigil every day with my Dad. If you listened closely you could hear me reciting the Shema over and over again asking for His help and guidance. The image of you on the Bima at the closing moments of Yom Kippur reciting the Shema with the congregation and then with your arm swinging around and around as you got the congregation to sing together and connect to the moment, gave me the strength and courage to believe help would come.
This grueling routine was taking its toll on my father. It was Friday, noon. My younger brother, my dad and I decided to go for lunch around the corner from the hospital. And that's when it happened.
As I was exiting the strip mall, I noticed an elderly man. I wondered how long he was standing out there in the sweltering heat. As I approached the exit the old man raised his hand waving at our car. I slowed down and opened the window to see what he wanted.
"Farshtaist Yiddish?" he asked.
I didn't understand Yiddish, so in his broken English he said that he had missed his bus, the next one wouldn't come for an hour and he asked if we could give him a lift to the hospital to see his wife.
He got in the car and he and my brother began talking. He said he didn't know how much longer he would have been able to stand out in the heat and thanked us for giving him a lift. His wife had been in the hospital for several weeks and he goes every day to visit her. "We've been married for almost 65 years," he said. "We are from Poland and I never missed a day being with my wife in all these years." My brother said "It's our pleasure to be able to help you, our mother is in the hospital too and we are going back to be with her, she's from Poland too..."
As I was listening to this conversation all I could see was you, Rabbi Bryski, on the Bima telling the story of the woman who was supposed to meet G-d and couldn't be bothered with the people that came to her for help. At that moment, I thought to myself, Can this be the angel sent to help? Has he really heard my cries for help?
I pulled up to the entrance of hospital to let the man off. We wished him well and a complete recovery for his wife. As he got out of the car he turned to us and said: "Thank you for the ride. It was a mitzva and don't worry, everything will be OK."
A chill ran through my body. Tears started rolling down my face. I couldn't believe what just happened.
A week later my mother was released from ICU to another facility where she spent four months in rehab. Then she came home. The doctors were amazed at her turnaround and how dramatic her recovery was. Take their amazement and multiply it by 1000 and you get the sense of how amazed my father, brothers and I were with her recovery.
That's my story. Again, thank you for being my thread. I want to wish you and your family a very Happy and Healthy Shana Tova. I am looking forward to seeing you again this year.
Rabbi Eliyahu and Shayna Sapochkinsky recently moved to the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York. The will be launching the Upper West Side's CTeen branch. CTeen offers fun and meaningful programs which harness the incredible potential of teenagers bringing purpose, self-discovery and giving back to their communities.
The iconic Chabad-Lubavitch Mitzva Tanks that can be seen in major cities around the world are present in the Former Soviet Union as well. These past few months, a number of Mitzva Tanks travelled to small Jewish communities throughout Russia and Ukraine, helping Jews do a mitzva on the spot and learn more about their heritage.
Days of Selichos, 5715 
On the eve of Rosh Hashanah I extend my prayerful wishes to my brethren, every Jew and Jewess in the midst of our people Israel, the time hallowed traditional blessing of "Shono toivo umesuko" - a good and sweet year.
The celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the year, has been ordained by our Torah to take place on the anniversary of the Creation, but not on the first day of Creation. It has been made to coincide with the sixth day of Creation, the day when Man was created.
The significance of this day, and of this event, is not in the fact that a new creature was added to Creation, a creature one plane higher than the rest of the animal kingdom, as the animal is superior to plant, and plant to mineral.
The significance lies in the fact that the new creature - Man - was essentially different from the others.
For it was Man who recognized the Creator in and through Creation, and, what is more, brought about the elevation of the entire Creation to that recognition and thus to the fulfillment of its Divine design and purpose.
Since such recognition and appreciation of the Creator is the ultimate purpose of the Creation.
One of the main distinguishing features which set Man apart from all other creatures is the free choice of action which the Creator bestowed upon him.
Man can use this special Divine gift in two opposing directions. He may, G-d forbid, choose the way leading to self-destruction and the destruction of everything around him; or, he can choose the right way of life, which would elevate him and the Creation with him to the highest possible perfection.
And to help us recognize and choose the right path, we were given the Torah, which is Divine and eternal, hence, its teachings are valid for all times and in all places.
It is not possible for man to make this choice unaided, merely by virtue of his intellect, for the human intellect is limited. The intellect can only serve to discover and bring forth that inner absolute intuition and faith in things which lie beyond and above the realm of the intellect; the faith and intuition which are the heritage of every Jew, therewith to illuminate his entire being and to guide him in his daily living to a life inspired by Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments].
On Rosh Hashanah man stands not only before the Divine Judgement, but also before his own.
The verdict of his own judgement, with regard to the future, must be: that he takes upon himself to fulfill his duty, that is, to work toward the fulfillment - in himself and in his surroundings - of the call:
"Come, let us worship, bow down, and kneel before G-d our Maker," a call for absolute submission to G-d was first sounded by the first man, Adam, on the day of his creation, on the first Rosh Hashanah.
This can be attained only through a life inspired and guided by the Torah.
And that he must once and for all abandon the opposite road, which can only lead to destruction and doom.
Let no one think: who am I and what am I to have such tremendous powers of building or destruction.
For we have seen - to our sorrow - what even a small quantity of matter can do in the way of destruction through the release of atomic energy. If such power is concealed in a small quantity of matter - for destructiveness, iin denial of the design and purpose of Creation, how much greater is the creative power entrusted to every individual to work in harmony with the Divine purpose, for in this case one is also given special abilities and opportunities by Divine Providence to attain the goal for which we have been created: the realization of a world in which
"Each creature shall recognize that Thou didst create him, and every breathing soul shall declare: 'G-d, the G-d of Israel, is King, and His reign is supreme over all.' "
With the blessing of Kesivo vachasimo toivo [written and sealed for good]
OVED means "servant." Oved was a son of Ruth and Boaz. He was the father of Jesse, who was the father of King David. (Ruth 4:17)
OFRA is a young mountain goat or young deer. In Chronicles (I 4:14) it is used as a masculine name although currently it is used as a feminine name.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
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"; "Jerusalem will dwell in open space"; 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"
The mitzva of the day of Rosh Hashana is to blow the shofar. There is no orchestra, just one instrument and even that is not a sophisticated one which produces wondrous musical compositions but a simple animal horn "and all sounds are kosher with the shofar." From here we learn that on Rosh Hashana our attention ought to be primarily on the individual, on the person himself, with an emphasis on bringing holiness and spirituality into even the simplest and most ordinary things of daily life.
The Baal Shem Tov would blow the shofar in the presence of his disciples. One time, he asked one of his great disciple to blow for the disciples while he blew for the simple people and children who cried out with the full intensity of their souls: "Our Father in heaven, please have mercy!" And this accomplished more than anything to nullify the strict judgments.
(Seifer HaSichot, 5705)
The main point of Rosh Hashana is to accept the yoke of the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, when not involved in praying, even great people of stature, one should be involved in saying Psalms, sleeping less, taking great care not to speak idly, like a servant occupied with the joy of welcoming his father whom he has not seen for an entire year.
(Igrot Kodesh Admur Rayatz)
From the Rosh Hashana Prayers
One year, after Rosh Hashana prayers, the Tzemach Tzedek said: In the prayers of the day we say, "If we are like children, have mercy as a father has mercy on his children, and if we are like slaves, then our eyes look up to You." The question is, it would have been more fitting to say the reverse - "if we are like children, then our eyes look up to You, and if we are like slaves, then have mercy?" Our Sages say "whoever acquires a Hebrew slave it's as though he acquired a master over himself," and therefore, "if we are like slaves" - we are all the more certain that "You will grant us grace."
Ashrei Ha'am - praise and thanks to G-d that all the Jewish people, with no difference between the Torah geniuses and those who are more simple - all know the (shofar's) trumpeting of war with the animal soul and they have an inner feel for the expressions of the G-dly soul. (Rabbi Shneur Zalman)
From Beis Moshiach Magazine
by Hirshel Tzig
This heartwarming story was told by Rabbi Baruch Rabinovitch of Munkacs, father of the present Munkacser Rebbe, about his late father-in-law, Rabbi Chaim Elazar Spira (1871-1937), known as the "Minchas Elazar."
For a period of time, Reb Baruch and his wife Frima lived in Warsaw. Later, when the Minchas Elazar became ill, he begged them to come back to Munkacs, in Czechoslovakia, which they did.
Rabbi Baruch had a son named Tzvi Nosson Dovid. Rabbi Baruch would often recall that his father-in-law loved this boy - the Minchas Elazar's dear grandchild - in an "exaggerated way," in part due to the fact that they had waited a long time to have that first child. Hershele, as the boy was called, was the first child of his beloved only daughter. The Minchas Elazar would play with and "spoil" the child, and Hershele would sit on his grandfather's lap at the Shabbat gatherings.
In the final year of his life, the Minchas Elazar took the shofar on the first day of the month of Elul and tested it to see whether it was in good condition. Hershele was in the room and was visibly excited by the shofar and its sounds.
He asked his zeide (grandfather) for one more blast, and his zeide gladly obliged. From then on, for the remainder of the month, this became a ritual; the Rebbe blowing the shofar once each day for little Hershele. On the day before Rosh Hashana, Hershele was there, awaiting his daily blast, but he was disappointed.
"Today is the day before Rosh Hashana," his grandfather explained. "Today we do not blow the shofar. Tomorrow morning, we will blow the shofar in the synagogue."
The child did not comprehend the reasons. He knew no reason. He kicked and screamed, "Just one blast! Just one blast!"
After a while, the grandfather softened at the sound of his favorite grandchild crying, and he took the shofar and blew one blast.
On Rosh Hashana, the custom in Munkacs was that the Rebbe spoke before blowing the shofar. That year, the Rebbe went up before the ark, opened it and said: "Master of the Universe, I have to repent. It's written that on the day before Rosh Hashana one mustn't blow shofar, yet I did."
He began to sob uncontrollably and called out: "Master of the Universe, do you know why I transgressed this custom? It was because my young grandchild lay on the floor begging and crying that I should only blow one blast of the shofar for him. My heart melted, I couldn't bear to watch him cry like that, so I blew once for him, though I shouldn't have.
"Tatte (Father), how can you stand by and see how millions of Your children are down on the floor, and crying out to You, 'Tatte, just one blast! "Sound the blast of the great shofar which will herald the final Redemption!"?' Even if the time is not right for it yet, even if the time for Moshiach has yet to arrive, Your children cry out to You: how can You stand by idly?!"
Rabbi Baruch cried as he recounted the story, and recalled how at that time the entire crowd cried along with the Rebbe. The sounding of the shofar was delayed, and for a long time. They could not regain their composure... loud wailing was heard throughout the synagogue.
Hirshel Tzig is the publisher of a popular Jewish blog. He lives with his family in New Hempstead, New York
The word shofar is connected with the phrase "Shipru Ma'aseichem, Beautify (and improve) your acts." The Talmud tells us that every command that G-d asks us to fulfill, He Himself fulfills as well. Therefore, we request of G-d that he also "improve" and "beautify" His works, the work of creation, in the ultimate and truest sense of the words - by sending our righteous Moshiach immediately.