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Maimonides, Principles of the Faith, No. 12
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We are pleased to present, to the visually impaired and the blind, our weekly publication, Living With Moshiach.
In this week's issue we focus on the Hebrew month of Elul. Rosh Chodesh Elul is celebrated on Saturday, Aug. 22, and Sunday, Aug. 23.
We take this opportunity to wish you and yours a K'Siva Vachasima Tova, a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.
This Jewish year, is the year 5758 since Creation. The Hebrew letters are Hei-Taf-Shin-Nun-Ches. Over a decade ago, in the year 5742, the Rebbe stated that the Hebrew letters for that year were an acronym for "This should be the year of the coming of Moshiach."
Since that time, the Rebbe has publicized a phrase describing the year according to the acronym of its Hebrew letters. This year has been designated by the Rebbe's followers as "Hoyo Tihei Shnas Niflaos Cheiruseinu" meaning "It surely will be a year of wondrous miracles liberating us (from the material and spiritual problems of our exile)."
It is our fervent hope that our learning about Moshiach and the Redemption will hasten the coming of Moshiach, NOW!
Rabbi Yosef Y. Shagalov,
Committee for the Blind
20 Menachem-Av, 5758
Brooklyn, New York
This Shabbat is the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, a particularly auspicious month that possesses a unique dimension. For during this month, G-d is especially close to us and we are granted an extraordinary capacity for teshuva--"return."
As every Torah portion has particular relevance for the time of year in which it is read, let us examine the connection between the month of Elul and the Torah portion, Re'eh, which we read this Shabbat.
Our portion begins with the words, "See! This day I give to you a blessing and a curse." Every word in this verse contains an allusion to the special nature of the service of the month of Elul, and the Divine assistance we are given to fulfill it.
"See!:" The first thing a Jew must do is to open his eyes. Our sense of sight affords a much more definitive verification of facts than does our sense of hearing; when a person sees something with his own eyes he cannot be dissuaded. A Jew's G-dly service must be performed with this same level of absolute confidence and conviction.
But how are we, mere human beings living in a physical world, supposed to attain this level? G-d provides the answer in the next word of the verse:
"I" ("Anochi"): The word Anochi relates to the Essence of G-d, an aspect of G-dliness that is higher than Names. The reason we are able to achieve these lofty spiritual heights is because the power to do so is derived from this highest of Sources. The Torah continues:
"Give:" G-d gives us this Divine assistance according to the principle of "He who gives, gives generously;" His gifts are bestowed willingly and in great abundance.
"To you" ("Lifneichem"): This word is related to the Hebrew word penimiyut, meaning "inside" and "within." The special boost we receive from G-d during Elul is not superficial, but involves the sum and substance of the Jew and enables him to connect with G-d on the deepest level.
"This day:" Lest anyone think that this Divine assistance is granted only once, the Torah tells us that G-d's help is ongoing, enabling us to serve G-d with renewed strength every day of the month.
And how are we to properly utilize this added dimension in our service?
"A blessing and a curse:" This refers to the observance of the Torah's positive commandments and the avoidance of its prohibitions.
Directing our added capacity for teshuva in these two directions will result in a good and sweet new year and a favorable inscription in the Book of Life.
The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of Lubavitch, issued a call that "The time of our Redemption has arrived!" and "Moshiach is on his way!"
The Rebbe stressed that he is saying this as a prophecy, and asks us all to prepare ourselves for the Redemption, through increasing acts of goodness and kindness.
Let us all heed the Rebbe's call.
...The general and essential nature of the resolution [to observe G-d's commandments] is: to order one's life, in every aspect of daily life, in accord with the purpose of man's creation. This purpose is, to quote the succinct formulation of our Sages: "I was created to serve my Master," and to serve Him with joy, as it is written, "Serve G-d with joy."
The nature and end-purpose of this service is: "to make an abode for G-d in the lowest world." This means, to conduct oneself in such a way that every detail in the surrounding world, and certainly every detail of the individual's personal life, becomes an "abode" for G-dliness. And this is achieved through the everyday observance of Torah and mitzvot which permeate every aspect of life.
All this is required of every Jew, man or woman, young or old, regardless of position and stature, as this is also indicated in the verse alluding to Rosh HaShanah: "You are standing firmly this day, all of you, before G-d your G-d: your heads... down to the drawer of your water." Every Jew, without exception, is required and expected to rise to the level of "standing before G-d, your G-d," regardless of how it was in the past year.
The question arises: How can one expect every Jew to attain such a level, and to attain it truly and with joy, considering that it has to do with an "abode in the lowest world," a world that is predominantly materialistic; a world in which Jews are--quantitatively--"the fewest among all the nations"; and, moreover, to expect it of the Jew when his indispensable physical requirements, such as eating, drinking, sleeping, making a living, etc., occupy the major part of his time and energy, leaving but little time for matters of spirit and holiness?
The explanation of it--in terms understandable to all--is to be found in the concept of bitachon, trust in G-d.
The concept of bitachon is the underlying theme of Psalm 27, which is recited throughout this month, the month of Elul, the month of preparation for the new year, and continued into the beginning of the new year, during the greater part of the month of Tishrei:
"A Psalm by David: G-d is my light and my help; whom shall I fear?" This trust in G-d, which King David expresses on behalf of every Jew, namely, complete confidence in G-d's help, embraces both the material and spiritual aspects of life, to the extent of attaining the highest level of Divine service, as is also evident from the subsequent verses of the above Psalm, down to the concluding verse: "Hope in G-d, be strong and let your heart take courage, yes, hope in G-d."
The idea of bitachon is to feel reassured and convinced that G-d will help overcome all difficulties in life, both material and spiritual, since "G-d is my light and my help." It is especially certain that everyone, man or woman, is able to carry out his or her mission in life, and do so with joy, reflecting on the extraordinary privilege of having been chosen by G-d to be His emissary on earth for the purpose of "making for Him an abode in the lowest world," and with the assurance of having G-d's light, help and fortitude to carry out this mission.
The joy of it is further increased by contemplating the nature of this help from G-d, which comes to him in a manner of "I turn to my loving G-d and my loving G-d turns to me"--the G-d Who loves me with infinite Divine love. And this love is bestowed particularly from Rosh Chodesh Elul through Yom Kippur, as explained by our Sages.
Hence, during this time, as well as throughout the coming year, this extraordinary Divine love must evoke in the heart of every Jew a boundless love for G-d, as the psalmist expresses it: "Whom have I in heaven? and on earth I desire nothing but You; my flesh and my heart languish for You, O G-d." Here, too, the love and trust in G-d are underscored in all aspects of life: "in heaven"--the spiritual, and "on earth"--the material.
Bitachon in G-d is, for every Jew, an inheritance from our Patriarchs, as is written, "In You our fathers trusted; they trusted--and You delivered them." It is deeply ingrained in the Jewish heart and soul; all that is necessary is to bring it to the surface so that it permeates all aspects of daily life.
In light of the rule enunciated by our Sages of blessed memory, that "By the measure that a person measures, it is measured to him," it follows that the stronger and more embracing one's bitachon, the greater, more evident, and more inclusive is the fulfillment of this truth, through the blessing that G-d bestows, materially and spiritually.
A Month of Mercy
In the generation of the Exodus from Egypt, Moses ascended Mount Sinai three times.
The first was to receive the Torah.
The second was to plead with G-d for His forgiveness, after the Jewish people sinned in worshipping the golden calf.
Then, on the first day of Elul--the month immediately preceding Tishrei--Moses ascended the mountain a third time, to invoke G-d's abundant mercy for our complete atonement.
He remained there for forty days, until Yom Kippur, when G-d cleansed us completely, as though we had never sinned.
Since then, these days are marked as a special period of Divine grace, during which our sincere prayers are sure to find favor in the eyes of G-d.
* The Shofar(1) is sounded every weekday morning, except on Shabbat, and the last day of Elul, Erev Rosh HaShanah.(2)
* Psalm 27 is added to the daily morning and afternoon prayers.
* It is customary to give additional charity each weekday.
* During the entire month of Elul we greet friends with the traditional blessings of, "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet year." It is customary to send friends and relatives New Year's greetings with blessings for the coming year.
* It is customary to have our mezuzot and tefillin checked to make sure they are still fit.
* To be more careful about keeping kosher.
* Beginning Saturday night, September 12, and on the following weekday mornings until the eve of Rosh HaShanah, Selichot(3) (special penitential prayers) are recited.
* Elul is an appropriate time to reflect on our actions and attitudes of the previous year, and resolve to correct our shortcomings. We increase our good deeds and try to be more meticulous in our observance of those mitzvot that we already perform.
* * *
Why do we do all of this in the month of Elul? Can't it wait until we're closer to Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur--most of us "work" better under pressure anyway!
These questions can be explained by a beautiful parable given by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch:
Once each year, a very mighty king leaves his palace, his guards, his finery, and goes out into the field to meet with his subjects. At that time, they can ask of him anything they wish. They do not need to wait in long lines, go through security checks, be announced ceremoniously. They can speak with him without hesitation. When the king returns to his palace, his subjects will once again have to go through all kinds of protocol to meet with him. So, of course, his subjects make the most of the opportunity.
During the month of Elul, G-d is "in the field." We don't need to go through all kinds of red tape to reach Him. We need only to come out to meet Him, as it were, with a humble heart, and He will listen to us. He will accept our repentance and consider our requests most carefully.
The King will soon be in the field. Make sure not to miss this opportunity.
1. Maimonides explains that the shofar is blown as the means of stirring the Jew to repentance. He says the call of the shofar is: "Awaken, you sleepers, from sleep, you slumberers from slumber; search your actions and return in penitence."
2. To differentiate between the shofar sounding of Elul, which is custom and that of Rosh HaShanah, which is prescribed by the Torah.
3. The Sephardic custom is to recite them during the entire month of Elul. According to the Ashkenazic custom, they are recited beginning on the Saturday preceding Rosh HaShanah after midnight and thereafter each morning until Rosh HaShanah.
The Rebbe's slogan is: "The main thing is the deed." We therefore present from the Rebbe's talks suggestions what we can do to complete his work of bringing the Redemption.
This Shabbat is the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul. Our spiritual workout for the month of Elul involves stocktaking and personal evaluation. Part of this stocktaking, in which we review our conduct in the previous year--includes the realization that we should appreciate Torah and mitzvot, "not as an obligation which we must fulfill, but as an expression of a loving relationship with G-d."
Jewish Women and Girls Light Shabbat Candles
For local candle lighting times:
consult your local Rabbi, Chabad-Lubavitch Center, or call: (718) 774-3000.
For a free candle lighting kit:
contact your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
For a listing of the Centers in your area:
In the USA, call: 1-800-Lubavitch (1-800-582-2848).
Friday, August 21, Erev Shabbat Parshat Re'eh:
Saturday, August 22, Shabbat Parshat Re'eh:
4. The Shabbat candles must be lit 18 minutes before sunset. It is prohibited and is a desecration of the Shabbat to light the candles after sunset.
Laws of Shabbat Candle Lighting for the Blind
Shabbat Candle Lighting Blessing
"Let There Be Light" - The Jewish Women's Guide to Lighting Shabbat Candles.
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