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Devarim Deutronomy

October 6, 2000 - 7 Tishrei, 5761

639: Ha'Azinu

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  638: Rosh Hashana640: Succos  

The Three Rs of Judaism  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Rambam this week  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

The Three Rs of Judaism

"If your sins are as scarlet threads may they be whitened as snow" we read on Yom Kippur in the selection from the Book of Prophets known as the Haftorah.

Whether they are scarlet sins, teal transgressions, magenta misdeeds, violet vices, indigo inadequacies, or orange offences, through the three "R's' - regret, rectification, and resolve for the future - they can be whitened. For white is the absence of all color and when we sincerely practice the three R's every trace of color of our previous failings is removed.

White - May our sins that come from having our heads too much into the mire and muck and mud of the brown earth turn white, like airy clouds.

White - May our transgressions that have come from letting our red blood boil in outrage, anger, hostility, animosity and resentment turn white as fresh milk.

White - May our ink-blue sins be blotted out, deleted, removed in such a way that they look not like a paper that was written on and erased but that they look like a new, fresh, clean white paper.

White - May our sins that are like dense, black coal and come from a density of spirit and mind and emotion become white like cotton.

The Jewish approach to the three R's (regret, rectification and resolve for the future) is unique. The verb describing what one who has transgressed must do to atone is "teshuva-return." A Jew must return to his Source, to the origin of his pure soul - the spark of G-dliness within. He must return to his previously colorless state, return to the teachings of the Torah and the fulfillment of mitzvot that his soul intrinsically craves.

Jewish teachings explain that in the place where a baal teshuva -one who returns - stands, even a perfectly righteous person cannot stand. For, when one sincerely and fully returns, all of his previous misdeeds are transformed into merits; one extracts the color from the misdeed and it becomes pure white.

How does one learn the details and nuances of how to return? A story is told of a Jew who came to his rabbi, sobbing bitterly: "Rabbi, I have sinned. I have transgressed. Please, teach me how to do teshuva, how to return."

Queried the rabbi, "Who taught you how to sin?"

"No one taught me. I just saw an opportunity, seized the moment, and sinned."

"And that is how you should return," explained the rabbi. "Just do it."

We all have our own ways and methods for achieving whatever goals we set for ourselves in life. Let us apply these honed skills during this season of "return" to practice the three R's of Judaism and return for good.

Living with the Rebbe

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is a day that is entirely dedicated to returning to G-d in teshuva (repentance). Among the many mitzvot involved in teshuva is the act of confession, as the Torah states, "You shall confess your sin." Indeed, this is the basis for the "Al Cheit" ("For the Sin of...") confessional recited on Yom Kippur, which enumerates the various sins a person may have committed.

In the Jerusalem Talmud, the question of whether or not this generalized confession is sufficient is debated. Rabbi Yehuda Ben Betaira maintains that in addition to reciting "Al Cheit," a detailed admission of personal sins is required. Rabbi Akiva, by contrast, opines that "It is not necessary to go into detail about one's deeds."

But what exactly is the crux of their argument? As the Tosefot explains, Rabbi Yehuda's insistence on a detailed account is for the purpose of arousing a deeper sense of remorse. The more a person is ashamed of his misdeeds, the deeper his repentance will be. Rabbi Akiva, however, takes the human factor into consideration, and asserts that if a person's individualized confession is overheard by others, "he might be suspected of other sins as well." In other words, the way people think about him might be negatively affected.

In essence, the argument revolves around where the emphasis should be placed: on the present, or on the future. When the present is emphasized - the fact that today is Yom Kippur - it is preferable to enumerate one's sins in order to achieve a higher level of teshuva. When the stress is on the future, the determining factor is to avoid any possible negative repercussions.

On a deeper level, there is another basis for their disagreement. Rabbi Yehuda views the individual in his present state, as one who is just beginning to do teshuva and draw closer to G-d. There are two basic motivations for doing teshuva: an initial stage, in which a person repents out of a sense of fear, and a higher level, on which the motivation is love for G-d. When a person enumerates his every little sin, it produces in him a stronger feeling of fear and awe of G-d.

Rabbi Akiva, however, looks at the larger picture, and anticipates that the person will eventually reach the higher level. In fact, his entire approach is to always perceive the hidden good in everything. When a person repents out of love for G-d, it makes no difference whether the sin is great or small; for he knows that every sin creates a distance between himself and G-d, and he will avoid committing even the smallest transgression.

Adapted from Volume 24 of Likutei Sichot

A Slice of Life

Happy to be a Jew
By Tzvi Jacobs

In 1960, I was six-years-old and starting first grade at the Charleston Hebrew Institute in South Carolina. I was the first in my family to try the Hebrew Institute. The day school was a new thing in Charleston and no one was sure how this experiment would affect their children's ability to adapt to a secular world.

One of my fondest memories centers around an almost daily custom that our carpooling moms observed. After picking us up in the afternoon they would rendezvous at the new non-kosher fast-food Hardee's. If you were "more kosher" you would have only milkshakes and french fries. If you were not so strict, 10 cent hamburgers or, if you didn't care at all, the 15 cent cheeseburger.

Some fathers had a different approach. I recall a father who came to pick up our carpool. "Take that off your head and put it away," he said, referring to his son's yarmulke. My parents, though, did not mind if we wanted to "look" Jewish even outside of school.

Most parents feared that their children would get too religious, but that fear was unfounded. No one in this cultured Southern city in the 60s felt so comfortable or brave about his Judaism.

As a child, I felt secure and happy to be in the Hebrew day school. It was like spending the day with your extended family. By the time I reached 3rd or 4th grade, about 9 of the original 15 boys and girls remained in my class (truly remarkable for such a small Jewish community).

By day, I lived the typical life of a suburban child of the 60s - school and then afternoons spent playing sports in Hymie Bielsky's front yard with the other Jewish kids in the neighborhood.

By night I would, like clockwork, wake up wheezing at 2 a.m., take my asthma medicine, and fix myself a cup of hot tea. While sipping my tea, I fell into the habit of reviewing my homework and studying the explanations of Rashi on Chumash (the Bible). For some inexplicable reason, the nocturnal study of Rashi seemed to soothe my irritated lungs. I developed a pleasure delving into Rashi and grasping the answers to his hidden questions. In the morning I would awaken and take my morning asthma tablet and my dark-circled eyes would shine in Chumash class when called upon to give over Rashi's explanations to the seeming contradictions in the Torah.

One of the clearest recollections etched into my memory was a conversation that I overheard in the school's corridor. "But you're supposed to ENJOY Judaism!" Rabbi Katz said to a fellow teacher. He said it with such pride and vigor. "Enjoy Judaism?" The words shocked me. It was such a novelty to me. Judaism was something that you had to do or had to deal with, like asthma.

This was not such a big conflict until I was a teenager attending public school. Because my parents belonged to the Orthodox shul which my father's great grandfather founded, I had to wake up early Saturday morning and go to shul. I resented that I could not stay out as late as my other friends when I went with them to the pizza shop on Friday night.

Around the same time, a new teacher, Rabbi Jack Anton, was influencing my younger brother Charles who, in turn, prevailed upon the rest of the family, to observe Shabbat. However, it was too late to catch up with me. On Friday nights and Saturdays, I was able to run out with my friends to football games or parties at the beach. Rashi became a long-forgotten friend.

After my third year of college, at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, I approached my faculty advisor.

"I want to take a sabbatical," I told Professor Henrietta Croom.


In those days, breaking up the four years of college was a novel idea and had to be sold.

"I see you want to find yourself," Dr. Croom said.

"Find myself? I know who I am. I just want a year off to be free for a while."

I worked the summer of 1976 and saved next to nothing. I was itching to go west to the woods of British Columbia, the place of my high school dreams. My mother convinced me to wait until after Rosh Hashana. My college friend from Ethiopia, Bezuwouk, and I drove across the Southern states. One afternoon, passing through Albuquerque, New Mexico, I stopped at a pay phone, opened the yellow pages, and searched for the number of a synagogue.

"Hi, when is Yom Kippur?" I asked.

"This evening. Services begin at 7 pm."

"My friend and I are passing through town."

"You're welcome to attend. Seats are $200 for Kol Nidre, $300 for the morning service and yizkor [memorial service], or $400 for the entire Yom Kippur."

"Thanks, that's okay," I said, and lay to rest the receiver on its hook.

"They want 400 bucks to sit in their temple," I said to Bezu. "Come, let's hit the road."

It was just the excuse I needed to free myself of the guilt and drop the heavy yoke. I had never skipped Yom Kippur before in my life...

Five years later, after riding the roller coaster of "freedom," I found myself in Rabbi Avrohom Lipskier's class at the Lubavitcher yeshiva in Morristown, New Jersey, studying the book of Tanya and beginning to understand the Jewish soul. For four weeks in the month of August, I tasted the wisdom of Torah and the joy of Judaism. In September, I returned to Columbia, South Carolina, with an English cap hiding my yarmulke and tzitzit tucked into my pants. I couldn't wait to finish graduate school and return to yeshiva the following year.

I completed my year on the campus of University of South Carolina and returned to yeshiva. Rabbi Lipskier saved me a bed and I finally had a Sabbatical - Shabbat and all - and not just happen to be a Jew, but happy to be a Jew!

Tzvi Jacobs is a clinical research scientist and the author of From the Heavens to the Heart

What's New


Helping an Israeli police officer shake the lulav

During the Sukkot holiday, Chabad-Lubavitch Chasidim will be out on the streets helping men, women and children fulfill the mitzva of reciting the blessing on the lulav (palm) and etrog (citron). But you don't have to wait until you're approached by a chasid. Be pro-active; drop in at your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center or call them to find out where you can purchase your own lulav and etrog!

The Rebbe Writes

Translated and adapted from a letter of the Rebbe

6th of Tishrei, 5733 [1973]
Greeting and Blessing:

This year's Rosh Hashana ushered in a Shemitta Year. Since Rosh Hashana is the "head" of the year, this added dimension, too, must assert itself in each and all the days of the current year.

The Shemitta Year is known as the "Sabbath" or "Sabbatical Year" of the seven-year cycle. Insofar as work, in particular, is concerned, what Shabbos is in relation to the other days of the week in terms of cessation from work and sanctified rest, the Shemitta year is in relation to the other years, with this difference: On Shabbos all work is prohibited, whereas in the Shemitta year only agricultural work is prohibited, as the Torah declares: "The land shall rest a Shabbos unto G-d... you shall not plant your field, and you shall not prune your orchard."

Although the lessons we learn from the Seventh Day and from the Seventh Year are similar in many respects, there is a difference in the main concept which they stress:

Shabbos emphasizes mainly that G-d is the Creator of the world ("For in six days G-d made the heaven and the earth"); the Shemitta Year accentuates mainly the fact that G-d is the Master of the world, now as at all times. Man must attest by his actions that he "Owns nothing; but that everything is in the possession of the Master of all."

In the Seventh Year the land owner renounces his ownership to these properties, in fulfillment of the Torah injunction: "The (spontaneous produce of the) resting of the land shall be your food (alike with) your servant and your maid," etc. Commenting on this verse, Rashi explains: "G-d says I have not excluded these from your use or food, rather that you should not act as their proprietor, but everyone shall have equal right to them."

In other words: The Shemitta year emphasizes that although the Creator has given the earth to man, for food and use, he must remember that the real and permanent proprietor is G-d, as it is written, "The earth and everything therein belongs to G-d..." In order to emphasize and reinforce this awareness at all times, so that it be actualized and implemented into the daily life, G-d set aside the Seventh Year as a Shabbos-like year, when all work of the land ceases, during which period the proprietor no longer claims possession of these properties, but is on par with his servant, maid, etc. This is how a Jew attests to the fact that the true Master of the world is G-d.

The concept that G-d is the Master of the world with all that is in it, is an idea which a Jew espouses every day of the year and expresses it in actual fact by making a blessing over everything which he uses for "food and use" (to quote Rashi), thereby declaring that G-d is King of the Universe, Creator of everything, etc. However, in the year of Shemitta this concept is accentuated with the utmost emphasis, as mentioned above.

And this is one of the most edifying instructions of this year's Rosh Hashana: It is not enough to acknowledge that the Supreme Being is the Creator of the universe; it behooves us to remember also what logically follows from this acknowledgment, namely that the Supreme Being is also, and at all times, the Master of the world; and the constant awareness of it must be ex-pressed in terms of the daily conduct throughout the year.

And although the laws of the Seventh Year do not apply outside of the land of Israel, its spiritual content and instruction are applicable everywhere.

The concept that the Supreme Being is the permanent Master of the world with all that is in it, as this concept is expressed during the Seventh Year, finds a most conspicuous practical application in the matter of tzedaka, which requires of every Jew to give away part of his hard-earned money to a poor man who did not toil for it, and to a Torah institution or other institution which cares for the needs of the needy. Comes the Seventh Year and teaches a special concept in giving tzedaka: a) A person does not give away his own, but only that which G-d has temporarily entrusted to him as His agent to the poor; b) Through sharing his possessions with others, a person justifies that which he keeps for himself.

Needless to say, tzedaka is not limited to money, but includes "money, body and soul," spiritual tzedaka, which obligates every Jew to help another Jew who is "poor" in "Torah and mitzvos." However much a person values his time and efforts to use them for his own Torah edification and the practice of mitzvos, he is told that he must not consider himself the exclusive proprietor, but must devote of his time and efforts to disseminate Torah and mitzvos among those who are "poor and needy" in these matters.

This is also one of the major aspects and resolutions of Yom Kippur, characterized by teshuva, prayer and tzedaka, as is also emphasized in the Haftorah of the day: "This is the fast I choose... share your bread with the hungry... when you see a naked person, clothe him," etc. Our Sages explain that in addition to the plain sense of these words, they also mean spiritual tzedaka: To feed the "hungry" person who is starving for spiritual sustenance, namely Torah, and bedeck with mitzvos the one who is "naked" of mitzvos.

Then there is the Divine Promise: Asser t'asser, as explained by our Sages, that through giving tithes and tzedaka, a person will not only not reduce that which he has, but, on the contrary, it will be greatly increased, to the degree of riches. And although the mitzvos in general (including tzedaka) must be fulfilled not for the sake of the reward, but because G-d, the Creator and Master of the world, commanded them, nevertheless G-d has given the assurance of a generous reward, materially and spiritually.

With the blessing of Chasimo u'Gmar Chasimo Tovo

Rambam this week

8 Tishrei 5761

Positive mitzva 240: damage caused by an animal

By this injunction we are commanded concerning the law of the beast that destroys crops. (This includes damage inflicted either by trampling or by the mouth and teeth of the animal.) It is derived from the words (Ex. 22:4): "If a man causes a field or vineyard to be eaten, etc."

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

Yom Kippur is the only day of the year with five prayer services. On a regular weekday we pray Shacharit in the morning, Mincha in the afternoon, and Maariv at night. On Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and Yom Tov, the Mussaf (additional) prayer is added. Ne'ila, however, is said only on Yom Kippur.

According to Chasidut, these five prayer services correspond to the five levels of the Jewish soul: "nefesh," "ruach," "neshama," "chaya" and "yechida."

In simplified terms:

The lowest level, "nefesh," animates the body, enabling the Jew to keep Torah and mitzvot.

"Ruach" is associated with the emotions, and allows the Jew to experience love and awe of G-d.

"Neshama" relates to the soul's intellectual powers. It enables us to understand G-d's greatness, which results in a longing and desire to cleave to Him.

These three levels are the "visible" (and therefore limited in expression) aspects of the soul. However, the Jewish soul transcends the limitations of both intellect and emotion. The higher levels of "chaya" and "yechida" are associated with the soul's super-intellectual qualities, which are limitless and infinite. "Chaya" relates to the "pull" a Jew feels from Above, an attraction to the Infinite that cannot be explained rationally.

The highest level of "yechida" is identified with the soul's essence. Because it is so sublime, it cannot be perceived by the senses.

The aspect of "yechida" is so-called as it is completely united with G-d, Who is termed "Yachid," meaning singular and alone. Immutable and unchanging, the level of "yechida" exists above all external influences, and cannot be damaged or affected by sin. A Jew's "yechida" is always bound to G-d, regardless of his actions.

In general, the level of "yechida" is rarely manifested, bursting forth only when a Jew's essential connection to G-d is threatened (such as when a Jew is asked to deny his Jewishness). Indeed, it is this aspect of the soul that explains why a Jew is willing to give up his life for the sake of heaven.

On Yom Kippur, however, the "yechida" is openly revealed, particularly during the Ne'ila service. In fact, when the Jew proclaims, "Hear O Israel" and "G-d is the L-rd" at the conclusion of the service, this highest level of his soul is revealed and illuminates.

Thoughts that Count

I will heap evils upon them; I will spend my arrows upon them (Deut. 32:23)

Comments Rashi, "My arrows will be spent, but they [the Jewish people] will not be spent." All the nations who have oppressed the Jews throughout the ages will eventually be punished with extinction, but the Jewish people will exist forever, despite the persecutions against them.

(Torat Moshe)

You shall afflict your souls [i.e., fast] on the ninth day of the month at evening

A question is asked in the Talmud (Yoma 81b): "Why does the Torah state 'on the ninth day,' when we actually fast on the tenth of the month, on Yom Kippur? To teach that a person who eats and drinks on the ninth [in preparation for the fast] is considered to have fasted on both the ninth and the tenth." And why is eating on the day before Yom Kippur deemed so important? For, eating for the sake of heaven is far more difficult than fasting for the sake of heaven.


G-d's infinite capacity for forgiveness

The dynamics of forgiveness between human beings are different from the dynamics of forgiveness between man and G-d. When a human being wrongs another person and apologizes, the wronged party will find it difficult to forgive him if he goes and does the exact same thing again; a third or fourth time. But this is not the case with G-d. Because His forgiveness is derived from the Divine attribute of mercy, which is endless and infinite, there is no difference between a first and thousandth offense, provided our repentance is sincere.


Teshuva (repentance)

The Hebrew word "teshuva" is an acronym for five Torah verses that express the fundamental principles of Divine service: 1) "You shall be perfect (tamim) with the L-rd your G-d"; 2) "I have set the L-rd (shiviti) always before me"; 3) "And you shall love (ve'ahavta) your fellow as yourself"; 4) "In all (bechol) your ways shall you know Him"; and 5) "Walk humbly (hatznei'a) with your G-d."

(Hayom Yom)

It Once Happened

The handful of Jews who had gathered in the shul for Yom Kippur was surprised by the newcomer. Who was this distinguished-looking guest reciting Psalms with such intensity? What was he doing in their little village on the holiest day of the year? But aside from being curious they were also very happy, as it meant that this year they might have a minyan (quorum) with which to pray.

Unfortunately, when the last latecomer had straggled in, their number still stood at nine. When the stranger, who was none other than the tzadik (righteous person) Reb Leib Sarah's, asked if anyone was still missing, he was told that there were no other Jews living in the vicinity. "There are only eight of us here," the local Jews informed him. "Only rarely are we lucky enough to have visitors."

But Reb Leib Sarah's wasn't concerned. He knew there was a reason G-d had led him to this particular town for Yom Kippur. Surely, the sudden rainstorm that had forced him to seek shelter in this rather forlorn location was only another example of Divine Providence.

"Is there no other Jew who for some reason hasn't come to shul?" he pressed them. No, they insisted, they were the only Jews for miles around.

The tzadik's brow furrowed in thought. "But maybe there is a Jew who has renounced his faith?" he inquired.

"Well, yes, there is someone..." one of the men offered with a bitter smile. "Our poritz (landowner) was actually born a Jew and converted. But he lashes out at anyone who dares to remind him."

Reb Leib Sarah's face lit up. "And where does the poritz live?" he asked, causing the local Jews to become alarmed. No one wanted to answer, but the stranger was so insistent that they found themselves revealing the information. "In the big mansion on the hill..." Their nervousness only increased when the stranger declared his intention to fetch him.

When the poritz's servant informed him that a Jew insisted on speaking with him, he became incensed. Filled with indignation he strode to the door, intending to put the Jew in his place. But as soon as he saw the tzadik he froze. Against his will, the poritz was awed in the presence of holiness.

"They call me Leib Sarah's," the tzadik began. "I had the merit of knowing the Baal Shem Tov, whom many of your fellow landowners have come to respect. Tonight is Yom Kippur, and we need a tenth person for a minyan. You are a Jew. A Jew you were born and a Jew you will die. I am asking you to accompany me so we can pray together."

The poritz felt as if nailed to the floor. The tzadik continued:

"Many years ago, when my saintly mother was a young woman, the son of the local poritz asked for her hand in marriage. He offered her wealth and social standing, but she was repulsed by the very idea, and married an old Jewish man just to escape his unrelenting pleas. You, however, did not withstand this same trial, and succumbed to the lure of money and honor. Tonight, however, is Yom Kippur, when G-d forgives us for all our sins. I ask you to please come with me..." With that, Rebbe Leib Sarah's turned and started walking away.

When the door to the synagogue opened and the strange pair entered, the others almost stopped breathing. Rebbe Leib Sarah's walked over to the holy ark and removed two Torah scrolls. One was given to the eldest Jew among them, and the other was given to the poritz. The Kol Nidrei prayer could now begin.

"In the presence of G-d and in the presence of the congregation," Rebbe Leib Sarah's began to intone to the traditional melody, "we pray together as transgressors..." A choked cry escaped from under the poritz's tallit. At the second repetition of these words his cries intensified. By the third repetition, the poritz's weeping was so pitiful as to melt even a heart of stone. Everyone wept along with him.

Throughout the day of Yom Kippur the poritz remained in a corner, completely covered by his tallit so that even his eyes were hidden. His body trembled, and every now and then a deep sigh escaped his lips.

As the day drew to a close and the tzadik began the Ne'ila service, the poritz still hadn't moved. But when the congregation recited "Shema Yisrael" ("Hear O Israel"), the poritz suddenly jumped up and stood in front of the open ark. Clutching the Torah scrolls to his chest he exclaimed in a voice that pierced the heavens, "Hear O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One!"

The poritz then pulled himself up to his full height and cried out, "G-d is the L-rd!" With each repetition his voice grew even stronger, till the seventh time, when the sum total of his being was poured into the declaration. The poritz then collapsed on the floor, his life-force utterly spent.

For the rest of his life Reb Leib Sarah's recited Kaddish each Yom Kippur for the soul of the poritz, who expired after achieving complete repentance.

Moshiach Matters

At the conclusion of the meal before the Yom Kippur fast, the "Grace after Meals" should be recited, preceded by Psalm 126. This Psalm is said with fervent intention, in the recognition of the fact that we have not been redeemed, and Zion's captivity has not yet ended. Likewise should all of the Grace after Meals be said with fervent concentration, for it contains intense pleas in behalf of Jerusalem; the rebuilding of the Sanctuary; a good life and sustenance, and the coming of the Moshaich. (Book of Our Heritage, by Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov)

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