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How many college students can fit into a smart car? How many absolute essentials can a woman place in her evening bag? How many items can a man stuff into his suit pocket and still have the jacket lay properly? How many grapes can a youngster pack into his mouth before they come tumbling out?
Squeezing into an elevator when it's already full; sand patted down by a child in a pail, and patted down yet again to make room for more; a suitcase so packed that you have to sit on it to close it; just one more bite, we promise ourselves as we dig once again into the chocolate mud cake, though we're already stuffed to the gills.
People seem to be obsessed with cramming as many things as possible into a minimal amount of space. From closet organizers to space compressible bags, we want to make full use of space, both tangible and intangible.
There are times in the Jewish calendar when we are given a specific amount of "spiritual space" and encouraged to fill it up.
The month of Elul in which we currently find ourselves is just such a time. Elul is the round-up time for the previous year. It is the "inventory" season, "year-end accounting" time and the moment when each person writes and reads to himself his own "State of the Union" address.
In addition to Elul being a once-over concerning the past, it is a focus on the future, an opportunity to plan ahead armed with the wisdom gained from experience. Elul gives us the chance to concentrate on how we will do things differently in the upcoming year.
But there is a third aspect to Elul, as well. While we're remembering the past and considering the future, we are still living in the present. And in this present, Jewish teachings invite us to use the entire month of Elul to fill up our spiritual space with as many mitzvot (commandments) as we can. We are encouraged to add more mitzvot to our repertoire of mitzvot and to enhance the manner in which we are already perform various mitzvot.
In Elul, we are urged specifically to give extra charity; to spend more time connecting with G-d through prayer; to have our mezuzot and tefilin checked by an expert scribe (and to put mezuzot on those doorways which might yet need them); to observe the laws of kashrut more carefully; to bless our friends, neighbors and relatives with a good, sweet year.
Using the spiritual space we're given during Elul to its fullest capacity can only be to our benefit for the coming year. May it be a sweet, happy, healthy and Redemptive one for us all!
This week's Torah portion, Shoftim, begins with Moses' instructions to the Jewish people to appoint judges and law enforcement officials. "Justice, justice shall you pursue," he commands them. Justice must be pursued without corruption or favoritism.
Shoftim also includes the commandment to appoint a king and the laws governing the behavior of a king, as well as the cities of refuge, the rules of war, and the laws of how to deal with a murder when the perpetrator is unknown.
Regarding the laws of kings, one of the laws a king must follow is that he have two copies of the Torah scroll made for him. One to be placed in his treasury, and the other should accompany him constantly "and he shall read it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear Hashem his G-d, to keep all the words of this Torah..."
Isn't one Torah enough, why did a king need two? What point is there in having one Torah kept in his treasury?
To be a king means to wield great power. Whereas every Jew is obligated to write a Torah, a king must write two. This act is an extra measure and different from other laws pertaining to kings, as it doesn't make sense. The king goes through this experience mearly for its humbling effect. This Torah is put in his treasury or lit. Beis gnazav, his hidden place, a place the king goes to when important decisions need to made. Going to war, taxes, major projects, etc. Seeing his Torah there (and possibly the Torahs of the kings before him) is a strong reminder, that while the great power to make these decisions are in his hands, he should be humbled and bend to Hashem's will when making them.
We are all consider kings and queens, as Hashem empowers us to make decisions that effect our "kingdoms" big or small. Yourself, your family, your wealth, your treatment of others, etc. You May be learning from the outside Torah, yet you must write it in the deepest recesses of your being. So that when making important decisions you will bend to Hashem's will.
Royalty fails in arrogance and succeeds in humility. A Jew is royalty, in dress, in speech, in thoughts and action.
Now in month of Elul, the King of kings, is open to all of us. Get close to Hashem now, go out to greet Him. He, in turn, will grant you a happy and sweet New Year.
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.
A Mosaic of Artistry and Chasidism
by Moshe Shlomo
While still a youngster, Michoel Muchnik began painting as a hobby. The hobby made significant progress when, at age 17, he began getting more involved in the world of art. Born in Philadelphia in 1952, Muchnik received his artistic training at the Rhode Island School of Design. To his disappointment, after several years he did not find his place in the art world and wasn't all that pleased with his creations.
Michoel decided to put down his paintbrush and pick up his satchel. He travelled together with a friend, Meir Abehsera, and became interested in Judaism in general and Chabad Chasidic teachings in particular.
Michoel spent a number of years studying full time at the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, New Jersey. He acclimated well and especially enjoyed the connection he forged with one of the mentors in the yeshiva, Rabbi Avrohom Lipsker.
Before returning to his art, Michoel decided to ask the Rebbe. The Rebbe agreed with his decision on the condition that it would not disturb his studies in yeshiva. "Today," says Michoel, "after years of learning Chasidut, and connecting to the depth of the world of Kabbala, my art takes on a whole new meaning. The work today is far more elevated. Every painting contains a hidden message; nothing is done without a reason. Even the colors I choose have a reason."
Michoel had his first private audience with the Rebbe when he was 21. Michoel had completed his yeshiva studies and now wanted to go into art full-time. He brought some of his artwork with him to the private audience. The Rebbe took an interest in various details and even told Michoel to start publicizing his art in and beyond the Jewish world.
During the audience, the Rebbe asked that Michoel leave the paintings with him and Michoel readily agreed. The Rebbe then asked, "Are these original paintings?" When Michoel said "yes," the Rebbe said he could not take the originals but asked him to photograph them and send them through the secretaries. Michoel understood how much the Rebbe cared about the work of artists.
Chasidic teachings are usually the inspiration for Michoel's art. "As the Chasidic aphorism goes, from whatever I see and hear I try to learn a lesson; what does it say to me as a Chasid, and then, as an artist. This usually generates ideas for my work."
"In 1981, I sent the Rebbe a painting of a Jewish shtetl (village) in which I depicted the old Jewish way of life. I got detailed feedback from the Rebbe. For example, I drew all sorts of enterprises in the town and the Rebbe wanted me to add a facility for the manufacture of Shabbat and holiday candles.
"In the painting, there were buildings designated as charitable institutions. I drew them on the left side. The synagogue I painted on the right. The Rebbe pointed out that based on what is explained in Chasidut and Kabbala, it should be the other way around. Prayer, which mostly corresponds to gevura (strength, mystically associated with the left side), should be on the left, and those things associated with chesed (kindness, mystically associated with the right side) should be on the right. The Rebbe added that the world stands on three things, the pillar on the right is acts of kindness, the pillar on the left is prayer, and the pillar in the center is for Torah study. Based on this, something having to do with Torah study should go in the center. Since then, when I use the three pillars, they are always in this order."
What motivates and inspires Michoel? A letter that the Rebbe wrote to Jacques Lipchitz: "Those who have been Divinely gifted in art, whether sculpture or painting and the like, have the privilege of being able to convert an inanimate thing, such as a brush, paint and canvas, or wood and stone, etc., into living form. In a deeper sense, it is the ability to transform to a certain extent the material into spiritual, even where the creation is in still life, and certainly where the artistic work has to do with living creatures and humans. How much more so if the art medium is used to advance ideas, especially Torah and Mitzvoth, which would raise the artistic skill to its highest level."
The Rebbe went on to say that by artists showing the beauty of Torah and mitzvot, they have the ability to influence the Jewish people and draw them closer to their Father in heaven.
For Michoel, art is his form of expression; the way he chooses to express his feelings, feelings that sometimes are difficult to express verbally. Michoel says, "Art is something within you and you bring it out to those around you. The Rebbe once said to a painter who brought the Rebbe a gift of a painting he drew, that he was giving a part of his soul to the Rebbe. Indeed, art comes from a deep place in the soul. When you convey this to others, you are giving them a part of your soul."
Adapted from Beis Moshiach Magazine. See more of Mr. Muchnik's work at Muchnikarts.com
Rabbi Bentzion and Chaya Shemtov are opening a new Chabad Center in Sierra Vista, Arizona. Located in southern Arizona about 60 miles from Tucson, Sierra Vista will be the fifth city in Arizona to be graced with a permanent Chabad presence.
The Chabad Centre for Jewish Life and Learning on Vancouver Island, Canada, opened recently. The 10,000-square-foot building includes a synagogue, Hebrew school, library, kosher kitchen and daycare. It's the first new building dedicated to Jewish life to open on Vancouver Island in more than 150 years.
The city government of Bobruisk, Belarus, awarded the Jewish community a plot of land in the city center. The Jewish Community will create an interactive "open museum" on the land. In the 1800s and early 1900s, Bobruisk was the "Jewish capital" of Belarus. In addition to the museum, the space will also be used for Jewish events, activities, and celebrations.
25th of Elul, 5735 
Greeting and Blessing:
I received your letter in connection with the forthcoming new year, together with a copy of a previous letter. As requested, I will remember you and your family, as well as those mentioned in your letter, in prayer, for the fulfillment of your hearts' desires for good.
With reference to your writing about doubts and the difficulty of making decisions, and about a feeling of insecurity in general trust, it is unnecessary to elaborate to you at length that such feelings arise when a person thinks that he is alone; and can only rely upon himself and his own judgment, and therefore feels doubtful and insecure about each move he has to make. And while he also trusts in G-d, this trust is somehow superficial without permeating him, and his way of life in every detail; and only on certain days, such as the High Holy Days, he feels more close to G-d.
But when a person's faith in G-d is deep, and when he reflects that G-d's benevolent Providence extends to each and every person, and to each and every detail, and each and every minute, surely he must develop a profound sense of security and confidence.
The concept of "Divine Providence" is better understood in the original term of Hashgocho Protis [individual supervision], for Hashgocho means careful watchfulness, for which reason the term Hashgocho is used also in connection with the laws of Kashrus [Jewish dietary laws], where every detail has to be carefully watched. Nor is another translation which is sometimes used in connection with Hashgocho Protis, namely "supervision," entirely satisfactory in this case, because supervision implies "overseeing," that is to say, seeing from above, whereas Hashgocho in the sense of G-d's watchfulness means knowing matters through and through.
The belief in such Hashgocho Protis is basic in our religion and way of life, so much so that before every new year, and during the beginning of the year, we say twice daily Psalm 27, "G-d is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? G-d is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?" From this it follows that even if things happen not as desired according to human calculations, and even if it seems that even according to the Torah it should have been different, a Jew still puts his trust in G-d, as the said Psalm concludes, "Hope to G-d; be strong and strengthen your heart and hope to G-d."
In other words, it is sometimes necessary to be strong and strengthen one's heart to achieve full confidence in G-d, but there is also the promise of being able to achieve it.
The above comes more easily through strengthening the adherence to the Torah and Mitzvos [commandments] in daily life. And however satisfactory this may be at any particular time, there is always room for improvement in all matters of goodness and holiness, Torah and Mitzvos, which are infinite, being derived from the Infinite. Indeed, I am pleased to note that despite the doubts that you have, you devote time and effort to be of help in your field, and may G-d grant that it should be with Hatzlocho [success], especially as it surely does not interfere with having regular periods of Torah study each day. In this connection it is well to remember the words of the Alter Rebbe, the founder of Chabad, that true Kvias Ittim ("fixed times") for Torah study implies not only in time, but also in the soul.
May G-d grant that you should have good news to report in all above.
Wishing you and all yours a Kesivo VeChasima Tovo [may you be written and sealed for good], for a good and sweet year,
Words that do not come from the heart may be taken badly. Words that come from the heart, but only from an external level - or from an internal but not innermost level - are well accepted, and they indeed achieve their goal. Explaining the concept of Hakhel, however, must come from the innermost depths of the heart! Such words will certainly achieve their intended results. We must explain and clarify to the extent necessary, regarding the essence of Hakhel, how it was observed in the Holy Temple, how to become inspired to greater awe of G-d all the days of one's life!"
(The Rebbe, 13 Tishrei 1981)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Sometimes - simply because Elul and the High Holidays occur with yearly dependability - we don't pay enough attention to a very radical concept in Judaism.
During the month of Elul a Jew is supposed to stop what he's doing, honestly and objectively assess his spiritual condition, and take whatever steps are necessary to improve it. But how much can an older, set-in-his-ways person really change?
Realistically speaking, each of us has his own strengths and weaknesses, things we are willing to do and things that are just not for us. Aside from minor adjustments, aren't we destined to remain basically the same till 120?
To this, Judaism responds with a resounding "No!" You too can change and do teshuva, the Torah tells us, regardless of your experience or maturity. Whatever happened before is past history. No door is closed, no bad habits so ingrained that they cannot be overcome. A Jew always has the potential to draw nearer to G-d, and during the month of Elul, is granted special powers from Above to assist him.
This principle, that a Jew is a perpetual "work in progress" and that it's never too late to improve, is the result of the unique nature of the Jewish soul. The Jewish soul is eternal, unlimited by any boundaries. Nothing can stand in the way of a Jew's sincere desire to be close to G-d - neither logic, emotion, environment or inclination. The moment he resolves to change course ever slightly (in the right direction) he becomes invincible.
Each day of his life, a Jew has the capacity to revolutionize his existence and imbue it with ever-increasing holiness. It's just easier during Elul, when our hearts are naturally aroused to doing teshuva and spurred on by G-d's greater proximity among us.
Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your gates (Deut. 16:18)
The only way to ensure that a judge will be completely impartial and render his verdicts fairly is to choose one who will not refrain from judging the person who appointed him. Following this advice safeguards against corruption.
The first fruits of your grain...shall you give him (Deut. 18:4)
As Rashi explains, "This refers to the teruma contribution set aside for the priests. [The Torah] does not specify any amount, but our Rabbis said that a person of good will gives one in forty." Symbolically, "one in forty" is an allusion to Yom Kippur. Moses ascended Mount Sinai on the 1st of Elul, where he remained for 40 days, until Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is thus the most auspicious time of this 40-day period.
You shall be perfect with the L-rd your G-d (Deut. 18:13)
Our morning prayers are prefaced by the following line: "It is proper to say before prayer: I hereby take upon myself to fulfill the mitzva (commandment), 'Love your fellow as yourself.' " When a Jew prays, he is symbolically offering his soul before G-d. In the same way that a physical sacrifice had to be whole and unblemished, so too must a Jew be without defect before approaching his Maker. The Jewish people are considered to be a single body; if a Jew does not properly love one of the "limbs," the entire body is affected and becomes flawed. It is therefore appropriate to accept the commandment to love our fellow Jews before prayer to ensure that the "sacrifice" we offer is perfect and whole.
(Ohr HaTorah of the Tzemach Tzedek)
But if any man hates his fellow, and lies in wait for him (Deut. 19:11)
Although literally referring to a killer who has fled to one of the "cities of refuge," the verse allegorically alludes to the Evil Inclination, which disguises itself as a person's "fellow" while really "hating" him. One must therefore be aware that the Evil Inclination is constantly "lying in wait," watching his every step and hoping to trip him up.
Mar Ukva was a learned and righteous man, one of the leaders of Jewish people while they lived in Babylonia. He and his wife were constantly involved with many acts of charity and deeds of kindness - they gave food to the hungry, tended to the sick, helped those who needed assistance, and many other good deeds.
Near the house of Mar Ukva lived a respected though poor family. Mar Ukva and his wife could not stand to look upon the thin, hungry faces of the poor family's children, but the parents were too proud to accept any charity.
"I have a plan how we can help our poor neighbors," Mar Ukva's wife told him one evening. "Late at night, when everyone is already comfortably asleep in their beds, let us go to our neighbors' home and secretly put a few coins inside. In this way, they will not know who gave them the charity and they will not be embarrassed to accept it."
Mar Ukva was pleased with his wife's plan. That very night, with a few coins in their pockets, they stealthily made their way toward their neighbor's home. As they approached the door, Mar Ukva looked here and there to make sure that there were no passers-by. Mar Ukva took four dinars out of his pocket, slid them under the door, and quickly left the area.
In this manner, Mar Ukva and his wife continued each evening to quietly and secretly help support the poor family. And the family was not subject to the embarrassment of having to ask for or collect charity for themselves.
One evening, Mar Ukva remained later than usual in the study hall. He was trying to understand and master a particularly difficult question in the Torah. His wife became concerned and decided to go to the study hall to find him. Seeing that everything was all right, she patiently waited until Mar Ukva finished learning and they walked home together.
Along the way, they passed the poor neighbor's home. Seeing that no one was out at this late hour, Mar Ukva and his wife decided to put the four dinars in the house now, on their way home. This very night, though, the poor man had decided to wait up and see who it was who so generously and consistently helped support his family. He wanted to bless them for their good and kind deed.
As Mar Ukva and his wife were turning toward home, having just slipped the money under the door, they saw the door open. They did not want the poor man to see them, fearing that he might later be embarrassed to look at them or speak with them in public. Quickly, they ran away from the house. Because of the darkness, the poor man was not able to see who it was, and he began to chase the couple fleeing his home.
"Quickly, quickly," Mar Ukva called out softly to his wife. "We must hide before the poor man catches up with us." They looked in all direction, in search of a hiding-place. The only place they could find was the large communal oven, which was presently not lit.
"Come, let us go inside the oven and hide there," said Mar Ukva's wife.
The couple entered the oven. But Mar Ukva immediately felt that the floor of the oven was still hot from the day's fires. Mar Ukva cried out in pain as his feet were burned by the hot oven floor. "Put your feet on top of my feet," Mar Ukva's wife told him. "For my feet are not being scorched."
Mar Ukva was very surprised when he saw that his wife's feet were not being effected by the extreme heat.
Why did Mar Ukva's wife merit that a miracle be performed for her? She was not content simply to give money to poor people who came to her home. Rather, she invited them in, fed them graciously and encouraged them to satisfy their hunger in her home. In this way, they did not even have to go to buy bread for themselves.
Mar Ukva and his wife continued helping the poor family, but no one ever found out about their charity, charity dispensed with dignity and honor.
The Torah designates six cities of refuge to which a person who has inadvertently killed can flee and atone for his deed. When Moshiach comes, the borders of Israel will be expanded and three more cities of refuge will be established. But why will additional cities be necessary in the Messianic Era? In that time, peace will reign supreme and there will be no violence. What purpose, then, will these cities of refuge serve? Although no new acts of violence will occur, the cities of refuge will allow those Jews who accidentally killed someone throughout the centuries of exile to seek atonement and be worthy of the Messianic Era.
(Hitvaaduyot, Rosh Chodesh Elul 5746)