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"If your sins are as scarlet threads may they be whitened as snow" we read in the Haftorah on Yom Kippur.
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 billowy 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 light, airy cotton.
The Jewish approach to the three R's (regret, rectification and resolve for the future) is unique.
For, 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 truly and fully returns, all of his previous misdeeds are transformed into merits; one extracts the color from the misdeed and it becomes pure white.
Concerning exact details as to how one returns, there is a story of a chasid who came to his rebbe, sobbing bitterly: "Rebbe, I have sinned. I have transgressed. Please, teach me how to do teshuva, how to return."
Queried the rebbe, "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 rebbe. "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 come home for good.
This week's Torah portion, Vayeilech, contains a verse which sums up the entire concept of the exile of the Jewish people. "And on that day My anger will burn against them," we read, "and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them."
Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, explains that the concealment of G-d's presence from the Jews is only an illusion, only "as if" He were in hiding. "I will hide My face from them," G-d says, "as though I do not see their distress." In truth, however, G-d is always with the Jewish people; He always sees and observes them, and indeed senses their distress, as it is written, "In all their distress, He is distressed."
The sole reason that G-d hides Himself, as it were, is to stir the Jewish people to return to Him.
Chasidut uses the analogy of a father who hides himself from his young son to determine how smart he is. The son, being subjected to the test, can respond in one of two ways: he can fall into despair and conclude that his father has abandoned him, or, if he is truly wise, he will correctly surmise that his father would never leave him and he must therefore be nearby. When the son realizes the purpose of the "game" and understands that his father is really there, despite the fact that he cannot see him, this in itself arouses a stronger love and causes the son to express these feelings for his parent more fervently.
Furthermore, as the Baal Shem Tov explained, the double expression "haster astir" -- "I will surely hide" -- means that the Divine concealment itself will be concealed, especially during this final period of exile, when spiritual darkness prevails. Nonetheless, we must always remember that nothing can separate G-d from the Jewish people, and that G-dliness is forever within us.
Galut, exile, is the ultimate form of "I will hide My face from them." The sole purpose of the seeming "concealment" is to test the reaction of the Jewish people, about whom the Torah states, "You are the children of the L-rd your G-d." This, however, is no more than a temporary illusion to motivate us to seek the "hidden presence" of G-d. Thus, through being in exile, we are led to intensify our bond with G-d, culminating in the ultimate manifestation of G-d's love for Israel that will come about with the Messianic Redemption.
Adapted from a talk of the Rebbe, 5748
Rabbi Moshe Aharon Geisinsky A"H
Rabbi Moshe Aharon Geisinsky of blessed memory, a respected Lubavitcher Chasid, wrote this account of events which he was a party to:
One summer's day in 1959, two brothers came into my shul in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. They wore black ties and black armbands as signs of mourning. The older one, Louis (Levi Yitzchak) Hozinsky, lived in Crown Heights; his brother, Mordechai, lived elsewhere. I eventually became very close to Louis and he began to put on tefilin every day, observe many aspects of Shabbat, put up mezuzot in his home and keep other mitzvot.
That year, Yom Kippur was on a Monday. At about 10 p.m. Saturday night, my doorbell rang. When I opened the door, I saw Levi Yitzchak with his brother Mordechai, and they looked very worried. Mordechai was pale and very thin.
After feeling ill for some time, Mordechai had undergone tests in the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. The results showed that he had a malignant growth in his stomach and he needed an operation urgently. The doctor and hospital staff had told him that as soon as a place became free he would be called for the operation.
Other doctors had all concurred with the doctors at the Medical Center. Finally, Mordechai found an expert who thought that, although the operation was necessary, it might be better to wait in order to undergo further tests.
However, today he had received a call to go immediately to the hospital, as a bed was available. When Mordechai informed them that he wished to wait a little, he was warned that the hospital would take no responsibility for the consequences. "I have only one suggestion for you," I said. "Go to the Rebbe. He will advise you what to do."
I explained how difficult it would be to see the Rebbe on the day before Yom Kippur. If the Rebbe's secretary said that the only option was to write all of the details in a letter, I suggested that they stand near the Rebbe's office, and when the Rebbe came out, they should tell the Rebbe about the situation and ask for his advice and blessing.
At 12:45 a.m. my telephone rang. "Hello, Rabbi. I have good news for you!" It was Levi Yitzchak. He told me that the secretary had told them to put everything into a letter. The brothers did as I suggested, and stood in the narrow passageway in front of the Rebbe's doorway. At midnight, the Rebbe came out of his room and closed the door behind him. At that moment, Levi Yitzchak came forward and said: "I am Levi Yitzchak Hozinsky, and I desperately need to speak to the Rebbe!"
The Rebbe immediately unlocked his door, and ushered them in. When they were inside, the Rebbe said, "I have been expecting you!"
Mordechai told the Rebbe all about his illness.
The Rebbe said, "I have the medicine for you. Start putting on tefilin tomorrow and continue to do so every weekday after that. Then you won't need an operation. All you will have to do is maintain the diet I am going to recommend. After three weeks, go to Dr. Seligson [the Rebbe's private doctor], and ask him to examine you."
The Rebbe then gave him instructions for a special diet.
Mordechai continued, "The Rebbe spoke to us for about an hour."
The Hozinsky brothers did not realize that on the night before Yom Kippur the Rebbe almost never gives a private audience to anyone.
"Before we left," Levi Yitzchak continued, "I told the Rebbe that the secretary had not allowed us to come in and speak to him, but had said that we should put everything into a letter.
The Rebbe answered, "No, no! I waited all evening for you to come to me for your cure -- to put on tefilin!" The Rebbe repeated his words three times in Yiddish: "Your medicine is that you should put on tefilin!"
The following day, the eve of Yom Kippur, I got into line to receive honeycake -- lekach -- from the Rebbe. When my turn came, the Rebbe stopped me and asked if I knew whether Mordechai had put on tefilin. When I said that I did not know for sure , the Rebbe answered, "You must make sure that he puts on tefilin!"
When I saw Mordechai later that day, he told me that he had put on tefilin. And Levi Yitzchak assured me that he was fasting -- for the first time in his life -- on Yom Kippur.
Before three weeks were up, Mordechai went to see Dr. Seligson. He told Dr. Seligson that he had come to him upon the instructions of the Rebbe.
The doctor examined him for about two hours and saw that his condition was very serious. His opinion was the same as that of the doctors at the Medical Center -- Mordechai desperately needed an operation. But Dr. Seligson first wished to consult the Rebbe.
At midnight, Dr. Seligson telephoned Mordechai and informed him that he had spoken to the Rebbe regarding his situation. Dr. Seligson said that Mordechai should follow the Rebbe's exact instructions.
Shortly after this, the brothers called me with an update. Over the past few days Mordechai had gained three pounds. Normally, someone in his situation would constantly be losing weight. About three or four days later, he asked me to consult the Rebbe, as his family had asked him to go for further X-rays with a famous specialist. The Rebbe said that he could go for X-rays if he wanted.
He went to the specialist, who examined him thoroughly. When the X- rays failed to show anything definite, he was told to come back for further tests in another six weeks.
Six weeks later Mordechai again visited the specialist. The doctor took the X-rays again. In the interim, as Mordechai awaited the results, he called the Rebbe's office and received a reply that "all would be well." In the evening, the doctor called:
"All clear, with absolutely no trace of disease!"
Fasting on Yom Kippur
"There is a spiritual as well as material connection between the eve of Yom Kippur and Yom Kippur. The eating and drinking on the ninth of Tishrei [Yom Kippur eve] makes possible the spiritual service of Yom Kippur. In regard to the fasting of a child [under the age of Bar or Bat Mitzva], great care must be taken for there is danger involved and we follow the principle that a danger to life supersedes all the mitzvot of the Torah... May the Al-mighty grant that the necessity to supersede the mitzva of fasting because of a danger to a Jew's health will surely not be necessary and every Jew will be able to carry out the mitzva of fasting on Yom Kippur as required."
(The Rebbe on the eve of Yom Kippur, 5752-1991)
In the case of severe medical problems, a competent rabbi should, of course, be consulted.
THE FUNCTION OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
continued from last week from a letter
written "In the days of Selichot, 5717" (1957)
An objective, unprejudiced survey of the long history of our people will at once bring to light the fact that it was not material wealth, nor physical strength, that helped us to survive.
Even during the most prosperous times under the united monarchy of King Solomon, the Jewish people and state were materially insignificant by comparison with such contemporary world empires as Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia. That it was not statehood or homeland - is clear from the fact that most of the time, by far, our people possessed no independent state and has lived in the diaspora.
That it was not the language is likewise clear from the fact that even in Biblical times Aramaic began to supplant the Holy Tongue as the spoken language; parts of the Scripture and almost all of our Babylonian Talmud, the Zohar, etc., are written in that language.
In the days of Saadia and Maimonides, Arabic was the spoken language of most Jews, while, later, Yiddish and other languages. Nor was it any common secular culture that preserved our people, since that changed radically from one year to another.
The one and only common factor which has been present with Jews throughout the ages, in all lands, and under all circumstances, is the Torah and mitzvot, which Jews have observed tenaciously in their daily life.
To be sure, there arose occasionally dissident groups that attempted to break away from true Judaism, such as the idolatry movements during the first Beth HaMikdash, the Hellenists during the second, Alexandrian assimilationists, Karaaites, etc., but they have disappeared.
Considered without prejudice, the Torah and mitzvot must be recognized as the essential thing and essential function of our people, whether for the individual Jew, or in relation of the Jewish people to humanity as a whole.
Hence the logical conclusion: The policy of imitating the other nations, far from helping preserve the Jewish people, rather endangers its very existence, and instead of gaining their favor will only intensity their antagonism.
In like manner, those Jews who court the favor of the non-religious groups by concessions and compromise in matters of Torah and mitzvot, not only undermine their own existence and that of our people as a whole -- for the Torah and mitzvot are our very life, but they defeat even their immediate aim, for such a policy can evoke only derision and contempt; and justifiably so, for a minor concession today leads to a major one tomorrow, and an evasion of duty towards G-d leads to an evasion of duty towards man, and who is to say where this downsliding is to stop?
At this time, standing as we are on the threshold of the New Year, a time propitious for earnest introspection and stock-taking, I earnestly hope that my brethren everywhere, both as individuals and as groups (and the larger the group, the greater its potentialities and responsibilities), will recognize the Reality and Truth:
The essential factor of our existence and survival is our adherence to the Torah and the practice of its precepts in our every day life. Let no one delude himself by taking the easier way out, nor be bribed by any temporary advantages and illusory gains.
The secret of our existence is in our being "a people that dwell alone" (Num. 23:9), every one of us, man or woman, believing in the One G-d, leading a life according to the one Torah, which is eternal and unchangeable.
Our "otherness" and in dependence of thought and conduct are not our weakness but our strength. Only in this way can we fulfill our function imposed on us by the Creator, to be unto G-d a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation," thereby being also a "segula" for all humanity.
With prayerful wishes for a kesiva vachasima tova, for a good and pleasant year, "good" as defined by our Torah, which is truly good, both materially and spiritually.
Lekach (honey cake)
On the day before Yom Kippur it is customary for each person to ask his neighbor for a piece of lekach (honey cake) for immediate consumption. The reason behind this Chasidic practice is that if it was decreed in heaven on Rosh Hashana that a person would need to rely on his fellow man during the coming year, this piece of cake fulfills his obligation.
VISIT A SUKKA
If you'll be in Manhattan during the intermediate days of the Sukkot holiday visit one of the Lubavitch Youth Organization Sukkot at four different locations:
International Sukka at the U.N., First Avenue and 43rd Street (by the Isaiah Wall);
Garment Center Sukka in Herald Square, across from Macy's Department Store;
Wall Street Area Sukka in Battery Park (at State Street and Battery Place);
City Hall Sukka, at Police Plaza.
For more information and hours the sukkot will be open call (718) 778-6000.
Over 40 couples have arrived in cities throughout the world as emissaries of the Rebbe since the beginning of the summer. Some are opening new Chabad-Lubavitch Centers while others are "reinforcements" for existing centers. New centers include Yerevan, Armenia; Cape Cod, Massachusetts; Mission Veajo, California; Monticello, New York.
There is a custom on the eve of Yom Kippur to eat "lekach" -- honey cake. The reason for this custom is that honey cake is a sweet dessert. By eating it, we are expressing our desire and hope that G-d will bless us with a sweet, pleasant, good year.
There is also a custom to give (and receive) honey cake. The reason for this is much less well-known. When we receive honey cake from someone we do it with this thought in mind: Let the honey cake be the only thing this year that we have to take from someone else. Let us be self-sufficient, self-supporting, even be able to help support and provide for others, with G-d's help.
Thus, if there was any possible heavenly decree that the person would have had to ask another for his food during this year, when one asks for lekach the decree has been fulfilled and there will be no further need to ask; all one's needs will be provided for by G-d.
On a deeper level, even the lekach is not really being received from a person! In reality, all food comes from G-d, and therefore a poor person who receives food from a person thanks G-d, Who "provides nourishment and sustenance for all." This is because the person is only an intermediary for delivering G-d's blessings.
However, both parties still feel that a transaction has taken place between two human beings. The giving of lekach on the eve of Yom Kippur is not like this, however. Since these are the days when G-d is "close," all parties involved feel that G-d Himself is doing the giving, and the giver is no more than a messenger. Even more so, the giver is not even seen as a messenger, but just a link enabling G-d's gift to come to the person.
May we, this very Yom Kippur and even before, see with our own eyes that G-d is truly the Giver and that He gives only good, with the complete revelation of our righteous Moshiach NOW!
And Moshe went (Deut. 31:1)
"To the study hall," adds the Targum Yonatan. Before addressing the Jewish people, Moshe went to the study hall to study the matter he was about to impart. From this we learn that a person mustn't rely on his own memory and knowledge when it comes to rendering legal decisions. Rather, he must first consult the books of halacha before issuing any ruling.
You shall read this Torah before all of Israel (31:11)
Every seven years, when the Jewish people gathered together in Jerusalem as one entity, the king would read aloud to them the Written Torah. For the Written Torah, as opposed to the Oral Law, is the equal possession of all and thus unifies all Jews; just by reciting the words a person fulfills the mitzva of Torah study, even if he does not understand their meaning.
Now therefore write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the children of Israel (Deut. 31:19)
From this verse our Sages learn that every Jew is obligated to write for himself a Torah scroll (or hire someone else to do so for him). Nowadays, when we no longer study the Torah from an open scroll and writing the Oral Law is permissible, a Jew fulfills this obligation by purchasing holy books, for indeed the mitzva is to "teach it to the children of Israel."
In the past, many Jews were not strict about fulfilling this mitzva as there was generally only one Torah scroll in a community; thus it was assumed that it had been written for everyone. However, at the behest of the Rebbe, many Torah scrolls are now being written in which a person may purchase a letter and become a partner in its writing.
In Berdichev lived a man named Hirshele who was a failure in every business enterprise he attempted.
Needless to say, he was not a happy man. His neighbors disdained him, and his wife wouldn't let him live.
On the eve of Yom Kippur, he hoped to have a small bite to eat before the fast, but with what should his wife have prepared a meal? Instead of even a meager meal, Hirshele received a tongue lashing from his frustrated wife, and set out early for the synagogue. His stomach gurgled as he trudged to the shul, where everything gleamed and shone in anticipation of the great day.
Hirshele felt even worse as he looked around at the congregants, each wearing a stark white kittel and talit. Hirshele tried not to listen to the angry growling of his poor stomach, but the harder he tried, the less success he had.
Then a thought entered poor Hirshele's head. It was certain that he wasn't going to get anything to eat, but just maybe Reb Baruch, the wealthy businessman who sat at the first row near the eastern wall, would give him a little smell of his snuff. That would, perhaps, revive his spirits enough to allow him to pray.
Hirshele cautiously approached the front of the synagogue and tapped Reb Baruch on the back: "Shalom Aleichem, Reb Baruch. Maybe I could have a little sniff of your tabak?"
Reb Baruch turned with an incredulous look on his face. Who could have the nerve to bother him now, interrupting his prayers on this holiest of nights, to ask for some snuff? When he saw it was none other than Hirshele, the pauper, he just looked at him, and with an unmistakable tone of disgust said only one word: "Now?!"
Hirshele turned stiffly and made his way back to his seat, as humiliated as he had ever been. "Humph," he thought, "I'm not even worth a sniff of tabak."
No one in the shul had witnessed the little episode, but on High, the ministering angels were in an uproar. How could the wealthy man have humiliated his poverty-stricken brother like that? It was decreed that in the upcoming year, things would be radically different. The wheel of fortune would turn and Hirshele, soon to be known as Reb Hirsh, would be on top for the first time in his life. Reb Baruch, however, would be on the bottom.
And so, right after Yom Kippur, Hirshele received an unexpected inheritance from a deceased relative, and invested in some merchandise. Hirshele made an enormous profit and reinvested it.
Again, he had the wildest success, and from that time on, whatever he set his hand to was successful.
At the same time, Reb Baruch began losing money at every turn. He went to his rebbe, Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev who asked him, "Can you think of any dealings you may have had with Reb Hirsh?"
At first Reb Baruch could think of nothing, but then he remembered Yom Kippur when he refused the snuff to Hirshele.
"That must be it!" said the Berdichever. "Because of your actions, it was decreed that you would lose your money and that he would become wealthy."
Reb Baruch was stricken with remorse. "How can I atone?" he cried.
Reb Levi Yitzchak just looked at him. "It won't be easy. All I can say is that when you approach Reb Hirsh and ask for a sniff of snuff and he refuses you, then you will have something to bargain with."
Many years passed and Reb Baruch was unable to extricate himself from his crushing poverty. Reb Hirsh, however, continued to prosper. He was now a respected member of the community and when his daughter reached marriageable age, she was betrothed to the son of the Rabbi of Zhitomir.
The whole town looked forward to celebrating the great event. Reb Baruch's anticipation was perhaps greater than most, for he had a plan to recoup his wealth. As the young couple stood under the wedding canopy surrounded by their happy parents, Reb Baruch quietly came up to Reb Hirsh and said, "A sniff of tabak, Reb Hirsh?"
Without a thought, Reb Hirsh removed his gilt snuff box from his coat pocket and handed it to Reb Baruch. Reb Baruch immediately fell to the ground in a dead faint. A stir went through the crowd.
When Reb Baruch regained consciousness, Reb Hirsh asked him, "Was it something I did which caused you to faint?"
"Please come with me to some place where we can speak privately," replied Reb Baruch. The two men sat down and Reb Baruch explained everything that had transpired and related the words of Reb Levi Yitzchak. They agreed to go together to the tzadik and follow the advice he would give.
The Berdichever Rav listened to the story and turned to Reb Hirsh. "Are you willing to give a percentage of your wealth to Reb Baruch?"
Reb Hirsh decided to divide his great wealth with Reb Baruch and the two lived as close as brothers, in prosperity and health for the rest of their lives.
The connection between the ultimate Redemption and Yom Kippur is reflected in that Yom Kippur is the tenth of Tishrei and the number ten is associated with several dimensions of the Era of the Redemption.
(The Rebbe on the eve of Yom Kippur, 5752)