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Sunday, September 24, 2017 4 Tishrei 5778



The King in the Field
How would you like to live in a palace? You might be fantasizing of closets filled with jewelry and expensive clothes, and a chef standing ready to prepare all your favorite delicacies. On the other hand, life in the palace can be quite restrictive. You are living in the public eye, with every move monitored. Even the perks of the palace might not make up for the loss of spontaneity and naturalness.
We are in the month of Elul, a time when G-d gives us especial opportunities to become close to Him. The Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalmen of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chassidism, likens this to a king who goes out to the fields once a year, to enable the populace to interact with him. During this opportunity, the king graciously welcomes all the villagers and graciously grants their requests. 
During the course of the year, the process of becoming close to G-d is fraught with struggles and challenges. If we want to enter the king’s palace, we must make an appointment well in advance, dress appropriately and observe all proper court conduct. During Elul, the King is in the field – G-d allows us to have access to Him in an uninhibited manner.
The Hebrew month of Elul is a time of closeness to G-d – a time during which we are imbued with especial powers to advance in our spiritual service and holiness. Although we have an opportunity to become close to G-d all year round, during Elul G-d becomes much more accessible to us.
Nevertheless, even when the king is “in the field,” it is still up to us to approach Him. G-d makes it easier to get close to Him, but we need to put forth the effort, to make the first move, to go outside our own boundaries and comfort zone.
This movement towards G-d is otherwise known as teshuvah. The Hebrew word teshuvah is from the root of shuv – to return. When we do teshuvah we acknowledge that we have gone astray and we wish to return to the King’s palace. This is the essence of teshuvah – the minimum demanded of us in order to enjoy the benefits of life in the King’s palace.
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There are a number of Torah verses that have the acronym of Elul, each of which relates to one of the themes of this month. One such verse is from Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs), Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li. I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. This verse expresses the love that exists between each of us and G-d – the allegory that runs through the entire Shir Hashirim. 
Chassidic teachings explain that in Elul, the first two words are more emphasized – I am my beloved’s. During this time we need to put forth the effort to become close to G-d. 
The second half of the verse – “and my beloved is mine” – relates mainly to the days that follow the month of Elul, the days of Tishrei from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur. During this time, it is as if we are with G-d in the palace. But in order to make the most of that time, we need to prepare ourselves during the month of Elul.
The month of Elul, in a sense, is a reflection of the time we are living in now – the period immediately preceding the Redemption. When Moshiach comes, the world will be transformed into the dwelling place, the palace of the King. But how much will we enjoy life in the King’s palace? Our appreciation for that life depends on our actions and preparation now. The efforts we make now will be well rewarded with the true Redemption with Moshiach.

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12 Days of Reflection
Elul, the last month of the Jewish year, is a month devoted to stocktaking and introspection. A Chassidic tradition holds that the last twelve days of the year -- Elul 18 to 29 -- are specifically devoted to the twelve months of the closing year: on each of these twelve days, one should review the deeds and achievements of its corresponding month.

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Rosh Hashanah
(Eve of Sept. 20 - night of Sept. 22)
Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. It stirs the Jewish heart. The Jewish New Year is a time of awe, when we intensify our relationship with G-d, and are judged, together with the entire world, for the coming year. However, instead of entering our ‘court hearing’ with total fear and trepidation, this Holiday is a festive one. Unlike the rest of the world who party and drink on New Year, our New Year is for deep soul-searching and resolution.
As G-d’s children, we are completely sure that any judgment will be in our favor. The purpose of the “hearings” is to decide how to bring the redemption sooner. And when we recognize G-d as our King and happily accept our mission to transform the world and we start this by first transforming ourselves, we too become kings over our surroundings.
We renew our commitment to Jewish life as we pray to be inscribed in the heavenly “Book of Life” for a good and sweet year. The synagogue services, listening to the shofar and partaking of festive meals are all imbued with a spirit of renewed relationship to G-d.
The Machzor holiday prayer book helps us focus our hopes for personal health, freedom as well as universal peace and security for ourselves, Israel and for all mankind. On Rosh Hashanah G-d judges every person according to his deeds, we pray to be inscribed in the “Book of the Righteous” and the “Book of Life.”
We usher in Rosh Hashanah, on Wednesday evening, (Sept. 20) with the lighting of the candles about eighteen minutes before sundown. On that first night, (Sept. 20) we exchange the tradition L’shana Tova greeting; “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good New Year.”
The Shofar
The highlight of the Rosh Hashanah service is to hear the sounding of the shofar. Even if one cannot participate in the whole service, one should make arrangements to hear at least the sounding of the shofar. 
Rosh Hashanah Sep 20 – 22
Candle lighting the first night of Rosh Hashana, Sep 20 in the evening before darkness.
We blast a ram’s horn, the shofar, on both days of Rosh Hashanah as a sign of G-d’s coronation and as a sign for us to wake up and return to G-d. The sound of the shofar comes from the horns shape – it begins small and narrow, but widens toward its end. The shofar also symbolizes the call to redemption – the challenges and constraints of life spur us to break free and expand our horizons.
At candle-lighting on the second night, which is done after darkness on Sept. 22, and is lit from an existing light and we do not strike a match of lighter,  a new fruit which was not yet eaten that season, is placed on the table.
The new fruit is eaten right after reciting kiddush, before hamotzei is made on the challah or matzah. Popular choices include fresh (not dried) figs, dates, kiwis, mangoes and papayas.                                                           
On the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Wednesday Sep 21, it is customary to go to a lake or pond, where we say the Tashlich prayers asking G-d to forgive our sins. The water symbolizes the awareness that everything is submerged in G-dliness, and this awareness itself transforms everything –even our past mistakes- into something positive and G-dly. As fish depend upon water, so are we dependent upon G-d’s providence and his ever-watchful eye. If the prison has no pond, write us for instructions.
Laws and Customs of Rosh Hashanah
Good wishes:
After the evening prayers on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, we turn to each other and say, “L’shanah tovah tikatev v’techatem” – May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”
Special foods:
On Rosh Hashanah there is a custom to eat symbolic foods that denote blessings for the new year. We dip the challah in honey (rather than salt) and eat apples dipped in honey for a sweet year. We also eat a pomegranate (to represent our many mitzvot) and the head of a ram or fish, to represent that this year we will be heads rather than tails.
Blowing the shofar:
This is the main mitzvah of the holiday. The shofar is blown in the synagogue in the morning, and it is important to listen well. Both men and women should be present to hear the shofar blown. Those who are unable to attend synagogue can request someone to blow for them, and the listener recites the blessings.
In the afternoon after the Minchah prayer, we go to a well or the banks of a river or ocean, and recite Tashlich. This custom is intended to arouse G-d’s mercy, and represents our divesting ourselves of sin. (If one is not near any natural body of water, it is possible to say Tashlich over any receptacle of water, even a fish tank or sink with running water.)
New Fruit:
It is customary to eat a new fruit on the second night of Rosh Hashanah which we have not eaten in the past year. Before Kiddush we place the new fruit on the table, and when we recite Shehecheyanu we keep the fruit in mind. The Kiddush is the same as for the first night. We taste the new fruit after Kiddush, before washing hands. We eat a festive meal but the foods signifying the new year are only eaten the first night.
* * *
Rosh Hashanah in the Days of Moshiach
All Jewish holidays are celebrated for two days in the diaspora and one day in Israel. The exception is Rosh Hashanah, which is celebrated for two days around the world. The reason the holidays are celebrated for two days outside of Israel is that the calendar was set by direct sighting of the new moon. Because there was no time for the message to reach people outside of Israel to inform them of the date of the holiday, they’d celebrate the holiday for two days. In the future we will all be informed simultaneously of the time of the new moon, and there will be no doubts. Therefore we will all celebrate the holiday for two days.
On Rosh Hashanah though, the holiday is on the new moon itself. Therefore, word will not get out in time and they will continue to celebrate it for two days even within Israel.
In Jerusalem itself, though, it is possible that Rosh Hashanah will be celebrated for just one day (if the witnesses are speedy enough). However, most likely even in Jerusalem it will be celebrated for two days, since the two days are considered halachically to be one long day, and this holiness will not be removed.
As a rule, the first day of Rosh Hashanah is never on a Friday, since then Yom Kippur will fall on Sunday and you would have two consecutive days with the restrictions of Shabbos. Some add that this restriction will hold even in Moshiach’s time. However, Maimonides and Rashi rule that when Moshiach comes it will be possible for Yom Kippur to fall on Sunday, and thus for Rosh Hashanah to fall on Friday.
The mitzvah of shofar on Rosh Hashanah is intended to arouse us to do teshuvah. When Moshiach comes we will no longer have an evil inclination. If so, will there be the need to blow shofar?
There is a principle in Torah that no mitzvot will be nullified when Moshiach comes. Therefore, the Baal Hatanya writes that we will continue to blow shofar, but there will be some changes in the timing of the shofar blowing. We will blow only when mentioning shofar in our prayers, not when mentioning the coronation of the King or G-d’s recall of our deeds.

* * *
The shofar blowing, "tekiyot," of Reb Yoel Chaim Weissfinger were legendary among the Jews of the Old City of Jerusalem. Every year on Rosh Hashana, hundreds of people would flock to his synagogue for the unique experience of hearing him sound the shofar. It was also rumored that the ancient ram's horn had a long and colorful history.
When Reb Yoel Chaim passed away a few days after Yom Kippur in 5674 (1913) he left behind two sons, Shimon and Leibel. But which one should inherit their father's shofar, and along with it, the honor of blowing it in shul? In the end a compromise was reached: Shimon, the eldest son, inherited the small grocery store his father had owned, while Leibel, the younger brother who was also a Torah scholar, inherited the prized shofar.
Several years later Shimon sold the grocery store and emigrated to America, where he started his own business. The business flourished, and soon Shimon was a wealthy man.
In the meantime, a war broke out between the English and the Ottoman Turks in the Holy Land. One day Leibel, who was an English citizen, was walking when he was captured by Turkish soldiers, thrown into jail, and deported to Egypt. The only possession he took along was his father's shofar.
Not long afterward, a ship arrived in the Holy Land with a cargo of food donated by American Jews for their less fortunate brethren. Among the passengers was a Mr. Sam White, one of the directors of the aid committee. Before he anglicized his name, Mr. White had been known as Shimon Weissfinger.
When Sam learned what had happened to his brother he immediately set sail for Egypt and, with G-d's help, he managed to locate him. Sam gave Leibel a large sum of money, which enabled him to return home and get back on his feet.
On the day Sam was to leave for America, Leibel, overcome by emotion, presented his older brother with their father's shofar as a token of his gratitude. Sam was very touched, and the whole way home kept the treasured object in full sight. Indeed, the shofar was the only thing he talked about upon his arrival. But when he went to show it to his friends and family he almost fainted: it was nowhere to be found! The ancient shofar had somehow disappeared.
Years passed, and the financial circumstances of the Jews of Jerusalem deteriorated even further. Leibel and his family emigrated to Poland, where he found a position as Rabbi in a small village. Perhaps, he hoped and prayed, his worries were over.
But such was not to be, as the Second World War soon erupted. The Germans, may their names be erased, invaded Poland. Over the next few years Leibel endured the tortures of the Holocaust, but miraculously survived. When the War ended he spent several years wandering from one D.P. camp to the next, hoping to eventually return to Israel.
One Rosh Hashana eve the group of Jewish refugees with whom he was traveling arrived at the home of a kindly Italian farmer who agreed to let the group stay over Yom Tov. The refugees were saddened by the fact that they had no shofar, but grateful for the opportunity to pray together.
Rosh Hashana came and went. Leibel and his friends were about to depart when the Italian farmer asked them to sit down for a minute. "I have something on my conscience that has been bothering me for years," he told them. "I'd like to get it off my chest once and for all...
"Many years ago I was a seaman on a ship that sailed from Palestine to America. One of the passengers was a wealthy American Jew, who held on to a small package the whole time as if guarding a great treasure. When the ship docked in America it was a tumultuous scene, and I'm ashamed to say that I seized the opportunity to steal it. But I was very disappointed when I opened it up, because all it contained was this strange-looking thing..." The farmer then withdrew a very old shofar from its case.
"I know that this is some kind of Jewish object, and for years I've been hoping to meet some Jews so I could give it back. Please take it."
Dismayed that the farmer hadn't mentioned it before Rosh Hashana, no one noticed that Leibel Weissfinger had paled. Indeed, he was white as a ghost - for it was none other than his father's shofar!
When he had recovered enough to speak, Leibel told everyone the amazing story of the shofar, whereupon it was their turn to be speechless...
Leibel eventually returned to Jerusalem, where he was reunited with his brother. (In the wake of the Holocaust, Sam had sold his business in America and returned to the Holy Land; he had also reverted to the name of Shimon Weissfinger.)
The reunion was particularly emotional, especially when Leibel showed his elder brother the long-lost shofar and told him how it had come to him. And everyone marveled over the mysterious ways of Divine Providence.

* * *
Shabbos Shuvah
The Shabbos between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur - this year the Sabbath follows Rosh Hashanah without any interrupting days (Sep 19) is known as Shabbos Shuvah, named for the opening words of the Haftorah: “Return Israel unto G-d.”
Candle lighting on Sep 22 should be done before darkness, before the evening, in order not to desecrate the Sabbath.  
The Fast of Gedalia
The third day of Tishrei, is a fast day. But because this year it falls on on the Sabbath, when it is forbidden to fast, the fast day is put off one day to Sunday, September 24.  
We fast from the morning until the evening. This fast commemorates the assassination of the last Jewish governor after the first Temple’s destruction, causing the decline of Jewish settlement in Israel for many years to come.
The Ten Days of Repentance
Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the days in between are known as the ‘Ten Days of Teshuva;’ a time to return to be good, to do mitzvot, and be true to our inner self.

* * *
Yom Kippur 
Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
This year Yom Kippur is on the Sabbath, beginning at sundown, Friday September 29  - with candle lighting before sunset, and continues until nightfall 25 hours later, September 30. We fast the entire 25-hour period. In addition to the prohibition of work, as on the Sabbath, one is prohibited on Yom Kippur from eating and drinking, anointing oneself with perfumes or lotions, washing, taking a shower, and wearing leather shoes.
Yizkor is recited on Yom Kippur. 
Yom Kippur atones for sins against G-d, but not for wrongdoing between man and man. It is therefore important before Yom Kippur to apologize and seek forgiveness from friends, relatives and acquaintances and to heal any ill feelings.

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