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Impossible: preposterous, inconceivable, unthinkable, unachievable, undoable. The list in the thesaurus goes on and on. There seem to be quite a lot of synonyms to describe something that we consider impossible. But must you be Don Quixote to dream about doing the impossible? Must you work for xxx to accept a mission which seems impossible?
When a Jew undertakes an activity which is totally in concert with his inner self and his Jewish existence, he needn't be bothered by the seeming impossibility of the endeavor. Rather than being overwhelmed by any difficulties, hurdles, or challenges, he can be certain of success. Success might not be immediate, it can take time--maybe a month, a year or even more. But in the end he will be successful. For this is an assignment connected with his essence, and "A G-dly thing exists forever."
But what if this endeavor not only seems to be totally impossible, but actually is impossible according to the laws of nature? We should attempt it anyway, and eventually we will be totally successful, beyond our wildest, most quixotic dream.
Enough theory. How does this work in practice? An apt example is from the life of Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, of blessed memory, the mother of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita. When her husband, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok, was exiled by the communist government in the 1930s, she produced ink out of herbs, so that he could record--in the margins of his books, for there was no paper--his unique, esoteric commentaries and explanations on the Torah.
But, we haven't gotten to the impossible part yet. That happened after Rabbi Levi Yitzchok had passed away. Rebbetzin Chana undertook to smuggle his manuscripts out of communist Russia. This was truly an impossible task, not just seemingly impossible, but impossible according to everyone's calculations. And yet, somehow, she succeeded in smuggling out his voluminous library of holy manuscripts.
What kind of thoughts go through our heads when we are confronted with an impossible, but crucial and momentous task such as the one just mentioned? Upon reflecting, we might think that it isn't appropriate to be involved in such an activity, for it is a pity to take time away from some simpler task which we are certain to complete successfully.
We should, however, keep in mind that everything that happens is Divinely ordained. If you find out that something needs to be fixed, then you have to try to fix it. There is no time for lengthy considerations; if you were dealt the card, it's in your hand and you have to play it.
When you are actually involved in the matter in question, you must take into consideration all the significant obstacles and limitations of the job. You have to speak with certain people, try to influence others, while going about things in a very natural, organized way. However, the vigor and enthusiasm with which you attack the assignment needs to be above any considerations, boundaries or limitations. For this is an assignment from G-d.
It is because of this attitude that people take on impossible tasks and succeed! Their success does not affect only themselves, but the greater world as well. In the above example, through the efforts of Rebbetzin Chana in smuggling out the manuscripts, an effect was made on the whole world, for these manuscripts were later printed and innumerable people benefitted from the knowledge they contained.
An additional reason for our success when we put aside natural considerations and undertake impossible tasks: The Talmud states, "The emissary is like the sender." When a Divine assignment is sent your way, you have the Divine strength of the Sender.
This week's Torah portion, Vayeilech, speaks about the holy ark of the Tabernacle, carried about by the Jews for their 40 years in the desert, and which afterward occupied a central position in the Holy Temple. "Take this book of the law, and put it at the side of the ark of the covenant of the L-rd your G-d, that it shall be there as a witness," the Torah states. One opinion of our Sages holds that the book Moses is referring to, the Torah scroll, was put in the ark together with the tablets of the Ten Commandments, and the other opinion holds that the Torah scroll was placed next to the ark. In any event, either inside or next to it, what is significant is that the Torah scroll was placed inside the Holy of Holies.
The Holy of Holies, therefore, contained two versions of G-d's Word--the written letters of the Torah scroll, consisting of ink painstakingly transcribed by Moses' hand onto parchment, and the Hebrew letters of the tablets of the law--letters engraved on stone by a Divine hand.
The letters of the Ten Commandments were not ordinary letters which any human being could chisel into a stone surface. The tablets themselves were miraculous, as the letters could be read the same way from either side simultaneously. In addition, the "hollow" letters engraved on the tablets, such as the samech and final mem, seemed to hover in their places, impossible for a human being to duplicate.
It is quite logical, considering all the miracles connected to the Ten Commandments, that the tablets were placed in the Holy of Holies. Many other miracles occurred in the Holy of Holies, among them the fact that the ark itself took up no physical space; although it measured exactly the number of cubits specified in the Torah, if one measured the distance between the ark and the wall of the Holy of Holies, the ark seemed to occupy no space at all. Above and not limited to the boundaries of time and space, the purpose of the Holy of Holies was to spread G-d's light in the physical world, past the outer limits of the Temple, past the borders of Jerusalem, over the entire world and all its inhabitants.
But why was an ordinary Torah scroll, ink on parchment, also given a place in the Holy of Holies? The purpose of the Torah is to transform and elevate the world and make it holy with our actions, by performing the Torah's 613 commandments. No aspect of the physical world is beneath the Torah's jurisdiction and concern; the lowliest and most insignificant detail of our lives is significant and a force for good when we live according to G-d's blueprint, the Torah. The letters of the Torah scroll, ordinary ink on the skin of a kosher animal, point to our ability to turn even the most common elements of our lives into something higher. The inclusion of the Torah scroll in the Holy of Holies teaches us that the ordinary physical world that surrounds us is the vehicle and medium through which we are to carry out G-d's Divine plan for creation.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
GENERATION TO GENERATION
Dr. Abraham Twerski
by Dr. Abraham Twerski
Not all childhood memories are memories of fun. Some are quite solemn, but no less enjoyable.
Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur were solemn days; solemn, yet festive.
In a sense, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur were anticlimactic. The preparation for these several days had a greater impact on me than the days themselves.
Father hardly ever showed emotion during his prayer. His prayers were quiet and subdued. Having undergone surgery on his vocal cords, he never led the services, except for Mincha on the eve of Rosh Hashana, and Ne'ilah (the concluding service) on Yom Kippur.
Father's repetition of the Amida (the silent prayer) of mincha of the eve of Rosh Hashana was soul-rending. The words were no different from the Amida which was said three times daily all year around. But this was the final Amida of the year. It was the one, last opportunity to do a mitzva in the remaining moments of the year about to end. If one had failed to have a proper attitude towards prayer and devotion during the entire year, here was one last chance.
"Return us, O Father, to Your Torah, and bring us back to serve You... forgive us our transgressions, for You are a forgiving King... heal us, and we shall be healed... return to Your Sanctuary in Jerusalem..."
Every verse was saturated with tears, and the congregation wept along with him. Why had we not said these prayers this way all year? Why did we just mumble the words out of habit, and not grasp their full meaning? Never again will we allow these beautiful prayers to be said without feeling. Never!
After Mincha, I would hear some of the congregants say, "This year will certainly be a good one. The Rebbe has pleaded our cause well."
The day before Yom Kippur, at the morning meal, Father would sing the portion of the Selichot (prayer for forgiveness) services for that day. The melody penetrated every crevice in one's soul, and brought one to a profound state of atonement.
"How can I come before the Judge, without any merits in hand; and because of this, my heart is full of fear... To Your protective abode have come Your children whom You have exiled, and in Your house, they have gathered in fear and trembling." The tears poured forth profusely. "Remember for them the virtues of their ancestors as they stand in judgment before You..."
The Talmud states that it is a mitzva to eat on the day before Yom Kippur. In fact, eating on that day is considered as though one would have fasted two consecutive days. The Talmud did not mean simply eating. It was referring to this morning meal when Father's rendition of the selichot hymn dissected one's soul and achieved an even greater intensity of teshuva (repentance), more than Yom Kippur itself would accomplish.
Following this, Yom Kippur was anticlimactic, until the concluding service of the day, Ne'ila. The fast was almost over, and everyone felt that they had merited Divine forgiveness. Then Father chanted the prayer of the Thirteen Divine Attributes of Mercy, the prayer vouchsafed by G-d to Moses with the promise that it will never be turned away.
It suddenly hit us. What if we have not repented sincerely? What if we have not merited forgiveness? What if we have allowed this precious day of forgiveness to slip by without achieving true teshuva? And now we were in the very last few moments of this day. But all was not lost. There was still this one and final opportunity to avail ourselves of the Divine forgiveness of the day.
"I place my entire trust in these thirteen words, and in the gates of tears which are never closed; and thus I pour out my heart before the Searcher of all hearts..." Father's voice was now barely audible as it broke through his tears. "May it be Your will, He who hears the supplication of those who weep, that You preserve our tears with you, and spare us from all evil, for to You and only to You do we raise our eyes in trust and hope..."
After N'eila everyone felt that a heavy burden had been lifted from their hearts. Instantaneously, the mood changed from one of deep concern to exultation.
Immediately after the close of the day, Father would telephone family members who lived elsewhere to wish them, "May your prayers have been accepted."
Reprinted with permission from Generation to Generation, published by Traditional Press.
Through a holiday awareness campagin by the Chai Foundation, posters with the dates of the High holidays, Sukkot and Simchat Torah, were placed on the entire New York subway system, as well as in schools, synagogues, and restaurants throughout the U.S.
NATIONAL MOSHIACH HOTLINE
An introduction to the concept of Moshiach is available by dailing 1-800-4-MOSHIACH in the United States and 1-800-2-MASHIACH in Canada. The message, a four-minute mini-class on a basic concept concerning Moshiach, is changed each week. At the end of the message, the caller can punch in his area code and is given the phone number of the nearest Chabad-Lubavitch Center where more information can be obtained about Judaism in general and Moshiach in particular
LUBAVITCH SERVING PRISONS
Six federal correctional facilities in upstate New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut had Rosh Hashana programs provided by the Lubavitch Youth Organization. The programs included prayers, reading the Torah, sounding the shofar and classes throughout the holiday. Four other federal correctional facilities had pre-holiday programs. For Yom Kippur, two facilities will once again host groups of Lubavitchers, some of whom have been going to these facilities for over a decade. Similar programs are organized by Chabad-Lubavitch Centers all over the world.
A "siyum sefer Torah" celebrating the completion of the Torah scroll written by the Chicagoland Jewish community in honor the Lubavitcher Rebbe was held recently at the Congress Hotel in downtouwn Chicago. The ceremony was followed by a street parade. Refreshments, live music, dancing in the streets and flags for the children rounded out the festivities.
From an audience of the Lubavitcher Rebbe with a group of Jewish students:
The Ten Days of Teshuva (Repentance) which begin with the two days of Rosh Hashana and continue through their culmination, the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, are the ten days of the inauguration of the new year. Between these three solemn days of the year we are given a period of seven days, containing every day of the week; one Sunday, one Monday, and so forth. This complete week, neither more nor less, is given to us to enable us to atone and repent for any wrong deeds accounted for during the previous year, and to better our way of life in the new year. That we have been given a complete week in which to accomplish this is significant: Spending Sunday of this week as we should, and making the most of the time, serves as a repentance and atonement especially for all the wrong done on all the Sundays of the previous year; the same may be done on the Monday of this week for all the Mondays of the past year, and so on.
However, repentance implies two essential conditions: regret for the past and resolution for the future. Therefore, this seven-day period is also a means of planned preparation for the forthcoming year. On the Sunday of this week we should think in particular of bettering the Sundays of the upcoming new year. This will give us the strength and ability to carry out and fulfill our obligations on the Sundays to come. Likewise, with regard to all the other days of this as regards the forthcoming year.
By considering only ourselves, however, we would deal with just a part of our obligations. As I have emphasized many times in the past, one should not and must not be content with leading a proper Jewish life personally, in one's own home and family. One must recognize and fulfill one's obligation to the environment by influencing others in it to adhere to the Torah and to its precepts. This duty is particularly required of youth, on whom G-d has bestowed an extra measure of natural energy, enabling them to become leaders, particularly among their own youth groups, and to inspire others in the ways of our Torah and Torah-true way of life.
I hope and pray that everyone of you will become a leader and source of positive influence in your environment, leading Jews, and Jewish youth in particular, to a true Jewish life, a life of happiness, a life in which its spiritual and material aspects are properly balanced. Such perfect harmony of the spiritual and material can only be found in the Torah and mitzvot, and in the light of the Torah you will lead your colleagues and friends to true happiness.
From a letter of the Rebbe:
Inasmuch as we are now in the propitious days of the Ten Days of Return, it is well to remember that this is the time of the year which our Sages identify with the verse, "Seek G-d when He is found, call on Him when He is near." This "nearness" is described as the "nearness of the Source of Light to its spark." May G-d grant that this be reflected in our daily lives throughout the whole year, in all aspects, both spiritual as well as material.
Indeed, since all the expressions used by our Sages, as all words of Torah, are exact, the said expression, "nearness of the Source of Light to its spark," is particularly meaningful. For, the proximity of the Source of Light increases the spark's flame and power. So it is in the spiritual realm, where the nearness of G-d (the Source of Light and Source of Blessing), sets the Jewish heart and mind aglow with love of G-d and awe of G-d. This stimulates each Jew to observe and fulfill His mitzvot in all aspects of their everyday lives, thereby widening the channels and vessels to receive G-d's blessings in all their needs, materially and spiritually.
Why is there a repetition of certain verses during the closing prayer of Yom Kippur?
We say "Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad," once thereby accepting upon ourselves the yoke of Heaven with pure faith for the entire year. In addition, according to the Shlah, when we say the "Shema" out loud, having in mind that were we tested, we would willingly give up our lives to sanctify G-d's name, it is considered as if we actually stood firm in such a test. We say "Baruch Shem Kavod Malchuto L'Olam Vaed" three times, for the past, present and future tenses, "G-d ruled, G-d rules, G-d will rule forever and ever." Lastly, we say, "G-d, He is G-d" seven times, to escort the Divine Presence from our midst through the seven Heavens.
Chana Schneerson, of blessed memory, the mother of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita.
The Haftorah reading for the first day of Rosh Hashana is from the book of Shmuel (Samuel.) It tells of Chana and her entreaties to G-d to bless her with a child, whose life she would dedicate to holiness and G-dly service. Finally, a son was born to her, and when he was weaned she took him to Eli the High Priest in Shilo to fulfill her vow. There, she offered a song of joy and praise to the Alm-ghty: "My heart rejoices in the L-rd, my horn is exalted in the L-rd; my mouth is broadened over my enemies; because I rejoice in Your salvation." Because of Chana's self-sacrifice and under Eli's tutelage, Shmuel became one of the greatest prophets of the Jewish people.
In a book published about Rebbetzin Chana, one person remembers, "After each talk I had with Rebbetzin Chana, of blessed memory, 'Chana's Song' from the book of Shmuel came to my mind. For it is the song of a great Jewish mother who, after years of suffering and difficulty was blessed with a son who became a prophet among the Jewish people.
"Like Chana of old, tremendous hardships and obstacles were Rebbetzin Chana's lot. Yet, she kept this to herself, except for when her lips moved quietly in prayer. Years of loneliness and waiting were her portion. But, in the end a time came when 'my heart rejoices in the L-rd'--when the heart of Rebbetzin Chana was filled with happiness and exalting."
Rebbetzin Chana passed away on the sixth of Tishrei, 5725 (1964), at the age of 85. At the same time as her pure soul was returning to its Maker, Rebbetzin Chana's chair in the women's section of the main Lubavitcher shul at 770 Eastern Parkway inexplicably caught fire.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
The Story of Yona is read on Yom Kippur
The streets of Jerusalem were full of Jews who had come to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot. The Prophet Yona was among the happy celebrants until the prophecy came to him, saying: "Arise! Go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against her, for their wickedness has ascended before Me."
For Yona, this was an unwelcome mission, for if the sinful people of that great, gentile metropolis were to heed his call and return to G-d, how would that reflect upon his recalcitrant brethren--those who had resisted the pleas of so many prophets? Wouldn't G-d's anger burn against them all the more? And the Ninevites, the bitter enemies of the Israelites, would be forgiven! No, Yona decided, he would not follow the bidding of his Master. He would flee. Never would he, even unwittingly, cause punishment to his beloved brethren. He would escape to the sea, and perhaps there, holy prophecy would depart from him and he would be free of the onerous command.
When he arrived in the city of Jaffa Yona blended into the general fray and hastened to find a ship bound for Tarshish. He approached the local seamen, but they told him all ships had set sail and there were none to be hired. Yona was almost frantic as his eyes scanned the horizon. Out as far as he could see there seemed to be a dark speck on the sea--could it be a ship? In what seemed to be an incredibly short span of time, it drew close enough to identify. Sure enough, it was a ship heading straight to port.
Even before it had time to anchor, Yona boarded and approached the captain. "Take me to Tarshish at once. Don't worry about passengers--I will pay the entire fare. Just make haste." The captain accepted the fare and set sail, but no sooner had they reached the open sea than a violent storm engulfed the ship. The frightened sailors tried to steady the ship, and desperately tried to return to port, but they were trapped in the swirling waves. Standing on the deck, they could see other ships passing by on peaceful waters. But for them, the sea churned with ever-increasing fury.
They decided to cast lots, and each time the lot fell on Yona. "Who are you and where are you from? What people do you belong to?" they asked.
"I am a Jew, and I fear G-d, Creator of the earth and the seas," he replied.
"What have you done to bring about this storm, and how can we stop it?"
Yona was resigned to his fate. He looked at them and replied, "Cast me into the sea, and the storm will abate."
But the sailors were unwilling to commit what would surely be murder. They tried to bring the ship to port, but to no avail. Finally, they agreed to test his word and lowered him partially into the raging waters. Immediately the storm ceased. When they pulled him out, it raged again. It was clear to them that they would perish unless they heeded his words, and begging forgiveness, they cast him into the sea.
Yona suddenly felt himself being swallowed by a huge fish. For three days and nights Yona lived inside the belly of the fish and prayed to G-d in total repentance. When he had returned to G-d completely, G-d caused the fish to swim near the shore and spit Yona out onto the beach.
He entered the huge city of Nineveh and proclaimed G-d's word: "In 40 days Nineveh will be overturned!" The people of the city believed him, and even the king sat in sackcloth and ashes and repented. They all repented both in word and deed. When G-d saw their sincerity and how they had turned from all their evil, He relented and pardoned the city.
Yona was sick at heart, for what he had so greatly feared had indeed transpired, and he prayed to G-d, saying, "Wasn't this why I fled to Tarshish, for I knew You would always pardon a sinner who returns to you, even these evil people! Now, death is more preferable to me than life!"
And G-d answered him, "Are you so deeply grieved that this huge and populous city has been spared?"
Yona left the city and built a booth in the eastern outskirts, intending to wait out the forty-day period to see if the Ninevites would indeed remain true to their resolve. The heat beat down relentlessly piercing his makeshift shelter, and the prophet slept fitfully through the sweltering night.
Overnight G-d had caused a leafy kikayon tree to sprout and shed a blessed coolness overhead. Yona was full of joy on account of the kikayon tree. The very next morning G-d sent a worm to attack the kikayon, and it withered and died. The sun beat down and an east wind blew, and Yona wanted to die. G-d said to him, "Are you so grieved on account of the kikayon?"
"Yes," replied Yonah, "I wish that I would die."
And G-d said to him: "You took pity on a plant which you neither planted nor labored over. It appeared overnight and vanished overnight. And I--should I not take pity on Nineveh, a great city in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people as well as animals?"
And Yonah was still.
But I will assuredly hide My face on that day (Deut. 31:18)
A person can only hide if the other person is unaware of his presence. It's not hiding if we know beforehand that someone is concealing himself in a certain spot, even if he is well hidden from view. This knowledge gives us a better grasp of the exile in which the Jews find themselves. We, having been forewarned, can better deal with the darkness because we know that G-d can be found even as He hides His face.
(Baal Shem Tov)
And they will say on that day, is it not because my G-d is not in my midst that these evils have overtaken me? (Deut. 31:17)
Every Jew must believe that G-d is with him and within him wherever he goes, even in times of trouble. It is only when our belief falters and we forget G-d's presence that "these evils" are given the opportunity to occur.
(Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischa)
(He) forgives our sins, year after year (from the Yom Kippur prayers)
A human being, if wronged by his neighbor, will forgive him after that person apologizes and begs for forgiveness, but will find it more difficult to forgive a second time if the very same thing happens again. How much more so is this true if it occurs a third or a fourth time. To G-d, however, there is no difference between a first and a thousandth offense committed against Him. G-d's attribute of mercy has no limit or boundary, as it states, "For his mercy endures forever."
(Rabbi Shneur Zalman, Igeret Hateshuva)
And Moses went (Deut. 31:1)
"To the house of learning," explains the commentator in the Targum. Before Moses began his address to the Children of Israel he went to verify what he was about to teach. From this we learn that one must never rely on his own memory when deciding a matter of Jewish law; one must always consult the proper sources to make sure that the decision is correct.
"The teachings of Chasidut," one might argue, "are indeed like gems and pearls, but I'm not one to chase after pearls. I'm satisfied if my clothes aren't torn." The answer to this argument is that, since we have to get ready for the coming of Moshiach--when we will be privileged to enter the marriage canopy together with the King of Kings--we will need pearls, too.