GOOD MORNING! Rosh Chodesh Elul, the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul will be August 26th and 27th. This means that there is one month and counting to Rosh Hashanah (Wednesday evening, September 24th). Many people might ask, "So, what?" or might think, "Thanks for the reminder to buy a brisket!" However, the answer to "So, what?" is that we have one month to prepare for Rosh Hashanah ... and Yom Kippur.
Why would one want to prepare for Rosh Hashanah? Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment when the Almighty decides "Life or death, sickness or health, poverty or wealth." Does it make sense to prepare for a day of judgment? You bet! However, for many it has the same emotional impact as their cardiologist telling them that they need to lose weight to avoid heart attacks and strokes... a wonderful idea between meals!
There is a tremendous benefit to living in Miami Beach. It's a hurricane zone. Around May you get the annual predictions -- 7 to 12 tropical storms, 3 to 6 hurricanes, 0 to 2 major hurricanes. They actually have ways of measuring, correlating and predicting the number and size of storms. At the beginning of the season we start buying bottled water and batteries to prepare. We put a new battery in the weather radio which broadcasts the position and strength of the storms. We even have a chart where we mark off the present location of storms out there in the Caribbean.
Why is living in a hurricane zone a benefit? It teaches you a very important lesson: Be real with life! Usually, the weather bureau (N.O.A.A. -- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) gives a week's heads up. You know that in 7 days a Force 3 or 4 or 5 hurricane will hit. You generally know for sure whether it will hit land, you just don't know whether for sure it will hit YOU until perhaps a day or a few hours before landfall.
What happens during that week? The hardware store sells out all of its plywood (used for covering windows) and batteries. They have to make special shipments from neighboring states! The grocery stores shelves are cleared out or seriously diminished of canned goods and water. People are scrambling to buy generators to provide electricity needed to keep the lights on, fans going and the refrigerator and freezer working. There is a mad dash for last minute preparations because the STORM IS COMING!
What's the difference between a hurricane and Rosh Hashanah? The hurricane MAY hit your area; Rosh Hashanah DEFINITELY will touch you!
So, if one believes in a God who has set a standard for behavior and observance in the Torah and who will judge us, does it make sense to make some preparations? It would be reasonable to think so.
How can one prepare for the Day of Judgment? Here are:
10 THINGS YOU CAN DO TO PREPARE
FOR ROSH HASHANAH
- Take a spiritual accounting. Each day take at least 5 minutes to review your last year -- a) your behavior with family, friends, associates and people you've interacted with, and b) your level of mitzvah observance.
- Attend a class or classes at a synagogue, Aish center, a yeshiva on how to prepare. Read articles on aish.com and listen to world-class speakers on aishaudio.com .
- Study the Machzor (Rosh Hashanah prayer book) to know the order of the service and the meaning of the words and prayers. You can buy a copy of the The Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur Survival Kit, by Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf (possibly available at your local Jewish bookstore or at Amazon.com -- about 50 left).
- Make sure that you have given enough tzedakah (charity) and have paid your pledges (One is supposed to give 10% of his net income). It says in the Machzor that three things break an evil decree -- Teshuva (repentance), Tefilla (prayer) and Tzedakah (charity). Why not maximize your chance for a good decree?
- Think of (at least) one person you have wronged or feel badly towards -- and correct the situation.
- Make a list of your goals for yourself and your family -- what you want to work towards and pray for.
- Limit your pleasures -- the amount of television, movies, music, food -- do something different so that you take this preparation time seriously.
- Do an extra act of kindness -- who needs your help? To whom can you make a difference?
- Read a book on character development -- anything written by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin would be great!
- Ask a friend to tell you what you need to improve. A real friend will tell you ... but in a nice way!
Re'eh, Deuteronomy 11:26 -- 16:17
This week is a jam-packed portion. It begins with a choice: "I set before you a blessing and a curse. The blessing: if you obey the commandments of God...; the curse if you do not ... and you follow other gods."
The portion continues with rules and laws for the land of Israel primarily oriented towards staying away from idol worship and the other religions in the land. In verses 13:1-12 you will find the section that caused a missionary's face to blanch and silenced him from continuing to proselytize a renowned rabbi.
One of the indications of the existence and necessity of the Oral Torah -- an explanation and clarification (later redacted as the Talmud) of the written Torah (The Five Books of Moses) -- comes from verse 12:21 "You will slaughter animals ... according to the manner I (God) have prescribed." Nowhere in the Torah are we instructed in the manner of shechita, ritual slaughter. One might conclude that there was a very sloppy editor. Or -- one might conclude that there are additional teachings (the Oral Law/Talmud) clarifying and amplifying the written Word.
The source of the Chosen People concept is brought this week: "You are a nation consecrated to God your Lord. God has chosen you from all nations on the face of the earth to be His own special nation ... " (Deut. 14:1-2). We are chosen for responsibility, not privilege -- to act morally and to be a "light unto the nations."
The portion then gives instructions regarding: permitted and forbidden foods, the Second Tithe, remissions of loans every 7 years, treatment of those in need (to be warm-hearted and open-handed), a Jewish bondsman, the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot).
* * *
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah uses some mighty strong language this week that really needs some understanding:
"See I am placing before you this day a blessing and a curse. The blessing, if you will listen to the commandments of the Almighty which I am commanding you this day. And the curse, if you do not listen to the Almighty's commandments" (Deut. 11:26-28).
On top of this, the Sforno, a renowned 15th century Italian commentator, adds "There is no middle way. If a person follows the Torah, his life will be a blessed life. If a person fails to live by the commandments, he will live a cursed life."
This seems to be a rather extreme statement. However, if we understand that life is either purposeful and meaningful or not, then we can understand that a life of meaning is a blessed life. And a life without meaning is a life devoid of satisfaction and imbued with a sense that nothing makes a difference when life is over anyway (and what could be a greater curse than that?).
Understanding that there is a God Who created the world, sustains it and supervises it -- gives life intrinsic meaning. One can always create a sense of meaning in a diversion -- acquiring wealth, following baseball or even in something as noble as helping others. However, unless there is a God and there are absolute responsibilities and values, then there is no inherent meaning to life. It gnaws at one's psyche.
A person needs to have purpose in life, to know that life is meaningful. To be aware of the Creator and to fulfill His will enables a person to experience the greatest of blessings in this world. Each day will be an exciting adventure full of the joy of doing the Almighty's will. The choice is yours to make. Choose life!
(or go to http://www.aish.com/sh/c/)
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A good Jew is one who is trying
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Rabbi Kalman Packouz
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