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A Message from Rabbi Spalter

A Year of Blessings from A-Z

As we all prepare for the New Year and the High Holidays, I would like to wish each and every one of you and your families a very happy, healthy and sweet year. May this year bring you all the blessings you seek and need and may it be one filled with happiness and joy.

I once heard a beautiful explanation from the Rebbe regarding our Rosh Hashanah wishes for a good and sweet year. The words a “good and sweet year” seem to be redundant. If the year is “good” is it not also “sweet”? The Rebbe explained that good and sweet are not always synonymous. Sometimes good is not sweet. He based it on Judaism’s belief that everything that happens in the world is from G-d and everything that comes from G-d is good. Nothing bad comes from Hashem. That means that everything that happens must be good, but sometimes this ‘good’ as it comes down to us from heaven, can manifest itself in such a way that it does not feel good at all. Sometimes the ‘good’ coming from heaven feels very painful. Everyone who lives in this world knows what I mean. There are times when we feel terrible pain, whether physical or emotional, because our health is poor, our business is not producing or our children give us heartache and so on and so forth.

According to Kabbalah the ‘good’ that feels painful and bitter comes from an even higher source within G-d’s reality than the ‘good’ that actually feels good and sweet. The reason that this high level good feels painful is because being that this ‘good’ is from such a high spiritual place, the ‘travel’ downward to our polar opposite physical world causes it to change and manifest itself in a very opposite fashion i.e. a painful and bitter feeling. On the other hand, when G-ds blessings come from a lower spiritual source, as it ‘travels’ down to our physical world it does not have to change that drastically and it is able to maintain its ‘good’ manifestation; hence it is a good that actually feels good even to us physical beings.

For this reason we wish each other before Rosh Hashanah that we should have a Shanah Tova Umetukah, a good and sweet year. What we are wishing each other is that the good that we receive from G-d this year should be the kind of good that feels sweet. Even if it is a good that is from a lower source, so be it. We want a good year that actually feels good.

With this in mind I want to wish everyone a good and sweet year in all matters from A to Z; a year of Abundance, Blessing, Clarity,  Depth, Excellence, Fortitude, G-dliness, Health, Inwardness, Jubilation, Kindness, Long Life, Merits, Nobility, Opportunity, Peace and Quiet, Redemption, Spirituality and Soul-power, Triumph, Understanding, Victory, Wealth, X-citement, Yerushalayim, a year full of Zest and a year in which we all reach our Zenith.

May we all be blessed and written into the book of life and everything good. Shana Tova

"The Soul of Judaism"

This Shabbos, the 18th of Elul, is the birthday of The Baal Shemtov, founder of the Chassidic movement and of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chassidism. These two giants and historic figures have changed the landscape of the Jewish People forever.

The Chassidic movement, and especially Chabad Chassidism, has revolutionized the way we understand G-d, Torah and the Jewish People. Chassidic philosophy as taught by Rabbi Shneur Zalman and the subsequent Chabad Rebbes, has uncovered the inner dimension and soul of the Torah. 

Everything is made up of a ‘body’ and a ‘soul’.  The body is the part that we see, observe with our flesh eyes and other senses. The ‘soul’ is that which lies beneath the surface concealed, but at the same time is the life source and energy of the said being. The same is with G-d, Torah, Jews and the world at large. There is the part that we see or understand readily, which is the ‘body’, and then there is the inner dimension, the underlying truth and energy that animated and serves as the quintessence of things, the ‘soul’.

Let’s take Torah and its Mitzvot as an example. We have the mitzvah to blow a Shofar on Rosh Hashanah. The ‘body’ of this mitzvah would be the actual performance with all its details. What a shofar can be made of, how long it has to be, what kind of sounds must be heard etc. etc. The ‘soul’ of this mitzvah is the underlying spiritual energy that is accomplished by the blowing of the Shofar. We are told that when Jews blow the shofar G-d’s attribute of Malchut (kingship) of the highest world of Atzilut and even higher is being built. In simple words G-d kingdom and royalty is being established. (The details of this esoteric idea are beyond the scope of this article). And so it is with every mitzvah and word in the torah. There is the body and the soul. Chassidus and Chabad Chassidus particularly elaborate in lengthy discourses on the soul of the world, torah, Jews and G-d himself.

Judaism can be observed and studied without appreciating the soul behind it all but then it’s like a body without a soul. That would be lifeless.  The Baal Shemtov and the Alter Rebbe gave us the soul of the Torah, and in so doing breathed a new life into Torah, Judaism and the Jewish People. It is safe to say that the Chassidic revolution was so successful that all of Jewish thought and observance is influenced by Chassidic teachings.

There is a Chassidic saying that Chai (18) Elul brought chai, life into Elul. Elul, the last month of the year, is the time to return to G-d and better our ways in preparation for the High Holidays. Before Chassidism, Elul was observed with dread, fear and anxiety as Jews trembled in anticipation for the Day of Judgment when G-d will sit on his throne and judge each of us to see whether or not we are deserving of a year of life and sustenance. Preachers would go around during this month and deliver speeches of fire and brimstone and warn simple Jews of the dreadfulness of the days of awe. The Chassidic Elul is a very different experience. Elul is a time when G-d is in the field smiling at each of us and helping us turn to him and become even closer. Elul is actually a happy month. It’s a time when our souls feel its natural connection with G-d as a child feels his or her parent. G-d too feels a deep connection to His children and looks for ways to inspire us to enhance the relationship so that he can grant us what we need on Rosh Hashanah. Why would one feel scared in a month like that. Yes, there is awe and humility because of the distance we caused by our negative behavior, but great optimism that on Rosh Hashanah our father will bring us back in to his loving embrace and grant us all everything we need. But this positive twist is due to a deeper ‘soul’ understanding of Elul and Rosh Hashanah, hence Chai Elul (the Baal Shemtov and Alter Rebbe) brought ‘life’ into Elul.

I want to also reflect on the anniversary of September 11 and all it represents. The world in which we live 13 years later seems to have completely gone out of control. ISIS is beheading and massacring untold numbers of innocent people and taking control of more and more of Iraq and Syria with an appetite for total dominance while the world watches with almost total incompetence. It seems as if we made little or no progress at all over the past 13 years.  For the average American commemorating the almost 3000 lives lost that day it might seem quite depressing. Is America alone? Are we on the right track? Are we losing control? Do we have a chance to win this war of ideology? So, in order to uplift all of you reading this, I want to bring you this video clip that offers a message of hope and clarity. Enjoy and have a good Shabbos and a Lively Chai Elul.

Visit Jewish.TV for more Jewish videos.

"The King is in the Field"

I am always asked by fellow Jews how one can make their Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur a more meaningful experience. I want to address this question in the coming paragraphs.

For the longest time now the High Holidays have come to mean, to far too many Jews, the purchasing of a seat in a synagogue, cooking and hosting large meals, apples and honey and attending what is considered by many, very boring services. If you’re lucky, you get to hear a good sermon from the rabbi but for the most part, it is just another ritual that we do and cannot wait for it to end. Is this how our grandparents felt as well? Was there something that really excited them on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?

The truth is, the experience of Rosh Hashanah does not begin on the first day of the Jewish year. It really begins a month earlier on Rosh Chodesh (the first of) Elul. Elul is the last month of the year and we are told that during that month G-d is very much accessible and close to the Jewish People. In fact, in a certain way, He is even more accessible to us during the month of Elul then during the High Holidays themselves. How can that be you ask, well, according to the kabbalah there is a very lofty G-dly energy and revelation that is present in the world from the first of Elul through Yom Kippur, a total of 40 days. These correspond to the 40 days that Moses spent on Mount Sinai begging for, and securing G-d mercies and forgiveness for the sin of the golden calf. The difference between the month of Elul and the Rosh Hashanh and Yom kippur, however, is that while during the High Holidays G-d is revealed in all His glory and awesomeness in His ‘palace’ and only those with special ‘permission’ can enter, in the month of Elul He is with us in the field so to speak i.e. in our domain, in our realm, on our terms. Indeed the revelation lacks the ‘awe and glory’ of Rosh Hashanah etc. but He reaches out to us during this month by revealing Himself to us but on our terms. Any one who wishes can approach. He is accessible to every one. Saint and sinner alike. The purpose of this Elul closeness is to inspire us to ‘wake up’ and become somewhat better prepared for the High Holidays when we can approach G-d and experience Him in His ‘palace, in His realm, on His terms. But for that we need to get special ‘permission’. This ‘permission’ is granted to those who have bettered their ways and repented and are spiritually worthy of entering the ‘palace’.

This explains why some of us have a very shallow experience on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. When we arrive at Rosh Hashanah without the preparatory experience of Elul we are in trouble. Unless we are able to really tune in quickly and intensely on those days themselves (something very unlikely) we might just feel left out. But if we take advantage of these thirty days when changing our selves is easier because, as mentioned, G-d and holiness is accessible to us on our turf and terms, we get a head start and are much more in tuned with the awesomeness of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We are different. We are holier. We are spiritually closer and are therefore granted ‘permission’ and given access to enter G-d’s ‘palace’. Our Grandparents did that and so should we.

May we all have a meaningful Elul and a deeper High Holiday experience. May we all be blessed with a very happy and healthy New Year. A Shanah Tovah Umetukah to all.

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