This real life story was featured as a highlight at the International Conference of Chabad Lubavitch Emissaries Gala
A Beautiful Custom
As is known in communities all around the world, there is a beautiful custom that Baal Shem Tov initiated of saying extra chapters of King David’s Book of Psalms, Tehillim, each day, from the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul through Yom Kippur. Let’s take a closer look at one of today’s extra chapters:
Chapter 77 verse 4 says: “I remember G-d and I stir; I speak and my spirit becomes faint, forever”.
Rashi, the Torah’s foremost commentator, explains that the first part of the phrase : “I remember G-d” refers to The kindness that He used to do for me. And, the second part beginning: “I speak” is talking about the acts of kindness and the favors. The verse finishes with: “and my spirit becomes faint,” meaning to faint from extreme emotion.
The World is Catching Up
It’s interesting. In recent years, the world has spoken much about the concept of gratitude and how beneficial it is spiritually and even physically. On Google, there are nearly 300 million results for being grateful. Well, King David, the King of Israel, whose son King Solomon built the holy Temple in Jerusalem where it’s outer wall, the Western Wall, still stands today, already supplied us with this crucial information more than 2,000 years ago.
When we think back and remember all the good G-d has done for us, when we recall the many kindnesses He has done for us and for our ancestors, we can’t help but feel grateful.
The King Has Faith in You, So You Should Too
But, in these special days of introspection before Rosh Hashanah, when we take the time to look back on our past deeds and try to improve ourselves, we have to be careful. Yes, we must dedicate ourselves to sincere teshuva, to returning and strengthening our relationship with G-d by committing to improve ourselves and our lives, but we should not become dejected in the process. We can, and must, stay positive knowing that G-d has faith in us to be His partners in making the world a better place. And the proof is…… we are here! Like we say in the morning prayer Modeh Ani upon awakening, You G-d have returned my soul to me and have faith in me to use it in the best way possible today.
So my friends, stay strong, stay focused and make each day the best it can truly be.
The King is in the Field
Since we are now in the Hebrew month of Elul, the month before Rosh Hashanah, I’ve been talking and writing about the concept of the King is in the Field. We know that we can pray anywhere, anytime, in whatever language is comfortable for us. The basic idea of the King is in the Field is that even though G-d is always available to listen to us, He is closer than usual during this time.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains something very special in a chassidic discourse, a maamar. The first Hebrew letters of the beautiful phrase from King Solomon’s Song of Songs, Ani L’Dodi v’dodi li, I am my beloved’s and my Beloved is mine, spell out the name of the month Elul. This is not by chance, so we have to understand the connection between the two.
The Rebbe breaks down the phrase into two parts to teach us a lesson to elevate our spiritual endeavors during Elul, this unique time of year.
“I am my Beloved’s”
First we have: “I am my Beloved’s.” This refers to our spiritual service during the month of Elul. We call this an arousal from below. It refers to when we ourselves take initaitive to become closer to G-d.
In fact, we hear the blowing of the shofar each day of the month of Elul to awaken our soul, and to move us to focus on our past, so that we can better our future.
Then after Elul, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur come along in the month of Tishrei. Now let’s look at the second part of King Solomon’s words. “My Beloved is Mine.”
Here, by contrast, the arousal begins from G-d. G‑dliness is drawn down from Above in the month of Tishrei in the days from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur. But what is actually happening here? Our relationship with G-d is so precious, that we actually can cause a closeness in our relationship with Him.
It’s not happening on it’s own. It’s a cause and effect.
What we do now to get close to G-d, causes G-d to reciprocate.
It’s Not Just What Happens in the Synagogue
The spirituality that we are infused with during the High Holidays actually comes about as a result of what we do, not only in the synagogue during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but with what we do as preparation during Elul. It means that we can get a head start right now.
Our preparations each and every day during Elul help us draw down those special feelings of attachment and closeness during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It’s not just by chance that we all feel such a deep connection during these holidays. It’s not just the familiar prayers and the beautiful singing of Avinu Malkeinu, our Father our King.
On Healthy Relationships
It is that special feeling one gets when they work on a relationship and see and feel that relationship growing and moving in a positive direction. It’s the strengthening of the bond, unlike anything else, that will continue to give us the needed spiritual nourishment throughout the year.
When we take care of our spirituality, we feel balanced and more secure. And this will undoubtedly have a direct affect on our physicality and our approach to our lives each day.
During a recent AMA (Ask Me Anything), I received a very heart-felt question.
“How can we make it feel like the High Holy days if we have to be alone during a quarantine?”
Sometimes it is nice to be alone……..to have some privacy and to use our time in any way we see fit. During these last few difficult months we have all faced, many people have had to live through incredible loneliness.
Now, a new challenge is presenting itself.
In less than a month, the high holidays will be upon us.
There is no doubt that being alone during a holiday is difficult. How can one feel joyous about beginning the new year in required isolation or without family due to travel restrictions to protect everyone’s health?
There was a beautiful story by Rabbi YY Jacobson that went around this year before Passover, when many were concerned about spending the Passover Seder alone. Each year, the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his wife had their Passover seder privately, just the two of them. The year of the Rebbetzin’s passing, the Rebbe had the seder by himself. He received an invitation from a local family to join their seder. He had ensured that tens of thousands of Jews had Passover seders at Chabad Houses all over the world. Yet, for his own reasons, he had the seder that year by himself.
“Maase Avot Siman l’Banim”
“The actions of our fathers are a sign (a lesson) for the children.” One can’t help but think that the Rebbe’s actions showed us something special and gave strength to those who would need it. If someone finds themselves in the difficult situation of being alone for a holiday, not only wil they get through it, but it can be a very meaningful and complete holiday nonetheless.
Everyone knows that the Passover seder is a participatory event. We read the Haggadah aloud together and we ask and answer the Four Questions. But interestingly, the Talmud teaches that if one is by himself at the seder, he asks and answers the questions himself. If the Talmud is telling us this, it means that even according to Jewish law, one can have a complete seder even if he finds himself alone.
With this knowledge, how can we apply it to the upcoming High Holidays?
What can one do to have a complete holiday? Here are some ideas and feel free to leave other helpful ideas in the comments.
1. 30 days before the holiday, we learn about it.
It is customary to re-learn about an upcoming holiday. This insures that we do everything necessary for the holiday, inspires us and gets us in a festive mood.
2. Biur Tefillah
Prior to the onset of the holiday, learn the deeper meaning of the prayers (in whichever language you are comfortable). Listening to recordings of the prayers and their special tunes helps too!
3. It’s All Commentary
Study the commentaries of the Torah and Haftorah portions of the holiday. Everything is available nowdays online. These can be printed out for convenience to be read on the holiday itself.
4. Get a Great Guide
Print an in-depth online holiday guide and commit to doing as much as you can.
5. Get the Cameras Rolling……
…….the video camera, that is. Before the holiday begins, have a video call with family or friends. Sing the holiday songs together and share something you learned during your pre-holiday studying. Follow it up with a video call after the holiday too.
6. Your Order Will Be Right Up!
Order a special book online to enjoy during the holidays.
7. The Way to One’s Heart is through the Stomach
Prepare or buy some of your favorite holiday foods. Although it’s not the way you anticipated spending your holiday, it can still be filled with things that bring you joy. Eating a good meal and staying hydrated will give you the much needed nutrients to feel good, sleep well and help you stay positive.
8. Get In Touch with Nature
If possible, try to go for a walk outdoors during the holiday. If this isn’t possible, sit by an open window to get some fresh air, feel the sun shining and take in the sounds from outside.
9. ‘Head’-ing in the Right Direction
Although Rosh Hashanah begins the new year, the name of the holiday itself holds within it a great teaching. “Rosh” in Hebrew means head. And, just as the head holds within it the life force and the power to control the entire body, the special holiday of Rosh Hashanah holds within it the potential to affect the entire year. And what we do with that potential depends on us. More specifically, it depends on our thoughts and our actions.
Being on our own during a holiday can be challenging and difficult.
But we can make the most of this time, by recognizing the opportunity to focus on ourselves during this holiday of great introspection. We can endeavor to make a gameplan for the year ahead. And it may help to remember that this year’s holiday(s) is just one out of hopefully many more years to come. With a little planning, you’ll be surprised how the two days will pass when filled with good things to do.
We must also keep in mind one of the important highlights of the day.
We are once again crowning God as the King of the world. The fact that we have this incredible potential reminds us of our unbreakable bond we have with God. After all, as Chassidus teaches, each and every one of us has an actual part of Godliness within us. This connection is so strong and is an essential part of who we are. And hence, we are never truly alone. Contemplating this important concept can bring great comfort, especially when we feel on our own.
Even with challenges, it can still be a meaningful holiday. I wish each of you a healthy, happy New Year, l’Shanah Tova uMetuka. We are connected to each other, and to the the many before us, through our special prayers, beautiful songs and everlasting teachings.