Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money, and spiritual engagement.
I'm back from my two weeks of spiritual traveling in Israel, Czech and Poland. Most meaningful was seeing the Auschwitz and Birkenau death extermination places. I refuse to call them camps, as that has such a playful ring to it. There was nothing like seeing these death centers live. I recommend that everyone do it personally if you can. I will share much more in the weeks ahead, especially when I put on pictures of the death centers, but I wanted to start with where I started on the trip. At the Czech town of Brno, where I spent my Shabbat of Eikev. Since I drove into Brno first, I was able to take some pictures first, which of course, I could not do on Shabbat. Then during the week it
was Czech countryside and mushroom picking. (see video of pictures below)
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Czech countryside and Mushroom Picking 082219
On our first day in Czech we see the beautiful Czech countryside and pick mushrooms in the pine forest
Chanukah in Bergen Belsen concentration center
"In their very essence a Jew and despair are contradictory. They simply cannot co-exist together." Rabbi Shraga Shmuel Schnitzler, who went by the more familiar name of Rabbi Shmelke, looked around the barracks to make sure that the others had understood his point. Amidst the crowd of weary faces that stared back at him, there were a few who were nodding their heads in agreement. Perhaps they, too, had been chassidim in another life — the life that existed before the war — and so they could appreciate the tales that Rabbi Shmelke told about chassidic Rebbes of former days.
Rabbi Shmelke didn't tell his stories just to pass the time. His job, as he saw it, was to keep up the spirits of the Jews who were imprisoned in the Bergen Belsen concentration center. That job would have been much easier if they were prophets, since the end of the war was just a few months away. But during that Kislev of 1944, the situation seemed as hopeless as ever. Even the thought of Chanukah, which was fast approaching, couldn't dispel the gloom for most of them.
For Rabbi Shmelke, it was a different story. Since the beginning of the month he had been busy preparing for the holiday. He asked the same question to everyone he met: "Can you get us a little oil? Do you someone who works in the kitchen?"
The answer was always the same: No.
With dismay, he realized that Chanukah was only a few days away. He knew only too well what would happen if he couldn't find any oil. Many of his fellow prisoners were clinging to life only by a slender thread of hope. Once that thread was snapped, they would succumb to the deep sea of dark despair that threatened to drown them. So he had to find some oil. Even if he found only enough oil to kindle the first Chanukah for a few seconds that would be enough. But no Chanukah lights? That wasn't an option.
The day before Chanukah Rabbi Shmelke was at work — his "other" job in the camp was to remove dead bodies from the barracks — when he received an order to go to the last barrack, where some people had died during the previous night. While he walked across a field his foot got caught in a small hole in the frozen earth and he almost fell. He removed his foot from the hole and noticed that there was something buried inside. After making sure that no guards were watching him, he knelt down to see what it was.
He pulled out a small jar from the ground. Inside was some congealed liquid. Oil, he whispered. Oil for Chanukah!
Rabbi Shmelke then reached his hand inside the hole a second time. To his delight he discovered that the hiding place contained more surprises. He pulled out a carefully wrapped package and quickly undid the paper wrapping. Inside were eight little cups and eight thin strands of cotton.
It was obvious that some Jewish prisoner had buried this little menorah and the oil. But who was he? And where was he? Had he been transported to another camp? Had he died?
Although Rabbi Shmelke desperately wanted oil for his own barracks, he sincerely hoped that the Jew who had buried these things was still alive. Perhaps he was still in the camp and he would come back the next day and search for the treasure that he had so carefully hidden. So Rabbi Shmelke carefully reburied everything. But for the rest of the day and night, he asked every Jew that he met the same question: "I found some oil and a menorah. Maybe you were the one who hid them?"
The other prisoners looked at him with sad eyes, certain that at last the horrors of the Rabbi's work had destroyed his mind. "No, Rabbi," they said, one after another. "I didn't hide any oil. I didn't hide a menorah."
The next night, however, they discovered that Rabbi Shmelke hadn't gone mad. When they returned to their barracks after the evening roll call they saw, to their amazement, a little menorah standing on one of the bunks. To their even greater surprise, one of the cups was filled with oil!
Rabbi Shmelke recited the blessings and then kindled the light for the first night. The group watched in silence while the tiny flame fought its eternal battle against the surrounding darkness. Some smiled, others cried. All felt a sweet spark of hope revive inside their embattled and embittered hearts.
Their own personal miracle was repeated on each night of the holiday. And then a few months later, in April 1945, an even greater miracle occurred. Germany surrendered. The war was over.
Rabbi Shmelke was one of the fortunate few who survived the war. After Bergen Belsen was liberated he returned to Hungary, where he served as a spiritual leader for other survivors and became known as the Tachaber Rav.
Several years later he made a trip to the United States, and while he was there he paid a visit to an acquaintance from the "old country" — Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe. While they reminisced, the Satmar Rebbe mentioned that he had also been a prisoner in Bergen Belsen.
"I was there a year before you," said the Satmar Rebbe. "I was rescued on the 21st of Kislev, four days before Chanukah. Before I found out about the rescue plan, I made provisions for the holiday. I bribed several camp officials and put together a package of oil, cups, and wicks, which I then buried in a field. I always felt badly that my little menorah was never put to use."
Rabbi Shmelke smiled. "Your menorah was used. It dispelled the darkness for hundreds of Jews and helped at least one of them survive the war."
NETANYAHU: WE HAVE SURPASSED HERZL'S VISION
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has written a letter to The Jerusalem Post Magazine, reflecting on Theodor Herzl's vision
We have transformed Israel's economy from its socialist roots – which Herzl disdained – into a free-market economy that unleashed the genius of our people, precisely as Herzl prophesied. We have turned Israel into a rising global power," wrote the prime minister. "Our citizens, Jews and Arabs alike, enjoy the freedoms denied elsewhere in our region and a level of prosperity that now exceeds Japan's."
Netanyahu further called Herzl the Jews' "modern Moses."
The magazine features perspectives on Herzl from today's thought-leaders, such as Israeli political scientist Shlomo Avineri, Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau and America-Israel Friendship League think tank chairman Gol Kalev.
The magazine is available online, with articles throughout the website, or at newsstands.
Elul is a special month "mediating" between the month of Av, which throughout the history has symbolized tragic occurrences in the history of people of Israel and the month of Tishrey, which is the first month of every New Year symbolizing hope of the new beginning.
Elul is the month of spiritual preparation for the New Year.
According to the Jewish tradition each one of the 12 months relates to one of the 12 tribes.
Elul is related to the tribe of Gad, the seventh child of Jacob and Leah.
(Actually, he was born to Leah's maid Zilpah)
When this child was born, Leah said:
Fortune is come!' And she called his name Gad. (Genesis 30:10)
...Thou shalt surely tithe all the increase of thy seed...
It is interesting to point out that in Hebrew the word
תְּעַשֵּׂר - TE'ASER
has two meanings.
1. To give one tenth
2. To become rich
According to the Kabballah, if we calculate one tenth of the numerical value of each of the letters of the
we will receive the word מזלך - MAZALKHA
which means "Your fortune – destiny"
Thus, giving one tenth of what one receives as a charity is the key
to influencing one's fortune for the better.
The word תְּעַשֵּׂר
First letter: "Tav" = 400.
One tenth of 400 equals 40 = letter "Mem"
Second letter: "Ayin" = 70.
One tenth of 70 equals 7 = letter "Zayin"
Third letter: "Sin" = 300.
One tenth of 300 equals 30 = letter "Lamed"
Fourth letter: "Reish" = 200.
One tenth of 200 equals 20 = letter "Khaf"
Combining the new letters we get the word
which means "Your fortune – destiny"
We wish you "KHODESH ELUL TOV"
(Lit. a "Good Month of Elul")
12 Elul Facts Every Jew Should Know
Elul is the Final Month on the Calendar
Elul is the 12th month on the Jewish calendar (the 6th month counting from Nissan). It always has 29 days, ending on the same day of the week that it began (Sunday, Monday, Wednesday or Friday), which ensures that the holidays in the subsequent month will fall on the proper days.
2. It's When "The King Is in the Field" (Polina Rytova on Unsplash)
As we approach the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), we prepare for these holidays. In Chassidic tradition, it is said that during this month, "the King (G‑d) is in the field," smiling and accessible to all. On the other hand, once the holidays are upon us, G‑d is, so to speak, in His palace. The experience during the holidays is that much more powerful and majestic, but now is the time when anyone can approach G‑d with requests.
3. It's a Time for Introspection "Every chassid who toils in the study of Chassidism and in prayerful service in the heart… senses the aspect of being him that derives from the soul knowing him."
After the Jewish people sinned with the Golden Calf, Moses spent this month (and the following 10 days until Yom Kippur) obtaining a second set of tablets, along with G‑d's full forgiveness. This time period is therefore an especially potent time for us to come closer to G‑d. Dedicate time to cheshbon hanefesh ("soul accounting"), taking stock of your activities, thoughts and conversations of the past year. Where have you improved and where do you still need to improve? Think honestly and deeply, and you'll have a running start when Rosh Hashanah comes around.
Selichot ("Forgivenesses") are special prayers said on fast days and during this season. The highlight of the Selichot is the recitation of the 13 Attributes of Mercy, the formula that G‑d gave Moses for securing divine forgiveness. Sepharadim begin at the start of the month of Elul and finish 40 days later on Yom Kippur. Ashkenazim begin saying Selichot several days before Rosh Hashanah (always on a Saturday night).
5. The Name Elul is Laden With Significance The wall of Jerusalem as it appears today
The month is first referred to as Elul in Nehemia 6:15, where we read that the wall around Jerusalem was completed on the 25th day of the month. (Fun fact: This is also the day when the creation of the world began, ending 6 days later on 1 Tishrei.)
The four letters of Elul (אלול) are said to be an acronym for אני לדודי ודודי לי, "I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me,"1 expressing the closeness that we experience with G‑d during this time. It is also an acronym for [ואשר לא צדה] והאלהים אנה לידו ושמתי [לך מקום], "But one who did not stalk [him], but G‑d brought [it] about into his hand, I will make a place for you to which he shall flee."2 The verse is referring to the City of Refuge, where one who had inadvertently killed could find safety, and it encapsulates the refuge that G‑d provides us all when we seek to rectify our past misdeeds.
6. This Month's Sign is Virgo
Known in Hebrew as betulah, "maiden" or "virgin," this month's horoscope sign is emblematic of the order of the day: coming close to G‑d. During this month, we are empowered to reach deep into ourselves and tap into that which is pure and G‑dly, unsullied by the crassness of our surroundings. This is typified by the betulah, who is untainted by sin.3
7. We Hear the Shofar Every Day Shofar blowing during the month of Elul (Zalman Kleinman)
You may be surprised to learn that it's not only on Rosh Hashanah that we blow the shofar. Every day of the month of Elul (besides for Shabbat and the day before Rosh Hashanah), we blow the shofarafter morning services. The soul-stirring shofar blasts inspire us to come closer to G‑d, as we read, "Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid?"
8. We Wish Each Other a Sweet Year Credit: Collection of Yeshiva University Museum
Words have power. When signing off letters or ending phone calls and conversations, we wish each other a "ketivah vachatimah tovah," to be "written and sealed for good [in the Book of Life]." The 21st century iteration of this practice would probably be to set this as your email signature, your WhatsApp status and your Facebook profile.
9. We Say Psalm 27 Twice a Day
After morning and afternoon (or in some communities, evening) prayers, we recite Psalm 27, which begins with the words "To David: The L‑rd is my light and my salvation." The Kabbalist Rabbi Binyamin Benish Cohen wrote in 1706 that one who recites this psalm in a state of holiness, purity and great concentration will have his prayers answered, and that it has the power to nullify divine decrees. We continue this practice until Hoshanah Rabbah, the final day of Sukkot.4
10. The Baal Shem Tov Instituted Three More Chapters
The Baal Shem Tov instituted the custom of reciting three additional chapters of Psalms each day, from the 1st of Elul until Yom Kippur (on Yom Kippur the remaining 36 chapters are recited, thereby completing the entire book of Psalms).
11. Get Your Tefillin and Mezuzahs Checked Now A trained scribe inspects a tefillin scroll (Photo: Eliyahu Parypa)
Elul is a time to increase and improve our mitzvah observance. Many people have the custom to have a scribe inspect their tefillin and mezuzahs during this month to ensure their kosher status. The Rebbe wrote that this practice5 is "worthwhile and very appropriate for everyone to publicize."
12. The New Study Season Begins in Elul Studying Talmud. )
Yeshivahs typically divide the academic year into several zemanim, "trimesters." Lasting just until the High Holidays, Elul zeman is the shortest of the trimesters (the others last from between Sukkot to Passover and from after Passover to the summer). Yet, it is extremely significant. This is the time when a student becomes acclimated, acquires chavruta study partners and prepares for a successful year of learning and personal growth.
This is done for a total of 51 days. Some (including Chabad) begin on the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul. Others begin one day later and therefore end one day later as well, on Shemini Atzeret (see Shaar Hakolel).