Elul

“Parsha and Purpose” – Nitzavim 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

 “When the King is in the Field

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 Parshat Nitzavim / Elul

When the King is in the Field

“HaMelech ba’sadeh” – The King is in the field. 

This is the way the Ba’al haTanya describes the essence of the month of Elul. (Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liady, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe; Likkutei Torah, Parshat Re’eh, 32b)

This is a tremendous difference from the way the Kabbalists discussed this month, which is that Elul is a time of fear.

“Tiku ba’chodesh shofar” – this is a month in which we blow the shofar – “bakeseh l’yom chageinu”. (Psalms 81:4)

We should be “kisuiy”: covered, intimidated and concerned.

But the Ba’al haTanya looks at it differently: “HaMelech ba’sadeh”, the King is in the field. To visit a king or a queen – as we’re learning about with Queen Elizabeth in her palace – that’s almost impossible. And when it happens, it’s very formal.

But when the king or the queen is in the “sadeh” – in the field – the informality allows for conversations with the common folk in a totally different way.

Asks the Ba’al haTanya: Do you know what the month of Elul is about? It’s not a month of trepidation or intimidation. It’s a month in which we have the opportunity to focus because God is walking in the fields. God, the King, is walking in the streets. 

He wants to say hello to us in the most informal fashion. He wants to have a relationship with us. And you know what happens when we can have an informal relationship with God?

When we can meet him in the highways and byways of life, we can meet Him on the street, then when we enter His palace during the holidays of Rosh HaShana (when we coronate Him as our King) and Yom HaKippurim, then the relationship is totally different, because the relationship started in a more informal, experiential manner.

May we truly understand this message of the Ba’al haTanya: “HaMelech ba’sadeh”, The King is in the field. He’s looking for us. He wants to engage us.

Let us find the moments to create an informal relationship with God. It will help us on the High Holidays and it will help us for the rest of our life.

Shabbat Shalom and Ketiva v’Chatima Tova.

“Parsha and Purpose” – Ki Tavo 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

 “Inspiration, Empowerment and a Stolen Shofar

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 Parshat Ki Tavo / Elul

“Inspiration, Empowerment and a Stolen Shofar”

We find ourselves right before Rosh Hashana, and there is a very interesting halakha regarding the shofar:

הגוזל שופר ותקע בו יצא…

Normally, we do not allow the use of a stolen object to fulfill a mitzvah. Nevertheless, if you steal a shofar and you hear that sound, it’s obviously not the best sound that you can hear on Rosh Hashana – no one wants to hear a sound on Rosh Hashana from a stolen shofar – but if that’s the sound that I hear, I still fulfill my obligation. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 586:2)

Why is this? Because of the halakhic principle of

אין בקול דין גזל

There is no such thing as stealing a sound. (Maimonides, Laws of Shofar, Sukkah and Lulav 1:3)

Yet there is another interesting halakha that states:

המתעסק בתקיעת שופר להתלמד לא יצא ידי חובתו וכן השומע מן המתעסק לא יצא

If I’m walking by a person’s yard or a person’s home, and a person is practicing the Shofar on Rosh Hashana, and I hear 100 blasts from his practicing, I do not fulfill my obligation. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 589:8)

Why is it that I can fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the sound of the shofar blasts via a stolen shofar, but not if I hear a person practicing with a pristine shofar on Rosh Hashana?

I believe that the underlying message is that Rosh Hashana is the beginning of the process of re-engaging with God.

We are trying to find our own sound, and there will always be something that is not perfect about our sound when we begin to create a relationship with God.

It will never be fully authentic.

Every one of us on Rosh Hashana is not fully engaged yet – it’s the beginning of the process.

As much as we try, and as hard as we work beforehand, a stolen sound still works, because all of us – even with the most pristine shofar – have a little bit of a stolen sound in our psyche, in our essence, we’re just not there yet.

But we have to try. We have to work hard. Therefore, we cannot fulfill the mitzvah via a shofar sounded not in order to inspire and empower us, but rather sounded for practice, because it must be a shofar sound intended to inspire the people around him.

It must be a shofar sound committed to trying to make a difference.

As we begin the process of Rosh Hashana, let us work to realize that it is okay if our spiritual sound is not completely authentic.

At the same time, it cannot be that we are in a state of “מתעסק” / practicing; that we are just in a state of a robotic routine.

Instead, we have to work hard to find a new energy, a new music in our relationship to God, in our relationship to our families, and really in our relationship to ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom and Ketiva v’Chatima Tova.

 

“Parsha and Purpose” – Ki Teitze 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

 “Purim in Elul: Creating a Loving Engagement with God

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 Parshat Ki Teitze / Elul

“Purim in Elul: Creating a Loving Engagement with God

We have entered the month of Elul, the month of preparation before the holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom HaKippurim and Sukkot, those days of awe.

Elul, the time in which we ask ourselves the most challenging questions: “What have we accomplished?” “What more can we accomplish?” “How can we grow into the people we can truly be?” “How can we improve our relationship with our family, our engagement with society?” “How can we create and reconcile our relationship with God?”

In fact, the Rabbis suggest that Elul [אלול] is an acronym for:

אני לדודי ודודי לי 

I am to my Beloved (God), and my Beloved is to me (God needs me, also). (Song of Songs 6:3)

Elul is about a rapprochement between ourselves and God.

However, others suggest that Elul represents something totally different, namely, that the acronym of the word is:

איש לרעהו ומתנות לאביונים

…[sending gifts] to one another and presents to the poor. (Esther 9:22)

In other words, Elul is a time for us to re-engage with our friends, and this is a time to make sure that we are responsible to help those in need.

What connection does that have to the month of Elul? I thought that that is really the theme of Purim.

In fact, the Rabbis are making a very important point.

If we want to reconcile and improve our relationship to God, we have to first realize it’s “איש לרעהו ומתנות לאביונים”: We have to improve society.

We have to be concerned about the way we engage and talk with our friends. We have to be concerned with those who are living in challenging times.

It is only when we do “איש לרעהו ומתנות לאביונים”; it is only when we celebrate that acronym that we can then achieve “אני לדודי ודודי לי”. It is only then that we can create a loving engagement, a loving interaction with God.

Shabbat Shalom and Ketiva v’Chatima Tova.

 

The Call of the Shofar Listen to Rabbi Mordechai Zeller, a graduate of the Straus-Amiel emissary program, as he explains why he’s blowing the shofar publicly across the Cambridge University campus, where he and his wife are serving as chaplains. Sounding a Shofar in the Heart of Cambridge, England. Rabbi Mordechai Zeller, OTS's Straus-Amiel Rabbinical …

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