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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

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Erev Rosh Hashanah
Halachic Times (Zmanim)
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Jewish History

The third Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn of Lubavitch (1789-1866), was born on the 29th of Elul. Orphaned from his mother at age 3, he was raised by his maternal grandfather, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. Rabbi Menachem Mendel assumed the leadership of Chabad in 1827, upon the passing of his father-in-law and uncle, Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch. Extremely active in communal affairs, he established and funded Jewish farming colonies which provided a livelihood for thousands of families. He also stood at the forefront of the battle against the "Enlightenment Movement" which, with the support of the Czarist regime, sought to destroy traditional Jewish life -- a battle which earned him no less than 22 (!) imprisonments and arrests. In the course of his lifetime, Rabbi Menachem Mendel penned more than 48,000 pages of Chassidic teachings and Halachic exegesis. He is known as the "Tzemach Tzeddek" ("a sprouting of righteousness") after his work of Halachic responsa by that name.

Links: A brief biography; more on the Tzemach Tzeddek

Laws and Customs

Today is the last day of the Jewish year, and a day of preparation for Rosh Hashanah ("Head of the Year") which commences this evening.

A more lengthy version of the Selichot ("supplication") prayers are recited in the early morning hours, before the morning prayers.

Tachnun (confession of sins) and similar prayers are omitted.

The Shofar is not sounded on the day before Rosh Hashanah, to separate between the shofar soundings of the month of Elul (which are a minhag, or "custom") and the Rosh Hashanah soundings, which are a biblically ordained mitzvah, divine commandment).

Following the morning services, Hatarat Nedarim, the annulment of vows, is performed (the text for this procedure is found in most prayer books).

It is customary visit the the graves of the righteous on this day and pray there, as the resting place of a righteous person is an opportune place to beseech the Almighty.

When Shabbat occurs immediately following a festival -- as it does this year -- an "eruv tavshilin" (i.e., food for at least one "meal" that is set aside in advance for Shabbat) must be prepared prior to the festival, so that it should be permitted to prepare food for Shabbat during the festival.

The festival of Rosh Hashanah, marking the start of a new Jewish year, begins this evening at sunset.

Upon the conclusion of the evening prayers in the synagogue, we extend to one another greetings of Leshana Tovah Tekatev Vitechatem, "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year." In the evening meal, we eat apple dipped in honey, the head of a fish, pomogranates , tzimmes (sweet carrots) and other foods signifying a sweet and successful year.

See Laws & Customs for tomorrow, Tishrei 1.

As the last month of the Jewish year, Elul is traditionaly a time of introspection and stocktaking -- a time to review one's deeds and spiritual progress over the past year and prepare for the upcoming "Days of Awe" of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.

As the month of Divine Mercy and Forgiveness (see "Today in Jewish History" for Elul 1) it is a most opportune time for teshuvah ("return" to G-d), prayer, charity, and increased Ahavat Yisrael (love for a fellow Jew) in the quest for self-improvement and coming closer to G-d. Chassidic master Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi likens the month of Elul to a time when "the king is in the field" and, in contrast to when he is in the royal palace, "everyone who so desires is permitted to meet him, and he receives them all with a cheerful countenance and shows a smiling face to them all."

Specific Elul customs include the daily sounding of the shofar (ram's horn) as a call to repentance. 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). Click below to view today's Psalms.

Chapter 85 Chapter 86 Chapter 87

Elul is also the time to have one's tefillin and mezuzot checked by an accredited scribe to ensure that they are in good condition and fit for use.

Links: More on Elul

Daily Thought

More than Rosh Hashanah is about the One Above, it is about us below.
He created the world. But we drive it to its destiny.

That is why it is called “the beginning of Your works”—even though it is not the anniversary of the creation of the universe, but of the human being. It is the true beginning, as all of time begins on this day.

Because on this day, more than any other, we are empowered to switch tracks, to transform our destiny and thereby the destiny of all of creation. Through us, the bitter darkness that shrouded truth and goodness can become a flaming torch of light.

All is defined by destiny. Even the past is redefined by the arrow of its future. The very existence of that time that held that past is re-created once it achieves its hidden destiny. A destiny that only you can reveal.

That is all that matters: Now, the first day of all of time, future and past.

Maamar Zeh Hayom 5742.