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Shabbat, September 9, 2017

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Chai Elul
Halachic Times (Zmanim)
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Jewish History

Elul 18 is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Yehudah Loewe, the "Maharal" of Prague (1525-1609), outstanding Torah scholar, philosopher, Kabbalist and Jewish leader. Popularly known for creating a "golem" (clay man) to protect the Jewish community of Prague from the frequent threat of blood libels.

Elul 18 is the birthday of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism

Rabbi Israel was born in a small town in Ukraine in 1698. His father, Rabbi Eliezer, who was a member of the secret society of "hidden tzaddikim," passed away when young Israel was only five years old; his last words to his son were, "Fear nothing but G-d alone. Love every Jew with all your heart and all your soul."

The young orphan would spend much of his time wandering and meditating in the forests that surrounded his hometown; there, he one day met with one of his father's compatriots, and eventually joined their society. For many years, he lived disguised as a simple innkeeper and clay-digger, his greatness known only to a very small circle of fellow mystics and disciples. But on his 36th birthday, he was instructed by his master to "reveal" himself and publicly disseminate his teachings.

Drawing from the mystical "soul of Torah," the Baal Shem Tov ("Master of the Good Name," as he came to be known) taught about the spark of G-dliness that is to be found in every creation, and about the great love that G-d has for each and every one of His children, scholars and simple folk alike. He emphasized the importance of joy and simple faith in serving G-d, rather than asceticism. Initially, his teachings encountered fierce opposition from the scholarly elite and established leadership of the Jewish community; but many of those very scholars and communal leaders ended up becoming his devoted disciples. When Rabbi Israel passed at age 62 on Shavuot of 1760, the movement he founded was well on the way of becoming the most vital force in Jewish life.

Links:
Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov

After many years as a member of the society of "hidden tzaddikim", living under the guise of an ignorant clay-digger, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov was instructed by his masters to reveal himself and begin to publicly disseminate his teachings. This he did on his 36th birthday, Elul 18, 5494 (1734).

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), founder of the "Chabad" branch of Chassidism, was born on Elul 18 of the year 5505 from creation -- the 47th birthday of his "spiritual grandfather", Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (Rabbi Schneur Zalman was the disciple of the Baal Shem Tov's disciple and successor, Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch).

Link: A brief biography of Rabbi Schneur Zalman

Laws and Customs

"Chai Elul" (Hebrew for "the 18th of Elul," also meaning "the life of Elul") is celebrated by the Chassidic community as the birthday of the "two great luminaries" -- Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism; and Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad. Chassidim wish each other "Gut Yom Tov!" and conduct joyous gatherings called farbrengens.

Elul, the last month of the Jewish year, is a month devoted to stocktaking and introspection. A Chassidic tradition holds that the last twelve days of the year -- Elul 18 to 29 -- are specifically devoted to the twelve months of the closing year: on each of these twelve days, one should review the deeds and achievements of its corresponding month.

During the summer months, from the Shabbat after Passover until the Shabbat before Rosh Hashahah, we study a portion of the Talmud's Ethics of the Fathers ("Avot") each Shabbat afternoon. This week, we study Chapters Three and Four.

Link: Ethics of the Fathers, Chapter 3 and Chapter 4

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 52 Chapter 53 Chapter 54

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

A spark of G‑d slumbers within, as a flame hushed within the embers.

Will she awaken from ideas? They are only more dreams to sleep by.

Will she awaken from deep thoughts? She is smothered yet deeper within the ashes.

She will awaken when she sees her Beloved, the One Above with Whom she is one.

And where will she see Him? Not in ideas, not in deep thoughts, but in a G‑dly deed that she will do, in an act of infinite beauty.

Then her flame will burn bright.

Maamar VeIshah Achas.