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Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Halachic Times (Zmanim)
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Jewish History

Following the failed attempt to dispatch a raven from the ark (see "Today in Jewish History" for Elul 10), Noah sent a dove from the window of the ark to see if the great Flood that covered the earth had abated. "But the dove found no resting place for the sole of its foot" and returned to the ark; Noah waited seven days before making another attempt.

Wedding day of Rabbi Baruch and Rebbetzin Rivkah, the parents of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812 -- see entry for tomorrow, Elul 18), in 1743.

On September 1, 1939, corresponding to the Hebrew date of 17 Elul, the Nazi Wehrmacht invaded Poland, launching World War II. The war would prove to be the deadliest conflict in history, resulting in the death of some 60 million people, including the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust as part of the Final Solution.

Link: Essays and Stories on the Holocaust

Laws and Customs

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.

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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

Sometimes an opportunity to do something good comes along, but you’re not sure it’s worth the effort. So here’s a thought to ponder:

On the one hand, Maimonides wrote that the world is held in such delicate balance that one good deed can change everything.

On the other hand, go out and look. Does this seem like a balanced world? Like a world where goodness and wickedness come in equal measure?

Or is this a world where the bad guys keep winning and the good guys are tread underfoot?

A world, as the kabbalist Rabbi Chaim Vital wrote, “where the wicked dominate, where most of life is harsh and brutal; a world that is almost entirely wicked with but a tiny infusion of goodness scattered throughout.”

But then, we really have no idea how to quantify the ratio of goodness to bad.

Because goodness is light. Wickedness is darkness.

One flash of light disrupts a huge amount of darkness. One sincere good deed is even more powerful.

So powerful, that if the Creator would infuse just a sliver beyond the minuscule ration of goodness alloted to this world, wickedness wouldn’t have a chance.

But He placed you in His universe. You, a human being, who has access to light from beyond the system.

You, who with one small but earnest act of goodness can radically disrupt the balance of this entire universe and transform its nature forever.

Do it now.