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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Halachic Times (Zmanim)
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Jewish History

The first Chassidic aliyah ("ascent" - immigration to the Holy Land), led by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, Rabbi Abraham of Kalisk and Rabbi Yisroel of Polotzk, reached the Holy Land on Elul 5 of the year 5537 from creation (1777 CE). They were all disciples of the 2nd leader of the Chassidic movement, Rabbi DovBer, the "Maggid of Mezeritch" (who had passed away five years earlier) and colleagues of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad. Initially, Rabbi Schneur Zalman was part of the group; but when the caravan reached the city of Moholiev on the Dnester River, Rabbi Menachem Mendel -- whom Rabbi Schneur Zalman regarded as his teacher and mentor after the Maggid's passing -- instructed him to remain behind to serve as the leader of the Chassidic community in White Russia and Lithuania. Rabbi Schneur Zalman retained close ties with the settlers in the Land of Israel and labored to raise funds for their support.

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.

Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15

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

Most of the favors we do for others are things they do not need, things they only imagine they need, because they live in a world propelled by fantasies.

And most of the kindness we do is saturated with ulterior motives. We do kindness for those we love, those close to us, or those who make us feel good when they receive.

But this does not matter. They are acts of kindness, nonetheless, and G‑d desires to be found in acts of kindness. And where can kindness be performed? In a world of delusions, where people imagine all sorts of needs and each of us is dependent on the other.

The highest, indeed, is found in the lowest; the deepest truths are submerged in the muddiest pits of confusion.

Reshimat Nefesh Hashefalah, cited and elucidated in Likkutei Sichot, volume 16, pp. 41ff.