For several years we have had the custom to gather at the close of the year. This has provided us with the opportunity to extend blessings and good wishes to all, for a Kesivah VaChasimah Tovah, to have a good and sweet year. This blessing also includes those who are listening to these words in distant places, as well as those who will be informed of these words at a later time: all the Jewish people.

The Jewish people are “One Nation,” for “we have one father” who created [all humanity and especially] “the people [who are] close to Him” and who are His “chosen people.” The soul of every Jew “is truly a part of G‑d above....” (Tanya ch. 2) Since all Jews are thus tied and bound in unity to the Holy One, Blessed be He, they are consequently all united together, despite the physical distances which might separate them.

From time to time we gather to show and exercise our unity, and we discuss the “one Torah” and express our good wishes and blessings for each other. At such times the oneness of the total Jewish Nation is brought to the fore and even a Jew in a far flung corner of the globe is also included in this unity. For, in truth, we only reveal that unity which exists among Jews from the moment a Jew is imbued with his/her G‑dly soul.

In addition to strengthening our unity, these gatherings and their expressions of blessing and good wishes will also bring the blessing of a good and sweet year for all Jewish people all over the world. Our unity has its source in G‑d; it is therefore complete and absolute.

This particular gathering of Jewish women and girls carries the themes of Elul, the portion of Nitzavim, taking place in a Shemitah year and, on the threshold of the year of Hakhel.

What may we learn from the unique aspects of this get-together?

The theme of Elul is encapsulated in its name which forms the acrostic of “Ani LeDodi VeDodi Li,” — “I am [devoted] to my Beloved and my Beloved [is devoted] to me,” symbolizing the unity of the Jewish people and the Holy One, Blessed be He, in the framework of love and affection. For this reason G‑d is referred to with the sobriquet “Dodi” — my Beloved — which clearly connotes love and affection for every Jew, as well as G‑d’s desire to fulfill the wishes and prayers of each individual Jew.

This intensification during Elul of the unity of G‑d and the Jewish people, also intensifies the unity of the Jewish people among themselves, especially as it is expressed and revealed in an assembly of many people. Furthermore, since we are past the day of Chai Elul (18th of Elul) of which the Previous Rebbe has stated, “Chai Elul gave, and gives, vitality [and enthusiasm] into the month of Elul,” more specifically, “it vitalizes the Divine service of ‘Ani LeDodi VeDodi Li.’ ”

The portion of Nitzavim begins:

Today you are all standing before G‑d your L‑rd — your leaders, your tribal chiefs...even your woodcutters and water drawers. (Devarim 29:9-10)

Clearly the emphasis is on Jewish unity which is strong and firm because they are “standing before G‑d” with firmness and determination. While all year round the Jewish people are one with G‑d, and thereby are united among themselves, the unity is more clearly expressed and more intense when the portion of Nitzavim is read, on the Shabbos before Rosh HaShanah. For then all Jewish souls stand firm and are uplifted. This increases the blessing of Kesivah VaChasimah Tovah, for Nitzavim also means that we are meritorious in judgment.

Shemitah is the Sabbatical year dedicated to G‑d. As the Sforno writes:

All year the workers will be free from agricultural labor...and they will be encouraged to seek G‑d.

The Jew’s unity with G‑d is strengthened when more Jews study more Torah.

Following Shemitah we go into the year of Hakhel. During Sukkos of that year we have the special mitzvah to gather men, women and children in the Beis HaMikdash — the paramount exercise of Jewish unity.

In all of the subjects we have just discussed we can find a special quality and a richer facet, in relation with this gathering of Jewish women.

Consider our analysis of the month of Elul. The heavenly constellation associated with the month of Elul is B’sulah (Virgo) — the young maiden. Symbolically speaking the young maiden is a metaphor for the Jewish people based on the verse “young maiden of Israel.” (Yirmeyahu 31:3) The constellation Virgo is of course a group of stars which the ancients saw as a young woman, and since the Jewish people have been compared to the stars, in this case they are seen as a young woman who awaits the betrothal and marriage. As the Midrash says, in the future time the complete marriage of G‑d and the Jewish people will be realized, and then G‑d will “grant abundant joy to the loving friends.”

This symbolism is more prominent in relation to Jewish women who are the actual young maidens of the Jewish people.

At the espousal of G‑d and the Jewish people — at Matan Torah — we also find that the Jewish women were spoken to first. How appropriate it is that Jewish women should gather during the month of Elul whose “fortune” is connected to the young (Jewish) maidens.

Let us now turn our attention to Nitzavim where the goal of “standing before G‑d” is to be brought “into the covenant of G‑ that He will be a G‑d to you...,” the unifying bond between the Holy One, Blessed be He, and the Jewish people who are close to Him.

Here, too, the lofty role of Jewish women came to the fore. Why were the women given precedence at Matan Torah? Simply because they have the power and ability to influence the men — husband and children — to increase, strengthen, magnify, broaden and deepen their unifying bonds with G‑d, and to introduce more vitality and enthusiasm in all their actions.

What special status do we attribute to women regarding Shemitah? The difference between the Shemitah year and the previous six years applies to work in the field and vineyard, which is mainly the domain of the menfolk.

What is in the domain of the women? “The complete glory of the princess is within!” (Tehillim 45:14) Thus, for example, the administration of the household, preparation of food and clothing, cleanliness etc., all of these labors are in the power of the Jewish women and they all continue to be practiced right through Shemitah. Moreover, since the whole year is a Sabbatical year all aspects of the home take on the loftier aura of Shabbos — including the conduct of the home, the food, clothing, and the invocation of beauty — lighting candles — much more than during the week days.

Now, when the men are exempted from the field work during Shemitah they should share in the other chores and activities in the house so that it should be permeated with the light of Torah and mitzvos.

Here, however, the women “pull rank” since they have greater experience in dealing with these matters during the six years. They lead the way and show a living example to the men how to illuminate the house with the light of Torah and mitzvos.

This leads us to the special role and lofty quality of women in relation to Hakhel. The mitzvah of gathering all the Jews includes even the tiny-tots and infants. This can only be accomplished by the women, for a father cannot substitute for a mother. No matter how learned he may be, he cannot give the child the attention, love and motherhood which a mother can give and which the child needs.

Now, although Hakhel in its original form can only be fulfilled in the Beis HaMikdash, nevertheless, the spiritual role of Hakhel applies now also even more strongly.

They will thus learn to be in awe of G‑d your L‑rd, carefully keeping all the words of this Torah. Their children, who do not know, will listen and learn to be in awe of G‑d your L‑rd as long as you live in the land.... (Devarim 31:12-13)

Here the women assume the major mission, to effect the spiritual theme of Hakhel in their own private Beis HaMikdash. For in her house each woman is the foundation of the home and she makes that home a holy Sanctuary. Then her husband and children will listen and observe all the words of the Torah.

At the close of Shemitah, and after Chai Elul, it behooves you to increase all your activities on behalf of Torah and mitzvos, qualitatively and quantitatively.

Start with your special mission to illuminate your homes with the light of Torah and mitzvos, this means Shabbos and Yom Tom candles kindled with a shining, joyous countenance. Preface this with praise and thanks to the Al-mighty for having merited you with this special commandment to bring light into your homes.

When you begin with this act you will make your house a mini-Sanctuary for the Omnipotent One, and then the light will radiate and spread from your home — because of your efforts on behalf of spreading Torah and Yiddishkeit and the wellsprings of Chassidus — to all Jews; and to all people, the Seven Noachide Laws which apply to them.

This will make the world a fitting dwelling place for the Shechinah, and as a preparation for the new year of Hakhel all of these good practices should be increased.

All of these actions should also be influenced by the lessons culled from the Torah section of these days, the portion of Nitzavim. It is there that the Torah bears witness on all Jews that they stand together before G‑d.

This presence of the Jewish people before G‑d that takes place before Rosh HaShanah also influences the life of a Jew every day of the year. When a Jew awakes in the morning he proclaims “I offer thanks to (before) You” — this is the same thought as (standing) “before G‑d.” He then adds, for “You have returned my soul to me” that soul which “is truly a part of G‑d above.” This attitude then continues throughout the day so that all his actions will conform to G‑d’s will, because he stands and is bound to the will of G‑d. The problems of the world around him do not stop him and despite the fact that the Jew is one sheep among seventy wolves he stands firmly before G‑d — and the Nations of the world see the Name of G‑d upon him — including the mezuzah which proclaims: “Shema Yisrael...” that the house is dedicated and stands before G‑d.

There is another lesson to be gleaned from the portion of Vayeilech: that a Jew must always advance. One must not be complacent and feel satisfied with the level he attained yesterday, even if it is the level of the righteous. When G‑d gives a person long life he must utilize each day to grow and increase in all areas, especially Yiddishkeit, Torah and mitzvos which are tied to the Holy One, Blessed be He, truly rising in matters of holiness.

In connection with the preparation for Hakhel we should make note that it should be infused with joy. First of all, Hakhel takes place during Sukkos — the Season of Our Rejoicing — and since all members of the family gathered in Yerushalayim their joy and enjoyment was very great. This coming year is, moreover, the year of Tismach — the acrostic for “rejoice!” In order to usher in a new year of rejoicing we must end off the old year in the same manner.

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We will close with a matter of tzedakah by making each of you a messenger of a mitzvah [to increase the tzedakah] and since G‑d rewards measure for measure He will increase His kindness and charity to each of us. This is not the same as paying a debt, rather in the Jew it emerges from his/her natural attributes of kindness. G‑d’s reward is also a form of tzedakah. As we say at the start of Selichos,” “Charity is yours O’ G‑d.” And since charity brings the redemption, may it come speedily in 5747, so that we may celebrate Rosh HaShanah, the Ten Days of Repentance, Yom Kippur, Sukkos — the Season of Our Rejoicing, and Hakhel, in the Third Beis HaMikdash which will be built very speedily in our days.

And may all the Jewish people “our youth and elders, sons and daughters” be led by Mashiach from their dispersion to one place, the Holy Land, “a land where the eyes of the L‑rd your L‑rd are upon it always from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.” The complete people, complete Torah, and complete land — to Yerushalayim the Holy City, and, on the Temple Mount, to reach the greatest joy of Hakhel in the year Tismach, speedily and truly in our days.

May we all be blessed with a Kesivah VaChasimah Tovah — for a good and sweet year — blessed in all details. And the joy should increase into the new year.

A good and sweet year.