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Rosh Hashanah (5763)

In a few days will be the Jewish holiday of Rosh HaShanna. Jews all over the world will be filling synagogues praying and listening to the Shofar and then after that, a week later, fasting for a full day in Yom Kippur 'The day of Forgiveness'.

But how many really appreciate these miraculous phenomena?

What strange force is it that draws non-observant and even atheistic Jews to spend even several hours in a Synagogue waiting to hear the blast of a ram's horn or to fast for no apparent reason?

Here are two stories that perhaps will help understand.

Shortly after world war two, Josef Stalin "The Sun to the Nations" was adored and feared by the entire Russian populace. His rule and judgment were so absolute that even the millions of his own people that died in his Siberian 'correction' camps and their relatives were expected to be grateful to him for 're-educating' them.

Rabbi Mendel Futerfass lived in Russia. He was a Lubavitcher Chassid; a Jew that believes that the Moses of his day is the Lubavitcher Rebbe. And the Lubavitcher Rebbe said that everyone must sacrifice even their lives do insure that every Jew, even in the G-dless U.S.S.R gets a genuine Torah education.

Rab Mendel was, arrested, charged with subversive activities and put in jail shortly after Rosh HaShanna until his trial. It was pretty clear that he would be found guilty and spend the rest of his life in Siberia, which in most cases wasn't much time.

Then, in his damp prison cell together with hundreds of criminals he suddenly realized that several days had passed and that night would be Yom HaKippurim; The day of Forgiveness!

On one hand he became depressed. He had to spend the holiest day of the year in this hell of a prison.

But on the other hand….. He was alive!! Jewish! A Chassid of the Lubavitcher Rebbe!! What would he accomplish by depression? He had to rise above the situation!! That is what being a Chassid is about!!

That night he prepared for himself a little Synagogue; his bed (which was a long plank of wood attached to the wall). He would sit on his bed and say as many of the prayers of Yom Kipper as he remembered and G-d would help.

But it wasn't so easy. The prayers of Yom Kippur are different and there are a lot of them.

But one prayer stood out in his mind; a poem arranged alphabetically whose each line begins with the words 'Everyone believes' ('Kol Ma'aminim'): 'Everyone believes that there is nothing but G-d' etc.

In the stillness of the night, while everyone else was asleep he sat swaying gently back and forth on his bed praying quietly to the Creator. "Kol Ma'aminim b'Chod Drachav mishpat"……

Then suddenly the thought entered his mind "Hey, what am I saying here! 'Everyone believes? Everyone believes!?' Why, the sadistic devils who arrested me and threw me in prison were anti-Semitic bloodthirsty Yevsektsia ('Jewish division' of the communist party) Jews, who lived only to wipe out any mention of G-d and His people.

Rab Mendel put this new question aside with all his others… and finished his prayers.

Several nights later he had a soul-shaking experience that answered his question. In the large cell where he and about two hundred other prisoners were imprisoned, everyone but Rabbi Mendel was fast asleep. He was sitting upright, saying his 'Shma Yisroel' prayer before going to sleep when suddenly he felt that someone was staring at him. He looked up. It was Ivan, a huge mountain of a man with a scarred ugly face, everyone knew him and was afraid of him. He was a known murderer. Now it seems that he had set his sights on poor Rab Mendel.

Maybe because he hated Jews, perhaps another reason, but Ivan jumped silently from his bed, crouching like a huge cat and quietly approached the Rabbi.

When he reached Rab Mendel he bent down, put his face into his and whispered deliberately and slowly, "You're Jewish, right?"

Rab Mendel never hid his Judaism; better to die a Jew than to live a lie. He looked him in the eye and answered firmly, "Yes!"

The murderer pointied to his own chest and whispered loudly, "So am I." Rav Mendel was really surprised. He saw that something was going on behind those murderous eyes.

"And I'll tell you something else" Ivan continued, "I even fasted this Yom Kippur. That's right! Me, Ivan the murderer who hates G-d, fasted on Yom Kippur.

He paused for what seemed an eternity and continued. "A few days ago I heard one of the Jewish prisoners say 'Tomorrow is Yom Kippur' and suddenly I decided I was going to fast! I don't know why, but I did it.

The next day I told the guards I was sick and they put me in the 'hospital' (which was no more than an empty room with a wooden bed in it) and locked the door and I just sat there.

I couldn't figure out why I was sitting there but after a while I felt really uneasy. Then it occurred to me that I feel uneasy because Jews PRAY on Yom Kippur. I remembered that my grandfather took me to services and he used to pray and cry to G-d with all the other Jews, and now look at me! I'm a murderer, a thief, all I've done is hurt people all my life and I can't even…..

"Then suddenly I remembered a prayer!

"It was something my grandmother used to say to me every morning when she woke me up. I remembered her soft, sad eyes and I began to cry. Do you hear? I cried on Yom Kippur just like my grandfather did! Just like all the Jews! And when I stopped crying I didn't even wipe my eyes I just said the prayer, my grandmother's prayer:

"Modeh Ani L'fa'ne'chaw Melech Chai v'Ka'yam" ('I surrender before You, living and eternal King')

"I don't even know what it means. But I sat in that room the entire day. That's right, I sat from the morning until eight at evening and said over and over again: 'Modeh Ani L'fanechaw Melech Chai v'Kayam. Modeh Ani L'fanechaw Melech Chai v'Kayam.' "

He paused for another minute in deep thought, then snapped out of it, pointed his finger at Rab Mendel and whispered menacingly, 'Now don't you tell anyone what I just told you, understand?! ….. Nothing. I said nothing."

And he turned and returned to his place.

Rav Mendel sat in the silence staring at Ivan as he climbed into his bed, turned his face to the wall and was snoring instantly.

Suddenly the thought entered his mind. 'Aha! That is the answer to my question I had on Yom Kippur!

Why…. if that murderer believes..... it’s a sign that "Kol Maaminim' EVERYONE believes.

The second story is one I heard about the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

The Rebbe was a very sought after person. He received more mail than any man in the U.S.A. (I heard even more than the president) and he never gave a piece of inaccurate advice or a bad prediction in his life.

So it was no wonder that many Israeli politicians, even anti-religious ones came to consult with him (Although they didn't always take his advice, as we see the results in Israel today).

It so happened that someone wrote in and complained to the Rebbe. 'How can it be that such a respectable Torah figure as himself gives any sort of attention, no less honor, to such Torah-hating Jews?

The Rebbe answered, 'When a Jew wakes up in the morning on Yom Kippur, shaves, cooks breakfast, turns on the radio and while eating (all these things are transgressions) hears the announcer say "Today is the Jewish Day of Atonement, thousands of Jews throughout the world are fasting. "

Suddenly he remembers that he bought tickets to the Synagogue services. He looks at his watch, grabs the cup of coffee, runs out of the house to his car, drives to the Synagogue, runs inside, takes his seat and opens his prayer book for fifteen minutes.

Suddenly he slaps himself on the forehead and yells out, 'Oh no! I'm late for the meeting in the stock market!' He closes his book and runs out of the house of prayer.

Concluded the Rebbe: 'You have no idea how much pleasure G-d gets from that fifteen minutes that he sat in the Synagogue'.

This is the power of the High Holy Days (Rosh HaShanna and Yom Kippur).

Almost unexplainably Jews throughout the world suddenly are moved. It's not because they are thinking about punishment or reward, but rather because they feel that G-d is the Creator of the world…. G-d is actually creating THEM, constantly, for FREE and cares about what they do.

Rosh HaShanna is the sixth and final day of creation when G-d created man. And every Jew feels subconsciously that he is that man. He too must help G-d to put the finishing touches on the creation.

On the High Holy days we feel that G-d trusts us and has faith in us to improve the world.

This is the message of the Shofar and it will only be completely manifested with the arrival of Moshiach. Then the 'Great Shofar' will sound, arouse all the Jews and through them the entire world. Then all mankind will declare (as we say in the prayers of these High Holy Days) "The G-d of Israel is King and His kingship is on all being."

But it all depends on us…. Prayer is essential but it is not sufficient. We must DO…. SPEAK and even THINK positively.

Even before Rosh Hashanna; just one more good deed, word or even thought can tilt the scales. Hopefully this Rosh HaShanna all the Jews in the world will celebrate together in the Third Temple in Jerusalem.

Have a healthy, happy, sweet New Year with Moshiach NOW!!v

Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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