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E-Newsletter - Tisha B'av & Elul
July 25, 2014

Tisha B'av and Rosh Hashanah Prep

The summer is flying by. Tisha B'av is coming up and, soon, the High Holidays. Resources for both follow. This issue of the newsletter also honors the memory of Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi and invites you to join our mission of freeing 100 slaves before Rosh Hashanah.

In This Issue:

Tisha B'av & Rosh Hashanah: Preparing "Early" This Year - A column by Rabbi Debra

High Holiday CD's Available

Reb Zalman: May the memory of the righteous be for a blessing

Craig’s Corner - Notes from the rebbetzin

Slavery Update

Rabbi Debra On The Road

Your Feedback Wanted

Tisha B'av & Rosh Hashanah: Preparing "Early" This Year
A message by Rabbi Debra Orenstein

We talk about the High Holidays coming “early” or “late” – at least on the Gregorian calendar. For me, they are coming earlier and earlier, even on the Hebrew calendar.

In the Torah portion Shlach, whose Shabbat reading fell this year on June 14, we got the message loud and clear that a positive attitude toward one’s own abilities and God’s promises is vital to spiritual and material success. It is also relatively rare.

Only two out of twelve (about 17%) of the Jewish leaders who served as spies evinced faith and hope. Could it be that the lessons of Shlach are meant to prepare us for a life-review in Elul and life changes in the New Year? Consider that the ancient Rabbis took God’s promise of forgiveness in the Kol Nidrei prayer from this Torah portion: “…I have forgiven according to your word” (Numbers 14:18-20); “And the congregation of the Children of Israel shall be forgiven, and the stranger who sojourns among them, for all the people have acted in error [and not by malice of forethought]” (Numbers 15:26). Already in June/Sivan, the pangs of conscience and the birth-pangs of change begin.

Tisha B’av is almost upon us. Usually, the holiday falls in August - this year on August 5. Its three-week preparation period began on the 17th of Tamuz (July 15th), 40 days before Elul, the formal start to the High Holiday season. Rosh Hodesh Elul , in turn, occurs 40 days before Yom Kippur, creating a perfect link and symmetry.

Tisha B’av commemorates the destruction of the Temples, which the ancient Rabbis attributed to “causeless hatred.” As we review and evaluate the year, this suggests one important standard by which to measure our success. How well have we loved? How many random acts of kindness have we practiced? And how much have we allowed ourselves to become offended, to collect grudges, and even make enemies – with very little to justify our antipathies?

Rabbi Ted Falcon once suggested that the “Day of Judgment” (one of the names for Rosh Hashanah) could be imagined as a day on which you receive back, neatly tied in a bundle, all the judgments that you have made in the last year. Who wants to unpack all those petty comments, much less your unexpressed insults and condemnations? Ugh! To prepare for Rosh Hashanah, as well as Tisha B’av, it is not too early to review that we regularly practiced destruction (sometimes only in our own minds) and to take account of what it has cost us.

The Unetaneh Tokef prayer in the High Holiday Musaf liturgy teaches that every life includes some harsh decrees. No one – not even the luckiest and most upright person – lives a full life without experiencing pain, betrayal, illness, and death. In other words, everyone gets some personal version of Tisha B’av: destruction. But not everyone gets a Rosh Hashanah. Not everyone takes the opportunity to mitigate the harsh decrees of life by practicing repentance, prayer, and righteous giving. These are the remedies put forth in Unetaneh Tokef. We aspire to them all year long, but especially as we approach the High Holidays and the Day of God’s Judgment.

If you want to prepare for High Holidays, by all means, read the machzor and commentaries, recite Selichot, and listen to our CD's. But, even more importantly, use those tools to help you upgrade your attitude. Keep God’s promises and divine possibilities uppermost in your mind. Let them prevail over your own doubts and failings. Do something nice for someone, even if you don’t like them at the moment and even if you don’t know them yet. Let your mercy overcome your anger, as God is said to do (Talmud Berachot 7a). Repent. Pray. Give. Caleb, one of the two spies who cultivated trust and hope, offered the perfect encouragement – and challenge: “We are more than capable,” he said (Numbers 13:30).

Indeed, we are. This year, let’s prove it.

High Holiday CD's Available

As Rabbi Debra wrote in her column, it’s good for all of us to begin preparations early for the High Holidays. For Rabbis, teachers, and Jewish educators, it becomes a necessity – both for personal development, and to prepare sermons and teachings. ALL the CD's we sell and ALL our tracks on iTunes are edited from High Holiday services co-led by Rabbi Debra and Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi. They include sermons, live q & a, prayer introductions, and even a few guided meditations.

ALL PROCEEDS from sales of CD’s between now and High Holidays will be donated to Free The Slaves, in memory of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.

More spiritual resources are available on our Holidays page.

Reb Zalman: May the memory of the righteous be for a blessing

It is with deep sadness that we acknowledge the death of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, just a month before his 90th birthday. Reb Zalman was an extraordinary leader in the Jewish world. Rabbi Debra was privileged to lead High Holiday services with him for 15 years, and he became her rabbi and mentor.

Recently, she has written about Reb Zalman in three articles:
Kohen, Tzadik - a message about Reb Zalman as he transitioned from this world,
Two Kinds of People - Reb Zalman's extraordinary contributions are acknowledged in The Menorah, bulletin of Congregation B'nai Israel in Emerson,
Where Greatness Lies - A Memorial Essay Prepared for The New Jersey Jewish Standard newspaper.

Listen now on our home page to Reb Zalman on the subject of death in excerpts from his teaching CD's.

CD's of audio teachings by this great sage and friend can be purchased by clicking on the images below or downloaded from iTunes.

Lessons, Sermons, Q & A on Life's Great Issues.

Worship and Song, Explanation and Inspiration

ALL PROCEEDS from sales of CD’s between now and High Holidays will be donated to Free The Slaves, in memory of Rabbi Zalman Schacther-Shalomi.

Craig's Corner, notes from the rebbetzin

In the spring, I attended the wedding of an old friend. We have grown closer over the years, and I can say that during that time I have also grown – larger. When a button popped on my shirt as I stood in line for the reception buffet and looked around at my middle-aged peers and the laughing children on the lawn, I realized not just that I was “pushing maximum density,” I felt clearly the progression of life, of lifecycles, and of the urgency to improve. For me Rosh Hashanah came early.

When I touched down back in New Jersey a couple days later, carbs became temporarily treif for me, and I reintroduced myself to the gym. I’ve been holding firm in my resolve to improve. We took the kids to Hersheypark, Pennsylvania for three days, and narry a morsel of cocoa passed my lips. My peers have all weighed in about how difficult it is to keep a diet, but I noticed that, as I’ve made progress, it has actually gotten easier. I do feel better (although hungrier, I confess), and I also feel more invested. I see what I am accomplishing, and, even though there are some selfish pleasures I am foregoing, I am committed to this progress, protective of it, and appreciative of the reactions I’m getting.

I like this feeling. It’s a challenge to keep it up, but that is true of so much of what is valuable in life. The work of slimming down is transformative in physical ways, and I’m especially cognizant of its complement in spiritual aspects of my life. I always approach the High Holidays with some fear that I will waste the opportunity to make real change in my life. This year I am more optimistic because I already have a good transformational head of steam up going into the season.

At my recent annual physical, Dr. Fink was impressed with my progress. He also acknowledged there was bound to be some unavoidable backsliding, “Weddings, vacations – you’ll indulge, and that’s okay,” he said, “but the next day you know you have to rededicate yourself to your practice . . . You have to live while you’re living.” This last line resonated strongly with me in both its inflections. If you live completely in stricture, you miss out in the gifts our finite life provides, while, if you live with too much indulgence, you miss purpose and the value of living outside yourself. Life will pass you by.

That button popping was a lucky sign that I took to heart, keep in my mind, and find gratitude for experiencing, though I felt it was shameful at the time. What will be your “button popping” this year? Pay attention. I challenge you to find that moment in your life that can spur change and purpose. Join me at High Holiday time with your own transformation already in progress. You have to live while you’re living.

Slavery Update

Did you know that there are approximately 27 million slaves working in the world today? Jews are banding together to rescue slaves and keep them free. After a solid year of research, Rabbi Debra has selected Free the Slaves as the primary charity to which she directs people. Click on the Free The Slaves button below to DONATE. Make a difference today.

To read Rabbi Debra’s articles on modern-day slavery and learn more about this important and pressing cause, Click here.


Debra is currently working up her calendar for the coming year. Check our calendar page for added events. If you would like to bring Debra to your community for a lecture, Shabbaton, or other Scholar-In-Residence visit, please check out her Scholar-In-Residence page and contact us with any inquiries.


We always enjoy and value your comments and questions on the newsletter, the website materials, the CD’s, or your experiences of Rabbi Debra live. Please contact us with your feedback.

God bless the State of Israel.
Shalom al Yisrael ve'al kol yoshvei teivel.

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