Parshat Ki Tavo - Open your Hearts
Featured Video - Full Selichot - Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach
Reb Shlomo zt"l would often say to us "open your hearts"; when he wanted us to hear something deep when he wanted us to open up to receive holy teachings that reach our hearts before our minds.
he would sing with us
to open our hearts to Hashem and to one another
for such holy words can be received only
with open and loving hearts
and so he would say again and again
'chevre- let's open our hearts
to the deepest and sweetest Torah'
i imagine that this is how the holy Baal Shem Tov taught Torah
let us open our hearts to Hashem's love and compassion
let us open our hearts to truthfully know אבינו אב הרחמן
that our Father, is the most compassionate Father
Reb Shlomo taught in the names of all the holy Rebbes that the ‘tzaddikim gemurim’- the completely righteous ones who are immediately signed into the “Book of Life” (Bavli, Rosh Hashanah 16b) are those who believe with complete faith that though they don’t deserve anything, nevertheless they sincerely trust that Hashem will give them a good year because He is our compassionate loving Father. Reb Shlomo said that we must meditate on this until we come to know it deep in our hearts.
Is my relationship with Hashem only transactional – earning and losing points? Is the G-d we believe in just a score-keeping game master? Reb Shlomo once said, “Don’t kid yourself, the way you think about yourself is the way you think about Hashem.”
If you keep a 'score card' in all of your relationships, if you don’t believe in altruism, if you can’t step out from the prison of your worldly mind, then all of your relationships, including your relationship with Hashem, all of them are limited and dependent. They don’t even come close to the Light of the Infinite One.
In honestly believing that they don’t deserve anything, no matter how many mitzvot they may have done; in honestly believing in Hashem’s compassion, that He wants to, and is ready to give us a good year, the completely-righteous relate with Hashem on the deepest level – the level of love and compassionate bond between father and son – and whoever is not yet at that level…Reb Shlomo would shout at his concerts, “get up and dance!”
Often he told us the story about the students and chassidim of the holy Chozeh of Lublin and the misnaged who came to see for himself if it was really true that the chassidim were desecrating the holiness of Rosh Hashana by dancing on this holy, awesome day. Sure enough, right after the davening was over, the chassidim started to dance, whereupon the misnaged ran up to the Chozeh, “I really didn’t want to believe the Lashon hara, but I see with my own eyes that it’s true. How can you allow this holy day to be so desecrated?!”
The holy Chozeh passed his hand over the misnaged’s face and suddenly he saw that all the dancing chassidim were already inscribed in the Book of Life. Then he noticed that there was one chassid who wasn’t dancing. Again the Chozeh passed his hand over the misnaged’s face and he saw that this man was not yet inscribed in the Book of Life. Suddenly, the misnaged realized his own predicament – “I’m not dancing, maybe I’m not in the Book of Life. What should I do?” He looked at the Chozeh – ‘what should I do?’ and the Chozeh said, “What are you waiting for, get up and dance!”
So let’s get up and dance joyously! Dance out from your ‘brilliant’ ‘shell-fish’ self. Dance into the joy of your deepest relationship with Hashem, with your true Self, with all of Israel. Dance with joy until the joy dances you!
So let’s get up to dance and bring our ‘first fruits’ to the Beit Hamikdash! Let’s dance Gratitude, let’s dance Faith! Let the mitzvah of Bikkurim, with the reading and expressing true gratitude to Hashem for taking us out of slavery from Egypt and bringing us to His Land, the land of flowing milk and honey, the most difficult to redeem holy sparks of speech of Malchus can be redeemed and elevated out of their enslavement to your slavery.
Don’t limit yourself to being conditional. Don’t limit Hashem to your conditional mindset. Meditate on the truth of your soul, meditate on the truth of Hashem, your Compassionate Father. Dance with joy and gratitude, speak with gratitude. You are no longer a slave, no longer a victim. You are free to manifest and to be your highest self.
And yes, though I don’t ‘deserve’ anything, we ask for chessed chinam – ‘free kindness.” And we trust that Hashem is ready and wants to give it to us with compassion and love. Get up and dance!
Have the best Shabbos!
Judy’s blessing to all of us is that we should be enlightened to know what Hashem wants of us to bring about the complete גאולה redemption NOW. What are the positive and joyful things that we can and must do to draw all of עם ישראל – ‘Am Yisrael’ together, to inspire all our brothers and sisters to come home? Let’s do it! בשמחה!
As Reb Shlomo always would say, ‘Bless me and I bless you back’ that this holy parsha and that this holy Shabbos should permeate us deeply and bring us all close to one another, to Hashem, to His Torah and mitzvot, and to Eretz Yisrael. Yes! We want Moshiach NOW!
Getting Back My "I" - Reb Shlomo on Parshas Ki Savo
You know something friends, basically we are all living in two worlds. On a certain level we are living in a world where I have to do what everybody else is doing. Everybody goes to sleep, I go to sleep; everybody wakes up, hopefully I will wake up. Everybody makes a few rubles, I try to make a few rubles. But then there is something else, the deepest, deepest depths of me - where it's just "I", nobody else in the world.
I want you to know, the Gemara says that Eretz Yisrael is the center of the world. It doesn't just mean that geographically Eretz Yisrael is the center of the world. Eretz Yisrael gives us back that center.
Here is a Modzitzer Torah which you can't forget: It says 'Vehaya Ki Savo El Ha'aretz', when you come to the Holy Land, 'Asher Ani Nosain L'cha', which I am giving you. So the old Modzitzer, Reb Shaul Yedidya, says like this. 'Vehaya Ki Savo El Ha'aretz' when you come to the Land, 'Asher Ani Nosayn Lachem', where G-d gives you back your 'ANI', your 'I'. See what it is, in chutz l'aaretz, outside the land, we have everything, but we don't have our 'I'.
Friends, what's the 'I' of a person? When I am in touch with my 'I', I know what the point of me being in this world really is
Shabbat Shalom b’ahavah ubivracha
Gratitude and True Renewal
Mazal Tov! Your pure soul has arrived in the world, you are born. Your father and your mother are so very excited and happy to welcome you into the world, their world. They have been praying and waiting for you. With full heart they promise you that they will do the very best they can for you, they will always love you, they will be your best friends.
והי' כי תבוא אל הארץ
It will be, when you come to the land that Hashem your G-d is giving you…
Chassidut teaches that this verse alludes to the descent of the Neshama – soul, into the land, into this world. Joyously your neshamah will arrive in this world. The Talmud teaches that the Hebrew word for ‘It will be’ - והי' - ‘ve-haya’ –- suggests joy. Accordingly we can read the verse as saying, 'it will be a simcha- a joy for your soul to come into the land, into this world that Hashem is giving you'.
Sounds unbelievable, doesn’t it? Can it be, that it is a joy for the Neshama to come into this world- which the Zohar calls ‘Alma d’shikra’ ‘the world of lies and falsehood’?!!! Do we have any idea of how high a place the Neshama came from? It came from beyond our highest imaginations of Divine bliss. From there the Neshama descended into this lowest of worlds, a world of lies, conflicts, wars and suffering and hardships of all kinds. So what is there to be happy about?
What is true joy?
What is the greatest joy of the Neshamah?
How and why will the Neshamah find joy particularly here in this world?
The holy Zohar explains that, in heaven our own souls were being nourished with free bread ‘lechem chessed – לחם חסד'’ – bread given just out of [undeserved] kindness. The Zohar calls this free bread, נהמא דכיסופא - ‘the bread of shame’. To be nourished for free, undeservedly is shameful. It leaves you in a deep state of poverty, unable to manifest your potential, to ‘earn’ your sustenance. Without the challenge and gift of free choice you are unable to experience the joy of earning your bread.
So in His kindness Hashem gives us the gift to actualize ourselves. He sends our souls to this land- the holy land that He gives you as a gift and inheritance. He is good and does only good. Hashem give us the land, the theater for growth and actualization of self. He gives us the gift of bread to be eaten with pride because we got to earn it. But, though the land is an ‘inheritance’ that we still have to work to ‘settle’ in it.
Everyone knows that it is so easy to get lost and swallowed up by the land. We get so involved in it that we seldom barely remember our supernal origins. Days, weeks, months and years go by in ignorance of our true selves. We get terribly involved in the reality of the mundane. We get so wrapped up in our egotistical selves, that we hardly take notice of our souls and its desires.
How can we possibly live and navigate in this world successfully? How can we be here and maintain our connection with our supernal roots and with the supernal truth? For this we have a Torah and Mitzvot. The Torah provides us with light תורה אור - ‘Torah Or’ to find our way. Mitzvot are the candles with which to receive and retain the light. But the truth is that even living a light of Torah and mitzvot does not automatically guarantee that we will be conscious of our souls and its needs. It is all too easy to be on a ‘mind trip’ detached from your heart and from conscious and joyous living.
Looking a bit deeper into this very same verse, we find that not only is the verse telling us that to be in this world is in fact a gift for the soul; the opening words also reveal the secret for success. Read והי' כי תבוא אל הארץ as saying it will be when you attain the attributes of the earth. At the end of the ‘amiddah’ prayer we say, “ונפשי כעפר לכל תהי' – let my soul be as dust to all.” The earth is amazing. Though we step on it, it continues to provide us with food and water, with beautiful plants and majestic mountains and valleys. The earth teaches us the depth of true ביטול היש- nullification of the egotistical self. To truly receive the Divine soul gift of being in this world we have to be humble like the earth. When we achieve that, then we truly receive the inheritance and we truly settle in the land- in the holy land where earth and heaven, heaven and earth are connected.
We are talking about true humility. We are not talking about being a ‘shmattah’- a rag. We are talking about honestly manifesting our potential to the fullest. A ‘shmattah’ says ‘I’m just a rag, I’m not good enough to do anything of value’. False humility is dangerous to yourself and to others. Beware! The ‘yetzer hara’ is very clever and cunning.
Real Bittul is to be like the earth, to utilize all your gifts and talents to the fullest, to give joyously and to recognize and be aware that it is all a gift from Hashem that you are blessed with the opportunity to do good, joyously! And when you get stepped on like the earth, though it may hurt, it won’t stop you from continuing to be the truly beautiful person you are meant to be.
The Talmud says that a cup with just a few coins in it makes a lot of noise when you shake it. But a cup that is full, doesn’t make any noise when you shake it. When one only partially achieves his potential, he will likely think that either he is not good enough or he might think that he is better than he really is. But when you fully actualize your talents, then you realize that it is all a gift from Hashem; then you wish you could do even more; then you have the humility to love everyone and to be a really good friend; then you really inherit the land and settle in it.
Now let’s go further and learn “the great mitzvah of Bikkurim”. For it is with this mitzvah that we learn to be grateful every day, every moment of our lives; this mitzvah contains the secret of true renewal. Consider also that we can practice an aspect of this mitzvah every day. Each morning as we wake up, we discover our first-fruits of the day. As soon as our mindful soul returns to us we say מודה אני I am grateful to You Hashem, living and eternal King, for compassionately returning my soul within me – Your faithfulness is great. Your faith in us is great! It is with this humble gratitude that we offer our first-fruits to Hashem. We thank Hashem for the gift of the holy land, the gift of free choice, the gift of living here with conscious connect above, the gift of ascending to heaven and bringing heaven to earth. Sincerely expressing our gratitude, opens the channels to experience the true renewal of each day of each moment.
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Bikkurim: The First Fruits Mitzvah
THE TEXT Devarim 26:1-11
א וְהָיָה, כִּי-תָבוֹא אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ,
נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה; וִירִשְׁתָּהּ, וְיָשַׁבְתָּ בָּהּ.
ב וְלָקַחְתָּ מֵרֵאשִׁית כָּל-פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה
אֲשֶׁר תָּבִיא מֵאַרְצְךָ אֲשֶׁר ה' אֱלֹקיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ--וְשַׂמְתָּ בַטֶּנֶא;
וְהָלַכְתָּ, אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם, אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר ה' אֱלֹקיךָ, לְשַׁכֵּן שְׁמוֹ שָׁם
And it shall come to pass, that when you will come to the land which Hashem your G-d is giving to you for an inheritance, and you shall possess it and dwell in it. And you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the earth which you shall bring from your land that Hashem your G-d is giving to you and you shall put it in a basket and you shall go to the place that Hashem your G-d will choose to place His Name there. And you shall come to the priest that will be in those days, and say to him: I profess today, to Hashem your G-d that I have come to the land that Hashem swore to our fathers to give us. The priest shall then take the basket out of your hand, and he will place it before the altar of Hashem your G-d. And you shall then proclaim and say before Hashem your G-d: "The Aramite destroyed my father, then he descended to Egypt and sojourned there with a small community; and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. And the Egyptians treated us badly and oppressed us, and they imposed harsh labour upon us. And we cried out to Hashem, G-d of our forefathers, and Hashem heard our voice, and saw our affliction, our labor and our oppression. And Hashem took us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, and with great awe, and with signs and with wonders. And He brought us to this place, and He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first-fruits of *the land, which You have given me, Hashem." And you shall then place it before Hashem your G-d, and you shall then prostrate yourself before Hashem your G-d. And you shall rejoice with all the good that Hashem your G-d has given you and your household; you and the Levite and the convert in your midst.
THE GREATNESS OF THE BIKKURIM (FIRST-FRUITS) MITZVAH
On the opening verse of the parsha: "And it shall come to pass, that when you will come to the land, which Hashem your G-d is giving to you..." we learn in the Sifrei - DO THIS MITZVAH, FOR AS A REWARD, YOU WILL ENTER THE LAND OF ISRAEL.
This statement of the Sifrei is quite amazing, since in fact we were not obligated to fulfill this mitzvah until fourteen years after entering Eretz Yisrael when we completed settling in the Land! The Malbim explains the Sifrei to mean that it was in the merit of fulfilling the mitzvah of Bikkurim in the future, that we merited to enter Eretz Yisrael.
The Midrash has an even more amazing teaching: On the verse, "B'reishit bara Elokim - In the beginning Elokim created", the Midrash says, 'reishit' refers to "Bikkiurim" as it says: 'reishit bikkurei admatcha...", "the first fruits of your land , you shall bring to the house of Hashem your G-d", FOR IN THE MERIT OF THE MITZVAH BIKKURIM, THE ENTIRE CREATION TOOK PLACE.
TO BE THANKFUL
When the holy yiddeleh brought his Bikkurim first-fruits, he had to recite [proclaim] the 'parsha' of Bikkurim, a verbal proclamation of thanksgiving, which refers not only to the mitzvah of Bikkurim, but also to the miraculous origins and development of the Jewish nation. Rashi explains the purpose behind this recital is that we should not be "kafuy tovah" – we should not partake Hashem's gifts without expressing recognition and gratitude to Him.
I HAVE COME TO THE LAND WHICH HASHEM YOUR G-D IS GIVING TO YOU FOR AN INHERITANCE, AND YOU SHALL POSSESS IT AND DWELL IN IT
In particular, two aspects of our history are mentioned in the Bikkurim declaration:
"The Aramite (attempted to) destroy my father, then he descended to Egypt and sojourned there with a small community; and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous."
The commentators ask, why do we mention only the miracles that Hashem did for Yaakov when he was at Laban’s home, and the miracles that Hashem performed for us in Egypt – after all, Hashem had done many more miracles for us? We also need to understand why it was only after conquering, allocating and settling the Land that we were finally obligated to perform the mitzvah.
The Lubavithcher Rebbe zt"l explains that it is particularly these two historical events that relate specifically to this mitzvah of Bikkurim. A careful reading of the Bikkurim parsha reveals that the Torah emphasizes that to settle in the Land of Eretz Yisrael is to settle in the land that Hashem has given us and desires us to live in! This is mentioned five times (see the * markers above).
We have lived in exile many times throughout our history. We even speak of various glorious periods in exile and often [even today] many Jewish people feel more secure in exile than in our homeland, the land which Hashem has given to His people to live in.
Yaakov Avinu was the first Jew to be born in Eretz Yisrael and forced to flee. After having settled in Lavan's homeland and living there for 20 years, he had to flee from Lavan. He returned to his homeland. Not long after, Yaakov Avinu and family, descended to Egypt, where we sojourned for 210 years. In both instances, conditions had forced us to leave our homes in Eretz Yisrael and live in exile.
At first we were very welcome in both of these ‘homes in exile’ and we felt secure; after all Yaakov was Lavan’s son-in-law and we had come to Egypt under the auspices of the viceroy of the land - our very own brother, Yosef. Lavan had prospered greatly because of Yaakov Avinu, and the Egyptians survived the great famine thanks to Yosef’s wise leadership. The threats to our survival arose only well after we had settled in these foreign lands.
Thus in offering our first-fruits we would give thanks to Hashem not only for the yields of The Holy Land, but also for the miracles of our survival in exile and the miracle of living in the land that Hashem had given to us.
BITTUL – SELF-NULLIFICATION BEFORE HASHEM
In the performance of this mitzvah, we are also required to prostrate ourselves before Hashem at the conclusion of the recital and to rejoice - "v'samachta b’kol ha'tov, asher natan lecha Hashem Elokecha... and you shall rejoice over all the good which Hashem your G-d has given you." All the aspects of this mitzvah – the bringing of the first-fruits to Yerushalayim, the Bikkurim proclamation and prayer, prostrating before Hashem and being b'simcha, express our self-nullification - 'bittul' before Hashem. [It is important to note the relationship between being b'simcha and self-nullification before Hashem – not only prostrating reveals self-nullification before Hashem.]
The Sfas Emes cites a Midrash Tanchumah that teaches that Moshe Rabbeinu foresaw prophetically that there would come a time that the Bikkurim would no longer be brought to Yerushalayim and therefore he instituted that we should pray three times a day. The Sfas Emes explains that it seems that this ability to truly bow and prostrate ourselves before Hashem was a reward that we received from Hashem for having done the mitzvah of Bikkurim. We all know how difficult it is to bow sincerely before Hashem. Surely at moment of bowing we are sincere – but does it have a lasting quality? The power of the mitzvah of Bikkurim was such that it fully enabled us to remain in a state of 'bittul' before Hashem!
A GIFT OF LOVE AND DEVOTION
The Slonimer Rebbe teaches: It is our task to transform this world into Hashem's dwelling place. It is through the performance of this mitzvah of Bikkurim, that we accomplish this. Rebbe Elimelech of Lizensk explains: How was this mitzvah of Bikkurim performed? The Talmud tells us: when a man would go down into his field and would see a fig that had ripened, or a cluster of grapes that had just ripened, he would then tie a ribbon upon them and would say, 'these shall be brought as the first-fruits.'
A human being, who has toiled all year long by the sweat of his brow in his fields, is anxious to see the fruits of his labor. When he finally merits to see the first fig that has ripened or the first cluster of luscious grapes that has ripened, he is overcome with an intense desire to grab it and consume it. This is the moment he has been waiting for all year long. But instead he bridles his passion and ties a small ribbon on the first-fruits, and he then brings them all the way to Yerushalayim, and gives them to Hashem. This is much more than a gift of fruit, it is a gift of love and devotion. This is what Hashem wants and desires of us, that we give Him all our 'firsts', all that which is important and desired by us. These are the gifts that are most appreciated by Hashem.
This mitzvah of "Bikkurim" (as well as the other mitzvot which relate to the 'first'), teaches us to offer up all our 'firsts', our desires and intense joy to Hashem. In this way we are turning this world into Hashem's dwelling place, fulfilling Hashem's purpose. And thus the Midrash says that in the merit of this mitzvah, the world was created. This mitzvah requires a special recital, as we have seen, for it is the consciousness and the heart that are the most important aspects of this mitzvah. This mitzvah had to be done with great fanfare and joy, during the joyous harvest seasons, to fully express our faith and our love for Hashem.
TO MAKE HASHEM'S NAME DWELL THERE - A TEACHING FROM THE BAAL SHEM TOV
In the opening two verses of our parsha we read:
V'HAYA KI TAVO EL HA-ARETZ V'HALACHTAH EL HAMAKOM ASHER YIVCHAR HASHEM ELOKECHA LE'SHAKEIN SHMO SHAM. - AND IT SHALL COME TO PASS, THAT WHEN YOU WILL COME TO THE LAND, AND YOU SHALL GO TO THE PLACE THAT HASHEM YOUR G-D WILL CHOOSE TO PLACE HIS NAME THERE.
Who determines where you are and where you are going? We make plans, all kinds of plans. There is a Yiddish aphorism, "der mentsch tracht un Got lacht", man thinks/plans and G-d laughs.
The Baal Shem Tov taught that a Jew must know that Hashem can provide him with his livelihood anywhere. And though it is we who make choices as to where we want to live, ultimately, "... you will go to the place that Hashem your G-d will choose." Hashem will send you where He wants you to be. And what are you to do there?
"LE'SHAKEIN SHMO SHAM ... to place His Name there." We are to make that place a dwelling place for Hashem's Name, a dwelling place for the Shechinah. Sometimes, when you are on a journey, you think you know where you are going, but suddenly you find that you have taken a wrong turn. Why are you there? You are there "to place His Name there." Wherever we are, we have the opportunity and responsibility to bring Hashem's Presence there.
There is a portion in this weeks' parsha which is known as the "Tochacha" - heavy words of rebuke and curses which according to the Kabbalah and Chassidut, are really hidden blessings in disguise. In the sefer Hayom Yom [“From Day To Day…” 17 Elul 5703, page 88] we find the following entry by the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l:
The Alter Rebbe was the regular Torah-reader. Once he was away from Lyozna on Shabbat parshat Ki tavo, and the Mitteler Rebbe, then not yet Bar-Mitzvah, heard the Torah-reading from another [reader]. His anguish at the curses in the tochacha (section of admonition) caused him so much heartache, that on Yom Kippur the Alter Rebbe doubted whther his son would be able to fast.
When they asked the Mitteler Rebbe – Don’t you hear this parsha every year? – he replied, “When father reads, one hears no curses.”
SERVE HASHEM WITH JOY
Another very important teaching from this weeks' parsha which is crucial to restoring our breath of unity, is to be found in a teaching from the Holy Ari z"l. Towards the end of the tochacha (section of admonition), we find:
"Since you did not serve Hashem your G-d, with joy and good heartedness, when you were affluent. You will serve your enemies, whom Hashem sends against you, in hunger and in thirst... ” (Deut. 28:47-48)
The opening word of this verse, in Hebrew is 'tachat' and is usually translated as "instead of". This word may also be translated as 'because'. So the Ari explains; how does it happen that a people who had attained such great spiritual heights and stood at Mt. Sinai, and actually heard Hashem's voice, could fall to such a low place from which they incur the wrath and curses found in this parsha? How could this be?
It all begins as a result of not serving Hashem with joy. Even if you are doing all the mitzvot correctly, but if they are being done without joy, then the 'yetzer harah' [the evil inclination] finds an opening, a crevice in which to latch on to, and get a grip on you. If a Jew is doing a mitzvah with a heart filled with joy, there is no room, there is no place for the yetzer-hara to enter; there is no way for the 'yetzer harah' to knock you down.
In the beginning of the parsha in the mitzvah of "Bikkurim", the first-fruits, which we were to bring each year to Yerushalayim, the Torah says: "V'somachtah b'chol hatov ... "you shall rejoice with all the good..." When you are joyful, there is life in your voice, there is life in your mitzvot; and even if you fall, you will get up again and again... and you will love again ... and you are one again ... united within the Mystery of Oness."
But how is it possible to 'be commanded' to 'be joyful'? Rebbe Nachman says that being joyous is really our natural state; you only have to take a look the children to see how true this is.
TODAY THEY SHALL BE NEW: RENEWAL EVERY DAY 
"This very day Hashem your G-d commands you to do these statutes and these laws; you shall guard and do them with all your heart and all your life vitality." Devarim 26:16
In the Midrash and in Rashi we learn: 'This very day': Every day you shall see them as new.
My friend Jacob Saeedi interpreted that Hashem is telling the Baalei Tshuvah not to be afraid to start keeping the mitzvot, even though they haven't kept them until now. For Hashem is commanding you 'today'. Each day we are being commanded anew.
The Midrash Tanchumah teaches that Moshe Rabbeinu foresaw prophetically that there would come a time that we would no longer practice the mitzvah of Bikkurim, therefore he gave the tikkun of prayer. What is the connection between the bringing of the first fruits and prayer?
The Sfas Emes  quotes from his grandfather that our daily prayers are also an aspect of Bikkurim. Speech is the fruit and essence of the human being. In prayer we offer the 'first' speech of each day to Hashem.
But how are we to experience the mitzvot as being new each day? The Sfas Emes says that it is in the power of man to make everything new. This is so because Hashem is renewing the Creation every day at every moment. Hashem, our life source is never old, and does not age. But we don't see this because "darkness covers the earth." Isaiah 60:2 The pulsating point of life is hidden by the 'klippah' shells that surround it. This the nature of nature, to hide the constant renewing of life, so that everything in this world looks old.
However, man has the ability to bring the light of renewal out from the darkness. This is the meaning of, "Today, Hashem commands you." Hashem is commanding you to find the 'today', the newness of each day of each moment, to reveal the clear light that is hidden even in our deeds. This is accomplished by doing the mitzvot, for as it says each mitzvah is a candle. The mitzvah is fulfilled in the world of action, by doing. Yet the commandment to do the mitzvah contains the life force and the light of Hashem. And so by doing the mitzvah we are illuminating the act with Hashem's 'Or Ha-ganuz', hidden light. By commanding us to do the mitzvot Hashem is giving us the ability to discover the newness of each day and moment. The more one will seek to discover the newness in creation, the more it will be revealed to him.
Hashem has given us mitzvot that pertain to every aspect of human endeavor, throughout the days of our lives. These mitzvah candles bring the light of our holy Torah, which pre-exists the Creation, into this klippah covered dark world. By doing the mitzvot, we dispel the darkness. The mitzvot escort the soul on its journey in this world, and enable it to remain connected to its higher source in the supernal worlds, and provide it with heavenly light to navigate through the darkness of this world.
To live this way requires deep faith. The deeper one believes that Hashem's light is hidden in everything, the more one merits the revelation of Hashem's hidden light.
Have a joyous Shabbos and a wonderful New Year
Love and blessings from all of us in Yerushalayim and Israel...
Holy Empowerment – Empowered to be Your Highest Self
The Talmud says אין הקדוש ברוך הוא בא בטרוניא עם בריותיו עבודה זרה ג א - The Holy One blessed is He, does not come to His creations in a storm. The pathways of the Torah are pleasant and peaceful. The general understanding of this statement is that one should not think that Hashem has placed demands upon us that are too hard to fulfill. The very fact that He commands us to do something is proof that we are capable of doing it.
Chassidic wisdom takes this concept further. The Sfas Emes explains that the very fulfillment of mitzvot empowers us to achieve psychological and spiritual levels that would not be available to us otherwise. True empowerment is achieved by connecting ourselves to the רֵאשִׁית - to the very beginning, the Source of all life and existence.
This is the essence of the mitzvah of ביכורים – bikkurim –as we bring our first fruits to Hashem, we do not only recognize that Hashem is the beginning of all beginnings, we are actually empowered to connect with the רֵאשִׁית - the very beginning, the Source of all life and existence.
The Sfas Emes explains further that we see that the Torah juxtaposed the mitzvah of wiping out all traces of Amalek, with the mitzvah of ביכורים – bikkurim! Amalek is described by Bilam as ראשית גוים עמלק - the first of the nations.
כ וַיַּרְא, אֶת-עֲמָלֵק, וַיִּשָּׂא מְשָׁלוֹ, וַיֹּאמַר: רֵאשִׁית גּוֹיִם עֲמָלֵק, וְאַחֲרִיתוֹ עֲדֵי אֹבֵד.
20 And he looked on Amalek, and took up his parable,
and said: Amalek was the first of the nations;
but his end shall come to destruction.
To wipe out Amalek on spiritual level, is to wipe out all traces of doubt- doubt that is generated by Amalek’s lie, claiming that this world is the ‘beginning’ and that he is the ‘first’ of all nations, and therefore all nations are subject to ‘his truth’, his lie. Amalek claims that you can’t go back to any beginning other than his. Therefore you are what you are and it is not possible for you to improve yourself, because you can’t reach beyond him. And so Amalek makes you doubt yourself, your good intentions, your abilities and even your desires to live and be your highest self, to be connected deeply with Hashem and to radiate His light in this world.
The mitzvah of wiping out Amalek immediately precedes the mitzvah of bikkurim! The Sfas Emes Emes explains that this teaches us that in order to truly bond with the true ראשית – with Hashem, we first need to erase the false ראשית of Amalek.
The mitzvah of wiping out Amalek empowers us to recognize that though it is true that we experience doubt, doubt does not have the power to stop us from going beyond doubt; doubt seemingly is the truth of this world, but it is not the truth of Hashem’s beautiful universe.
The mitzvah of ביכורים – bikkurim empowers us to connect with Hashem- בראשית ברא – He created the ראשית the very beginning and He alone is recreating it at every moment. This mitzvah empowers us to receive the Torah anew each day, to learn and to do mitzvot each time as if it was the first time, with all the passion and joy and awe of experiencing something awesome the first time. This mitzvah empowers us to do tshuvah – to go beyond Amalek’s false claims.
The Midrash teaches us that Moshe Rabbeinu foresaw that there would come a time when we would not be able to bring our bikkurim to the holy temple, so he instituted that we should pray three times a day, in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening. As the light of day changes from night to day. From morning to afternoon to evening, through prayer we are empowered to connect with Hashem’s ראשית – the true source and beginning.
THE DEEPEST DEPTHS OF ROSH HASHANNAH
The following is quoted from one of Reb Shlomo’s teachings, which was delivered in Ellul 5745, 17 years ago:
"I want you to know something very deep. What was the downfall of the world? How did the downfall begin? The first person who did something wrong was our mother Eve. The Kotsker Rebbe said that he wished that one time in his life he would stand before G-d in so much holiness, on Yom Kippur, like Eve did when she stood before G-d after eating from the Tree of Knowledge. The downfall of the world was when G-d said to Adam: "Why did you eat the fruit?" and he answered, "It is Chava’s fault." Is this how he loved his wife? We are created in the image of G-d! Is this what you think G-d is all about? He should have said: "It's all my fault." He should have covered up for her.
If G-d forbid, my child would do something wrong and someone will come and ask: "Who did that?" I will say , "I did." When I love somebody I cover for them.
We see the influence of the Tree of Knowledge. We are not permitted to lie. We have to tell the truth. So when G-d asked Adam what happened, he blamed it all on Eve. He didn’t cover for his wife. He did not act like a mentsch. That’s why G-d said to him: “Get out of my Parsadise.
I want you to know the deepest depths of Rosh Hashannah is that we cover for each other. We each say to G-d, "It's all my fault."... According to the Tree of Knowledge there is no such thing as covering for someone. If somebody did something wrong, let them fix it themselves.
Why is 'lashon harah' [evil talk] such a sin? According to the Tree of Knowledge, 'lashon harah' is not a sin. If you saw somebody do something why not tell? You are telling the truth. The moment Adam and Chava ate from the Tree of Knowledge, they didn't cover for each other.
Why is the Temple the deepest fixing? Because Aharon Hakohen is coming again...
We have a Gemarrah [Talmud] on almost everything. But we have no 'masechta' [volume] for loving each other, none for doing 'Tshuvah'. Why not? Because this is the Torah of Mashiach, the Torah of the Third Temple, the Torah of Aharon, of covering for each other.
How does Aharon cure the one who speaks 'lashon harah'? Aharon comes and says, "Ribbono Shel Olam, it’s all my fault." The person who speaks lashon hara can only be cured when it is clear to him that there is only one way to live in this world--to cover for each other...
I want to wish everyone of us a Good Year, a year in which we shall cover for each other, and we shall all be forgiven.
Baal Shem Tov
Yom Huledet Sameyach – יום הולדת שמח
This Shabbos, is the 18th of Elul – ח"י אלול. It is an auspicious day for on this day two remarkable holy souls, to whom we are dearly and joyfully indebted, were born. Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezr, the holy Baal Shemtov was born on the 18th of Elul in 5458 (1698); Reb Schneur Zalman, The Alter Rebbe was born on the 18th of Elul 5505 (1745). The great holy light and joy which they brought down to the people of Israel and to the entire world continues to shine ever more brightly. Happy birthday! In the merit of their birthdays, may we be ever more deeply connected to Hashem and to their teachings of Chassidus, may we serve Hashem with greater and deeper joy, always.
In their honor I wish to share with you a ma'amar of the Alter Rebbe, Ani L'dodi V'dodi Li. This teaching contains a very deep lesson about our relationship with Hashem and the meaning of the name Yisrael. It is not enough for us to just read and learn the Alter Rebbe's teachings, they are given to meditate upon deeply and frequently. Just in case you may not have Part 1 of this ma'amar I have added it at the end.
“I AM UNTO MY BELOVED AND MY BELOVED IS UNTO ME.” Song of Songs 6:3.
In honor of the month of Elul, which began just a few days ago, I would like to learn with you a “ma-amar” of the Alter Rebbe, Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi zt”l, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, entitled “Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li” based on the well known verse from the Song of Songs, “I am unto my beloved and my beloved is unto me.” The original is in Hebrew and appears in the Sefer Likkutei Torah. I will be sending this ‘free translation’ of mine in installments over the next few weeks; any and all inaccuracies are mine. The translated text is in regular font. My comments and explanations are italicized and in  square brackets.
“Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li” The first letters of these four words spell ‘Elul’ – ‘aleph’, ‘la-med’, ‘vav’, ‘la-med’. For in the month of Elul, the aspect of Ani L’dodi – I am to my beloved – commences; that is the aspect of ‘itaruta d’letata’ – awakening from below. This continues until [the Days of Awe] Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, at which time His Godliness yisborach, is drawn down [into our world below] into a state of revelation. As it says “His left hand is under my head, and with his right hand he embraces me.” Song of Songs 8:3. The days from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur, are the aspect of His ‘left hand’, the aspect of ‘yirah’ – fear and awe. It is then [during the Days of Awe] that His ’Malchut’ yisborach- [His Kingship] is revealed. And that is why He is called [in our prayers] ‘HaMelech’- ‘the King’, for “Your kingship is a kingship over all worlds,” (Psalms 145:13) meaning that even in the ‘concealed worlds’ [in the highest of worlds] they are overcome with fear and trembling of the King.
[And from] this [arousal of ‘yirah’ which occurs during the Days of Awe, as experienced in the higher worlds] extends downward to the ‘community of souls of Yisrael, [inspiring them] to accept upon themselves the ‘yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven’, such that their fear and consciousness of Him shall be reflected upon their faces, throughout the year. For the ‘fear of Hashem and love of Him’ is not fabricated or implanted in his [the individual's] heart by virtue of his own strength. But rather it is derived from the energy of the ‘enlightenment’ which is drawn down upon him from above, at the time and season of His revelation [of His kingship, specifically] on Rosh Hashanah, [at which time] the aspect of ‘yirah’ [is revealed]. That is the meaning of “v’dodi li” – my beloved is unto me.
However, [in order to receive this revelation, such that it will be meaningful to him and have the desired effect upon him] it is necessary for the individual to first arouse the [his personal] love and the fear [of Hashem] with ‘itaruta d’letata’ – arousal from below, which is the [service of] Elul.
[Regarding the transliterations: The letter ‘i’ in ‘Ani’, in ‘l’dodi’, in ‘li’, in ‘itaruta’ and in ‘yirah’ has the phonetic value of ‘ee’.]
Concepts: Basically there are two movements which bring about closeness between man and G-d: ‘Itaruta d’letata’ - literally ‘awakening from below,’ and ‘Itaruta d’le-eilah’- arousal from above.
1) ‘Itaruta d’letata’- literally ‘awakening from below’, is the Kabbalistic term used to describe man’s movement toward Hashem. This movement involves an arousal of desire to be close to Hashem and is accomplished by meditating deeply on your inner self, to discover the “I” within the “I”- which is your soul, and then on the “I” within the “I” that is within the “I” – which is Hashem. Upon discovering that Hashem is actually also within you, you meditate further on what is really important to you in life; what is really worthy of your love, fear and awe. Following these realizations, you think about the necessary steps you need to take to actualize being close to Hashem in a true practical manner.
2) ‘Itaruta d’le-eilah’- arousal from above. From time to time, one may experience an arousal of closeness to Hashem, or a desire or ‘calling’ to come closer to Him. This may happen even though you may not have done anything in particular that would explain why this feeling came over you. For example, there are people who come to the synagogue but once a year, just long enough to hear the blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah. For a few moments while the shofar is being blown, they feel intensely warm and close to Hashem. They may even realize that they would actually like to be much closer with Him. Yet in a few minutes they leave for their appointments, instead of staying a little while longer. Awakenings from above do not last very long unless one has prepared himself adequately, in order to be able to hold on to the ‘itaruta d’le-eilah’.
In the above passage the Alter Rebbe explained that it is during the month of Elul that we are to do the 'avodah' – work of ‘itaruta d’letata’- arousing ourselves below, as aluded to in the words “Ani l’dodi” – I am unto my beloved. Only then can we expect to retain the arousal from above, the ‘itaruta d’le-eilah’, which occurs during the Days of Awe, from Rosh Hahsha through Yom Kippur.]
3) Ahavah and Yirah – love and fear are the two primary motivators of all human behavior. Love draws us close and fear repels. Ahavat Hashem – love of Hashem, motivates us to do the mitzvoth, while Yirat Hashem – fear/awe of Hashem, motivates us not to transgress His commandments.
However, Yirat Hashem means much more than just fearing Him. The deeper meaning of ‘yirah’ is being aware and in awe of Hashem’s greatness. (‘Yirah’ is related to ‘lir-ot’- to see.)
4) The revelation of Hashem’s Malchut- kingship, is an ‘itaruta d’le-eilah’- an arousal from above that brings about a discernable response in us, namely that our love and fear of Him shall be reflected upon our faces. It seems to be paradoxical; on the one hand the Alter Rebbe says that we do not possess a natural love and fear of Hashem by virtue of our own energy; instead we are given the strength to love and fear Him by virtue of the enlightenment which we receive from the revelation of His kingship. On the other hand, in order to retain and reflect His kingship upon our faces, we need to arouse ourselves to love and fear Him. This will be resolved further on.
Now [this last statement needs to be understood]. For it is known that Elul is the season of the revelation of the ‘thirteen attributes of compassion’. [This revelation implies that in Elul, it is Hashem who is coming close to man, whereas we just learned that during Elul we are the ones who should be approaching Him.] To understand this we first need to understand, why are the days of Elul merely weekdays and not considered as days of ‘Yom Tov’- holy days, like all other [holy] days of Shabbat and Yom Tov which are holy by virtue of the revelation of G-dliness, the aspect of the glow of Hashem yisborach’s presence?
[Shabbos and Yom Tov are 'holy days not just because they have been so designated. What is the deeper reason? We are not allowed to do work on these days and we are to sanctify them, because they are holy. The special Divine revelation of the light of His G-dliness that is revealed on these days, is what makes them holy. By not being allowed to do ' work' on these holy days we are liberated from our enslavement to the mundane world and we are thus able to be present to receive the holiness of Shabbat and Yom Tov. Thus [we would expect these days of Elul to be holy days and not merely weekdays] especially [since this is] the time and season of the revelation of the ‘thirteen attributes of compassion’, which are exceptionally high levels of enlightenment, and indeed, they are [fully] revealed on Yom Kippur? [In other words, why is Yom Kippur a 'yom tov' whereas the days of Elul are merely weekdays?]
Certainly there is a significant difference between Yom Kippur and [the 'weekdays' of] Elul. This will be understood by means of a parable concerning the King [who is returning to his palace]. Before his arrival in the city, the citizens go out to greet him in the field. Then, whoever so desires is permitted to come out and meet the king. And he, the king, receives all of them with a friendly countenance and smiling face. As the king approaches the city, they all follow him [and escort him to the palace]. Afterwards, when he enters the Palace of His Kingdom no one may enter unless granted permission to do so. And even then, only the most worthy and special individuals of the nation [may enter].
And so it is by way of example during the month of Elul, all go out to receive the light of His countenance, blessed be He, in the field.
[Thus the Alter Rebbe’s answer to the above question is that although there is a revelation of the “thirteen attributes of compassion” during the month of Elul, it is unlike the revelation which takes place on Yom Kippur. During Elul, there is a minor revelation only, comparable to the king in the field, where though his kingship is somewhat revealed, it is mostly concealed.
This 'minor' revelation of his kingship in Elul is intended to encourage us to approach him, to maintain and improve our relationship with him. For many of us it is likely that we may have already long given up on continuing our relationship with Him because of our many past mistakes and wrongdoings. So the king comes out to the field and just by seeing him there, we are instinctually reminded that we actually are still in some relationship with him. We recognize him and he makes it sufficiently easy for us to approach him. His gracious welcome and smile gives us the strength to arouse ourselves further and energizes us to come even closer. Thus Elul is the time of "Ani L'dodi" – I am to my beloved, the time for ‘Itaruta d’letata’- ‘awakening from below’.
But once the king has entered the palace, only those who have done the necessary preparations are allowed to enter, for in the palace there is 'great' revelation- itaruta d’le-eilah, of the thirteen attributes of compassion, and not everyone merits receiving such exalted revelation; only those who have done the 'work' of 'arousal from below' can fully 'receive' and retain this great revelation.]
The Depth Of Receiving The Light Of The King's Countenance, Blessed Be He, In The Field
In the previous section the Alter Rebbe discussed the illumination of the Thirteen Attributes of Compassion informing us of that in Elul we receive an illumination of lesser intensity whereas on Yom Kippur the Thirteen Attributes are fully revealed. By way of introduction to the following section, it is important to note that in Chassidut, it is not enough to simply understand a concept intellectually; each concept must have an address within our souls and is meant to be actualized in our service of Hashem.
The simple meaning of the 'revelation' of The 13 Attributes Of Compassion during Elul, is that these are days of forgiveness and rapprochement, because it was during this time that Hashem was forgiving us for the sin of the golden-calf.
Chassidut in general and Chabad Chassidut in particular seeks to understand the deeper meaning of revelation and what does this revelation in particular correspond with in our souls and service of Hashem.
[In the second of the three Priestly blessings] it is written "Ya-eir Hashem PANAV eilecha - May Hashem shine HIS COUNTENANCE upon you…" (Bamidbar 6:25). This refers to the illumination of the Thirteen Attributes of Compassion, that it should be [in a manner of] panim b'fanim – 'face to face' [panim means face and it also means inside] or 'inside to inside'. This means that 'pnimiut ratzono' - the deepest depth of His will, blessed be He, shall illumine into the source of the souls of Israel, such that (correspondingly) the essential and deepest will of the Jew is to bond unto Him blessed be He, with heart and soul, from the depth of the heart, in readiness to give his life [for Hashem], as is explained elsewhere.
▪ Conceptually 'panim b'fanim'- 'face to face' indicates an intimately deep heartfelt bond and relationship. When the children of Israel turn to Hashem, opening the deepest depths of their being to Him, such that their deepest desire is to bond with Him in ultimate union and there is nothing of greater importance to them, then, correspondingly, the innermost depth of Hashem's will shines forth and is felt in souls of Israel. Then, even if they would have to give up their life on earth to maintain this essential relationship, they are ready to do so.
This [deepest] illumination is drawn from the aspect of [the name] El, which is the first of all the thirteen attributes; it is their source and encompasses all of them, as it says, "El Hashem va'ya-eir lanu – El is Hashem and He has given us light." (Psalm 118:27). [Note that in this verse the name El precedes the name Havayah, thus we learn that.... The name El] is the aspect of 'the light of the Ein Sof B"H', His very essence.
▪ Divine Names are understood as particular divine revelations. Each mention of one Hashem's names in the Torah, denotes a particular manifestation and revelation of G-dliness.
The 'first' of the thirteen attributes, is not first simply in an ordinal sense. Rather, it is understood as the opening and encompassing channel through which the other twelve attributes flow. * Unlike the "externality of The Light" which is limited and measured in accordance with the recipient's vessels, this supernal internal light, is His infinite light, which emanates from the divine name El.
Hashem's close relationship with the children of Israel originates in the inside of the inside of the most supernal, and that is the aspect of the divine name, El, - the first and encompassing source of the Thirteen Attributes of Compassion.
[Concerning the revelation of the innermost aspect of His light] it says "For Hashem your G-d is a consuming fire." (Devarim 4:24) Meaning that just like, by way of parable, there is no separation between the glow and light of fire and the very fire that they emanate from, so too, the inner illumination that shines to the community of Israel – the aspect of the name El, which is the aspect of the Light of the Infinite One b"H, the light of His very essence, [is infinite – there is no separation between the source of the light and it's glow.]
It is for this reason that we are called "Yisrael" – [the meaning of this name is revealed by its composition] – [the letter] "Yud", [the word] "Sar" [and the word] "El". The letter "yud" suggests the ongoing present simple, as in "kacha ya'aseh* Iyov kol hayamim - thus Iyov did continually." (Job 1:5)
▪ The future tense is normally conjugated with the prefix letters placed in front of the root, one of them being the letter "yud". However the prefix letter "yud" is also used to form the continuous present simple as in the word 'ya-aseh'.
Thus the meaning of "Yisrael" is that "El" is the [continuous] "sar" – ruler within the deepest essence of the Jewish person!
The name Yisrael teaches that in every Jewish soul there is a continuous illumination of the aspect of the name El, and this is the master and ruler over his deepest essence. This illumination of Hashem's innermost light to the souls of Israel is eternal and is not dependant on one's Torah study and prayer. Such is Hashem's relationship with the souls of Yisrael.
The meaning of this is that in every Jewish soul there is a veritable G-dly spark that vivifies his divine soul and naturally draws it upward to glow in the Light of Life, in readiness to give its life for Hashem, blessed be He.
Every person possessing a Jewish soul is prepared to give his/her life to Hashem – to die "al Kiddush Hashem" for the sanctification of Hashem. Even the most flippant of Jews, even regular transgressors who spent their lives pursuing their lusts and desires, possess this capability. They are ready to suffer all kinds of horrible sufferings and even ready to die, not to deny the truth of Hashem Echad – that Hashem is One and there is none other.
This [relationship and capability] is beyond the wisdom and knowledge of his soul. For with wisdom and knowledge [lone] one cannot attain the aspect of complete self abnegation, one cannot abandon everything, even one's survival instinct, for the sake of Hashem blessed be He.
Intellect and wisdom seek to strengthen one's existence and to survive. Intellect alone is not capable of ultimate 'mesirut nefesh' – total relinquishing of personal concerns for survival.However the divine spark within is ready to give up everything for Hashem's sake, without reason or argument.
This relationship is portrayed in Moshe Rabbeinu's words "Banim atem l'Hashem Elokeichem – you are 'sons' to Hashem your G-d." (Devarim 14:1) "The son is like the foot of the father." (Eitz Chayim) For the son is absorbed into the will of the father, without reason or knowledge, just like a foot is nullified to the head and has no independent will whatsoever.
And this is the meaning of "Nullify your will for His Will." (Pirkei Avot 2:4) That in order for His innermost will, blessed be He, to illuminate [the life of] the man, he must nullify his personal wills such that he desires nothing else whatsoever.
It is not enough to "make His will, your will." You can intellectually decide to make Hashem's will your will. You can intellectually reason that there is nothing better than to study Torah and keep all the Commandments, thereby 'making' his will your will. But this will not get you to the highest level, to the "panim b'fanim" relationship.
Reb Shlomo zt"l explained that a Jew is always yearning for more, because that is the nature of his divine soul- to yearn for closer and closer union with Hashem. The pleasures and desires of this world will never satisfy him, because the divine spark he possesses knows what it is yearning for and will not be deceived or satiated by anything else. In other words the divine presence of "El" is always there within; it is always available to us. But in order to experience it fully in a revealed manner we need to nullify all personal desires and attachments to the mundane. "Nullify your will for His will!"
That is the depth of receiving The Light Of The King's Countenance, Blessed Be He- to enter into a "panim b'fanim" relationship with Hashem. While the King is in the field, it is easier for us to move towards that.
Next 'motzei Shabbos’ (Sept. 20) ‘ashkenazi’ Jews will begin saying 'slichos' – prayers in which we ask Hashem to forgive us. The Sefardic custom is to say ‘slichot’ right from the beginning of Elul. Our saintly Rabbis firmly remind us that it is not only from Hashem that we need to obtain forgiveness; we also need to ask every person whom we have wronged to forgive us. As we improve our inter-personal relationships we also improve our relationship with Hashem. As we improve our relationships with Hashem, our inter-personal relationships must improve as well. As the Baal ShemTov taught “Ahavat Yisrael is the gateway for Ahavat Hashem – love of the people of Yisrael, is the gateway to loving Hashem!.”
If there is someone among you, whom I may have offended even if only unintentionally, I ask that you forgive me.