Archive for 2008

Election Day / Judgment Day

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

Four years ago, Reb Zalman sent a letter to Rabbis regarding his suggestions for Election Day preparations.  In it, he compares Election Day and Yom HaDin / the Day of Judgment and recommends that they be approached in similar ways, with Selichot / Prayers of humility and forgiveness, and fasting.  Here’s the core ideas from the original letter, updated to reflect Reb Zalman’s thoughts for the current climate, as I heard them in a talk he recently gave for OhalahGabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor

“To my Fellow and Sister Rabbis:

Shalom.  This coming November 2008, we will undertake the mitzvah / obligation of voting. 

“Much depends on this election.  It is indeed a Yom Hadin / Judgment Day. 

“May God bless us with the wisdom to do what is right and to learn from what we have seen.

“May we, before entering the ballot chamber to vote, struggle with the questions of our time to the best of our abilities.  I want to do so with an open mind, and I urge you to do the same.

“A really important part of this process is to openly raise the kinds of questions with which we must wrestle if we are to learn anything from what has befallen us.


Hattarat Nedarim / The Release Of Vows

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

In Reb Zalman’s intro to Kol Nidre, one finds the following (adapted): 

“We know that we’ve often made vows [with God].  We meant to keep the word we gave when we wanted to bribe God with good deeds, [but we didn’t always do so].  Thus, we now state we will live our weakness and strength as it flows; and make no more vows, give no more bribes and pledge no more oaths.  And if in weakness we vow, we void them, right now, so that freely we see God and person.”

Please use the following from Reb Zalman as part of your Rosh Hashanah preparations.  The court session to annul vows is typically done on erev Rosh Hashanah which is Monday, Sept 29th, 2008 before sunset.  Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor

Hattarat Nedarim / The Release Of Vows
Based upon the Traditional Formula
Updated by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi


My friends: I ask the three of you to constitute a court empowered to release one from vows, and to serve as judges in that court. Will you please serve for me in this capacity?

The judges:

Yes, we are prepared to serve and to hear you.


Forgiveness and Repentance

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

Here are some thoughts on Selichos as a preparation for Rosh Hashanah.  Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor

Forgiveness and Repentance
Teachings for Selichos Compiled from the teachings of Reb Zalman
By Gabbai Seth Fishman (BLOG Editor)

Table of Contents

Levels of Forgiveness
Baal Teshuvah / Penitent
Kapparah / Atonement
Baal Teshuvah and Tzaddik

Levels of Forgiveness

There’s a nice mashal / analogy Reb Zalman has used to help explain the different stages of forgiveness as related to transgressions, (from A Guide for Starting Your New Incarnation, pp. 77-78).  Reb Zalman:

“Imagine that, chalilah v’chas / God forbid, I have an automobile accident.  I run into someone else’s car.”

The car accident is the transgression we will look at.  Assume it was your fault the accident happened.

“I get out of my car to talk to the other person.  It was my fault, my negligence.  The guy is ready to shrey / yell at me, to call me names, to accuse me of being blind. 

“Before he can do that, I say to that person how sorry I am, that I beg his pardon and I apologize. 

“Then, I say, ‘Let me see what we need to do about it,’ and I admit it was my fault. 

When you said you were sorry, at that point, it was the first stage of forgiveness, selichah.  Though the other party may have accepted the apology,  on a certain feeling level, there is still annoyance.


Malchiyot on Rosh Hashanah

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

As Reb Zalman taught on Rabbi Ayla Grafstein’s youtube site (cf., “Reb Zalman on High Holidays“, Parts 3 and 4): 

“What is to happen on Rosh Hashanah?  Here’s a teaching I got from my Rebbe, Reb Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch.  It goes something like this:

Adon olam asher molach b’terem kol yetzir nivra / The Lord of the world, He reigned as King before there ever world was yet created, before anything was shaped / created. 

“It begs the question, since our sages tell us, and it is very clear to us too, that eyn melech b’lo am / you can’t have a king without the people [who serve], so whom did He, before anything was yet created, reign over?

“Good question.

“And this goes even deeper because the rabbis said, you must never do anything to anyone else that’s a liability to him [in his absence]. 

“If it’s unalloyed good, you can do that.  For instance, if I say this belongs to Reb Dovid and it’s unalloyed good, for instance, tax free money, then that would become yours from that moment on because zachin l’adam shelo b’fanav / we may benefit a person in his absence, the person doesn’t have to be present to take ownership. 

“But, eyn chovin l’adam shelo b’fanav / we may not disadvantage a person in his or her absence.  If it’s a liability, you can’t lay it on a person unless you have obtained consent. 

“Now follow; this goes another step. 


Liturgy For Wholeness

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

The following is an excerpt from Reb Zalman’s recent Ohalah talk focusing on the upcoming New Year.  Click here to hear his singing of the traditional Hebrew nusach / melodic theme of the Remembrance (Zichronot) section from Rosh Hashanah Mussaf set to his English translation.  Scroll down to the bottom where you will find his translation.  Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor:

Each year, on Rosh Hashanah, we touch upon three themes of the holiday:  Malkhiyot / Kingship, Zichronot / Remembrance, and Shofarot / Blasts of the ram horn.   There are special challenges we face with each one, which we will need to address so we can get our prayer to the place it needs to get. 


Elul Thoughts

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008


Various thoughts from Reb Zalman for this season as compiled by Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor:

1. From A Guide for Starting Your New Incarnation, 2001, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, p. 1:

You Have Wanted Holiness in your life.  This depends a great deal on taking responsibility for the maintenance of your consciousness and conscience.

“The maintenance of one’s awareness was once part and parcel of the social life of the shtetl / small Jewish town of Europe.

“Professor Abraham Joshua Heschel, in The Earth is the Lord’s, speaks about how the landscape once was Jewish.  One would speak about the falling leaves of the Fall season as if the trees were trembling before the Day of Judgement.

“In our situation today, this is not the case…  While the eastern communities of Jews began s’lichot / prayers of forgiveness at the beginning of Elul / the last month of the Jewish year along with the daily shofar / blowing of the Ram’s horn, we Ashkenazim leave s’lichot for the week or ten days before Rosh HaShannah.  Even if we do not begin to recite s’lichot until the end of Elul, it is still necessary to begin the inner work earlier, at the beginning of Elul.”

2. In our prayer services from Elul through Sukkot, we add Psalm 27.  Click the following link to hear a niggun composed and sung by Reb Zalman with words excerpted from the Psalm:

L’cha Amar Libi  (<< Click here to hear)

NOTE:  For the full text of Psalm 27 with Reb Zalman’s davvening translation, please scroll to the end of this post.)


Sefiras HaBinyan / Building the Realm

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

 A message from Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor:

Shalom, U’vracha:

Reb Zalman wrote:

“People who have worked on their awareness have pointed out that there are 49 days from the end of Tish’ah b-Av / the fast of the 9th of Av, to the day before Rosh HaShannah.  In counting S’feerah between Pesach and Shavu’ot, we make our way downward from Chesed of Chesed to Malchut of MalchutDuring the Elul  season, we make our way upward from Malchut of Malchut to Chesed of Chesed.”  (A Guide for Starting Your New Incarnation, 2001, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, p. 1)

So here’s a suggestion for how to do the counting at this time of year, (for example, as I write this it is Motzei Shabbat, 16 Av, 5768 / August 16, 2008):

Ribbono shel Olam:  I hereby prepare myself for Sefiras HaBinyan / a counting for building God’s realm during the  time between Tisha B’av and erev Rosh HaShannah. 

Today there are 43 days left until erev Rosh HaShannah, which is 1 day and 6 weeks, Chesed Sheb’Malchut

Dear God: Please let me be a vessel for Your light and help to align me with Your will.  May this period of Sefirat HaBinyan and the New Year be for good, for peace and for blessing for all of Israel [Substitute here your particular identification] and let us say Amen.


Prayers for the Ninth of Av

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

Dear Friends:  The three weeks of mourning are coming and the 9th of Av.  For the 9th of Av, we read Eicha and we add a paragraph to the Mincha Amidah Bonay Yerushalayim that tugs at our heart-strings and puts us in a  mindset of a bygone era when Jerusalem lay in ruins and we were victimized.  Reb Zalman offers an alternative to this paragraph you will find below in Hebrew and English and he explains: 

“Jerusalem is not the tragic heap of rubble strewn with corpses described in the Nachem prayer of the Minchah Amidah of Tishah b’av. I also do not think that it is yet the time to recite the Hallel that would befit the Mashiach‘s birthday celebration.” 

He has found a middle place.  Stay open to the possibility of common ground.  Use this period as a time for inner work of repair and moving our world upward toward redemption, ken y’hi ratzon bimhera v’yameinu, amein.  Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor.

Comfort, Yah our God, those who mourn Your sacred House; those who feel their own losses and the lost lives of their loved ones; those who live in Jerusalem, promised to be the City of Peace, the beginning of the total redemption. Although the Holy City is now in the hands of Israel, there is fear of violent attack in the hearts of her inhabitants. While other nations have yet to consent to her integrity, we Jews have yet to learn to live in peace with each other, with our neighbors and with other religions and peoples who claim their share in her.

Comfort us, Yah, Great God, awesome One, with that holy vision of the House of Prayer for all Peoples. Place into our hearts, feelings of respect and kinship of each people and creed for its counterpart. May we all become aware that we are Your creation and that Your Glory is exalted through diverse hymns which form harmonies to the Anthem of the Sabbath. May it be granted us that anyone entering the gates of the Holy City be fully comforted, doubly consoled!

We praise You Yah, Who, while consoling Zion, builds Jerusalem!  AMEN!

“I vividly remember the Ninth of Av after Jerusalem was reunited (5727/1967). I was at an Orthodox  synagogue.  The Rabbi was a friend and colleague.  After leading the congregation in the Ma’ariv / evening prayer, and after the reading of Eychah / Book of Lamentations, he announced he was now going home to celebrate with a festive dinner in honor of the shift that had taken place.



Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

Reb Zalman sends thoughts on the Tachanun prayer for your davvenen.  The Tachanun occurs after the Tefillah / 18 Benedictions / Standing prayer during morning and afternoon weekday services for most of the year.  Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor. 

“Each morning we davven, after the Amidah, we come to a place in the service when we have to look around and find a way to say or to not say Tachanun.”

[Gabbai Seth  Note:  There is a discussion in the Talmud about the calendar days when Tachanun is to be included in the service and when it is to be omitted.  So each day, the minyan decides whether this section will be said on that particular day.  Additionally, we are sometimes uncomfortable with having to say it for reasons mentioned below.]

“Much of what we find in the penitential liturgy makes us sound like nebbish wimps.  In it, we complain about our suffering, and we try to cajole God to forgive us because we suffer.

“The really important point of Tachanun is that it should be a moment in which we enter a process of teshuvah / a returning to God, penitence.  Mere recitation of those sentences, (a practice that may once have been more appropriate than it feels now), doesn’t seem to help us in order to get into the teshuvah process.

“The best thing is to enter into a silence; to remember a flaw in our behavior or character; to hold the flaw up to God; and to ask for help to be able to correct it.  From a place of silence, there are times we become aware of responses.  It is good to hold onto what comes to us in such moments, even writing notes to ourselves as we enter into this process so that we can work on what comes up again later.

“In the Tachanun prayer I have assembled below, I insert other chapters from the psalms along with my translations.  If you’d like, read the texts in Hebrew or English before you enter into the silence to help stir your conscience to awareness.


For Shavuot: The Sinai Gathering

Friday, June 6th, 2008

The following article appeared in Reb Zalman’s book, Paradigm Shift, (Jason Aronson Inc., 1993, pp. 3-11).   I have taken the liberty to make some minor changes for enhanced accessibility.  Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG editor

Prayers of Peace

by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

This report to the P’nai Or community appeared in the B’nai Or Newsletter, June 1984 issue. The content speaks for only one part of me.  All I can say is that there are other levels that are beyond what I describe below.  What happened on the deeper and the higher levels is not accessible to verbal description.  And yet, as you follow in your imagination, I ask that you think of it as though you were there.  Better still, think of it as tied to when in fact you were there, when you stood at Sinai. 

While the impact on me is beyond my fully capturing, I want to mention that we weren’t able to follow up then with the kind of political and social action that this meeting would have required to bring the vision to fruition.  Our hands were tied through an agreement with the Egyptian authorities that we could not publicize this meeting in the media for fear of repercussions from religious and political hard-liners.

Many months of constant work on the part of many individuals, in particular, Ms. Maurine Kushner, (click here, to see an article about Ms. Kushner’s works), had made this meeting possible.

To this day I am warmed by the memories.