This Sunday I sat down at my computer to write about new beginnings. It’s Shabbos Bereishis this week after all, where we start the Torah anew. And one of my birthday/new years resolutions was to start writing again (which I’m running late on). Unfortunately, the cosmic forces that be (i.e. G-d) had other plans with how I would spend my sliver of free time that evening…

You see, it all started a few weeks ago when a dear friend of mine asked me to help her make a website. Despite the abundance of free time I have (facetiously speaking), I agreed, since it was for a good cause. It’s a website that encourages girls (almost all of them religious from birth) to learn in honor of Reb Sholom Mordechai haLevi ben Rivkah, aka Sholom Rubashkin. The hope is that all of the good deeds and positive resolutions and words of Torah will go to his merit in the heavenly courts so that the earthly ones will be forced to lighten his sentence and make it fair. [Note: If you have no idea what I’m talking about, watch THIS video.]

The program, called “Learn to Live” was started at the BJJ summer camp where my friend was a counselor, and they wanted to carry over the good deeds to the rest of the year. And thus the BJJ Learn to Live website was born.

It was quite a challenge, recreating the physical wall from camp into a digital display of their hard work and tireless learning. One of the caveats of the site is that the girls want to be able to post up their own “flames,” and have them appear on the wall without having one of the counselors add them from the back-end. After a lot of work, I was able to have a page that added a post with a flame as soon as they hit “submit” as long as an admin approved it. Unfortunately, having such a page that connected so strongly to the back-end of the website made it vulnerable. And so things quickly went very wrong.

One night my friend told me that the web page was acting funny… the “wall” had disappeared completely. I fixed it without thinking much of it, but taking another look a few days later revealed a much deeper problem. On every page of code throughout the website, 20 lines of absolute gibberish had been added, looking something like this:

T24gZXZlcnkgcGFnZSBvZiBjb2RlIHRocm91Z2hvdXQgdGhlIHdlYnNpdGUsI GxpbmVzIG9mIGFic29sdXRlIGdpYmJlcmlzaCBoYWQgYmVlbiBhZGRlZCwgbG 9va2luZyBzb21ldGhpbmcgbGlrZSB0aGlzOg==

It base64 encoded hacking lines, adding a redirect to the site that led to a totally infectious computer virus. And I had seen this before… Last time it took down my entire server for months (no exaggeration). I let out a groan of pain that caused my husband to come running, asking what was wrong. He stood by as I checked his website on the same server. Also infected. And my site? Also infected. So was the Sinai Scholars Blog. Again.

sigh

The worst part was that there was nothing I could do about it. It was now the middle of Sukkos, and Shabbos was coming, quickly. I calculated in my head and figured out that if I could get to it by Wednesday (after Simchas Torah) then it would probably be fine.

I was wrong.

Motzei Shabbos (Saturday night) this week I checked the site again. Typing in the address gave me the Google equivalent to the blue screen of death… the red screen of infection. The site had Malware detected and had been blocked by Google to protect users from the virus it was spreading.

It was time to get to work.

I logged into my server and downloaded the last three system backups to check when the files became corrupted. September 27th. The most recent back up I had before then was September 5th… Before the Learn to Live site was even created. I grudgingly but deliberately deleted the entire Learn to Live site from my server. The website, and all of the hard work I had done, was gone. At least temporarily.

Then the painstaking work came in… checking every folder on my server for the malicious script that had overwritten all of my files. And there it was, tucked away in a folder I hadn’t used in ages, a little text file with a job that ran every 30 minutes to re-infect anything I might manage to fix.

DELETE

With the junk cleared out, it was time to hit the “Restore” button on my server and take it back to better times, cleaner times… un-infected times.

sigh of relief

Then it was time to rebuild, time to reintegrate everything I had deleted, time to bring it back in a safe and healthy way. Under lock and key and bullet-proof web security. Piece by piece I rebuilt the site, and little by little it took shape back into the beautiful display of mitzvos that it had been a few hours earlier. Except this time is was safe, clean, and pure.

I stood up and took a much-needed coffee break. Between sips, my husband and I pondered what possible purpose there could have been behind some useless, good-for-nothing, parasite of society wasting HOURS of my time by needlessly destroying a site that meant absolutely nothing to this worthless hacker.

It wasn’t long before we realized that the hassle that I had just gone through was nothing more than a metaphor for the workings of the entire universe during these intense months of Elul and Tishrei.

We have an amazing and pure soul, and the incredibly holy purpose here on earth to uplift and elevate the physicality around us. But over time, before we even realize what’s happening, the physicality of this world gets to us. And then Elul comes and we realize that our view of the world has been corrupted. Instead of seeing it as G-d’s Garden, we’ve started to see it like a jungle: every man for himself.

Elul comes to remind us that this isn’t the truth, it’s Malware. And it needs to be deleted. It’s the time when we take a hard look at ourselves and realize something has gone awry… everything looks okay on the surface, but looking a little deeper we begin to wonder if all the things we’re doing have been for the good, or for the right reasons. And sure enough, after a few days of intense Elul introspection we discover that somehow, without us knowing, our purpose and raison d’être were hacked. So we spend the rest of the month sorting through our personal baggage, looking for what is valuable enough to keep and what needs to be thrown away… sifting through a year’s worth of accumulated thoughts, words, and deeds.

Finally, after a month of looking in folders we forgot we had on servers we didn’t even know we own, we enter the month of Tishrei confident that we removed the world’s hacking code and are ready to go forward… or go back, to ourselves and to our mission of making the world a better place, a more G-dly place.

Tishrei is us hitting the “Restore” button. In the blink of an eye, we have the ability to go back to that pure place inside each of us. We have the ability to tap back into our true purpose, to forget all of the junk that may have piled up in the last year and have instant cleanse of our soul and our mission.

But the point isn’t to stay in the safe haven of Tishrei. Hitting “Restore” without rebuilding the site afterwards wouldn’t have done any good. This is Shabbos Bereishis: the first Shabbos after the High Holidays and the last Shabbos of Tishrei. It’s about taking all of the work we did in Elul, and all of the safety and purity of Tishrei, and reintegrating all of the thoughts and speech and action of the last year in a holy way. It’s about figuring out how to make our “every day” a “holy day.” Only with all of the work we’ve put in the last two months can we go back out into the world, confident that our servers are safe, our goals are clear, our files are clean, and our mission is strong.

And so, as we leave Tishrei behind to go back out into the “real world” of Cheshvan, may we all remember and truly utilize all of the hard work we’ve done on our servers during the past two months :) May everything we undertake be blessed for the good beyond our wildest dreams, and may G-d’s Providence be always openly revealed so that we can see just how much strength He gives us to overcome the hackers in life! Here’s to a clean slate, a fresh start, and glorious new beginnings!