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by Daneal Weiner
What does Judaism and "all over" have in common? That just when it's all over, that's when it starts all over.
Chol Hamo'ed Sukkos we were having some non-religious people over for a meal. For a kiddush Hashem, I wanted the house to look extra nice. So I went out to rake the leaves. That reminded me of a friend of the family whom, when showing her house to potential buyers, would have something baking in the oven so the house would be filled with a pleasant smell. It was the first time I learned the word "overkill". So Iím expecting company, the Sukkah table is not even set and I'm out in front raking the leaves so that when our guests arrived, in the dark of night, they would be greeted by an other than conscious impression of a neat lawn. Overkill.
Two doors down from me is a shull. As I was raking I noticed, four young women, irreligiously dressed, heading for the entrance of the shull. Maybe there was a special class going on. Maybe they were meeting someone? No. The door was locked. But there was someone religiously dressed just two doors down raking leaves. They turned out to be 4 college students working on a project. They chose as their topic Orthodox Jews and stopped by the shull hoping to ask someone questions. How they came to visit such a small, non-active shull on a side street is beyond me. But, I guess their plan worked.
Now they didnít catch me at a great time but... you know... can one pass up such an opportunity? They assured me they had just a few questions and it would only take about 10 minutes. They asked about Jewish values as compared to American values (thinking America had some). They asked about Judaism, the Jewish home, relationships, the messiah, an afterlife...you know... 10 minutes worth of questions. The society they are coming from is so void it took 10 minutes just to give enough background information to get to a point to be able to answer a question.
Of all the concepts we crammed into or short time together I have to think the most foreign concept to them was that the entire world is a stage for spiritual achievement. Religion isn't a world which one steps into on the Sabbath or while crossing the threshold of the Temple. Every single moment of every day is an opportunity to be spiritual, to develop a greater relationship with our creator. Being religious and engaging in outreach gives one an opportunity to review, rethink, and re-tell many fundamental concepts. This one I just mentioned I donít think comes up often enough. If I had merited that conversation erev Yom Kippur it would have been a different Yom Kippur.
Instead I had a different Simchas Torah, dancing in circles with the Torah. In Judaism circles represent the idea that there are no high points or low points. There are no beginnings, no endings. A circle is the only geometric figure that every single part is exactly like every other part. If we go around, through the cycles of life with Torah in our hands and in our hearts than every single moment of our lives can be lived as an opportunity to be spiritual and to develop a greater relationship with our Creator.
So the next time you hear that a Jewish holiday isn't a symbolic remembrance of an important event but an actual reliving of the event know it's true because whatever and whenever the event was, it didn't begin and end. It was woven into the cycle of Jewish life. The next time you hear that the 10 Commandments contains all 613 mitsvos, know itís true because every single part of Judaism is exactly like every other part. And when Rav Wolfson tells us that it's brought down in holy writings that this Shabbos
is part and parcel to the High Holidays and carries the weight of the sealing of our fate like Yom Kippur, know that it is true too. Because in Judaism, just when you think it's all over you can be sure thatís when it starts all over again.
One particular sefer that Rav Wolfson draws upon tells how certain Kabbalists of certain places had the custom of doing hakafos- dancing in circles with the Torah, on Shabbos Breishis! Rav Wolfson investigates what a relationship might be between the conclusions of the High Holidays and the conclusion of the month of Tishrei which always occurs with Shabbos Breishis.
Just over 20 years ago Rav Wolfson had been in Israel by the gravesite of Shimon Hatsaddik- Simon the Righteous. While there the following questions entered his mind. At the beginning of Perkei Avos- Ethics of the Fathers we say, "Shimon Hatsaddik was among the survivors of the Great Assembly. He used to say, 'The world depends on three things; on Torah study, on serving Hashem and on acts of kindness.'" Why do we need to hear that Shimon Hatsaddik was among the survivors of the men of the Great Assembly? And what does that have to do with this particular truism of his that they were both brought down together?
Borrowing thoughts from Rabbi Berel Wein's Echoes of Glory, the men of the Great Assembly, assembled by Ezra the Prophet, seeing that prophecy was soon to be taken from the world they realized this element of a connection to Hashem needed to be replaced. They broadcast societal laws, established the basic order of prayer, sealed and canonized the Tanach and Ė most importantly- served as the main conduit for the transmission of the Oral Law and the traditions of Sinai. After Israel having survived the destruction of the first Temple and the attempted annihilation at the hands of Haman, the Men of the Great Assembly were able to revitalize Israelís love of Torah, its scholars and scholarship. They were the moral guiding force of Judaism. Could we possibly imagine how a crestfallen ancestors, traumatized Jews, looked up to the Men of the Great Assembly!?
But no man lives forever. And as the men of the Great Assembly began to die, no one from the next generation had the capacity to fill the shoes. One by one Israel watched their pillars of hope disappear, shoulders which bore the weight of a rebuilt Jewish world. Shimon Hatsaddik was the last of the Great Assembly. He sensed this fear in the people, an inappropriate fear. And he instructed Israel, assured Israel, that it was not on the collective shoulders of the Great Assembly that the world stood. It is certainly not on his shoulder that the world depended. Rather on three things the world depends; on Torah study, on serving Hashem and on acts of kindness. Three things that will remain amongst Israel for evermore.
With that message of Shimon Hatsaddik Rav Wolfson looks at the non-ending end of the Torah, "Before the eyes of all Israel," juxtaposed to its non-beginning beginning, "Breishis barah Elokim." The first verse (the last words of Zoes Habracha) is eulogizing Moshe who had just passed away. After leading Israel out of Egypt, bring them the Torah, repeatedly saving them from annihilation with his prayers and teaching them 40 years in the desert, how would they survive without Moshe?!?
How will they survive? "Breishis"! Rashi says donít read it Breishis but b'Reishis- for Reishis. Torah is Reishis! For Torah study the world was created. The word can also be read as Barah Shis eluding to the Evhen Shis- the Shisia stone, the single cell from which the entire world was born. It rests on the Temple mount, that special place for serving Hashem. And lastly, the Ramban brings other sources which say that Reishis refers to the tithings for the priests and for the poor. Acts of kindness. How will the Jewish people continue without Moshe? With Reishis. With Torah study, serving Hashem and acts of kindness.
In Parshas Vaeschanan we read that Moshe makes his final plea to enter the land of Israel and Hashem says to bring it up no more! The Gematria of Vaíeschanan is 515. It is taught that this number represents how many times Moshe prayed to Hashem to enter Israel. If Moshe prayed one more time, which Hashem forbid him to do, Hashem would have been forced to acquiesce, so to speak, and He didn't want to. It is further taught that the figure 516 represents the number of hours from the eve of Rosh Hashanah until day break of Shimini Atseres/Simchas Torah, the day when we take the Torah in hand and dance in our never-beginning, never-ending circle. Coincidence? Yet it might not be only because of the added power of prayer these first 22 days of Tishrei that Moshe prayed during them.
Hashem created the world relative in space, time and soul. What is manifest in one realm has a counterpart in the others. What Moshe is to the Jewish people is what Tishrei is to the Jewish year. It is not coincidence that on the last of the greatest days of Tishrei we find ourselves reading about the last days of Moshe. Just as the people of Israel are about to lose their most spiritual leader and enter into Israel for a material existence, so too have the holiest of days left us and we enter into the rest of the year via a more material existence. How can we survive the year without the spiritually awakening blasts of the Shofar, without the angelic service of Yom Kippur and without the protective walls of the sukkah?!
How? With Shabbos Breishis. B'Reishis barah Elokim- For Reishis did Hashem create the world. For Torah study, service and acts of kindness. Granted, we could not survive the year without the infusions, the recharged energy that the holidays give us. But if the special holiday services was our main purpose in this world, then they would be the norm and the chol- mundane would be the exception. We'd have 330 holi-days and 3 weeks of chol days. But it's when we take the chol and make them spiritual, that when Hashem gets the greatest pleasure from us, so to speak. When we accept our challenges, ask Hashem to help us through our hardships and ask Him to help us defeat our evil inclinations, thatís when we most sanctify Hashemís Name.
Our souls start out on high, clinging to the Throne of Glory. There we experience the greatest awakening, the most angelic existence and total protection. But we don't get to stay there. Hashem sends us down to this world to grab onto a piece of the material and elevate it to the spiritual. This is why Tsaddikim have said that this Shabbos is the real conclusion of the High Holidays when Hashem seals our fate this year. Because now there are no more Shofar blasts, we broke our Yom Kippur fast and have taken down our Sukkahs. We have just been cast down from the Throne of Glory. How are we spending out first days on earth? How will we spend this first Ďregularí Shabbos day?
We were on our best behavior Aseres Yamei Tshuva. We prayed with greater intention on Yom Kippur. We spent the time, money and energy for Sukkos and on our Sukkos guests. We just completed the whole exercise circuit! The Torah muscles, the service muscles and the acts of kindness muscles. Maybe to stay in shape we should continue flexing some newly toned muscle this coming year?
Torah study: Add 15 minutes of learning to your schedules. ArtScroll is now putting out travel size translated Gemorahs! Buy a pocket size Way of G-d, Path of the Just or Duties of the Heart and read a single 5" page a day. After dinner go through one Shmiras Shabbos halacha with the Mrs. There are no excuses for not adding just minutes! (And I get no commissions from book sales.)
Service: Men, get to shull in time to say all Pesukai Dezimrah! There are so many Jews stricken with illnesses. The situation is threatening in Israel as well. Our women are going out of their way to say Tehillim as a merit for Israelís infirm. Guess what, men. Pesukai Dezimrah is Tehillim! Kill two palestinian birds with one stone. Say the tehillim of pesukai dezimrah with kavanah!
Acts of Kindness: Forget the altruism! We say every single morning, "These are the precepts whose fruits a person enjoys in this world but whose principle remains in tact for the world to come: Honoring a mother and father, ACTS OF KINDNESS!" Itís #2 on the charts! And even number one can be an act of kindness! Do you hear what are Sages are saying?! You WILL reap rewards in this world and that wonít detract an iota from your world to come!!! You canít let a car into your lane? Pick up a pencil someone else dropped? Tell your kid they did a good job? Rake the neighbors lawn? Infinite opportunities yomam vílailah- day and night! Any size, any weight, any length of time.
There are no excuses! Only a yester horah. Every single moment of every day is an opportunity for spirituality, to develop a greater relationship with our Creator.
It is no further coincidence that the winter days are coming and the nights are getting longer. All symbolic of the yester horah coming out to fight. Hashemís infinite kindness put these days up front when we are strongest, newly recharged. When we beat our yester horah we beat our enemies. It has nothing to do with newspaper biases, writing our congressmen or public opinion. As a Jerusalem Rosh Yeshiva put it, "Is it a coincidence that Barak announced his desire for buses and El Al to be running on Shabbos and now they are cutting service even during the week!?!"
Torah study, serving Hashem, acts of kindness = Peace at home and in the Middle East.
Have a... you know what kind of Shabbos you need to have.
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