Simchas Torah 5782

“At His right hand was a fiery law unto them.”

– Deuteronomy 33:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

On Simchas Torah, the entire portion of V’zot HaBeracha is read; this is the last parashas of the Torah. Afterwards, the first part of Bereishis, the first parashas of the Torah is read, in order to make the statement that we begin anew, immediately following an ending. This reminds of the saying, when one door closes, another door opens, meaning that when one endeavor is brought to its conclusion, another opportunity will prevail. The seasons of nature, as well as the seasons of our lives reflect this theme.

Within the framework of the parashas, B’nei Yisrael is poised to enter Eretz Canaan; Moshe is intent on imparting a berachah (blessing) to them. This blessing parallels the blessing that Jacob gave to his twelve sons; inasmuch that Moshe has been the king and prophet over B’nei Yisrael, he is giving a blessing to the twelve tribes.

Moshe begins, “The L-RD came from Sinai,” therefore, emphasizing H’Shem’s presence, of Whom “at His right hand was a fiery law unto them” (Deuteronomy 33:2, JPS). “The voice of the L-RD heweth out flames of fire” (Psalm 29:7, JPS). H’Shem’s voice appeared as fire that engraved the commandments into the two stone tablets. On Simchat Torah, may we rejoice in acknowledgment of H’Shem’s promise through the prophet, to engrave these words on our heart in due time:

“This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the L-RD, I will put My law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their G-d, and they shall be My people.”

– Jeremiah 31:33, JPS 1917 Tanach

Shemini Atzeret 5782

Shemini Atzeret is essentially the eighth day of Sukkot.  The literal translation is eighth day assembly.  Regarding the word, assembly, according to commentary, this has to do with the connotation of the pilgrims from outside of Jerusalem, remaining behind after the Sukkot celebrations, for one more day, to rededicate oneself to to G-d’s service, imbibing the teachings from scripture, (G-d’s Word), and staying in the Temple area before going back to the daily grind (paraphrase of Sforno’s commentary).

Moreover, let  it be understood, that during the seven days of Sukkot, there are 70 bulls offered for the seventy nations of the world, connecting the first seven days of Sukkot with the gentiles. Yet, Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day, is a day of assembly, in specific, solely for the Jewish people, as if H’Shem would like the pilgrims to remain in Israel for an intimate time of connection with G-d.

Regarding the pasuk, “On the eighth day there shall be an assembly for you” (Numbers 29:35), the Sfas Emes conveys an insight, that “it is for you because the gates of teshuva are open to all.  But Israel takes greater joy in accepting G-d’s service anew than they did in having their sins forgiven” (p.372, The Language of Truth).  Therefore, it can be said, that while the focus of Rosh Hashannah was on repentance, and the Day of Yom Kippur on forgiveness, Shemini Atzeret, a holiday connected to Simchas Torah, has a focus on renewal – the natural complement of a complete teshuvah.

This makes perfect sense, following the “shedding of sins,” as symbolized by beating the aravah (willow leaves), at the end of shachris (morning service) on Hoshannah Rabbah, the seventh day of Sukkot. After this final release of the previous year’s sins, a feeling of renewal is definitely appropriate, if everything was “done right,” in regard to teshuvah (repentance). Like, “the cleansing of the soul,” in preparation for a new year of service to G-d, via the spiritual growth, and perfection of character that result from selfless dedication to the higher values of Torah.

Ultimately, renewal may be said to involve purification through a rededication in one’s life to the service of H’Shem.  This dedication may be exemplified, as is found in Bereishis, “And G-d took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to av’dah it and to sham’rah it” (Genesis 2:15).  The root of avdah, AVD (ayinveisdalet) connotes avad (to serve), while shamrah, SMR (shinmemresh) connotes shamar (to guard).

Traditionally, these refer to serving G-d through the positive commandments, and guarding ourselves against the negative commandments. In summary, our avodah (service towards G-d), and observance of the commandments. So, when we start the Torah cycle anew, we read in Bereishis about the beginning of creation, and are reminded of the main purpose of life, our avodah, overall service towards G-d, and our shomer, otherwise understood as the guarding of our souls from all that would taint the holy neshamah.

Sukkot 5782 – Hoshannah Rabbah

“And on the second day [of Sukkot] ye shall present twelve young bullocks, two rams, fourteen he-lambs of their first year, without blemish;  and their meal-offering and their drink-offerings for the bullocks, for the the rams, and for the lambs, according to their number, after the ordinance” 

– Numbers 29:17-18, JPS 1917 Tanach

There are subtle hints, that are contained within the passage, whereof the offerings for the days of Sukkot are found. Regarding the phrase, “and their drink-offerings”, the word departs from the singular usage found in other verses. Other variations include v’niskeyhem (v. 31), spelled with an extraneous mem; and un’sacheyha, with an additional yud; also, k’mishpatam (v.33) with an extra mem.  “These variations yield the three superfluous letters mem, yod, and mem, from veniskeiheM, unsakhEha, and kemishpataM, which together spell the Hebrew word for water [MaYiM]” (Taanit 2b:14, sefaria.org). Thus, through these clues, the Torah infers the requirement of the water offerings to accompany the other offerings on these days.

The water-offerings are known as Simchat Beis HaShoavah, Celebration of the Place of Water-Drawing. “Whoever did not see the rejoicing of [this water drawing ceremony] never saw rejoicing in his lifetime” (Mishnah: Sukkah 5:1). This refers to the rejoicing that occurred during the water drawing ceremony at the Temple, each and every day of Sukkot. This was the only time that water was poured out upon the mizbeach (altar). The Talmud associates this ceremony with a greater implication of a messianic nature, “Why is the name of it called the Drawing Out of Water? Because of the pouring out of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit), according to what is said: ‘With joys shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation’” (Isaiah 12:3). As is written elsewhere, confirming the pouring out of the Ruach: “I will pour out My spirit upon all flesh” (Joel 3:1, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Sukkot 5782 – Simchat Beis HaShoeiva

“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”

– Isaiah 12:3

The Simchat Beit HaShoeiva (Rejoicing of the Water-Drawing House), occurred during Chol HaMoed (the Intermediate Days) of Sukkot. Every morning, water was poured out on the mizbeach (altar); in the evening, there would be a celebration. The water was drawn from the Breikhat Shiloah (Pool of Siloam) in Jerusalem; then the water was brought in a joyous procession to the Temple. Sukkot is the only time throughout the year, that water was poured out upon the mizbeach.

What is the significance of the water-drawing, and its being poured out upon the mizbeach? Actually, both wine and water were poured out upon the mizbeach, during the Nusach HaMayim (Pouring of the Water). One rendering on a symbolic level is as follows: the red color of the wine may be said to represent judgment, while the water represents chesed (mercy).

Therefore, in continuation of this analogy, when seeking atonement for our sins on Yom HaDin (the Day of Judgment), and Yom Kippur, we ask the L’RD to show us chesed (mercy). The resultant joy of knowing that our sins are forgiven is expressed during the holiday of Sukkot. This is why the chag is also called Zeman Cheruteinu – the season of our joy.

Sukkot 5782 – Shabbat Chol HaMoed

Exodus 33:12 – 34:26

“The L-RD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light.” – Exodus 13:21, JPS 1917 Tanach

When B’nei Yisrael was seemingly ensconced at the Sea of Reeds, as the Egyptian army approached, “the angel of G-d, who went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud removed from before them, and stood behind them; and it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel” (Exodus 14:19-20, JPS). Thus protection was assured to B’nei Yisrael, sheltered by the Cloud, and illuminated by the Pillar of Fire (synonymous with the angel of G-d); yet, the Egyptians remained in darkness.

After crossing through the Sea of Reeds, the Cloud of Glory continued to shelter B’nei Yisrael in the journeys through the wilderness, and the pillar of fire continued to provide illumination at night. During Sukkot, we remind ourselves of the existential nature of these journeys, by dwelling in temporary structures known as sukkoth, similar to the makeshift tents that provided shelter from the physical elements for B’nei Yisrael in the wilderness. Yet, on another level, these structures are meant to remind us of the Clouds of Glory that sheltered the Children of Israel.

In reviewing the parashas, I was struck by the use of a word, very similar to the Hebrew word, sukkah. Both words share two common letters in their shoresh (root word), the letters shin and kof. The word sukkah, basically means, tent or booth, as per the temporary structures built in the wilderness journeys. The word sakoti means cover or covering, and is found in the following verse: “And it shall come to pass, while My glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover [sakoti] thee with My hand until I have passed by” (Exodus 33:22, JPS). So, perhaps this is at least one connection found to Sukkot in this parashas chosen as the reading.

What might this similarity imply? In the context of the pasuk (verse), H’Shem’s hand, figuratively speaking, shields Moshe from His brilliance, thereby protecting him from the overwhelming glory of H’Shem.* One might say that H’Shem’s hand serves as a temporary sukkah, encompassing Moshe, while He passes by; yet, surely, some of the brightness of H’Shem is still visible to Moses, since a hand would not serve to totally encapsulate and block the light. This is comparable to the skach, the roof of a sukkah that leaves visibility of the stars and sky above.

Moshe received a fuller revelation of H’Shem at that time; he also heard the thirteen attributes of mercy proclaimed as “H’Shem passed by before him” (34:6, JPS). These are the same attributes of mercy that are recited in the prayers for the holidays. We seek H’Shem’s mercy, not only in anticipation of forgiveness, leading up to Yom Kippur; additionally, according to the Zohar, we may still seek His mercy through repentance, prayer, and charity until the the gates are completely closed for the year’s decrees on Hoshannah Rabbah – the seventh day of Sukkot.

*According to Ibn Ezra, some commentators translate kappi (hand) as clouds. Thus the rendering is that the cloud covered Moses, in like manner as the Cloud of Glory, symbolized by a sukkah.

Gentile Flock

shiur for Sukkot 5782

“On the fifteenth day of the seventh month ye shall have a holy convocation: ye shall do no manner of servile work, and ye shall keep a feast unto the L-RD seven days.”

– Numbers 29:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

The festival of Sukkot, as prescribed in Torah, included offerings for the nations for their protection from affliction. There were a total of seventy bulls offered over a period of seven days. This specifically designated amount of offerings corresponds to the primary nations of the world as mentioned in the Torah (Genesis chapter 10). “These seventy bulls, to what do they correspond? They correspond to the seventy nations” (Sukkah 55b; sefaria.org).

In the future, all of the nations will be required to worship in Jerusalem (it is likely to presume that they will send delegates). This is a sign of the Messianic Era, when the Messiah will reign from Jerusalem. “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations that came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the L-RD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles [Sukkot]” (Zechariah 14:16, JPS).

“And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the L-RD, to the house of the G-d of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the L-RD from Jerusalem.”

– Isaiah 2:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Sheltering Presence

dvar for Sukkot 5782

“Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the L-RD.” – Leviticus 23:34, JPS 1917 Tanach

We are commanded to dwell in sukkoth (booths) for a seven-day period, as a commemoration of our dwelling in sukkoth –temporary structures –while wandering in the desert for forty years. During this time spent travelling from one place to another, the Children of Israel were protected by the Clouds of Glory that sheltered them from the heat of the day; the Pillar of Fire at night provided illumination for B’nei Yisrael, as well as warmth.

The sukkoth [booths] that we build at this time of year are meant to remind us of the temporary structures in the wilderness wherein our ancestors dwelt. According to some commentators, these structures built between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, wherein we either dwell in, or, at least, have meals within, symbolize the Clouds of Glory that served as a shelter from the elements. Thus, it is the schach – the thatched roof – in particular, that reminds us, that in actuality, it was G-d’s presence, manifested as the Clouds of Glory that protected us, above and beyond what these structures could provide.

When we dwell in sukkot for seven days, we are demonstrating our trust in H’Shem. These fragile dwellings serve not only to remind us of our past journeys in the desert; rather, also, as a personal reminder to seek G-d as our refuge. When we are troubled by the nisyanos (challenges) of Olam HaZeh (This World), we may find relief in H’Shem’s offer of protection for those who seek Him.

“For He concealeth me in His pavilion [sukkah] in the day of evil; He hideth me in the covert of His tent; He lifteth me upon a rock.” – Psalm 27:5, JPS 1917 Tanach

Reflections: Yom Kippur 5782

Staying Aloof During the Neilah Service

Trying to make the best of the moments, in retrospect, that was my intent while perusing the prayers in English, and remaining focused on the words, while the Hebrew was being sung, mostly by the Rabbi and chazan (cantor). So, on the one hand, the tunes are potent with emotion; on the other hand, even if I know the song, I prefer to read the English, since I can only pronounce the Hebrew, without knowing the meaning.

Only the jokes were distracting to me; even as I recognize their told for the bulk of the congregation, who need to be kept entertained. Yet, for anyone like myself, who is there in all sincerity, the jokes are irrelevant. Moreover, on Yom Kippur, especially during the part of the service, before the final al chet (penitent prayers), jokes seem entirely contradictory to the type of mind-set required at that point.

However, I somehow managed to stay aloof, in my own space, and continue to foster some sense of kavannah (intention) that reflected the appropriate mood. This was rewarding – thank G-d, because in the past I would only get frustrated. Yet, there are always tradeoffs in life; so, I decided to make the best of the situation, despite the style of service not meeting my selfish demands.

L’shannah tovah. Next year in Jerusalem.

Yom Kippur 5782

Sins of the Heels

“Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions; and my sin is ever before me.”

– Psalm 51:4-5, JPS 1917 Tanach

Dovid HaMelech (King David) was constantly aware of the sins of his past. This awareness imbued him with humility, in the face of G-d’s righteousness. “Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my supplanters [heels] compasseth me about” (Psalm 49:6, JPS 1917 Tanach). Literally, “the sins of my heels,” referring to the breaking of lesser mitzvoth, that people, figuratively speaking, tend to trample upon, mistakenly thinking that they are insignificant. Yet, even King David, was concerned, that he might be prevented from entering Olam Haba, because of the sins of the heels in his own life.

“Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope” (Isaiah 5:18, JPS 1917 Tanach). As is mentioned in Chok L’Yisrael, based on the Zohar Bereishis 198a, the phrase, “the cords of vanity,” is also likened to the sins of the heels. Additionally, the phrase, “cords of vanity,” seems reminiscent to me, of the prayer, Ana Bekoach, where a request is made to H’Shem, that He “untie the bundled sins.” These sins are traditionally understood to be the collective sins of Israel.

On this Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, may we, as well as all of Israel (K’lal Yisrael) be forgiven. Effectively, in due time, may this lead to our complete renewal as individuals. Furthermore, as a nation, may Israel’s redemption also be enacted through teshuvah. “And a redeemer will come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, Saith the L-RD. And as for Me, this is My covenant with them, saith the L-RD; My spirit that is upon thee, and My words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the L-RD, from henceforth and for ever” (Isaiah 59:20-21, JPS 1917 Tanach).

gmar chatimah tovah

“a good final sealing” (in the Book of Life)

shabbos reflection: Tu b’Av

eruv Tu b’AV (fifteenth of the Hebrew month of Av)

This evening begins the lesser known Jewish holiday of Tu b’Av. Most of us are familiar with the 9th of Av, that occurred last week, commemorating the destruction of both the first and second Temples. Contrary to the mournful tone of Tish b”Av, the holiday of Tu b’Av (15th of Av) is a joyous holiday, a welcome change to the mournful Three Weeks that led up to Tish b’Av.

What does the holiday of Tu b’Av commemorate? According to some sources, all of the firewood necessary for the offerings of the new year was gathered by this day. Additionally, this day is when the men courted the women, in an outside gathering. Many Jews today pray for shidduchim (a marriage arrangement) on this particular day, because the day is considered auspicious to receive a favorable reply from H’Shem.