reflections: Starting Anew

Ever since the day after Yom Kippur (the day of Atonement), I have become acutely aware of the opportunity to start anew. Seemingly, within the framework of my awareness, I notice moreso than ever now, my immediate faults. They linger, as if a stark reminder of my human frailties, not measuring up even to my own standard, nor in regard to my interactions with others. So each aveirah (some left undefined, except for the experience of my conscience being twinged) serves to keep me in all humility, as an individual who is ever seeking righteousness, yet, often falling short of the mark. These reckonings should be dealt with at the end of the day, more fully, when I might have time to review my day. Yet, if I fail to do so, I run the risk of the taints on my soul beginning to accrue already for the year. They simply must be dealt with while I am conscious of them.

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.

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

Let the Loudness Cease

motzei Shabbos: parashas Haazinu 5782

As the evening wanes, and the new day waxes (“and the evening and the morning were the first day” of the week), I am at a standstill with the circumstances, not knowing how to proceed. For anyone who relies on the customary protocol of Yiddishkeit, such as the routine at the end of Shabbos that comprises a peaceful and meaningful transition from sacred time to mundane time, it is of the upmost importance to carry out these traditions. Yet, to do so without the proper kavannah (intention) would be disrespectful to the Sabbath Queen (the Shechinah – G-d’s immanent presence). And, so, I am taking to writing out my thoughts and feelings, in hope that this will serve as a catharsis, because I do not want to let my negative emotions affect my solemn testimony to the parting of the Sabbath.

Truth be told, this may sound trivial on my part, however, I am thoroughly saturated with annoyance over the volume of the music being played in a neighbor’s apartment. As I would not enter the Sabbath, feeling annoyed, frustrated, or otherwise sullied by negativity, so shall I not depart from this sacred twenty-five hour-period that I look forward to every week. Perhaps, I’ll wait another two hours and twenty minutes until 10:00 p.m., designated as “quiet time,” at the apartment complex where I live, in hopes that he will at least turn his music down some.

Meanwhile, rather than delivering an insightful essay on the weekly reading from the Torah, with some concluding remarks as the new week approaches, I am serving up a rant. My apologies. Moses was not permitted to enter the promised land, because of a prior transgression: he was only granted a view of the land from atop of a mountain. Whatever I have done to deserve this constant interruption to my Shabbos, it is such that although sometimes I am able to enter the sacred time, beginning on Friday evening, that privilege does not always seem to last. So, who am I to complain, if everything is truly somehow from H’Shem, because He is sovereign? (I am but dust and ashes).

Our Transcendent Nature

“Give ear, ye heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew; as the small rain upon the tender grass, and as the showers upon the herb.”

– Deuteronomy 32:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

Every day a Bas Kol (literally, “Daughter of a Voice”) goes out from Sinai, saying, “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, for contempt of the Torah” (Pirkei Avos 6:2). However, the voice goes unheard by mankind. Yet, the Besht points out that the voice is heard intuitively. Therefore, on some level, when the inner ear of a person resonates with that voice, a person is inspired to do teshuvah (return to G-d through repentance. Consider, if you will, that often when someone is compelled by his or heart to return to the ways of G-d, the motivation may be unseen if not unexplainable, even by the person moved to do so. Therefore, there appears to be some verifiable experience that supports this midrash; in other words, the intuitive nature of a call to teshuvah.

According to Nesivos Shalom, the opening pasukim (verses) of parashas Haazinu may be viewed in light of this midrash. One way to reckon, “Give ear, O you heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth,” is to compare the heavens to our “heavenly selves,” and the earth to our “earthly selves.” Thus our higher selves seek the inspiration of heavenly pursuits, and the influence of those pursuits upon our godly soul. While our lower nature is more inclined to be drawn to more mundane activities, and materialistic endeavors. This is the difference between ruchniyos (spirituality) and gashmiyos (corporeality). Both are necessary to some extent; yet, both must be regulated by the words flowing forth from Heaven.

We are called to permit ourselves to be permeated by the words of Torah, in both our lower and higher natures. Moreover, ultimately our lower nature should be drawn towards more noble endeavors through our focus on the higher pursuits of our godly soul. Thus, even as our lower nature, sometimes described in chassidus as the “animal soul,” needs to be tamed and regulated by Torah, and our godly soul should be modified in its higher aspirations according to G-d’s words, the emphasis should always be placed to some degree on our higher selves. The reason being is because as human beings, we are meant to transcend our lesser selves, by living in accord with the greater spiritual propensity provided for by our godly soul.

“Thy lovingkindness, O L-RD, is in the heavens; Thy faithfulness reacheth unto the skies. Thy righteousness is like the mighty mountains; Thy judgments are like the great deep; man and beast Thou preservest, O L-RD.”

– Psalms 36:6-7, JPS 1917 Tanach

Give Ear to the Word

 “Give ear, ye heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.”

– Deuteronomy 32:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

As Moshe prepares to pass on his leadership to Joshua, he focuses on the conclusion of his speech to B’nei Yisrael. H’Shem explains to Moshe that at some point after being established in Eretz Canaan, on the other side of the Jordan River – the land that will be called Eretz Yisrael – the people will “go astray after the foreign gods of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake Me, and break My covenant which I have made with them” (Deuteronomy 31:16, JPS). Therefore, H’Shem instructs Moshe to teach them a song – to be remembered – that will serve as a witness against them in future generations.

Moshe calls upon the heavens and the earth to serve as witnesses, since they will outlast the generations, always serving to remind Israel of this song. On another level, according to Rashi, the heavens and earth would actually play an active role in chastising Israel – the nourishing rains of the heavens would diminish, and the produce of the earth would be withheld. On a more subtle note, not only the words of this song reverberate throughout the heaven and earth; even H’Shem’s words, intent and guidance span the continents and the skies, reaching out to all who will listen intently for His voice.

Measure for Measure

parashas Haazinu 5782

“Give ear, ye heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew; as the small rain upon the tender grass, and as the showers upon the herb.” – Deuteronomy 32:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

Moses taught the Children of Israel a song that would serve to remind them, at some point in the future, of their failures, hopes, and redemption. Both Heaven and earth were called upon as witnesses to the words of Moses. Rashi adds that both heaven and earth would also serve to carry out the chastisement of Israel when they turned away from H’Shem: Heaven would withhold its rain, and the earth would withhold its produce.

Incidentally, almost as a sidenote, there is a reciprocal relationship between heaven and earth: “as above, so below.” Whatever we do on earth, causes a response in heaven. For example, when we pray, G-d will respond in a manner concomitant with our faith, and the nature of our prayer. Additionally, when we show kindness to others, we will find that in some unexpected way, we are rewarded for our kindnesses in due time, according to G-d’s wisdom.

This principle can also be found in the haftorah: “With the merciful Thou dost show Thyself merciful, with the upright man Thou dost show Thyself upright, with the pure Thou dost show Thyself pure; and with the crooked Thou dost show Thyself subtle” (2 Samuel 22:26-27, JPS 1917 Tanach). The principle is otherwise known as middah k’neged middah, “measure for measure.”

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.