Friday, October 24, 2008

The Folly Of Man

One of the generations that are mentioned in the Torah bears the curious name of Enosh, or mankind. It was in his day, the Torah tells us, that man had begun to "call out in the name of G-d" [see Bereishis 4:26]

Why did man only now begin to pray to G-d ? Didn't Adam daven to Hashem for forgivness of his sin. Didn't Cain walk the land fasting and begging repentenence for his sin ? The passuk can certainly not be understood on a simplistic level.

Rashi says that the simple reading of the word "הוחל" as "begun" is incorrect and it should be understood rather as a term of desecration "חילול". The Targum Onkelos reads it as a beginning - a beginning of the mistaken saga of idolatry - of ascribing to helpless, worthless items power that belongs only to G-d.

Either way, it is supremely poignant to note that this occurs during the generation named for Enosh. This could be the Torah's way of telling us that this is to be a lifelong battle of the condition of mankind - the challenge to overcome typical human shortsightedness and see through to the original and supreme cause of al the occurs - Hashem.

Hatzlacha !!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Good Kvittel !

The seforim kedoshim speak about the process of judgment that occurs during the month of Tishrei. On Rosh Hashanna we are judged and on Yom Kippur the judgment is sealed. But there is still some aspect of judgment that is held over until Hoshaana Rabba. This is metaphorically referred to as a "pitka tava" or a 'good note'. The imagery being that the books of life are still out and even though your judgment has already been sealed – you can still add a postscript. Therefore, we daven for Hashem to add a favorable kvittel or note to our judgment.

According to the baalei mussar, however, the inscription in the book of life - or more correctly the book of righteous versus the book of the wicked – is not written by Hashem – but rather by ourselves. Our judgment is based on the choices we make for the future – we choose which book we want to be in – and the rest of the year is the follow up. With that in mind – how do we understand the 'kvittel' or postscript ?

Perhaps it can be understood as a page marker. When we lose our place in the book of the righteous – when we know what we want to do, overall, but have forgotten how to make that specifically happen – that is when we would need a page marker or a pointer to refocus our efforts.

On Hoshaana Raaba we take an extra bundle of five aravos and beat them against the floor. Instead of the bundle of all four species – which represent all types of Jews ( scholars, righteous and regular ) – we make a point of taking the simplest species that has no taste and bears no fruit. This statement is our 'page marker', our reminder that no matter how much we have accomplished – we should not lose focus and get carried away by images of grandeur – we should maintain proper humility which will enable us to remember our proper place and the service which we perform.

Good Kvittel !

Friday, October 17, 2008

From Whence The Kedusha Came

Why did the simchas beis hashoeva generate such a tremendous happiness ?

The water that was poured onto the mizbeach in the nisuch hamayim ceremony was poured into one of two crevices that, according to the gemara, go all the way down into the depths of the earth. Rav Pinkus, zatzal, opined that this was actually connecting the upper waters ( the rain water that turned into spring water that was drawn for the ceremony ) and the lower waters ( the depths of the earth that the libation went into ). Water is Hashem's way of granting us blessing - as the gemara in taanis says "greater is the day of rainfall than the day of the resurrection of the dead" - the upper waters and lower waters were split during creation and on Succos we reconnect them in an abundant display of Hashem' kindness - this is truly a cause for an unparalleled happiness.

Enjoy !!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Are We Now Locked Out ?

When we daven the final prayer of Yom Kippur we are cognizant of the awesome day's ending and the gates of heaven closing. That is why the tefilla is called "neilah".

The Zohar states that when we shout at the end, "Hashem Hu HaE-lokim" seven times - we are actually breaking through the seven levels of Shamayim and revealing Hashem's presence as exclusive in each one. Alternatively, the shechina, which was palpably present during Yom Kippur and all of the days of awe ( as the passuk states - "... call out to Him when He is near" - those are the aseres ymei teshuva ) is actually retreating into the higher spheres which are its usual domain.

I remember reading in one of the "seforim kedoshim" ( meaning some holy book, the identity of which has long escaped my memory ) that when Hashem locks the gates at the end of Neilah - he is not locking us out - on the contrary ! All that retreating into the heavens is actually just a 'hook' that pulls us with Him ! Hashem may be locking the doors but He is locking us in ! That is why our very next holiday is described as us sitting in the shade of He in Whom We Believe.

May we merit a clear understanding and feeling of being "locked in" with the holy presence and may our entire year reflect this closeness with G-d that we have now acheived.

Hatzlacha !!

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Dangers of Quick Fix Teshuva.

When someone repents there can be many motivations – why am I suddenly doing what's right as opposed to what's wrong ? Among the most classic motives for bettering yourself is suffering, travails – all sorts of negative experiences that 'provoke' us into cleaning up our act. If G-d was not displeased with me, we reason, He would not have made me suffer so. Therefore, since I have clear recognition – or at least clear intention to avoid this suffering in the future – I repent.

In describing such a cycle, the passuk tells us : "And my anger will flare up at them on that day, and I shall leave them and hide My face from them – and they will be consumed [by their troubles] and many evils will find them – and on that day he will say 'behold, it is because my G-d is not in my midst [because I have sinned and turned away from Him] that these calamities have befallen me" [Devarim 31:17]

So why does Hashem proclaim in the next passuk, after man has recognized his sin, that he will then "hide his face" from him and more tragedy will befall him ?

The commentaries offer several possible answers. I would like to offer the following : Just because man has come to recognize deficiencies in his relationship to his creator doesn't mean he's corrected them – on the contrary – he is likely to settle back and congratulate himself for not being blinded by worldliness and physicality. In fact, this 'recognition' is far from the solution to his spiritual demise – it is an exacerbation ! That's why Hashem heaps punishment further upon him – because he has deluded himself that he is already on the road to betterment when he is really firmly entrenched in stagnation.

How can we avoid this faux teshuva ? Pitfalls await at every turn – especially for such a lofty goal as repentance. Our recourses are two : Firstly, be wary of the 'quick fix' teshuva, don't be lulled into a sense that once you've decided to clean up your act you are on G-d's good list – you're not , not yet - at least not until you begin to follow through. Secondly, pray. Pray a lot. Ask Hashem for assistance, not only in returning to him but also in making that return something deep and meaningful and real – not just superficial and perfunctory.

With Hashem's help, may we all merit to see our errors and only then begin the real work of correcting them and ourselves and being the kind of Jews we can be.

Gmar Chasima Tova to all and …

Hatzlacha !!