Light Up the Summer
The Husyatiner Rebbe was like an angel. A grandson of the Ruzhiner Rebbe, he was one of the first rebbes to settle in secular Tel Aviv, seeking to draw Jews back to their heritage and strengthen those who were wobbly after the Holocaust. His saintly countenance mesmerized those he sought, while his gentle smile softened them and allowed his words to pierce and enter their hardened hearts.
His final request before passing away was to be taken outside. The medical personnel attending to him thought that he was too weak and infirm to leave his house. The rebbe insisted and was finally led outside to the street.
Visibly relaxed and calm, he raised his eyes toward the heavens and appeared newly energized. Contemplating the vast blue sky, he whispered, “Malchuscha malchus kol olamim umemshaltecha bechol dor vador.” His face radiant, he repeated the posuk several times.
Then, after casting one final look at the sky, he returned to the house, where his holy neshomah left him. He had parted from this beautiful world.
The canopy of heavens spreads above us, a sea of glory and brilliance.
The summer’s pace affords us the chance to breathe deeply and appreciate our blessings and proclaim, “Malchuscha malchus kol olamim.”
This season is one of the happiest times in the year. Last Shabbos, we heard the comforting call of “Nachamu nachamu ami,” as we soaked in the consolation with the onset of the Shivah Denechemta.
The Maharsha states that the double language of the posuk, “Nachamu, nachamu,” is utilized for the same reason Chazal quote the Tannaim who witnessed the churban together with Rabi Akiva. After becoming upset at what they saw, Rabi Akiva comforted them. They said to him, “Akiva, nichamtanu, Akiva, nichamtanu. Akiva, you have comforted us, Akiva, you have comforted us.”
The double consolation is a reflection of Rabi Akiva empowering them to be able to see what is behind the surface. They had all seen foxes emerge from the site of the Bais Hamikdosh. They saw the present; Rabi Akiva saw the past and future. Remembering the prophecy, he saw in the sad presence a source of consolation for the future.
Rabi Akiva was drawn to Torah because he wasn’t encumbered by the present. He had the ability to see beyond what his eyes were witnessing. He saw a stone and dripping water, and he observed how drops of water were able to penetrate such a hard substance. He watched, contemplated, and then understood. If water can break through rock, he mused, then Torah can impact a person as well, despite age and background.
He saw the Torah of creation, the splendor of the world, and all its lessons, and he applied it to himself and to others.
Comforted after re-experiencing the churban, we follow the example of Rabi Akiva, viewing nature and applying lessons of strength and consolation to ourselves. Like the rebbe who had experienced the destruction of the Holocaust and the return of multitudes of Jews to their land; we go out to see the world and perceive “Malchuscha malchus kol olamim.”
In Parshas Eikev, Moshe Rabbeinu continues admonishing the Jewish people for their waywardness. He warns them not to fool themselves as to why Hashem has been kind to them and why they have experienced success. He reminds them that all Hashem desires in return is that they have yiras Shomayim.
Without obvious Divine intervention, we would have been wiped out a long time ago. Yet, we grow fat and comfortable, strong and haughty, and convince ourselves that our superior intellect and strength enable us to achieve success. It takes a downturn for us to be forced to admit our fallibilities.
When we read the pesukim of Parshas Eikev, we see Moshe pleading with the Jewish people. He reminds them of all they have been through, and of all the miracles Hashem performed in order to bring them to where they are. He begs them to remember who has fed, clothed and cared for them, even as they remained ungrateful. He reminds them how stubborn and spiteful they were, and how he repeatedly interceded on their behalf.
Read the pesukim of this week’s parsha (8:11 and on): “Be careful lest you shall forget Hashem… Lest you eat and become full and build nice, good, fancy homes and become settled… Lest you have much gold and silver and become haughty and forget Hashem, your G-d, who took you out of Mitzrayim and led you through the midbar, where he quenched your thirst and fed you. Yet you say in your heart, ‘I did this all myself with my own strength.’ Remember, it is Hashem who gives you strength to wage war… If you will forget Hashem and go after strange gods and you will serve them and bow to them, I warn you that you will be destroyed…”
These pesukim are not just written to the people who have obviously gone astray. They are written to us as well, and should serve as a reminder that we should never let our gaavah get the better of us and fool us into thinking that we are self-sufficient, that we are smart and strong enough to take care of ourselves. We must always remember where we come from and where we are headed. We must be constantly aware that it is Hashem who provides us with the know-how and stamina we require to earn our livings and get ahead in this world, and to survive life’s many challenges and pitfalls.
Let us not fall prey to self-aggrandizement. Let us ensure that we don’t become blinded by our ego and evil inclination, and that we remain loyal to the One who sustains us.
For as the parsha ends (11:22), “If you will observe the mitzvos, love Hashem and follow in His path…then Hashem will let you inherit nations that are larger and stronger than yours… Wherever you will set your foot down will be blessed… No one will be able to stand in your way.”
The yeitzer hora causes us to concentrate on the wrong things in order to dull our thinking and lead us down the wrong path. Without cogent perspective, one can easily get sidetracked, with trivial concerns skewing his entire mission. When the trivial becomes important, the important becomes trivial.
We live in an age when, all too often, perception trumps reality and people who are adept at creating perceptions win, while those who don’t get it, lose. Proper focus and clarity of vision are essential for every aspect of existence. Nations topple when their leaders lack vision, and political leaders can fall to the most inexperienced challengers when their vision becomes skewed.
Good Jews are able to maintain the proper perspective; no matter what storm is swirling about them. They remain calm and resourceful, for their faith remains unshaken. Meah Shearimniks say, “In Yerushalayim, we open the doors for Shefoch Chamoscha, and they remain open until the shamash slams them to wake the people for Selichos.”
More than a witticism, it’s a remark that conveys that there is no break in the period from Pesach through Rosh Hashonah. Each season brings its task, culminating in Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur, when we reach our apex.
Summer is not a downtime. It is a season with a different format and pace to get us to the same place. In the soft rustle of leaves, the lapping of waves, and the gentle summer rain, we hear the message that our tasks are never-ending.
This parsha is called Eikev, which Rashi explains as a reference to the mitzvos that are easily trampled “with the heel.” There is significance to the heel for another reason as well. Chazal teach us that Adam Harishon’s heel shone with a powerful light, illuminating all of creation. The heel, says Rav Chaim Volozhiner, is the most physical, tough, unrefined part of the body. It can withstand pain and irritation. It isn’t sensitive. Adam Harishon was so holy that even his heel shone brilliantly and enlightened the world; the kedushah touched him there as well.
The goal of man in this world is to bring kedushah back to the “heels,” the eikev. Like a heel in the body, there are places and times that seem devoid of holiness, and it’s our mission and mandate to invest them with meaning.
The avodah of these weeks, with their relaxed pace and change of venue, is to “fill the heel with light.”
In this week’s parsha, we are told, “Hishomer lecha, pen tishkach es Hashem Elokecha” (8:11), exhorted not to forget about Hashem for even a moment.
Summer, with its new perspectives, settings and vistas, presents new ways to remember who created the world we know and what our role is in protecting it. On Shabbos Nachamu, we concluded the haftorah with a call to find Hashem. Tzaddikim have taught us that the first letters of the first words of the posuk of “Seu marom eineichem ure’u mi bara eileh - Raise your eyes to heaven and see who created all of these” (Yeshayah 40:26) are the letters of the word Shema. There is a kabbolas ol Malchus Shomayim of closing your eyes and there is a kabbolas ol Malchus Shomayim of opening your eyes.
This “Shema” is the avodah of vacation time. See the sky…and who made it. Behold rushing waterfalls and hear the song of “adir bamarom Hashem.”
On Rosh Chodesh Elul, we will begin reciting the words, “Shivti bevais Hashem kol yemei chayai lachazos beno’am Hashem ulevaker beheichalo” (Tehillim 27).
Dovid Hamelech’s request, to sit in the House of Hashem for his entire life and behold the splendor of His palace, is recited twice daily during Elul. Why does Dovid ask “levaker,” to visit, Hashem’s palace. Would Dovid have been content just to visit?
Home, wherever it is that you live, seems mundane and kind of boring. The place where you spend your vacations has charm and a special place in your heart. You go somewhere and you think it’s the greatest place. You wish you could move there and live there full-time. Your vacation site seems so idyllic, stress-free and blissful.
Throughout the year, that place comes alive in your memory, and just thinking of it and flipping through the pictures you took put you in a good mood. You were relaxed and in a positive frame of mind there; you really appreciated the experience. You weren’t working or stressed, so you had time to visit the sites and attractions and really enjoy.
Rav Elya Lopian says that this is what Dovid Hamelech asked for: “Let me experience that feeling in the house of Hashem. Give it the chein of vacation, the magic and charm of a retreat from ordinary life, even as I sit there every day.”
Let us see the world through pure eyes, taking in the beauty and splendor of what we witness, viewing each facet and feature, and adapting those lessons to improve our lives as ovdei Hashem.
The grandiosity and majesty of creation center around man. We are the epicenter of everything, for all was created for us. When we behold beauty, we appreciate what we are, what we represent, and the potential that lies in our actions.
As we travel to see different scenes and fresh horizons, we possess an ayin tovah. As we vacation, we are charmed by the sights and sounds around us, by the customs and habits in the place we happen to be visiting, because we are finally relaxed, in a positive frame of mind, and thus invigorated.
We ask that when we are in the presence of holiness, when we seek out Hashem and Torah in the bais medrash, we should be there in a state of “levaker beheichalo,” with the eagerness of a visitor, wide-eyed, positive and easily impressionable.
We drive five hours to some forsaken small town that once beheld a large Jewish population. Now, all that is left are signs with Jewish names: Goldstein’s Paint Shop, Levin’s Furniture Store, and Katz’s Deli. The Jews are found in the cemetery, their intermarried offspring in McDonalds. We find the local shul, despite being in disrepair, to be so charming, and should there be an old rabbi left there, we think he is so majestic. The streets are peaceful, the people endearing.
Yet, if we cared to adjust our attitude, we could see the same chein in our own homes, shuls and shops, and everything else in our everyday lives.
There is one final lesson to the name of the parsha. We live in ikvesa deMeshicha, the heel of the generations. It is an unfeeling generation, devoid of emotion and passion. Some people find it difficult to taste the flavor of Torah or sense the awesomeness of a Shabbos meal and the blessings of our way of life.
On vacation, we have the peace of mind and headspace to focus, contemplate and see the truth. We can fill the heel with light. Let’s do it.