Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Post Sukkos

Sukkos, Soldiers and the Teivah
By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Once again, a Yom Tov has come and gone.

Once again, after much preparation and hard work we merited celebrating the beautiful, joyous Yom Tov of Sukkos. Sadly, by the time we turned around it was over.

Throughout its duration—from constructing the Sukkah; decorating it; schlepping the tables and chairs and mattresses and making it inhabitable; to selecting the Lulav and Esrog; to all the buying and cooking and cleaning the Yom Tov entails—we savored the fantasy that it would last for a very long time.

We put out of our minds all the things that we had to attend to after Sukkos. We blocked out the thought of having to go back to dealing with the realities of life. After the Teshuva of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; after the tefillos of the Yomim Noraim and Yom Tov; after being mekayeim all the Mitzvos HaChag with so much Simcha and devotion; we were sure Moshiach would reveal himself sometime before the end of Shabbos Bereishis.

But it was not to be. We have not yet merited the arrival of Moshiach who will deliver us from the Golus. We are still enmeshed in our problems and worries; we still have to contend with all those unpleasant realities we wished would go away.

Where do we go from here? How do we switch gears and slide back into the rigors of everyday life?

Back To The Mundane—On A Higher Plane

Having just experienced a most uplifting experience, we have to hold onto it and keep it fresh in our consciousness to propel us further. The Yomim Tovim are not meant to be like a typical vacation that becomes a distant memory the minute the plane lands and you are back home.

Yom Tov has to teach us and make better people of us. We don’t just kiss the Esrog and Sukkah goodbye and go back to the mundane. They leave an impression on our souls and minds. They leave us with important lessons that have the capacity to improve us and our lives—if we but attune ourselves to their message.

One day we celebrate Simchas Torah with all its spiritual highs and the next day we are expected to cheerfully return to business as usual? One day we dance away without a care in the world and the next day its back to the bleak burdens of work and school? How is it possible?

Simchas Torah is commonly viewed as a celebration of the completion of Torah, and it surely is. But on Simchas Torah, as soon as we finish V’Zos Habracha with great fanfare, with the very same level of excitement we start Bereishis. For many of us, the beginning is even a greater cause for celebration than the Siyum.

The layening of Bereishis tells us that we all get another chance. Even if we didn’t learn the Torah as well as we could have during the past year, Zos HaBracha tells us that just as there is Bracha in completing, there is also a Bracha in the beginning. It all starts again. If we didn’t understand all the Rashis last year; if we skipped through the Ramban, we now have a fresh opportunity to study the Pesukim better and more deeply.

What a cause for celebration that is! What a special Bracha granted to the Jewish people, who for that very reason are compared to the moon. We have been granted the special ability to bounce back. We are able to come back from near-failure and oblivion and achieve the full circle.

When we dance on Simchas Torah, we do so with a sense of anticipation as much as from the joy of completion and gratification.

As Jews, whenever we finish a Limud we immediately begin learning something else. No matter how hard it may have been to reach our goal; no matter how great the accomplishment—either way we go right back to the starting line. The energy which propelled us to this point will now push us on further to even greater successes.

We gain comfort and strength from knowing that we are not alone; we know that the Shomer Yisroel watches over us, holding our hand and guiding us, if we make ourselves worthy.

We study this week’s parsha of Noach and recognize that although the whole world can be mired in thievery and adultery, those who remain upright and loyal to Hashem will be protected from the evils surrounding them. It really is possible to set yourself apart and live a proper, decent and honorable life.

The Power Of An Ish Emes

For 120 years Noach tried to spread his message, never giving up, even as the waters of the flood began swirling around him. Though sheker has a tremendous drawing power and appears to triumph over the people of emes, a true ish emes does not get flustered or worried that his team is not ahead. He perseveres; he remains loyal to the truth and never waivers.

As long as he follows the word of G-d, he doesn’t look over his shoulder and count how many people he has with him. He calmly and peacefully attempts to bring the people around him towards to the truth. He shows them time after time, day after day, year after year, where and how they have erred and how to rectify mistakes.

He never considers flipping over to the other more popular side. In the end, the ish emes and others like him are the only ones who remain standing.

We all have the ability to abstain from evil; we all can merit the “Sa’ad Letomcho,” the supporting crutch, which Chazal say Noach was granted. We can all have Hakadosh Boruch Hu in our corner if we walk in Noach’s footsteps.

No, we don’t have to stand in our driveways for 100 years building a Teivah, to accomplish that. Every generation has its unique tests of faith but meeting those challenges calls for the same recipe for success: to have the courage of one’s convictions and not to be deterred in the face of opposition. There is no better time of the year to work on it than now.

We tend to go through life on automatic pilot, rarely slowing down long enough to contemplate what it is all about. But as we learn Parshas Bereishis it is eminently clear that the world must have been created for a purpose. Since the world has a Creator, there has got to be a purpose to creation. Can it be that we were just brought here to experience some physical enjoyment and sleepwalk through our sojourn in this world?

Truthfully, it takes only minimal intelligence to conclude that the world was not created by itself. The “big bang” theory is such a preposterous and scientifically unsound analysis of life that it would be universally scorned and discarded if not for its one overwhelming attraction: it frees man from having to be accountable to a Creator.

Examine any creature in this world and try to imagine how it could have created itself. Could a caterpillar decide that it has had enough of crawling around on a dozen little legs eating leaves and would rather morph itself into a colorful creature that flies around sucking nectar out of flowers? Is it possible in a million years for that to happen?

If everything that we use and come in contact with daily—from a simple pen to a state-of-the-art computer—has to be manufactured or at least processed with human hands, how can it be that the most fabulously complex living creatures just happened by themselves?

So we learn Bereishis and we understand that Hashem created it all and we realize that it is for a greater purpose. We realize that there is a reason for our being here. We learn the Rashi which teaches that Be Reishis can be taken to mean beshivil yisorel shenikru’oo reishis, the world was created for the Jews who are referred to as Reishis. Beshvil Torah shenikri’uh reishis, the world was created for the Torah which is also referred to as Reishis.

We glance at the Rashi and move on to the next Posuk. We don’t pause long enough to give it any thought. We ought to stop and say to ourselves, “Since the world was created for Yisroel, if the world was created for Torah, that means I should be a better Yisroel. Since the world was created for Torah, shouldn’t I be spending more time with Torah? What am I doing wasting my life on nonsense, spending my days spinning my wheels?”

When people say “nature endowed the zebra with stripes, and penguins with black uppers and white lowers so they can evade their enemies,” we smile at their naiveté, because we know it wasn’t “Mother Nature” who dreamed it up. But we just skip over those Rashis without internalizing their message.

We live in a time when everyone is working so hard to chase their tails and make ends meet that we have little time to give anything much thought. We are so trapped in the pursuit of our livelihoods that we allow ourselves barely a moment to wonder what it’s all about. And those of us who are a little better off than others utilize our free time in spending our extra few dollars trying to cure the pains accumulated by the race to achieve the American dream.

But we have to slow down, we have to give life more thought; we can’t be too preoccupied to be purposeful in life. We have to realize our obligations.

The True Implements Of War

The wire services provided newspapers with dozens of pictures of Israeli soldiers in Gaza standing aside their tanks with lulav and esrog. It must have been a strange sight to photographers to see battle-weary men stand beside the most modern fighting machines while holding aloft such primitive objects.

Yet these very pictures, so bizarre-looking to outsiders, give us a surge of spiritual strength. For the soldiers holding the delicate lulav and esrog know a secret: these delicate objects are the true implements of war.

The soldiers return from battle and stand there alone in Gaza, wondering why they were kept alive. They realize that it wasn't by mere chance; they know that there is a God above who watches over them. The daily fighting drives home the message again and again that they are not alone; the rigors and tests of battle convince them that they need more than tanks to win.

A soldier with his life on the line realizes the truth of “Eileh barechev, va’eilah basusim, va’anachnu besheim Hashem Elokienu nazkir. Heimah koru vanafalu va’anachnu kamnu vanisodod.”

We are all little soldiers and little Noachs battling a rising tide and fighting to keep our little Teivos afloat in the storms that engulf us.

The truth is that we are all soldiers, engaged in daily battles. The truth is that if we want to persevere like our forefather Noach we have to strengthen ourselves and rise above the vicissitudes of life; we have to hold our lulavim aloft and proclaim our faith. We have to fortify ourselves with the lessons of the Yomim Noraim, Yomim Tovim and Parshiyos Bereishis and Noach, and translate them into daily use.

That way we will emerge victorious in our daily battles; when tossed about by the storms of life we will be able to hold our course and come through it all unscathed. We will attain the happiness and successes we so desperately crave. Every day will contain some of the blessings, contentment and gratification of Yom Tov as we make our productive march through a purposeful life.


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