Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Rebbetzin for the Ages

By Rabbi Pichos Lipschutz

It’s that time of year when Jews struggle to hold on, to grasp what was, to incorporate the stirrings of our souls into something practical that can accompany us on a journey into the long, cold winter.

You look at your place in shul and you recall that first night of Selichos. You remember the awe you felt as the chazzan intoned "Bemotzoei Menuchah." It was an awe that only increased over the days that followed. You remember how you stood straight, your ear tilted towards the baal tokeia as the shofar’s strains filled the room, and you wonder if you can recapture what you felt then.

Somewhere in the shul, the echoes of Ne’ilah’s "Hashem Hu Ha’Elokim" still reverberate and the esrog’s sublime scent still lingers. Green dots line the floor, fallen leaves of the aravos and hadassim that circled the bimah seven days, while a child’s flag proclaiming "Nagil Venasis Bezos HaTorah" droops off a table.

The impact of the awesome month is everywhere. The battle, as we disassemble sukkah boards and store our lulavim in order to burn them with the chometz, is to hold on. As Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz sang, "Men darfen zei tzu halten, mit eizeneh tzvangen." We have to grasp the holy days with iron grips. In the Yehi Ratzon that we say as we leave the sukkah, we ask that the holy malochim created through the mitzvos remain at our side, and do not abandon us.

Rav Shlomo Wolbe delivered a shmuess at Yeshiva Beer Yaakov a few months after the Six Day War, and he related a story to prove his point. He said that during the war, an Israeli navy ship was bombed by an Egyptian frigate and was sinking. Even the kibbutzniks on board shouted out, "Shema Yisroel!" before they were miraculously saved.

One of the bochurim at the shmuess requested permission to ask a question. He took the air out of the room when he asked if those sailors who had discovered Hashem as they were staring death in the face put on tefillin the next morning.

Rav Wolbe was silent for a few moments and then said to the boy, "You recently experienced Yom Kippur. You were a changed person. You were serious and introspective. Then you shouted out, ‘Hashem Hu Ha’Elokim,’ seven times. But what happened the next day? How did you act and daven on the eleventh of Tishrei? Were you the same as you were the day before? Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean that your Yom Kippur was not genuine. It simply means that, in life, you have to connect experiences and grow from them. That is the challenge. That is the test."

How do you string together fifty-three days of spiritual elevation and package them for the months ahead?

The challenge is one underscored by the Rama in his well-known explanation of the bracha of Asher Yotzar, on the words "umafli la’asos." The wonder of man, says the Rama, is the fusion of the neshamah, a slice of the spiritual, and the very mundane guf, and their ability to work in harmony. That’s a peleh, a miracle.

To fuse the hashpaah of the Yomim Noraim with the mundane days ahead is a task that we are charged with, wondrous and arduous as it may be. And it can be done.

In an exaggeratedly humble home on Rechov Rashbam in Bnei Brak, we saw how people can live like angels, yet still have room for the masses - the tired and the poor, the huddled individuals yearning for a listening ear, and those bringing concerns about mortgages, surgeries, shidduchim and far more prosaic things up the well-trodden narrow staircase.

In that tiny apartment, Rebbetzin Batsheva Kanievsky, granddaughter, daughter, daughter-in-law and, wife, of gedolei Yisroel, offered tea and encouragement, not just sympathizing, but empathizing with her visitors.

One Friday afternoon, as she was attempting to prepare for Shabbos, an obviously irreligious woman showed up in her kitchen complaining of kidney stones, asking if the Rebbetzin could help her. The Rebbetzin offered some remedies for the ailment and then, when she was done, she suggested in a most loving way that the woman accept upon herself to dress with more tznius and light Shabbos candles each week.

The Rebbetzin related to that woman just as she had to the dozens of American seminary girls who trooped to her door seeking guidance on a full range of topics, from emunah and bitachon to tznius, baking challah, and shidduchim.

Could she, a daughter of the sanctity and spiritual satisfaction of the Elyashiv home, really imagine the struggles of an American woman dealing with tznius issues? Could the Rebbetzin identify with the irreligious visitor from the southern Israeli development town, her hair kerchiefed unnaturally in honor of the occasion, as she spoke of her battle to bring a little more purity to her own home?

The answer was yes. Somehow, this woman, who had lived amongst angels, was able to relate to the very un-angelic trials and challenges of every other Jew.

She knew the secret, the holy fusion of umafli laasos.

Like a ladder reaching the heavens but very firmly rooted in the ground, Rebbetzin Kanievsky lived in the realm of her great husband, waking in the middle of the night to prepare his cup of tea before his first seder of the day, davening Shacharis at vosikin and also Minchah and Maariv, yet filling the time in between embracing the "amcha," the simple, sincere souls who sought her warmth and guidance.

She would enter the crowded room and their faces would turn to her, like flowers to the sun, expectant, desperate and hopeful, and she would open the floodgates of ahavas Yisroel, of warmth and acceptance.

Rebbetzin Kanievsky knew that the same Aibishter we cry to at Ne’ilah is there every single day, every single second, even when Yom Kippur is but a distant memory. Each moment, she knew and demonstrated, can be elevated to its own Ne’ilah.

My son Yishai was privileged to eat a Shabbos seudah at the Kanievsky home. The Rebbetzin told him a story about her grandmother, Rebbetzin Levin, wife of Rav Aryeh Levin. Back in the Yerushalayim of a century ago, homes were equipped with neither cribs nor running water. Water was drawn periodically from a well and kept in a large tub inside the house for use. Babies slept on beds, often sharing the space with several siblings.

One day, Rebbetzin Levin prepared to leave her home to do some errands, her baby sleeping soundly on the bed. She made her way down the street, when a man suddenly stopped her and asked for a drink, telling her that he was thirsty. The Rebbetzin assured him that her errands would take her a moment and that she would soon be home, where she would accommodate him.

The fellow insisted that he couldn’t wait, claiming that he needed a drink immediately or he would faint. The Rebbetzin turned around and hurried back to her house to get him a drink. When she came in to the apartment, she saw that the baby she had left sleeping soundly had fallen off the bed and landed in the large tub of drawn water! She grabbed her baby from the water and placed her on the bed. She quickly ran out to bring a cup of water to the thirsty man, but he was nowhere to be found. He had disappeared.

Later, Rebbetzin Levin told her sister, Rebbetzin Frank, what happened. Rebbetzin Frank related the incident to her husband, Rav Tzvi Pesach, who said that the thirsty man was Eliyahu Hanovi, who had come to save the baby because she would one day marry the gadol hador!

This is the story that Rebbetzin Kanievsky, daughter of the little baby in the episode, told my son. Her own mother, Rebbetzin Sheina Elyashiv, had been the subject of the type of tale that we imagine happened centuries ago, when Eliyahu Hanovi was a real part of life, when the extraordinary was ordinary.

She, Rebbetzin Kanievsky, lived a world where words like Eliyahu Hanovi and gadol hador were part of the vernacular, yet she could relate to the rest of us, understanding the dreams and ambitions of people living in a far different world.

I have a letter she wrote me, each line bursting with warmth and concern. I had tried to help a beleaguered mosad in Yerushalayim and she wished to express her hakoras hatov. It was as if the institution and its very inglorious mandate - caring for broken, suffering souls - were the most important things in the world to her. They were.

I went to visit her with my son Ari, before his bar mitzvah, and she presented him with a sefer. I immediately asked how much it costs, knowing that the very meager livelihood of the Kanievsky family comes from the sale of those seforim. She looked at me, astonished. "My husband and I want to give a bar mitzvah gift to a Jewish child," she told me. "Why won’t you let us?" She and her husband were the king and queen of Klal Yisroel, yet she couldn’t understand why I wasn’t allowing them to "be normal" and give a bar mitzvah gift. The unpretentiousness of the gesture was itself a precious gift. A simcha of another Jew was her simcha. A boy from the other end of the world was celebrating his bar mitzvah and she wanted to be part of that simcha. So, as she must have done many times, she took out one of her husband’s seforim, carefully inscribed it, and, as she was doing so, she read what she was writing to the young boy. She then lovingly explained to him what she was writing and why, describing the sefer to him and recommending that he study it.

The Rebbetzin radiated simchas hachayim, joy and enthusiasm that belied her taxing schedule. Besides davening the three tefillos b’tzibbur, the Rebbetzin was dedicated to being a good wife, preparing her husband’s daily salad with great concentration and focus. All her remaining time, some 8-9 hours a day, was spent listening to people she didn’t know. The sheer number of tzaros she was exposed to each day would have broken others, but not her. She suffered along with the people who came to her and deeply felt their pain, yet she drew from a timeless, and endless, reservoir of chizuk, so that the smile never waned and the message never faltered.

My son was advised by a friend to go to the Kanievsky apartment before Shabbos in order to be there when the Rebbetzin lit Shabbos candles. He described her copious tears as she stood there in tefillah for a full hour, beseeching her Creator on behalf of the people who turned to her. Then the smile returned as she welcomed Shabbos with her characteristic joy.

From where did this supply of simcha come?

Perhaps the answer lies in another story that the Rebbetzin shared with my son. She related that her own mother, Rebbetzin Elyashiv, was personable, outgoing and very popular. At her chasunah, she had many friends with whom to rejoice and the mood was festive.

On the other side of the mechitzah, the chosson seemed so serious, surrounded by relatives, neighbors and only a few friends. He had never learned in a formal yeshiva, and the walls and seforim of the Ohel Sarah - his "companions" since childhood - were "unable" to dance.

The kallah’s friends asked the bubbly kallah why she was so happy, while her new husband seemed so reticent. "Why am I happy?" answered the kallah. "Ich hob chasunah mit der Toirah alein!" ("I am marrying the Torah itself!")

Could Rebbetzin Kanievsky have been telling the same story about herself? Could that endless supply of joy have come from the awareness that she lived a privileged existence, slicing vegetables and preparing tea for "der Toirah alein"?

With her luminous spirit inspiring us, may we begin the journey through the winter of 5772 armed with her lesson that the heights of spiritual accomplishment aren’t that far from our world. Every bracha can be an experience, each person we meet is one whose life we can brighten, and each tefillah we utter is a chance to ascend to greater heights.

Ah gutten oon gezunten vinter.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"Why Now?"

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

What is it about this Yom Tov of Sukkos that causes us to be so joyous? What is it about the sukkah - to others, merely a shaky primitively constructed room - that affects us so profoundly? Why are we so attached to it, investing so much physical and emotional energy erecting and beautifying it?

Back when we were young and in school, bringing home sheets with questions and lessons pertaining to the chag, we were introduced to the age-old question of why Sukkos is celebrated in the autumn, rather than in the spring. The Bnei Yisroel were actually freed from Mitzrayim during the month of Nissan and set out for the Promised Land. It was then that Hashem protected them with the sukkos in the midbar.

The Vilna Gaon, whose yahrtzeit falls out on this Yom Tov, shares a novel explanation (Biur HaGra, Shir Hashirim 1:4), which sheds light on the specific Torah commandment to be joyous on Sukkos

The mitzvah of sukkah was given "zeicher l’Ananei Hakavod," to commemorate the Clouds that surrounded and sustained us in the midbar. The Ananim first arrived and began to protect us during the month of Nissan, when we left Mitzrayim. However, when the Jewish people sinned by creating the Eigel during Tammuz, they were punished, and the Clouds, representing Hashem and His protection, departed.

It was only after Moshe Rabbeinu succeeded with his tefillos and that sin was forgiven on Yom Kippur that Hakadosh Boruch Hu chose to return His Presence to Klal Yisroel. It was then, mimochoras Yom Hakippurim, that the collection of material began. Within a few days, everything needed to construct the Mishkan had been gathered and the Jewish people commenced its construction on the 15th day of Tishrei. This led to the return of the Ananim. That is the reason, the Gaon says, why we celebrate Sukkos on the 15th of Tishrei, for it was on this day that the Jews in the desert began to build the home of the Shechinah.

With this in mind, the collection of two-by-fours and plexi-glass windows for our sukkos has great significance. It commemorates the Mishkan, the return of the Ananim, which Hashem utilized to protect the Bnei Yisroel in the midbar as He led them to their destiny in the land of their fathers.

In its embrace, we feel the forgiveness offered to us for the sin that will be remembered for eternity, the Eigel Hazohov.

The Kadmonim teach (for example, Ramchal, Derech Hashem, 4:7) that Yomim Tovim are not mere memorials to nissim, but rather the time of year when the koach of the original neis is available and accessible. This is the explanation of the bracha we recite: "She’asah nissim la’avoseinu bayomim haheim bazeman hazeh." Today, we still have the ability to tap into the energy of the original neis on the Yom Tov.

No mere monument to the ideals of forgiveness and a reunion with Hashem, the sukkah is a living reenactment of that experience in the midbar. We sinned and begged for mechilah. The Divine response of "Solachti kidvarecha" ushered in a new era of closeness, the Mishkan and Ananim, once again. We sat then, and we sit now, beTzila Dimeheimenusa, in the Shade of Hashem.

All is well again. There is ritzui, Divine favor, flowing in our direction once more.

Sukkah is unique among Torah commandments. If we are prevented from fulfilling it, even due to circumstances beyond our control, it is a negative sign. Chazal famously say in Maseches Sukkah that it is like a servant who serves his master a drink and has it thrust back at him.

Rav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Chevron, explains that it is because sukkah means that we’re back home, in His arms - yachbienu betzeil Yado. Thus, if He sends rain that keeps us indoors, it means that we didn’t merit that return. There is no simcha like that of the first night of Sukkos, when we gaze through stalks or slats and see the shining stars. We then appreciate this gift being offered to a people compared to stars.

Another interesting feature of this mitzvah is the unique minhag to decorate the sukkah and visually enhance it. The Vilna Gaon comments (Shir Hashirim 3:11) that the posuk of "Uveyom simchas Libo" refers to the date the Mishkan was erected, for Hashem was as happy on that day, kevayachol, as He was on the day that heaven and earth were created.

Thus, the complete posuk reads: "Tzenah ure’enah benos tzion bemelech Shlomo ba’atarah she’itrah lo imo beyom chasunaso uveyom simchas Libo."

Perhaps we can suggest that the decorations, the kishutin, are a remembrance of the atarah she’itrah lo imo, on that day of simcha, the day of the construction of the Mishkan.

Further referencing those words, the Mishnah at the end of Maseches Taanis applies the words "yom simchas Libo" to the day that the Bais Hamikdash will be built, bemeheirah beyomeinu. Hashem’s Heart will rejoice, kevayachol, on that day, just as it did back when His Presence came to rest among us with the Mishkan.

The Vilna Gaon (Aderes Eliyahu, Parshas Balak) writes that the four Yomim Tovim - Pesach, Acharon Shel Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos - correspond to four different geulos: Yetzias Mitzrayim, Krias Yam Suf, Matan Torah and binyan Bais Habechirah. Again, we are shown the connection between Sukkos, the Yom Tov of hashra’as haShechinah in the Mishkan, and the ultimate earthly abode for His Presence, the Bais Hamikdash.

In fact, the Gaon in Chavakuk (3:2) states that Sukkos, when the Mishkan was built, is also the time that the Bais Hamikdash was constructed. Sukkos is intertwined with the Mishkan and the Mikdash and the resting of the Shechinah amongst Klal Yisroel.

It stands to reason that the construction of the third and final Bais Hamikdash, for which we wait so desperately, is also connected to Sukkos. In fact, the Gaon (Even Shlomo 11:1) writes exactly that. He says that on Sukkos, we will merit the binyan Bais Hamikdash.

We have been through so much. We have suffered and been pillaged. We have run from place to place and have been given no rest since the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed. We have pined and prayed and waited for the third Bais Hamikdash.

We have experienced a period of return, coming closer to Hashem through Rosh Hashanah, the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah and Yom Kippur, again and again invoking the Yud Gimmel Middos of rachamim. Just as they were effective following the Eigel, we hope that they were effective now. We trust that our sins were forgiven and we are back in Hashem’s total embrace.

So we take hammer and nails in hand, and humbly set out to put up our sukkah, with a prayer in our hearts that Hashem see fit to rest His Presence on it so that we will merit sitting beTzila Dimehemnusa. We decorate it ke’atarah she’itrah lo imo, because we hope that our little edifice represents the simchas Libo of Hakadosh Boruch Hu.

Our songs of joy reach the heavens as we sit in the sukkah that first night, if we merit for it not to rain and we are fortunate enough to eat the kezayis and fulfill the mitzvah de’Oraysa. Tears of happiness roll down our cheeks as we welcome our family, guests, and the Ushpizin. We beg, plead, and sing joyously, announcing our yearning for a full return. Harachaman hu yokim lanu es sukkas Dovid hanofales.

Bring us back Dovid Hamelech. Bring us back the Bais Hamikdash. Bring us back to Yerushalayim, keyom simchoso veyom simchas Libo.

Lift up the boards of Dovid’s sukkah, which has fallen...

Take your children or grandchildren in the car and go on a Chol Hamoed trip, anywhere, in any direction. You will observe the same reaction: "Look, a sukkah!" Wherever Yidden travel during the next week, their eyes will be wide open, looking across vistas and up at towering apartment buildings in the hope of seeing the familiar structure.

Architecturally, it’s nothing wondrous, and it doesn’t do much for the aesthetics of a landscape, but, inevitably, seeing a sukkah in an unexpected place generates joy and excitement. Seeing the sukkah does something to us.

So wherever we go, when we catch a glimpse of a sukkah, any sukkah, anywhere, our spirits soar, because we know that we are witnessing proof that even now, in a dark, cold world, the Shechinah is with us.

We trust that soon, His Sukkah will rise high above the hills of Yerushalayim - vayehi beShalem Sukko (Tehillim, 76) - and the simcha will never end.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

You Are Not Alone

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

It’s the last Mishnah of a masechta that is replete with depictions of the day’s glory, immersions and offerings. It describes twenty-four hours of a nation, led by the kohein gadol, performing the avodah on the holiest day of the year in the holiest place on earth, returning as one to Hashem, Who comes closest to His people on this day.

Maseches Yoma concludes with the rousing words of Rabi Akiva: "Ashreichem Yisroel, lifnei mi atem metaharin umi metaher es’chem, Avichem shebaShomayim" (Yoma, 8:9). Rabi Akiva is responding to the preceding drasha of Rabi Elazar ben Azarya, who derives from the posuk of "Lifnei Hashem titharu" that the day of Yom Kippur only cleanses aveiros that are "lifnei Hashem," between man and G-d. Yom Kippur doesn’t absolve one of aveiros that are bein adam lachaveiro, between man and his fellow man, until the person who has been wronged forgives the one who harmed him.

Commentators suggest that Rabi Akiva is addressing the posuk of "lifnei Hashem titharu," from which Rabi Elazar ben Azarya derived his lesson. Rabi Akiva learns another lesson from those same words pertaining to the purification afforded by being lifnei Hashem on this day. Hashem Himself serves as the agent of purification, as the posuk states, "mikvei Yisroel Hashem."

Why, however, is the lesson of Rabi Akiva placed here? Why did Rebbi Yehudah, who codified the Mishnah, choose the lesson of ashreichem Yisroel to close the masechta that details the intricate and complex halachos of the avodas hayom?

Rav Yitzchok Hutner, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, offers a beautiful explanation, which can provide inspiration and chizuk to us in all the situations we find ourselves.

Rabi Akiva, leader of the Jews at the time of the churban, was charged with uplifting and inspiring a people shattered and broken by destruction and colossal loss.

Consider, says Rav Hutner, the desolation that Klal Yisroel felt on the first Yom Kippur after the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh. The Bais Hamikdosh hadn’t only been the earthly venue where Klal Yisroel was able to connect with the Ribbono Shel Olam. It was also the central component of the avodah on that holiest of days, with the mizbeiach, the ketores, the se’irim and the much anticipated change in the color of the strings. The destiny of the nation and its hopes for teshuvah were reflected in that awesome structure and its treasured keilim.

Then came the churban. In one fell swoop, it was all destroyed and taken from Klal Yisroel. They were bereft of so much.

The Bais Hamikdosh was gone. Without it, it seemed, there could be no Yom Kippur, no teshuvah, no taharah, and no closeness to Hashem. Klal Yisroel approached the day with anguish and fear, devastated by the thought of facing Yom Kippur without its heart and core, the avodah.

As those thoughts were percolating in the hearts and minds of the Jewish nation, Rabi Akiva, their leader, stood up and addressed them. "Yidden," he called, "ashreichem, you are so fortunate. Why? Because lifnei mi atem metaharim umi metaher es’chem? Your cleansing and purification didn’t come from the mizbeiach or the korbanos, but from Avichem shebaShomayim."

He’s still here. He hasn’t gone away. He hasn’t left us.

Our mikvah, our source of purity, isn’t the string that turned white after the avodah of the kohein gadol on Yom Kippur, but the One Who changes its color. In the words of Rabi Akiva, "Mah mikveh metaher es hatemei’im af Hakadosh Boruch Hu metaher es Yisroel..."

Rabi Akiva, in that final Mishnah, encapsulates the masechta and the holy avodah of the day. It was crucial, imperative, vital, and life-giving, but even without it, Rabi Akiva taught a mourning people, we still have Yom Kippur. Because, although the structure has been destroyed, and although fires have consumed the klei haMikdosh, our Father hasn’t left us.

Ashreichem Yisroel.

Rabi Akiva’s words, laden with meaning and depth, rejuvenated the people of his day and are relevant today at the juncture at which we stand. Though we are mired here in golus, far from the heavenly Yerushalayim, distantly removed from the Bais Hamikdosh and the tangible connection it afforded us with Heaven, we still have Yom Kippur.

Have we ever stood more bereft of a kohein gadol, a representative to beseech the Heavens on our behalf? Have we ever been more in need of the Urim Vetumim to tell us the reasons for the string of bizarre and horrific incidents that closed off the old year?

Yet, the words of Rabi Akiva jump out of the Mishnayos to comfort us.

Hashem is still here.

Ten years ago, Rav Shimshon Pincus, his wife and their daughter were driving down a road and, in an instant, they were gone. Their levaya was held on Erev Pesach. Throngs of family, talmidim and community members stood there, numb with grief, trying to somehow transcend the pain and prepare to enter the realm of Yom Tov. Words failed them. Thoughts failed them. They were lost, without the ability to even think.

Their son and brother, Rav Yaakov Yisroel Pincus, the present rov of Ofakim, rose to speak. This is what he said: "My grandfather, Rav Mordechai Mann, was a talmid in the great Mirrer Yeshiva of yesteryear in Lita. He was sent to learn there as a young boy before his bar mitzvah. Understandably, he was quite homesick. He missed his mother terribly and longed to be in the warm, welcoming confines of home.

"One night, feeling particularly lonely, he went for a walk. Alone in a field, he looked up at the sky and saw a magnificent moon, golden and full, hanging low. He stared at it and had a single thought. ‘This very moon is the one that my mother, back in Breinsk, can see right now. I cannot see her and she cannot see me, but we can both see you, dear moon.’

He felt connected to his mother once again and returned to yeshiva feeling rejuvenated and ready to meet the challenges of his new life."

In a tear-choked voice, Rav Yaakov Yisroel cried, "Abba, you taught us to be aware, to see and feel the presence of the Ribbono Shel Olam all the time. Abba, Ima, Miriam, we cannot see you anymore, but one thing is certain: Where you are, and where we are, we both share the same Aibishter. And that, like the moon in Mir and Breinsk of old, will connect us…"

As we approach this Yom Kippur, there is so much that we have lost and that we are missing. But we are armed with the consoling words of Rabi Akiva. As far away as we might be, as deep as we may have sunk, Hashem is here with us.

The Maharal (drasha l’Shabbos Shuvah) explains the taharah that takes place on Yom Kippur as a natural effect of d’veykus, coming close to Hashem. "Since Yisroel is completely attached to Him, this itself removes the stains of sin, because cheit is impossible to exist next to Him." Just as a mikvah, says the Maharal, is the source of purity for one who is completely immersed in it with no barriers, so is the taharah that comes from d’veykus in Hakadosh Boruch Hu with no barriers or impediments.

On Yom Kippur, we strip away all those barriers. We remove the layers that could get in the way of our d’veykus in Hashem, including food, drink and material comforts, and we draw ever closer. This itself, says the Maharal, grants us teshuvah.

This is the power of Yom Kippur. Once we are immersed in its healing waters, armed with the Mishnah’s promise, we lack for nothing.

We have been afforded ten days to address the King "behimatzo," when He is close, available and attuned to us. Now we are approaching the opportunity of the day on which we can scale the heights and merit teshuvah. Let’s make the climb, fully aware of just how fortunate we are.

We don’t have the kohein gadol, resplendent in his begadim. We don’t have the Leviim singing shirah. We don’t have the korbanos, the ketores, the sa’ir la’azazeil. We don’t have much. But we still have the ability to repent, to be forgiven, to become clean once again, and to be pure and holy and one with Hashem. That capacity is here and attainable for all of us, if we set ourselves to it.

Now is the time. The place is anywhere, even here. It is dependent on us - our actions, our hearts and our prayers. Let us not be depressed with our matzav. Let us not concentrate on the negatives. Let us listen to what Rabi Akiva told our grandparents many years ago, when they were heartbroken and desperate and thought they were forsaken by Hashem. Rabi Akiva taught them to hold their heads up high and remember that they possessed what no one else does. Ashreichem Yisroel.

They had the ability to turn it all around. We do too. Let’s get to work.

Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu.

Gemar chasimah tovah.