GOOD MORNING! This week is Sukkot (or Sukkos in the Ashkenazi pronunciation). Next week comes Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah! What are they and how are they observed?
Shemini Atzeret is actually a separate festival adjacent to Sukkot. Rashi, the great Biblical commentator, explains that atzeret is an expression of affection, as would be used by a father to children who are departing from him. The father would say, "Your departure is difficult for me, tarry yet another day." The Jewish people prayed and brought offerings all the days of Sukkot so that the 70 nations of the world would have rain in the coming year. The Torah and the Almighty keeps us one more day for a special holiday to make requests just for ourselves. That's Shemini Atzeret.
Simchas Torah is the celebration of completing the yearly cycle of Torah reading and beginning it again. The evening and again the next morning are filled with dance and songs rejoicing in the Torah and thanking God for our being Jewish and that the Almighty gave us the Torah! We read the last Torah portion in Deuteronomy, Vezot Habracha and then begin immediately with Bereshit, starting the book of Genesis. If you take your kids to synagogue twice a year -- one time should be Simchas Torah!
Shemini Atzeres begins Sunday evening, October 7th. In Israel, Simchas Torah is observed concurrently with Shemini Atzeres since they celebrate one day of Yom Tov. However, outside of Israel where we celebrate two days Yom Tov, Simchas Torah begins the next day, Monday evening October 8th.
Why do celebrate two days Yom Tov outside of Israel? After the Jews were exiled from Israel, a system was set up with bonfires lit from mountain top to mountain top all the way to Babylon to signal Rosh Chodesh -- the beginning of the new month. Once one knows when the month begins he then knows when to celebrate Sukkot which starts on the 15th of the month (of the Hebrew month of Tishrei).
However, there were people who didn't like the Jews -- it seems to be an historical problem -- and decided to have fun at our expense. What did they do? They lit bonfires on mountain tops to confuse the system ... and the Jews. So, the Sages decreed that we should observe two days for each holiday commanded by the Torah (except Yom Kippur) to ensure that we would celebrate the holiday on the correct day.
Once the "Two Day" observance was decreed, we have kept it throughout history outside of the Land of Israel. Though there are those who are critical of keeping two days because now we have modern communications and set calendars, I think that given the secular societies in which we live, the two day observance is beneficial for reaching the spiritual levels that we might reach in one day living in Israel.
The Torah portion we read on Simchas Torah is Vezot Habracha. It begins with the blessings that Moshe gives to the Jewish people and each tribe right before he dies. Then Moshe ascends Mt. Nebo where the Almighty shows him all of the land the Jewish people are about to inherit. He dies, is buried in the valley in an unknown spot, the Jewish people mourn for 30 days. The Torah then concludes with the words, "Never again has there arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Almighty had known face to face ..."
Yizkor, the memorial service for parents and relatives -- and Jews who have been killed because they were Jewish or in defending the Jewish people and Israel -- is observed Monday morning, October 8th. A society can be measured by the way they treat their elderly ... and the memory of those who have passed away. Our parents gave us life, they took care of us, nurtured us, did their best to raise us -- so, we focus on our gratitude and pray for their neshamos, souls, that they should be bound up in the bonds of eternal life and we pledge to give tzedakah, charity, in their merit.
Torah Portion of the Week
Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot:
Exodus Ki Sisa 33:12-34:26
Moshe pleads to the Almighty to "make known to me Your ways." The Almighty commands Moshe to carve two stone tablets to replace the Tablets that Moshe destroyed bearing the 10 Commandments. Moshe carves them and ascends Mt. Sinai. The Almighty descends in a cloud and reveals to Moshe the 13 Attributes of Divine Mercy which are constantly repeated in the Yom Kippur prayers. Moshe asks the Almighty to "forgive our transgressions and make us Your Heritage".
The Almighty responds that He shall seal a covenant with us. The Almighty then warns the Jewish people against idol worship (idolatry is believing that anything other than the Almighty has power). The reading ends with the Almighty commanding us to keep the Festivals -- Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot.
* * *
from Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.
God reveals to Moshe The Thirteen Divine Attributes of Mercy:
"Lord, Lord, God, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to Anger and Abundant in Kindness and Truth; Preserve of Kindness of thousands of generations, Forgiver of Iniquity, Willful Sin and Error" (Exodus 34:6-7).
The Talmud states, "Whenever Israel sins, let them perform before Me this order, and I shall forgive them" (Rosh Hashana 17b). Yet, the Talmud sharply criticizes anyone who says that God will overlook people's sins (Bava Kamma 50a). The commentaries explain that "forgiveness" is not the same as "overlooking." Forgiveness must be earned, and a person is forgiven only when he deserves to be forgiven.
Our ethical works state that God conducts the world according to firm principles of justice. One of these principles is that it is just to act toward a person as that person acts towards others. The Baal Shem Tov said that this is the mean of the verse, "God is your shadow" (Psalms, 121:5). Just as one's shadow mimics one's every move, so does God act correspondingly to how a person acts. If a person is magnanimous and readily forgives personal offenses, then it is just that God forgive that person's misdeeds.
The Talmud states that Jerusalem was destroyed because people exercised the letter of the law (Bava Metzia 30b). If they exercised the letter of the law, why were they punished? It is because they refused to be magnanimous and yield, insisting on getting everything that the law entitled them to receive. In judging their sins, God, too, exercised the letter of the law and refused to yield.
We may think that when we forgive an offense, we are being charitable to the offender. The fact is that we are the beneficiaries of kindnesses we do to others.
Is being kind and forgiving to others self-serving? Perhaps, but this is a kind of selfishness that is "kosher."
CANDLE LIGHTING - October 5
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
The time is always right to do the right thing
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Rabbi Kalman Packouz
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